“Trading Places,” starring Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy, is one funny movie. Filmed in Philadelphia, it was a modern day rendition of “The Prince and the Pauper.” Aykroyd played the stuck-on-himself rich boy named Louis Winthorpe, and Murphy was the con man par excellence named Billy Ray Valentine.
Since the movie has strong ties to our city, I had a good chuckle when I noticed the restaurant in the Westin Hotel is now called Winthorpe and Valentine. Great idea. I doubt the hotel executives would have called it Duke & Duke, the snobby wealthy brothers who turn the tables on poor Winthorpe who is in charge of their financial empire.
I glanced at the menu and found it featured simple dishes prepared with first-rate ingredients. My quiet dinner at Winthorpe and Valentine was a breath of fresh air.
I sipped a Rob Roy ($12) at the bar and enjoyed a few nibbles of complimentary beef tenderloin kept warm in a silver chafing dish. A hostess seated me in a well-lit area of the dining room so I could read the food issue of The New Yorker without experiencing eye strain.
A hearty tureen of chicken noodle soup ($6) immediately warmed me up. It was brimming with good things like extra fine egg noodles, diced carrots, onion and celery and bits of juicy chicken floating in a rich, homemade chicken stock. It was seasoned just right and did not a require a shake of salt and pepper.
My server brought me a wooden box with individual compartments. One contained two fresh rolls, others held small, raw baby carrots with their tops attached, a small red apple and nuts with a nutcracker so I could enjoy a bit of a nosh between courses. I noticed a metal flask on the table. Since Prohibition has been gone since 1933, I doubted it contained bathtub gin or watered-down Scotch.
“It has olive oil inside,” my server said. “I can also bring you some butter for your bread.”
As I munched, I enjoyed the quiet tranquility of the room which has a club-like atmosphere. Dark wood is featured here along with red chairs and comfortable banquettes.
Next up was an endive salad ($11) that was large enough for two. The plate contained individual leaves of fresh crisp Belgian endive, scatterings of sugared walnuts, bites of tangy blue cheese lightly bathed in a roasted garlic vinaigrette dressing. I found myself either enjoying this dish with a knife and fork or simply picking up an endive leave, which served as a delicious, edible shovel for the walnuts and blue cheese.
I always enjoy a hefty pork chop, especially when the chef does not overcook it to a dry dust. At Winthorpe and Valentine, the entrée ($24) was an example of how good a simple dish turns out to be when the chef respects the ingredients. The pork chop was pink inside and very succulent. Natural pan juices were seasoned and reduced a bit to serve as the enhancing sauce. A mound of piping hot mashed potatoes — emphasis on “hot” — here were creamy and buttery with taste and texture. A half-dozen fresh local asparagus were included with dinner.
I asked our server if Murray the bartender could select a white wine and a red wine for me to enjoy with dinner. A buttery Chardonnay and a Cabernet Sauvignon from California were a bit pricey ($15), but sipped well with my meal. Portions were generous, as I could not finish either glass. So many restaurants serve small glasses of wine these days.
I cannot tell you how pleasurable it was to sit in a quiet space and enjoy a good meal. It is such a rarity these days and Winthorpe and Valentine affords its guests just that.
Two-and-a half tips of the toque to Winthorpe and Valentine. SPR
99 S. 17th St.
Westin Hotel, Liberty Place