Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Review: Village Whiskey

So what were we to make of Village Whiskey? Well, the "whiskey" in the place's name already gives it points in my book. And Jose Garces is Philly's reigning culinary hero – but I still found Chifa underwhelming, and with Village Whiskey's concept lying outside Garces's usual Latin area of expertise, one might wonder if our possible Next Iron Chef is fancying himself more of a Stephen Starr figure these days than a man who's strictly all about the food. But heck: Whiskey. Garces. Oh, and duck fat fries. We'll be there.

We showed up on a Tuesday night the week after VW's opening day. Seemed like word had gotten around, because we had to put our names on a list for a party of two, and we were informed that there would be a 45-minute wait (even to sit at the bar). Luckily, Jose has thoughtfully provided a waiting room next door by the name of Tinto (they apparently even share a kitchen), so we headed over there for some sangria and AlbariƱo until our number was up.

Little wonder there was a wait, because VW is mighty cozy inside. Simple white tile adorns the walls, and behind the bar that runs most of the length of the restaurant, you will find bottles of the 80+ whiskeys that are offered. Perhaps paralyzed by the prospect of choosing one from the list, I went for an Old Fashioned, which they make by default with Old Grand Dad. It did the trick, though the Old Grand wouldn't have been my first choice, and other than the grains of undissolved sugar at the bottom of my glass, it was well-made. (Insert Don Draper reference here.)

Looking at the menu again now, I would have loved to try some of the "bar snacks", but in an effort to have some semblance of a balanced meal, we started with the mixed green salad with huckleberry vinaigrette. Given the rest of the menu, it seemed oddly overpriced at $9 for what it was, which was a well-made though pretty unremarkable salad.

With roughage out of the way, we moved on to the Whiskey King, which for our arteries' sakes, we split. This is because the Whiskey King is eight ounces of beef topped with bacon, bleu cheese, maple bourbon glazed cipollini, and foie gras. And even at $24, damn if it isn't tasty. Though it would almost seem to be a parody of that old Simpsons episode where Homer watches the commercial for the burger topped with bacon, ham, and rich creamery butter, the Whiskey King is remarkable in the sense that it's hard to imagine it being as good without any of its constituent ingredients, except perhaps for the burger itself. Despite its seemingly heavy and fatty toppings, it's surprisingly easy to eat, making it all the more dangerous. In short, a glorious achievement in the burger arts.

If you don't care to indulge in the petting-zoo-between-two-buns grandeur of the King, starting at the low low price of $9 you can have a plain eight ounce burger and add toppings a la carte, including Rogue Smokey Bleu cheese (which is damn delicious), truffles (market price!), and yes, Homer, a fried egg. Though I would probably skip the egg, I'd love to come back and make up my own combination.

What about the duck fat fries, the mere idea of which was making me anticipate the opening of this place all summer? I won't say they were disappointing, but they weren't what we expected. They're rather lightly cooked, more or less blonde in color, and not very crisp at all. Perhaps it is a testament to the skill of the frying that you can't very much taste the duck-fattiness, but then, what's the point? Thankfully, I was talked by Lauren into getting the Sly Fox cheddar sauce on the side. In a word, bangin'. It's one of those sauces that you wish you could pour on everything. Oh, and another thing – the only homemade ketchup in the universe that's actually as good as or better than plain ol' Heinz. Period.

This is a place that demands a return visit. The "Kentucky fried quail" in particular sounds very alluring, and I would have loved to try something from the pickled section of the menu (which means I'll have to come back without my pickle-adverse wife). I haven't been by at lunchtime yet, but given the prices and menu selections, I think it would be a great lunch spot if it doesn't get too crowded, and if you don't mind showing up for work in the afternoon lightly soused (and/or in a saturated fat-induced coma).

Word is there's even been a few celebrity sightings there. In fact, we had one – Jose himself, seemingly on hand to make sure everything was going smoothly at his latest venture. And so it was on this night in the Village. I hope to be back for another visit some time soon.



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