Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Union League Club Moves to the Top of the Philly Restautrant List

Well the moveable feast continued on Thursday as we took the the culinary tour south to the City of Brotherly Love for another incredible dinner, this time at The Union League Club. About two years ago, in a pretty audacious move, the powers that be at the 148 year old club were able to entice long time Four Seasons Chef  Martin Hamann to join them to create a new era in dining at this venerable establishment. While I don't have the photos to prove it, there was just something wrong with whipping out the iPhone in a private club, this was another spectacular evening with a delicious fall menu that was as picture perfect in its presentation as it was a joy to consume!

We began at our hosts' palacial condominium in the Liberty Two Tower - stunning views of the city, NJ, the Delaware and Schuylkill - with a little Veuve Clicquot Brut Rose 1985, lovely, still fresh, dry and wine-y with its hints of Pinot, a perfect aperitif. There was also a little taste of a 1998 Tignanello opened the day before - cedary, dark fruits, Bordeaux like with a little Tuscan sun, quite tasty! Then off to dinner at the Club, up the stairs to 1862, the modern, beautiful space tucked away on the second floor of this cavernous old building. In stark contrast to the well worn, time honored, power-broker, clubby feel in the rest of the building, the space for the restaurant has been completey redone room. Modern, elegant, classy, it is tres chic. The kitchen is visible but behind glass so one gets to see the action without the noise, providing a dignified stately ambiance where you can easily converse in normal speaking tones with your guests. We were well armed with wine as they allowed us to BYO. As our server recitied the menu we were glad that we brought the big guns. What followed was an exceptional dinner, and coming the night after our excellent experience at Bouley that's saying something! Very different in style, but right there on quality. Bouley was more etheral, pushing it a little further, maybe a bit more creative and daring. This was comfort food gone way upscale, great ingredients, lovingly prepared, heart-warming, elegant fare. 
First Course: Haddock sliced thin and layered with potatoes and a crisp delicate ring situated on top, with a very generous dollop of paddle fish caviar right through the middle. Almost like a terrine, served warm, very delicate and precise, each element retaining its own texture and identity yet working together to create a whole that transcended the sum of the parts. Absolutely perfect with Raveneau Grand Cru Chablis Blanchots 2001, just now entering phase two of its life, still fresh but with some secondary notes of acacia, hazelnut, and that creamy Raveneau-esque character.

Second Course: Carpaccio of venison with fois gras and crisp. This was good with the Chablis, but we should have opened the Huet here!

Third Course: Ragout of pheasant, some mushrooms, another excellent dish, hearty, with chunks of fork tender game bird and a beautiful sauce - the very essence of fall. Volnay 1er Cru Champans 1999, Marquis D'Angerville Volnay. This was a little funky out of the gate, closed, hint of earthiness bordering on mustiness and I was a bit worried about it. After 10 minutes it cleaned up and began to show old school, well structured dark earth and fruit tones, with solid firm tannins and a deep concentrate core, some spices - still a baby - it really improved in the glass with time. Had another Burgundy, a 2003 Beaune La Montanee, Domaine de la Vougeraie - thought it had a little heat of the vintage and perhaps a little VA and a slightly tingly texture one the palate. Once again, presentation simple and elegant, as with everything we were served, an  absolutely beautiful dish, a perfect match with Pinot.

Fourth Course: Loin of Antelope, perfectly rare, with incredibly deeelish pear sauce swirled on the plate, winter greens - kale I think. Two reds, 1990 Leoville Barton, drinking great, elegant, warm earthy complex, and 1995 Chateau Haut Brion, wet stones, earth, dark fruits - classy, focused and solid, still a bit locked up and ideally could use a few more years. Great wine, even old Burgundian curmudgeon Joe Bembry was smiling after the these two wines!

Finished up with a cheese cart featuring all American cheeses and some really good ones at that with the Vouvray, "Le Mont" Mollieux 1985, Huet. What a wine! Still youthful pale hue, lovely fresh lime, citrus, with a stony cool minerality. Brilliant acidity keeps this wine crisp and laser focused, almost finishing dry. Still fresh and youthful served blind I would never venture a guess that this was 25 years - seems like it could age forever.

I don't get out that often in Philly, but have been to a few of the best eateries in town and this is without doubt amongst the tops on that list. If you haven't been yet, find a friend who is a member and get them to take you as soon as you can! For some more info on 1862, some photos and the Inquirers review click

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