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Jan 20, 2010 06:02 PM

Sampan (Phila)

Anyone been yet? I'm going on Friday; seen the bahn mi praised but don't see myself ordering that for dinner. Looking for opinion and suggestions, thanks.

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  1. I tried it and wasn't crazy about it. I had one really good dish there, the Korean Rice Cakes. Everything else was underwhelming, including the banh mi, which costs three times as much and is not as good as a banh mi from, say, Cafe Nhu Y or even O Sandwiches. I realize that Sampan is using Berkshire pork in theirs and Cafe Nhu Y is most likely *not*, but if the flavor isn't there, it doesn't matter that much one way or the other. It may be partly due to high expectations, I was looking forward to this place opening and it's not nearly as good as I was hoping. Nothing I had was *bad*, but apart from the rice cakes, I didn't have anything I'd go back there to eat. It's also much more expensive than most other places that do this type of food (and do it better), though most of those places are definitely not upscale like Sampan is supposed to be.

    Anyway, if you have a choice, you may want to try to go somewhere else, like Rangoon or Cafe de Laos or Vietnam or something, you'll spend less and have a more delicious (and authentic) meal. But if you're definitely going, I'd get the korean rice cakes, they were great. Oh, and dessert was excellent, too.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Buckethead

      Thanks, buckethead. I am definitely going (looking for more upscale and its a group thing).

      What else did you get that was particularly underwhelming? I will try to avoid those items, so at the very least I can flesh out this thread with more hits/misses.

      1. re: barryg

        I wasn't a fan of the chicken wings, the menu described them as Thai chicken wings but I couldn't detect much in the way of Asian flavors going on. Another dish that I liked and would recommend (not as much as the rice cakes) was the lobster roll. Let us know what you find out.

        1. re: Buckethead

          Had a nice dinner here on Friday. Got to try a handful of items: Banh Mi, Kobe Papaya salad, Lamb Satay, Chicken Samosa, Korean Rice Cakes, and peanut butter cup creation for dessert.

          Rice cakes, as you mentioned were excellent; easily the best dish of the night. Even those who claimed to not like kim chi enjoyed it. Chicken Samosa was tasty if unexciting. Lamb Satay was really more like petite grilled lamb chops and were very good.

          Banh Mi was just like you said, good but no improvement over the Washington Ave spots. In fact, the pork belly was very tough and chewy, actually a downgrade from the fast food versions. They wouldn't tell me where the baguette was from besides "Washington Street" (server's words) but I suspect it was Ba Le; good, but why not upgrade it? Kobe Beef Papaya Salad was similar; flavor was on point but the kobe beef didn't really add anything from the versions I've had at other Vietnamese Restaurants.

          The peanut butter cup dessert was pretty great. Dark chocolate cups filled with peanut butter mascarpone topped with a vanilla non-dairy ice cream which had a marshmellow-y texture. The cups were not very sweet, but served with peanuts in a sweet syrup, allowing us to adjust sweetness to our tastes. Very well executed and creative.

          I enjoyed the cocktails, especially the giant Scorpion Bowl, which was fun to share with the table.

          Overall a fun place to go and start off a night out; I would go back with a group but in no hurry to go back just for the food.

    2. I went for a happy hour a couple of weeks ago. Just shared a couple of dishes, but really enjoyed the brussel sprouts and the frogs legs. The frogs legs were done in the style of wings with a creamy sriracha dressing, which was really tasty. We also had some kind of chicken on a stick, which was, you know, fine, for chicken on a stick.

      I had a couple of the blood orange drinks, maybe they call them "martinis" and remarkably they weren't sickeningly sweet like specialty cocktails can be.

      Some of the small plates are reasonably priced, but I could see it really adding up for dinner.

      Mostly my impression is that the interior of the place is a little odd. It's really dark, except for the glowing wall panels, which seemed really cool in concept. Unfortunately if you are facing them, everyone facing you is entirely backlit and difficult to see, so I found myself squinting through the meal. Service was good, if a little inexperienced.

      If I went back, I might try the bar area in the center for a drink a few snacks.

      1. We had dinner here tonight before going to the Forrest theater and grazed through a lot of the menu. Lots of very good dishes and a couple just ok's. We shared the following:

        Shrimp noodle salad - just OK, four butterflied shrimp, lots of noodles, radish and pickled onion.
        Octopus spinach salad - very good, grilled and chilled octopus sections with fresh spinach and a tangy mustard sauce.
        Kobe Carpaccio - very good, melt in your mouth beef, taro chips.
        Soft shell crab special - excellent, a huge soft shell lightly coated and sauteed.
        Edamame dumplings - excellent, five large dumplings with a lot of truffle essence.
        Chicken satay - just OK, chicken on a stick with a peanut buttery sauce.
        Lamb satay - excellent, two small lamb chops perfectly grilled.
        Wonton taco - excellent, three shrimp filled mini tacos
        Philly cheese steak - very good, four bao bun slices with shredded steak, shallots and cheese stacked on top.

        Along the way we had a martini and four glasses of wine. Split for three people including tip was $66 per person. A lot of food, we were stuffed and great service!

        1. Five of us had an early dinner at Sampan last night - a convenient place after the Forrest Theater, and it will be convenient for anyplace on Broad Street.

          We all enjoyed it very much. Sleek, modern atmosphere but comfortable.
          We shared many dishes, including a salad with mushrooms, crab roll (excellent), dumplings (very good), Korean ribs (big hit), rice cake dish (delicious), shrimp pad thai (another big hit), brocolli, and my very favorite, grilled Brussel sprouts.

          Or course food will be less expensive on Washington Avenue, but everything was well prepared, served in a classy way, and quite good.

          Our only disappointment was dessert. They didn't have the peanut butter/choc thing, and we tried a grilled pineapple pie - small chunks of pineapple that were too sweet, very little pie.

          Our bill for the five of us was $165 including tax and tip. Only three drinks.

          We would definitely return.

          1. I recently re-visited Sampan and it was much better than my first visits when they first opened. The one great dish I had there the first time, the Korean Rice Cakes, is still on the menu but under a different name now, "noodles and sausage" or something like that. We had maybe 6 dishes and there were a couple not so great ones in there but the rest were all interesting and good. I especially liked the edamame dumplings (which I had the first time I was there but they are much better now).