The Revisit: Tapestry

Editor’s Note: With this month’s half-star review of Matt Levin’s Square Peg already a matter of record, Trey and I decided it might be worth checking in on Tapestry—the restaurant that opened in the space that’d once held Adsum. The plan was to use it as a measure of how tried-and-tested fared against new-and-risky. And here’s what happened. ~JS

The Foobooz commentariat has its charms and irritations, but for pith and sarcasm there is one area in which it is unsurpassed: The art of the premature obituary.

Restaurants are constantly closing in Philadelphia, and some denizens of Foobooz Nation take special pleasure in predicting the demise of their as-yet-unborn replacements. My favorite example dates to last September, when word spread that Kar Vivekananthan would be shuttering Adsum and converting the corner of Fifth and Bainbridge into a deliberately more generic gastropub.

It took frequent commenter Tex less than two hours to get the party started. “Foobooz,” he (or she) asked, “Any news on what might move into this spot in 8-12 months after the gastropub closes?”

“If I have the pattern correct,” replied Snake, “it will be the front end of a car moving in followed by something southeast Asian.”

Back in 2007, you see, when the corner space belonged to Coquette, an old lady had plowed her car through one of the windows.

Soon Herman joined the comment thread, cranking the sarcasm up to 11. “Apparently, Adsum got more attention from bloggers (local and national) than it did from customers. But don’t worry, the new concept will feature food from a chef who has already demonstrated his ability to produce crappy overpriced, pseudo-trendy garbage at the restaurant from which he was recently sent packing. Success will surely follow.”

MrOpinionater later boiled it down to the crux. “I’ve long maintained that location is death to any restaurant. Many people argued that Adsum was different. The proof is in the pudding.”

Queen Village’s Location of Death became Tapestry in November. Presumably Tex rewound the Doomsday Clock, setting alarms to mark his 8- to 12-month window. The rest of the neighborhood, meanwhile, either noticed the new tenant or didn’t. After all the attention paid to Matt Levin’s po-mo hijinks, Adsum’s straight-ahead successor—with its beery mix of burgers, pizzas, sandwiches, salads and bar snacks—was destined to rise from its ashes more like a pigeon than a phoenix.

Nevertheless, it didn’t take all that long for it to fly into birdshot. March ended with news of the dismissal of chef Carmen Cappello. And after holding off for a few more weeks, I dropped in for dinner the night after a disappointing experience at Square Peg, where Levin landed in the wake of Adsum’s demise.

Ralph Costobile, a former day chef at Fountain at the Four Seasons, is currently the top man in Tapestry’s kitchen. He put out a solid, if not thrilling, meal. There was a good-but-not-great burger, accented with a fetching house-made relish and crispy shallots. His fried chicken has nothing on the version Levin served here (and now offers at Square Peg), but the thigh quarter was juicy enough without being greasy. A third-rate brisket sandwich disappointed with its bland and chewy profile—something that a cup of jus could have helped to fix, in half-measure anyway. But a well-made pizza sporting creamy ricotta impastata and excellent pepperoni from Manhattan’s Salumeria Bielesse made up for it.

I know what you’re thinking: Praise don’t get much fainter than that. And I suppose it doesn’t. So why is Tapestry flying high on the weekend, and managing to maintain cruising altitude during the week?

Three reasons, judging from my dinner: Perfectly made cocktails, smart shopping, and pricing that a canny eater can exploit with the impunity of a fracking company working the Marcellus Shale. Sunny service also bears mention, because it turns Tapestry’s 24-tap beer selection into a sampler’s delight.

Our waitress looked a little young to be impersonating a beer guide—which may explain the enthusiasm with which she pulled it off, taking careful stock of my friends’ professed likes and dislikes and then dashing off to fill half a dozen stubby glasses with free tastes. It’s a simple thing to do, but she did it with a sort of guileless grace that infected everyone with her good cheer, and afflicted no one with the nagging guilt that sometimes arises from sending a server on multiple trips to pester the bartender. What’s more, the beer selection was splendid. It ranged from $4 pints of Victory’s Headwaters Pale Ale to $9 11-ounce pours of a Mikkeller/Brewdog collaboration the evening I went.

Nevertheless, cocktails are not an afterthought. Well, in a sense they are perhaps an afterthought, insofar as the list sticks to time-tested classics. But my Sazerac was exquisitely balanced, as was a Hotel Nacional fashioned with 5-year-old rum and Marie Brizard’s excellent apricot brandy.

As for shopping, it’s a strength that Tapestry’s servers have the good sense to own up to.

“Do you make your own charcuterie?” I asked one of them.

“No,” he replied, with no trace of shame despite the fact that in-house curing has become de rigueur in Philadelphia. “We want to serve the best stuff we can, and we feel like what we can buy is better than what we’d be able to make.”

A handsome spread ranging from prosciuitto and lomo, to bresaola and a brilliant fennel-tinged finocchiona, made that hard to argue with. Especially considering that 28 generous slices, along with plump caper berries and crunchy cornichons, commanded a mere $12.

Four bucks buys a nifty cargo of accented olives—the fat green nocerallas with balsamic pistachios are particularly worthwhile. Good white anchovies anchor an arugula and celery salad (though the greens were a little beaten up, not to mention assaulted with distracting truffle oil).

And get this: Would you like to add prosciutto di parma to your pizza? Fifty cents! Same goes for imported anchovies, roasted red peppers, or those rich dollops of ricotta impastata. Burgers work the same way. And think about it: When’s the last time anything cost 50 cents? Most menus don’t even have decimal points anymore.

This Queen Village corner, for whatever reason, has become a sort of litmus test for Philly restaurant obsessivores. Whatever your feelings were about Adsum, I’ll bet they were strong. Either you thought Matt Levin’s Four Loko pairing dinner was worthy of a special Beard Award, or a sign that the culinary apocalypse was upon us. I thought some of Adsum’s efforts were deliciously compelling, but didn’t love the way his celebration of gluttony made me feel like an easy target for a mugger as I stumbled away from dinners there. But it did, in the end, needle me with a combination of respect and irritation that made it fun to think and argue about—which is more than most restaurants accomplish.

Tapestry is no Adsum. It’s no Coquette. Whether that burns you like a rash or scratches you where you itch probably depends on whether you’re the kind of person who interprets the changing of a single corner as a blanket indictment of Philadelphia’s entire dining culture, or the kind who’s happy enough to see a restaurateur try to overcome a real-estate curse with a concept that works pretty much everywhere else.

Tapestry [Official Site]