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Jun 30, 2008 11:51 AM

Dinner in Philly for a visiting chef

My nephew is a graduate of the Restarant School at Walnut Hill, currently working as Chef Tournant at the Grand Hyatt Riverwalk in San Antonio, and was previously at the Grand Hyatt in Dallas. He will be visiting Philly this week, and we are looking for a place to take him for dinner. The first choice was the now-closed Striped Bass. Where would you take a chef? Could be in Philly or in the immediate 'burbs. Need some fast replies.

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  1. Same place I'd take anyone else: Ansill, Zahav, or Osteria (though my last visit to Osteria was not as great as my previous visits). If you want to do BYO instead, Kanella is new and fantastic.

    10 Replies
    1. re: Buckethead

      i often have this debate with myself. i have a chef friend in chicago and when visiting any restaurant one of my critiques is "would i bring john here?" i think there is a difference between your average palate (i consider myself in this category) and someone who is professionally trained to detect subtleties and is looking for creativity in food. an example - while i might enjoy a sloppy burrito here and there, it's not rocket science to recreate.

      so places that are on my "john would approve" list:
      - modo mio
      - matyson
      - horizons
      - tinto

      with pre-drinks at either snackbar or tria.

      there are plenty of places i, myself, enjoy greatly - but i would not bring my friend there to showcase philly. as an example, while i like il cantuccio just fine for myself (another italian cash only BYOB close to modo mio) it would not be a place i would take a chef. however that said, the four places i listed are also my four current favorites at the moment. so maybe my palate is slowly refining itself - even though there's nothing i love more than a greasy pizza from george's (2nd and girard) now and then!

      1. re: rabidog

        I finally tried Matyson this weekend and loved it! We split the gnocchi/crab/caviar appetizer special, and had the halibut and swordfish entrees. I have never had such good crab, and the sauce was amazing - save some bread to sop up the rest. The halibut was perfectly cooked and divine. The swordfish preparation was less traditional but great. I can't remember having a better meal in the last couple of years (Osteria, for example, I didn't enjoy as much).
        That said, we went there b/c couldn't get a last-minute reservation at Horizons.

        1. re: amycakes

          hahaha amy, for a second there i thought you might be a colleague of mine under a different alias! i recommended it to someone who tried it this weekend as well, and came back positively raving about i think that exact crab dish!

        2. re: rabidog

          My nephew is familiar with Philly food. I think he wants some place interesting where he can appreciate what the chef has done. The cuisine in his hotel is local in flavor (translation = more refined Tex-Mex), and Pacific Rim, so I don't think he wants to go that route. He's beenh to Matyson. Loved it, but we don't want to repeat. How about Vetri? I've never been, but have heard good things. The reviews on this board for Osteria are too inconsistant for me to put my vote there, especially without having tried it myself.

          1. re: PattiCakes

            If you want interesting, unique, yet delcious cooking, I'd really have to echo Buckethead and suggest Ansill. Your nephew will probably be able to try dishes (and animal parts for that matter) that he won't find at too many other places. I think Gayle also might be a good choice as Chef Stern's menu is creative and different, and makes for an interesting experience. Zahav is also a good choice but I feel like they are still trying to "hit their stride" so to speak.

            If you're looking for something on par with the ambiance and service of Striped Bass, I would recommend Lacroix (more on the traditional side with some nouveau experimental cooking mixed in) and Vetri (if you can get's a pretty impossible reservation to get within a week's time).

            1. re: PattiCakes

              You will probably not be able to get into Vetri on such short notice, but you could call them. One additional place I'd suggest in light of your "some place interesting where he can appreciate what the chef has done" criteria would be Horizons. Ansill or Zahav would still be my first choices though.

              1. re: Buckethead

                You are right about Vetri; they could not take a reservation for a party of more than 6 (our party has 7). My sister (it's her step son who is the chef) made reservations at Django. I told her Kanella came highly recommended. I will pass on Ansill, Zahav and Horizons as well.

                Thanks, everyone, for the help. I'll make sure to post the outcome and his comments.

                His story is pretty interesting -- his mom passed away with breast cancer when he was in high schoiol, he dropped out of college, screwed around for a period of time getting into trouble and being a bartender, then came to live in Philly when his dad entered a serious relationship with my sis. His dad and my sis said they would help pay for some sort of education if he figured out what he wanted to do & could convince them he was serious. He decided on the 4 year program at Walnut Hill, but rather than take the restaurant management track, my sis convince him that the culinary track was better -- could always get those management skills later; the culinary skills would give him credibility as a manager if he ever went in that direction. Turns out he has a gift in the kitchen. Hyatt hired him out of Walnut Hill into their training program and sent him to the Grand Hyatt in Dallas. After a year, he was hired as sous chef tournant to help open the Grand Hyatt Riverwalk in San Antonio. They are now telling him that his next assignment will be executive sous, which would make him the youngest exec sous in Hyatt history. At least that's what he says, and I choose to believe him (grin); He stands 6'8" tall without his toque, so I tend not to argue with him. It's just terribly amusing to me that 6 years ago he had to call me to ask how to cook a chicken.

                1. re: PattiCakes

                  makes me wish i'd pursued that route! always loved cooking as a wee kid but have never had the discipline to sit through any type of formal schooling. good for him! hope your dinner is fab and please do report back - i keep wanting to get to django but some other restaurant always gets in my way!

                  1. re: PattiCakes

                    good for him! and definitely go to ansill when he comes back to town. all my chef friends love it....

                2. re: PattiCakes

                  You won't be able to get into Vetri, unfortuntely.

            2. Ansil is a great idea! Definitely chef food!

              1. The original comment has been removed
                1. This suggestion is a little more off the beaten path. The restaurant and chef are still too new to Philly. Take him to Les Bon Temps at 12th & Chestnut. Chef is Bret Naylor, food is a religious experience.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: tudor3522

                    UPDATE: My sister chose Django, going contrary to suggestions here on this board. It was a disappointment (can anyone say "I told you so"?). Anyway, the service was not great and the food was mediocre. Chef Jesse enjoyed himself, however, because (1) he wasn't paying for it; and (2) he was with the family he hadn't seen in 6 months. In retrospect, he said he would have liked Matyson, but my sis though that because he had been thee before they should try somehthing new.

                    On the upside, he cooked a fabulous dinner fo us on Sunday, with items from his restaurant. They feature "pan-latino" cuisine. We had strawberry/mango mojitos; tostones with a cilantro/garlic/vinegar dip; south west eggrolls with a guacamole aoli kind of dip; fresh guacomole; lechon verde; fish tacos; cuban black beans; rice with sofrito and olives; and chicken enchiladas with a wonderful fresh tomato an guajillo chile sauce. Muy sabroso!