East Passyunk Avenue has quickly become the dining destination for those of us who appreciate a fine meal. I think I have eaten in all of the restaurants that have been in business there ever since Tre Scalini first tempted me years ago with authentic Italian family meals.
Sophia’s, a charming place that offers new American fare, is the newest addition to East Passyunk Avenue.
The man in charge is chef Christopher Lee who instinctively knows how to put a tasty twist on classic dishes, such as cassoulet and paella, and at the same time offers bar fare such as tacos and sliders. Vegetables also take pride of place at Sophia’s, so does first-rate service.
Edward and I spent a few hours leisurely dining on three courses and never once did our professional server ever interrupt our conversation. He checked in on us to offer more bread and ask if there was anything else we needed.
Sophia’s is lodged in the short-lived Salt & Pepper, which morphed from Rosalena’s. There’s a cozy front room with bar and television, but we opted for the dining room, which was perfectly lit with soft music playing on the sound system. Sophia’s is a white-tablecloth restaurant, but there is nothing formal or stuffy about it.
I am often appalled at the price of cocktails and wine in restaurants. We sipped a Hendricks martini ($11) and an expertly prepared Johnnie Walker Black Rob Roy ($10). I actually discovered a bottle of Côtes du Rhône for just $30.
Four tips of the toque for charging fair prices for drinks and wine.
A sliced loaf of hot-from-the-oven French bread arrived with whipped butter, and we began dinner with a spinach salad ($9) and Brussels sprouts ($5) from the sides and vegetable list.
Baby spinach leaves were mixed with sprigs of frisee, along with crunchy quinoa and sweet cranberries. I really enjoyed the tart yet sweet flavors the berries emitted, especially since the greens were so mild in flavor. I thought the salad was slightly overdressed but Edward did not. It was also nicely seasoned. Our server, thank goodness, did not attack us with the pepper mill.
Tiny Brussels sprouts are the ones I seek when I prepare them at home. They are less bitter. Lee roasted them and added pancetta, a now classic combination. Pancetta is unsmoked bacon and the smoky flavor from the sprouts offered a pleasurable high note.
Paella ($25) is a dish that is very difficult to prepare in a restaurant. I have been disappointed on so many occasions. Lee hit the mark. Perfectly cooked rice formed the bed for mussels, clams, shrimp, salmon and chorizo, which was served in a large soup bowl. The rice had a crispness on the bottom that is the hallmark of paella. It was not a bit mushy. The fish and shellfish have to be timed properly so each one is not overcooked. Bravo, Lee. You achieved a four-star dish.
Cassoulet ($22) is a French classic always prepared with beans and usually includes sausages and duck. Lee performed a culinary twist and made a lamb shank the star of the dish. The meat was perfectly seasoned and so well braised it literally fell off the bone. It was bursting with rich flavor that stood us in good stead on a cold, windy evening. I assume wine and stock were used here in a fine combination. Even the beans retained a bit of bite.
We shared an order of asparagus napped in hollandaise ($5), which was so uncommonly delicious we easily gobbled it up. The sauce never separated on the plate. Lee used thick spears, which I have not seen in the markets, but fine chefs have fine suppliers.
We shared apple cake with vanilla ice cream ($7), which was not an overly sweet ending to a fine meal. The cake was made in a muffin tin and imparted a marvelous cinnamon flavor and aroma. The scoop of ice cream was most generous by the way.
Restaurants plan a to-do list before they open. Some fall short on ambience, noise level, service and, of course, the meal. It is obvious Lee and his staff excelled on all levels.
Four tips of the toque to Sophia’s.
1623 E. Passyunk Ave.