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Fine dining in Philadelphia: 10 Arts Bistro at the Ritz-Carlton

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Philadelphia is rapidly outgrowing its culinary reputation for cheesesteaks and soft pretzels and is offering some of the best, most innovative dining in the country. With the wave of new spots opening almost weekly, it takes a lot to stand out and above the competition. 10 Arts Bistro, the restaurant inside the beautiful Ritz-Carlton Philadelphia (10 Avenue of the Arts), excites diners with a delicious menu of traditional and exotic comfort dishes. The kitchen, led by Executive Sous Chef Patrick Morrison, deftly combines local, artisinal ingredients to provide a range of flavors catering to both locals and hotel guests.

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The Ritz-Carlton Philadelphia
Diners benefit from the vast lobby space of the former bank building, with a soaring domed ceiling and enormous marble columns. The building, built in 1931, is pure Greek Revival splendor and is a perfect setting for a luxury hotel. Service, from the moment you enter, is direct, personal and attentive, as it is at all Ritz-Carltons. I find this makes dining at luxury hotel restaurants always better than a stand-alone establishment. This is not a stuffy, formal place, the dining room is made to feel modern and intimate with dark lighting with colored accents and house music.

A seven-course tasting dinner
I was fortunate enough to experience an epic seven-course tasting dinner, paired with seven wines, personally served by the chef. I was also fortunate enough to have his knowledge and guidance in explaining each dish as he served them. As I do with most of these opportunities, I did not see a menu in advance, made no requests, and left myself in the capable hands of the chef to guide me on my culinary journey. I was not disappointed. Other than the salad course, the descriptions below correspond with the images in the slideshow.

Amuse bouche
We started with a little cup of watermelon gazpacho, with compressed watermelon, buttermilk gel, peaky toe crab and basil. This was a light, summery taste, just a bit more than a shot. The watermelon was joined by small, delicate pieces of crab and the whole thing worked together beautifully.

Cheese course
This was also light and fresh, featuring local Round Top Farms Camembert paired with roasted and marinated beets, strawberry puree, candied pistachio, pumpernickel crumble. The cheese was rich and fresh but I must admit I'm not a big beet fan. These were very tasty and came in red, orange and yellow, not the typical purple. The pumpernickel crumble was a unique, crunchy compliment.

Salad course
I love tasting dinners as I get to try things I would never normally order. This was such a case as it was rock octopus Nicoise, duck fat braised octopus, haricot verts, egg gel, crispy anchovies, olive jus, crispy fingerling and tomato. Each type of octopus was quite different, the Nicoise was breaded and fried, with a crunchy, salty taste. The duck fat braised pieces were tender and delicious, lighted cooked with just the flavor of the octopus.

Appetizer
This may have been my favorite, prawn Lejon and braised pork belly with a horseradish espuma and espellette lacquer. The two head-on prawns were perfectly cooked and spiced, eaten happily in a single bite. The pork belly was perfect, fatty, meaty and coated with that delicious espellette lacquer, like a fancy BBQ sauce.

Fish course
I'm not normally a big fan of fish, but this was amazing, snapper and bonito flake served in a ceviche, with citrus, cilantro, basil and chili. What a sweet and spicy delight this was. The fish was super-thin, and the sauce was just so light and flavorful. Just sweet enough, but with that chili kick. One of my favorite things I've eaten in a while.

Pre-entree
Another light salad was next, featuring local Caputo Brothers Burratina and local heirloom tomatos in a saba riclette balsamic with extra virgin olive oil and basil. The burratina, similar to mozzarella, was bold and rich and the local tomatoes were incredibly fresh and delicious. The balsamic dressing was also light and perfectly flavored.

Entree
As a big steak eater, I was ready for the entree, a Lancaster 28-day-aged strip. This was served sliced atop Tuscan farro with stewed kale, local eggplant, heirloom cauliflower and tartuffo cheese. Farro is a ancient grain, eaten by the Romans and was an interesting and unique pairing with the steak. The meat, locally sourced from Lancaster in Pennsylvania Dutch Country, was very tender and very tasty, I enjoyed it without any sauce or additions.

Dessert
Everything culminated in a choco-peanut butter fantasy, served by the pastry chef himself. I enjoyed a peanut butter brioche pudding, whipped peanut butter, milk chocolate ice cream, candied peanuts and chocolate croquant. A great finish and it left me wanting more ice cream and more pudding.

The wine pairings
No dinner is complete without great wine, and this culinary journey also included wine pairings designed to enhance each dish. We started with a Ruffino Prosecco, light, sweet and bubbly. Wine two was a Cielo Pinot Grigio, also very light and sweet, perfect for the light early courses. Wine three was an Urban Riesling, with a very flowery, delicate nose, which contrasted nicely with the bold and sweet flavor. Wine four moved us into a Cakebread Cellars 2012 Chardonnay, which had barely any bouquet but a very nice, dry taste. It was a good transition from the earlier, sweeter wines. Wine five, a Sauvignon Blanc, came from WhiteHaven in New Zealand, and was a lighter, fruitier choice than the Cakebread. My favorite of the whites was the Riesling, just a great, sweet, bold taste. Wine six switched gears into a Cab, with a 2012 Cabernet from Avalon, also taking us back to Napa. This was rich and smokey and worked well with the steak. Wine drinkers will understand when I say it was very Napa, with a great, recognizable taste that I expect from a good, pricey Cab ($73 a bottle on the menu). After dessert it was Port time, a Taylor Fladgate 10-year-old Tawny Port. This was very strong with deep whiskey-like tones.

Check out Freddy's blog at luxuryfred.com.

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