In An Itty-Bitty Space

I had promised Linda that I would take her to Village Whiskey to have a foie gras burger for her birthday, which was during Easter weekend. Unfortunately, Linda had her pseudo-heart attack which actually turned out to be a combo stress/panic attack coupled with extreme fibermyalgia pain. The hospital stay, however, lasted the whole weekend. This spoiled her plans of lunch with her children and me, dinner at Village Whiskey with me, and then a lobster Easter dinner down in Cape May with her son. So when we were in Philly last week for the Rittenhouse festival and we were only a couple of blocks from the Village Whiskey, I decided it was time for Linda’s birthday foie gras burger.

Before I go any further, I want you all to know that I’ve been to Garces’ other restaurants, Amada, Tinto, Chifa, Distrito, and Mercat a la Planxa (Chicago), and have had nothing but rave reviews. I also have never eaten foie gras nor had I ever planned to eat it. To me, foie gras falls into the mistreated animal category (like veal), so I just went without it. Plus, it’s really easy to go without something that is super expensive. Give up caviar? No problem. Stop eating American Cheese? I fall apart.

Image stolen from http://www.nightclub.com. Photo by Fanny Allie.

We didn’t realize just how small the Village Whiskey was until we actually entered it. It’s small. There’s a tiny bar and a bunch of tall, tufted leather booths with round tables that surround the outer wall.  Beyond the bar is a standing room only area with small counters where diners try to woof down their burgers while avoiding being knocked over by the servers as they travel from the kitchen to the dining area and back.  The Village Whiskey is attached to, yet separate from Tinto. Linda commented that the place looked more like something thrown together, almost like Jose was stuck with paying rent on the place and figured he had to do something with it. Was it a restaurant? a bar? or some hybrid? Whatever it was, it was the first disappointment of the evening.

It was packed, which is probably easy to do considering the size of the place. The corner booth by the door was empty so I proceeded to sit down at it when a cute little thing came walking down from the bar and suddenly blurted out, “Eating or drinking?” “Both, hopefully,” I replied to which she then gave us the blessing to sit at the table. Who knew that such an itty bitty establishment would have a hostess? Of course, a “hello, how are you?” or “Welcome to Village Whiskey” might have been a more appropriate initial greeting. Another disappointment.

The booth seats are totally uncomfortable. They are too high and too hard. Additionally, the round tables just don’t seem to fit well into the square and rectangular spaces created by the booths. It looked awkward and felt awkward. Click here for an image of Jose Garces and his buddies sitting at some of the booths.  They may be smiling but doesn’t that seating arrangement look terribly uncomfortable? Imagine two parties of three sitting in the same spot. The two folks in the middle would have to like each other an awful lot. (Thanks to the blog The Illadelphia)

But we weren’t there for the mish-mash atmosphere or the uncomfortable seating. We were there for the foie gras burger. And at $24, I figured that sucker better jump off the plate and dance on my lap once it arrived.  Our server was friendly enough and definitely a friend of Dorothy. (That’s gay to all you breeders and young’uns.) He sauntered over and asked us if we wanted to start with drinks. After ordering a tasty beer, which I might add that he expertly helped me pick, I finally decided what I would eat. He sauntered back with the drinks and then told us he would be back in a moment to take our order, even though we were ready to order. He then sauntered off to take someone else’s order. In fact, that’s all he did: saunter. I think it was his signature move. Disappointment number 3.

When he returned, we ordered the deviled eggs and soft pretzel appetizers (both $3 each). Linda ordered her foie gras burger ($24) and I ordered the BBQ Pork Sammy ($12) with a side of duck fat french fries ($5). The eggs came out quickly. They were delicious with a slight taste of mustard and another seasoning that we couldn’t place but certainly complimented the mustard. The pretzels did not come. So we waited and waited and waited and waited. Then the sandwiches arrived, along with the pretzels. Disappointment number 4.

It’s not rocket science to know that appetizers are meant to be served before the meal, not with it. Nothing aggravates me more then being served an appetizer with my meal except not receiving an apology or at least an acknowledgement of the mistake from the server. The pretzels looked tasty and probably would have been if they had been served when they were hot. But they weren’t even warm.  They obviously were sitting under some heat lamp forgotten until the meal was plated. Disappointment number 5.

My sandwich was no disappointment. The sesame seed role was soft yet strong enough to hold the sandwich together. The pork was tenderlicous (okay, so that’s not a word) and the sauce was rich, sweet, and tangy all at the same time.  The cole slaw was crisp and creamy and a fabulous addition to the sandwich.  In fact, I would have loved the cole slaw even if it was alone on the plate. It was that good. The sandwich was accompanied by a handful of small fried pickle wedges which were overcooked, tasteless, and totally unnecessary. I would have been happier with a big old plain slice of kosher dill pickle – a minor complaint compared to the awesomeness of the sandwich. Can you tell I really liked my sammy?

The Duck Fat Fries were neither a disappointment nor a delight. In fact, they were simply fries. I don’t know what we were expecting, but what we were served was nothing different from most of the fries served at most other places. They were hot (although Linda thought they could have been hotter) and served with a really nice side of homemade ketchup. But if you had served them to me and didn’t tell me what they were, I would never have guessed they were duck fat fries. Ever.

Linda’s sandwich, on the other hand, was a total disappointment. It looked pretty amazing when it came out and the burger, itself, was beautifully cooked. The foie gras, on the other hand, was not. It was too big to eat by hand so Linda cut-off about a third of it and started to eat it with a fork. After a few bites, she started to make a face. “I don’t think the foie gras is cooked enough,” she stated as she looked down at the plate. “Don’t eat it,” I said as I waived down the waiter. Disappointment number 6.

The waiter came right over to our table and Linda explained the situation. To his credit, the waiter didn’t make any excuses. He simply apologized and offered to take the offending sandwich away. Linda suggested that they cook the foie gras just a little bit more. While we waited, I managed to finish off my sandwich and we booth bumped off the fries.  When the sandwich finally returned, it was the exact same sandwich except the burger was now cold. Linda gave me a bite of the foie gras and it felt and tasted like a tiny balloon of nasty grease exploding it my mouth. It was disgusting. Linda said it should have been creamy with a little bit more texture.

We called the waiter over and explained that the sandwich was still inedible. He whisked it away. Linda got up to go to the bathroom and while she was gone, the manager came over to the table. I explained to him the problem and described how the foie gras tasted to me. He curtly responded that it was, after all, a fatted liver. A tad annoyed, I explained to him that I wasn’t the one who ordered the burger, had never eaten foie gras before, didn’t know how it was supposed to taste, and that my dining partner did and she would be more than happy to explain the problem to him when she returned from the bathroom.  At that moment, she returned.

He apologized all over the place and offered to replace the meal with another sandwich, which we declined. After all,  we had already been there a really long time and I was finished eating.  Not only would we have to sit there even longer while the sandwich was made, I’d have to sit there and watch Linda eat it, too. And even though he made me feel a little stupid about the foie gras, he picked up on the fact that I was annoyed and didn’t make the same mistake with Linda. We asked for our check.

The offending meal was removed from the check. I have to give them kudos for taking the burger off the bill and not giving us a hard time about it. They handled the problem professionally but at $24 a burger, there shouldn’t have been a problem in the first place.  And even though I loved my sandwich and the regular burgers looked banging, their signature items lacked all around. Add in the uncomfortable and tiny dining area and the slow service and I would have to say that a return visit won’t be in the cards.

Village Whiskey is located at 118 South 20th Street in Philadelphia. They don’t take reservations. For more information, visit them at villagewhiskey.com.

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