A shrimp Louis restoration

It sits directly across from Rittenhouse Square, but a.Bar – judging by the sparse midday crowds - has been hiding in plain sight as a smart lunch option for the 18th Street crowd. Of course, this corner was better known for years as a body lotion boutique. But I like what chef Eli Kulp has done to revamp this more casual, cocktail-centric little sibling to a.Kitchen with a modern twist on the raw bar canon. We savored garlicky minced clams on toast and a superbly crisp soft-shell-crab sandwich. Even the fries - cut chip-thick - were memorable for their decadent crunch. But the star of lunch was Kulp's update to shrimp Louis - an entrée salad classic he cooked as a kid in the Pacific Northwest, where it was supposedly invented in the early 1900s. "I'm sort of obsessed with salad dressing history," confesses Kulp. The key to restoring Louis to greatness is simply giving it with the best ingredients artfully turned. Tender bibb greens substitute for more mundane iceberg. Delicately poached shrimp curl around blistered tomatoes, the tangy pickled beans, hardboiled eggs, creamy avocados. And then, of course, comes that famously zippy dressing: a homemade mayo blushed with smoked paprika and ketchup, electrified with pickled hot peppers and Tabasco spice. Each individual bite was ideal, the plate as a whole both hearty and elegant. So where are the crowds?

- Craig LaBan
Shrimp Louis, $21, a.Bar, 18th and Walnut, 215-825-7035; akitchenandbar.com