'Mr. & Mrs. A' Review: Serrano Restaurant in Philly's Old City District

Serrano Restaurant in Philadelphia's Old City District
Serrano Restaurant in Philadelphia's Old City District

Since 2005, husband and wife Donal and Jennifer McCoy have made Serrano at 20 S. 2nd Street in Philadelphia's Old City area into their own version of an international dining spot. Between the restaurant’s dynamic cuisine by Chef Gina Rodriguez, and Serrano’s second floor club, the Tin Angel, with its dedication to acoustic pop and jazz music, you’ve got an address that’s one-stop shopping for foodies and folkies. I was a tad apprehensive about this Mr. & Mrs. A review because Serrano is named after a hot pepper, and with spicy food, my husband A.D. and I are polar opposites; for him, the hotter the better, for me, everything has to be mild. With that in mind, we headed to Serrano, where the warmth of our hosts, and the pleasant heat in Chef Rodriguez' pepper-infused dishes, made it clear to me why this is one of Philly's hottest restaurants.

Jalapeño Hummus at Serrano in Philadelphia PA
Jalapeño Hummus

Jalapeño Hummus with Grilled Flat Bread

Corn Fritters with Cayenne Honey

Crostini with Oven Roasted Tomatoes, Capers, Shallot Confit, and Balsamic

Crostini with Roasted Tomatoes at Serrano in Philadelphia PA
Crostini with Roasted Tomatoes
Mr. A: The first thing to know about all of Rodriguez’s dishes is that she brings deep heat to all proceedings - this includes items like the jalapeno hummus dish with grilled flat bread. She describes it as “having a little kick.” She’s right, it is but a dash of heat, but it’s a good one, as each creamy (and crunchy, with the charred bread) mouthful is heightened by the jalapeno’s zest. The corn fritters (really the best in the city) with cayenne honey drizzle is a sweet and swelteringly hot delight as well. I’m not a big fan of conventional honey, so this peppery sugary syrup was perfect for me,. My favorite item during this first course though remains the crostini with the roasted red tomatoes, the vinegary capers and the shallot confit. I could have put the tangy tomatoes and the confit on anything and made a meal of it.

Corn Fritters with Cayenne Honey at Serrano in Philadelphia PA
Corn Fritters with Cayenne Honey
Mrs. A: I'm not a jalapeño fan, (I always order all spicy food "mild") so I had planned on only having a taste of the hummus for review purposes, but I wound up eating more than half of it. The heat was definitely there, but it wasn't too harsh for my palate. The capers were a nice touch with the earthy, roasted tomatoes – I was mixing this with the hummus, and it was very good. My absolute favorite part of this course was the Corn Fritters with Cayenne Honey – they were crispy and golden brown on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside, and the peppery honey was divine – I only let my husband have one to facilitate his review – I ate the rest.


Chef Gina Rodriguez Signature Scallop at Serrano in Philadelphia PA
Chef Gina Rodriguez Signature Scallop
Chef's "Signature Scallop"
Andoullie Sausage Ragout
Fingerling Potato
Arbol Chili Gastrique

Mr. A:
I can see why this is Chef Rodriguez' signature dish; it's magnificent. The spicy Arbol chili pepper infused in the sauce guarantees that the classic sweet and sour gastrique is balanced with a crisp savory flavor that’s slightly more Latin than it is traditionally French. Remember, Serrano has forever been billed as an internationally themed restaurant, and the combination of the Latino and the Gaelic is proof. The pillowy jumbo diver scallops and the smoked Andouille sausage ragout complement each other nicely, especially if you take a mouthful of the natural light sweetness of the scallop with a bite of the musky sausage at the same time. It’s as if you’re creating your own paella with each spoonful. As the second dish of the meal, there’s just enough of this scallop-sausage pairing to want more, but not need more.

Mrs. A:
I'm big on scallops, but more and more when we dine out I'm seeing them served almost raw – still good of course, but not my thing. At Serrano, the scallops were exactly how I like them – pan seared, then cooked almost through, but leaving a translucent center. The gastrique (a sauce made with sugar and vinegar, and in this case, with Arbol pepper added ) tied all of the elements of the dish together beautifully, and as a carb queen, I especially loved it on the potatoes. Once again, I'm finding the heat from the Arbols enjoyable - Chef Rodriguez is changing my perception of peppers.


Pork, Bacon and Beef Meatloaf at Serrano in Philadelphia PA
Pork, Bacon and Beef Meatloaf
Pork, Bacon and Beef Meatloaf
Jalapeño Cheddar Mash
Bacon Gravy
Crispy Fried Onions

Mr. A:
This meatloaf is smooth – nothing chunky like what mom used to make – and you can taste each individual meat that Rodriguez used. The cheddar cheese with jalapeno that is melted into the mash is just rich enough to compete with the meat trio, but never overpowering (or too spicy) for the potatoes. The bacon gravy on this dish is its secret weapon.

Mrs. A:
This meatloaf has an interesting consistency that almost reminds me of pâté. When I mentioned this to the Chef, she said I wasn't the first person to make the comparison – it is dense, smooth, and still, somehow, light. The meatloaf would be wonderful on its own; the bacon gravy and crispy onions make it even more so. A substantial, hearty dish for people who savor comfort food.

Lamb Loin Chop with Red Beet Hash at Serrano in Philadelphia PA
Lamb Loin Chop with Red Beet Hash
Lamb Loin Chop
Red Beet Hash
Garlicky Spinach
Cilantro Mint Pistachio Pesto

Mr. A:
I love a good lamb. Finding one that’s truly tender without being gamey, and one that’s mildly grassy without tasting like your front lawn, is no easy feat, so I was anxious to dig into this. The loin chop with cilantro mint pistachio pesto was an interesting play on the Mediterranean lamb/mint tradition. The meat was juicy, slightly sweet, and flavorful without a hint of gaminess.

Mrs. A:
I don't know why more restaurants aren't serving lamb loin chops because they're flavorful and tender. I think beets (along with cauliflower) are underused and underrated (I serve them in various forms at home at least once a week), so I was thrilled to see them with this dish. I'm a fan of beets with mint, too, so this plate made me extra happy.


Salted Caramel Creme Brûlée at Serrano in Philadelphia PA
Salted Caramel Creme Brûlée
Salted Caramel Creme Brûlée
Vanilla Bean Chantilly, Fleur de Sel

Mr. A:
The salted caramel crème brûlée was the perfect end to the meal, nice and creamy with a pleasant crackling feeling on the teeth.

Mrs. A:
The thing that stands out to me about this, besides the addictive salted caramel flavor, is the depth of the burnt sugar top. Sometimes when I order crème brûlée, the burnt sugar topping is so thick it's like an odd, flat jawbreaker. With Chef Rodriguez' presentation, the topping was just the right thickness to give the dessert texture without making me fear for my dental work.


Mr. & Mrs. A - Overall Impression of Serrano Restaurant

Mr. A: There are many reasons to sing the praises of Serrano. Donal McCoy is a crack bartender, a longtime favorite of Old City’s drinking crowd, and the cocktails that he has curated for Serrano (like The 6th Thyme with its house-made mead) are imaginative and potent. The look of the space is warm (the fireplace helps), inviting, and intimate, with its low ceilings, dark woods and bricks, and private dining tables in the back. The folk, pop, and quiet jazz sounds from its upstairs nightclub, Tin Angel, makes this address the perfect date spot. As a restaurant on a block filled with fascinating flavors, Rodriguez – a one-time winner of a AAA 5 Diamond Award – has made Serrano into a food destination with her unique take on familiar dishes made subtly hot and Latin.

Mrs. A: Sometimes it seems to me that for people who prepare and consume spicy food, meals become contests to see who can make or eat the highest number on the Scoville scale, but there no such competition at Serrano. I found everything we sampled to be at medium heat (as opposed to my usual mild), but in Chef Rodriguez' skilled hands, I never once needed to reach for a drink to negate the pepper – it was all highly enjoyable. I would enthusiastically order every dish in this review (when we go back I'll be having the corn fritters, hummus and meatloaf). Jennifer McCoy helped us select wine to go with our meal (because I didn't want to fill up on beer), but next time I'll have a selection from Serrano's long list of craft brews. The room was comfortable: dark enough to convey an intimate vibe, but bright enough to read the menu. I'm craving the food, and I'll be recommending it when my friends and family are looking for a place to meet and eat.

Chef Gina Rodriguez (center) with Serrano owners Jennifer and Donal McCoy
Chef Gina Rodriguez (center) with Serrano owners Jennifer and Donal McCoy
Serrano Restaurant
20 S 2nd Street, Philadelphia PA
Open Wednesday through Sunday; for hours or reservations call 215.928.0770 or visit SerranoPhilly.com

Food photos ©Glamorosi for Glamorosi Magazine 2013
Serrano facade photo courtesy Serrano Restaurant
Owners and chef photo courtesy Serrano Restaurant / Aversa PR

To follow Glamorosi Magazine on Facebook click here

Posted on Saturday, December 21, 2013