Vernick Fish, Philadelphia, PA – A Review

by artfuldiner on September 19, 2023

in Artful Diner Review, Breaking News, Opinion, Pennsylvania, Review, Wining and Dining

Vernick Fish

Comcast Technology Center

1 North 19th Street

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

(215) 419-5055

I must confess, I entertained decidedly mixed emotions about dining at Vernick Fish. Why…? Because just a little over a month before this writing, my dining partner and I had enjoyed a truly memorable luncheon at the Sanctum Sanctorum of piscatorial pleasures: New York City’s Le Bernardin… And, once you’ve dined in the clouds, sometimes it’s difficult to come back down to earth again.

That being said, however, while Vernick Fish is certainly not Le Bernardin (nor does it attempt to be), there is absolutely no question that Chef Greg Vernick’s newest brasserie-like seafood enterprise acquits itself with considerable aplomb.

Vernick Fish - InteriorThe dining arrangements are somewhat unusual but also quite pleasant. The room is large (142 seats) and bustling; but because of its length and narrow width, you don’t feel crowded or closed in. Tables stretch in a leisurely array past the zinc-top bar and open kitchen, eventually spilling into the space at the rear that is generally reserved for private parties. The piped-in classic rock may not be to everyone’s taste, but it certainly adds an energetic note to the proceedings.

The service also deserves mention. Our server was attentive without being annoyingly solicitous… he made eye contact with all three members of our dining party… and he was obviously intimately acquainted with the menu.

But on to the food… which titillates the palate under four main headings – Raw, Small Plates, Large Plates, and Dessertsplus a number of side dishes.

The Raw category offers a host of intriguing possibilities. In addition to East Coast Oysters with house accompaniments, you will also find such Vernick Fish - Tuna Tartareitems as King Salmon Crudo companioned by roasted pineapple, lime & mint; Snapper Ceviche spruced up with coconut broth, red onion & lime leaf; and Tuna Tartare on sourdough garnished with avocado and Fresno Chili Oil (pictured); which, although listed as an appetizer, a member of our party thoroughly enjoyed as his main course.  And at this juncture, perhaps, a few words of explanation are in order. What, for example, is the difference between Crudo, Ceviche and Tartare?

Crudo is the Italian and Spanish word for “raw,” and it refers to uncooked dishes – usually fish, shellfish or meat – adorned with some sort of seasoning. Ceviche is made up of raw seafood that is marinated in citrus juice, which cures or literally “cooks” it. Tartare is another type of Crudo that consists of raw meat or seafood that is chopped and bound with sauce, dressing, and/or other seasonings. Like Carpaccio, Tartare is defined by the shape in which the raw fish is sliced: Carpaccio is thinly sliced, whereas Tartare is usually minced or diced.

Among the small plates, you discover such worthwhile starters as Spaghetti with Blue Crab and Crispy Octopus, along with a bow to landlubbers: Vernick Fish - Broiled Oysters PhiladelphiaEndive & Baby Gem Salad splashed with tarragon vinaigrette… But, as far as our party was concerned, the Marinated Shrimp on a seabed of shredded napa cabbage & Thai basil sprinkled with peanuts appeared to be the star of the show… That is, until the incredible Broiled Oysters Philadelphia (pictured) hit the table. Gently caressed by breadcrumbs seasoned with Genoa salami & provolone cheese and presented in a cast-iron tray usually reserved for escargot, they were a superb feast for both eye and palate.

When it came to the large plates, it wasn’t long before overchoice (also known as choice overload) – a term first introduced by Alvin Toffler in his 1970 book Future Shock – reared its ugly head. Not that there were too many possibilities… but all five of the seafood options looked so good that it was difficult to come to a decision.

As I mentioned above, the other gentleman in our party opted for the appetizer of Tuna Tartare as his main course. My dining partner thought about the Blackened Sea Scallops, but she decided to pass… I briefly considered the Panko-Crusted Swordfish with Korean/kimchi flair but did likewise.

We also considered sharing the Whole Roasted Branzino, but the tomato & watermelon salad, yogurt & pine nut relish didn’t ring any bells. Dover Vernick Fish - Black Sea BassSole, a special unlisted on the printed menu, is always a favorite; but since we had recently enjoyed this delicacy at our above-mentioned luncheon at Le Bernardin, we decided to pass on that as well. We finally agreed upon the Grilled Black Sea Bass (pictured). And a very wise choice, I might add. Especially since the accoutrements – tomato sauce, gold bar squash & crispy eggplant – proved to be perfect complements.

The restaurant’s bar turns out some pretty spiffy cocktails; and the bartender obviously knows his stuff, as my Vesper Martini was right on the money. There is also a very nice international wine list… However, the wines by the glass – quality as well as quantity – leave a great deal to be desired. Oregon’s Willamette Valley, for example, produces some excellent pinot noirs… but the Lemelson I tasted was pale & wan and quite weak with regard to flavor as well. And, as if to add insult to injury, the restaurant’s website listed the Willamette Valley as being in Washington State rather than Oregon. Evidently someone’s geography, or so it appears, is just as poor as their oenological knowledge.

If Vernick Fish has a weakness, however, it is surely their desserts – Chocolate Espresso Cake, Key Lime Pie, Marscapone Cheesecake, Peach & Vernick Fish - Peach Almond TartAlmond Tart (pictured) – which are basically standard issue. Were they bad? No… but, given the carefully crafted dishes that had preceded them, we expected a great deal more in the sweet endings department… and it simply was not forthcoming. And this, unfortunately, placed a decidedly negative pall over what – up until this point – had been an extremely rewarding evening at table. I say this because Mr. Vernick would do well to remember that the last thing diners experience within restaurant precincts is likely to be the first thing they remember.

 Bon Appétit & Cheers!


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