A mix of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavors are on the menu at Spice Finch, the new restaurant from Top Chef’s Jennifer Carroll and Billy Riddle in the Warwick Hotel on 17th Street in Rittenhouse. Carroll and Riddle, who are engaged, will open the doors Thursday, July 12, serving a cuisine they say isn’t well represented in the neighborhood.
“We had the opportunity to do whatever we wanted, and since Billy and I have been inspired by this type of food we decided it was going to be the concept,” Carroll says. “Part of it was the location: There’s a lack of this type of restaurant and this type of food in Rittenhouse Square.”
“This is how we eat at home,” Riddle adds. “It’s Mediterranean but it’s not any one culture. It’s non-traditional — there are influences from Greece, Turkey, the Middle East, Morocco, Tunisia, other parts of Northern African, all over.”
Looking at the menu at Spice Finch (220 S. 17th Street), it’s easy to see where the dishes draw from different countries but fall under the same umbrella. There are date truffles, stuffed grape leaves, and charred carrot hummus on the appetizer list, blistered shishito peppers with tahini and harissa and berbere carrots with cashew dukkah listed under vegetables, and a bean tagine in the “grains” section.
Seafood, like peri-peri shrimp, and meats including glistening lamb ribs and chili chicken kebabs round out the regular-sized plates. The last menu section is dishes made for diners to share including a gorgeous dry-rubbed chicken with a mound of roasted potatoes and muhumara dip (roasted red peppers and walnuts are the base). The presentations skew rustic, not precious, Riddle says.
The restaurant itself is big and airy, with light colors and clean lines. There’s space for about 150 across the main dining room, the lounge-y front area with bistro tables, the back dining room, which can be sectioned off for private events, the central square bar, and the sidewalk tables outside. The bar, too, is big for the neighborhood, with 23 seats.
Beverage director Michael Haggerty, whose résumé includes Wm. Mulherin’s Sons and Jose Garces’ Olde Bar, plays off the flavors coming out of the kitchen for a few of the cocktails, like the Cap Spartel with yogurt-washed gin, lemon, carrot, honey, and the spice mace. The drinks list also includes two summer-ready frozen options, a handful of classics, and three “redemption” cocktails that make use of Malibu, Midori, and Jagermeister — “forgotten spirits,” as Haggerty calls them. “It’s a fun challenge to create great drinks out of forgotten spirits. Maligned spirits,” he says.
Northeast Philly native Carroll worked at Eric Ripert’s Le Bernardin before stepping into the limelight with her appearance on Top Chef and Bravo’s spinoff shows. She went on to open the now-closed 10Arts at the Ritz-Carlton with Ripert, later relocating with Riddle to Washington, D.C., where they worked for Marcus Samuelsson and Mike Isabella. Riddle, who’s originally from Maryland, spent time in more than one well-known Philly kitchen, including Lacroix, Townsend, and Jason Cichonski’s Ela, which he opened.
This is their first solo project, after a couple of false starts in Philly and in New York.
The couple plans to split their time between D.C., where they run catering company Carroll Couture Cuisine, and Philadelphia.