Monday, January 24, 2011

Review: The Dandelion

In his continuing quest to recreate EPCOT's World Showcase pavilions in Center City, Stephen Starr has opened The Dandelion at 18th and Sansom. Now Parc, his simulacrum of a Parisian brasserie, has a British pub counterpart just a few blocks away – no Chunnel ride required between the two.

I'll confess I've never been to an actual pub in Great Britain, so I can't speak first-hand about the space's authenticity. However, it is a pretty enormous bar and restaurant, all told, spanning what used to be two separate properties (a shoe store and the late and unlamented Mantra/Amalfi space), segmented into I'm not sure how many different rooms, each styled like a cozy parlor in some sprawling mansion. Fireplaces, mounted animal heads, and English-seeming knick-knacks abound, and if you like tightly patterned wallpaper, there's plenty of that too. The place was fairly packed at 7:30 on this blustery Saturday night – you can try to pop in for a drink and a bite, but you're probably better off with a reservation.

The menu covers a lot of pub basics: shepherd's pie, sausages with onion gravy, fish and chips, prawn cocktail. On Sundays (and bank holidays), roasts are available with all the traditional trimmings. A few higher-class items dot the menu, like dressed crab, a chicken and duck liver pâté, and hake meunière. At first glance, this isn't a place where vegetarians are going to have a lot of options (even the macaroni and cheese comes with ham hock included).

We started by sharing the butter lettuce and shaved apple salad, dotted with pomegranate, crumbles of stilton, and some very spicy spiced walnuts. I would have loved to see a little more cheese on it, but on the whole it was well-composed with a sweet and tangy dressing and made for a nice starter.

For our mains, we did "halfsies" on a burger and the fish and chips. I can't say the burger was all that memorable. It was odd: the first bite was deliciously meaty and really let the house-blended ground beef stand out from the horseradish cheddar and sweet pepper relish it shared its bun with. After that, the patty almost seemed to get frightened and hide within its whole-wheat brioche bun.

Believe it or not, the standout on the fish and chips was the tartar sauce. Something in there really accentuated the fishiness of the crisp battered cod (I think it was the capers – and even renowned caper-hater Lauren agreed that the sauce was delicious). Rather than multiple smaller pieces, only one large piece of the fish was served. It was cooked well, if slightly greasy on the outside. The thrice-fried chips were thick-cut, crisp on the outside and yielding inside, and stayed warm throughout the meal in their pre-heated metal cup.

So on the whole, the food was decent, if nothing to really write home about. Now, here's the thing: the Dandelion may be pretty cheerful, but it sure ain't cheap. The burger was $14, which I can deal with, but the fish and chips was a somewhat staggering $21. An imperial (20 oz.) pint of Bombardier bitter was $9. Though as a Yankee I can't speak to what the nature of a true pub should be, the impression I get is that it's a more informal place, like a second living room, and not the kind of place where you should need to give a second fiscal thought before ordering. Maybe the prices were converted to pounds and back again, or maybe it's Starr's policy to charge as much as he thinks he can get away with. I'm not going to argue with his success, and I say more power to him, but on a value-for-money basis alone, I'm reluctant to return anytime soon.

The Dandelion on Urbanspoon

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