We all know Philadelphia is a BYOB-loving town — you can barely walk down a city block without passing one. Don’t get me wrong, I love to bring my own wine to dinner. I sometimes wish I had one of those cool neon-colored neoprene bottle holders. But with so many good options around here, who do you trust? You can trust me on this one: Go to Pumpkin. In 2004, chef Ian Moroney and his wife Hillary Bor opened their small South Street restaurant with a simple goal: providing an unpretentious food and wine experience that is accessible to everyone. For seven years, the couple kept up this approach, changing their menu daily to showcase the best products from local purveyors. Then, last December, Chris Kearse came on as chef de cuisine and began taking Pumpkin in an exciting new direction, bringing fascinating new ingredients and techniques to the table while still honoring Ian and Hillary’s philosophy. We knew we had to get them in here ASAP!
On a frigid Monday night in February, Ian and Chris came in for a night of seafood splendor that we dubbed “Under the Sea.” They heated up the COOK kitchen quick, preparing five fish-focused courses and one ridiculous hazelnut financier dessert. Both chefs are huge seafood fanatics and shared their extensive knowledge of fish and its many preparations. Ian filled us in on the complicated steps it takes to properly prepare Spanish octopus, while Chris broke down some of the unconventional accompaniments he used for the dish, such as Buddha’s Hand, an exotic Asian fruit. (Even though it’s citrus, its odd shape and color led many to comment that it looked like a sea creature — perfect for the evening!)
One thing that really separates Pumpkin from other BYOBs in Philly: Their food looks just as good as it tastes. Chris, who has cooked in the cutting-edge kitchens of icons like Charlie Trotter, Laurent Gras, Grant Achatz and Thomas Keller, has such an incredible eye for building ingredients on a plate that really adds to the overall visual impact of your meal The bacalao al pil-pil with potato chantilly and pistachio was a big hit with everyone, but my personal favorite dish of the night was the fifth course, a filet of cobia served with cauliflower, black truffle, salsify and vermouth. Cobia, also known as black kingfish, has a firm texture and a strong flavor, so pairing it with truffle and hearty salsify was a perfect fit. Just one small example of the tremendous talent Ian and Chris have for combining flavors in such a memorable way.
COOK looks forward to having the Pumpkin crew return very soon, but in the meantime I’m happy to know I can stroll down the street to 17th and South to dine in their house anytime! One of the best ways to try them out is on a Sunday night, when they offer a five-course tasting menu for just $40. You can’t beat that deal, and you can’t beat the cozy feel of their beautiful dining room, either.
Check out the full menu from the evening and some additional photos: