Real Talk: I visited this place 2 months ago, and have been so slammed I’m just now getting around to writing this. I didn’t take many notes, but it was such a special night, everything’s still seared in my memory.
You don’t have to know me long to know that I’m obsessed with Top Chef. I tweet about it frequently, have a fantasy draft with my husband and our best friend, and all the old seasons are on continuous loop in my house. I’ve taken great pride in the fact that I can list out all cheftestant superlatives at the drop of a hat: the funniest (Fabio and Stefan), the most overrated (Marcel, Hosea, and the jerkface who won New Orleans), the ones who could have won a different season (Dale Talde, Antonia, Greg Gourdet, Jen Carroll), the sexiest (Sam, Casey, Tre), and the ones you’d most want to be best friends with (Sam, Casey, Tre). It should come as no surprise that when I travel, I love to hit up restaurants from Top Chef alumni and judges. While in Philadelphia last July I got to visit Maison208, the brand new restaurant from Sylva Senat.
From the first 10 minutes of last season’s Top Chef, I knew Sylva was going to be a heavy hitter. The way he butchered that chicken in the first scene let me know he had some major culinary chops. He carried himself with a quiet confidence that was warm but also stately. I was surprised to see him in the restaurant, and even more surprised when the host sat us 6 feet away from him. My sister, my friend Sean, and my friend Sara giggled at my bashfulness. The waiter dropped a “so I hear someone’s a big Top Chef fan,” and I had to audibly remind myself to play it cool. We ordered (someone questioned what dorado was out loud and I saw Sylva chuckle to himself) and I was sure to include a few dishes that I recognized from the TV show. The family style menu made it super conducive to tasting lots of dishes, which is ya know, exactly how I like to eat.
When our appetizers came out, Sylva delivered them personally, introduced himself, and started to chat with us about the restaurant and (of course) the show. He was just as classy and kind as he looked like he would be on TV, earnestly engaging with us and sharing some insider knowledge. And when I say “insider knowledge,” I mean he SPILLED THE TEA. It was amazing!
He shared some of his favorite housemates, and told me that the cast normally travels while the show airs to have watch parties and dine in each other’s restaurants. He told us that he had been a longtime fan of Sheldon and Brooke, and expressed how cool it was to get to know and learn from both of them. He told us that during the first episode’s sudden death cook-off, everyone was certain Tesar was going home, but once Tesar pulled out the truffles from his bag, they all knew it was over. He was intrigued by our fantasy snake draft, and wanted to know what order everyone was taken–which by the way, Sylva was actually pick #2, right after Sheldon. (I told you guys, those mad butchery skills!). He thought it was hilarious that we named our cat after Katsuji.
One of our appetizers was the curried beef lollipops you might remember from the charity gala fundraiser challenge. On the show, they told viewers that each attendee paid $500 for their ticket, so they would need to make very upscale food to match that. What they didn’t tell you on Bravo was that they gave each chef a budget of $5,000!! Mind boggling, I know. Sylva said because they all had that credit to burn with Whole Foods, he spend his on premium dry-aged ribeyes…that he promptly took back to the Top Chef kitchen and ran through a meat grinder. Tom Collichio came to check on all the contestants, and abruptly halted and questioned Sylva for this offense. I’ve seen Tom pull his Jedi mind tricks and freak chefs out, but Sylva said that Tom seemed much more startled and appalled than he’d ever seen him before. Certain he was going home but too late in the game to change plans, Sylva continued on and made the curry lollipops…and WON that challenge. Super badass!
For my entree, I ordered the fried whole dorado fish with baby vegetables in a mushroom broth, which was another dish that Sylva won in the Edna Lewis challenge. Sara got a burger, Sean got espresso-dusted duck with fois gras, and my sister got a salmon garnished with corn pudding. Sylva brought us some sharable veggie sides and some desserts on the house, and took time to visit with us between each course. Everything was delicious, clean flavors and modern presentations. The restaurant itself was gorgeous and homey, and had an amazing rooftop bar with a retractable roof. Considering it poured buckets that night, I’m sure they were glad that was an option. The restaurant is situated in the Gayborhood, walking distance from the Liberty Bell, tons of historic buildings, adorable old neighborhoods, biergardens, and even the legendary old taverns where Benjamin Franklin and his friends got that crazy idea to overthrow the British government. Should you ever find yourself in Philadelphia, I highly recommend you pay Maison208 a visit!