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Feb 12, 2009 03:05 AM

Family Birthday Dinner-Seafood

Looking for a special place to take my mother (age 80+), spouse and two teen girls for a Saturday night in March. Mom likes seafood and northern Italian. Would like to avoid anyplace that is too noisy, cramped, cold, etc. Looking for nice service and atmosphere appropriate for family birthday dinner but not Fountain Room fancy. Center City or Eastern Main Line. All suggestions appreciated!

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  1. Estia has very good seafood, especially the grilled octopus and the fresh fish by the pound. The setting is comfortable but not stuffy and mom would appreciate the fact that there is an elevator to transport people to the rest rooms located on the lower level. They also do validated parking at the Bellevue lot.

    2 Replies
    1. re: bluehensfan

      I second the suggestion of Estia, the food and service has always been good . I also love Savona for a special occasion rest. They have a top notch kitchen , but it may be too far out on the Main Line. Ive had many good meals at La Veranda. They grill fresh fish and meats on an open grill and the Italian specialties are very good. They have valet parking and its easy to get in and out. I know its old school and not very hip but I love their grilled meats and seafood.

      1. re: michyphilly

        Estia looks like a possibility, though I'm not sure mom will be too keen on the Greek appetizers and salads. She is a very "plain food" eater. Savona and La Veranda are just a shade fancier that I had in mind. Any other suggestions?

    2. Philly isn't a great seafood town. Much to my surprise when I moved here. However we have great northern Italian. Noise on a Saturday night may be a bit of an issue. Any place that is good and reasonable is going to be crowded on a Saturday night.

      Tre Scalini

      All are very good, all will be crowded on a Saturday night. Try going early.

      Also we love Caffe Casta Diva for a special occasion. The noise level can get pretty bad. If you go early it should be fine.

      1. Branzino would be lovely. Nice ambience, low noise level, excellent food.
        It's not primarily a seafood house, but the grilled/fileted branzino and other fish are always available. The pasta is delicious.
        We went with a group (all seniors) for an early New Year's Eve dinner, and everyone was delighted.
        Estia, which is beautiful, can get very noisy.
        I think your mother and the girls would enjoy it here. Reserve ahead and ask for upstairs; it's prettier. There are only a few steps.

        11 Replies
        1. re: sylviag

          Branzino sounds like it might fit the bill, and with both fish and Italian food it should make everyone happy.

          But---just checked a few reviews on Zagat there are a number of complaints about slow service....has that been your experience there?

          1. re: rocknroll52

            i've only been to branzino once, a few months ago, but had over-the-top fabulous service - our waiter was a doll. i agree this would fit the seafood and italian bill. eek - i just read some horrifying citysearch reviews re: service... food is good, albeit a little traditional/safe, and while it's not my favorite place for seafood (little fish is), it sounds like you have a pretty diverse group to try to please. it is BYOB. i agree you should ask for upstairs - it's away from the door/cold, and the decor is definitely nicer.

            1. re: rocknroll52

              Sometimes it is a little slower there because they make many things to order.
              If we go before an 8:00 concert, I make our reservations for 5:30 so I won't have a rushed feeling when it is time for coffee and dessert. There are many places pre-Kimmel when 6:00 is plenty of time; you are whisked in and out.

              This shouldn't be a problem when the family is out for leisurely dining.

              1. re: sylviag

                I am not sure now because, while we don't want to be "whisked" we also don't want to languish waiting for our next course, basket of bread, refills on water, coffee, etc.

                1. re: rocknroll52

                  I think you may have misread Sylvia's post. I think she is comparing it favorably to places that do whisk you in and out.

                  Our service has always been fine at Branzino. It is a leisurely pace to be sure but not so slow that it is a problem. If it is really busy the servers can be a bit harried. Still it is one of my "go to" places for out of towners or special occasions.

                  1. re: joluvscards

                    OK I'll keep that in mind. Its just that promptness, in this case, would be desired, because of the teens who will be hungry and will not be into the idea of lingering over dinner for conversation with their parents, and the mom who does not like to sit too long and will be grumpy if the service is slow!!

                    1. re: rocknroll52

                      My husband and I and my 80+ parents went to Branzino last Sunday night. Hubby ordered gnocci and thought that the sauce was below average. I ordered a veal dish and although the flavor was good the veal was chewy and in Philadephia where good veal is so prevalent this did not make me happy. I thought that the service was just OK, nothing special. We will not go back because we felt it was not great. I guess if your looking for a pre dinner rest. near to the Kimmel center it would be OK. I didnt feel that it was a special occasion rest. IMO .

                      1. re: michyphilly

                        Thanks for your feedback. We are not looking for a pre-theater fact, we are coming from the eastern Main Line so making a trip into the city involves a little travel and I'd want to feel that the restaurant was "worth" the effort of that. Our alternative is to just fall back on our usual family dinner at the New Tavern in Merion, which fits the bill for us in many ways: convenient, comfortable, dependable food, traditional menu, nice atmosphere but you don't have to dress up. Although, it doesn't seem quite as "special ocassion" as it could be...

                        1. re: rocknroll52

                          I know the New tavern and like you say the food is pretty good but it may not be special enough. Have you tried Flemmings in Radnor? They have some good seafood and fish dishes and people come dressed as they please. Another idea is if your coming from the main line ,how about La Collina. They have free valet parking , very good old school Italian food and a wonderful dover sole. Its very pretty at night up on the hill, a bit of faded elegance for sure but your Mother may like it.

                          1. re: michyphilly

                            Thanks Michy. A neighbor of mine recommended Flemings too. I'll take a look at the menu. You are right about La Collina and we went there for Mom's 80th birthday. For some reason, I feel like I need to dress up for La Collina, though others tell me its really not necessary.

                            1. re: rocknroll52

                              I know what you mean about feeling like you should dress up. I woulnt go there in shorts and a tee shirt but dressy casual is fine. Like alot of older rest.. the dress code has been relaxed . Have fun wherever yo choose!

          2. Sort of a tough call as most of my favorite Northern Italian places in the city are BYOBs - which tends to equate to noisy, cramped and crowded on a Saturday night. Those are places I would tend to go on any *other* night of the week if I want more room and peace as well as at least some ability to linger.

            Anyway. I don't remember eating any fish when I was there, but one possibility for Northern Italian might be La Castagne, which is more on the ambiance side and had excellent pasta when I was there before. Spacious and for a celebration, it might be a nice choice. My fiance and I had one of our first dates there and it was a lovely experience.

            There's always Devon on Rittenhouse Square - maybe not the most unique and creative, but for a seafood place it's upscale and in my experience always at least consistently very good, if not outstanding. The Cioppino is a winner, the daily fish is simply prepared but always very fresh...and it's spacious enough.

            I've been to the previously mentioned Bronzino several times and always had a good meal there with ok service, but it can be cramped and busy. Bistro La Baia is nearby as well and has some very nice Northern Italian and seafood, but on a Saturday, again, service can be rushed or less considerate. I've walked out a few times when I showed up on a weekend night and been told I could have a table, but only if I ate and left in 45 minutes or an hour in time for a reserved party.

            Robertos on South Street is a very charming little Italian restaurant which does excellent seafood dishes, but again, byob, kind of cramped, and unless you show up at 5pm on a weekend night I wouldn't plan on being able to linger or avoid the crowds.

            1 Reply
            1. re: sockii

              I'd still vote for Estia. Granted the appetizers are mostly Greek, but the fish is priced by the pound, and simply grilled with lemon and capers and has always been fabulous.
              I have not been to Branzino so can't comment on that one but I dunno about Devon seems a bit pedestrian for what you are looking for...

            2. It's a chain, but Davio's is very civilized for an 80+ year-old mom (I've got one of those) and food is very good northern italian. It is on the pricey side.