What is New American cuisine? If we were to break down the phrase on its own, it suggests an offshoot of the burgers, hot dogs, and fries that we all know and love.
However, from the perspective of the average restaurant–goer, “New American” denotes the hauteur of upper–class dining: minuscule portion sizes, blasphemous culinary fusion, and difficult French pronunciations. So when I visited Wilder, a Rittenhouse Square restaurant that brands itself as “New American,” I half–expected Big Macs and Twinkies deconstructed into a multicolored baguette. However, the joint firmly sticks its roots in traditional cuisine while not compromising the “New” in “New American”—a combination that’ll have guests coming back week after week.
As soon as I enter Wilder, I notice that the interior design was like an ecosystem. The dining space teems with picturesque plants in the backdrop of ocean–blue accents and cheetah print. Lighting is minimal with exceptions made for dim candles and string lights that mimic the rhythm of the night sky. All of these elements combine to form a dining experience that’s not only intimate between individual guests but also between guests and their food. Wilder’s vibrant environment mirrors the natural environment from which humans take sustenance from.
For the appetizers, the waiter enthusiastically suggests the burrata and pears salad along with the scallop crudo “dip & chips.” The former introduces sweetness into my salad–tasting vocabulary. The majority of the flavor originates from the pears of which there are two kinds in the dish: the soft Seckel pear and the crunchy Asian pear. The combination of these fruits with the creamy burrata cheese takes the spotlight from the chewy watercress, with the dish reminding me more of a smoked brie with honey rather than a bona fide salad. However, I’m not complaining—it's delicious.
On the other hand, the scallop crudo presents an interesting juxtaposition of two flavors. The left side of the plate features a brininess brought out by the raw nature of the scallops that is pitted against the crunch of the honey nut chips on the right side. What results from this unlikely pairing is a scuffle between the elements of ocean and earth.
I can only appreciate those two dishes for just a few seconds before I'm confronted with the main course. I’d ordered the night’s house special—the wild boar shank—on a whim, but the mammoth size of the chunk of flesh and bone sticking out from a sea of grits and vegetables was nothing to be trifled with. I begin with the plate as I pulled the bone right off the meat, the aromatic wine sauce dripping from its sinews. The grits and potatoes added even more creaminess to the overall texture which made the dish comparable to the vibe of the soft rock that was playing in the background: smooth with just a little bit of funkiness.
As for the dessert, I opt for their selection of sorbet—I'm intrigued by just how good Wilder can make something as simple as frozen scoops of fruit. Although I could go on and on about the apple cinnamon and lemon basil flavors, they couldn’t beat the pineapple coconut. Only a select few pieces of food have ever rendered me speechless, and this scoop of sorbet now claims its place among those rare and remarkable experiences. The pineapple’s acidity perfectly balances the overt richness of the coconut in what I would call a match made in heaven.
Heralded by a dazzling neon sign on its exterior, Wilder is truly a must–visit restaurant if you are ever around Rittenhouse. Its wild aesthetics are rivaled by its even wilder food—a testament to its namesake.
TL;DR: Wilder makes New American sexy again.
Location: 2009 Sansom St.
Hours: Monday—Thursday 11:30 a.m.—10 p.m.; Friday 11:30 a.m.—11 p.m.; Saturday 11 a.m.—11 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m.—9 p.m.