Audrey Claire Lives Up To The Hype

It’s been over a month since my Restaurant Week meal at Audrey Claire, but I still find myself reminiscing about it, even now.  I was skeptical going into the meal, convinced that Audrey Claire would not live up to the high praise it had received from foodie friends of mine.  But, I will happily admit that I was wrong, and that Audrey Claire did, in fact, live up to the hype.

Located on a quiet corner near Rittenhouse Square, Audrey Claire appears low-key and unassuming.  There is no sign displayed outside; just a small, nondescript white building, usually with a line of people waiting to score one of the coveted tables.  Despite the minimalism, Audrey Claire still manages to be warm and inviting.  Large bowls of green granny smith apples provide a touch of color to the otherwise monochromatic interior, and low-lit candles give the small dining room an even more intimate feel.  And every now and then, a burst of flame or a loud sizzle will come from the (tiny) open-air kitchen, located in the back of the dining room.

Given the tiny kitchen, I was impressed by the quality and volume of food turned out by Audrey Claire.  Almost every dish was presented beautifully and executed perfectly, a testament to the skilled cooks manning the kitchen that night (and if I remember correctly, there were only 2-3 people in the kitchen).

Because I went with a large group for Restaurant Week, I got to sample several dishes (restaurant week 3-course prix fixe, $35).  All of the appetizers were outstanding.  Grilled tiger shrimp with baby arugula was certainly a crowd pleaser, as was the baby arugula salad with fresh berries, french lentils and warm goat cheese.    Though simple in preparation, both dishes really showcased the freshness and quality of the ingredients.  Bosc pear and gorgonzola flatbread with toasted sunflower seeds was very pungent from the gorgonzola, but balanced out nicely with the sweetness from the pear and crunch from the seeds.

But my favorite starter had to be the seared haloumi with candied dates and sesame seed compote.  Haloumi is a hard Mediterranean cheese made from sheep’s and goat’s milk, and is very similar to Indian paneer.  The exterior of the cheese was crisp and golden, while the interior was pilllowy and soft.  I especially love anything with dates, and here they imparted a nice fruitiness and sweetness to the dish.

The award for prettiest entrees of the night definitely goes to the chicken milanese topped with arugula and the potato crusted ahi tuna with crispy beets and black truffle vinaigrette.  As with the starters, both entrees really highlighted the high quality of the ingredients and excellent execution in the kitchen.  The chicken milanese was lightly breaded and lemony, and I loved taking a bite of the cold arugula after a bite of the hot chicken.  The tuna was seared to a perfect medium rare, served atop a bed of Israeli cous cous.  Though I was skeptical of the crispy beets and black truffle vinaigrette, they provided an earthy flavor that accentuated the tuna.

Desserts, unfortunately, were uninspiring compared with the rest of the meal.  Maybe I was expecting too much–that I would be blown away by the dessert, just as I had been by the previous dishes.  Regardless of my high expectations, I was disappointed with both the warm chocolate cake and white chocolate bread pudding.  Neither was decadent or very memorable, and both seemed a little dry to me.

Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly recommend Audrey Claire.  Its understated elegance, congenial atmosphere, and refreshingly simple cuisine have won over legions of fans.  And now, they can count The Unpaid Gourmet as one of them.

Audrey Claire
276 S. 20th St.
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 731-1222
Open for dinner 5pm nightly, BYOB, cash only
Audrey Claire on Urbanspoon

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