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Weekend in Philly--yeah, I've read all the prior threads on the subject

We've got a upcoming weekend in Center City and, after reading several very helpful recent threads on this board, I've narrowed down my choices. Would like some Philly hounds to help me finalize my list.

Here are the "rules"
--two lunches and two dinners
--Saturday night dinner should be "special"
--we do not eat meat, but eat fish and all seafood
--would like at least one "ethnic" choice
--we like good wine (not necessarily expensive, however)
--should be walking distance from Center City
--total food tab for four meals: $600 or less

So, I've decided to try one Garces joint (ie, Garces Trading Co., Chifa or Amada), Zahav sounds like a great joint (so, do we do lunch or dinner?), have eaten at Lacroix in the past (loved it, but that was in the days of Monsieur Lacroix...can two have dinner and wine for under $200 and is it still worth it?).

I'm open to other suggestions and appreciate native Philadelphians input.

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  1. If you're into fusion, you might as well hit Morimoto. It's not that far from Centre City and the ambiance is pretty nice. If you're not into fusion, like myself, you can always ask the sushi chef to make your sushi or sashimi Japanese style. While I wasn't a big fan of their sauces, I thought their fish was very fresh and could stand on its own.

    1. Zahav closed for lunch, makes your choice easier. Lacroix brunch has all wines at half-off. That should make that choice easier as well.

      6 Replies
      1. re: Delucacheesemonger

        @bigmackdaddy: Considered Morimoto, but we have so many good omakase joints here in NYC that I wanted to try somewhere else. Would you say Morimoto is unique enough for me to change my thinking?

        @delucacheesemonger: Thinking about Zahav for Friday dinner. They have a $36 prix-fixe that looks good. Any opinions? We're not brunch people..and the hotel we're staying in has a nice breakfast.

        1. re: famdoc

          No, not really. I didn't know you were from NYC. I went their only because I heard so much about it, being the flagship. Like I said, the fish is of good quality and tastes excellent without all the fusion schmutz,, but if you've been to Yasuda or Sasabune then there's no need to do Morimoto. There is a Moroccan restaurant which I thought was excellent. I don't remember the name, but I will ask my friends if they do and let you know.

          1. re: bigmackdaddy

            It's called the Sahara Grill. It's on 1334 Walnut Street, not that far at all from City Centre. The only problem is, while the food is delicious, the only, menu items outside of red meat is chicken and vegetarian. But like I say, the food is pretty good.

            1. re: bigmackdaddy

              just as an fyi - sahara grill is lebanese, not moroccan. but i agree that it is really good, verging on excellent.

              1. re: coookie

                Sahara Grill is one of my favorites. (I didn't realize it was Lebanese-- thanks coookie!) Their hummus is absolutely the best I've ever had. No, really, I mean that. Also their falafel is quite amazing as well.

          2. re: famdoc

            The $36 prix fixe is the best way to eat at Zahav. Some people will recommend the slightly more expensive tasting menu, the Mesibah, which includes a lamb shoulder as the main course, but you don't get to try as many things that way. The $36 one gives you the biggest variety.

        2. are you looking for all meals to be upscale? because if not: han dynasty, han dynasty, han dynasty.

          also, i prefer kanella to zahav.

          edit: i missed the center city restriction. han dynasty is in old city, but it's worth breaking the rules!

          further edits: of the three garces places you listed, i think garces trading co is the most interesting.

          1. Couple suggestions.

            Consider fish. for a nicer dinner, or maybe happy hour (great oyster variety on buck-a-shuck).
            Maybe Meritage for a nightcap/midnight snack, they have a large and nicely priced wine list and interesting small plates.

            For an ethnic lunch there are many options in Chinatown, but being from NYC probably Rangoon, Burmese food, would be the most interesting. But I'm not sure if they offer the full menu at lunch, I'd check into that. Argan, a little Moroccan place, might be good too. There are exceptions, but outside of Chinatown many of better/more authentic ethnic places are not in CC.

            1. Okay. So I've reserved Friday evening @ Zahav. Fringe benefit: restaurant week menu still in effect. 5 courses for $35, nice wine match for $24 per person more.

              Saturday evening will be a Garces joint. Help me choose. Which is the most elegant? What are the differences among them.

              Next challenge: lunches. Maybe Moroccan or Burmese one day. Keep the helpful suggestions coming.

              10 Replies
              1. re: famdoc

                FamDoc, great to see you on this board. If you are going for dinner, I would choose Amada over Chifa, and Garces Trading company a distant third. Amada is going to offer you much more a variety of dishes for an vegetarian fish eater. You will have great cheeses to choose from, grilled fish, and other small tapas dishes. Amada has a lobster paella that is wonderful,

                Chifa is a hard to describe. It is based on the fusion of south american and chinese/Asian flavors that has arisen in Peru. There are a few dishes you would enjoy there but personally I believe its strongest dishes are some of the ones with meat. Choose Chifa though if you really want some fabulous ceviche.

                Garces Trading Company to me at least feels more like a market/ high end Dean and Deluca where you can take out or eat there. It is the most casual of the three.

                Personally I would strongly suggest you try to get a reservation at Fish.. one of the newer restaurants around here and will be guaranteed to provide you with lots of choices. I personally love the skate with the truffled spaetzel that they often serve.

                1. re: cwdonald

                  Wow, you guys are great. In just a few hours, our plans are becoming solid.
                  Amada is fully booked for Saturday, so we booked Chifa. I really like what I'm reading about it and the Peruvian-Chinese fusion is unique and certainly not available here in NYC.

                  I booked an early dinner at Fish for Sunday night (we're headed back to NYC on a 9 PM Acela).
                  They appear to feature a different menu on Sundays: a small plate menu.
                  The choices on that menu do not appear on their web site, so I'll hope one of you hounds have experienced it and can tell me a bit about it and the cost.

                  We're going to keep lunch open: it's going to depend upon our daytime activities (galleries, museums, hoofing it if the weather permits), but I like Burmese, Chinatown or Moroccan.

                  1. re: famdoc

                    Fish used to do a prix fixe on Sundays but that is no longer the case. I think it's the same menu every night now.

                    1. re: famdoc

                      For Burmese lunch, go to Rangoon in Chinatown. Everyone I've ever taken there loves it. Banana Leaf is very good Malaysian. Both places are very casual.

                      You could also think about Garces Trading Company for lunch. It's casual, bustling atmosphere is perfect for a lunch, and the food is good.

                    2. re: cwdonald

                      I really would not call what Garces is doing at Chifa "fusion" in any way. He does straight up Chinese (Pork Belly Buns) or Peruvian (Cerviche). What category does Yuca Fries fall into? While I enjoyed my one experience there I did not see any fusion going on. Also he has dishes with the words Thai, Vietnamese or Wasabi in them.

                      1. re: scoopG

                        Well Chifa is the name for the type of cuisine found in Peru, (supposedly CHI FA is from mandarin and translates as eat rice.) Its less about fusing flavors than serving both latin and asian dishes at the same meal.

                        I will say the menu that I saw online looked different than the one that I saw when Chifa first open, and the thai and vietnamese dishes definitely seem like the kitchen is improvising to produce new dishes. So I would question the authenticity of those dishes, but the idea of chifa is real at the Garces restaurant.

                        1. re: cwdonald

                          I am aware of the wide popularity of Chifa restaurants all over Peru. (I think the Peruvian government went to some lengths recently to declare them a national treasure, or something along those lines.) But I don't think what Garces is doing at Chifa is "fusion." His pork belly buns (while delicious) have no Peruvian influence. I don't recall seeing any Chinese halo over his Peruvian dishes like Yuca Fries or cerviche. He may be calling it fusion but I wouldn't.

                    3. re: famdoc

                      Zahav will give you more food than you can ever eat at whatever price point you consider. Unlike the rest of this board do not like Rangoon for Burmese, but never was thrilled with Burmese when lived in Burma for a while. Still say Lacroix for Brunch Sunday. Han Dynasty is good took a bunch of Chow people there a few weeks ago, but compared to NYC or LA environs, not great. Agree Garces Trading Co is the most interesting. His chefs at most places have a very heavy hand with salt if this matters to you.

                      1. re: famdoc

                        I would choose either Amada or Tinto, they're comparable in terms of atmosphere (Amada is more festive, but both are very nice, I'd say Tinto is more elegant) and the food is just about as good at both places. Tinto's menu is more seafood-centric. I'm not a fan of Chifa, the ceviches are better at Distrito, Jose's 3rd restaurant.

                        For lunch, go to Han Dynasty.

                        1. re: famdoc

                          On Saturday or Sunday, I'd hit Kanella for lunch. It's technically "brunch" but they serve plenty of non-breakfast options.

                        2. The Original Turkey in the Reading Terminal Market makes excellent fresh turkey breast sandwiches. They'll even give the skin if you ask. I would stay away from Pearl's Oyster in the RTM, though. It ain't that grand. And like I stated before, the Sahara Grill is pretty good.

                          1. I saw the "rules" and it's not in Center City (just a short cab ride away), but I'm surprised no one brought up JG Domestic.

                            The skate wing at Fish is ridiculously good. Enjoy!

                            7 Replies
                            1. re: FattyFatMan

                              hope we can get the skate wing as part of the small plate dinner on sunday.
                              if anyone has been to fish on a sunday, would really like to know what the small plate dinner is about (and the cost).
                              thanks to all...we're set for 3 dinners and am relatively confident about where we'll head for lunch.

                              now, hope the weather is good so we can work off all those extra calories.
                              wish there were better theater in philly now, but i guess we'll do galleries, museums, etc.

                              1. re: famdoc

                                Is the small plate menu different than the 5 course tasting they used to offer?

                                1. re: famdoc

                                  I have never done the Sunday night dinner at Fish but have done it at Little Fish several times. BTW, I think I heard (now that Little Fish has reopened) the Sunday prix fixe is no longer going to be offered at Fish but will be back at Little Fish. Little Fish is a small, cozy byob. Stollenwerk's original place. I would call Little Fish immediately as they used to be booked for weeks in advance for this. The price is something like $35 for several courses. There are two seatings. You don't get to choose what you eat but it's always wonderful.
                                  746 S. 6th St
                                  Philadelphia, PA 19147
                                  (267) 455-0172

                                  1. re: famdoc

                                    I don't know what weekend you are visiting, but The Understudy at Wilma theater is very good, and David Mamet's Race is at Philadelphia Theater Company.

                                    1. re: famdoc

                                      There is a lot of decent theater in Philly but a lot of it is from smaller companies. Look at http://www.theatrealliance.org/ for a decent summary of the listings. Do make sure you hit the Mutter Museum: http://collegeofphysicians.org/Site/m...

                                      Back to the food, having tried the skate wing at Fish, I found it to be very good, but was not "blown away" by it... And I agree that Chifa shares little resemblence with other Peruvian places I have eaten at in the past (albeit they are not Peruvian "fusion")...

                                      1. re: bluehensfan

                                        for seafood/fish/ethnic, zama has amazing sushi. i love barbuzzo on 13th street--a fun vibe, and good, affordable food.

                                      2. re: famdoc

                                        Here's some info on the small plates thing on Sundays--this is new. Looks like you may not be able to get the skate, unfortunately.

                                    2. i dont know about their small plates deal, but i once ate at Fish with a friend and told them we were sharing the skate and they were nice enough to split the dish in two so that we weren't actually fighting and hovering over one plate.

                                      also if you want "ethnic" i would suggest Vientiane Cafe or Cafe de Laos, as NYC still does not admit to having an authentic Laotian restaurant so Im pretty sure you haven't had it yet.

                                      1. Just want to thank you all for your wonderful suggestions. Philly gets an "F" for snow and ice clearing, but an "A" for its vibrant food scene.

                                        We did Zahav, Chifa, Rangoon and Fish.
                                        In a nutshell:

                                        --Zahav tasting menu for Restaurant Week, along with Israeli wine pairing. The fresh-baked pita and humus were wonderful, the salatim abundant and tasty. Potato pancakes, cauliflower, bronzino all excellent. Service was attentive and friendly. Seated in side room, noise level was tolerable. Never felt rushed. Friendly visits from manager and wine guy. The chardonnay/sauvignon blanc blend on the wine pairing menu was crisp, steely and refreshing.
                                        Desserts were wonderful (thanks to our server and the manager, we got much more than we ordered): particularly the Zahav take on traditional rugelach.
                                        We'll return to Zahav on future visits to Philly.

                                        --Chifa: First question: when you're seated in the basement, is there an emergency exit? Or, are basement diners doomed in case of a fire? We did $45 chef's menu plus lobster a la carte. Abundant amount of food, almost all quite good. A little glitch on service: as soon as we ordered, dishes started to arrive at our table, even before wine was poured. Things straightened out and service was satisfactory throughout. We were eating for more than two hours. All for $45 per person.

                                        --Fish: Sunday evening features small plates. Started with a half dozen oysters. Very fresh.
                                        Bacala with fried anchovies over red pepper puree was our favorite. Tilefish and Scottish Salmon quite good. Very nice room, good service. Special thanks to hostess who ran a block to hail us a cab. Dinner for two with wine just about $100 on a Sunday night. Would like to return on another night to try their famous skate wing.

                                        --Rangoon: lunch on Saturday. We loved the seafood soup, which reminded us a bit of a variation on pho, served with a plate of red onions, coriander and other crudites to add to the soup. Perfect on a cold afternoon.

                                        Your Italian market is very overrated, I'm afraid to say. And, I'm sure Reading Terminal Market has at least one good vendor (we don't eat cheesesteak and other Philly sandwiches), but most stands seemed overpriced and catering to the tourist trade. LeBus bakery, however, had some nice sweets.

                                        6 Replies
                                        1. re: famdoc

                                          Thanks for following up and writing your reviews. It's always great to hear outside perspectives.

                                          I'm curious about your expectations of the Italian Market and how it fell short.

                                          About Reading Terminal, while there is a strong tourist element there, the many locals who frequent it weekly for lunch, produce, meat, and fish would disagree with your sentiment. Next time you're there, check out the sweets from Termini's and the cookies from Famous 4th Street.

                                          1. re: barryg


                                            Maybe it was the weather, maybe it was because we visited on Sunday, but I found no street food at the Italian market. I was impressed by the selection in one cheese shop and by the store selling coffees and kitchen supplies. But a tomato pie? Nowhere to be found.

                                            1. re: famdoc

                                              Ah. Yes there is little street food there, unless you count the steak and pizza window at Christian St. There are some casual eat-in options: Paesano's was closed when you were there, but they have excellent sandwiches, including veg options. There's also a good roast pork shop, and some good tacquerias on the other side of Washington and just off 9th St.

                                              If you ever go back, Sarcone's Bakery, on 9th St a little north of the market proper, has great tomato pie (and Italian breads), as does Ianelli's on Passyunk below Washington, near 9th St. Sarcone's Deli, just up the block from the bakery, also has excellent vegetarian hoagies.

                                              There are banh mi and Vietnamese noodle shops nearby as well.

                                              The weather may have affected things, were the produce vendors out? But yes, the Italian Market is not really a street food destiantion.

                                              1. re: barryg

                                                Produce vendors were out. Tangerines, 7 for a buck, provided sustenance on Amtrak on the way home. Thanks for your suggestions. BTW, we stayed at the Alexander Inn, 12th and Spruce. Couldn't have asked for a better place to stay. Nice rooms, good location, cheerful and helpful staff, good breakfast.

                                                1. re: famdoc

                                                  I agree that the Italian Market is a lousy destination for an out-of-towner in cold, snowy weather unless they have a particular destination in mind (like DiBruno's or Claudio's.

                                                  But I am confused about the comment about Reading Terminal being overpriced? A lot of good, cheap eats can be found there if you know what to get. I'm sure it was mobbed if you were in town last weekend because of the auto show but I urge you to return when it's less crowded and more fun to browse.

                                                  1. re: bluehensfan

                                                    You are probably right. It was, indeed, packed with Car Show spillover.
                                                    When I say overpriced, I was referring to the few items that might have interested me: for example, there was a crepe stand, apparently very popular, whose lowest price crepe was $8.