Center City has a brand new fine dining spot, but the dining experience at Fine Palate is truly unlike any white-tablecloth restaurant you’ve ever been to in Philadelphia. Located in the Aria building on 15th Street near Locust, Fine Palate is run by owner Courtney Dow and the catering team behind Le Bok Fin, the pop-up on the rooftop of the old Bok Technical High School that drew steady crowds this summer.
The menu is approachable, yet with flavors as layered as they are unique. The plating is museum-worthy, but with reasonable prices and an entire staff that genuinely wants you to enjoy a memorable dinner experience. It all works, as the Wooderice team stopped in recently to sample a dish or nine, and we’re still dreaming of some of the plates.
The menu is global, consisting of small plates and a handful of show-stopping entrees. Chef Vince Joseph was mentored by Wolfgang Puck and trained overseas at three-star Michelin restaurants, and those experiences shine through in the wide-ranging menu with influences from French, Mediterranean and Japanese cuisine. Above all, Joseph is passionate about his food. He enjoys interacting with diners and sharing stories, and he wants you to feel comfortable ordering whatever your heart desires (it is recommended to call ahead if you’re the off-menu type, but as long as the ingredients are available, the kitchen is happy to cook it).
Behind the bar, former Prime Stache bar manager and GM Kevin Malvey runs Fine Palate’s drink program, with all cocktails priced at $8 ($6 during Happy Hour 5-7 p.m.). His infusions are on point, including a Turkish fig-infused rye whiskey Sazerac; a pineapple-infused vodka with fresh strawberry and 100-year-old balsamic vinegar; and a cucumber-infused Tom Collins.
Joseph has made a point not to seek out any press since opening three weeks ago, instead wanting word-of-mouth to spread organically through exceptional dinner service. But at Wooderice, our mission is to always bring you the scoop first-hand, so without further ado let’s take a quick tour of the cuisine:
First up were the chicken matzo dumplings in a locally-sourced hen bouillon, the ultimate comfort dish with deep chicken flavor that keeps your spoon going back for more.
Next, day boat diver scallops on the half shell. They’re live steamed and served with green onion in a ginger sauce that’s a little on the salty side, but not enough to overpower the freshness of the scallop.
We also enjoyed some wild mushrooms roasted in aromatics. They come in daily from a local forager who moonlights as an opera singer, because, as Joseph would say, “Why not?”
The tempura shishito peppers were a personal favorite. The sweet Thai chili sauce complements the heat in the Japanese peppers, bringing an enjoyable balance to each bite.
We also had the white truffle risotto, another comfort food but without the high-end price you’d expect with the truffles, which come in from Piedmont. The savory creaminess of the Northern Italian carnaroli rice can easily stand on its own.
Somehow, after all of that, two of us split (err, crushed) a grass-fed 28-ounce aged bone-in ribeye from Creekstone Farms. It came out on a butcher’s
block with a fantastic char and was accompanied by a smooth potato puree and a delicious veal jus. A butter knife is all that is needed. Hector may have actually cried when it was finished.
Joseph also does a juicy crown-roasted hen, a bamboo-steamed whole fish, and a Japanese “Kamameshi,” which is basically a paella with green chili Japanese sausage.
One offering we didn’t get a chance to try – because one can only eat so much – is the agnolotti pasta stuffed with lamb chopper cheese with braised lamb. Malvey says it’s his all-time favorite dish. Regretfully, I’ll just have to take his word for it until my return visit.