In recent years, South Philadelphia’s East Passyunk Avenue has blossomed into a bonafide restaurant row.
Once red-gravy Italian spots ruled, and now eclectic global dining rooms are the culinary mainstay of this ever-evolving main street.
This month, the East Passyunk neighborhood welcomed its latest epicurean destination with the opening of talented young chef Nicholas Elmi’s French-inspired BYOB, Laurel, in the space that held Fond prior to that restaurant’s move up the street.
Chef Elmi, who taps extensive French training to serve up his refined-yet-approachable style of fare, has been the executive chef of such top kitchens as the now-shuttered Le Bec-Fin and the charming Rittenhouse Tavern in Philadelphia.
Reality television-loving diners might also recognize Elmi from his appearance as one of 19 “cheftestants” on the 11th season Bravo’s Top Chef, hosted in the great city of New Orleans. Since the show’s September debut, Elmi has more than held his own against his accomplished opponents, all the while staying true to his French-American culinary roots.
But while his on-air presence may hold allure, it’s Elmi’s starring role in his own new kitchen that ought to earn him glowing reviews.
At Laurel, Elmi aims to serve a style of fare that’s the culmination of the haute cuisine he created at Le Bec-Fin and the sophisticated American plates he served at Rittenhouse Tavern — and all his own.
Without the obligations that come with large dining rooms and Rittenhouse addresses, Elmi has the freedom to cook with a very personal approach, relying on classic French technique while employing a bounty of locally sourced ingredients and getting creative with, say, Asian flavors.
A deftly edited menu of 14 dishes, organized into four courses, stars graceful items like a bright Spanish mackerel with jalapeño and ponzu, a homey fresh ricotta gnocchi with pancetta — his young daughter’s favorite — a Berkshire pork with acorn squash and chanterelles, and a roasted fish with sweet potato greens and a maple jus.
By design, Laurel seats just 24 at a time so diners can enjoy the simple-yet-beautiful atmosphere. With that intimate size, Elmi and his small staff of just over half a dozen can focus on bringing personal, friendly service to each guest.
Currently, Laurel serves its à la carte menu Tuesday through Saturday, in two seatings around the 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Come December, though, Elmi hopes to launch tasting menus in addition to his à la carte menu. Then, by January, the goal is to serve only tasting menus on Friday and Saturday, with à la carte available Tuesday through Thursday.
See the current full menu below and make a reservation now to dine at this budding addition to East Passyunk Avenue’s restaurant row.
When: Now open Tuesday-Saturday, 6 p.m.-close
Where: 1617 E. Passyunk Avenue
Cost: Pay as you go
More info: www.restaurantlaurel.com