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Apr 18, 2012 01:31 PM

Heading back to Philadelphia, tweaking the agenda.

Hi Hounds,

Heading back to Philly in May for a conference - first visit since August 2010 when I helped arrange a meetup at Amada for the Pig and met some great folks for various meals throughout the city (including one of my very favorite dining friends.) Will be in town for 5 full days (at least lunch and dinner, maybe breakfast some days depending on conference agenda.)

Places I've already been can be seen here: and include Zahav, Vetri, Le Bec Fin, Supper, Osteria, Amis, Carman's, Tacconellis, Modo Mio, Lacroix, Sam's Morning Glory, Amada, Sabrina's, and multiple stops in the Market.

Have already done some research and narrowed the list, but trying to further reduce.

Places I know I'm going:
Dinners - Koo Zee Do, Bibou, Talula's Garden.
Lunches - Fountain, Kanella, Meme (brunch


Places I'm debating for the other meals:
Dinners - Le Virtu, Blackfish, Matyson, Alla Spina, Meritage, Le Bec Fin (if re-opened by then)
Lunches - Monsu, Barbuzzo, Sung Kee Duck, Pizzeria Stella

Other possible eats:, John's Roast Pork, Dinic's, Paesano's, Honey's Sit n' Eat, Federal Donuts, Cafe Estella.

Would certainly be open to meeting up with locals for some great eats and am open to any/all recommendations.

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  1. I think that Le Virtu is a must. If you haven't been Paesanos and John's, those are musts as well. I would also add Stateside to your consideration list. Personally, I have been consistently underwhelmed by Honey's and my one experience at Monsu was very mediocre.

    14 Replies
    1. re: barryg

      Thanks, I love pasta and therefore have been told by people I trust that Le Virtu should be tops on the list. As to the sandwich shops, I realize both are musts but the issue is how much capacity a sandwich takes up. My ideal would be to find a crew to do a tasting of a few of them, but that is always tricky when planning on a weekday. I will have a car this time and that should help.

      Honeys could very well miss the cut, but the hours and location are good for the conference. Monsu seems a logical choice to me as I loved Modo Mio, but reviews seem mixed.

      1. re: uhockey

        i loved monsu and am sad to hear that barryg had a mediocre experience. the brunch is especially good.

        i also think that kanella brunch is way better than lunch

        also matyson just announced (like 5min ago) that it now will be serving brunch! so that's also an option (as if you needed more choices)

        1. re: InSearchOfTacos

          I thought brunch and lunch menu was the same at Kanella?

          I love Modo Mio too so I was especially disappointed in Monsu (I went for dinner). I would give them a second chance but there are so many places to try these days. Peter McAndrews of Modo Mio just opened another place in Northern Liberties too, called Popolino. I haven't heard any reports yet.

          1. re: barryg

            i thought kanella had different brunch and lunch menus- maybe they changed it somewhat recently- i havent been in a few weeks

            and i havent heard reports of popolino yet either- i went to monsu a few times for dinner and twice for brunch- had lovely experiences both times- id say give it another try if youre in the hood- especially if youre waiting at sabrina's for brunch. go to monsu instead of waiting :)

            1. re: InSearchOfTacos

              I've heard only one report of popolino and it was "chef undecooks the baked items and oversalts everything" from someone I trust.

              Kanella brunch/lunch look the same to me, currently.


              1. re: uhockey

                sweet, in that case, ignore my comment that brunch is a lot better than lunch- they used to be different i thought

                and good to know about popolino...although i'll still go there

                1. re: InSearchOfTacos

                  Popolino was pretty but the food wasn't as good as at Modo Mio.

            2. re: barryg

              Kanella's menu is the same for brunch/breakfast/lunch at midday. I always go for the lunch items.
              Whoops, I didn't see the last post. I just wanted to vote for the lunch items on their menu!

          2. re: uhockey

            Sign me up for your weekday sandwich crew. My days are fairly open, so I might be able to help you out there. I also live right around the corner from Le Virtu if you are looking for company there too.


            1. re: Philly Ray

              E-mail me (or contact me via the blog) as you don't have your info in the profile on CH.


              1. re: uhockey

                Just an FYI, if anyone else is interested in the sandwiches, let me know via E-mail. The plan is 5/22 lunch time.


                1. re: uhockey

                  Another bump in case anyone else is down for the sandwiches. We'll be starting at 10:30ish and finishing near 2:00.


                  1. re: uhockey

                    Wish I could be there for that. Looking forward to the recap. Philly sandwiches can be divine, especially with all that great bread flying around.

          3. Your "Places I'm Going" list is all good. Talula's is the weakest of them but still worth visiting.

            From your "Debating" list, the only dinner I would move to your "Definitely" list is Le Virtu. Drop Blackfish and Matyson. Both are good (Matyson is better) but not excellent. I like Meritage a lot but you can do better. I haven't been to Alla Spina yet. For lunches, keep Barbuzzo, drop the rest. I also had a mediocre experience at Monsu, definitely a huge step down from Modi Mio.

            I'd drop Honey's and DiNic's from your "Other" list. Paesano's needs to move to the "Definitely" column.

            One place I'd definitely add to your dinner list is Vedge, the successor to Horizons. Probably the best restaurant to open in Philadelphia since your last visit. There's also Jamonera, the new place from the Barbuzzo crew. It's kind of a tossup between Barbuzzo and Jamonera, I wouldn't recommend going to both but check out the menus and pick the one that appeals to you more. Of course, they're right across the street from each other so you could get a few courses at each. Both are very good. Another recent addition that was excellent on my one and only visit is Sbraga, Top Chef winner Kevin Sbraga's place.

            I'm not as big a fan of Stateside as barryg. I did like it but not more than Vedge, Sbraga, or (to a lesser extent) Jamonera.

            4 Replies
            1. re: Buckethead

              I looked at Vedge and I really do like the concept of a vegetable-driven restaurant (L'Arpege in Paris truly did wow) but I'm not sure I want to commit to a 100% vegetable menu. I have to admit, the dessert menu and a few of the small plates do look impressive though.

              Need to look at Sbraga and Jamonera. Probably not on Jamonera as it is only open for dinner while Barbuzzo has lunch.

              DiNic's would depend on if I had a group. John's and Paesano's definitely rank more highly.


              1. re: uhockey

                Loud and crowded is not an attraction for me. Which is exactaly what BarBuzzo was on our visit. The small plates,good and friendly service obviates those issues. We loved the place, not sure about lunch but our dinner was just great!

                1. re: Bacchus101

                  Good to hear. I don't *mind* loud if it is good, especially is service is solid and the food is better.


                2. re: uhockey

                  I'll just say it once more and then keep my peace: Vedge is in my opinion absolutely in the top tier of Philly restaurants. That, in my mind, consists of Vetri, Osteria, Bibou, Zahav, Kanella, Koo Zee Doo, and now Vedge. I hope I'm not forgetting one.

                  Incidentally, last night after I posted that I'd never been to Alla Spina, I went to Alla Spina. I'd rank it third in the Vetri empire after Vetri and Osteria, with Amis a distant fourth.

              2. I'm going to throw Tashan into the mix. It doesn't get much love on this board, but they are doing great things there. The new Square Peg also has a pretty great looking lunch menu, though I haven't been.

                17 Replies
                1. re: Hungryin theBurbs

                  i would throw Ela in there. You are going to get the Blackfish experience, without driving to Conshohocken. Frankly I think their food is a bit more exciting than Blackfish these days.

                  Matyson would be another to consider if their tasting menu is good that week.

                  If you are looking at Pizza, I would consider Nomad over Pizzeria Stella.

                  1. re: cwdonald

                    My visit isn't until May 20th.

                    Will look into Ela, though I do have a car if Blackfish is as good as rumored.


                    1. re: uhockey

                      Blackfish is one of our absolute favorite restaurants.

                    2. re: cwdonald

                      I agree with cwdonald on Pizzeria Stella. Though it is a good pizza, it is not that memorable, and I'm sure you could find a better spot for a visiting meal.

                      With regards to Paesano's and John's, I would put Paesano's in its own tier above all others, but it depends on your priorities. If you really want to try a sandwich in Philly, I think that's the spot, but if you'd rather do a unique BYOB, as you can see, there are plenty of options.

                      1. re: tzanghi

                        I've got time, and so far one other person to share the 'workload' on a few sandwiches. Will hopefully be able to gather a few more to try a few different spots/sandwiches.

                        With 5 days in the city I'll ideally be able to see a lot of food (and, yeah, some of the conference as well.)


                        1. re: uhockey

                          I would add Fond, an excellent byob (up the street from Le Virtu) to your list. Also Fish or Littlefish.

                          1. re: JanR

                            What no more lamb at Zahav this trip?

                            Skip stella and consider Zavino for great pizza in it's place. They have really stepped up things in the past year or so.

                            DiNic's is good (but a wait is involved).

                            I almost made it to Popolino last week...if I get there before your trip I will report back.

                            Maybe others will add their two cents but I think Talulah's Garden seems overrated. Not bad by any stretch of the imagination but nothing earth shattering.

                            One thing you may want to consider is if you will be in town on the weekend of the 19th and 20th is to hit the Italian Market Festival for a smorgasboard of food. Where else can you compare two or three whole roasted pigs being served along with a side of soft shell crabs (and of course other Italian and ethnic specialties)....

                            1. re: bluehensfan

                              Won't get to town until the 22nd.

                              .....and Zahav was good, but I'd sooner go 'back' to modo mio, vetri, or osteria if doing a repeat.

                              Will look into Zavino and Fish/Littlefish - Fond's menu didn't do much for me when I was originally considering it and someone I know/trust was quite underwhelmed.


                              1. re: uhockey

                                I recently ate at Fish for the first time, after having many lovely meals at Little Fish. I was really blown away by Fish. Whereas Little Fish always seemed to be about picking good fish/veggies and doing really straight forward, well made dishes, Fish seems to elevate that with more interesting kitchen work. Soft cooked (sous vide) eggs, smoking buttermilk, etc. I liked Fond, but would pick Fish over Fond.

                                Also, after just scarfing down some Federal Donuts, I would recommend them for a donut and coffee run. I've heard that the fried chicken is good, but maybe the donuts are where its at.

                                1. re: urbanfabric

                                  Federal Donuts will definitely be on the list for a breakfast.


                                  1. re: uhockey

                                    Then you'll need to plan on going twice as they don't start making chicken until 11:45. It's worth it to go back for and believe...

                                    1. re: doxiemom

                                      I've heard routinely positive comments about the donuts, but a mixed bag on the chicken (undercooked/pink.) We'll see - would need another person to make it worth it as I don't need/want that much of one thing.


                      2. re: cwdonald

                        nomad over stella? really? my experience with nomad was inferior ingredients and bland-ish pizza

                        1. re: wajima01

                          In a heart beat. I find stella's pizza's inconsistent, sometimes greasy, sometimes soggy. I find nomad refreshingly simple with great fresh ingredients. I have eaten at both the NJ and PA outposts. And their menu changes a lot more than Stella's does reflecting seasonal ingredients. I would say Zavino/Osteria/Nomad top tier gourmet pizzas, Stella/Barbuzzo second tier and Birra distant third.

                          1. re: cwdonald

                            I haven't been to some of the places you list in a while, but I've been to good old Bertucci's on South St a couple times recently and it was good, not in the top tier but as or good a little better than Stella. The menu of pizzas is actually really broad though I don't think you can get a cracked egg or truffles there. I also went to La Fourno recently, the pizza was not very good and the appetizers we got were pretty bad.

                            1. re: barryg

                              Thanks for the heads up barry. I didnt post about my Birra experience here, but I remember you giving it high praise. I was disappointed in the delivery. The garlic pizza was good.. a simple pie with red sauce anchovies and grilled veggies was meh. Crust was too thck, not the char or the chew I was looking for. I am willing to give Birra another shot if I go at happy hour where some pizzas are rediculously inexpensive.

                              1. re: cwdonald

                                Maybe I gave it praise on my first visit but that was only trying a slice or two (mostly drinking)... if I did it was premature. I went back and tried a lot of pies and was unimpressed. I agree with you about the crust, no char and not a good chew. The simple pizzas were the worst; the more complex ones had ok flavor but way too many toppings and too much cheese.

                                Then again everyone I was with really enjoyed it... I am more into the simple pies well executed, like a great margherita or priscuitto and arugula. My companions didn't even want to order those (I insisted), instead they enjoyed the pies with crazy loaded toppings like the mac & cheese.. not my style but Birra may appeal more to people that like those kinds of pizzas.

                    3. Does anyone here know of a local philly forum where one might attempt to set up a local chowhound tour - specifically a afternoon sandwich run for some of Philadelphia's best?

                      I guess I could consider a sticky here on the Philadelphia board. Locales to visit would be decided by the group.


                      13 Replies
                      1. re: uhockey

               is very active, you will definitely get a response.

                          1. re: uhockey

                            Thought I'd include a link to uhockey's thread as it took me a few minutes to find it (as I've not visited philadelphiaspeaks before) and there are currently no responses:

                            I have to admit I'm disappointed the visit will be when I'm away since I've never tried Paesano's. I know, probably a mortal sin for a native Philadelphian.

                            1. re: gaffk

                              I have received a couple private messages on there and people can always e-mail me since I list my information here on chowhound largely because meeting locals is a cool way to get a feel for the scene. Thanks for the link. :-)


                              1. re: uhockey

                                I'm even more disappointed because I think you can eat more in a day than I can in a week . . . would have loved to see you in action.

                                I can't wait to see your next Philly post-mortem.

                                1. re: gaffk

                                  ...makes me sound like some kind of freak. jeesh. :-)
                                  I promise I'm quite normal.


                                  1. re: uhockey

                                    Sorry, I'm the freak. I can't even finish an "individual" pizza at Arpeggio; love the occasional cheesesteak but never even finish a half. A lamb shoulder? I'd need 3 or 4 companions. My 5'0" 90-lb sister always out-ate and out-drank me. (I now hang my head in shame :(

                                    1. re: gaffk

                                      Heh. No offense taken.

                                      My 5'1" 100ish-lb sister can nearly keep up with me.


                                        1. re: gaffk

                                          I think I may have found a possibility. Of course, it is designed for two people:


                                          1. re: bluehensfan

                                            I bet you could feed more than two people with that. Plus, Amada is now charging a flat price for their pig ($250 for half, around $400 for whole) with no minimum amount of people required. Based on that, I think Amada comes out cheaper.

                                              1. re: uhockey

                                                I did the pig thing at Amada in the past and loved all of the side dishes but disliked the pig immensely. Strange I know...

                        1. I'd recommend adding Bibou to the list. Fairly easy to get in on a Wed or Thu if you're willing to go early (5 or 5:30) or late (9:30-10:30). Great french byo, chef used to be the executive chef at LBF.

                          2 Replies
                            1. re: uhockey

                              I need remedial reading lessons, apparently...

                              By the way, I'd recommend Matyson, contrary to a previous poster. I enjoyed it more than Le Virtu, which I found rather inconsistent (liked their pastas, didn't like the risotto or paella. Maybe the rule is to stay away from their rice)

                              Barbuzzo's is rather good as well, though.