Trey Popp completely fell for M Restaurant at the Morris House Hotel when he reviewed it back in August. He loved the outdoor seating and the bar, he loved the strange Southern garden vibe of the place and the unusual reach of the menu.
After an icy old-fashioned from the bar, a waiter delivers a rectangular plate of Kindai sashimi and hamachi tartare dotted with pickled and fermented radishes, ponzu marmalade and a block of puffed wild rice. Not bad. Next there’s a salad flanked by two-toned triangles of something as delicate as chilled flan. Only it’s not. The bottom layer is house-made split-yellow-pea tofu, the top a pale jade gelatin of pistachio cream—but somehow the whole thing works as a perfect foil for a pile of mixed local greens tossed in pine-nut-milk vinaigrette. And now you’re thinking, “What’s going on here?”
The food, at the time, was the invention of Michael Caspi–a veteran of the kitchens of Thomas Keller, Alain Ducasse and Daniel Boulud. And his high-end, left-of-center training showed through in virtually every plate.
Only now, we’ve gotten word that Caspi has left his post at M.
I talked to M Restaurant GM Jeanette Vennell earlier today and our conversation was…weird. She seemed surprised that the news about Caspi’s leaving had already begun making the rounds and, at first, refused to tell me anything–not whether there was a new chef in the kitchen, not what was being done with the menu, not what had happened with Caspi–claiming that she didn’t want it to become a “he-said/she-said” and that the restaurant was just “going through a slight transition” and would reveal all only when they were good and ready.
Which is all just fine–except for the fact that M ain’t exactly a cheap place, and if they’re still serving and charging money for a meal, folks have a right to know who, exactly, is running the kitchen.
Anyway, there was a lot of pointless back-and-forth, but Vennell finally admitted that, yes, there was an actual chef in the kitchen (or would be shortly) and that he was Aaron Bellizzi, a CIA grad whose been bouncing around between Philly and New York for some time now. She said that he has already made some changes to the menu (even though some reports don’t have him starting until this weekend), but that further changes were coming.
“We have some new, fun changes in store,” Vennell said (though refused to explain what those might be), and insisted that the parting of ways between M and Caspi came “sooner than expected,” but was also “good timing for us to make these changes.”
Whatever that means.
M Restaurant [Official website]
Trey Popp’s review [Philadelphia magazine]