Taste: Reviews: Reinventing the Meal

Small plates go avant- garde at Rittenhouse Square’s Snackbar.

The post-modern morsel is the dining trend of the moment. Portions of meat and fish barely bigger than matchboxes are everywhere, cleverly embellished with fruit and herb gelatins, flavored foams, tiny bowls of broth, fancy salts, savory powders, and broad brushstrokes of liquefied fruits and vegetables. Call them snacks, or call them dinner, depending on how many you feel like eating, This progressive-plate format is going over well at Ansill, Amada, Bar Ferdinand, and now at Snackbar, a grazer’s den off Rittenhouse Square with body-hugging chairs, awkward low tables, Coldplay and Radiohead on the sound system, and a lounge-y vibe.

With the world as his pantry, and envelope-pushing restaurants in Spain and Manhattan on his résumé, 28-year-old Jonathan McDonald plates up some of the most provocative food in town: roasted brussels sprouts with black truffle shavings and toasted hazelnuts; sourdough bread topped with pear jam and yeasty white beer foam; polenta that packs a punch from stinky Taleggio cheese; pan-seared rainbow trout paired with fluffy, hickory-infused scrambled eggs; and feathery maitake mushrooms submerged in mushroom tea with a pleasant bitter edge, thanks to a splash of Mexican dark beer.

The combinations intrigue, even when they fall short — the truffle shavings lacked earthy flavor, and I couldn’t detect a hint of olive oil in the olive oil powder sprinkled over crisp-skinned amberjack, a mild firm-fleshed fish, accompanied by pomegranate seeds and a smooth swath of whipped gelatin made from grapefruit, orange and Campari. But the crushed wasabi peas used to coat soft-cooked apple wedges with miso caramel make perfect sense, tasting like a spicy granola, and the best sweet of all is the banana cooked in a warm water bath with curry and brown butter until it absorbs heat and sweetness in equal measure before being dressed with salted caramel and cilantro bread crumbs.

If you’re very hungry, eating a succession of fun-size portions can get expensive: A nugget of poached foie gras no larger than a sea scallop, perched on a wee buckwheat bun, can be dispatched in one costly $14 bite, with a cup of Pecking duck broth as a chaser.

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