[ REVIEW ]
Waiter, there’s an octopus tentacle in my berry terrine. Or it least it appeared that way, as the last rays of late-spring sunlight slunk from the window-wrapped dining room of Rimedio, the new Italian understudy of West Philly icon Rx.
Imagine the horror! A little Ursula, wriggling out of Rimedio’s fridge, desperately fleeing death by stockpot, only to plummet off the counter and into a rapidly firming red, white and blue gelée. Fortunately, as I put fork to terrine, it became apparent I wasn’t witnessing some grave kitchen mishap, of which Rimedio had already offered plenty. What looked like cephalopod suckers were simply blueberries, halved, arranged in a row cut-side up and suspended in apple-juice aspic between layers of pressed strawberries—a sophisticated Fourth of July Jell-O mold.
“A modern Northern Italian restaurant” is how chef/co-owner Dan Freeman bills Rimedio, yet the menu is neither terribly Italian nor terribly modern. The berry terrine is but one vintage recipe, so unabashedly old-school it might just feel new again were it executed sharply. Instead, ragged, seemingly clawed edges surrounded the slice of jewel-toned gel, plopped on a plate with deflated vanilla whipped cream, and the underripe fruit entombed inside needed stronger sweetening.
It might seem chronologically incongruous to begin with dessert, but the terrine was representative of most of the food I ate at Rimedio, an unfortunate dovetailing of throwback technique (ballotines, roulades) with wonky execution, clumsy plating and muted flavors.
Old vials, rusted scales and other apothecary paraphernalia deck the corner space in which Rimedio resides. There’s a vintage Coca-Cola cooler, massive blackboard advertising the day’s charcuterie (“lanzo,” but I think they mean lonza, cured pork loin) and plenty of time to admire it all if you’re left lingering in a nearly empty dining room, as I was. The sole server eventually emerged from the kitchen; despite his initial tardiness, he was one high point of the meal, providing service with more pride and professionalism than the food deserves.
Peroni (too bitter), thyme (too much) and Red Bliss potatoes (too raw) marred a bowl of otherwise pleasant steamed cockles, a shout to Freeman’s childhood at the Shore. Profiteroles featured puff pastry so dry and brittle it should be tested for osteoporosis. A white-wine-poached radish salad with ricotta salata and Meyer lemon vinaigrette sounded interesting, but it turns out wine-poached radishes taste exactly like regular radishes. They rolled around a mess of underdressed arugula like little pink and white dreidels.
The eggplant “caponata” stack was an affront to the sweet-and-sour Sicilian antipasto. Freeman sears thick discs of aubergine and tomato, grills red onion wheels, Jengas the three together and bakes the squat tower in the oven before jazzing it up with soft polenta, golden raisins and cocoa-enriched balsamic syrup. Freeman, a veteran of L’Oca and Bistro 7, should know better. Then again, he’s only 30 and spent the past four years in Denver cooking at Vesta, a “dipping grill” whose claim to fame appears to be its 30-plus sauces.
There is one thing Freeman definitely knows how to make, and how to make well: pasta. The housemade noodles are Rimedio’s redemption, especially the fine threads of capellini, eggy and so uncommonly rich I didn’t even mind that they arrived slightly overcooked and buried in a mushroomy landslide. Mined with indistinguishable bits of crisped, house-cured pork belly and fistfuls of thyme, the sauce flowed over the pasta and around white islands of exquisitely seared scallops like muddy moats. With the scallops and the pasta and nothing else, Freeman has a superior dish on his hands. What he doesn’t have is the maturity to recognize that.
Freeman also doesn’t have the maturity to recognize that “it’s an experiment I wanted to try” is not a reason to put a chicken ballotine on the menu. This is not a science lab, despite the beakers scattered about. Ballotine, another back-in-the-day prep involving the stuffing of boned-out poultry (with ramps and mozzarella curd, in Rimedio’s case), was handled here with all the grace of a walrus doing yoga. It’s a process: Chicken breasts get pounded thin, layered over chicken skin, stuffed, wrapped into a log, tied, poached and pan-seared on the pick-up. So why go to all that trouble if you’re just going to slice it in half like a common hoagie? The cut ends of the ungainly poultry doobie-faced me, weeping molten mozzarella. A single grilled ramp lay on top like a flower on a grave.
I sincerely hope we’re not leaving flowers on Rimedio’s doorstep anytime soon, but without stronger discipline and smarter flavors in the kitchen, the diagnosis looks terminal.
Rimedio | 4443 Spruce St., 215-222-9590, il-rimedio.com. Dinner served Tues.-Sun. 5-10 p.m.; brunch served Sat.-Sun 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Appetizers, $7-$13; pastas, $14-$18; entrees, $18-$30; desserts, $7-$14.