Monday, February 15, 2010

Thoreau: Portion Disobedience & 8-Inch Sprigs of Rosemary

"Ready for your boxes?"

The server at Thoreau was right to expect that we'd be packing up the remaining 2/3 of our meal. All parties who left before us waddled out with doggie bags and signs of an oncoming food coma.

I felt like Alice in Wonderland from the start, slipping around the bulky dining furniture in a too-small theater. Plates the size of rounded chair bottoms came floating out, asserting themselves onto tables that were just large enough to accommodate.

The bread is the first impression you get of a new restaurant. I inquired about the flavorless focaccia, which the server said was not vegan. However, the pumpernickel was dairy-free. It was airy and fresh, a nice dark basic for the orange chili butter.

Be careful with the bread. You'll need all of the stomach real estate you can get at Philadelphia's newest vegetarian restaurant.

Our appetizer, Buffalo Blue Blini, arrived with promise. Each miniature buckwheat pancake was uniform in shape, capped off with chili-glazed mushrooms and a Maytag bleu crouton. When forked into, the crouton shot melty, tangy cheese all over the sweet BBQ-flavored 'shrooms. The pancake soaked up the debris. A bite of all three components is a mesmerizing interlude. On repeat visits, our server did not clear our silverware for the next course. During our second go, she even tilted my suggestive silver off of the bread plate back onto the tablecloth.

On a different trip, the veggie sliders come four to an order and are too many bites - sliders should be 2-3 bites max. They are capped with a mountain of shoestring fries that rival an order at Continental. The pile leaves a slick of extra grease on the shiny brioche buns. 

Where does one start with a Thoreau entree? I must say that both of us have very intact memories and were exceptionally sober. Yet moments after consulting the bewildering maze of descriptions on the menu, we had forgotten the exact contents of our order. The ingredient list reads like a prepackaged snack label.

I knew that I had ordered plantain empanadas with some kind of avocado business. He knew that he was getting a Blue Plate with blue sweet potatoes and "stuff". Please banish the 8-inch rosemary sprigs.

I was liking my plate for a few bites in, but there was so much going on with it that I needed directions to eat forward. If the tomato avocado stack was its own thing, with a bit of mango relish, it would have been my Caribbean fling. If the plantain empanadas were an appetizer, served with the pumpkinseed-chipotle pesto, that would have been bonafide, too.

The falafel plate borders on Pita Pit casual. It comes with three sandwiches for one person. Supersized me. My suggestion? The $15 dish could slink down to $10 and slim down to a single sandwich, with the side of greens. Nobody is going to complain that you're starving them. They'll just order dessert. Trust me.

I chose the Asian-Pacific salad for my main. It might be the most realistic portion in the restaurant, but it's still an entree-sized salad.

Now, hear this. Everything we tasted was cooked well and inspired. I would love very much to go back, but I hate the idea of wasting so much food and I don't like to bring extra home with me. I would also like Thoreau to stay in business and I worry about their food costs thus far. They're giving away too much expensive food. I have no doubt that their ingredients are much more costly than most fast food places who can dole out giant portions. Most of the customers aren't coming here for that.

No vegetarian or meat-eater looking for a light, refreshing meal is going to continue to eat here, without splitting a plate amongst three. It's exhausting.

Even dessert, which was excellent, became a chore to consume after a few bites. La Colombe appeared in venti mugs. They must have been kidding. The butterscotch blondie parfait is a must, if you can find a way. It made me break one of my long-standing positions: I don't eat pudding.

Thoreau is currently BYOB.

Thoreau Restaurant, 1033 Spring Garden Street


Broomcakes said...

I'm the blog!
I'm a frequent diner at the owner's original spot out in the burbs, Blue Sage Grille (I think my hubby and I are actually in the "regular" book, we go so much). You've just described the experience at the Sage exactly...humongous portions, encyclopedic entree descriptions, and the failure to clear silverware between courses.
Still, I can't get enough of the Goat Cheese Nachos on the menu there. Whenever the spouse and I go, we've learned to share...basically we order appetizer, entree, and dessert for one, which is enough for two.

Kelly said...

Thanks for coming out...I imagine that is what we will do if we go again, because the food is worthwhile. I'd like them to turn a profit, and a more svelte Philadelphia population would not be a bad thing.

We dined at Koo Zee Doo last night and even though we left just as full as we had at Thoreau, the portion sizes were appropriate and the food was so wonderful that we wanted to keep eating. I didn't feel turned off by the size of anything and only what needed to be on each platter was there.

BradyDale said...

Huge portions are AWESOME! I can't wait. God, I'm going to love this place.

This is America. We like things HUGE. God, I want to be there right now.

Kelly said...

BradyDale, you are letting the cold air in. Just go.

BradyDale said...

Is the food itself really a signficant input cost for restaurants? I always figured the price of the actual raw good was dwarfed by overhead and labor -- especially fancy chef labor. but, at the end of the day, the marginal cost of adding a few more ounces of avocado or sweet potato would be pretty negligible. No?