Meritage, 500 S. 20th St., definitely has the ambience, and the wine list, to facilitate a charming date, a classy girls’ night out or a quiet family dinner, judging from the diners we saw when we visited.
Executive chef Anne Coll melds French techniques with Asian flavor profiles, drawing on her six years as executive chef at the now-defunct Susanna Foo on Walnut Street. At Meritage, Coll uses local produce from farms in Lancaster and Chester counties. She also frequently offers chef’s tasting menus: The most recent is a four-course lobster tasting menu that ends Oct. 28.
Meritage’s menu is split into three categories: snacks, small plates and large plates. We had the good fortune to sample a decent amount of the snacks and small plates, with pleasing results overall.
The snacks were surprisingly good. The potato and leek soup ($9) was hearty and comforting on a chilly night. The calamari with Korean chili sauce ($8) was very crisp, spicy and not your typical squid fare. Equally solid were the pork and shiitake dumplings ($5). The pickled vegetables ($3) were damn good — especially considering we aren’t easily impressed with vegetables that haven’t been finessed into something complicated. Some of Meritage’s small plates definitely upped the ante established by the snacks.
The foie-gras ravioli, a special that evening, was wonderful, somehow restraining the richness of the duck-liver paté while retaining a nice crunchy texture. Equally satisfying was the crusted ahi tuna ($14), which had a flavor that was both sweet and herby. The seared Cape May diver scallops with creamed leeks, mushrooms and black truffle sauce definitely brought out the best in all of those ingredients (which is saying something, considering how jaded we have become of late with scallops and truffles).
We were especially impressed with red wine-braised escargot with garlic potato purée ($11): Those of us whose palates are well-versed in the way of the snail were enamored with the dish’s flavor and the tender loving care lavished on the cooking of the escargot. We loved the octopus ($12), served with crispy chickpeas, tapenade and tomato confit, but found the chickpeas were too hard for our liking.
Our sole venture into the large-plates menu was the braised short rib ($22) with horseradish smashed potatoes, button mushrooms, baby carrots and turnips — the kind of dish a fall evening calls for. And while everything on the plate went well together and was cooked to perfection, it was the short rib itself that left us wanting. Though it was perfectly fall-apart tender, we were looking around for the salt.
But Meritage returned to fine form for dessert, which for us included white chocolate and brown sugar bread pudding ($9), easily seducing us with the welcome addition of salted caramel and vanilla ice cream, and the chocolate-covered peanut- butter bombe ($9), which reminded us that Halloween wasn’t far off and peanut butter cups will be flying about with abandon for our eating pleasure.
Though it’s short notice, we’re looking forward to trying the lobster tasting menu. If we can’t make that one, perhaps we’ll plan better so we don’t miss the next one.