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Mar 14, 2013 04:55 AM

The Swedish princess hits Philadelphia

All hail worthy chowhounders. I have not been to Philly for 4 years and the resto scene seems to have changed dramatically. I am this time bringing my Princess, who, as always, wants interesting, value-for money eating in large enough portions, preferrably in a romantic environment. Not costing more than USD 70 pp less drinks and tip and preferrably 50.
She will reside in Rittenhouse 1715 and she does not mind walking but does not like to spend her apanage on cabs. She likes places where one would feel out of place in blue jeans and a chequered shirt, but also out of place in a tuxedo or a ball gown.
I have therefore dutifully researched and found the following suggestions for a week in philly. Before submitting this list to the scrutiny of her Royal ice blue eyes I would love to have the local chowhound community say "aye", "off with his head" or "you should maybe try this one"...

arrival: mid-day 16 may. Intercontinental flight and limo from JFK but princess is probably slightly tired. Dandelion for upscale pub grub w foie gras? Amis?
17 may: day spent touring countryside (e g shopping at Polo outlet)
Tasting menu at Talula┬┤s garden?
18 may: as above for activity. Zahav Mesibah dinner
19 may: Sunday prix fixe at Bibou
20 may: Matyson tasting menu
21 may Devon seafood-I love USD 1 oysters and lobsters at market price before 6PM...and signature cocktails for USD 6.
22 may: tasting menu at Bibou, cleverly finishing off the BYOB bottles from sunday
23 may: Tasting menu at Sbraga
How now, for that assortment of evening feeding spots?
Kindest rgds and tks for comments and suggestions.

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  1. I just typed a long reply which Chowhound promptly deleted, so the short version is: skip Sunday prix-fixe at Bibou, if you haven't been here for 4 years you don't need to go to Bibou twice. Keep Zahav, Sbraga, Dandelion, Bibou (once). Drop Amis, Talula's, Matyson. Instead, go to Vedge, Vernick, and Kanella's Sunday prix fixe. Vedge is a must-visit. Other options include Will BYOB, Fond, and Fork.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Buckethead

      I'd do the lamb at Zahav and would do oysters at Oyster House over Devon unless you are on a budget.

      As a total aside, the Polo outlets are, well, crappy around here.

      1. re: Beach Chick

        Tks beach chick. Yes, life can be hard sometimes :-)
        I will definitely ROLL home as well after this.

      2. Thanks buckethead-I had an inkling it would be You that took up the glove. Vedge is vegetarian, right? Princess does not eat vegetables, at least not as main courses. Vernick is of course good and could be taken instead of Talulas. Is it such a big difference between Talulas one year in advance booked table and the tasting menu on request that one may get at the "Garden variety"? Kanella is greek, and, unbeknowst to the rest or the world, my princess does not like greek food. Will looks lovely but is longer than walking distance from Rittenhouse square just as Fond is.
        Why Fork over Matyson or Talulas?
        Kindest rgds and tons of tks for Your first comment.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Rustscheff

          Vedge is actually vegan. I'd really encourage you to try it, it's just a fantastic restaurant that happens to be vegan. Search the board for others' opinions of it, you're not the first visitor to think "veggies aren't dinner" and I think you would have a different opinion after eating here. Another option: Vedge is a block or two away from an area that's very dense with good restaurants: 13th St. between Chestnut and Walnut. You could make a reservation at one of those places (Jamonera or Barbuzzo would be my pick but honestly none of the places on this block quite crack into my top tier of Philly restaurants), but stop at the bar at Vedge first for a few small plates. Vedge also has a great happy hour that you could probably pop into without much trouble just to sample a few things.

          Like I said I haven't been to Talula's Garden since the original chef was there, I just haven't read anything about it recently and wouldn't risk it for a once-in-4-years visit. The best thing there has always been Aimee Olexy's cheese selection anyway, you may want to sit at the bar there and get a cheese plate. It's also pretty expensive, entrees are all around $30.

          Fork has been very good the past few years under chef Terence Feury, but he left recently and I was worried that Fork would slip back into the mediocrity it had been for years before that. But what actually happened is that the owner imported (or poached) Eli Kulp from NYC and now Fork is better than ever. The menu there is just a lot different from what we've become used to in Philly over the last few years: I've lost count of the places that have opened where "farm to table" is their motto but the food at those places often isn't very interesting once you get past its provenance. Fork sources a lot of ingredients locally but doesn't stop there. It just feels like a place that's a little ahead of the curve for Philly.

          Matyson used to be excellent, then several years ago the chef and pastry chef decamped to the west coast and the sous chef took over, and IMO it's been pretty good since then but not a place I'd send a visitor from out of town to, let alone one who hasn't been here in 4 years.

          One other thing: for your Zahav dinner, I'd opt for the Ta'Yim tasting menu instead of the Mesibah. I like the lamb you get with the Mesibah but the most interesting things there are the small plates and you get way more of those with the Ta'Yim menu.

          You should also check out Capogiro for gelato, there's a location (the best one, I think) near your hotel at 20th and Sansom.

          1. re: Buckethead

            Wonderful comment. I have everything set then. Sorry if we skip Vedge. Going to a vegan restaurant, no matter how excellent, would leave both me and princess howling in pain. Carnivores do not feed on grass and leopards do not change into zebras...
            I promise a report end of may to summarize our impressions. Tks a ton.

            1. re: Rustscheff

              I only eat meat, but Vedge tempted me to turn vegan.

              Matyson is one of the best restaurants in Philly, but you really need to go Mon-Thurs for their tasting menu.

              Or just go to Bibou 3 times. Yeah, that sounds like my next Epic Food Binge weekend...

        2. Buckethead and l seem to rarely agree. Thought Vedge was nice people with cute portions of OK food, nothing was even a double let alone a home run.l think the lamb shoulder is the way to go at Zahav. l also think that one meal at Bibou is ample. l would skip Matyson also and perhaps go to Farm & Fisherman. l am not a huge fan of Kanella or Sbraga as well.
          Have fun whatever your choices.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Delucacheesemonger

            Strangely I often do have the some of the same tastes as Buckethead. On this subject I firmly aligned with Deluca's suggestions and observations.

            1. re: Bacchus101

              Tks a lot Delucacheesemonger and Bacchus. I promise to review all the places afterwards. You are all a fantastic community!

          2. Sounds quite wonderful!
            I would try to fit Vernick in there - but make sure to get a reservation well in advance. He's been getting named best new chef all over the place.
            I would also say skip twice at Bibou.
            And I wouldn't recommend Vedge, although I know some people love it.
            My friends who are not veggie oriented have enjoyed it but thought that once was enough.
            If it works out and you love oysters (as we do), try to stop in at the Oyster House on Sansom Street. Marvelous oysters.
            No reservations, very casual.

            5 Replies
            1. re: sylviag

              Dear chowhounds, tks for all Your suggestions. We are now on our last legs in Philly and here is the Evaluation from the Princess:
              1) Dandelion: first night after arrival. LOVELY building inside and out. Spectacular burgers, cool ale and very competitive pricing. I actually dare to say this was the best burger-served medium rare as asked for-ever, and I have had the foie gras burger of the Private Room at Changi Airport several times! Princess and Prince consort are in agreement. Five stars.
              2) Sbraga: large room, not very exciting ambience. Decent pricing. LOTS of taste, but why do foie gras soup with green curry AND lamb with green curry in the same meal. My lamb was dry and burnt as well! Princess loved it. I did not. All in all four stars.
              3) Zahav: the full Lamb experience for both including a bottle of Chateau Musar 2007 and bubbly water for USA 210 including tip! Tons of exciting mezes, ENORMOUS amounts of succulent tender lamb, even too much for ME, the Glutton of the North to finish offf in one setting. Took a doggy bag for the first time ever in my life! Princess and price consort in total agreement. Princess wanted to go back within the week! Five stars.
              4) Bibou: I would have loved to love the Bibou. We had the sunday dinner and got cold asparagus soup-not exciting at all. Princess got the signature snail dish and I the Foie gras stuffed Pigs foot. Both dishes were exquisite but the pigs foot was stuffed with pigs shoulder, not foie gras. I do make this dish at home sometimes-stuffing it with morels. I did remark this to the maitre'd who just stated that there was no port shoulder in it and that there was foie gras. That somehow punctured our experience and we chose to waiver our second visit. All in all good, exciting dishes, affordabe, enough food but... Princess had quenelles as main cours which she did NOT enjoy. Disagreement between princess and prince consort. Four stars minus.
              4): Matyson: Asparagus week. Asparagi in everything, including pie. Lovely contrasts in tecture, amazing flavour but I WAS HUNGRY afterwards, even if I had the bread. That always drags the grade down. Four stars.
              5)McGillins ale house for lunch-were we crazy?? The most horrible shepherds pie ever tasted and a mountain of the blandest leberwurst along with 6 non-exciting microbrews for almost the price of Dandelion, in a room filled with people, surly servers and no ambience? Never again. Two stars.
              6) Devon seafood grill. Still the best happy hour in Philly. Two lobsters, 12 oysters, fried calamari, fried chipotle shrimp, one artisanal beer and 7 signature drinks? USD 106 including 15% tip! Fantastic!
              7) Pearl Oyster bar: Traditional fried oysters with chicken salad. Fpr USD 15 incl tip-3 half burnt fried oysters which were green inside, a heap of cole slaw tasting nothing and a heap of chicken salad tasting nothing. Please-never again! Two stars.
              We will go to Talulas garden tonight and end our Philly experience for this time. Thanks a ton everyone.

              1. re: Rustscheff

                Glad you liked the lamb at Zahav. One of my favorite foods on the planet...

                Did we recomend Pearl's Oyster Bar or am I amiss?

                1. re: bluehensfan

                  You did not recommend it. "Everybody" said-go to the readin terminal market...

                  1. re: Rustscheff

                    The Reading Terminal Market is indeed great but not every oyster has a pearl! There are lots of fabulous places to eat at the market but Pearl's would not be up there on my list.

                2. re: Rustscheff

                  Just for future reference, a 20% tip is more the norm -- especially when you are enjoying fabulous happy hour discounts! :)