In 2004, I lived in an apartment across the street from Friday Saturday Sunday. It was one of those too-good-to-be-true Rittenhouse rentals and my roommates and I, fresh out of college and high on some Sex and the City imaginings of what our life in downtown Philadelphia would be like, were too naive to know better than to sign the lease. There was exposed wiring, a bathroom floor that sank noticeably when you stepped onto the tile, and for more than a month that winter, the absence of heat. What it had was location, and that’s something difficult to argue against.
Across the street, Friday Saturday Sunday. The upstairs glowed blue in the light from the fish tank illuminated bar. Downstairs, a steady trickle of neighborhood regulars for whom the place was an institution, tucking into bowls of mushroom soup. Frankly, I never quite understood the appeal, but I learned a lot that year—especially about tenant’s rights—and I understood the restaurant as a beloved institution in Philadelphia’s dining scene.
Now, those roommates and I are thirty-something women, not twenty-something girls, and just as we’ve grown up, so has Friday Saturday Sunday. In both cases growing up has meant change. A lot of it.
In 2015 longtime owners sold the Rittenhouse relic to Garces veterans, Chad and Hanna Williams. The husband and wife team took the two story space down to bare bones and built it back up. Now, the first floor boasts a luxe marble bar helmed by Paul McDonald (formerly of a.Bar). Handsome wood paneling along the walls and brass fixtures give it classic elegance, a romantic glow, and the impression that the restaurant has existed in this incarnation for much longer than a month.
Upstairs, a polished service team—including server Bud Connelly, a returning staff member from the original restaurant—move through the dining room amidst wooden tables and charcoal gray banquettes. The most distinctive feature of the space is the art on the walls, panels of wallpaper depicting baroque landscapes give the space a warmth and a lushness in sharp contrast to the former fish tanks.
The mushroom soup is gone, and though Chad Williams’ new American style could have alienated people altogether, he’s managed to create a menu that deftly defers to multiple styles of dining. Rittenhouse regulars, for whom the restaurant’s former identity might have held nostalgia, will find few qualms with three course meals that begin with potato gnocchi, a salad of winter greens, or oysters with meyer lemon mignonette granita, followed by roasted chicken or a New York strip. Just the same, diners who prefer sharing a selection of small plates will have abundant choices from Williams’ offerings.
Of particular note are the lobster bucatini with a red chili XO sauce and basil. Elements of this dish could so easily slide into the mundane, but that sauce, built of three kinds of chiles, keeps it a resolutely modern dish. It’s rich with umami, of course, but also bitter and tart in the same way a fresh chile or a roasted red pepper is. It’s a dish you want to eat again, because it’s delicious, and also just to understand it better.
A puck of buttery chicken liver mousse with pickled mustard seeds, quince, and caramelized foie gras walks the line between classic and modern beautifully. Plus, it serves as an excellent foil to Williams’ vegetables. Collard greens, wrapped into little coils, swim in smoky pork broth, a poached egg adding richness. The greens are as silky as udon noodles, and even less chewy. Confit carrots with carrot yogurt, fermented salsa verde, and a burnt coconut crumble form are a landscape unto themselves. Octopus, unassumingly perched atop custardy Rancho Gordo beans and menudo, a little pickled red onion adding zip, is precisely the kind of surf-and-turf I want to see more of.
It should be noted that one not even need climb the stairs in order to try something delicious. McDonald’s tight cocktail menu will doubtlessly pull a.Bar regulars with offerings like the Oxford Comma (rum with lemon, soda, and a coffee red wine syrup), or the Safe Space, a beguiling concoction of Revivalist Harvest Gin with lemon, pear, clove, olive oil, and egg white. McDonald brûlées the frothy head of the drink with a blowtorch before serving it, so the aroma while sipping it is that of toasted marshmallow, even while in the mouth it’s refreshing.
To wrap up the meal, Tish Smith, formerly of Foam Floaterie, has returned to town specifically to work with the Williams’. Expect sophisticated desserts like a labneh panna cotta with grapefruit, vanilla, and coriander, and, naturally, lots of ice cream. One of her current offerings, available in an ice cream trip for dessert, is a hot chocolate ice cream that she’s using Nestle powdered hot chocolate mix to make. The uncanny, almost salty flavor, from the milk powder in the mix will make you feel like a kid again.
Even so, Friday Saturday Sunday is all grown up.
Friday Saturday Sunday [f8b8z]