Marigold Kitchen Lets Loose with “Test Kitchen Series”

For a few weeks this summer, Marigold Kitchen is really letting loose.

The BYOB—beloved for its inventive, seasonally inspired tasting menus—is set to play host to a “Test Kitchen Series,” a run of dinners that grants Marigold’s staff the opportunity to test out new concepts, ideas and dishes that might not ordinarily make it onto the restaurant’s menu.

Marigold Co-chefs owners Andrew Kochan and Tim Lanza

Co-chef/owners Andrew Kochan and Tim Lanza will experiment with concepts and ideas, testing out their wildest culinary dreams that might not generally work at the University City eatery, which is housed in a cozy Victorian row home at the corner of 45th and Larchwood. The vibe is reminiscent of Willy Wonka’s candy factory, where anything goes … as long as you are having fun.

I recently attended Marigold Kitchen’s first “Test Kitchen” of the summer, and the level of creativity and precision in each dish blew me away. The wait staff explained every plate with knowledge and passion, turning the experience from just another meal into an intimate peek behind the curtain at how some of the top chefs in the city think, create and execute.

Each week, the 5- to 8-course experimental menu changes. Here’s what I got to “test”:

Course 1: Squab Saltimbocca

Marigold Squab

The first course, served in a wire basket, was visually similar to chicken wings. So similar, in fact, that I wondered where my side of blue cheese was. In this case, however, the “wings” were lightly fried squab—wrapped in prosciutto and sage. Each bite was tender, juicy and salty (in the best way possible) and certainly did not need to be masked in blue cheese and hot sauce.

Course 2: Halibut Ceviche

Marigold halibut ceviche

After the squab came a refreshing, fresh halibut ceviche, topped with a wine Ponzu sauce, ginger foam, scallions and toasted sesame seeds. The ginger foam provided a kick of citrus that complemented the fish perfectly, with the sesame seeds and scallions adding an unexpected textural crunch.

Course 3: Ants on a Log

Marigold Ants on a Log

By the third course, it became apparent that the chefs were really having fun. I was presented with “Ants on a Log”—yes, everyone’s favorite childhood snack—except instead of raw celery topped with peanut butter and raisins, I bit into a tender stalk of celery braised in beef and pork stock filled with foie gras mousse and brandy-plumped raisins and toasted peanuts. Unbelievable.

Course 4: Mozzarella Balloon

Marigold Mozzarella

You read that correctly … a balloon of mozzarella cheese. The chefs took homemade mozzarella curds and infused them with pea puree using an aerator can. The dish was topped with mint panko crumbs, lardon bits and lemon caviar—created by combining a lemon base with agar, dropping it into hot canola oil and creating little beads of ridiculously elegant and delicious lemon balls. I can’t stress how much I loved this dish, but it was revealed that the balloons were incredibly time-consuming to make and likely would not earn a spot on the restaurant’s menu, proving just how valuable the “Test Kitchen Series” is to the culinary-curious.

Course 5: Nino’s

Marigold Ninos

One of the sous chefs spent a month traveling (and eating) in Argentina, inspiring the Nino’s dish—a sausage and parsley mix wrapped in a veal cutlet and topped with a fresh, almost salsa-like marinara sauce and a hit of ramp oil. The chef revealed that he stayed very true to the dish’s origins, and it paid off. I devoured this plate in record time.

Course 6: Bourbon Lemonade Push Pop

I hadn’t had a push pop since fourth grade, so this lemonade bourbon interpretation was a real treat. Unfortunately, I scarfed it down so quickly and forgot to take a photo. Whoops!

Course 7: Banana Cream Pie Napoleon

Marigold Banana Cream Pie

The meal was finished off with a banana cream pie napoleon consisting of flaky layers of crust, smooth banana cream filling and a crunchy caramelized topping. The perfect sweet ending to an amazing meal!

The “Test Kitchen Series” runs every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings through August. Reservations are recommended.

Marigold Kitchen is located at 501 S. 45th St. in Philadelphia; phone: (215) 222-3699.

  • Andrew Kochan/Tim Lanza photo: Dallyn Pavey
  • Remaining photos: Laura Hibbs McKenzie