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Sep 7, 2012 07:52 AM

Twice-a-year dinner, need to choose restaurant, have some ideas

I have a twice-a-year dinner date with a friend. We have been eating together for 15 years. It's my turn to pick the restaurant, and was thinking of Bibou, but they are booked (naturally) when we had set a date.

Here are the "rules":

1) We never go to the same place twice
2) Atmosphere should be "romantic" (though we are not a romantic couple)
3) BYOB is OK, but we don't have a preference pro/con
4) Doesn't not have to be a "dressup" place but we shouldn't feel out of place dressed up
5) We want to hear ourselves talk
6) Food must be excellent
7) Location can be anywhere in the city or surrounding area (though we rarely go East to New Jersey, we can pretty much get to North, East and South to Delaware though).

Our last two picks were Bistro La Minette and Matyson. Years ago we went to Vetri before it became Philly's flagship. We've done the obvious ones like Amada, and made discoveries like Alba in Malvern.

So I was looking at Cochon and Farm and the Fisherman. I saw that Mica and Ela were related to Blackfish (where we've been, and I understand Ela has a different chef than the other two). Heirloom has been recommended on these boards.

I understand Zahav is sensational, though we tend to prefer "red wine food" if that makes any sense.

Any comments on the above (like, obvious favorites, or ones that aren't necessarily as good as the others); or very special places that are like the above?

I'd appreciate input. I need to pick a place and make the reservation.


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  1. Not sure what you mean by Red Wine food, but if you get the Mes'bah tasting menu there, the lamb shoulder cooked over coals is one of the best dishes in the city. Need to preorder the lamb. They also have been doing a ribeye for two, but I do not know if that is a special or permanent part of the menu.

    Bibou should be on your list. Farm and Fisherman is very nice small restaurant which can get a bit loud when the room is full. Other places to consider.. Fond, Le Virtu, the tasting menu on a thursday at Bar Ferdinand, Osteria (anti pasti, pizzas and primi, skip the secondi),, sbraga, and talulahs table would be worth looking at as well. The latter especially if you go in the fall has a wonderful garden to eat in outdoors.

    1 Reply
    1. re: cwdonald

      "Not sure what you mean by Red Wine food"

      It means that lobster houses, seafood specialty places, chicken shacks and strict glatt places are out (Because most people don't own kosher wine).

      "Red wine food" is food that can be comfortably accompanied by - red wine!

      Nowhere that has a single meat entree will do.

      I suppose it seems self-explanatory to me because this is a qualification I often use when looking for dinner - I'm looking for a place I can bring a bottle of red

    2. Zahav is by far the best place on your list, after than I'd say Farm & Fisherman and Cochon are roughly tied for second and I wouldn't recommend Ela or Mica. Really I wouldn't recommend F&F or Cochon either if this is a twice a year thing.

      Zahav can certainly be red wine food depending on what you order. If you've never been to Osteria I'd recommend it. Fond and the new Will are two BYOs that are fantastic. Some people consider Osteria and Fond to be too loud, I can see their point on Fond but I've never had a problem at Osteria.

      1. Thank you all so far, great comments. What I mean by "red wine food" is not just meats and game (lamb, beef, duck) but roasted and fall flavors, rich dark flavors -- and even though she will *always* order scallops as an appetizer if they have them, we habitually drink a rich, deep red wine with whatever we eat. Bistros and inns. So, a place that specializes in seafood, chicken, etc. is probably not a best bet. We're open to a lot of things, but I know our preferences.

        Bibou was my choice but I dithered too long and it's not available this year (we have had trouble setting a date, so we're stuck on the day we picked).

        I'm very intrigued by the Bar Ferdinand tasting menu. I love BF, but it has felt like a restaurant not quite on the tier we choose for our dinners. I know that David Ansill is the new chef and the kitchen has had a makeover. My only hesitation about ordering a tasting menu in advance is it takes away any choice she might have (whoever picks the restaurant doesn't tell the other person where they are going until they actually arrive).

        I'm also intrigued by Will -- obviously it's brand new and I hadn't heard of it yet. If it's That Good, it might be the perfect place to discover together. Has anyone been there yet?

        26 Replies
        1. re: zmulls

          What day of the week is this?

          I wouldn't recommend the Bar Ferdinand tasting menu for this, you'd both be getting the same dishes with no choices available. I've tried it twice and the first time was great, the second not so much.

          Will is excellent ( ), It's about on the same level as Fond, which is impressive considering it's only been open for (I think) two weeks. Will happens to have a great scallop dish as an appetizer right now. I also tried the rabbit and pork belly appetizers, both were very good, the rabbit especially. I do prefer Fond's desserts but dessert is not a major concern for most people. Will is also quieter (though when I was there it was only half full so I don't know what it's like in there when it's full).

          If you really want something that will stand up to a big red wine I'd also consider Koo Zee Doo (BYO), it's excellent and the menu is full of rich, hearty dishes.

          1. re: Buckethead

            Thanks. It's a Thursday this year so we could have done the BF tasting menu, but I know that means we eat what they tell us to. I do enjoy that on occasion, but the menu perusal is part of our fun. (And we share just about everything).

            I did look at Koo Zee Doo -- there was something about "family style serving" that I wasn't sure about. I did think it was a type of cuisine we haven't tried yet.

            But Will sounds just perfect and I'm going to go see if they have a table on our night. I can spring for a special bottle of wine, and it will be fun to go to a place that is new but highly recommended. So thanks for that.

            1. re: Buckethead

              Anyone who has been to Will, what would be a good meeting place within two blocks of there? And how is parking?

              Either we meet elsewhere in the city and I drive us there and park, or I tell her to "meet me at the record store at xxxx E. .Passyunk" and then I walk her there.

              If parking is easy, I'll meet her in Center City; if not, I need a spot.

              1. re: zmulls

                Here is a parking option if you are willing to pay.


                I wonder if some of these places will validate if you just have a few drinks.

                If you drive around the surrounding neighborhood, you can usually find a spot. It's just a question of if you are in a "two hour limit" spot. If that's the case, valet beats a parking ticket.

                1. re: Philly Ray

                  That's an excellent suggestion....I would think that Will would have joined the program -- they're not listed on that link as participating, but I understand they have just opened. I'll check with them.

                  1. re: Philly Ray

                    Two hour parking (the permit streets) doesn't apply after 6pm or 8pm I think.

                    1. re: barryg

                      Depends on the street. Some blocks go as late as 10pm or even midnight.

                      1. re: Philly Ray

                        Maybe I've been lucky but I've rarely had a problem parking on the street on East Passyunk (usually early on a Saturday night). I'm worried that the new valet parking will change this.

                        1. re: JanR

                          How could new valet parking change your ability to park on the street if the valets put people's cars in a lot?

                            1. re: JanR

                              I see, that is a valid concern, but there are only going to be two valet stands, not one for each restaurant--the valet is organized by PARC and the restaurants are in it together. 3-4 spots may be lost by the valet stands but I doubt that will have much of an impact. The bigger issue is that great new restaurants keep opening and the Ave keeps getting good press (NYTimes wrote an article about it recently and Joy Manning just called it the new Restaurant Row, even BBC wrote a glowing piece), adding pressure to the parking situation. Will has been getting good buzz, Scarduzzio's place is on the way, Fond is moving to bigger digs and their old location is going to be something... don't expect parking to ease but don't blame it on the valet. It is adding parking capacity.

                              Maybe one day the Acme surface lot will get built up into a garage with ground floor retail/restaurant space... we can hope.

                            2. re: cwdonald

                              I was thinking it would become like some parts of Walnut Street, where every restaurant has a blocked space for valet.

                            3. re: JanR

                              The cars are going to be in the Goretti lot. This will be good for the Ave.

                              1. re: barryg

                                So you agree that it should not negatively impact one's ability to park on the street and not pay the Parking mafia?

                                1. re: cwdonald

                                  It won't hurt the street parking situation whatever it is, because the cars will be parking off-street. (I don't drive there so I don't know what it's like right now.) It will help the Avenue grow -- parking is a bottleneck right now.

                    2. re: Buckethead

                      xxxxxxxx Never mind availability at Will. xxxxxxxx

                      Actually, there was no availability at 5;30am, but I could find a table at 5:30pm. *g*

                      I'm all set now.

                      1. re: zmulls

                        There's a tiny park on Passyunk where it crosses 13th and Mifflin (Will is a few doors south of there), or there's the Singing Fountain a little further north on Passyunk where it crosses Tasker.

                        1. re: Buckethead

                          That's perfect. Last year I had her meet me at the Magic Gardens before heading down to Bistro La Minette -- she had never been there. Neither of us has been to the Singing Fountain.

                          Again, thanks.

                          1. re: zmulls

                            Sure, FYI the Singing Fountain isn't much more than a fountain with Sinatra playing on a single loudspeaker but it is kind of a South Philly landmark. If you want to stop somewhere for a drink between there and Will, the place right next to the fountain, Stateside, has a nice bar, so do Paradiso and Le Virtu.

                      2. re: Buckethead

                        Way off about Will IMHO...went there tonight based on this board...Corn soup and pork belly very good...Salmon terrible, Skate ok...desserts ok. not even close to Fond except that it's on the same block. Service was good to amateurish... This restaurant needs a lot of seasoning.

                        Sending people here before they get their act together does Will and the diner a disservice

                        1. re: marcpc

                          Chacon a son gout, marcpc. I ate at Will last weekend and was amazed at how smooth the service was for a new place (for any place actually). Our service was professional and friendly. What exactly was wrong with your "terrible" salmon? I had the salmon and loved it. To say "this restaurant needs a lot of seasoning" does everyone a disservice IMHO. I notice, btw, that this is your first post here. Interesting.

                          1. re: JanR

                            Salmon was described by excellent waiter as getting a char with the skin, on instead it was flaccid with no skin and lacked seasoning. JanR I've been reading the blogs with relish the past 4 years but was finally moved to contribute because I felt that I was guided in the wrong direction.

                            Will has the potential to be very good but it is not there yet.

                            1. re: marcpc

                              Okay, I respect your opinion.

                              1. re: JanR

                                So what we have discovered is that Will.. like many restaurants, (including Vetri) have problems with consistency...

                          2. re: marcpc

                            It's not even on the same block actually :)

                      3. Don't sell short a hidden neighborhood gem. If only it was a BYO it would be perfect because it really shines.
                        I am speaking of The Stone Rose in Conshohocken. Not only is the wait staff friendly and efficient but the atmosphere is unusual because besides outdoor dining on the curb on nice days, they have a front bar and tables room with loud music that caters to a college crowd and then suddenly you walk into the back room which is quiet and lovely and decorated warmly with appealing paintings on the walls, and then comes the comfort food and specials all made by a very talented chef.
                        We were pleasantly shocked when we skeptically ventured in there one day to be surprised by the classic presentations.
                        It is definitely worth a try.
                        Reservationas available except on Friday and Saturday when ya takes yer chances.

                        As to Heirloom in Chestnut Hill -- a BYO -- another winner with a devoted chef and creative menu but the problem there is that it can become very noisy unless you dine around 5-6.

                        1. Thanks to everyone for all the suggestions and comments.

                          I'm going with Will. I understand it's new and may have off nights or dishes that don't quite work (and that no matter how good a restaurant, it won't work for some people). Part of our dining experience over the last 15 years has been discovering places that haven't yet landed on the map, like going to Vetri when it was well-reviewed but before it was the place you couldn't get a reservation, or going to Alba in Malvern last year. Will sounds like the perfect place for our 2x-a-year get-together.

                          I e-mailed the restaurant and they are not yet participating in the valet service; they hope to by around November. I have to think adding the valet service will add to traffic but free up some street parking. It's very smart of them (IMO) to have a couple central drop-off points instead of a space in front of every restaurant in the program.

                          We always dine early -- our preference is before 6pm, for the quiet and so we can get home at a reasonable time; and we always go in the middle of the week (we often do Monday or Tuesday just to have the best chance of getting reservations where we want). It's Thursday this time though.

                          And I saw on another thread that Open Table sometimes says there is nothing available but a call to the restaurant may give a different result. So I'm sorry I didn't take the chance at calling Bibou, but I'll know next time.

                          At the end of the month, I'll report back on the Will BYO thread.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: zmulls

                            Looking forward to hearing your report.