Restaurant Review: Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Stir and Chef Hoon Rhee interact perfectly

Sweet Corn Soup
Reese Amorosi

After finishing a majestic meal at Philadelphia Museum of Art’s restaurant, Stir, a menu designed and prepared by its Executive Chef, Hoon Rhee, told Metro that, “I treat the visual presentation of my food with the same principles as its taste. The plating should be clean, bright, dynamic, and edited down to be free of any unnecessary fluff. The food should look appealing but be plated practically in regards to how a diner will approach and eat it. If the food looks natural and elegant, then it should put the diner at ease and get them excited to eat what hopefully will be a great meal.”

The question posed to Rhee – a chef with international experience at Narisawa and L’Effervescence in Tokyo, Daniel and Masa in NYC, Lacroix and Morimoto in Philadelphia – regarded taking his French culinary stylings and its East Asian and Nordic influences to the aestheticism of the museum’s room-after-room of high-minded design and conceptualism.

Zucchini GnocchiReese Amorosi

To say that each dish at Stir was a work of art and an explosion of diverse, fresh flavors doesn’t quite say enough. But it’s true. Stir’s was a lunch that looked as elegant as it tasted.

Stir’s starting salvo, alone, is worth the price of museum admission.

The circular feast of Rhee’s Slow Roasted Melon would wow Frank Lloyd Wright. Here, a large cool cantaloupe next to an equally-sized dollop of cold, sake crème fraîche, looks amazing and tastes even bolder with fig leaf oil, lemon verbena and just a hint of sake kasu – the lees, or rice fluid, left over from sake production.

Rhee’s Sweet Corn Soup with hardened puffed corn and rice, honey brown butter, and his house togarashi (a spicy red pepper) is mellisonant and creamy smooth with the textures of the corn nut-like puffs and the togarashi for zest.

Reading the simple word, “Peas,” on the Stir menu is deceptive as Rhee fills his fresh, crisp pea dish with hints of asparagus, haricot vert, strawberry and braised almond – it really is the little things that make the biggest surprise, here – then tops it all with a snowy, cold mountain of grated goat cheese.

The peaches salad, too, is deceptively simple, as the hints of basil yogurt spice-up the seasonal fruit and its bed of leafy seasonal greens, basil roasted celtuce, pickled rhubarb and an assortment of colorful garden flowers.

Slow Roasted Melon with Sake Crème Fraîche Reese Amorosi

All this, and then there is the main meal.

Stir’s Zucchini Gnocchi with roasted cherry tomato, garlic chive, squash blossom, tempura and golden sesame oil is ever-so-slightly seared – you can see and taste the char – yet, it is as sweet as candy. Rhee’s Roasted Jail Island Salmon with Yuzu date kosho, charred coconut, cauliflower, potato flake and houttuyia (a Southeast Asian cultivated culinary herb) is juicy, fresh and flaky, and made all the more delicious by the inclusion of its thin slabs of roasted fennel. We didn’t have room for Rhee’s Artisan Quiche, but will make time and room for his leek, bacon, gruyere, and mixed greens dish the next time we hit Stir.

That said, if you think you’re making it out of Stir without dessert, think again. Rhee’s fluffy Vanilla Mousse with glazed cherry, a hint of lychee and textural swipes of crispy, chartreuse granita and crunchy pistachio is light, airy and allows you to leave Stir with just the perfect amount of sugar on your palate after an opulent, diverse flavor-filled lunch.

At a time when decadence is at a premium, Stir is the perfect spot to have a leisurely luxurious lunch. Like the PMA it calls home, Stir satisfies all your senses.