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Mozaic in Frankford


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Disclaimer: As owner Joan Oliveto had a special arrangement for our group last night, I really can't call this an impartial review, for this was a family affair of sorts, that family being Phillyblog, to which she too contributes. However, since Joan pours herself into this place, I have a strong suspicion that you, the random diner, will be treated as warmly as we were should you visit this restaurant, which I strongly suggest you do for reasons that go beyond the food.

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Welcome to Frankford!

Northeast Philadelphia's historic downtown has clearly seen better days. The bustle has largely disappeared from its main drag, Frankford Avenue, after 5 pm. And the streetscape beneath the rebuilt Frankford El can hardly be called welcoming -- it looks as if all the merchants have fortified themselves against an invasion from someone, somewhere.

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All but one, that is. A couple of blocks south from Margaret-Orthodox El station, where the El lets a little more light onto the street:

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even more light emanates from a beacon of hope.

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Frankford today may be one of the more unlikely places in Philadelphia to find a fine dining establishment and jazz cafe. But Joan Oliveto has spent the past year (as of the weekend after Labor Day) creating not just that, but a place that seeks to be part of the fabric of the community.

It was in that spirit that she pulled out the stops for a Phillyblog meetup Saturday night. As the dozen or so who attended -- all save me and my companion from the Greater Northeast -- arrived, we found our opener already on the table: Tomato-basil bruschetta topped with mozzarella cheese.

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Accompanying these were the sounds of a local jazz legend, drummer Butch Ballard and his trio. At 88, he still plays as skillfully as he did 60 years before:

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Sorry you can't see Butch in this photo. The drummer is blocked by other patrons on the right. This gives you an idea of the atmosphere in this spare yet cozy BYO that's also part art gallery.

As I mentioned, Joan wants Mozaic to be a neighborhood institution in every sense of the term. While she can't source all her ingredients from Frankford, she can hire all the people who prepare and serve them to you. Chef Michael (didn't get his last name), for instance, lives about a block from the restaurant. His experience prior to Mozaic includes a stint at the White Dog Cafe.

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He came out between sets to explain to us what was on the four-course, prix-fixe "Phillyblog special" menu Joan had arranged for the evening. Just about all of us went for this special, which offered plenty of sensations for a mere $25.

Aside from the appetizers, the special was chock-full of "ch" dishes -- chicken and chocolate. The variety came in the form of the appetizers, all quite tasty:

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Clockwise from top: Herbed goat cheese on Melba round, mini crab cake, Joan's handmade hummus on Melba round, cucumber slice topped with salmon mousse and chives.

After the delicate flavors of these four treats, the salad woke us up with a punch of spice:

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Mixed greens salad with ginger dressing and chicken confit. The chicken leg confit strongly recalled jerk chicken in its blend of spices.

From here, we had a choice of either an almond-stuffed chicken breast or a roasted half chicken, both served with Mexican rice and a vegetable medley. (Our server had gotten confused and thought the roast chicken came with our choice of the restaurant's regular sides; as a result, we will all have to come back to try the green beans with sun-dried tomatoes.) I went for the roasted chicken:

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which was perfectly prepared -- juicy with a lightly seasoned crust on the skin. The vegetables were cooked in a slightly vinegary broth with basil, a very good combination; the Mexican rice was flecked with peppers but otherwise not highly seasoned.

A vegetarian companion across the table went for even more hummus with pita bread for dipping.

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The whole shebang ended with chocolate baked in puff pastry with a raspberry sauce. Some of us loved this combination; it didn't do all that much for me -- but that didn't keep me from polishing it off anyway. Sorry for the photo of a mostly-eaten dish:

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Of course, since we brought it with us, the wine flowed freely. My companion and I contributed the Estancia Merlot (above), a nice Chairman's Selection bargain; another diner brought a 2005 Chaddsford Red, and someone brought a Gallo(!) Family Private Reserve Pinot Noir that proved to be not bad at all -- slightly spicy and very mellow. But for my money, the evening's best wine was this in-your-face pinot noir from New Zealand, the other Australia:

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The regular menu, BTW, stretches well beyond chicken. In fact, it roams all over the world, mixing dishes from Africa, Asia, the Pacific Rim, eastern and western Europe, America, and your mom's kitchen, all reasonably priced:

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For about an hour or so, from roughly 8 to 9, the restaurant was packed with jazz lovers. Which brings me to the long-run operating challenge Joan faces: She needs to get a liquor license. It's clear that she has managed to build a clientele that comes for the music as much as, or more than, the food, but without a license, unless they're big juice, soda, tea or coffee drinkers, she can't really sell these people anything. And while it looks like she can continue to rely on the support of friends and neighbors for some time to come, ultimately she will no doubt want to add more variety to her roster of performers and dishes. Sooner or later, that's gonna cost real money.

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Joan Oliveto has a lot invested in this place, both financially and spiritually. But it's only a first step for her and her partner (whose name I forget; I got to meet him briefly before our party, which included Scoats, trekked up to his bar, the Grey Lodge Public House, for a few more hoppy returns): ultimately, they are on a mission to rejeuvenate Frankford and restore to it the liveliness it had when the Frankford El was new, back in 1922.

It's a good first step. The two have drawn on their community to put together a welcoming restaurant whose totality is much more than the sum of its parts. The folks at Mosaic clearly understand "the art of dining", and they show lots of promise to get even better.

Mozaic

4524-26 Frankford Avenue (at Kinsey Street)

215-535-5040

11 am-3 pm Monday-Tuesday; 11 am-8 pm Wednesday-Thursday; 11 am-10 pm Friday; 11 am-midnight Saturday. Live jazz every Saturday night; no cover.

Nearest SEPTA service: Market-Frankford Line to Margaret-Orthodox station. The restaurant is two blocks south of the station.

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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The salmon mousse on cucumber was phenomenal. The chicken confeit was wonderful as well.

Unlike Sandy, I really dug the dark chocolate grenoche with raspberry sauce. I have determined that I love desserts that mix chocolate (or ice cream) with crispy wheaty carbs, so it definitely was something I was going to like, and the fruit sauce was understated which really appealed to me.

Joan runs a great place. Regular menu stand outs include the not be missed Quesadilla and the Fried Chicken. Both are so good, it's hard for me to try other items on the menu.

Sandy, no pix of the mosaic out front?

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Didn't get a good shot of it, Scoats -- you can make out its welcome in my exterior shot of the restaurant.

I also need to correct an error in my initial post. Chef Michael doesn't live in Frankford itself; it was our waitress who is a neighbor of the restaurant. However, he does live in the Northeast, on the opposite side of the Boulevard, in Burlhome or Fox Chase or Rhawnhurst or somewhere near those. He's also the son-in-law of a member of our dining party -- I told you this was a family affair!

(Socioeconomic geography lesson for the non-Philadelphians reading this: Roosevelt Boulevard is to Northeast Philadelphia what Broad Street is to the rest of the city -- its north-south spine. It's also a dividing line of sorts [a street as wide as the Boulevard can't help but divide a place]: the neighborhoods to its west tend to be more affluent in aggregate than those to its east. As the bulk of the Northeast's industry and manufacturing lay along the Delaware, its eastern border, this is also explainable in terms of employment.)

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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Have not heard the word DDC mentioned in months.

I miss it. Enjoyed the many dinners over the past five years.

"One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well." - Virginia Woolf

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The folks at Mosaic clearly understand "the art of dining"

From those pictures .......?

Seriously ...... :huh:

Delicate flavors of hummus and goat cheese ?

Not to be nitpicky but that is bagged pregrated "mozzarella".

and why are there two substantial chicken dishes in a 4 course menu ?

I appreciate what she is doing for the hood but other than the fact that it is super inexpensive, it doesnt sound very enticing food wise....

Edited to add:

Correction that would be 3 chicken dishes.

second course chicken and the third course a choice of chicken and you guessed it.....chicken... :unsure:

Edited by Vadouvan (log)
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Pregrated?

The cheese wasn't even grated.

Those were slices of mozzarella on the pre-dinner snack. (Which means that someone took a slicer to a block of mozz, I think; I sure haven't run across pre-sliced mozzarella anywhere.)

Yeah, the anything-you-want-as-long-as-it's-chicken selections on the prix fixe were odd; maybe Joan got a decent deal on chicken knowing in advance that she'd have one-third of the house full that night from our party alone. But the chicken was still good.

And I swear that neither the goat cheese nor the hummus had strong flavors (well, not particularly strong for hummus, in that case). Then again, I may be going just by comparison to the salad that followed, which was pretty assertive thanks to the ginger dressing and spices on the chicken.

Up to the level of the best restaurants in Center City? Far from it. But still well prepared and an excellent value for the money. And yeah -- I'm pleased to support and promote entrepreneurs like this one who are trying to bring depressed business districts and communities back to life. I know that we're supposed to be about the food, but if the food is good enough -- and it is here -- we can maybe pay attention to some of the other things we can do through food as well when we dine.

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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Delicate flavors of hummus and goat cheese ?

Hummus, no way can it be delicate. I operate under the theory that hummus is merely a vehicle for carrying the maximum amount of garlic, or a pasty base for lots of olive oil or ground chopped meat or all of the above.

But goat cheese is another matter. There can be delicately-flavored goat cheese. Some pure goat cheeses are, to me, much akin to cream cheese, just without the additives and vegetable gums. This weekend, in fact, I asked Jack at Downtown Cheese for a log of the "plainest" goat cheese he had (I wanted to place it on a beet-watermelon-walnut salad) and it was, in flavor, a delicate, mild cheese with a light creamy texture. Goat cheese can be more assertive, but it doesn't have to be, and the simple, inexpensive cheese Jack sold me was a perfectly fine counterpoint to the other flavors.

Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

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But goat cheese is another matter. There can be delicately-flavored goat cheese. Some pure goat cheeses are, to me, much akin to cream cheese, just without the additives and vegetable gums. This weekend, in fact, I asked Jack at Downtown Cheese for a log of the "plainest" goat cheese he had (I wanted to place it on a beet-watermelon-walnut salad) and it was, in flavor, a delicate, mild cheese with a light creamy texture. Goat cheese can be more assertive, but it doesn't have to be, and the simple, inexpensive cheese Jack sold me was a perfectly fine counterpoint to the other flavors.

Gotcher back, Bob.

That description above pretty much characterizes the goat cheese we ate Saturday night. I think that something stronger would have overwhelmed the herbs that had been added.

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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I know that we're supposed to be about the food, but if the food is good enough -- and it is here -- we can maybe pay attention to some of the other things we can do through food as well when we dine.

I thought the food was way more than "good enough". I have had lesser food at several Center City restaurants and paid a lot more for it.

I concur that the choice of chicken or chicken was indeed odd. However for someone to make assumptions about the food based on pictures seems unjustified IMO.

Being a lifelong Northeast resident I have not noticed one side of the Blvd being noticeably more affluent than the other.

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Mr Scoats.

The definition of "enticement" is based on the fact one in fact has not experienced the subject at hand in this case the food.

Poeple are "enticed" by pictures therefore to say that the food isn't "enticing" based on the pictures is NOT unjustified.

To say it's not good without tasting it IS unjustified.

I think most people would agree the term "vegetable medley" IS the kiss of death for any menu.

Edited by Vadouvan (log)
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Actually, V., what you had implied was that the folks at Mozaic didn't "understand 'the art of dining'" (my quote; the phrase in single quotes is Mozaic's motto, btw, and an allusion to its double function as restaurant and gallery/performance space) based on the pictures.

Given your point about visual appeal, and given how "plating" is at the heart of that aspect of dining, your criticism is clearly within bounds, and even on target -- though IMO the appetizer platter demonstrates that the chef does understand the concept; he's just not practicing at an advanced level yet.

We who came to eat that night weren't that concerned all that much about the presentation, though. And again, for $25, the presentation was more than adequate. As Scoats said about the taste of the food, I've seen less for more.

Edited to add: Well, many of us were looking forward to the green beans sauted with sun-dried tomatoes....

Edited by MarketStEl (log)

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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I think most people would agree the term "vegetable medley" IS the kiss of death for any menu.

I tend to prefer the 4x100 vegetable relay myself.

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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