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Waterworks


philadining
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We recently checked out the long-awaited Waterworks restaurant, in the historic Waterworks buildings behind the Philadelphia Museum of Art. At least at first glance, it seems like a welcome addition to the Philadelphia dining scene. None of the food we had was earth-shakingly original, in fact the menu is surprisingly conservative, especially on the entree side. And I suppose that this is actually a wise move, the space itself is a bit more swanky than I'd anticipated, and Waterworks is clearly positioning itself as an upscale destination restaurant, likely to appeal to the well-heeled, less-daring among us. But it has an interesting location, and at least for some of the space, beautiful, distinctly Philadelphian views, an attribute oddly rare in the city. There aren't too many nice restaurants in Philly that really show off the city, and Waterworks jumps to the head of the line. Well, depending where you're sitting....

The building itself is lovely, and the views can be stunning.

There are at least four separate dining spaces:

the large main room which, while quite opulent, has no view whatsoever, and really could be a ballroom in any fancy hotel anywhere;

the Atrium, which is where you really want to be, with views up the river to the boathouses (but there are only six 4-tops in that room);

a small room between the main entry and the bar, I'm not sure if it has a name, that has two comfy curved banquettes and a couple of tables for two, and an OK view of a bit of the river and traffic on rt76, (but is good for people-watching);

and depending on the weather, the prime spot - the patio overlooking the river.

No doubt the patio and the Atrium are going to be tough seats to get, but it's worth booking-ahead if you want that dramatic experience.

On the culinary side, the good news is that the food featured good ingredients and was well-executed, if not thrilling. The flavor combinations on the plates had some ambition, but were still playing it fairly safe. Based on what we had, I'm not hurrying back for the food, but that's not to say that it was bad at all, it was actually pretty good, it just wasn't especially interesting, which is probably a selling point for most people outside of the eGullet community!

To start:

Seared Watermelon

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It had refreshing chunks of melon, just barely touched by heat, with feta, mint and a little balsamic. This was a very nice preparation, hurt only by the relatively flavorless watermelon. I suspect this will be a killer dish when the melons are more vivid.

Grilled Octopus

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This has become my acid test for restaurants these days, it's easy to screw this up... I'm happy to say Waterworks did not, and while this hasn't taken the crown for best octopus, it was very good, a generous portion of tender tentacles, with good olive oil, cilantro, and something else. I was almost suspecting a bit of anchovy or something in the dressing, it had a thicker mouthfeel than a simple vinaigrette, and carried a slightly stronger (pleasantly) fishy flavor than most of the grilled octopus versions I've had lately. Again, not a destination dish, but I'd order it again if I found myself there...

Mains:

Rack of Lamb with mint-yogurt sauce and goat cheese pillows.

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This was probably the best dish of the night: fairly straightforward, but very tasty. The chops had a flavorful, crunchy crust that we both liked quite a lot, the creamy mint sauce was a complimentary accent, and the sharp arugula cut the richness well. The "pillows," effectively fried dumplings filled with goat cheese, were good, not amazing, but good...

Pepper-Crusted Duck

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This was nicely done. The picked fennel shavings were a bright counterpoint to the duck, the sweet potatoes were creamy and luxurious. Again, really pretty good, but maybe a bit less intense than it could be. (Not for nothing, but if it's called "Pepper-Crusted Duck" you might want some indication of pepper on it... ) It was solidly good, it's just not calling me back, I'm not dreaming of this plate. (Yes, I dream about duck dishes, what of it?!?!)

Despite the fact that were were rather full by this time, we decided, as a public service to you folks, to check out dessert. You're welcome.

Waterwheel Sampler

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Lemon tart, Chocolate-Ouzo Beignets, Carrot Cake, Chocolate Ganche with Fig mousse.

These were all very tasty, well-executed, with some good extra touches. The carrot cake had an assertive cinnamony filling, the fig mousse had a segment of caramelized fig on top, the beignets were served warm.... I think our faves were the beignets, although we couldn't really detect any ouzo flavor. No matter, they were rich and warm and chocolately.

And as a parting gift, an apple-citrus somethingorother...

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This was really quite delicious, with warm, soft apple, a dollop of creamy cheese, a tart sliver of orange peel. A very nice way to end.

Over the course of the meal we sampled a watermelon mojito ( which seemed to garner mixed reviews...) and a few glasses of wine. A fruity German Riesling was a nice aperitif, as well as a good companion for both starters, and somewhat surprisingly, the duck. We also indulged in a big, bold Montepulciano, and a Pinot Noir with the entrees. There's a decent array of wines by the glass hovering around $10, and a large selection of bottles, mostly on the pricey side, but with a few choices in the $30-40 range.

They do a very silly schtick trying to sell you bottled water, they offer a rather alarming number of them, which seems ironic in the building built to provide clean public water to the citizens of Philadelphia. So we passed on the $50 bottle of "Bling H20" and the other dozen or so more reasonably-priced choices, and got some ice water from the public water supply...

In the end we spent a bit more that we'd anticipated, but I suppose $140 (before tip) was fairly reasonable for four drinks, two apps, two entrees and dessert. Apps are priced from the high single digits to the low teens, pretty typical, as are the entrees, mostly in the mid-twenties. So it's just pricey enough, and the food isn't quite thrilling enough to make it part of the regular rotation, but it certainly has its place.

All in all it was a very pleasant experience, with well-made, if not exciting, food. I'd have no reluctance to recommend it as a place to celebrate a special event, or impress an out-of-town guest, or to take someone who likes good food, but is not especially daring.

It's a place where I'd love to sit out on the patio, have a drink and an appetizer or two, I'm not sure if the restaurant would be thrilled with everyone in the place just having a drink and a starter, but i think that kind of thing might be just fine on the patio.

So, it struck me as a nice place for a special occasion, which can be a very valuable thing. And it's a relief that it's not JUST about the location and view, the food's pretty good.

Edited by philadining (log)

"Philadelphia’s premier soup dumpling blogger" - Foobooz

philadining.com

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They do a very silly schtick trying to sell you bottled water, they offer a rather alarming number of them, which seems ironic in the building built to provide clean public water to the citizens of Philadelphia. So we passed on the $50 bottle of "Bling H20" and the other dozen or so more reasonably-priced choices, and got some ice water from the public water supply...

I agree with you on the food Jeff, seating outside is only great til about 8 pm when the sun goes down and they it's way too dark I think.

As for the water despite the best intentions, 19 types of bottled water is ridiculous.

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  • 8 months later...

I had the opportunity to sample Waterworks this past Saturday night on the occasion of my aunt’s birthday. Overall I was impressed, with a few minor caveats.

First the good news: the food generally was excellent (and this coming from an admittedly jaded food snob from Manhattan). I would agree with philadining that there’s nothing particularly remarkable or eye opening about the menu, which is by no means a put-down. Everything was very nicely done and perfectly satisfying. Apps were: the caramelized three onion soup with a gruyere churro (nice idea, though the churro could have been just a hair crunchier on the outside); baby arugula salad with goat cheese and pear slices; and foie gras with sea scallops. This last, fairly standard and classic, could have used a sauce or condiment or something to offset the richness of both ingredients. Entrees were: rack of lamb (nicely done, though the meat didn’t seem to me to be the highest quality); something-crusted salmon with spinach and crisp fingerling potatoes (slightly overcooked, but otherwise perfectly satisfying); and a truffle-and-boursin stuffed breast of chicken (a real winner). Desserts: panna cotta with raspberry coulis (as dull as panna cotta always is); three different ice creams (dulce de leche, yogurt and smoked chocolate), all perfectly acceptable; and the chocolate beignets with ouzo ice cream. This last is a major winner, a take-no-prisoners treatment for serious chocolate lovers like myself. The little ebony spheres are perfectly fried and just slightly gooey in the center, and if there was any sweetener involved I couldn’t detect it, leaving nothing to impede the no-holds-barred dark chocolate flavor. The ice cream was a great compliment. I would go back just for this dish alone. The wine list is fairly impressive, including the wines by the glass.

As a Manhattanite, I must of course quibble: the main dining room, where we were seated, is not a happy space, at least as presently configured. The tables float in the vast vaulted room, which is a slightly discomfiting experience. Acoustics are not ideal, though we were seated next to a particularly loud and boisterous table who must have easily sampled every cocktail on the menu. Under different circumstances the noise level may be less unpleasant. The water feature parked obtrusively in the middle of the room is not a happy idea, and the wall sconces are too small, too high up on the walls and don’t fit the room. Service overall could stand a little polishing. The mandatory valet parking strikes me as a bit much. The whole bottled-water shtick is a bit silly. Also off-putting was the apprisal by our server, just prior to our departure, that the restaurant operates on a request basis and we should feel free to ask for him on our next visit. Overall, the restaurant could back off a little and polish a little, both to great advantage. And take some cues from Eleven Madison in New York, which has much the same type of space but has designed it beautifully.

Food, glorious food!

“Eat! Eat! May you be destroyed if you don’t eat! What sin have I committed that God should punish me with you! Eat! What will become of you if you don’t eat! Imp of darkness, may you sink 10 fathoms into the earth if you don’t eat! Eat!” (A. Kazin)

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  • 2 months later...

Dropped by Waterworks on sunday a little before 5pm, thinking we might be able to grab a drink on the patio before the diner rush. We asked the hostess, and she directed us to "any of the metal-topped tables" which are set-aside for cocktails, the rest reserved for dinner.

Upon walking outside and surveying the situation, we both literally laughed out loud. There are 4 small tables, most appropriate for parties of two, squeezed up against the building, that are available for cocktail sipping. A dense forest of white-tablecloth-clad 2 and 4 tops takes up the rest of the sizable patio.

I certainly can understand that on a nice day those tables are in demand, and the restaurant certainly can do better serving dinner to folks out there than allowing people to nurse a glass of wine and chat, but still, only 4 tables for folks having cocktails?

We probably should have asked if we could sit at one of the quarantined tables if we promised to vacate it whenever they needed it, but I suspect they wouldn't have wanted to open that can of worms. There was some room at the bar, but it's inside, without a view to speak of, so we looked elsewhere.

I'm sure it makes economic sense to Waterworks, but it's too bad that the area overlooking the river there is not really a viable drinking and snacking destination any more.

"Philadelphia’s premier soup dumpling blogger" - Foobooz

philadining.com

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I'm sure it makes economic sense to Waterworks, but it's too bad that the area overlooking the river there is not really a viable drinking and snacking destination any more.

Phil

The place is just odd.

First off it cost 3 million and looks like that plus the marketing strategy is strange, they said they dont want drinkers to upset diners by creating the wrong atmosphere.

Strange coming from a restaurant that sells 50 kinds of bottled water.

Has anyone been there for dinner since the new chef took over?

Sir Bucket, strangely the original manager took over as the chef, either he learned fast or he used to be a chef, word is he came from Devon Seafood grille, not exactly reassuring eh.... :huh:

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Has anyone been there for dinner since the new chef took over?

Sir Bucket, strangely the original manager took over as the chef, either he learned fast or he used to be a chef, word is he came from Devon Seafood grille, not exactly reassuring eh.... :huh:

Is that Ed Doherty you're referring to, or someone else? I thought they had a new guy since then. It's hard to remember who's been in and out of there in the restaurant's short life, but as I remember it, they started with a guy from Trinidad, then he left and Ed Doherty (who had been the manager) stepped into the kitchen for a while, around Christmas. Then they found someone else whose name I don't know, and then a few months ago THAT guy left and now they're on their fourth chef.

Of course, I can't prove any of this! I thought I read about the change from the third chef to the fourth in Table Talk, but the Inky doesn't make it easy to search old columns so I'm not so sure now.

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  • 4 months later...

Went there for dinner a few days ago. Since they do not guarantee tables with a view, I had made an earlier reservation to improve my odds. We were initially offered a table in the center of the main dining room, which did have a view, just not as good as the smaller dining area by the bar (if you don't mind some of the noise from the bar area), which is what we opted for.

Unfortunately, at this time of the year, the sun had already set and the only visible view was of the lights from the traffic on the Schuylkill reflecting off the water. The lack of light also resulted in less than ideal image quality.

We started with a bottle of wine and ordered the Grilled Octopus, which Philadining has described quite well above. I really liked it and was told that it is marinated for 3 days in a pesto like mixture along with onions and cilantro. It was very tender, though had a tad too much acid from the lemon juice. The appetizers arrived quickly and the portion size was quite generous and this in itself could be a light meal if paired with a few pieces of crusty bread.

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My wife had the water works salad, which had feta, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, tossed in a lemon dill dressing.

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For her main entree, my wife ordered Mushroom Risotto. Unfortunately, this was not one of the better renditions of risotto and the addition of oven roasted tomatoes seemed to overwhelm the sparse flavor of mushroom.

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I ordered the Truffled Pan Seared Chicken with lobster sauce, which came with a side of well executed, delicate Israeli cous cous. Unfortunately I did not detect a hint of truffle and I would have preferred that the kitchen not douse the pan seared chicken with sauce, so that I could enjoy the crisp skin instead of a soggy one.

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We decided to skip dessert since we planned to continue the evening with dessert and after dinner drinks at the four seasons.

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