Forget crisp, white tablecloths and predictable three-course meals. Life is too short to be spent adhering to dining norms, and no one understands this concept better than legendary Philadelphia restaurateur Stephen Starr. His Old City gem, Tangerine, throws tradition out the window, aggressively pursuing a more creative culinary angle. While the menu is filled with traditional Mediterranean dishes, Executive Chef Todd Fuller’s preparations offer a unique take on classic favorites, keeping customers coming back for more. From grilled octopus salad to Merguez kabobs, fresh flavors and worldly spices abound at this trendy local favorite.Read More ...
Every once in a great while a restaurateur comes along with a vision to transform a city, and over the past decade, Stephen Starr has taken Philadelphia’s dining scene to new heights. Tangerine, one of his most prized endeavors, has been an Old City hotspot since 2000 and continues to attract locals and visitors with its comfy couches and specialty cocktails. Tangerine is far from a traditional Mediterranean restaurant, focusing instead on reinventing the culinary staples of the region in new and luxurious ways.
Old City is the perfect blend of historic charm and glamorous decadence, which is why many Philadelphians view the neighborhood as a small slice of Manhattan in their own backyard. This reputation has only been cemented by Starr’s presence in the area, and Tangerine, located at 232 Market Street, is a major contributor to the city’s growing dining revolution.
Once you step through the doors, you’re bombarded with a wild décor and an eclectic lighting scheme. Low couches line the narrow space; luxurious, brightly colored curtains drape the walls and seating areas; and gently hanging lamps provide warmth in the otherwise dim dining room. The over-the-top atmosphere facilitates a carefree attitude among patrons, and the staff more than adequately affirms the restaurant’s key message – relax and stay a while. Tangerine’s interior layout and inventive menu are designed to accommodate large groups, making it one of Philadelphia’s most crowd-friendly establishments. For those looking for a more low-key evening, Tangerine’s lounge is a more casual and intimate option, but don’t count on it being quiet—Tangerine is as boisterous as it is sultry.
Once you sink into your plush sofa, your eyes will immediately lock on the cocktails section of the menu. The signature drink, the Tangerine, is an exciting blend of tangerine puree, vanilla vodka and club soda. The Strawberry Blond is a sweet treat of Italian wild strawberry liqueur and Prosecco, and the La Roma is simply an explosion in your mouth—one sip of the cinnamon vodka, pomegranate liquor, and cranberry and lime juices and your taste buds will pop. If you prefer a more traditional pairing of wine with your dinner, you will have your choice of hearty reds and refreshing whites from all over the globe, although the wine list focuses on wines from Italy, Spain, and France that encompass the heart of the Mediterranean. And for those who want to indulge in a little bubbly, the restaurant has a decent list of sparkling wines and champagnes.
Take your time and enjoy your drink while you peruse Executive Chef Todd Fuller’s imaginative menu. Drawing inspiration from French, Spanish, Italian and Moroccan cuisine, Fuller focuses on ingredients unique to each region, such as figs, olives, dates, eggplant, and chickpeas. The appetizers, also available in the lounge, are a wonderful mix of fresh seafood, rich cheeses, and salty meats. Tuna lovers should not miss out on the Tuna Tartare, which is highlighted by an exotic blend of flavors. Buttery red tuna slices are layered on a bed of smoky, grilled greens, served alongside a slice of rosemary flatbread. Lemon juice offers a punch of spicy citrus, which enhances the flavors of the fish, and the scent of the accompanying rosemary flatbread fills the table.
The Beef Carpaccio, also an excellent starter, is a carnivore’s dream. The paper thin slices of raw beef slowly melt in your mouth, and instead of the traditional squirt of lemon, Fuller has created a tart lemon jam that marries perfectly with the bright red meat and sharp curls of Pecorino cheese.
The ultimate appetizer would be the Meze Tasting, with its aromatic, earthy brown baba ghanoush taking center stage, and hummus, roasted peppers, grilled pita, sliced meats and various cheeses adding a splash of color. The baba ghanoush’s perfectly cooked eggplant is packed with flavor, and the sweet onions and powerful spices awaken all the senses. Tangerine’s creamy hummus would make any native Moroccan proud with its fresh blend of chickpeas and garlic.
Once you finish your appetizers, you’ll be eager to dive into Fuller’s divine dinner creations. Many of Tangerine’s dishes are served family-style, allowing your whole table to experience the diverse menu options without breaking the bank. The large portions will guarantee that you’ll get your money’s worth, and perhaps even carry home some leftovers.
Seafood abounds among the entrees, and the Grilled Fish al Limone is an impressive dish considering the simplicity of its ingredients. When it arrives, the rainbow of colors strikes you immediately, but the citrus scent of the lemon gets your mouth watering. The bright green asparagus is crunchy, the fiery roasted peppers are soft and luscious, and the generous drizzle of Sicilian olive oil makes each aspect of the dish shine.
The combination of sweet and savory tastes that is so common in Moroccan cuisine is well-executed in the Grilled Pomegranate Pork Chop entrée. The pork is seared to a rich, golden-brown and lies atop bitter, deep green escarole aglio olio (garlic and oil), accompanied by a chorizo-corn fritter and sweet corn jus. The fritter is a successful pairing of spicy sausage and sweet corn, with one flavor not outshining another. The sweet corn jus accompaniment wonderfully connects the two side dishes back to the moist pork chop through its sweet and salty undertones. However, the pomegranate borders on overpowering the pork’s natural saltiness, and may tip the scales a bit too much toward the sweet side for some.
The Chicken Tangine is a rustic option that captures the essence of Middle Eastern cuisine. Another feast for the eyes as well as the palate, the slow-cooked, rich chicken thigh meat gets a splash of color and flavor from salty green olives and tart, preserved lemon slices. Scoop the chicken onto fluffy portions of spiced cous cous for a truly authentic Moroccan dinner.
For a more African-inspired dish, try the Moombassa Sirloin. The dry-aged New York strip steak has a lively crust of garlic, pepper, coriander, and cumin, with a blood-red center. It is served with creamy potatoes, which are decadent and rich. An African-spiced butter that reflects similar flavors as the steak’s crust is melted gently over both steak and potatoes, turning a traditional meat-and-potato dinner into a must-try feast.
Despite how full you are after finishing your entrees – and you will be full – pastry chef Jill Van Duyne’s dessert menu is too enticing to pass up. Tangerine’s version of crème brûlée focuses on creamy banana, a favored fruit in Moroccan cuisine. Accented simply with a vanilla wafer, the crème brûlée is a lovely ending to the meal. Those interested in a richer dessert should opt for another African-inspired dish – the Chocolate Polenta Financier. After one bite of the super-sweet milk chocolate ganache and burnt honey ice cream, you’ll feel instantly transported to the Middle East. If you are a fan of Tangerine’s family-style dining, the Vanilla Yogurt Fondue is the ideal dessert for a group to indulge in. The warm spiced honey’s sweetness in the fondue is cut with tangy lemon curd and served with cookies and seasonal fruit.
If you’re looking for a relaxing evening, Tangerine is not the place for you. You can always count on it being lively and crowded, and reservations are definitely recommended if you plan on eating within an hour of your arrival. But if you’re in the mood for a sexy and satisfying escape to an exotic land, Tangerine will certainly not disappoint even the most discerning palate. The most pleasant surprise at this trendy locale is the knowledgeable and warm staff that is always eager to discuss the menu choices. It remains a mystery how Starr manages to pull off such dramatic culinary attempts with ease, but Tangerine is no exception and continues to keep restaurant-goers coming back for more.
Copyright © Restaurant Agent Inc.