If a tree falls in a forest with no one to hear it, is there a sound? That may be the question for the Treemont. Or, rather: If nettle and ricotta gnudi this exquisite hits a table on 15th Street, will people put down their pint glasses and chicken wings long enough to take heed? Hemmed in between pub central, a bike-messenger dive and the downtown Applebee’s, Chip Roman’s Center City debut sits on a corridor of middling expectations. And no sooner did it open than a demolition began clearing space for a giant Cheesecake Factory a block to the north—stanching the flow of pedestrians past the Treemont’s understated awning.
Maybe that explains all the empty chairs during my two dinners here. But it’s worth crossing the street twice to enter the walnut-banded glow of this airy bi-level space.
For one thing, it’s a shorter hike than Conshohocken, where Treemont chef de cuisine Rob Sidor used to cook at Roman’s Blackfish, before a stint with Chris Kearse at Will. And if the Treemont’s sprightly mid-spring menu is anything to go by, you’ll be wanting to spend some of your summer here.
The welcome mat is certainly out. Giant lavash wafers with creamy fava dip kicked off one meal, and drop biscuits with saffron-oil jam another—without the upcharge currently creeping into bread services around town. Sidor’s cooking will ring bells for fans of Blackfish, which spawned some of the dishes here. Like those gnudi: Oozing jade-colored ricotta into a sage-petaled pool of browned butter, the luscious dumplings also showcased the kitchen’s knack for slicing through richness. Banyuls-soaked raisins did the sweet-and-sour trick on them, just as a roasted grape vinaigrette lanced through short ribs on grits, and a tongue-puckering gel of sea buckthorn berries and rhubarb uplifted a dense foie terrine.
Light, clean fish dishes are in the Treemont’s wheelhouse as well. Sorrel’s bright twang galvanized a fennel-scented spring stew of halibut and clams. Radish and compressed cucumber sharpened a clam ceviche sweetened with red onion marmalade. An electric-green puree of minted sea beans, cucumber, ginger and green tea marked Sidor’s double filet of daurade as my dish-for-two of the summer.
You’ll be too late for his exemplary Parisian gnocchi with morels and fiddleheads, but hopefully not for the raspberry and walnut dessert, a curiosity shop in which a sort of green cardamom astronaut ice cream is ultimately outshone by the simplest element: plain raspberries macerated with Meyer lemon and spritzed with club soda. They tingle in your mouth.
So listen up. Because this is the sound of two hands clapping on 15th Street.
3 Stars out of 4 – Excellent
The Treemont [Foobooz]
This review by Trey Popp will be published in the July 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine.