I spent this past weekend in Philadelphia for work, listening to archaeologists talk all day. We had a great reception at the UPenn Museum on Friday, but on Saturday, we took most of the attendees to the White Dog Cafe for dinner. Our group was so much bigger than we expected that a couple of us staff ended up at our own table (where I didn't feel so awkward about photographing my food). The restaurant takes up three adjacent brownstones, and the tables are distributed throughout a bunch of little rooms with eclectic decor, leading to a homey and intimate feel.
As we browsed our menus, the waitress explained that White Dog is focused on using fresh, organic, and local ingredients, and this ideal makes all the difference to the food they serve. Some restaurants do this more as a gimmick, but that's not true in this case.
I started off with the heirloom apple salad. It consisted of matchsticks of red delicious apple, mixed microgreens and herbs, cubes of local Amish cheddar, candied walnuts, garlic chips, and a bright cider vinaigrette. The ingredients couldn't have been fresher, and there was a great balance to the dressing that made all the flavors taste very even. I really loved the addition of the garlic chips because, although there weren't too many of them, they gave a nice flavor zing every few bites. I'm going to try recreating this at home sometime, but I'm not so good with dressings, so I don't know if I'll be able to get that right.
I had a hard time choosing a main because they all sounded so good, but my eyes kept coming back to the description of the strip steak. My steak was cooked perfectly (although my tablemate had a few issues with hers) and incredibly tender. The dish was served with a rosemary and burgundy glaze, chive mashed potatoes, garlicky kale, and two huge beer-battered onion rings. The potatoes and kale were a perfect pair, and the onion rings had lots of beer flavor without it being overwhelming.
I was very full after I cleaned my plate, but the desserts sounded so intriguing that we felt compelled to split one. We went with the rosemary olive oil layer cake (sensing a theme?) with grapefruit mousse. The cake was very moist, and despite the olive oil and rosemary, it was still a sweet (but not too sweet!) dish. The mousse was delicious, but the grapefruit taste didn't come out until I tasted it on its own. This was a really fantastic cake, and I feel the need to find a similar recipe now.
Overall, this was the best meal I've eaten in Philadelphia. Granted, I've only been there twice, both times for work and without much free time. Still, the quality of the ingredients and the care they were cooked with was fantastic, and it's clear that this restaurant knows what it's doing.