Friday Saturday Sunday
261 South 21st Street
Nineteen seventy-three was a banner year in Philadelphia’s 1970s restaurant renaissance… The Astral Plane opened its doors at 17th and Lombard Streets; Steve Poses’ Frog began packing them in at 16th and Locust; and, a week later, in April, Friday Saturday Sunday (originally called Friday Saturday Sunday & Thursday Too) made its debut. Under the proprietorship of Weaver Lilley, Friday Saturday Sunday remained a Rittenhouse area “classic” for 42 years.
In August 2015, Mr. Lilley sold the restaurant to Chad and Hanna Williams, both members of the José Garces alumni association, who promised to keep the restaurant’s name and preserve its legacy as an upscale but thoroughly approachable neighborhood bar-eatery. Following the transfer of ownership, the restaurant closed until December 2016, as the new owners completely renovated the two-story structure, adding rich retro aesthetic touches and correcting a number of structural deficiencies.
When the new Fri Sat Sun finally made its debut, the name was the only remembrance of the innovative restaurant that had brought a touch of romance and imaginative new-American cuisine to the ‘70s Philadelphia dining scene. Even the familiar exterior sign had been disposed of. And there’s already been some bitching and moaning on social media that the new incarnation simply isn’t up to the same amorous and culinary standards as its beloved predecessor.
As a devoted habitué of the original establishment, replete with my own unique set of idyllic memories, I freely confess that I was completely prepared to thoroughly dislike the new Fri Sat Sun. Cross the threshold, and absolutely nothing is the same. The restaurant’s two stories have, quite literally, changed places… The upstairs bar has moved downstairs, and the downstairs dining room has been transported to the second floor. If you happened to magically plop me down inside this restaurant in the middle of a dark night, I wouldn’t have a clue that this was once a very familiar space.
Conversely, however, although quite different from the original, the updated ambiance still exudes a decidedly romantic intimacy. Upstairs, wooden candlelit tables are set beneath a wall of landscape murals; downstairs, the 14-seat marble bar – serving up a slew of creative cocktails, several interesting wines by the glass, and draft beers – welcomes imbibers with a friendly, sophisticated buzz. This isn’t the old Friday Saturday Sunday, little doubt about that; but, in my opinion, the new incarnation is carrying the venerable restaurant’s torch with style and panache.
Say what you will about the sleek new décor… love it or hate it. The food, on the other hand, is another story entirely… It is nothing short of extraordinary. As a somewhat cynical professional “hired belly,” – in the inimitable parlance of the late Jay Jacobs – it takes a helluva lot to blow my culinary skirt up… and Mr. Williams, the former chef de cuisine at José Garces’ flagship restaurant, Amada, manages to do just that. He has assembled a chic, seasonally-changing new-American menu that’s lovingly designed for tasting, sharing, and spirited bouts of gastronomic grazing.
Deliciously compact, the written bill-of-fare includes a raw bar, four small plates (appetizers), three pastas, four entrées, and a separate vegetable category containing five options. A select, carefully-constructed menu is the mark of an experienced chef; and Mr. Williams obviously understands the inherent superiority of quality over quantity… But even before your menu decisions are finalized, the chef’s complimentary amuse-bouche hits the table and succeeds in standing your taste buds at attention. The diminutive basket of lavosh, delicately crisp Middle Eastern flatbread wafers kissed by an irresistible honey aioli, is but a titillating harbinger of the good things to come.
Appetizers include several familiar items teamed up with some rather intriguing sidekicks. The Beef Tartare, for example, is not only accompanied by crispy shallots and crème fraîche, but also smoked beef heart; and the octopus is companioned by pickled red onions, menudo (a traditional Mexican soup) and rancho gordo (heirloom) beans. The combos may sound strange… but the tastes and textures work beautifully together. For my money, though, nothing quite tops the Chicken Liver Mousse (pictured) jazzed up with quince, tiny dollops of mustard, caramelized foie gras, and grilled rustic bread triangles. The flavor is decadently addictive and the consistency as silky smooth as a mink glove.
Another way to start things off is by mixing and matching a few items from the vegetable selection (which also includes a winter salad of mixed greens, parmesan, buttermilk dressing, and shaved almonds). The two my dining partner and I sampled were right on the money; and, once again, a number of exotic ingredients played an integral part.
The Charred Cauliflower is buttressed by caramelized cauliflower purée, citrus mojo, and dukkah. Mojo is a Cuban sauce made with garlic, olive oil or pork lard and, traditionally, bitter orange juice. Dukkah or duqqa is an Egyptian condiment consisting of a mixture of herbs, nuts, and spices. The result, once again, is a triumph of captivating flavors and textures… as is the Confit Carrot (pictured). Carrots of various types, shapes & sizes, depending upon the whim of the chef, are artfully embellished with a luscious carrot yogurt, burnt coconut crumble, and fermented salsa verde. Another major coup for the kitchen.
As you move on to the main course, you have a choice of entrées proper – meat, fish & fowl – or the pasta selections. Of the latter, recently sampled was the Aji Pesto and Lobster Bucatini. Bucatini, also known as perciatelli, is a tubular pasta that is slightly thicker than spaghetti. Mr. Williams teams it up with a pesto made from the Peruvian Aji chile, which succeeds in adding a pleasant dash of spice to the proceedings. An excellent, highly recommended presentation. The only minor drawback is that the lobster was a smidgeon overcooked.
Among the entrées, the halibut is an absolute winner. The fish itself is perfectly prepared – cooked through but still lusciously moist and flaky… The garnishes, however, are nothing short of inspired. First of all, you have two strategically placed Brussels sprouts, which contrast nicely with the texture of the halibut. Then those incredible consummating touches – silky smooth sweet potato purée and artistic splash of coconut citrus – that are as pleasing to the eye as they are to the palate. This is one dish that is not to be missed.
If the restaurant has a weak point, it would seem to be in the sweet endings department. The Pear/Almond Coffee Cake with Ginger Ice Cream, for example, was quite good, and quite suitable for sharing; but it seemed strangely out of place – and out of proportion – to the other items on the innovatively ambitious menu. Since the restaurant has only been open since December (2016), I would expect that desserts would soon be on a par with the rest of the Mr. Williams’ exquisite cuisine.
As I mentioned at the outset, if you’re looking for a bit of nostalgia, you’re not likely to find it here. On the other hand, there is no question that, in 2017, the new Fri Sat Sun is destined to make as big a splash as the original did in 1973.
Just one final monetary note… During Weaver Lilley’s 42-year run, among other things, his restaurant was known as the top oenological bargain in the City of Brotherly Love, offering up bottles of vino just $10.00 over cost. Those days, unfortunately, are gone forever. During a recent visit, my dining partner and I enjoyed a bottle of 2013 Trimbach Pinot Blanc from the Alsace region of France. The average retail cost of this particular wine is about $15.00. Fri Sat Sun charges $60.00 – a whopping quadruple markup! That’s enough to turn any self-respecting wine lover into a teetotaler.