When Peter Serpico came to town, he made a pretty considerable splash in Philly's restaurant landscape. Though, when he first arrived, he chose South Street of all places to make his restaurant dream a reality — a somewhat nontraditional location for such a high-profile chef. But he made it work. And ever since Chris Painter and Stephen Starr ended their relationship, Starr had a hole to fill in Rittenhouse. Cue Peter Serpico, opening a Korean restaurant by the end of this year.
The chef, a New York transplant, once ran the kitchens of David Chang's Momofuku empire, and it was the success he had at Momofuku Ko that made him such an attractive name for Starr. He moved to Philly for familial reasons — he and his Korean American wife were having a child, and they wanted something a little more low-key than New York City. So he opened his namesake restaurant with Stephen Starr on 6th and South Streets, won the hearts of our city's diners, and now, three years later, Serpico is ready for round two.
The Korean restaurant is yet to be named, but the location is set at 2025 Sansom Street. Instead of trendy small-plates, expect the traditional appetizer-entree-dessert breakdown. The Korea-born, Baltimore-raised chef promises a predominantly traditional menu, but with techniques and styles more approachable to his, and our, American palate. Rarely do you see Korean short ribs with a hard sear — that's because Koreans, to Serpico's knowledge, generally don't cook that way for fear of cancer-producing carcinogens. "But I grew up with an American palate. The smoke, the char, that's all going to be there." As for the hardcore fans of the cuisine, don't hold your breath for live octopus and fermented raw blue crab. Instead, look forward to Serpico's take on banchan (important), classic soups and stews.
As for the space, if you had a chance to visit Il Pittore before it closed, you'll know that the restaurant's physical design was a bit... strange. The dining room upstairs (65 seats) was absolutely gorgeous, so he'll keep it that way, but downstairs, the room was split between a small service bar and a chef's counter that faced a wall of dried Italian goods. The dining experience downstairs was a little awkward. So they're ripping out the chef's counter, and rearranging it so that there's a 35 seat beer-focused bar area, with two kimchi fridges replacing the wall of dried pastas and Nutella jars.
When he opened his first restaurant, Serpico admits to have done a little too much, "We were trying to do everything. So [at Serpico] we stopped trying to do everything and focus on what we do best." At his new place, the focus of his cooking will be inherent to the kitchen — Korean food, no ifs, ands, or buts about it.
In the meantime, look for Serpico in the Northeast, where Philly's Koreatown hums along, quietly serving some of the best Korean eats in the country. Kim's Restaurant is his favorite; Eater's too.