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Help needed for a graduation weekend in Philadelphia

JasmineG Apr 16, 2008 10:20 PM

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!

  1. JasmineG May 27, 2008 12:57 PM

    Adding links:

    -----
    Ansill
    627 S 3rd St, Philadelphia, PA 19147

    Amada
    217 Chestnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19106

    Carmine's Creole Cafe
    818 W Lancaster Ave, Bryn Mawr, PA 19010

    Continental Midtown Restaurant
    1801 Chestnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19103

    3 Replies
    1. re: JasmineG
      b
      Bigley9 May 27, 2008 07:53 PM

      Thanks Jasmine for posting back. We love that! Glad you had a good experience. My apologies for King of Prussia!

      1. re: JasmineG
        rabidog May 28, 2008 05:15 PM

        great report - thanks for that! yes, we do tend to warn against king of prussia area eats. unfortunately sometimes you're just stuck with it. i'm still trying to think of a way to spoil my appetite before a dinner with friends at champps on friday. ah well, they didn't resist when i dragged them to tiffin a few weeks ago! you win some, you lose some!

        1. re: rabidog
          JasmineG May 30, 2008 01:05 AM

          Yeah, after being at the mall for way too long on a nasty rainy day, all of my chowishness was out the window, and we were just HUNGRY. The good food for the rest of the trip made up for it, though.

      2. JasmineG May 27, 2008 12:55 PM

        Reporting back from the graduation weekend in Philadelphia -- we ate well for the most part, thanks for your help!

        We ate at Amada shortly after getting off the plane, and the food there was great -- we shared some charcuterie, cheeses, the spicy potatoes, the crab stuffed peppers, the shortrib flatbread, and something else that I can't remember (I think one of the salads). We loved everything, especially the potatoes (I could have had three orders!), except for the short rib flatbread -- it was okay, but the texture combination wasn't my favorite, and it was a little too sweet for my taste. That could just be because that was the last thing that came and we were full by then. My only criticism is that the bread that came with the meat and cheeses was pretty stale.

        Friday was our only day of bad eating -- we were stuck at the King of Prussia mall for a while, and ate something awful there, and then went to Continental Midtown for dinner. There had been so so reports of Continental here, but hey, that's where my sister wanted to go, so we went there. The food was way too all over the place for my tastes, nothing combined very well, the lobster mac and cheese was with orzo and was heavily breaded, so it didn't taste that great, the cauliflower gratin wasn't much of a gratin, and the soft shell crab didn't have much flavor. The spring rolls were good, though, as were the drinks.

        Saturday night was dinner at Ansill for 12, and it was a very successful meal. The staff at Ansill could not have been more helpful, especially since half of our party got a little lost on the way there and so was late (and we knew that they needed the space later on for a much larger party). We got the $45 prix fix menu, and supplemented that with some charcuterie to start and a few orders of potato croquettes to share (the fingerlings were not on the menu. On the $45 menu there were four courses, with a few choices for each (the $35 menu was three courses). Everyone loved their meals, from the more chowhoudish eaters in the group to my conservative eating grandparents, and raved about the food and the service. My choices were the steak tartare, the lamb osso bucco sandwich, and the cheese platter for dessert, and all were delicious. Thanks to all for this place, it was really great (and the wine prices were very fair!).

        Sunday night a smaller group of us went to Carmine's Creole Cafe for dinner, and that was good too -- the food wasn't quite as spicy as I would have liked, but it was perfect for the rainy and cold day, and it was all flavorful and tasty, and the group loved it. I had the duck with fried oysters, which was good, but wow was the portion huge -- two big duck legs! The oysters were perfectly fried. (Stale bread here again, though).

        Monday on the way to the airport we had just enough time for a stop and a meal at Reading Terminal market, which was lots of fun. I had a DiNic's roast pork sandwich with provelone and rabe, and it was good, but not great. My mom had fried chicken from Delilah's, and that was very tasty.

        Thanks for all of the advice!

        1. k
          Katina Apr 27, 2008 08:20 PM

          I graduated from Bryn Mawr (fairly recently) and my family stayed super far away from the city. We had a small family dinner at Restaurant Taquet at the Wayne Hotel. The food is impeccable and my father loved the foie gras. My larger dinner was held at Pond Restaurant (www.pondrestaurant.com) and everyone enjoyed the food and even sitting outside - beautiful location and not far from Plymouth Meeting. Driving/parking in the city with a lot of people is tough, and honestly, I'd recommend the large dinner be in the 'burbs, but family dinner is fine, and the suggestions from the city sound great.

          Good luck and congrats to your sister.

          8 Replies
          1. re: Katina
            JasmineG Apr 29, 2008 11:34 AM

            Yeah, I know that Saturday night dinner would be easier in the burbs, but that's probably the only opportunity for the whole family to see Philly at night, and despite the traffic issues, everyone wants to do it. About how long does it take to get from Bryn Mawr to Center City on Saturday night?

            Our Sunday night dinner is in the burbs, though, and thanks for your options!

            1. re: JasmineG
              saturninus Apr 29, 2008 01:41 PM

              I would say an hour. If you leave early (5 pm) it will be a lot faster than at 8 pm.

              1. re: saturninus
                JasmineG Apr 29, 2008 02:06 PM

                Okay, that's about what I was accounting for, thanks.

                1. re: saturninus
                  vicarious Apr 30, 2008 06:33 PM

                  I'd say more like 30 minutes with light traffic, and 45 minutes on a typical Saturday evening (although it depends how far you are from the expressway).

                  1. re: vicarious
                    saturninus May 1, 2008 12:54 PM

                    They would be coming from Plymouth Meeting - hence my hour long drive thoughts

                    1. re: saturninus
                      JasmineG May 1, 2008 01:10 PM

                      Actually, we'll be coming from Bryn Mawr (we'll be at the college), sorry for not clarifying that.

                      1. re: JasmineG
                        k
                        Katina May 1, 2008 01:18 PM

                        Fastest route (not through backroads) to city from Bryn Mawr as follows.

                        Take Montgomery Ave all the way to city line, get on 76 E to Center City (you can also get to Plymouth Meeting via 76/476) then get onto 676E and the Broad Street or 8th street exit being ideal. I've timed myself at ~35 minutes without traffic, up to 50 minutes with.

                        1. re: Katina
                          k
                          katie04 May 1, 2008 04:13 PM

                          Amada is a great pick. Many choices and always great food....

            2. m
              manic44magnum Apr 19, 2008 02:22 AM

              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

              -----
              manic44magnum
              philadelphia

              2 Replies
              1. re: manic44magnum
                saturninus Apr 21, 2008 06:08 AM

                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
                  mschow Apr 21, 2008 07:34 AM

                  What??? I'm not understanding either.

                2. p
                  percyn Apr 18, 2008 09:56 AM

                  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
                    b
                    Buckethead Apr 18, 2008 10:03 AM

                    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
                      JasmineG Apr 18, 2008 03:09 PM

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

                      1. re: percyn
                        JasmineG Apr 22, 2008 04:10 PM

                        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
                          n
                          nwinkler Apr 24, 2008 02:48 PM

                          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
                            JasmineG Apr 24, 2008 04:43 PM

                            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
                              b
                              Buckethead Apr 25, 2008 08:24 AM

                              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
                                JasmineG Apr 25, 2008 08:57 AM

                                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
                                  b
                                  Buckethead Apr 25, 2008 09:40 AM

                                  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
                                    JasmineG Apr 26, 2008 02:24 PM

                                    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. l
                        Latzo81 Apr 17, 2008 01:45 PM

                        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
                          JasmineG Apr 17, 2008 01:51 PM

                          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
                            a
                            Ali Apr 17, 2008 07:55 PM

                            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
                              JasmineG Apr 17, 2008 10:34 PM

                              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. w
                          Will5352 Apr 17, 2008 11:22 AM

                          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
                            JasmineG Apr 17, 2008 06:08 PM

                            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. d
                            DaisyM Apr 17, 2008 04:49 AM

                            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
                              JasmineG Apr 17, 2008 08:44 AM

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

                              1. re: JasmineG
                                a
                                Ali Apr 17, 2008 10:08 AM

                                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
                                  JasmineG Apr 17, 2008 12:14 PM

                                  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
                                    saturninus Apr 17, 2008 01:57 PM

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

                                    1. re: saturninus
                                      JasmineG Apr 17, 2008 02:57 PM

                                      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
                                  b
                                  Buckethead Apr 17, 2008 10:29 AM

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

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