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my Philly foodie weekend

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Planning a trip to Philly for my birthday weekend in April and I am AMAZED at the leaps and bounds by which the restaurant scene has changed since I went to college here 10 years ago. Please help with advice and further recommendations!

Arriving Fri aftn with a plan to walk around and stop at Reading Term for a pretzel. Considering Alma de Cuba for an appetizer of ceviche if they have a bar? For dinner considering Buddakan -- at first I wasn't planning on doing Asian as we have a fine selection of haute Asian at home, but the reviews make it sound phenomenal.

Saturday morning/lunch will be Italian market. I've seen lots of great recs for Cucina Forte and the husband loves good gnocci -- are they really all that? Does anyone have experience in making reservations for lunch at Cucina Forte as I've read that they do lunch "by request only" -- ??

Saturday dinner, I currently have reservations at Marigold Kitchen, but after reading on the board I'm starting to lean towards Matyson assuming I can get reservations. Comments? I'd also consider Django except I understand they don't take reservations. We want to have at least one meal at a very fine BYO place (what a wonderful concept!)

We'll probably leave Sun afternoon so we're still up in the air for other meals, but would appreciate suggestions for great brunch or Italian places serving lunch. Also considering Mama Palma's for pizza, Mixto for latin, Cuba Libre for "tropical brunch" -- and I have a nostalgic soft spot for White Dog, does it remain as good as it was?

Clearly we have a week's worth of eating currently on the table, so please recommend away!

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  1. You can't go wrong with either Marigold or Matyson, but I prefer Marigold. I find it to be more creative (the chef is amazing), more comfortable (i.e., there's actually room around your table so you're not bumping your neighbor), and a nice change of pace from the Center City places. As to brunch places, I'd skip Mixto (I've never been that impressed) and head to Apamate instead, on South and 16th -- it's a small-plates style Spanish BYO that does both brunch and dinner. They've got great sandwiches, quiches, cured meats, as well as churros and spicy sipping chocolate, which in my book seals the deal.

    1. I agree that Marigold and Matyson are both excellent. I'd choose Matyson myself, I'm a big dessert fan and they make fantastic desserts. I would cross Mixto, Buddakan, White Dog, Alma de Cuba and Cuba Libre off your list. For Latin/Mexican, head to Lolita, Molcajete Mixto, Apamate, or one of the authentic Mexican places in South Philly. Buddakan is good but if you have excellent Asian food where you are, Buddakan is not going to blow you away, and it's very expensive. White Dog has been inconsistent over the past couple of years, they've had several chefs come and go in that time and haven't gotten their groove back since the days when Michael O'Halloran was there. Alma de Cuba and Cuba Libre are also good, but again, nothing that will blow you away.

      The only places I can think of that you absolutely should not miss are:

      Ansill, small plates.
      Osteria, Marc Vetri's new place.
      Horizons, all-vegan but don't let that stop you, carnivores love it too.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Buckethead

        i've been popping in and out of philadelphia for months now and white dog usually ends up being the big meal out since i work on the UPenn campus. i was somewhat excited when i first went there and left shaking my head... it was just terrible and would only continue to be bad until a couple of weeks ago. we dropped in and i was hesitant, but it turned out wonderful.

        started with an heirloom apple salad with walnuts (or was it pecans..) and amish cheddar. it was supposed to be on peppery greens but it ended up being a coriander salad. loved it still, great mix of flavours, fresh yet good richness from the cheddar for balance. nice textures too, crunchy and a dense soft.

        main was scallops over.. some grain... it looked like israeli couscous, but i've never had that type of couscous before so i can't say for sure. the couscous was kind of oddly sweet and nicely earthy wheaty. the scallops were to die for. i've been having trouble with toronto restaurants serving the stuff shipped in sulphides and they end up being all i can taste. white dog, no way. organic made it fantastically awesome, nice kind of creamy rich with the perfect consistency of being cooked - a touch raw in the middle.

        i don't know if it was just a magical evening but they pulled it off and i was quite happy compared to the dreck i had multiple times before.

      2. If you're lucky enough to have good weather for your weekend, one of our favorite Italian Market lunches is to pick up some bread from Sarcones, some freshly made mozzarella from Claudio's, and some sun-dried tomatoes and/or other delicacies from DiBruno's, and find a place to sit outside and eat it. If you buy some coffee at Anthony's they don't seem to mind your eating your lunch at one of their outside tables with it, and same with the outside tables at Sarcone's deli, since you're enjoying their bakery's bread as the centerpiece of your meal.

        This way the first part of the fun is the smells and sights involved in the buying, the second part in the eating!

        4 Replies
        1. re: lauracohenromano

          this person thinks like a native (yay laura!). the picking on things is the way to do lunch, sitting in a restaurant destroys visiting a place in my opinion. though if you do want to buy a slightly prepared lunch while at the italian market, walk over to 10th between christian and carpenter and go to shanks and evelyn's. anything on the menu is good.

          i would also caution against alma di cuba, specifically the ceviches. i ordered the ceviche sampler before and three were excellent, two were good and the rest were eh. but everyone at the table felt differently, so unless you see something you are dying to try, go somewhere else...white dog is also hit or miss, even though i used to love it there, *sigh*.

          as for cucina forte, the woman/chef/owner used to work across the street at mezza luna. if you can't get reservations there, you can at mezza luna and they use her same gnocci recipe i believe. they also make a delicious grilled calamari appetizer.

          as someone a few spots down recommends, sabrina's is very good for brunch (but in my opinion, not the best. the much hippier morning glory will always be my paramour, followed by the fitzwater cafe) and ansill really surprised me with how good it is. the fried marrow crostini were very good, as was the raw cheese from france and pretty much everythign else on the menu.

          1. re: mazza3

            Be warned that the Morning Glory can be a little too hip. My server was usually too busy being hip over behind the bar to bother checking if I need more coffee. I haven't been back in a long time because their service is lackadaisical, at best. They do make great biscuits, though. Sabrina's is excellent but if you want to go for breakfast/brunch, get there early, before 10am.

            1. re: mazza3

              That's funny, the ceviche was my favorite thing at Alma! I'm a little biased towards raw and undercooked fish... but it might have also been that we asked the waitress for advice and she told me she thought some ceviches were better than others and only brought us the best ones, in her opinion.

              the rest of your post i agree with :)

              1. re: Adrienne

                Rainbow ceviche there is good, but the best thing they have is the smoked marlin little tacos. I dream about them...

          2. I agree with many posters above... I would *definitely* not eat at Buddakhan, and personally I wouldn't pick white dog although I do think it can be really good, but it just varies too much. Matyson is wonderful, I would definitely go there. Django does take reservations, not sure how you heard otherwise. I also agree with LCR that eating at the Italian market is fun and unique --plus their food is great. But I'm really not sure how many real restaurants are generally open for lunch down there... I do know I've had really excellent gnocchi at several restaurants in Philly... I would really recommend going to one of our cozy straight-from-Italy BYOs, which to me is the most unique and wonderful offering Philadelphia has... La Laconda del Ghittone is my single favorite, but L'Angolo, Cafe Casta Diva, Bistro La Baia, Valentino's, and Gnocchi are all additional places I would recommend, basically just depending on what location is most convenient for you.

            1. Don't forget Carpogio Gelato!