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Apr 1, 2010 09:39 AM

Center City dinner recs for a large, mixed group?

I went to school in Philly but haven't been there in years, so hoping for some help in planning dinner with colleagues for an upcoming conference.

I'm looking for a place in Center City that can accommodate a group of about 12 with good (preferably great) food, fun (not too formal) atmosphere in the $20-30/entree price range. No BYOs.

We've got a group of about 10-12, so the menu can't be too exotic. We're staying at the Marriott (12th & Market). The conference is in May, so I have time to secure a ressie for a popular spot. Will any of the Jose Garces restaurants work for us?

I realize this may be a tall order so I'm hoping fellow hounds can come through!


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  1. For me, here's the thing about Garces restaurants for a group that big.

    Since mostly everything is small plates, is everyone willing to share? If not, then the plates come out in a pretty random order, so some people will be eating while others will be waiting for food.

    And on the other side, if everyone is willing to share, then you get maybe a bite or two of a dish (even less if the dish is on the small side) so it's hard to really "taste" the dish.

    I guess I haven't really answered your question, but that's my take on if the Garces restaurants will work for you.

    Also, depending on when you are coming in May, you might want to work on your reservation now. If you are coming during college graduation week, reservations will be tough everywhere.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Philly Ray

      Thanks @Philly Ray. I had that same thought about the sharing aspect of Garces restaurants and our large group after I posted. So I agree that tapas/small plates with a isn't a good plan for the group meal. I do plan to hit one of them later in the week though (with a small group).

      This dinner will be on May 10 (a Monday). Grad week appears to be the following week. But point taken so I will try to secure that reservation as soon as possible.

      1. re: Philly Ray

        If you do the tasting menu at any of the Garces places, they will make sure there is a good taste for everyone at the table (often bringing out two or more plates of each dish). Or if one person has an allergy, they will handle that, too. But the tasting menus start at $45, so that is probably too expensive. At any rate, the tasting menus are the only way to go at places like Amada with a group; otherwise it is just too hard to order.

      2. I always find Beau Monde a good place to take a group - it is at 6th and Bainbridge, so about a mile from the Marriott. It is a creperie and you can choose all your components separately or order their standard combos. Right across the street on 6th is Bistrot La Minette. They have a side room that you could reserve ( another small group might be put in with you). Lovely French Bisto vibe. Fork on Market between 3rd and 4th is another good option. New chef about a year ago, did great things with the menu, don't let older reviews influence you.

        10 Replies
        1. re: Bigley9

          @Bigley9: Thanks! But it looks like Beau Monde is closed on Mondays, so that isn't an option. I do like the idea of taking the group to South Street area - fun place to hang out after dinner (and out-of-towners always seem to head to South Street).

          Bistrot La Minette looks like a place I'd really enjoy and while the menu is not intimidating to me, I'm afraid that the concept of French cuisine might scare away a few people. Any American/Continental recs with a laid-back, casual-ish atmosphere? A great, slightly upscale gastropub would also be an option for this group.

          Fork looks like a possibility so I will put it on the list.

          1. re: bdegregory

            Missed the Monday info. Fork is good and you are in Old City which has a nice fun vibe. Maybe Northern liberties area - North Third is an option, they could accomodate your group and it's about 1 1/4 miles from the hotel.
            I'd search this board for gastropubs (and maybe the Pennsylvania board too) for ideas there.

            1. re: Bigley9

              Although I have not been yet and have never been to his prior restaurant, Ladder 15 is a pub type place(well,maybe more of a pub) and new chef is David Ansill.......chowhounds loved his food and menu now reflects some of it so it sounds like some of it is straightforward americanpub and some more adventurous offerings.
              Tequila's is a decent mexican place with nice atmosphere but have not been for some time and not sure of price-------Pub and Kitchen a bit further but have a back room that holds bigger groups. I'm sure i'm missing plenty but know there are plenty more CH's that will help out.

              1. re: bonappetite

                Ladder 15 isn't really set up for a group of 12, I didn't explore the whole place but when I was there it was mostly empty floor space with booths lining the periphery. It's mainly a bar scene there, I guess standing room is more valuable than sitting room. Plus, if Bistrot La Minette's food is going to scare some of this group, David Ansill's food will have them running for the hills.

                Pub and Kitchen is a good suggestion, I believe they recently added more seating in the upstairs part, and I also believe they take reservations for large groups like this one.

                1. re: Buckethead

                  Thanks all for the additional recs!

                  @Bigley9: North Third's website intro is pretty amusing. It looks great but judging from the website/server attire- I'm guessing there's a bit of a racy vibe going on there? Not sure if it works for my group especially since it includes clients...

                  @bonappetite and @Buckethead: I want to check out Ladder 15 but probably won't take the big group there. The Pub and Kitchen website is kinda spare. Can you tell me a little about it?

                  Also- I was checking out the Osteria website and based on other threads here it looks like it may be an option. Any thoughts?

                  1. re: bdegregory

                    Osteria does have a separate back room. I'm not sure how many people you need to book it, but it might be worth asking. Oh, and the food is very good too!

                    1. re: Philly Ray

                      Yes, of everything mentioned....Osteria is most excellent. I see what Bigley is saying about Ladder 15 but there is a upstairs and i thought more tables but have never been up there.
                      Pub and Kitchen is a redone restaurant, casual but nice. Have been for lunch, not dinner, but it's a long bar area with small tables along windows, up a couple of steps to dining area with tables and then to the left behind that is a room where a large party came from last time i was there. And there is the upstairs------
                      Actually, just thought of another great place, it's on Front to left of Market(btw Market and Arch). Ristorante Panorama----they have fancy dining area and a more casual bar and eating area, brick walls, warm wood, went to a friends b-day celebration years ago and they set up a table in the bar area for probably at least 15-------------excellent food, flights of of the bet meals i've had with a large group, did not differ from a regular night with small group. Awesome gnocchi. Let us know where you end up and how it is!

                    2. re: bdegregory

                      Pub & Kitchen is basically an upscale gastropub. Used to be a grungy but chill Grad Hospital neighborhood hangout, now it's booming mostly with Rittenhouse area spillover traffic (and Rittenhouse prices to boot). I have a love/eh relationship with it...lovely job remodeling and the food is certainly a huge step up from what it used to be, but it leaves me strangely cold. I don't know. I think you have to be part of their "in" crowd to get treated well at the bar and stuff like that.

                      Anyway, here's a recent and fairly typical menu:


                      I will say the burger is really great...what usually lures me there every so often because I get insane cravings for it.

              2. re: bdegregory

                monday is a slightly tricky night for restaurant dining in philly. chinatown is almost universally open and most places sell booze.

                if you are interested in the south street area, a new-ish german restaurant opened there last year - brauhaus schmidtz. i've only been there once but i very much enjoyed it. the menu (obviously) leans heavily towards meat though. they take ressies for large parties.

                bistrot la minette is a byo i think.

                1. re: mazza3

                  Bistrot La Minette has a full bar.

            2. Bar Ferdinand is perfect. They have a side room that is used for larger parties, although they do some small seating there as well.

              On Monday nights the wines are half price. The food mostly tapas and fun for sharing or not as people prefer. Tapas also lend a fun casual atmosphere and there isn't the pressure to deliver everything at once.

              1. So here's my summary of the recs so far:

                § Fork -- Americanized bistro fare. Casual but upscale setting. In Old City which is a cool area (but 10 blocks from hotel).

                § Osteria -- New Italian/pizza. Best of the lot for food. We’d have a private room and choose a menu to be served family style. About 10 blocks from the hotel.

                § Ladder 15 -- Upscale but casual ‘gastropub’. Easy walk to hotel. They have a large area for 100+ person groups but said they are not busy on Mondays and can reserve space for us in the front near windows. Chef is well known and liked in Philly.

                § Bar Ferdinand -- Excellent tapas. Swanky looking atmosphere. Monday happy hour ½ price specials for beer, wine and sangria. Groups can order from multi course prix fix menus (they have a $30, $40, and $50 dollar prix fix menus to choose from). A bit of a hike from the hotel. Definitely a cab ride.

                § Bistrot la Minette -- French bistro. Upscale atmosphere but casual. French food may intimidate clients. They have a separate room for family style dinners for groups up to 20. In South Street area. Too far to walk to hotel- would have to cab it.

                So we are leaning towards Ladder 15 mainly because it is a short walk to the hotel (@ 13th & Market) and because it will be low key/not crowded on a Monday around 6pm, relaxed atmosphere for bonding with clients and good food.

                Please weigh in on this choice. I don't usually rely on Yelp for reviews, but the Yelpers out there really aren't high on Ladder 15 in general. Would it be worth the cab ride to go to one of the other options? Thanks in advance!

                3 Replies
                1. re: bdegregory

                  Ladder 15 is definitely not an "upscale but casual ‘gastropub’." They're trying to rehab their image, and I love David Ansill's food, but the atmosphere there is probably not right for this. There are big-screen TVs in the bar, for example, they'd be on and may interfere with conversation if you're sitting in the front window area. It's still a hangout for d-bags, though there won't be so many of them on a Monday it doesn't take many to make the whole experience suck. Also, it's a bit further than you think, it's actually on the 1500 block of Sansom, just under half a mile from your hotel. I'm pretty sure you'll love the food, but the atmosphere may not be what you're looking for.

                  Of the places you list, and if walkability is the main criteria (which you mentioned), I'd pick Fork. It's 9 blocks away but they're short blocks, it's under a mile away (0.8 miles vs. 0.4 to Ladder 15) and it's a pleasant walk. The food is great and the atmosphere is quiet enough that a group of 12 will be able to talk to each other. Bistrot La Minette is the only one I'd recommend not going to, I've never been especially impressed with the food there, especially for the prices.

                  1. re: Buckethead

                    Thanks @buckethead. So if we threw out the "walkable" preference and assume a cab ride, what would be your top pick? Ages of the group are mid 30s to 50ish in case that is a factor (I didn't mention it above).

                    1. re: Buckethead

                      absolutely agree with buckethead! if you want an "upscale gastropub" I would not recommend Ladder 15. I would go with Pub & Kitchen.

                      From your list, I'd go with Osteria. It's a quick cab ride from your hotel. And, not a terrible walk if anyone feels they need to walk off their dinner.

                      Also, Osteria is probably a reservation that one of your guests would have trouble getting on another night during their stay. They could pop in to Ladder 15 when ever they wanted to. If they wanted to.

                  2. FYI- We've booked our big group dinner at Fork and a smaller more informal group at Amada the night before. Fork was very accommodating to our group's particular needs. Really looking forward to it. I'll report back. Thanks all for the recs.

                    Now to figure out where to dine for the rest of the week when I won't have to worry about the large group...

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: bdegregory

                      Just wanted to report back on our experience at Fork. It was FABULOUS. The chef/owner was really flexible to work with and put together a great meal within our modest budget. The space was just amazing and was the perfect setting for our group of 18 people. Everyone unaimously loved it. The meal, service, and ambiance was impeccible! Thanks @Bigley9 for the recommendation.

                      As a side note, we also had a meal at Amada the night before with 8 people and it was also a smashing success. We ordered the chefs tasting menu which is definitely the way to go with a large group. They were very accommodating to special dietary considerations and even brought out an extra plate here and there for the vegetarian at our table.

                      1. re: bdegregory

                        Glad it was a hit! Thanks for the report back