741 N. 23rd St. (at Aspen)
Credit cards accepted
Restrooms up a long flight of stairs
When I moved to Logan Square 23 years ago, neighboring Fairmount was a sleepy residential neighborhood. There were no restaurants to speak of, no grocery stores or drug stores. The great bulk of Eastern State Penitentiary loomed at the end of North 22nd Street and was shut tight. The only store was a 7-Eleven in The Philadelphian.
When you stroll through Fairmount today, you discover a selection of diverse restaurants and pubs, stores, the marvelous Garden Fresh Produce store and deli on North 23rd, Zack’s pastry shop and a CVS.
In 1985, Jan A. Zarkin decided to open a restaurant. He found a corner property on North 23rd Street and named it Rembrandt’s in honor of the great Dutch artist. I had not been to Rembrandt’s in seven years, the last visit a delightful Sunday brunch. A recent dinner proved the cuisine has been updated and refined, service was first-rate and prices still moderate.
It was a bit too cool to dine al fresco, so Edward and I took a table in the bar. We arrived around 5 p.m. and the dining room opens at 5:30, but no matter. Ellen, our delightful and highly professional waitress, advised we could order from the tavern menu or the dining-room menu.
Rembrandt’s boasts a beautiful 87-year-old carved mahogany bar and art-deco chandeliers from Paris. Happy hour runs from 4:55-7:05 p.m., and we noticed a number of people enjoying a drink and a bite to eat. By the time we left, the bar and the dining room were doing brisk business.
Well-made Bombay Sapphire martinis were a bargain at $5. I have never seen such a low price for top-shelf gin. Three tips of the toque to proprietor Zarkin. Our waitress told us the specials — only three — and gave us the prices. Three tips of the toque for this practice.
We nibbled on fresh, warm rolls topped with softened whipped butter as we studied both menus, then decided on the tavern menu, which lists a number of dishes from the dining room at lower prices.
We began dinner with a salad of warm mozzarella with prosciutto di San Daniele ($8.95) and Bosc pear, walnut and gorgonzola salad ($6.95). Both were delightful to look at and tasted divine. I received several mid-sized disks of fresh mozzarella, which were topped with razor-thin slices of not-at-all-salty prosciutto. Like its cousin from Parma, this ham had been seasoned, salt-cured and air-dried. The plate also contained a mound of fresh greens, perfectly dressed in a light balsamic vinaigrette and a scattering of blueberries.
Pears, blue cheese and walnuts are a triple delight. Edward’s salad was autumn on a cool plate. This winning dish consisted of thinly sliced juicy ripe Bosc pears, slightly salty Italian gorgonzola (the only gorgonzola worth eating, by the way), spiced walnuts and fresh greens tossed in a light vinaigrette shot with a bit of honey and Dijon mustard. Both salads were a splendid contrast of tastes and textures.
We decided to share the risotto ($8.95) because it sounded unusual. Our waitress told us that tiny chunks of potatoes are mixed with the arborio rice. Slices of smoked salmon were draped over the risotto. We received nicely cooked risotto, which was cool in spots. The salmon was mid-quality and toughened a little after it was warmed up. We were surprised to see long, thin crispy potato sticks on top rather than bits of cooked potato. They were very good. We felt this dish was not successful in taste, however.
Italy has given the world many famous delectable dishes. One of my favorites is vitello tonnato. This classic is made with slices of cool veal topped in a cool tuna sauce. At Rembrandt’s, it is offered as a sandwich ($8.95). What an inspired idea! It was absolutely delicious. The veal was tender and of good quality. The whipped tuna sauce, which had the texture of rich homemade mayonnaise, was studded with capers, imparting a delicious flavor. It was served on focaccia — another inspired choice. Slices of red ripe tomato and crisp lettuce enhanced the ingredients. A mound of crisp, hot and not-at-all-greasy French fries arrived with the sandwich.
Skirt steak, sometimes called hanger steak, has become quite popular in recent years. It is a relatively inexpensive cut of beef and can be quite tender if cooked properly. Steak frites at Rembrandt’s ($11.95) was priced just right. I ordered my steak very rare and out it came, very rare. Unfortunately for me, the sliced steak was sitting crisscross like a raft atop the fries. This is not a good idea. The hot natural juices from the steak would result in soggy French fries. Our waitress immediately understood this culinary dilemma. Within minutes, I received a big bowl of hot, crisp fries that were absolutely first-rate. The portion of steak was so generous, I toted half of it home, where it turned up in a cool salad for lunch.
Rembrandt’s has a fine beer and wines by the glass as well as vintage bottles. Edward enjoyed a pint of Boddingtons ($3) and I had a generous glass of Coopers Creek Sauvignon Blanc ($7).
If you visit the Web site (www.Rembrandts.com), you will discover that much is going on in this delightful neighborhood restaurant. The lunch, dinner, tavern and Sunday brunch menus are listed along with the prices for each dish. Special events, such as the Washington State wine-tasting dinner, which took place last week, are listed as well. Rembrandt’s is open for Saturday lunch — another plus, especially if you’re hungry before a visit to the Rodin Museum or the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Halloween is upon us and many Fairmount restaurants host events before and after the spooky tour of Eastern State.
If you haven’t been to Rembrandt’s in a while, book a table now. It has truly become a dependable neighborhood restaurant.
Two-and-a-half tips of the toque to Rembrandt’s.