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final trip to philadelphia - narrow down 4 dinner options?

i've been in and out of philadelphia for business over the past couple of years but it looks like my final trip out will be in a couple of weeks (july 20-24) and so i want to make the best of it and take advantage of all those experiences i let slip by. i will only have dinners from mon-thurs available and my best guess is that i wont' be able to make it out to most restaurants until 8pm. i will also mostly be using public transportation.

so my first question is, during that week are there any events i should should look into or avoid? we have something like restaurant week in my home city and it is just a disastrous affair.

this is where i've been ( think there's a review post somewhere but i can't find it):

ansill - great meal, one small miss but otherwise great atmosphere and food
good dog bar - the state of burgers in my home town is sad and this is a fantastic option, but have been many times now
white dog cafe - have had ups and downs but mostly palatable, have been more times than i can count
bar ferdinand - tasty but didn't wow me.
reading terminal market - fun and i'm going to get beans from old city coffee delivered to my hotel
naked chocolate - nice euro-style hot chocolate
standard tap - great!
beer store at 10th and Pine - nice selection!

this is where i'd really like to go over 4 nights:

morimoto - for omakase (best to go thurs night since they close at 11pm and draw out the experience?)
jim's steaks on south st and buying beer to take home at 10th and pine - favourite cheesesteak after a far flung search around the city
little fish - seafood state in my home city is pretty sad, this sounds delicious, is it worth it?
matyson - seems like a must do for philadelphia
le bec fin - a nice standard
tria - another good standard
distrito - seems like a must do as well
amada - not super keen but sounds tasty
capogiro - can do before or after a meal, which is the best combo with restaurant (ideally a place that doesn't do great desserts)

are there any worthwhile grocery stores open late to pick up generally awesome food products? (we don't have trader joes so i might just head there)

also, to finish off this terribly wordy post.... so you know my tastes, i eat anything and everything. snout to tail, whiz wit', mirugai sashimi, fried chicken and collard greens, etc etc. if you know of something awesome i am glad to hear of it. i am reluctant to eat chinese (mostly canton or northern), vietnamese, and ethiopian as i feel i have a good base of this at home.

thanks so much for any help! i know it's just another "tourist" post but i'd really love to make the best of this experience. if you're ever in toronto, drop me an email and i'd be happy to do the same.

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  1. If you've never done it, I would recommend the omakase at Morimoto. If you do the $120 version, this is an approximation of what you will receive. Supposedly, if you order the omakase more than once, you never receive the same meal twice. However, I have read many reviews and it looks like this is the "default" first time omakase. It is what I received the one time I had the omakase.

    Toro tartare topped with scallions and osetra caviar.

    Some type of oyster sampler. There were three quarter-sized oysters, each topped with something different (japanese salsa, thai fish sauce, and ceviche).

    Scallop carpaccio topped with ginger and warm oil (this was one of my favorite dishes).

    Sashimi salad (not sure what type of fish it was and my server said she would ask the kitchen, but never got back to me on that)

    A black vinegar "soda" intermezzo

    Lobster Epice

    Seared Wagyu Beef "sashimi" topped with cilantro oil and abalone.

    Then, after all of that a sushi sampler that included medium toro, snapper, and 4 others I can't remember, but all were very good.

    My dessert was a sweet potato cake accompanied by some type of cream and berry. My wife had the chocolate brownies that you dip in caramel and walnuts. The desserts were fine, but not memorable.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Philly Ray

      hrm... thanks for that info. it actually makes me not tempted to go omakase though it was what i was initially considering.

      i definitely want to go to morimoto, it's sort of been my white whale restaurant every time i visit philadelphia. but after flipping through his cookbook, most of the dishes you've listed seem... just ok. i noticed that it's mostly raw which i do enjoy. i'll have to have a conversation when i make a reservation.

      again, thanks!

      1. re: pinstripeprincess

        For $100 you can get the same Omikase as the $120. I did not detect a single different dish at the higher price. (And yes, it was the same exact courses both times). Not sure what the deal is with that since I thought it varied based on what was seasonal/available. So save yourself $20 (and who knows maybe the $80 is the same too). Also keep in mind that it is not much food. We had a fun time there and the food IS really good. Just not enough of it for me to go there all the time. You may want that roast pork sandwich for a dessert.

        1. re: jcmods

          how long did it take you to get through the omakase?

          1. re: pinstripeprincess

            I am thinking roughly an hour. There were something like 6 courses. It was a little while back. I remember everything including the dessert was exactly the same.

    2. Two quick questions: are you going solo and will you have a car?

      1 Reply
      1. re: Boognish

        no car (public transportation focused as i find the taxis way too expensive) and mostly solo otherwise maybe one or two other people at most for half the time.

      2. I'd definitely go to little fish. It's tucked away in a very Philly neighborhood, it's BYO, very Philly, and the food is amazing. Last time I was there I had Halibut over gnocci, favas, and chantarelles. Blew me away.

        I would also recommend the roast pork at Paesano's. But then, I'm recommending that to everyone these days. An easy walk from the Market Frankford line (Girard stop, walk a block and a half or so west). A roast pork from Johns or DiNics will do as well, but really, Paesano's is worth it. When I move away from Philly one day, that will be my last Philadelphia meal, hands down.

        1 Reply
        1. re: hollyd

          I have to agree with the Paesano's Roast Pork. Amazing sandwich.

        2. I say you definitely need to go to Matyson- I was just there, and it was a wonderful experience, plus their new tasting menu is all about lobster, which looks really good! =)

          1. Matyson is our benchmark restaurant. nuff said.

            1. Not sure where you are staying but here are a couple other options all of which are centrally locatedr:

              Monks Cafe for belgian beer, mussels and frites.
              Oyster House...recently reopened restaurant used to be known as Sansom Street Oyster House and was a Philly institution...though I have not been yet there are some recent posts that look favorable
              Parc french bistro with tons of outdoor seating on Rittenhouse Sq. go for lunch on a sunny day, love the Nicoise salad and basket of bread is great
              Le Bec Fin..yes!! and they are offering a $35 summer prix fixe on weekdays
              Kanella -great new BYOB getting raves, Cypriot cuisine, you'll see many posts about it on this board

              PS I am coming to Toronot in August wil need recs I'll post my question on the Toronto board...look for me there!!

              1. one of the best meals i ever had was at le croix in the hotel of the same name. just my two cents.

                1 Reply
                1. re: SiksElement

                  check that. its at the rittenhouse hotel

                2. too bad Hooter's isn't around anymore...

                  oh I jest...I second rocknroll52 re: Monk's.
                  James could also be really nice...

                  1. Although I like the atmosphere at Morimoto - I feel the inventiveness of the dishes has slowed in recent years. If you are truly in the mood to throw your palate to the chef, got to Chifa and get the tasting menu - hands down one of the most satisfying experiences I have had in a long time...wear loose clothing...
                    How are your options for Mexican food? If limited, do not leav the city without going to Las Cazeulas on Girard - BYOB, and authentic Mexican flavors - outstanding! For Indian, do not miss Tiffin - the Northern Liberties location is at 7th and Girard and fairly easy to get to.

                    And don't be a stranger - you're welcome ANYTIME. Philly loves ya'!

                    1. How about Lolita's on 13th and Sansom. It's BYOT so bring friends and of course the tequila.

                      1. Here are my recommendations. I tried to give you a variety of locations, cuisine, and ambiance:

                        Chifa . Grab a drink at Union Trust next door to see the space, go to Reading Terminal Market beforehand to see the best indoor market in the city (check closing times, believe the shut down at 6PM)

                        James. Grab a glass of wine at Supper beforehand. Whole Foods supermarket is across the street if you don't have one near you.

                        Monks. Grab Capogiro on 13th St. afterwards.

                        Matyson. Grab a drink at Parc beforehand. And/Or Tria.

                        The best beer store is by far the Foodery in Northern Liberties. Go there.

                        1. just wanted to throw out a general thanks so far!

                          I should have made mention of a few other things but i figured my post was getting pretty long as is. i will pretty much be solo and am a lightweight, so grabbing a drink before heading to a second locale is pretty much a no no for me. i am making the conscious decision to do double dinners though..... on the alcohol front again, i'm more interested in american microbrews. most of the belgians at monks i've had and i get the feeling i've been there already.

                          i also will only be able to get out onto the town at 7pm earliest and so am a bit limited by this. my hotel/work location is university city.

                          so here are my thoughts thus far:

                          morimoto night - is a must for this trip... options
                          1. subway paesano's for roast pork sandwich -> walk las cazuelas possibly (is there anything in particular that's excellent here?) -> walk to foodery in northern liberties if haven't gone to the smaller one -> cab to morimoto
                          OR 2. subway morimoto -> walk chifa (any particular suggestions for chifa?) -> walk capogiro

                          little fish night - subway little fish -> walk jim's steaks -> walk small foodery (10th and pine) -> walk capogiro

                          done work at 5 or 6 - walk distrito -> subway trader joe's -> walk to matyson -> walk to capogiro

                          final path - subway oyster house (fried oysters and chicken salad?) -> walk le bec fin -> walk to capogiro (could swap in trader joe's here as well)

                          i'm considering making a detour near jim's for los taquitos de puebla... but university city has honest thom's and tacos don memo, thoughts? i can rework my paths to include this. it would also help to know which restos are the most filling between little fish, matyson and le bec fin.

                          can i get the larger foodery to send items to the smaller foodery so it's easier for me to pick up?

                          also... can i walk as much as i want to walk? is it safe? i ask because i'm surrounded by new jersey people at work who seem afraid of the city though i haven't had an issue walking on my own so far.

                          do i need to be concerned about dress codes at any of these places?

                          edited: removed morimoto option 1 because it was redundant with bec fin night

                          20 Replies
                          1. re: pinstripeprincess

                            still looking for a bit of assistance between choosing the different options/paths i've picked and if it's possible to eat as much as i want with virtually two meals a night at places like little fish and matyson.

                            1. re: pinstripeprincess

                              Most of the walking can be done. Some of it seems like it may be a tad far for some people (like Italian Market to Jim's Cheese Steak to 10th and Pine)....especially if you are doing it all after work. On a Saturday afternoon I would say it is not that far (especially if it is not oppressively sunny as there is not a whole lot of shade). However, it always seems like the most interminable distances are between 22nd and West of the Train Station to University city - probably because there is nothing much out there to look at and the blocks seem longer.

                              As for the whole area around Girard and 5th you should be OK (although I am not so sure I would walk there from Center City at night).

                              1. re: jcmods

                                You'll be fine going to Girard ave at night, just don't head north of Callowhill until 5th street and ideally take 2nd or 3rd, same coming south. Just remember Paesano's is only open Tues - Sun and only until 7pm!

                              2. re: pinstripeprincess

                                I could not (myself) even consider eating as much food as you have planned to eat! How do you stay so lightweight? Not sure you can eat all you think that you can, but have fun trying! You may end up ditching those plans to eat dessert at Capogiro...Matyson has great desserts, and Le Bec Fin has an unlimited dessert cart.

                                A few remarks on safety and public transportation. Philadelphia is generally safe but since you are a woman alone you need to be careful, especially at night. Stay on streets where you see people. Stay away from any bands of teenagers that you see, especially if you take the subway. I am not a big fan of the Philadelphia subways and prefer to ride on the surface when possible. There is simple and safe bus route to get to center city from university city and back. The #21 bus goes east on Chestnut St. and west on Walnut St. Refer to www.septa.com for a handy trip planner and information on fares and passes. Your best deal is probably to buy a handful of tokens, which are good on both buses and subways.

                                1. re: rocknroll52

                                  thanks so much! i've done a bit of walking through philadelphia on my own but it's usually reasonably busy (rittenhouse square area) and i think the emptiest it's been was probably my walk over to morimoto.

                                  i'm just a lightweight with drinking! nothing else...

                                  1. re: pinstripeprincess

                                    Yes, the Rittenhouse Square area is generally very safe and busy; but some areas you may be walking through can get desolate at night especially on weekdays. Just be careful. I'm originally from Manhattan, and consider myself street smart, but be aware that Philadelphia as a city tends to roll up the sidewalks at night and it is not a great feeling walking around alone, depending on where you are.

                              3. re: pinstripeprincess

                                there's not a great subway to Little Fish. You can take the bus south on 8th street, or grab a cab. It's a really cute neighborhood if you're up for the walk.

                                1. re: pinstripeprincess

                                  It doesn't sound like you'll make it to Paesano's. If you have an hour for lunch, you could take the Subway from West Philly to 13th St and hit DiNic's in Reading Terminal for a Roast Pork. That ride is 5 minutes or less from 34th St Station (once you get on the train). I love Paesano's but IMO the Roast Pork is not better at one or the other (the other sandwiches at Paesano's are another story).

                                  Personally I would ditch the whole Northern Liberties/Gerard Ave part of your trip; nothing you mention besides Paesano's is worth the hassle. The Foodery in NoLibs is bigger than the one at 10th & Pine but the selection at both is excellent, Pine is just kind of cramped. I haven't been to Las Cazuelas but I know that it is not on the level of the other places you are talking about. However two places in that area are worth a trip: Modo Mio (Italian BYO) and Standard Tap (which you said you've been to).

                                  Los Taquitos de Puebla is worth going to to check out the Tacos Al Pastor if it is convenient. Honest Tom's is doing funky things during the summer so you'll need to check into their location... they have a Twitter account that you can look at. I don't know the other taco place you mentioned.

                                  1. re: barryg

                                    thanks barryg, that is super helpful.

                                    i've had the roast pork at dinic's and it was nice but not something that i want to go out of the way for. if paesano's isn't all that different then it sounds like it's not worth the rather large detour.

                                    i think i may go with my option of pairing morimoto with chifa then!

                                    really appreciate it, thanks!

                                    1. re: pinstripeprincess

                                      The roast pork at Paesano's is VERY DIFFERENT from DiNic's, etc. but their hours may be difficult for you. I get Roast Pork about 2x a year from DiNics (I live nearby) but having had Paesano's I am craving it much more regularly. The pork tastes almost as if it is a confit it is so very soft and tender...oh great, now my lunch will likely stay in the bag and I'll be off to Paesano's...thanks pinstripe!

                                      1. re: Bigley9

                                        well damn... now that's exactly what i was imagining in my head that this paesano's sandwich would be like... meltingly delicious pork. now i have to detour!

                                        they close at 7pm so i'll probably make this one of my earlier nights and give them a call beforehand to make sure they're open and can give me a sandwich. i will go here first on my path! hopefully the stars align.

                                  2. re: pinstripeprincess

                                    looks like i may have to cut one of these nights... any thoughts on which one is the least interesting?

                                    really it's between morimoto/paesanos, littlefish/jim's steaks, distrito/matyson or oyster house/le bec fin.

                                    1. re: pinstripeprincess

                                      Out of those, I'd cut little fish/jim's. Although not a cheese steak, you'll get a way better sandwich at paesano's than jim's. Little Fish is good, but not as unique to Philly and/or special as the others.

                                      1. re: Hungryin theBurbs

                                        thanks, that's exactly what i was looking for. somehow i felt that was the one that might end up being cut.

                                        btw, does anyone have any suggestions as to what should be had at the oyster house? i gather it seems fried oysters and chicken salad would be the thing?

                                          1. re: barryg

                                            Since you're in UCity, have you considered Marigold Kitchen?

                                            1. re: Boognish

                                              i had thought of it on prior trips but it didn't make the cut this go round because i thought i'd focus on the restaurants that always get mentioned but that i've never been to.

                                              if i were to choose it though, which resto would it replace (i'm assuming matyson would make the most sense) and why?

                                              1. re: pinstripeprincess

                                                Don't cut out Matyson.
                                                I would cut out Little Fish/Jim's and also the Oyster House. Of course, if you don't get oysters where you live and you crave them, then go.
                                                I understand that they are in the process of changing the menu/concept at Marigold Kitchen. Chef moving elsewhere soon.
                                                We loved Bibou (read reviews) but being in Canada, you probably get great French food. We liked our dinner there even better than the one at Le Bec Fin. In addition to the wonderful food, it has charm.
                                                Love LaCroix at the Rittenhouse for upscale.

                                                1. re: sylviag

                                                  i doubt i'd be cutting out matyson, but it seems like the most fitting replacement should i go with marigold which i'm not really finding much reason to go to right now.

                                                  curious about bibou... how is the service? i expect that le bec fin would be an all around great restaurant from food to service and more of an experience in that sense. one of the classics of the philadelphia dining scene.

                                                  1. re: pinstripeprincess

                                                    Service at Bibou is outstanding, gets mentioned over and over again on this board. Polished, yet warm, not at all pretensious.