Restaurant Review: Adsum

A neighborhood bistro prefers over-the-top indulgences to simpler fare

A subsequent outing brought a few more: hot-and-sweet stewed collards beneath fried chicken whose crust crunch was almost spookily long-lasting; a miserly scattering of segmented asparagus upon the rich gouda sauce skirting a striped bass filet; the odd leaf as a garnish. But if you aren’t careful here, the only green thing you get could be the dill sprig floating in the Logical Consequence — a refreshing mixture of gin, tea, honey, lime and absinthe that’s one of several splendidly conceived specialty cocktails by APO veteran Preston Eckman. 

Does it matter? Levin’s kitchen turns out sumptuous fare. And there’s nothing like Adsum’s backdrop of Erlenmeyer beakers and antiquarian books — flanked by a wall-size photo of the Wagner Institute’s lecture hall — to give indulgence a patina of intellectualism. As the autumn harvest fades, gooey tater tots and batter-fried sweetbreads may well start to sound like the surest way to survive winter. Especially if those luscious, ancho-dusted sweet-cheese doughnut holes stay put.

But I would have enjoyed my meals here far better if Levin offered more safe harbors from the barrage of butter and animal fats. The two in which I did find cover were marvels of delicious simplicity. A roasted black sea bass, its sweet flesh jacketed in skin as crispy as the accompanying confetti of puffed wild rice, was hands-down the best whole fish I’ve eaten in Philadelphia. And Adsum’s green-vegetable deficit was ameliorated by an ambrosial bowl of heirloom beefsteaks raised in a 120-plant Kennett Square garden by some sort of tomato whisperer. 

If you ignore a disappointing appetizer that married flaccid squid and underripe peaches, there’s no reason to doubt Levin’s ability to provide more light counterpoints to his heavy blockbusters. 

I wish he would. A gong struck once rivets the attention; banged every downbeat, it deafens the ears. So it is with stomach and tongue. As a fatty snack with an excellent cocktail, Adsum’s indulgent specialties might knock you out. But a whole meal of them is liable to put you down for the count.

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