Verdad Tequila Bar & Restaurant featured on Aroundphilly.com

Posted on Friday, November 13, 2009

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In Tequila Verdad

by Caitlin Connors

Usually my reasons for visiting Lancaster Avenue have something to do with either the Wildcats or the Wild Onion (both trips almost always ending with a Solo-littered R5 trip home). But since graduation from Villanova and admittance to the real world, tax increases and the PPA, my excuses to visit the Main Line are dwindling (as is my willpower to give up my good parking space for anything less than a sale at Skirt).
When Veridad opened its Latin-American kitchen doors in August, I was intrigued by their 29 tequilas and chef Nick Farina himself (when else would I personally be served by private chef to Phillies catcher Mike Lieberthal?). On a rainy Sunday, I got the craving for a candle-lit ambience reminiscent of summer nights in Morocco, a cinnamon-thyme margarita on the rocks and a perfectly cooked lamb dish (I’m a woman; my moods and requirements are particular). Verdad was the panacea I was looking for.
Dancing flames illuminated the cast-iron tea-light-holders lining the wall, and although the bar area was well lit and illuminated by a SportsCenter-displayed plasma, the back room was perfectly quiet and serene respite. White drapes; a copper-plated ceiling; and a menu that touched on Latin American, Cuban, Brazilian and Mexican cuisines reminded me of one of the most amazing outdoor Moroccan café in St. Marteen, La Marrakech, which says little to anyone who doesn’t know what I am talking about. Let me be clear: warm tones, wrought-iron shapes lining the walls and billowy drapes in an open-air environment. The only difference is Verdad has better food and, baring the after-dinner Moroccan sweet tea, drinks.
Going to Verdad and not getting a tequila flight (or at the least a single tequila) is like going to a Phillies game and choosing to watch the whole game from inside McFadden’s. While the wine selection is lovely (and incredibly affordable—ah, city mark ups) the margaritas and tequila are too good to pass up. Knowing I like only resposado tequilas (I had a bad, bad unchilled anjeo incident at the Whitebriar in Avalon that I would like to not revisit) I ordered the resposado tequila flight. The extremely tequila-savvy bartender, John Davis, brought over a wooden board laden with five shot glasses—a corralejo, siembra azul, el tesoro and two housemade spicy (horseradish?) tomato juices to cleanse the palet–sea salt and lime wedges. Davis–who trained under one of the four most knowledgable mixologists in the region, Pablo “Papi” Hurtado, the famed bartender at Savona–explained that the organic and kosher siembra Azul we were tasting was actually from Philadelphia, from the guys behind Azul Cantina on Spruce. I ironically had driven 30 minutes outside the city to taste a spirit from a different country that is made on the same block I live. I was hesitant to try it. (Philly does some things right, but, in my opinion, tequila is not one of them. The “highlands” of Kelly Drive, to my knowledge, do not produce any blue agave plants.) All three of the tequilas were not to my liking, which makes me conclude only that I must not like resposados as each taste was surely an impressive batch for more well-trained tounge. No matter your preferences, the presentation and explanation of the tequila flights was an experience in itself, and something to be enjoyed over the course of the night, rather than all at once.
Chef Farina spared no expense with the ingredients or effort put forth in the kitchen. Warm sundried-tomato rolls are served with homemade honey butter that would make even Kristen Stewart smile. An artisanal cheese board and charcuterie made itself memorable with the addition of a Farina-crafted guava paste that is subjectively amazing with any of the accoutrements, including the blackberries and toasted cashews. Jumping from Spanish tapas to a tuna ceviche was aided with a sip of the corralejo. Almost-transparent slivers of dulcet tuna finish perfectly with the support of pineapple, avocado, cucumber and habanero.
Another sip of spicy tomato juice and el Tesoro and we’re ready for duck and lamb entrees. Lamb itself never gets the recognition it deserves, and most diners shy away from it because a lesser chef probably cooked or prepared it incorrectly. Beginners will be hooked after a taste of lamb lollipops at Washington Square. Farina proved his lamb cooking skills by serving rich lamb with patatas bravas, topped with a fresh fried egg, reminding me of chef Gene Giuffi dish of pork with lentils and poached egg at Cochon—both perfect. The Maple Leaf duck made me wonder why all duck dishes aren’t glazed with pineapple tequila. And the machuquillo (plantain mash) was warm and sweet—a perfect background for the savory duck.
The Josh Jastrzembski at Verdad trained in the South of France, so I expected great things given Julia Child had dedicated 150 pages to French desserts and their intricacies themselves. I was however disappointed with the selection, but knew he made the sorbets and gelato fresh in house. I opted for three sorbets, one of which was palatable (lemon was far too bitter and passionfruit far to chalky). Opt instead for the esspresso molten cake with crème anglaise and hazelnut gelato.
Sorbets aside, I look forward to returning with the spring when I can sit semi-alfresco in the front room, watch college students pass on their way to Kellys and appreciate being old enough to enjoy sipping a resposado anjeo alone in the afternoon sun.
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