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Trip review - mostly spots around City Hall with a highlight on Bella Cena

Dennis S Nov 17, 2010 06:52 PM

Just got back from 3 nights in your fair town. My third ever trip and by far the longest. Stayed just south of City Hall and loved the area (and the people - for such rowdiness with sports fans it's a very friendly city).

Sunday night getting into town I had to stop at Tony Luke's. Had been shown this place on one of my trips before by a Philly native. Had the pork and broccoli rabe sandwich that time, so I did the cheesesteak whiz so that I could compare with at least one other place. It was solid, but I thought it lacked some punch (even after adding peppers at the condiment table).

Next morning walked around a few block radius and was impressed by all the offerings across the whole price spectrum. I love me some carts, so I picked one that smelled best out of a few and got breakfast. So good I went back each morning. It's at the corner of Sansom and Broad.

That day for lunch I picked the spot for our work group. I picked Jim's based on a lively cheesesteak convo between my friend who showed me TL's and a woman at the bar we were at on my last visit. Each gave respect to the other, but she swore by Jim's. Now after reading a whole thread on cheesesteak's, I wish I would've read it before and done Steve's as a comparison. Jim's looked like it was going to be great, but it was just meh. After a string of successes with the workgroup, I had to admit I had steered us wrong. It was just bland, even with wit, shrooms and peppers. Tony Luke's definitely won that battle.

That night my coworkers threw a baby shower for me at El Vez. Fun place for an event like that (8 of us were planned). I liked the guacs (we had the one with basil and the crab seasoning one) and most of the salsas, as well as the chips. I ended up with two entrees. I ordered the ahi tacos but they brought the mahi tacos. I had asked specific questions about the vinaigrette on the ahi and that jogged the server's memory (I had not considered the mahi - I was between the ahi and the pork). She (the server) was incredible all the way around, and brought out ahi and left me the mahi. The mahi wasn't bad, but the ahi didn't work for me. One coworker shared some of the three enchilada dish, and that was probably best to my palate. Fun place with great service and some decent things on the menu - if I lived or worked nearby I'd probably hit it occasionally for happy hour and slowly try a few things on the menu.

Next day for lunch I went to Su Xing on Sansom. Looked nicer inside than I had expected. I had planned on picking up a few things and letting my coworkers try some of it. So I got the steamed dumplings, the cold sesame noodles and some spicy cucumber. I've never had a bad spicy cucumber and this was not exception. The noodles had the sesame paste, which is the version of that dish that I do not like. The dumplings were okay, but nothing stellar. I think I would definitely try this place again. We have outstanding Sichuan here in the DC area and even the best places have misses (my all time second favorite Sichuan place does the same thing with the cold noodles so I just don't get that dish at that location).

That night we were planning on hitting Silk City based on a rec from a coworkers spouse. It was a long day so we collectively changed our minds to try something closer in. We considered the Happy Rooster, McGillins, Dark Horse, Sotto Varalli, Girasole and Bella Cena. The rest of the group was set for a different pub tonight (I came home a bit earlier than they), so the pubs came off the list. Sotto Varalli looked good, but so did Bella Cena and the price point was a little better and there was a sense that BC had class but was not as pretentious as SV might turn out to be (and again - being tired from work we wanted to relax).

Our waiter was good from the get go. I unfortunately forget the wine he suggested, but he gave good descriptions that were easy to respond to. It was a dry and dark red of a variety that I hadn't heard of before. To start, I got the scamorza in carozza. Wow. I loved this dish and devoured more than half before remembering to share (which we often do). For entree, I was between the veal veronica and the saltimbocca. I chose the former, which was a good dish. A little overpowered by the pickled vinegar based ingredients and so could've stood to be more balanced by a base ingredient, but overall it was good. Using the bread to soak up some of sauce on the nearly empty plate was a perfect balance. Again, we lucked out on service, and this guy (Christopher I believe) asked good questions to some of our questions, and like I mentioned, gave feedback that was easy to respond to.

Today upon leaving I hit the Reading Market quickly before scooting out of town. Nice market! After getting a few treats as gifts, I got a slice of pizza over by the big produce area and then a smoothie. Very good pizza, though they had some Italian deli sandwiches that looked incredible. It was only a few hours after breakfast and I had a drive in front of me so I didn't want to load down too much. I would've loved to have tried many other things throughout the market. One thing that caught my eye was the muffaletta at the cajun/creole stand. I have long standing issue that most muffalettas I've come across fail miserably yet I remain an optimist. In hindsight I wish I would've bought the half sandwich for when I got home (DC).

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Tony Luke's
625 Highway 33, Trenton, NJ 08619

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  1. NellyNel RE: Dennis S Nov 18, 2010 10:17 AM

    Hi - thats for your review. I amm hitting Philly soon, and will note it.

    One question though - regarding cold sesame noodles - I have only (as far as I know ever had it with sesame paste - So what is the other version you mention?
    Is it sometimes made with peanutbutter?

    I have had it before where it tasted like PB - but I assumed it was still made with SP

    4 Replies
    1. re: NellyNel
      Dennis S RE: NellyNel Nov 18, 2010 12:33 PM

      And I may be confusing two dishes that often show up with similar names. I'm referring to when only the chili-sesame oil is used, and not the paste. Whenever I see it listed as Chengdu noodles, it's (so far) only ever been the oil-only method. I'm fairly certain I've seen cold sesame noodles also refer to the oil-only method occasionally.

      This was one trip I took without consulting CH prior. On the note of Sichuan, it seems that there's a place called Han over in the old town area that seems to be favored on this board.

      I think there's a Spring-time trip in my future to further explore.

      1. re: Dennis S
        NellyNel RE: Dennis S Nov 18, 2010 12:46 PM

        Oh thanks for the clarification.

        I have only ever had "Cold Sesame Noodles" - which are made with a thick paste. Not oil only as you describe.

        Yeah, good food town...

        Happy travels!!

        1. re: Dennis S
          b
          barryg RE: Dennis S Nov 18, 2010 01:08 PM

          Is Su Xing really a legit Sichuan restaurant? I only ate there once but thought it was vegetarian American-Chinese food. Or am I thinking of a different place?

          1. re: barryg
            Dennis S RE: barryg Nov 18, 2010 04:02 PM

            I don't think it's a full Sichuan place, but one that has a good portion of Sichuan dishes. I would've preferred to have had some coworkers with me and go further into the menu. I was mainly trying to expand a few sights.

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