Mica Restaurant
Mica Restaurant Chip Roman’s Chestnut Hill encore to Blackfish delivers an experience that exceeds even the grandest of expectations
by Brian Freedman

When Mica opened a little less than two and a half years ago, expectations were high. Chef Chip Roman’s previous success, Blackfish, proved with an electric sense of excitement that Conshohocken could support and nurture a restaurant of serious ambition, a menu that didn’t always hew to expectations, and a chef whose vision was as creative and demanding as any in the city proper.

So when his much-anticipated Mica swung open its doors in Chestnut Hill in May 2011, there was an understandable sense of anticipation: Would Roman top what he’d already accomplished, or fall victim to elevated expectations?

The answer was immediately clear: Mica was its own lovely creation, its own unique restaurant, yet the solidity of the talent underpinning it was just as well wrought. Mica almost immediately garnered serious plaudits in the local and national media alike.

It’s been a while since those heady early days, however, and we thought that this was the perfect time to step back in and see how it was faring.

Brilliantly, it turns out.

A recently enjoyed white gazpacho was impeccably attuned to the turn of the seasons from late summer to autumn. The density and sneaky sweetness of pureed blanched almonds and thickening almond milk found a spine of brightness in green grapes, verjus, and celery ribbons. Gluten-free dishes are rarely this flat-out yummy. Heirloom tomato salad took perfect advantage of the later-in-the-season crop and contextualized those bright, meaty fruits in a contrasting frame of lemon basil and pink peppercorn. A quick drag of it all through a clever watermelon emulsion resulted in a bite that singlehandedly embodied all the glories of late-August eating.

Seasonality, in other words, is more than simply a guiding light here: It is a philosophy strictly adhered to. Yet unlike some other restaurants that occasionally use the trendiness of sourcing ingredients to reflect the time of year to accomplish less-than-stellar ends, Roman and his team—including chef de cuisine Yianni Arhontoulis—manage to take them and somehow amplify their impact, tweak or combine them in such a way that they are more than the sum of their individual parts.

Agnolotti, generously portioned as a sort of mid-course, was perfect for two to share. Each delicate packet of house-made pasta contained within its appealingly slippery confines a portion of sweet blue crab folded into a scallop mousse, all of it paired with a Pernod-based broth vivid with saffron and aesthetically beautiful with contrasting pea tendrils. An entrée of Lancaster County poulard was infinitely more complex than it initially seemed. Thigh and breast meat had been removed from their bones, rolled up with one another, and cooked sous vide after an overnight marinade in coconut milk. The skin was crisped up on its own before being rolled back onto the poulard, resulting in a sense of textural tension that is all too rarely achieved with this bird.

Lamb loin, also cooked sous vide, was accompanied by meltingly succulent lamb belly mysterious with the scent of thyme, coriander and more. It’s a dish that could have gotten bogged down in its own richness, but Roman is a master of the small detail that injects life and balance to his food. In this case, the brightness of nectarine and the nutty snap of puffed amaranth provided a break from all that heady richness, and the result was a plate impossible to stop picking at, even past the point of satiety.

Desserts were playful yet anchored in excellent technique, from the ricotta doughnuts to the frozen Manjari chocolate ganache briefly bruleed on top and accompanied by crème fraiche, concord grapes, and candied hazelnuts. And the beverage program, recently taken over by the exceptionally talented sommelier Elyse Lovenworth, is undergoing a handful of changes that promise to improve an already gorgeous set of options. (Lovenworth worked, among other places, in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, one of the top spots for Pinot Noir in the country, and her vision and enthusiasm promise to expand the list in ways both unexpected and exciting.)

My advice: Start with a cocktail—I’m still thinking about the pluot negroni punch—allow Lovenworth to get creative with what you drink alongside the remarkable food, and give yourself over to a restaurant operating at the top of its game. The front-of-house staff is friendly and deeply knowledgeable, the food and drink excellent, and the overall experience on par with every expectation you might have.

Mica Restaurant
8609 Germantown Ave., Chestnut Hill (Philadelphia)
267-335-3912 | micarestaurant.com

Photography by Rob Hall