FOOD & DRINK > RESTAURANT REVIEWS

a.bar

By Phyllis Stein-Novack
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 17 | Posted Dec. 12, 2013

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Rittenhouse Square's a.bar specializes in the small plates concept, including a variety of oysters that highlight the bill of fare.

Photo by Kathryn Poole

Since Colonial times, Philadelphians have enjoyed a culinary love affair with oysters. They were plentiful, inexpensive and appeared on the menu at the City Tavern where Ben Franklin and his friends probably indulged in a large dinner.

An upscale yet casual spot called a.bar opened a number of months ago at the corner of 18th and Walnut streets. Edward and I drove by on numerous occasions, but it appeared so dark inside, I was not sure my dining experience would be a pleasant one. I learned that the restaurant features half-price oysters before 6 p.m.

The corny adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover” immediately came to mind. I was pleasantly surprised when Edward and I arrived on a cold evening and found the lighting to be just right. I did not need to search my handbag for a flashlight.

The décor is simple. There is a long bar with two engaging bartenders and a handful of simple tables and chairs. The “color” comes from the customers who were enjoying cocktails and plates of oysters.

I sipped an expertly prepared Negroni while Edward enjoyed a Blue Coat martini. The menu is simple with small plates for grazing through the night.

Since we arrived in time for the half-price oysters, we ordered two dozen ($36). Six distinctly different ones were on offer, so we ordered four of each. They included Sunberry from Prince Edward Island; Glidden Point from Maine; Wellfleet from Massachusetts; Moonstone from Rhode Island; Cape May Salt from New Jersey and Chef’s Creek from British Colombia. Oyster lovers will immediately taste the differences among these luscious beauties, which were nestled on ice and served with lemon wedges and a slightly sweet mignonette sauce. I prefer them with just a touch of lemon and took delight comparing the degree of saltiness, light or rich flavor that the oysters imparted.

Keeping with our seafood adventure, we turned to the Jonah crab salad ($14), a marvelous blend of sweet, luscious lump crab that we piled on toast points. Chefs know when to leave a top-quality ingredient alone and allow it to speak for itself.

We wanted a glass of wine with dinner, and the bartenders are most knowledgeable. They offered a taste of wines to us and other customers before we made our selections. Edward picked a Pepiere Muscadet ($14) while I turned to Spain with a glass of Listan Blanco ($12). The bartenders poured five-ounce glasses of wine.

The lobster BLT ($19) was a fun twist to one of my favorite sandwiches. Large chunks of sweet tail meat kept company with thick slab bacon, romaine lettuce and tomato that were layered on sourdough and placed on the panini press. We began munching when the bartender came over and apologized that the chef forgot the lobster in our BLT. A fresh one was prepared, and we found the combinations of ingredients to play off well, but I think a lobster roll bun or good quality toast would allow the ingredients to shine better.

The scallop crudo, ($14) which is called sashimi on the menu, was a little on the bland side and required salt. Still, the raw scallops were top quality and very fresh.

I looked forward to the brandade, ($12) which is among my favorite dishes. Salt cod is soaked and pureed with potatoes and served as a spread in the South of France. This version was well-prepared but needed a bit more seasoning. It arrived with slices of buttery, toasted French bread.

We ended our seafood dinner with a homemade ice cream sandwich ($6) prepared with apple caramel ice cream and served between two cinnamon/sugar cookies. The ingredients were inspired by the spirit of fall and were a fitting way to end our meal.

The simple concept of a raw bar and small plates is not new to Philadelphia, but the fine service and top flight ingredients used at a.bar made for a memorable night.

When the check arrived, our bartender told us there was no charge for our cocktails because of the missing lobster in our lobster BLT.

The oyster happy hour at a.bar runs from 3 to 6 p.m. All oysters are $1.50 per piece.

Three-and-a-half tips of the toque to a.bar. 

a.bar

135 S. 18th St.
215-825-7000
stayaka.com

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 17 of 17
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1. MS Clone said... on Dec 12, 2013 at 03:52PM

“Let me be perfectly clear:

1) I like the SPR.
2) Restaurant reviews of places outside of SP are ok - as long as they are in the area - a short walk or ride is OK.
3) I find the reviews written by PSN to be pretentious and affected. She is a failed writer for the NY Times or the Inquirer. She writes for a neighborhood newspaper and maybe that's the best she can do, so she continues to pretend that she's something she is not.
4) I have nothing to say about this week's restaurant. After all, form is more important than substance.

I apologize for repeating this mantra week after week, but I have nothing better to do, and nobody in my house wants to listen to my complaints.”

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2. Angela said... on Dec 12, 2013 at 04:37PM

“MS Clone,
Does it seem to you like the more people say something about it, she belligerently reviews only restaurants outside of South Philly? Just my thoughts. I have actually started reading the reviews on Philly.com because they review South Philly restaurants, and the writing style is way above that read here.”

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3. Marty Medals said... on Dec 12, 2013 at 07:24PM

“So, a negroni. The King of mixed drinks.
I must admit, having this drink mitigates the failed review of another place outside of South Philly.
The oysters seem sublime.
I will venture there as Soon as I get to read a review of a real South Philyy restaurant.”

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4. Steve K said... on Dec 13, 2013 at 03:38PM

“Maybe she has a bit of a drinking problem.”

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5. Anonymous said... on Dec 13, 2013 at 04:58PM

“Yes, Steve K., his name is Edward.”

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6. Tony said... on Dec 14, 2013 at 05:08PM

“This is addressed to Phyllis Stein-Novack, with thanks to Angela and Marty Medals for raising the subject frequently but politely:

Of the 29 restaurants reviewed here since May 23, 2013, 5 are in deep South Philadelphia and 4 are in Queen Village/Bella Vista. That's 9 total, or 31%.

That's a low number given the home addresses of the target readership. The bulk of the remaining reviews are in Center City West, Center City East and Northern Liberties, which are accessible by car or public transit.

It would be nice if Phyllis addressed this issue. Are there too few sit-down restaurants in South Philly to justify increasing the local reviews, or is the mission to introduce readers to nearby restaurants without a neighborhood emphasis?”

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7. Mary B said... on Dec 15, 2013 at 08:20AM

“Tony's comment is on target. This is brought up and the reviewer or the management won't address.

Also someone wrote about Philly.com. The reviews are written better and in a more organized manner - who cares about Edward or cousin this or sister that.

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8. Marty Medals said... on Dec 16, 2013 at 08:57AM

“@Tony:
Thank you for your careful analysis of the number of actual reviews of South Philadelphia eating establishments.

All kidding aside, I believe that South Philly has a very rich and diverse selection of great and near great restaurants. It is really a shame when a corporate entity fails to address this issue in any way.

Maybe, it is time for a few wealthy South Philadelphiams to fund a start up paper that is based in South Philly, that has South Philadelphia as it sole focus.

We will see.”

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9. i like food. said... on Dec 18, 2013 at 11:16AM

“Am I missing something? She claims the bartender told them the chef forgot the lobster on her BLT, but prior to that she describes the meat on the sandwich... "Large chunks of sweet tail meat kept company with thick slab bacon, romaine lettuce and tomato that were layered on sourdough and placed on the panini press." HUH?? Lay off the alcohol, PSN.”

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10. Sarah 7th said... on Dec 19, 2013 at 12:09PM

“I like food.said made a comment that people keep repeating. The reviews don't make sense.”

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11. Anonymous said... on Dec 19, 2013 at 01:25PM

“Sarah and others,
You are parsing the words of PSN in a desperate attempt to find something, anything, wrong in the review. If she spelled ramikin instead of ramekin you would jump all over her. There is no way in hell you can read any of her reviews and not get a better idea of the restaurant's food, service and atmosphere than before. The problem is with you and Marty, MaryB, Tony et al. Get out there and try these restaurants and keep your petty sniping for your dog or your kids, who don't know better. You should know better, because you're a grownup. Act like one.”

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12. Tom Carmella said... on Dec 19, 2013 at 02:44PM

“I liken the idiotic comments in here to Republicans of a generation ago who screamed and yelled about how terrible Social Security was. Now that they're seniors, try to take their Social Security away and watch them yell. LOL.

Same thing here. Take away Phyllis' reviews and all these whiners in here will cry their eyes out. For God's sake, how many times do you want a review of Villa di Roma? And no, all those cheesesteak places aren't worth a reviewer's time.”

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13. pradeep said... on Jan 29, 2014 at 05:05AM

“I am going through this post and thinking of it’s theme and trying to understand what is this post about. At last I can have found something from this post which feels pretty good.

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14. Sonali said... on Feb 17, 2014 at 03:19PM

“there are so many good restaurants where we can go for eat and they provide the world class facilities.”

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15. Alex Smith said... on Feb 20, 2014 at 06:16AM

“This is an excellent review. All the information that one needs to know about the restaurant has been mentioned clearly. Good work.

Nightlife in Singapore
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16. Raymond Smith said... on Mar 28, 2014 at 07:06AM

“From the review, it seems to be a very good restaurant. The photo gives it a sterile look, though.

Best bars in Singapore
http://www.kezhan.sg/

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17. Edwards Collins said... on Jun 9, 2014 at 06:33AM

“"Small plates concept"? Doesn't anybody believe in eating, anymore?

Cozy dining place in Singapore
http://www.parrilla.sg/

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