First Bite: The New New New New Marigold Kitchen

marigold_250There’s a new chef/owner at Marigold Kitchen. Chef Robert Halpern is the fourth chef to helm the kitchen of this tiny, West Philly BYOB. At first glance, very little about the restaurant appears to have changed: The dining room is still painted that inviting shade of yellow, and the same comfortable brown banquette lines the right wall. The food, however, is vastly different from previous chef Erin O’Shea’s Southern-influenced cooking. In fact, as soon as we were seated, our waitress informed us of the new concept: “foams, gels, and bubbles.” She wasn’t kidding — much of the menu is devoted to such scientific cooking techniques that Robert picked up, no doubt, spending time in restaurants like the avant-garde Alinea in Chicago.

While we spooned up the aerated mustard and quince paste on the Boudin Blanc starter, it seemed more attention was paid to these accompaniments than to the house-made sausage itself, which was dry and crumbly. Similar problems plagued the “Pork, Beans & Beer” entrée. The white bean purée and Guinness foam were surprisingly complementary, but the pork itself was undercooked. I would have informed our server, but it took her more than 10 minutes to check on our entrées. At that point, my dinning mate had finished his food, and what was left of mine was cold and unappetizing. Although, when she finally learned of my disappointment, our server was nice enough to comp our dessert.

By far, the best thing we sampled was the beet risotto. Halpern juices local red beets to give the risotto its beautiful red hue and distinct earthy flavor. And the prices are fair: Even with such elaborate cooking techniques and high-quality ingredients (there’s escargots and a Painted Hills farm ribeye), most entrées were priced in the mid-$20s.

Overall, unpolished service and Halpern’s contemporary (if not fussy) cooking seems out of place in Marigold’s warm and relaxed dining room. It’s no surprise, really — with the restaurant changing chefs and concepts so frequently (and maintaining the same name), it’s hard to live up to his diners’ expectations. With a more focused menu and better service, the new Marigold could live up to its reputation.

Marigold Kitchen, 501 South 45th Street; 215-222-3699.