by Sam Gugino
If you are looking for a restaurant with food that grabs you by the lapels and shouts “This is awesome!” Mica may not be your place. This is a good thing, actually.
Yianni Arhontoulis, who has taken over the heralded Mica (sans liquor license) from previous owner Chip Roman, uses top notch, often local, ingredients and creates dishes that are well, if not exquisitely, prepared. While not awesome (a word I have grown to loathe), Mica 2.0 will provide you with food that is refined, precise, and sometimes remarkable (especially desserts). And every bit as good (or better) than its predecessor.
The menu begins with snacks to nosh on while deciding on the rest of the meal. Four puffy crab beignets will soon make you forget those sugary New Orleans fritters. These feathery pillows had a smooth and rich crab filling, the kind you wish came in most crab cakes. Old Bay seasoned mustard dip provides a gentle accompaniment. Another snack, three small corncakes with a lavish butter filling, had a fresh corn flavor that went on and on.
If you haven’t had your weekly kale fix, I can’t think of a better way than an appetizer of kale salad. It features tender inner leaves of Tuscan kale and toasted sunflower seeds swathed in a creamy buttermilk dressing and parked on a warm sunflower risotto.
Don’t be alarmed if you can’t see the fish when the tuna tartar arrives. It’s covered by thinly sliced carrot petals. Pretty, but it doesn’t make much sense to me. However, and more important, the quality and freshness of the tuna stand out.
Just when I thought the tomato season had tanked, the best tomato I’ve eaten this year arrived, a gift from the chef, whose minions no doubt saw me taking notes. The thick heirloom slice sat on a pool of creamy homemade ricotta.
I’m a sucker for skate wing and Mica’s entree of it was beautifully presented, if undersalted. Stuffed with caper and lemon spiced parsley, the crisp breading and garnish of egg halves gave it a kind of schnitzel look. The Germanic idea continued with pleasantly chewy sautéed cabbage and tiny, slightly overcooked, Brussels sprouts.
Luxurious lamb loin had a nice smoky flavor and buttery texture. It was paired with sweet and sour strips of squash and accented by crumbled homemade goat cheese. The latter was delicious but didn’t seem to belong.
Refinement gives way to near decadence with dessert, like the chocolate mouse and fresh mint ice cream dotted with chocolate bits and crème fraiche. The brown butter custard contains an apple pie filling that will forever put mom’s in second place. No drip coffee but you can get a first-rate Americano.
Like the food, service is understated, but friendly and efficient. Wainscoting painted colonial blue is the only significant decor change in the dining room. Combined with the white plastered wall above, made peachy pink by soft lighting, they give the room a more romantic look. Instead of fifes and drums, the music, volumed just right, features the 50s greatest hits – 60s music sometimes holds sway – from “Heartbreak Hotel” to “Sh-boom.” Yes, “Life Could be a Dream” at Mica.
8609 Germantown Ave, 267-335-3912, micarestaurant.com
Reservations and major credit cards accepted
Tuesday-Thursday, 5:30–10 PM; Friday, 5:30–11 PM; Saturday, 5–11 PM; Sunday, 5–9 PM
Snacks and Appetizers, $6-$15. Entrees, $21-$28. Tasting menu, $69.
Though New York’s Finger Lakes’ wineries still make “foxy” wines from vitis labrusca grapes like catawba and concord, the region’s hat now hangs on wines from higher quality vitis vinifera grapes, such as chardonnay and riesling, thanks in large part to pioneers like Konstantin Frank. Dr Konstantin Frank Dry Riesling 2014 (Code: 47175, $15.99) is one of America’s best rieslings, though there are others from which to choose, such as Sheldrake Point 2014 (Code: 47229, $16.99) and Ravines 2013 (Code: 42244, $18.99). The region’s chardonnays often avoid oak obfuscation, like the 2014 Hermann J Wiemer (Code: 47235, $17.99), which is rich but light on its feet at only 12.5% alcohol. Because they require more time to ripen, reds have a tougher time, though climate change may offer brighter future. In the meantime, Cabernet franc excels, as in the 2012 Dr Konstantin Frank (Code: 47182, $20.99), which has a bright cherry nose that gives way to earth, leather and meaty notes and a hint of mint. Pinot noirs, like Silver Thread 2013 (Code: 47242, $22.99), show some promise.
Chestnut Hill resident Sam Gugino is a former Philadelphia Daily News restaurant critic and Wine Spectator Magazine columnist.