Townsend is a romantic restaurant. Not in the stuffy, string-quartet-in-the-corner way a super upscale French place might be, where proposals consisting of rings in champagne glasses are almost commonplace. But legitimately romantic, in the sense that if you came here with a friend, you might find yourself weirdly picturing a life together with them even though you’ve never thought about them in “that way” before.
Townsend is a French spot located in a small, two-story townhouse on East Passyunk with dim-lighting, two-top tables, and a general feeling that people might start making out across their table at any minute.
There are a few ways you can do dinner here, both of which we like a lot - it just depends on what kind of night you’re trying to have. If you just passed the bar or your wife finally got her driver’s license at 35, you can make a reservation for the dining room and share the 32oz cote de boeuf to celebrate. Or you could just as easily sit at the bar on a random Thursday night and spend a few extra hours drinking cocktails while you ask each other philosophical questions like, “Do you sometimes lay awake in bed at night and think about how they 3D-print organs?”
Usually at places like this, where most people are so absorbed in conversation that you could do a full ballet performance through the dining room without anyone noticing, the food is more of an afterthought. But the seasonal menu here is one of the more creative ones you’ll find in South Philly. There are the classics, like an escargot dish and a solid beef tartare, but even those have creative twists. The escargot is served under a layer of rich bacon-sherry creme fraiche and the beef tartare comes with a dry-aged beef fat aioli that makes the entire dish taste smokey and steak-like.
Then there’s the more unique stuff - sauteed sweetbreads over veal jus-soaked bone marrow and Japanese-style citrusy hamachi topped with furikake and sesame seeds - that really make Townsend stand out from every other date night spot in the city. They’re the dishes that almost catch you by surprise and make the meal itself the third part of your throuple, rather than just something to mindlessly eat while you wait for your turn to talk.
Townsend really has everything you could want from a nice date spot: food that’s creative and a little unexpected, one of the better cocktail menus in the city, and an intimate space that’s perfect for talking about the deep stuff - like how progressive it is that male seahorses are the ones who give birth. That’s romantic, right?
This is the best starter on the menu. It’s light, citrusy, and topped with sesame and furikake, and every ingredient works so well together that it’s basically the cast of Parks And Recreation.
If hamachi isn’t your thing, go for the beef tartare. It’s a bit heavier, but the charred onion and dry-aged beef fat aioli make it smokey and rich. It’s also the perfect thing to share over a glass of wine if you’re sitting at the bar and don’t want to get a full meal.
The flavors in this are perfect and work super well together, but the bacon-sherry creme fraiche is a bit too heavy for how light the mushroom and brussels sprouts are underneath. Get this if you’re a huge escargot fan, but it’s not a must-order.
The crispy sweetbreads are served on top of roasted bone marrow and then the entire thing is topped with sundried tomato-tarragon veal jus. It’s heavy, but very tasty.
If you see the words “vermouth-curry cream” on the menu and wonder how all of that will come together on top of a light piece of halibut, you’re not alone. But when you take a bite with a piece of fish, curry cream, and the thyme-beet jam underneath, you may start to feel like the most nonsensical things in the world make sense - like green gummy bears being strawberry-flavored or Elizabeth Holmes thinking she’d never get caught.
The squab is good, but the real star is the pappardelle underneath. It’s perfectly cooked, super thin, and we’d like to know what’s in the sauce so that we can fail at making it multiple times before resorting to eating another five plates alone at the bar.
You should probably only get this if you’re sharing it or planning on eating steak sandwiches for the rest of the week. That said, it’s absolutely one of the best steaks in the entire city. It’s topped with a red wine bacon jus and comes with a side of smoked rosemary potato puree that’s basically a creamier version of cheesy mashed potatoes. If those came a la carte, we would insist that you get them to accompany anything you order here.