Daniel Stern’s Gayle Restaurant in Philadelphia

Accolades for Gayle.

Gayle Restaurant may have been the apex of the Philadelphia restaurant scene of the last twenty years. Innovative cuisine that held true to its modernist leanings, Gayle and its chef inspired an entire generation of chefs in Philly and beyond.

From the black-and-white family photos on the wall to the mellow jazz soundtrack and cozy back patio. Menu descriptions are intriguing, with options like sweetbreads, lemon and chestnut and the pairing of smoked beef tenderloin with shepherd’s pie. Just know that pork and beans, Dan Stern-style, isn’t what you might expect.

Gayot

 

Just beyond South Street, the fare at chef Daniel Stern’s cozy, 35-seat bistro is cleverly postmodern. Dishes — most of which are small — bear somewhat mysterious names such as “Gayle Chowder, Casino Pizza.” Another option might consist of skate, liver, and onions (trust me: it’s delicious). “Risotto fingers” could possibly come with sabayon dip containing soy and truffles. “Breakfast” is the name of a French-toastish dessert. This type of eating isn’t for everyone, but for the adventuresome gourmet, it’s sheer, stylish delight. Wines can be meticulously paired with each dish. By the way: I’m so not telling what’s in the “chicken, purple and green.”

New York Times

 

A self-taught chef, Daniel Stern began his career close to home as a busboy in South Jersey. Since then, he has spent his culinary career in America’s top kitchens. He worked closely with the nation’s leading chefs, including Rocco DiSpirito at Dava, Gray Kunz at the St. Regis Hotel in NYC and Lespinasse in Washington DC, Daniel Boulud at Restaurant Daniel, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten at Mercer Kitchen (all in New York City), and was executive chef at Le Bec-Fin in Philadelphia.

Zagat Profile of Daniel Stern

 

Daniel Stern seems to revel in turning expectation on its ear at Gayle, his new Queen Village restaurant in the terra-cotta-tiled-bistro bones of the old Azafran on Third Street.

Potato soup becomes a sauce, and clams casino becomes a soup. Stews and casseroles are deconstructed, then put back together again (more or less). You’ll encounter basmati rice churned into ice cream for your entree. Bitter Belgian endive is transformed into dessert.

But the most amazing thing about these dishes is not simply that they are strange – shock value is an easy trick for any chef. (In that regard, Gayle may be on the only block in America with two restaurants, Ansill being the other, that prominently feature tongue.)

The catch is that the food works. At least, most of it. Even a seemingly random creation like the “#9 Combination,” which poses tall plugs of silky braised lamb shoulder opposite slices of raw tuna sashimi glazed in yogurt tzatziki, suddenly harmonizes around a third element – a silky dollop of avocado-cucumber puree that ballasts the plate between them. In a few bites, it evolves from dubious to memorable.

From Craig Leban’s Philadelphia Inquirer review.

 

This dish represents what I love best about Gayle: its ability to surprise without shock, to challenge without being pushy, to pique your curiosity and delight you on the sly with the unexpected. Just the sort of mystery I like.

Philadelphia Weekly

 

Small restaurants are starting to resist the BYO temptation, crafting short and intriguing wine lists instead. At Gayle, the food and wine menus are well matched, with the 35 food-friendly wine selections — predominantly Pacific Northwest — chosen for their compatibility with chef Daniel Stern’s creative American cuisine.

Philadelphia Magazine,  Best of Philadelphia 2007

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