Edward celebrated his birthday the day before Election Day. Since it fell on a Monday, we had a devil of a time finding a restaurant that was open. We read through the Zagat Guide and every place that caught our attention was closed.
About a month ago, Edward walked by the new Hotel Monaco near Independence Hall and brought home a menu from Red Owl Tavern. Sandy found it and our decision was made.
Red Owl Tavern is a bi-level open space that is very dark. I do not like eating in the dark. The downstairs bar and dining area was filled, so we trotted up a long flight of stairs and were seated in a wooden booth. Because of the severe lack of light, the only thing I can tell you about the décor is it featured lots of dark wood.
That said, we ordered drinks and desperately tried to read the menu. Even our delightful server told us she has trouble seeing the computer.
Picked vegetables ($8) consisted of a small glass jar with a few inedible roasted beets, a bit of carrots and a string bean or two. There was way too much vinegar used in the brine although the roasted eggplant spread, which arrived in a tiny ramekin was OK. It came with toasted pita bread.
Bone marrow has become the darling of the restaurant scene but it rarely sates the appetite. Red Owl Tavern’s version ($9) consisted of a large, almost Flintstonian bone with a bit of tasty marrow here and there with capers, shallots and pickled lamb’s tongue. I didn’t think these ingredients added anything to the dish.
Four types of mussels were offered and I chose the house-made chorizo ($18) because two others were made with cream or coconut milk. I received a cast-iron pot filled with mussels, dry chunks of sausage, caramelized onions and red peppers. The sauce was at the bottom so it took a while for me to find the mussels and chorizo. I tasted it and realized it was laced with coconut milk. The ingredient was not listed in this variety of mussels. The dish was removed from the bill.
Our entrées fared a wee bit better. Along with bone marrow and Brussels sprouts, chicken pot pie is popping up everywhere. Edward loved the pot pie at Santucci’s a few weeks ago so he ordered it. This version ($14) was made with puff pastry, which is not a fine culinary shortcut when making this classic warming dish. Although there were bits of chicken, carrots and peas in the pie, the creamy sauce congealed as we ate it and tasted like glue.
Sandy actually liked the short ribs ($20). They were served on the bone, which added flavor but the spicy ketchup topping detracted from the overall taste. A few red peppers were strewn on the plate.
My braised and roasted lamb shank ($24) was on the scrawny side. A tablespoon of dark, undercooked lentils sat on the plate although the menu states yellow lentils were to be used in the entrée.
Vegetables are a la carte. Asparagus ($7) were pencil thin and probably air shipped from Peru. They were roasted and lacked flavor. We nixed the balsamic glaze because the red light went on immediately as soon as I saw the vinegar on the menu description.
Honestly, the only good thing about Red Owl Tavern was our server. Not one dish impressed my taste buds. Fortunately for us, Edward and I celebrated our wedding anniversary Nov. 8 with a brilliant dinner at Sbraga. It immediately erased every dark moment from Edward’s birthday dinner.
One tip of the toque to Red Owl Tavern.
Red Owl Tavern
433 Chestnut St.
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