Mémé Review: Something Personal

David Katz (finally) puts his stamp on the Philadelphia restaurant scene

Sitting in Mémé’s sunflower-yellow dining room, beside a table of strangers who are too close not to talk to, you feel like you’re having dinner in a friend’s rowhome. The wood tabletops are without linens, and the “big ass pork chop,” one of Mémé’s “For Two” entrées, is served family-style. Someone at the table needs to do a little butchering to get at the succulent pink meat. A mess of bacon-y lentils must be passed around. The soundtrack blares a repeating loop of chef David Katz’s personal favorites (Elvis Costello, the Police, the Smiths). Passing joggers on Spruce Street gaze in with envious eyes.

After a stint in fine dining at M Restaurant and a tumultuously fast turn in the decidedly un-fancy Silk City, Katz wanted to find a kitchen that really fit his style. Turned out that to get one, he had to open a place of his own. So the 18-year veteran of the industry created Mémé (named for his Jewish-Moroccan grandmother), where he dishes up an idiosyncratic menu of “small-ish” (ranging in size from tapas to mini entrée) and “larg-er” (moderate-sized entrée to way-too-much-food) plates that are unified mostly by the whims of his personal tastes.

[sidebar]Katz must have a sweet tooth, because his desserts are some of the best in the city. There are only three, but his Meyer-lemon-cream-crowned brown butter cake, intensely maple-y pot de crème with walnut streusel, and deep, dark chocolate ganache cake are all arrestingly delicious. Unfortunately, this penchant for sugar spills over to the savory portion of the menu. The foie gras tart — which combines puff pastry, creamy foie gras, onions caramelized with brown sugar, baked apples and a maple-sherry glaze — is overwhelmingly sweet. A bacon-wrapped quail, seasoned with vanilla salt, slicked with maple syrup, and perched on a cloying mound of sweet potatoes, was similarly unbalanced.

Dishes that do hit the mark, though, reveal a confident hand and are worth savoring. A browned-but-moist skate wing is paired with mellow slow-roasted tomatoes and served over creamy mashed potatoes. The fish is drizzled with a butter-infused sauce kicked up with capers, a perfect harmony of flavors and textures. Katz’s silky homemade fettuccine with a thick, earthy wild boar ragu is just the type of dish you’d make at home if you could — or what you’d expect to be served in the (row)home of a food-obsessed friend.