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Help needed for a graduation weekend in Philadelphia

I'm the cruise director for assorted family and friends for my little sister's graduation weekend coming up next month, and am currently attempting to nail down reservations for all of the relevant nights, and I have a few of questions for you all.

First, the big graduation dinner for approximately 12 (we're all coming from the SF Bay Area): My sister really wanted to go to Continental Mid-town for her graduation dinner with everyone on Saturday night, but unfortunately they only take large parties for 5 or 5:30 reservations on Saturday nights, and that doesn't give us enough time to get from the Main Line after the festivities on campus there. We may try to do that Sunday night if her heart is set on it, or we may just do a smaller dinner there on Friday (I know they don't take reservations for smaller parties). She suggested Alma de Cuba as an alternative, but it seems a little pricey -- they don't have their prices on the website, but that in itself tells me something, and I've reaad some not so great reviews here. Also, grandma will be there, and well, I'm not sure how grandma will do with Cuban food. After doing some research here and elsewhere, we now have a reservation at Ansill for Saturday night, and I'm hoping that will please the chowhounds in the group and the more conservative eaters. In case the timing doesn't work out or that gets vetoed, are there any suggestions for places that you all think would be good for a group, good for more conservative diners, and yet with still good food? Price range is probably no more than in the low $20s for the entrees.

Now Sunday night dinner: we would want to do that somewhere relatively close to Bryn Mawr. My sister suggested the possibility of Carmine's Creole Cafe -- we went there when I went out to visit her once, and it was great, but I think that that was in the old location, and I read a report here that said that it's gone downhill since, any more thoughts on that? That's the kind of food where we wouldn't have to worry about whether grandma will like it (she's originally from Louisiana), but will the rest of us? If the food is still at least pretty good, this is definitely the easiest option for us for that night. Any other good suggestions nearby? Sola looked great, but it's not open on Sundays.

As for the other meals: I currently have a reservation for just me and my mom for Amada on Thursday night after seeing great reviews here, and Friday night may be Continental with just a handful of us. Another possibility for Friday night is Tinto, but I wasn't sure if Tinto would be too similar to Amada? And any suggestions for a great breakfast or bakery on the Main Line for Friday or Saturday morning?

I'm not going to have time to do much chowhouding what with all of the graduation festivities, but I'm dying to go to the Reading Terminal market, so I'm going to try to convince my mom and sister to go on Friday.

Thanks for any help you can give me!

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  1. Tinto and Amada are similar. We like Amada better. Tinto's chairs and setup just don't feel as comfortable as Amada and I think the food is better at Amada, too. It really is terrific.

    6 Replies
    1. re: DaisyM

      Great, I'm very excited for our dinner at Amada, I've read great things here. Any thoughts on Ansill?

      1. re: JasmineG

        Ansill is really good, but I'm wondering if it might end up somewhat pricey for some of your party. If they're not heavy eaters, I think you'll be fine, but some of the plates can be pretty small ...

        1. re: Ali

          Okay, that's what I was wondering -- I looked at the prices on their website, and they were pretty low, which had me curious if the "larger plates" were still pretty small. I asked about that when I called to make the reservation, and she said that the larger plates were dinner sized, but I was a little skeptical. She also said that they can do a $35 a person prix fix meal if we pick the meal in advance, which sounded like it may be a good deal -- has anyone tried that, and was it a good value adn enough food?

          1. re: JasmineG

            $35 is very fair. On the regular menu, all their dishes are on the smaller side.

            1. re: saturninus

              Okay, I'm definitely leaning towards the $35 pp meal, it will definitely make things easier. Thanks a lot for your help. I'm also predisposed to like them because the person that I talked to on the phone was so nice and accomodating.

        2. re: JasmineG

          Ansill is fantastic. I agree that Amada and Tinto are similar, I wouldn't visit them both in the same trip.

      2. The Radnor Hotel is reported to have one of the best brunches in the area, $27 per person. But it's only Sunday.

        http://radnorhotel.com/dining_brunch.htm

        1 Reply
        1. re: Will5352

          Unfortunately, that's the only time that we're booked in the morning. Any other good breakfast in the area? Or good sandwich places for lunch?

        2. I have never heard about that resy restriction at Continental(I've had parties there after 5:30 on a Saturday night before). I would call back and ask for a manager the SRO always does a good job with taking care of patrons. and if that doesn't work I would just go to the Continental anyway, the waits are never that long and you could hang on the roof and have a drink while waiting.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Latzo81

            I exchanged messages with the special events coordinator, who told me that they can only take large groups for a 5 or 5:30 reservation on Saturdays (and it says so on their website as well). For a party of 12, I would think that the wait would be a little long on a Saturday night at 7, am I wrong on that?

            1. re: JasmineG

              The wait *can* be pretty heinous on a Saturday night, especially considering the time of year/week you're talking about. However, you might get lucky. Sometimes, that can happen for larger parties.

              If you're open for breakfast/brunch in the Center City-ish area, you might try Ants Pants - don't know if they can handle a party your size, but it might be right what you're looking for as far as food.

              Oh. Definitely do a price fix at Ansill, and then see if there's an option to order from the regular menu as an addition for the chowhound types who may want to try some adventurous items. (I can't imagine they would say no.)

              1. re: Ali

                Thanks for the advice! I think we're going to do Ansill Saturday night, and I think that you all have me convinced to do the prix fix, thanks for the feedback. We'll do Continental on Friday night, when it will just be more like five or six of us, and hopefully we can get there on the early side and the wait will be managable...but otherwise we'll just have some cocktails!

                Thanks for the breakfast in Center City advice, for breakfast it will probably be smaller parties, so I don't have to worry about one big group.

          2. Have you tried Osteria? I believe they have a private room they might be able to offer if available. Might be a touch over $35/pp, but well worth it.

            9 Replies
            1. re: percyn

              I don't know if this is still their policy, but in the past Osteria would only give you that room if you were willing to pay a minimum price (for the room, not per person) of something around $1000. It only makes sense if you've got a much larger group.

              1. re: percyn

                I just emailed them, thanks for the rec, I'll report back about what their policy is.

                1. re: percyn

                  Osteria is booked, but thanks for the rec. I think that we'll stick with Ansill, unless there are any other great suggestions (I really hope that the mini burgers are on next month's menu, because the college graduate to be loves them).

                  Also, one other question: I just found out that we're staying in Plymouth Meeting, are there any great places around there in case we are too tired to drive into Philadelphia Thursday or Friday night? (And how long would that drive be, about?) I've read about Alison's at Blue Bell, is that in the general area?

                  1. re: JasmineG

                    From Plymouth Meeting you will be pretty close to Alison at Blue Bell (~15 minutes drive?), and it's a great restaurant (in my book it's a 2-bell and not a 3-bell restaurant, to borrow from the rating scheme of the Philadelphia Inquirer). You are also very close to Bluefin sushi. I haven't visited, but it's a favorite sushi destination for the Philly area. And you're very near to the beautiful Chestnut Hill neighborhood, which has a good sushi place (Osaka), a good Persian restaurant (Shundeez) and a wonderful little BYOB (Citrus). Citrus and Alison would be my top pics for the area.

                    I strongly support your choice of Ansill for the large party. I love the restaurant, but it isn't cheap if you do the small plates thing (and by no means is a "larger plate" like an entree) and the menu is really designed for sharing, which can be tough with 12 people. The 35/pp prix fixe sounds good, though it would be quite sad for you to miss out on the fingerling potatoes, osso bucco sandwich, pork belly, spaetzle and duck eggs.

                    I also support your choice of Amada, though you'd be doing tapas/small plates two nights. My own picks for you are 1) Sovalo in Northern Liberties (not far above Center City)--it is a very fairly priced Italian restaurant and the cooking is phenomenal, in my opinion stronger than Amada; and 2) Matyson, another very reasonably priced restaurant (especially for the prix fixe) that serves modern fare rooted in traditional French cooking.

                    Finally, for brunch, if you're still looking, you can't go wrong at either of the two Sabrina's Cafes. Bar Ferdinand, if you're not sick of tapas, has an incredible brunch deal: 3 plates for $10 and their tapas are good. Also, virtually all of Philadelphia's gastropubs do a good brunch. My favorite is the Standard Tap.

                    1. re: nwinkler

                      Thanks so much for your help. I thought about Matyson's, but in looking at the menu I decided that it wasn't really my sister's style -- a little too French for her tastes, and since this is her graduation dinner, I wanted to do something that she was into. Some people here have commented that you can still get some food off the regular menu if you do the $35 prix fix at Ansill, and those fingerling potatoes are right up the alley of my whole family, so I definitely want to try those. I'll check into your other choices, thanks!

                      1. re: JasmineG

                        FYI, I had dinner at Ansill this past weekend and the fingerling potatoes were NOT on the menu. That shouldn't stop you from going, though, the place is great.

                        You can order off the regular menu if you are getting the prix-fixe, but you can *not* get free corkage on your BYO wine if you do that. You can still BYO and pay corkage, or just order wine off the wine list. The free BYO is only available if everyone at the table gets the prix-fixe, and *only* the prix-fixe.

                        I'd recommend just ordering off the wine list anyway, they have a pretty good list and they always have a good red and white wine available by the carafe for not a lot of cash.

                        1. re: Buckethead

                          Thanks for the input! Have you had (or seen) the prix fixe menu, and does it seem like there's enough food? That's really interesting what you say about free corkage on BYO wine if you get the prix fixe -- I'm coming from San Francisco, land of no free corkage (unless you work at a winery or buy a lot of bottles), so that's intriguing. That might be enough for us to pack a few bottles in the suitcase, but that depends on what the menu looks like for the prix fix (they said they'd email it to me at the beginning of May). Thanks for the resport.

                          1. re: JasmineG

                            It's definitely enough food, the prix-fixe isn't small plates like the regular Ansill menu.

                            I just remembered that when I was there, they mentioned that they were going to stop doing the prix-fixe some time in May, so you may want to call them back and find out for certain if it will be available when you want to go. Again though, even if it's not I would still recommend going there, it's a great restaurant.

                            The brief story of the BYO/prix-fixe policy at Ansill is that David Ansill, the chef, used to run a much-loved French BYO called Pif. Eventually he opened Ansill, a bigger place. Both Pif and Ansill operated for a while, then Pif closed. Many of David's customers from Pif were oenophiles, and they missed the old-style French food at Pif. So a few months or so after Pif closed, Ansill started serving a special menu on Sundays which is basically a recreation of dinner at Pif: classic French food with which you could drink your own wine. It's basically a service for people who miss Pif.

                            1. re: Buckethead

                              Ah, interesting. Well, when I called to reserve they said that they would have the prix fixe, so if I don't get a prix fixe menu emailed to me next week (they said they would email me one at the beginning of May) I will call and check on that, thanks for the info.

                2. While at Reading Terminal: Shop at Iovine Brother's Produce- the largest vendor eat at Sister Marion(Tootsies Salad Espress) mention : the lunatic boy at either establishment and you will be treated not only vip but will be told just how special they are. I would suggest on the 20.00 budget the rittenhouse Warwick new place 17 where a bloody shame is a virgin bloody mary. Across the street is Little Pete's best rueben in town and a great eggs benedict open 24 hours. Also mention the lunatic boy at LIttle Pete's Manager: John they are quick and sweet people any shift. If Ashely is on at 17 the lunatic boy says Hi. howis the new job? The Prime Rib owned By Garth at the Raddison Warwick is a great place to show off and eat great and in glamour. Mention me. Bryan is one of the day Concierge's and Francine at the elevator will help you all with any wedding plans way in advance with infor for brides (the guide) and there info wedding catering packet free for anyone. I am a bit prejudiced, but I was a past valedictorian of a local catholic school here in philadelphia and I can personally vouch for all the places I have mentioned as some of the nicest people I know. dpc

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                  manic44magnum
                  philadelphia

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: manic44magnum

                    I am not a fan of Tavern 17. I don't understand why you are mentioning wedding plans - this is a graduation.

                    1. re: manic44magnum

                      What??? I'm not understanding either.