Fine dining places can, after a while, all start to sort of mesh together. Sure, one might have dishes that arrive on tiny down pillows, and another food that was flown in from a small village in Bora Bora. But, in general, they all tend to have a lot in common - white tablecloths and high-backed chairs, outrageous prices, and people in fancy clothes having conversations straight out of American Psycho.
But this Center City seafood spot isn’t just any other fine-dining restaurant. You can come here and get better food for less money than most other fancy places in town, and you’ll feel way more relaxed during your meal, too.
If you recognize the name, it’s because the same people run Vernick Food & Drink. But unlike their Rittenhouse restaurant, Vernick Fish would never be described as “cozy” or “quaint.” It’s on the ground floor of the newest Comcast Tower and the dining room looks like it belongs in a Versace Home catalog. Regardless, you could just as easily show up wearing jeans and a sweatshirt as you could in a full tuxedo and you wouldn’t feel out of place. That’s mainly because of the service - depending on the situation, the waiters will either be quiet but helpful during a business meeting or engage in a full conversation with a group of friends who can’t decide what to order.
While it’s easy to spend tons of money here on $150 bottles of wine and dishes like the $52 piece of uni and caviar French toast or a $115 Dover sole that shows up with its own rolling kitchen, the best things here are the small plates that are all around $20. There’s an entire section of crudo that range from $13 to $17 for three pieces, and while they’re all excellent, the standout is the fluke, which is topped with a drop of salty brown butter and hazelnut. Some other must-orders include the light and refreshing squid pad thai salad tossed with a tangy vinaigrette, and soft, chewy beignets that come with a hot, jambalaya-like clam ragout. And not all the wine is unreasonably expensive - there are just as many $55 bottles as there are $100+ ones.
If you’re down to eat a lot of seafood, Vernick Fish is the most enjoyable fancy restaurant in the city. It might not seem like the kind of place you can have a relaxing meal with a few friends, but that’s exactly what makes Vernick Fish so great. You could save it for an anniversary, treat it like an oyster bar where you can meet a few colleagues after work, or use it as the common ground for a double date with your in-laws. Either way, this is a fine-dining spot that’ll make you and your guests feel comfortable - even if they’re the kind of people who compare business cards for fun.
The menu has a whole section of tartare, but this one’s our favorite. It’s just a bit spicy, with salty, house-made chips. It’s an easy thing to share and a great way to start your meal here.
Three pieces of light, tender fluke topped with a brush of brown butter vinaigrette and shaved hazelnut. It’s easily the best crudo in the “pristinely raw” section.
This is rich and a bit over-the-top. If you’re looking to impress some clients, feel free to order it. But at $52, it’s not a necessary addition to a meal here.
One of the best pasta dishes we’ve had in a long time. It’s buttery, with chunks of sweet crab mixed in, and we’d happily eat it as our last meal.
The chilled squid pad Thai is simple, with just noodles, carrots, peanuts, squid, and a light vinaigrette. It’s super refreshing and you should get it for the table.
The beignets are fluffy and chewy inside, and the clam ragout is almost like a jambalaya. They’re incredible and should be on your table during any meal here.
This whole Bronzino can feed at least a few people, so it’s a good one to split with the table. It’s almost like a fish taco minus the tortilla, and when you get a bite with the fish, tomatillo, and salsa together on your fork, it’s delicious.
The sweet cream that goes with this cake is poured over while you watch, which might be unnecessary - but by the time the last drop of the mix has left the saucer, you’re ready to devour the coconut sponge cake in about three bites.