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Center City Philadelphia Birthday Restaurant Help Needed

My sister is coming in for her birthday the weekend of March 8 and I need to find a restaurant for her celebration that meets a long list of criteria. My cranky old dad will be with us, and he's a very plain, basic meat-and-potatoes guy who only likes what he knows. His idea of a good restaurant is Ralph's or McCormick and Schmick's, both of which bore my sister and me to tears. Even though those places aren't cheap, he freaks when I make him try others in a comparable price range. The one ethnic cuisine he really likes is Chinese, which my sister is pretty tired of. Also, we can't try a BYOB because my sister likes her cocktails.

So, what I need is an interesting but not threatening menu in a reasonably priced restaurant with a liquor license, but preferably not a chain. Oh, and they must take reservations, 'cause Dad will wait for nobody.

Any help would be vastly appreciated.

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  1. The first thing that came to mind was Fogo de Chao - still in that steak house style but a little more fun as the servers are constantly roaming with fabulous different cuts of meat on a stick! Plus they have a great salad bar you can indulge in and pretty good cocktails as well.

    1. Estia?

      1. What about Buddakan? Asian "style", but you can also get a steak. I don't think the prices are outrageous. Cocktails and wine.

        1. How about Coquette at 5th and Bainbridge - Frenh bistro, so steak and frites, but other interesting options and a liquor license - a bit less expensive (not terribly so) so Dad won't freak. Also, I find Buddakan to be quite noisy, which depending on Dad's age (maybe he just sounds older than he is) may be an issue.
          Other thoughts would be Vietnam or Rangoon (a little different Asian) or perhaps Yakitori Boy but I don't know if it has its liquor license yet.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Bigley9

            We liked Coquette very much. The steak frites were especially good. Make sure to get something with their fries, which come in a cone and are delicious.
            The only thing that was disappointing was their special steak, which was tough. Raves about the onion soup and other options. Nice, casual atmosphere. Good service.
            I think Buddakan might be too non-traditional - and very noisy.

          2. Thanks for the suggestions so far. We've discussed Fogo and Dad's not interested. I can't even suggest Buddhakan -- it's exactly the kind of gussified-food place he hates (he's 76, for those who wondered). I'll check out the other places.

            Keep the ideas coming!

            1. How about Davio's? Northern Italian steakhouse in former bank building. Full bar, fine steak, excellent taglliatele (sp?) alla Bolognese (I think that's their signature dish), and a full menu. Lovely service and ambiance last time I was there in December. Won't cost your Dad an arm an a leg so long as your wine selection is moderate. Some of the wines are veeeery pricey!

              1. Sounds like Dad would be a good candidate for the Italian Bistro. Full bar, reasonably priced and they serve steak. They take reservations.

                1. Wow, Davio's and Estia aren't exactly what I had in mind when I said "reasonable" prices -- Dad would plotz (although I think he'd love Estia). Think more in the "most entrees under $20" category. Italian Bistro = chain = unhappy sister.

                  A related question: I'm thinking Dmitri's would meet our criteria except for the no-reservations part. How crowded is it likely to be about 6 pm on a Saturday?

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: merrieg

                    Assuming you're talking about the Dimitri's at 3rd and Catherine, you can put in your name for a table and go across the street to the New Wave Cafe for a beer, they'll come fetch you when your table is ready.

                    1. re: merrieg

                      Depends on which Dimitri's. The one on 3rd doesn't have liquor and is always packed. The Fitler Sq. location does have liquor, but I don't know if it takes reservations or how crowded it gets. Is Jones too quirky? My mom and dad, both in their mid-80s are going there tonight (not really their idea). They are pretty open minded, but I'll report back when I hear from them how their time was...you have your work cut out for you, but I'm sure we can all find a restaurant that will make everyone a little less than miserable.

                      1. re: hungry100

                        Take a look at the generic menu at Bliss. It really meets all the requisites you mentioned in your post. You also said that your Dad liked McCormick & Schmick (which is not exactly cheap) so Bliss' prices should be right in line.

                      2. re: merrieg

                        As is the Mccormick & Schmick's restaurant. You were not clear on that. Sounds like you have an extremely high maintenance challenge. Good Luck!

                      3. hrm, you know, i have trouble with reading comprehension, i know i suggested chloe (didn't see non-BYO regulation) and la famiglia (didn't see $$$ restriction) over on phillyblog, but now i think i've read it all over and wondering if you all wouldn't be too terribly bored at criniti. i think it's plain and simple but GOOD food. cheap, have liquor license, safe menu. the spinach raviolis are just delicious.

                        1. We had a very enjoyable meal at Bistro Zinc, on 11th St. Real European ambience. Small, but I think there would be enough choices. Good service, good bar. Even though it's French, everything is recognizable.

                          Another option is Maggiano's. Yes, it's a chain, but it's popular for a reason - big and bustling, large portions, lots of choices. My husband and some friends took a colleague there for a celebration - at his request - and they all had a great time. Food is pretty decent.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: sylviag

                            ^ while i can't deny the lemon drop martini at maggiano's, that's the only thing i've noticed they have going for them so far. but, i think the OP had already shot down maggiano's as one of the first suggestions on phillyblog. yep, i'm a message board addict. :)

                          2. <waves> Hi, rabidog! Yes, I am a cross-poster.

                            Criniti looks like it's just up Dad's alley, although it's a little far afield for us. I'll give him the option, though. Bliss also goes on the list, thanks.

                            Jones, like most of the Stephen Starr restaurants, pushes Da's buttons in a major way. But thanks for playing, hungry100! Appreciate the words of encouragement.

                            Maggiano's is definitely out (one thing we all agree on). Our basic feeling is: this is Philadelphia, not Nebraska. You can walk into any red-gravy joint in South Philly and get food that's better, fresher, and more authentic.

                            I'm going to call the Fitler Sq Dmitri's and see what their story is.

                            Any reactions to Fork, The Plough and the Stars, or Serrano? I used to really like Serrano, but I haven't been for years.

                            7 Replies
                            1. re: merrieg

                              Serrano is only worth it if you want a "reserved" seat if you have tickets to a show upstairs at The Tin Angel. And even then, I would hesitate...

                              1. re: Philly Ray

                                Me too, Serrano is to be avoided. So is the Plough and the Stars.

                                1. re: Buckethead

                                  "3rd": don't go to serrano.

                                  fork: nothing offensive. i don't know why i don't enjoy them more; i think they are above average every time. the menu doesn't scream out to me though.

                              2. re: merrieg

                                Just for the record, my 83 year-old mom who complains about something at every restaurant she goes to, including Lacroix and Four Seasons, complained about nothing at Jones (except for the noise level and a cold breeze on her neck). Bottom line is that she likes "regular" food. She had the Thanksgiving Dinner with pumkin bread pudding for dessert. I have seriously never heard her be so happy with a meal. But if your dad has a bug about SS restaurants, I guess it's off the table. I'm sure we'll all be interested in where you end up and how everything is. Another thought...Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Might be basic enough for dad and fun enough (in a 'it's been around since the 70s' kinda way) for you and sis.

                                1. re: hungry100

                                  both places you mention - fri sat sun and jones - if the OP picks them, i've got to say the upstairs is where it's at at both. more intimate, low ceilings, cozy. though at fri sat sun we usually just hang out at the bar - and i mean REALLY hang out at the bar so i can't recall if there are actually tables up there or not.

                                  has anyone been to the reopened astral plane?

                                  1. re: rabidog

                                    They do have tables upstairs at Fri, etc. Yes, Craig Leban and Elisa Ludwig (City Paper) have been to the new Astral Plane and didn't have many good things to say...

                                    1. re: hungry100

                                      darn. i was hoping they would improve. :( the atmosphere of the former incarnation (no idea if the new one is similar) sounds like it would meet all the OP's ambiance needs - cute and funky in that cool grandma/unoffensive kind of way.

                                      i am so curious to know where the OP & co end up! in my family i deal with a bunch of vegetarians and/or vegans, save for my younger brother who only eats meat and little else. on top of that, my dad will only eat thai, vietnamese and indian food, where my brother will only eat american and italian. finding middle ground is challenging until the wine arrives.

                              3. The momentous decision has been reached: we're going to Fork. I've got my fingers crossed!

                                We used to be regulars at Astral Plane but were saddened by its long downhill slide. It's disappointing that the new owner seems to have destroyed its charming ambiance while not improving the food. For some reason, I could never get into Fri Sat Sun, although I live very close.

                                Thanks to everybody for your help and encouragement. I'll be sure to post back on our experience.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: merrieg

                                  Check the thread right after yours regarding the Sicilian dinner.