The venerable Philadelphia restaurant Fork, a trailblazer in farm-to-table dining 15 years ago, has been made over, to miraculous effect. The palm trees have been replaced with birch, the high green banquets with dark elegant ones, and vibrant murals by Fork waiter Anthony DeMelas have been added to the decor. And the cooking? Well, I loved former chef Terrence Feury, so the stakes were high—but Fork’s new chef, Eli Kulp, comes from Manhattan’s Torrisi Italian Specialties, and he’s brought with him a huge amount of New York smarts and energy, as well as a newcomer’s starry-eyed delight in the local Pennsylvania provender. It’s a fecund place, and Kulp is gulping it up.
Fork’s current chef’s tasting menu is filled with breathtaking moments. A duo of snappy-tasting icicle radishes is coated in beet-infused cultured butter and laid atop an umami-rich “housemade soil” of black sesame, bitter chocolate, anchovy, and lemon zest. Soulful “burnt grains” pappardelle is inspired by the the cucina povera of southern Italy, where peasants would burn the wheat fields after harvest, then gather the charred remainders to mix into their flour. And a sweet-tart rhubarb-strawberry consomme [pictured] is poured pretty and pink into a cut-glass bowl over a jewel box collection of spring newbies: petite pois, diced rhubarb, spring flowers, pea shoots, strawberry, and a strawberry-rhubarb compote. Kulp whipped up that soup via some complicated kitchen wizardy involving produce from Philly-area farm Culton Organics, sous-vide lovage-oil compression, agar clarification, robot coupe processing, and other bells and whistles. But all that is behind-the-scenes stuff; for us diners, that soup just feels like magic. I want to live in Kulp’s woodland world with the strawberry faeries forever.
306 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA