With its sleek, modern décor and upscale menu, who knew Firecreek Restaurant and Bar, 20 E. Lancaster Ave. in Downingtown, would be the arena for a culinary war of wills?
On our long drive out to suburbia, our inner carnivore was bouncing around the car anticipating the meaty goodness Firecreek’s menu promised (steaks, ribs and seafood ... oh my). The extensive wine menu didn’t hurt either.
By the time we hit the parking lot, inner carnivore was doing naked backflips and salivating at the promise of decadent displays of red meat.
Then out of left field comes the Tuesday-night chef’s table, a three-course meal ($35 without wine, $50 with wine) that, this evening, followed a vegetarian theme. At that point, inner vegetarian, long dormant, woke up, slapped inner carnivore in the face with a glove and challenged it to a head-to-head.
Much to our surprise, the vegetarian tasting dishes beat out the carnivore menu selections hands down.
Chef Oscar Gay, a Northwest Philadelphia native and executive chef from establishments like The Golf Club in Everson, presented each dish personally. The vegetarian dishes got out the first shot with an amuse-bouche of an Asian-vegetable pancake that was pleasantly light and crisp. The greens that accompanied the pancakes were dressed delicately so their freshness was never overpowered.
Next up, the first course of black bean soup went head-to-head with the slow-roasted duck and poblano taco ($12). The black bean soup had a silky texture and a spicy kick accented by smoked habañero crema, salsa and tortilla slivers on top. The taco stepped up with perfectly seasoned, juicy shredded duck, further elevated by a side of papaya hot sauce.
The second course brought the real excitement of the evening: The roasted butternut risotto went up against one of the house favorites, the New Orleans BBQ shrimp ($26).
Surprises abounded. The BBQ shrimp rested on a bed of spinach, red beans and rice, topped with crispy fried onions. The shrimp really should have been the star of the plate, with the other elements playing back up. But the red beans and rice were the most addictive part of the dish, with the well-seasoned beans accented with tender and plentiful pieces of applewood bacon, adding a smoky flavor and heat. The onions were a delight as well.
To be fair, the shrimp were plump and perfectly cooked, but the sauce didn’t assert itself as much as it should have. This turns out to be a trait shared by other meat dishes and, while a testament to the quality and freshness of the proteins, it does become a slight (but not insurmountable) distraction.
As good as that dish was, the true rock star of that course— and the whole evening — was the roasted butternut risotto. Not being the biggest devotee to most things butternut, we were pleasantly surprised to find the sweetness of the butternut tempered by the presence of garlic and dill for an ultra-creamy, savory and satisfying entrée that we could not stop eating. The same can be said for another house favorite, the roasted butternut and apple-cider bisque ($6) on the appetizer menu.
By this point, inner carnivore was taking a beating but holding out hope that steak would save the day. But the third course ended up a tie.
The wild-mushroom crepe took on the New York strip ($34). The strip was a healthy portion cooked to perfection and backed by haricots verts and a very tasty applewood bacon hash, which leads us to believe there isn’t anything Firecreek can’t make better with bacon. The steak was good, but like the sauce accompanying the shrimp, the cabernet demi-glace didn’t assert itself as expected.
The wild-mushroom crepe delivered earthy goodness, allowing the full flavor of the three different kinds of mushrooms to come through.
With the vegetarian dishes being the clear winner of the evening, inner vegetarian and inner carnivore commiserated over dessert. The bread pudding was a treat to the palette, as it was made from apple-cider donuts from a local orchard. The homemade cookie ice-cream sliders and the crème brûlée were also tasty ways to end a meal.
With its confident presentation, fresh local ingredients and attention to detail, Firecreek Restaurant and Bar is well worth the trek out of the city.