Since the 1970s and into the ’80s, a number of chefs and restauranteurs have left their unique imprint on Philadelphia cuisine. Georges Perrier, Jean-Marie LaCroix, Steve Poses, and Stephen Starr placed our city on the international culinary map. One woman stood out. Chef Susanna Foo.
Foo received acclaim across America. She married Asian ingredients with French technique and created something truly unique.
Foo graduated from The Culinary Institute of America. At Perrier’s suggestion, she moved her restaurant from Chestnut Street to Walnut Street. I remember how difficult it was to book a table. When she closed her restaurant and moved to St. David’s, many of us felt a void.
The good news is Foo is back in Center City. She and her son Gabe opened SuGa on Sansom Street. It is in the running for the best new restaurant of the year.
SuGa is a combination of Susanna and Gabe. The restaurant is upscale casual, comforting, and sleek. The lighting is perfect and the staff trained to perfection. SuGa is open for lunch, brunch and dinner. We opted for a Sunday brunch on a sunny day.
A glass of Persecco ($9) and an old-fashioned screwdriver ($9) seemed fitting as we discussed the menu. Every item was tempting. Foo is a master at putting ingredients together to form a perfectly tasty dish. Each ingredient on the plate has a reason for being there.
The dumpling sampler for two ($22) was a fine introduction to our meal. The mushroom dumpling was filled with beautifully seasoned duxelle (French term for finely chopped mushroom) and simply steamed. The lamb dumpling was the only one that was pan-seared and was not a bit greasy. I also enjoyed the curried chicken because this type can be dry. The spinach dumpling mixed with tofu would warm any vegetarian’s heart while the shrimp and pork dumplings were winners as well. The dipping sauces were soy-ginger, a creamy carrot and a slightly spicy clear Thai sauce.
Chinese eggplant ($10) is a dish I often order in an Asian restaurant. Few chefs have mastered this dish. Foo has, indeed. Chinese eggplants tend to be less bitter than their larger, plumper cousins. The eggplants were cooked in a coconut curry sauce that beautifully enhanced the flavor of the subtle eggplant. The sauce was reduced in the French fashion.
Seafood salad ($18) was a surprise. A cool mound of mixed greens, including radishes and Napa cabbage, was placed on the side of the plate. Slices of ripe avocado were placed near the greens. Warm shrimp, diver scallops, and calamari were along the other side. This is a composed salad in the French style, and it won me over. The dressing on the greens was light and imparted a slight ginger flavor. The sauce on the seafood was also reduced. Each piece of fish was spot on. I’ve been served rubbery, overcooked shellfish in a number of places. After several attempts, I discovered it is difficult to eat avocado with chopsticks.
Foo has selected several teas from China. I enjoyed organic black tea, ($6) which I allowed to steep at the table. The tea leaves were placed in a glass infuser that sat in a glass teapot filled with boiling water. The teapot sat on a stand with a small candle inside. It kept the tea hot all through dessert. There is quality coffee ($4) for those who covet it.
The warm pineapple upside down cake ($11) is large enough to share. There are no pineapple rings, maraschino cherries, or cloyingly sweet syrupy topping from the wretched versions of my childhood. This rich cake was baked with paper thin slices of sweet pineapple and topped with mascarpone ice cream. A crumble of chopped cashew nuts with pink peppercorns may appear odd, but it worked. A pretty dome of spun sugar was placed on top.
I did not notice the television over the bar when we sat down. We asked our server if he could turn on the Phillies game without the sound. I sat on a comfy banquette, and the walls behind me were lined with mirrors. Edward got the chance to watch the game in the mirror, which added to the delight of our perfect meal.
Four tips of the toque to SuGa. ■
1720 Sansom St.
Photo by Tina Garceau