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Nov 3, 2012 10:41 PM

Visiting for a couple of days... seeking dim sum and maybe a seafood dinner

I'll be in Philly from Friday until Sunday for a speaking engagement and will be staying with someone who is not a foodie by any means. My daughter is coming up from DC and we'd like to have a nice dinner Friday or Saturday but finances are limited. We love seafood if that's an option. Or, old style Italian is another favorite. We are dim sum lovers and would like recommendations for brunch Sunday as well. Were not concerned with the appearance of the place; it's all about the food for us.

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  1. There is good seafood in Philadelphia though some of it is pricey. Oyster House, Route 6 Branzino and Estia each have their strengths. The first is a revised version of our old Samson Street Oyster House. Oyster clams lobster etc are well prepared here.

    Route 6 is a Stephen Starr restaurant and does a variety of seafood and in my opinion a decent fried belly clam.

    Branzino is a BYO italian that does some nice fish.

    Estia is a greek restaurant that has fabulous fish some flown in from Greece. It can get pricey though they have a very reasonable prix fixe pre theatre menu from 530-7 that might fit better into your budget.

    Our Dim Sum restaurants are limited and not up to the standards you will find in DC NY Boston or San Francisco. Given other brunch options you might consider doing something else.

    Others would be able to weigh in better on the red gravy old school italian. You definitely can find it here. One thing to mention is that we have a lot of byo restaurants. If that is how you would like to dine you might consider bringing your wine from home. I would suggest that you do not rely upon PA liquor stores as they are horrid. Another option would be to stop in Total Wine Delaware (just off 95 near the PA border) for your wine on your way to Philadelphia as they have better prices and selection.

    14 Replies
    1. re: cwdonald

      Although I am in perfect agreement about Estia (my favorite) with its delicious Greek seafood, it is definitely pricey.
      Branzino however, an Italian seafood restaurant, should fit the bill nicely.
      Skip the dim sum (properly pronounced "deem sum") and wait till you're in San Francisco.
      For a neat comfort food place try Jones.

      1. re: arepo

        "(properly pronounced "deem sum")"
        Please don't pronounce it this way.

        1. re: mookleknuck

          yeah, i wasn't going to say anything...
          my wife's from Hong Kong. She says dimm summ, at least when she's talking to me. or in English, to anyone.

          1. re: Bob Loblaw

            ehh, just don't call it 'sum dim' and we'll know what's meant.

            1. re: Bob Loblaw

              I believe it's actually pronounced "tape-ass"

              1. re: Bob Loblaw

                <shakes head> Yeah. In English. To anyone.

              2. re: mookleknuck

                I have a reservation at Yank Sing in San Francisco over Thanksgiving. Their website actually says, "Deem Sum". I think I'll go with that so I won't consider myself "dim". ;-)

                1. re: arepo

                  Start at 12:18

                  Will you be speaking Cantonese with other Cantonese speakers?

                  ETA: Better link for first link.

                  1. re: mookleknuck

                    oh whatever. if one (and specifically the OP) is going to be in SF or the SGV or Vancouver anytime soon, yes I'd hold my wishes until there. and just pronounce it how you like. I try to stumble through the phonetics, and I have studied the Mandarin dialect, but I know (and have been told by those who know) that I mangle it. but folks are good sports about it all. still tastes good.

            2. re: cwdonald

              cwd - so Sansom Street FINALLY reopened in some altered form? I was there in umm 2004/5? right before they closed and really liked the place. good to know. I'd heard it had "temporarily" closed and then nothing.

              1. re: hill food

                It's been reopened for years with many positive reviews. Menu, atmosphere, and prices are quite different than the old days though. Still a great place for oysters, especially during happy hour, but I have had mixed experiences with the full menu.

                The "temporary" closing was the original owning family reacquiring the business, then renovating and reinventing it.

                1. re: barryg

                  I obviously don't get to Philly often. I did have good memories of the quality of the shellfish.

                  1. re: hill food

                    We get to the Oyster House often, especially before a concert at the Kimmel Center.
                    Love the oysters, clam chowder, and the terrific lobster roll served with a huge mound of excellent fries. No reservations, prompt service, and we have found the food to be very good.

            3. Branzino may be a good option for you as they specialize in their namesake and the rest of the menu is what I would consider mostly "old style" Italian without being straight Italian-American. That is, pretty straightforward Italian dishes. I think calling it a seafood restaurant is a stretch. It's also BYOB which will keep the cost down. It's not the city's best Italian food but you can do worse, personally I found it boring. If you could add a more specific budget that would help too, as would clarifying what you mean by "old style" Italian.

              It's true that dim sum is not great here, but there are some good Asian options. Would you consider pho for brunch instead? We have some very good Vietnamese restaurants and soup houses. On that front, I would recommend hitting South Philly rather than the Vietnamese options in Chinatown. It's basically Philly's Little Saigon. There is also Dim Sum Garden in Chinatown, they don't do the pushcarts but have good dumplings and noodles. A true hole in a wall underneath a parking garage. There are other good restaurants in Chinatown, just not great dim sum. There are of course many places to get a good brunch in other cuisines.

              Cwdonald is right that the seafood-focused restaurants tend to be pricey. The problem with Esta's prix fixe menu is that while a good value compared to the regular menu, the seafood options are very limited.

              I don't think the wine store thing is that big of a deal. Unless you are very picky you will find something you like to drink. Also, some stores have much better selection than others.

              FWIW I don't like the food at Jones though admittedly I haven't brunch there in years, so maybe it is better for that. I do not recommend it for dinner.

              6 Replies
              1. re: barryg

                Barry you raise a good point about Branzino. It was just one of the places that jumped to mind. I am wondering what you would think is the best South Philadelphia italian restaurant serving fish. South Philly is not a usual haunting ground for me. (I abhor the parking situation.. ) so really do not have a good view of the restaurants there.

                1. re: cwdonald

                  I don't actually order seafood very often at Italian restaurants and am still searching for a red-gravy Italian place I really like. I have heard a couple good things about Cucina Forte and hope to try it soon.

                  I used to love the black papperdelle with seafood at Tre Scalini on E Passyunk Ave but my last visit there was less than stellar so I hesitate to recommend it (I didn't get the papperdelle) and I don't plan on returning any time soon. I actually had a very similar dish at Giorgio's on Pine (also BYOB) recently which was pretty good, it was a special, the other dishes I tried were good too. Overall, in the same league as Branzino though I liked Giorgio's a little more, possibly due to the less stuffy atmosphere and service--which felt forced at Branzino given the kind of food they are serving.

                  I'm glad JanR brought up Little Fish. Pound for pound it is probably best seafood value in the city, taking the fact that it is BYOB into account, but yeah it's not cheap. I was last there about a year ago for the Sunday night tasting menu and it was excellent. I also wonder about Fish, can't really recommend it since I haven't been there since all the turmoil.

                2. re: barryg

                  This is probably a little OT, but isn't it well past time that somebody came in and opened up a kick ass dim sum parlor? They'd make a mint if they could do it well. I was at Nom Wah Tea Parlor in NYC last weekend and it was great. To any aspiring restauranteurs out there who might read this thread, OPEN UP A KICK ASS DIM SUM PLACE!!!

                  1. re: Cheesesteak

                    I know what you mean. Ever since Lakeside closed we really have lost the dim sum culture in chinatown. Dim Sum Garden is so stark that I can recommend it for lunch and for take away but not to go and leisurely eat dim sum the way the meal is intended.

                    1. re: Cheesesteak

                      omg.... Nam Wah Tea Parlor was THE dim sum of my childhood. I grew up in Brooklyn and have lived in Chicago (good food but not so great dim sum) town now for many years. Was in Philly a few years ago and had what seemed, by Chicago standards, good dim sum but can't figure out the name of the place.
                      Also, went to a great old fashioned Italian deli... in the 'old' neighborhood... anyone know where I might have been? Thanks much.

                      1. re: debbypo

                        Deli was possibly Sarcone's on 9th St, right by the Italian Market? Great hoagies.

                  2. Little Fish is a great seafood BYO. A bit pricey but worth it.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: JanR

                      Thanks for reminding me of that. Fish is the other restaurant that is missing, but I do not know how they are doing since their second move to their new smaller location. I still love the skate and the truffled spaetzel. You are right that neither place is cheap.

                    2. Where are you visiting from? Does your daughter in DC have a car or is she reliant upon public transportation? Is she in DC proper? What is your budget ($/person) for your nice dinner(s) on Friday and Saturday?

                      As mentioned by others in this thread, there is good seafood here and, often, $25-40/person. Oyster House is still quite good. From recent dining this past weekend, I can affirm that Little Fish is worth every penny. Koo Zee Doo and Dmitri's have also been enjoyable, although the latter's service has been occasionally weak on weekends.

                      For old-style Italian, I would still recommend Villa di Roma even though I find their food on the bland and occasionally oversalted side. Everyone that I've taken there has really enjoyed their Italian-American. Search the boards on this.

                      Also, depending on where you, your daughter, and the person you're staying with are coming from, dim sum could be amazing (if you've never had any before) or quite mediocre (as many, including myself, find it to be). I wouldn't say that dim sum in DC is better than what is found in Philly, but there is better dim sum to be had in the suburbs around DC than in Philly. A board favorite is Dim Sum Garden (no carts). Other restaurants that serve cart-style dim sum are: Ocean Harbor, Joy Tsin Lau, Imperial Inn, and Ocean City.

                      I second barryg's recommendation to get Vietnamese for brunch!

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: mookleknuck

                        Lots of wonderful Vietnamese in walking distance of the house in Chicago... looking for different. Daughter does not drive. Staying with a friend in the burbs (not sure where it is). Thanks again.

                        1. re: debbypo

                          Debbypo, I'm not sure if your visit has already happened, so apologies if this answer is too late. (If you have already visited, please report back as our board likes follow-up!)

                          As your daughter doesn't drive in DC (and therefore can't access the very decent Chinese and quite good Korean in the suburbs), and AFAIK, no really great places in Chicago for dim sum, I will point you to this recent discussion here: There are other threads on dim sum on this board. I'm afraid none of the places I've mentioned are like Nom Wah, which according to recent reports, is quite good again.

                          You mentioned above that you also "Was in Philly a few years ago and had what seemed, by Chicago standards, good dim sum but can't figure out the name of the place." Could you describe what the place looked like? Did you have to go upstairs? Was the place dim? Were there carts? Was it in a tunnel? In addition the Dim Sum Garden listed above, this board seems to see regular mentions of Rangoon in Chinatown for Burmese. I hesitate to personally recommend Banana Leaf or Penang, but neither are bad for what they are.

                          "Also, went to a great old fashioned Italian deli... in the 'old' neighborhood... anyone know where I might have been?" Was it in Old City? If so, it might have been Campo's Deli.

                          Best of luck!

                      2. Thanks for all your suggestions. Was taken out for Venezuelan one night and Indian another. The Indian was downtown (Walnut, Broad?) and okay and the Venezuelan (Sazon) was quite good... the pork and the churros con chocolate especially.]
                        Dim sum at Ocean Harbor.... okay but not great. Fun visit and my talk went well so, I'm pleased. Will be back for a work conference (staying downtown) in mid-January.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: debbypo

                          Thanks for the report. Was the Indian place maybe Minar Palace? That's on Walnut about a block east of Broad. Also wondering if it was Tashan on Broad St, but you probably would have remember that because it is large and upscale, and the menu is modernized.

                          1. re: barryg

                            I think it was Minar Palace. Definitely not large and upscale although perfectly comfortable and not shabby. Thanks again for all your responses.