REVIEW WRITTEN BY LEN LEAR
For Digital First Media
Nobody ever said the restaurant business was a piece of angel’s food cake. In February of 2014, chef Jason Cichonski, who was riding high in the local culinary world, opened The Gaslight at 120 Market St. in Philly’s Old City. Now 30, Jason is the chef/owner of the popular Ela restaurant in Philly’s gentrified Queen Village neighborhood.
A Bucks County native, the precocious graduate of the The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill in University City was executive chef at the callow age of 24 at the ultra-posh Lacroix at the Rittenhouse Hotel. A couple years ago we saw Jason make an impressive showing on the Bravo network’s Top Chef show, and he has worked in other upscale restaurants such as Moonlight in New Hope.
However, The Gaslight is definitely a shift in gears for Cichonski. The casual tavern (formerly home to Philadelphia Bar & Restaurant) has two bars (one of them is a long operation with glass tiles behind it, a whiskey list for every taste and a lineup of craft beers with 18 tap handles), an industrial loft-like appearance with ceiling fans, track lighting, bare wooden floors, etc., and lots of comfort food like chicken nuggets, baked soft pretzel bites, burgers and fries, spareribs, etc., as well as fancier fare.
Since Cichonski cannot be in two places at once, he hired a chef to run the kitchen at The Gaslight while he ran Ela. In fact, he was already on his second chef at Gaslight when the Inquirer’s Craig LaBan gave the restaurant a scathing one-bell review late last year. If you accept LaBan’s opinion, this place had more issues than Time magazine.
That was followed in late February by pipes in the apartments over The Gaslight freezing and then bursting, showering the kitchen and dining room with torrents of water. The restaurant closed for one month for repairs, as well as the hiring of a new chef, Jordan “Red” Sauter, who had worked at area restaurants Modo Mio, Braddock’s Tavern and Rembrandt’s. Sauter was also a kitchen supervisor for Whole Foods Market.
Of course we cannot comment on the previous chef because we did not go to The Gaslight prior to Sauter’s tenure, and coming back from a devastating review in the Inquirer and frozen pipes may be almost as difficult as planting cut flowers, but as far as the dishes we tasted in late April, prepare to have your heart throbbed. The Gaslight has boomeranged back to life with some pretty impressive kitchen sorcery.
For example, the aforementioned chicken nuggets (the association with their atrocious namesake at McDonald’s is unfortunate) are paired with black pepper barbecue and truffle remoulade with chess-match ingenuity ($7), and the shaved, crunchy kale salad ($8) was catnip for us. When you eat the potato-crusted Spanish octopus with hummus and yogurt dressing ($13), you are flying without a license.
There is a cafeteria of reasons to like the pasta selections at The Gaslight. One is the potato gnocchi, which were clouds I could have taken a nap on. They defy gravity. They were accompanied by goat’s milk ricotta cheese, beech mushrooms (most often found on beech trees) and fava beans ($12/$19). The macaroni and cheese with peas and pancetta ($13) make it very hard to practice girth control.
Tres leches cake, a very moist south-of-the-border specialty made with a mixture of milks ($8), was a very sensuous, not-heavy dessert. Biting into it seems almost too intimate an act to do in public.
If I have to get my gripe on about something, it would be about the Queen of Hearts Pinot Noir. It was a rich and complex accompaniment to the pasta dishes, but the pour was ridiculously small, barely filling up the bottom of the glass, for $13. You can buy a whole bottle of decent Pinot Noir in a state store for $13. I love the names of some of the cocktails, though, names such as “Elephant in My Pajamas,” “10 Cent Glamour Girl” and “Jack Left Town.” (If you drink the latter, you’ll know why Jack left town.)
Of course parking is always an issue when going into Center City. We drove around and around without finding a legal parking place on the street, so we parked in a lot directly across the street from The Gaslight for $14.
A comeback from a Craig LaBan thrashing and flooding from frozen pipes may be more tangled than a backyard of kudzu, but so far I’d say The Gaslight is a lot better bet to come back from a disappointing season than the Phillies.
For more information, call (215) 925-7691 or visit thegaslightphilly.com