Philadelphia Restaurant Review: Old World Sensibilities at Russet
Recently, Andrew and Kristin Wood took delivery of a 387-pound pig at Russet, their new BYO in an old Spruce Street townhouse. It was a Tamworth-Old Spot blend raised in Peach Bottom, Pennsylvania. The head alone weighed about 50 pounds, and Andrew (who won a 2010 Best of Philly nod for his charcuterie at Fork) brined it for use in a terrine. He turned the front shoulders into coppa and salami. The loin became lomo—pale pink petals of which would later be folded into the semblance of a splayed rose blossom, like pig origami, dressed with blood orange supremes and chili oil. The belly became pancetta tesa; the feet, zampone. The hind legs yielded 38-pound prosciuttos.
But you can’t use every last bit of a pig. Wood reckons that he ended up with about six ounces of waste. “Stink glands,” he explains. “From the armpits and the crotch. If you go to cure them, they sometimes liquefy and burst, and ruin everything.”
That’s one way to describe Wood’s head-to-tail bona fides. Here’s another: The ivory ribbons of lardo crowning a russet-potato-and-Pink-Lady tarte tatin on my first visit were so exquisite that my wife all but ordered me to get some into our kitchen, lifting a ban as old as our union.
The Woods’ seasonable-and-sustainable credo is familiar, but their Old World sensibility gives Russet a traditionalist rather than trendy vibe. He makes pastas from Lancaster wheat, rolling out some shapes on a chitarra crafted by an old artisan in Chester County. She makes a butterscotched, Calvados-creamed apple mille-feuille that’s to die for.
I wish their titular tarte tatin could be a permanent appetizer. But the Woods burn through menus fast. The next time, lardo was a translucent cocoon for a hunk of tilefish slathered with a savory mince of green herbs—ingenious and delicious, yes, but it seemed to have hogged that night’s allotment of inspiration. A blanket of beef leg alla Milanese was big enough to smother a grease fire even after four people had tried sawing through its boredom. The thin-rolled spinach ravioli of a previous evening—exquisite expressions of gorgonzola dolce dabbled with hazelnut sauce—had given way to heftier goat-milk ricotta ones in a rustic sauce of molten tomato chunks: still good, but, like a pedestrian filet of striped bass, sadly forgettable.
A suggestion: Go with anything that’s been gift-wrapped in cured pork. Wood’s best knack is for creations like braised celery stuffed with herbed brioche and wrapped with bacon. And while yes, Russet does need to even out a little and spread the inspiration more widely over that ever-changing menu, it’s still a restaurant worth watching—one with some minor flaws, but amply larded with potential.