There are certain things in life that once you experience them for the first time, you can’t remember how you ever survived without them. Like Uber, or NFL RedZone, or being able to deposit a check from your phone. They’re the kinds of things that fit into your life so seamlessly and easily that you don’t even notice how much of an impact they actually have. That’s how we feel about Cadence, a small BYOB in Fishtown that has quickly become one of the few restaurants in Philadelphia that we can’t live without.

Places like Cadence, with prix fixe menus and dishes that are put together like 1,000-piece puzzles, can often times come off as impersonal and almost machine-like, but here it’s the opposite. Cadence is warm and small, with only eight or nine tables and a six-seat counter, and it feels like a trendy home boutique that looks affordable, but isn’t actually.

But there’s something less tangible about Cadence that makes it a place you can’t stop talking about, like when someone’s in a new relationship and they find a way to bring that person into every conversation, even when it makes zero sense. And while you can’t really understand what makes it so great until you go for yourself, it’s mostly about how seamlessly the entire experience comes together - from the simple but expertly prepared food, to the super friendly waitstaff who you end up talking to about the floor plan of your new apartment instead of your bison tartare.

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photo credit: Max Grudzinski

The menu here is short and changes with the seasons, but there are always about 15 dishes on the menu, separated into four courses that can either be ordered a la carte or as a $65 prix fixe. With such a small selection, there’s no room for any misses. Fortunately, you won’t have a single bad thing at Cadence - every ingredient of every dish has a clear purpose, and the result is 15 near-perfect plates. Like the tuna crudo with Asian pear, caramelized yogurt, and bits of dehydrated black olives. It’s light and fresh, but the black olive and yogurt bring in an earthy flavor that’s different from any crudo we’ve ever had. Or the herb dumplings, which are covered in a mushroom ragu and dusted in cashew pieces, and are just as good as, if not better, than the gnocchi you’ll find at your favorite Italian place.

And despite all the other things you might order, you need to get the Alina duck. We don’t know who or what Alina is, but he/she/it deserves a key to the city and their own holiday. The duck is served two ways - the breast is cut into thin, pink slices and covered in a crispy skin, while the leg comes whole on a separate plate with wood ear mushrooms and radishes. It can easily feed two people, and it’s the priciest thing on the menu, but considering how often we count Alina ducks to go to sleep at night now instead of sheep, we think it’s well worth it.

Cadence feels like a casual neighborhood spot where you might look up in the middle of your meal and ask yourself, “Are they playing Biggie right now?” But this place also serves some of the best food we’ve ever had, and won’t make you feel like you need to put on your nice black pants that are one size too small to eat here on a Wednesday. And honestly, that’s really what you want in a restaurant, whether it’s for an intimate date or a casual dinner with a few friends. Somewhere that blends in with the neighborhood around it while also standing out in the context of an entire city. And the kind of place that, like mobile check deposit and car sharing apps, you can’t live without. That’s Cadence, and we’re so glad it’s here.

Food Rundown

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Grilled Squid

Perfectly grilled, tender squid with lime and chili. It seems so simple that you could do it while on hold with Comcast in the 20 minutes it takes them to connect you to a real person, but it’s better than any squid we’ve had in recent memory.

Bison Tartare

We weren’t sure how huckleberries would go with raw bison, but we can report that it works (surprisingly) very well. This also comes with some beet rye bread, and is topped with an egg yolk. You want this on your table.

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Tuna Crudo

Fresh, raw tuna tossed with caramelized yogurt, coriander, and dehydrated black olive pieces. We’ve had a lot of crudos, but this one makes the rest look like backup dancers at a Beyonce concert.

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Alina Duck

The price on this changes based on how they make it that day, but whether it’s roasted, fried, or grilled, the breast and leg are always served separately and it’s enough to split between two people. It’s completely delicious, and we’ve stayed up at night more than once thinking about the next time we’ll get to eat it.

Herb Dumplings

There are five of them, they’re super creamy and decadent, and they taste like savory little cloud pillows - the kind that make your eyes roll back into your head.

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Cider Shaved Ice

This is easily the most interesting dessert here, and one we wish we could get from a to-go window whenever we felt like. It’s tart apple cider shaved ice served over a sweet and creamy rice pudding and topped with hazelnuts. We’ve never had anything like it and we hope it never leaves the menu.