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Chef Eli Collins on Making Big Changes at A.Kitchen

The Rittenhouse restaurant just debuted his “vegetable-centric menu with a French spin.” 

Ellen Yin and Eli Collins

Three weeks into his new job, Eli Collins already feels right at home. The new executive chef at A.Kitchen left Pub & Kitchen last month to join Ellen Yin and Eli Kulp’s High Street Hospitality Group, which also includes the critically acclaimed Fork and High Street on Market. And while Collins wasn’t actively looking to leave Pub & Kitchen, where he earned a three-bell review from Craig LaBan, this wasn’t the type of opportunity you pass up.

“When someone like Ellen calls you and is interested in talking to you about a job, you have to investigate the situation,” he says.

The chef spent four years at Pub & Kitchen but says A.Kitchen, with its three different services a day, feels more like his pre-Philly years, when he worked for famed chef Daniel Boulud at the French brasserie DBGB in New York. “The way A.Kitchen is set up, it’s similar to DBGB, where we did lunch every day right into dinner service,” says Collins. “This is my first time doing breakfast too, but I feel like I’ve had experience working in this environment.”

Baby artichokes with rhubarb harissa
Chaucee Stillman

A.Kitchen’s totally new, just-launched dinner menu — very seasonal, comfortably French — was designed for a more flexible dining experience that plays up the restaurant’s extensive wine list, which twice earned it a spot on Wine Enthusiast’s Top 100 Wine Restaurants in America.

In the center of the menu, under an Of the Season heading, are eight vegetable dishes, including baby artichokes with rhubarb harissa and charred leeks with lime and almond vinaigrette. (High Street on Market has excellent vegetable-focused plates.) Up top you’ll find the charcuterie, available as a “chef’s selection,” and the seafood: oysters, head-on prawns, octopus a la plancha. The entrees are straightforward, like the Simply Grilled Fish. “The space is incredible — it’s almost understated how nice the room is, and it calls for something well-executed and clean,” Collins says of A.Kitchen. “But also, I’m getting to a point where I want to keep the food on the plate very simple. I’m not trying to show off every single thing that I know.”

Octopus a la plancha with fingerling potatoes and olive tapenade
Chaucee Stillman

There’s also the made-to-be-shared A La Francaise on the new menu, a rotating offering served family-style ($58 for two) with a matching wine flight ($20 per person). Currently, the dish is lamb cooked four ways, each a nod to France’s Pyrenees mountain region.

“We have this crazy awesome wine list, but we’re not treated so much as a wine bar,” Collins says. “We wanted to give that versatility to the restaurant, so you can come in and have a couple of vegetable plates — or maybe the charcuterie or the octopus — with a glass of wine, or come in for a sizable entrée. It’s flexible for the diner, and in the kitchen we can have a lot of fun with it, too.”

Collins sees that approach, captured in his “vegetable-centric menu with a French spin,” as a good fit for his culinary background — and as a departure from how most restaurants set up.

“We’re seeing how people want to eat,” he says. “A lot of restaurants are currently trying to tell people how to eat, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. But, like High Street on Market, which was ahead of the curve, this is a little forward-thinking. We’ll see how it plays out.”

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