The year is 2011, and the Eagles’ season is about to start. They’re coming off three straight playoff seasons, and they’ve recently signed a bunch of superstars - Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to name a few. Their own players are calling themselves the “dream team.” By all accounts, it’s their year to win the Super Bowl.
They didn’t. In fact, they didn’t even make the playoffs. They totally and completely sucked. It didn’t make any logical sense, and no one could figure out why it happened. The fans did what they always do - they yelled, pelted Santa Claus with snowballs, and held up signs saying things like “Post Reid’s job on Craigslist.”
The disappointment we felt during that season is exactly how we feel now about Aether, a seafood restaurant in Fishtown - it has all the makings of a great restaurant but just isn’t.
Considering the people behind Aether have two great restaurants in the suburbs, there’s no reason why this place should be any different. Everything - from the interior design to the company’s experience running successful restaurants - says it should be. When you walk into Aether, you feel good about where the night’s going. The space is aesthetically pleasing, the wine list is well-curated with lots of natural stuff, and the long bar up front is full of people who look like they’re having a decent time.
The problem here is what’s coming out of the kitchen. As good as the menu looks - with things like Spanish octopus, crab linguine, and crispy fried whole branzino - every dish is poorly executed or has major flaws. There’s a delicious-sounding hamachi crudo with leche de tigre, quinoa, avocado, and chili oil that tastes like absolutely nothing. The undercooked scallops sit in a green curry sauce that doesn’t complement them at all. And then there’s the shrimp toast, which comes piled high with so many different things that it weighs down the entire dish, turning it into a soggy mess. All of these dishes have a bunch of great ingredients that just don’t work together.
It’s especially unfortunate because Fishtown needs a good seafood restaurant, and this should have been it. However, no matter how many times we go, and how many different things we try, none of the dishes work. It’s a team that looks good, and should be able to execute, but can’t seem to get any of the pieces to work together.
If you do end up here for a first date or to catch up with a friend, sit at the bar and split a bottle of wine and a seafood tower - because everything the kitchen doesn’t overthink is great. The raw bar has a big selection of East and West Coast oysters, the wine list has a great bottle of skin-contact wine we’d buy by the case if we could, and all of the cocktails are solid.
But besides drinks and a few oysters, Aether is pretty much useless. Just like the 2011 Eagles (and, really, most Eagles seasons), it will go down on a long list of Philly things that should be great, but just aren’t.
There are three different options, ranging from $60 to $125, all with different amounts of things like oysters, shrimp, crab, and lobster on them. You shouldn’t pay that much for something the kitchen barely has to touch, but it is one of the few things here that’s good.
It’s hard to ruin something that’s essentially raw fish on a plate, but somehow adding leche de tigre, cilantro, quinoa, avocado, and chili oil, overcomplicates this dish without adding much flavor at all.
It should never take you 30 seconds to saw through octopus with a steak knife.
These scallops are sometimes undercooked, sometimes overcooked, and are accompanied by a green curry sauce that doesn’t make any sense paired together.
The lobster roll is fine - it’s really only lobster and mayo on a roll. You probably won’t hate it, but it’s also $28. There’s no reason to pay $28 for a lobster roll that’s just OK.