Cherry Hill native Gregory Vernick has returned from the Jean-Georges Vongerichten universe to open one of Philly's best new places of 2011, a modern bilevel space off Rittenhouse Square where wood-fired seasonal ingredients emerge in appealingly simple yet refined combinations. The flexible menu has small and large plates for sharing, but Vernick does things with toast you won't forget. The ground-floor bar is great for solo dining and sharp cocktails, not to mention quieter than the upstairs dining room.
Toasts (fromage blanc and cherries; peas and bacon; crab; morels; beef tartare; corn and smoked chile); tuna with spicy pickles; sea urchin with scrambled eggs; Arctic char with crispy skin; whole-wheat fettuccine with asparagus pesto; potato ravioli with braised lamb; black bass; halibut with mushrooms; bone-in strip loin (for two); olive oil cake; blueberry pie. Entrees, $22-$26. (Sharing entrees, $38-$68.)
Compact but well-rounded program. There are 14 good wines by the glass (plus dessert options), mostly European, with intriguing choices like Berger grüner veltliner, a floral dry Hungarian furmint (Evolúció), and a 2003 red Rhône (Le Roussignac from Chateau Haut-Musiel) perfect for the big steak. The 52-bottle list offers a handful for $50 or less (Sartori Ferdi; Domaine Magellan), plus other notable labels at standard markups (Noblaie Chinon; Far Niente; Chehalem) and a 2005 Cubillo Crianza from R. López de Heredia worth a splurge. The craft beer list is small but worthwhile. The mix of classic and inventive cocktails is also excellent.
Dinner Tuesday-Sunday, 5-11 p.m. Bar 4:30 p.m.-1 a.m.