Scratch the Surface: Spice Finch Reviewed
At Spice Finch, every plate is a work of art. But beauty isn't everything.
If we’re going to talk about Spice Finch, we have to start off by talking about the lamb ribs.
The lamb ribs are big. Beautiful on the plate. They’re rubbed in spices and cooked forever, giving them a thick bark touched with a hit of concentrated sweetness. But none of that is what interested me.
No, what interested me — what fascinated me during a recent dinner — was the micro-brunoise of apple and radish mounded up atop each of the two ribs. Vivid green apple against the warmer gold of the radish and the dark umber of the meat — the taste was phenomenal, sour, bitter, sweet and acid all at once. And the choice of knife-work was ideal. You use a brunoise (that tiny cube cut) when you want the power-punch flavor of a thing without its texture getting in the way. It allows you to use ingredients like finishing salt. But a micro-brunoise? Well, that’s just showing off. There’s really no reason for it other than art and ego.
Spice Finch marks chef Jennifer Carroll’s return to Philly after years away, after Top Chef, after everything that came after. Her first real Philly address since she ran 10 Arts for Eric Ripert, it’s housed in a sleek, surprisingly large space that’s all polished wood and wicker and comes attached to the Warwick Hotel in Rittenhouse. Along with co-chef/partner and full-on fiancé Billy Riddle, she’s created a Mediterranean small-plate spot that somehow feels a year behind the curve.
The plates are all gorgeous, yes (except for maybe the croquettes that come lined up over a muddled, goopy mess of tomatillo and avocado chunks). And a lot of it tastes good. Not great, but good. The peri-peri shrimp are like a scampi jumped up with a vague, distant heat. The date truffles are cool, coated in pomegranate sweetness, rolled in streusel. Those lamb ribs, as I mentioned, are quite tasty.
Still, there are misses, like a grain salad that tastes of warm, slightly squishy air, unless you get a mouthful of puffed rice, and then suddenly it’s all angry spice and discomfiting crunch. Or the Redemption #4, a cocktail that, with its Jäger, mescal and rosewater, tastes like French-kissing someone’s alcoholic grandma.
But that’s all fine. Good and bad? That’s what shakes out as a restaurant matures. And nothing here was terrible at a level that made me question what the kitchen was thinking. The problem is that no part of the experience felt particularly engaging, either. Spice Finch feels assembled entirely out of surfaces. There’s flash and art and ego, sure — tiny apples and glossy, centerfold-ready plates. But no depth. No warmth. Little about it that demands anyone’s attention for longer than it takes to snap a photo.
It’s nothing that can’t be corrected. I just wonder if it’s something that anyone there considers worth fixing.
2 Stars — Come if you’re in the neighborhood
0 stars: stay away
★: come if you have no other options
★★: come if you’re in the neighborhood
★★★: come from anywhere in the region
★★★★: come from anywhere in the country