Remember when “modern Spanish tapas” restaurants were all the rage? It was a grand ol’ time (in the early ’00s), when chefs could charge big mark-ups on tiny bites of food dressed in micro-greens, stamp the word “tapas” on it, and sling it out into the dining room where hungry guests would crowd around three peas on a shiny earthenware share-plate and call it a night. We loved it. Ate it up. Small plates? How European.
And then, we — like we always do — got bored of it. Sure, Amada, Tinto, and Jamonera are all still there, alive and well. But we maxed out with our frou-frou Spanish restaurants, and slowly but surely, the tapas craze came to an end.
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A Mano | Photo by Emily Teel
In the back, chef Michael Millon is dancing.
Not dancing-dancing (because that would be weird), but that’s what it looks like. He and his crew, the other white jackets working the line at Townsend Wentz’s new BYO, A Mano, turn and weave around each other, reaching and ducking as the floor staff crowds up against the short pass, waiting on plate after plate after plate. It’s formal, this ballet. It only looks like a disaster happening and then re-happening every second, a series of near-misses and almost-collisions. It’s a culinary galliard—chaotic but measured. Practiced. Natural. In reality, it’s just another day at the office.
And at A Mano, it’s loud in the dining room. I’m seated about halfway down the banquette that runs the length of the far wall, so there’s no way I would’ve heard them if they were talking anyway, but I’m watching pretty closely (staring, really), and I don’t even see them speak. Don’t see lips moving or heads turning except in the simplest, most terse nods and single syllables.
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A Mano in Fairmount | All photos by Emily Teel
There’s something familiar about the freshly opened A Mano in Fairmount.
It’s not the space. The corner of 23rd Street and Fairmount was, for ages, occupied by a little grocery shop, not a restaurant. It’s not the food either. Michael Millon’s menu is definitely an Italian departure from chef-owner Townsend Wentz’s French-focused offerings at Townsend on East Passyunk. The thing about A Mano that’s familiar is the format: a BYOB with handsome wooden tables, a long banquette, an open kitchen, and a big mirror to bounce light from the bank of windows. Honestly? A Mano could be Will or especially Noord, minus Bob Moysan’s artwork and plus about 20 additional seats.
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Chef-Owner Townsend Wentz opens A Mano with exec chef Michael Millon
Townsend Wentz has received a ton of accolades at his East Passyunk Avenue restaurant Townsend (#5 on the new Best Restaurants list), and he will debut his second restaurant, A Mano in coming weeks. A Mano is a casual Italian BYOB at 2244 Fairmount Avenue, in the Fairmount neighborhood. Wentz is bringing in Michael Millon as executive chef. Millon has worked with Wentz for ten years, including as Wentz’s opening sous chef at Townsend. More recently, Millon, a Lansdowne native, has been at A Voce, a Michelin-starred Italian restaurant on Columbus Circle in New York.
A Mano will offer regional Italian fare, moving from northern to southern Italy throughout the year to reflect what is fresh and available in Philadelphia. When the restaurant opens this winter that means dishes inspired by northern Italy including Alto Adige. As the weather warms, southern Italian dishes will make up more of the menu.
Handmade pastas will be integral to the menu where prices range from $8 to $28 per plate.
A Mano’s dining room features big windows that open wide to the street, plus wood topped tables (no tablecloths here), hardwood floors and bright grass-green banquettes.
A Mano [Foobooz]
Exciting news: we have some updates on the heretofore unnamed Italian BYOB by Townsend Wentz that’s going to be at 23rd and Fairmount (formerly the space occupied by Garden Fresh).
Wentz plans to open the 50-seat BYOB in about four months (which seems like a totally reasonable time frame in that, when it takes six months, it really won’t seem like he blew past that proposed opening date by all that much), and the menu will be seasonal and heavily Italian-influenced. The highlight will be homemade pastas, which makes sense. It would’ve been weird if the highlight was going to be ice cream sundaes.
It will be open for dinner 6 nights a week. No word yet on if he plans to call the place, “Wentz,” but our fingers remain crossed. We’ll keep you updated as we learn more.
All Townsend Wentz coverage [f8b8z]
A few months ago, we told you about a beautiful, inspiring short documentary made about Chris Kearse from Will. Videographer Oliver Gallini told us then that this was just the first in a series of docs on local chefs and the stories behind their restaurants, their careers and their foods.
Well, today he made good on that claim. He’s now released the second short film in his series–this one focusing on organic-chemist-turned-chef, Townsend Wentz, and his eponymous restaurant.
As was the case with the first video, this one is gorgeously shot and smartly put together. It captures both the chaos and the grace of kitchen work, the beauty of the plates, and the story behind how Wentz ended up cooking for a living rather than working in a lab.
If you’ve got a couple minutes, you should totally check it out.
Show me the video
Well you can. Kinda.
First, you’re going to have to clear your schedule on the night of January 13 (which is a Tuesday, so you won’t really be missing anything good on TV). Then you’re going to have to find $65 (plus tax and tip). Then you’re going to have to make reservations for this special dinner that Wentz is doing at Townsend where he and some fancy olive oil guy (actually Lorenzo Caponetti from Caponetti Olive Oil) are going to be doing a four-course dinner where Wentz will be showcasing some of the dishes that will eventually make it onto the menu at his new Fairmount restaurant, which is set to debut later this year.
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Since we’ve been on a bit of an Instagram kick recently, we wanted to share what Townsend Wentz did last night. Wentz, who is the chef/owner of East Passyunk’s Townsend, was breaking down a whole pig for tonight’s Garces Foundation Gala and he instagrammed each step.
Click on through to follow the process, and check out the captions for some helpful hints.
Not sure who Ken Forrester is? He’s a renowned South African winemaker, and he’s coming to Philly. And he’s bringing his wine with him.
By collaborating with Townsend Wentz at Townsend, the two will create an awesome pairing dinner, scheduled to take place on October 20th at 7 p.m.
For $75 a head, guests will enjoy five courses of chef Wentz’s much-praised French fare, complemented by rare and special wines from Forrester’s portfolio–and will have the opportunity to chat with the award-winning winemaker. So if that kind of thing gets you super-excited, now you know where to go.
Check out the five course tasting menu below, along with the wines that will be paired with each dish.
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Townsend, the two-month old but critically acclaimed restaurant, is hosting a Five-Course, “Three Way” Wine and Cheese Pairing Dinner on Thursday, July 17th. Chef-owner Townsend Wentz and General Manager/Wine Director Lauren Harris put together the night of five wines, five cheeses and five plates. “I’m always looking for new ways to share our food and our wines with our guests, and this dinner promises to be the first of many inventive pairing events,” Wentz said.
Tickets are $65 per person (not including tax and gratuity). Guests will get a taste of contemporary French flare and domestic and imported cheeses, all of which are paired with wines chosen by Harris.
Reservations are encouraged. To reserve your spot, call 267-639-3203.