2 Nights in Philly - For Dinner?
We are a family of five including a grandma and two "adventurous" young boys ages 8 and 9. We are staying downtown and have a car and are considering a number of restaurants for dinner.
The wife likes the looks of Jose Garces' restaurants, particularly Amada which I think fits into our greats interests.
Zahav looks interesting (High end Israeli?) but I'm not sold on it. We really, really go for asian and were thinking about Morimoto but my mom won't appreciate or eat sushi. We don't go for Italian really. Looked at Koo Zee Doo but we had not the best meal at a high end Portugese place in Toronto. We are not big on Greek (Kanella). Nouveau American cusine is great as long as its preogressive and interesting. Anything else out there that is interesting, fun, perhaps asian (but not necessary). We like big flavors and a lively atmosphere. Thanks in advance for your recommendations.
Amada is great - you can't go wrong. Zahav is also delicious and a good value. As far as Garces goes, Tinto has a very similar format and style. After those two, his restaurants fall off (in my opinion).
I would take a look at Kanella's menu. It is an amazing restaurant and one of the 2 or 3 best BYOBs in the city. It's not cookie-cutter Greek. Instead, it's very carefully thought out Mediterranean that is really unique. My other favorite BYOB is Bibou (spectacular stuffed pigs foot). It has deservedly gotten a lot of hype. A notch under those two but also excellent I would put Matyson and Pumpkin, both very good restaurants that probably qualify as nouveau american.
Although you don't generally go for Italian, I think Vetri deserves a mention here. His restaurants are definitely not red sauce joints (although I have nothing against red sauce joints). Of his three restaurants, I'd recommend taking a look at the menu at Amis. I haven't had anything there that misses. It might be my favorite restaurant in the city. Osteria is also great - when I have gone I have stuck to the ridiculously good pizzas, pastas, and antipasto, because I have heard the mains can be uneven. Lastly, Vetri is also amazing, but truly a special occasion restaurant and at a very high price point.
Philly is just not a great city for sushi or Japanese. I am sure that Morimoto's omakase would do the trick, but I think that Philly has a lot to offer that is unique, and if you went up to New York you would have at least half a dozen better Japanese options.
In general, Philly does not have a lot to offer in terms of inventive, high-end Asian. Chinatown has some good restaurants with interesting regional specialties. There are some pretty decent Vietnamese noodle shops. In odd corners of the city there are mom and pop Indonesian and Korean restaurants that are supposed to be good. But all of these fall under the cheap eats category which it doesn't sound like you are looking for.
For interesting and delicious asian, I recommend Rangoon, a Burmese restaurant in Chinatown. The cuising is something of a blend of Thai, Indian and Chinese, but really quite unique. Everyone I have ever taken there loves it, and it is my 9 year-old's favorite restaurant. The atmosphere isn't really "fun," but it is pleasant.
For big flavors and a lively atmosphere, I'd recommend Distrito, another Garces restaurant. It is definitely more "fun" than even Amada, with great decor. It always has something of a party feel there. The food is fantastic if you like Mexican flavors. I was just at Rick Bayless' restaurant in Chicago and ended up thinking I like Distrito better.
Amada and Zahav are both great, with your "big flavors and lively atmosphere" qualification, I'd go with those two places and not think twice about it. Zahav is my favorite restaurant in the city.
The best Asian in the city is the Szechuan Chinese at Han Dynasty in Old City, the atmosphere leaves something to be desired though. Morimoto is OK but I've never been wowed there like some others have.