I’ve had mixed experiences at Steven Starr’s El Vez. Located on the edges of Philadelphia’s gayborhood (a word my iPhone auto-finishes apparently) it dangerously teeters on the verge of style over substance, with a decor of honkey-ized kitschy Mexicana and generally small portion sizes.
Yesterday my little Chef and I were wandering around looking for a spot to grab lunch after she finished work at the bar and before I came on and we decided to give It another chance.
It was as stylish as I remembered; with Starr’s usual mix of tattooed or preppie waitstaff and it’s clever round, center of the restaurant bar decorated with a shiny spinning lowrider bicycle. But would the food provide the substance as well as sustenance?
We started with a made to order tomato free truffle’d guacamole that for it’s price was a very ample appetizer; so much so that we were able to bring more than half of it back to the bar in a to-go box. The truffle flavor was probably truffle salt or oil for the most part, but there was a fair amount of black truffles in a tapenade on top that added a nice pungent/vinegar taste to the dish.
For our entree we picked the taco sampler platter. The choices included fried tilapia, rare beef, marinated chicken, sea bass and a shredded pork, each with their own unique sauces and garnishes. As far as samplers go it was worth the cost ($22) but some of the flavors didn’t really go well with each other; on their own they would have been fine, but the sweetness of the pureed sauce on the sea bass mixed with the spicy/tanginess of the tilapia clashed a bit. It lived up to it’s function, which is to expose you to the various menu items and for once I found that the portions matched the price tag.
Overall, I still think that El Vez is style over substance, but I had a much better experience than previous visits.