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Help with celebratory dinner this weekend (Philly or Main Line area)

I'm hoping for some assistance, as my indecisiveness is making this challenging. I am trying to plan a dinner for this Saturday evening to celebrate my fiance's new job. I'm torn between going somewhere new and going to places we've already been, and I'm torn between schlepping into the city, (we live in Ardmore and I work in the city, so I do the unglamorous schlep everyday), and sticking to the more limited suburbs. Here are some options I've come up with, in no particular order:

1. Alba (We've been here before and always enjoyed it.)
2. Sola (We've been here before and usually enjoyed it, though last time it wasn't as good. It is very convenient, though.)
3. Panorama (We've been here before and always enjoyed it. We used to live in Old City so I can handle the parking situation better there than in other areas of the city)
4. Osteria (We've been here before and always enjoyed it.)
5. Amis (We've never been here but the menu looks good. I'm a little nervous about parking, though, and wonder if the atmosphere will seem informal, meaning it won't feel like a special occasion.)
6. Sovana Bistro (We've never been but think it sounds great. It is quite a hike, though.)
7. Blackfish (I have heard nothing but positive things, but wonder if it is too "overdone" for our palates. The menu is also quite limited for a vegetarian.)
8. Alla Spina (I have never been and have heard mixed things, though we've have never had a bad experience with a Vetri restaurant. But, I'm worried it might be too casual, loud, inconsistent, etc.)
9. Majolica (I haven't been here for years. We were going to go here Valentine's day weekend and canceled due to sheer laziness and a nagging sensation--based on no real facts--that it might not be good.)
10. 333 Belrose (We have never been but I remember hearing a lot about it in the past. The menu is quite limited for a vegetarian, though.)

Worth noting, I am an ovo-lacto vegetarian, and with the seemingly new movement to put meat into everything this is sometimes challenging at restaurants with very small menus. Usually places can accomodate me with advanced notice, though I wonder whether some of the above options will be a waste of money for me, i.e. Blackfish. Also, I am a non-drinker so BYOB vs. liquor license doesn't really matter to us, though it is nice if the restaurant has a decent wine-by-the-glass selection, so that my fiance doesn't feel limited in his choices. Neither of us like super loud places, so if any of these places are known for their noise I'd probably rule them out on that alone. In general, I'd say that we both appreciate really good food of the Italian or New American persuasion, but tend to be somewhat turned off if food seems over done. For example, neither of us appreciated the molecular gastronomy present at Marigold Kitchen and left annoyed and unsatisfied. Finally, there is no magic to the list I've created, (you can tell that it is all over the place), other than that it includes places we've been and enjoyed or places I've heard good things about. If we decide to go into the city then in some ways the world is our oyster and many more options come into the mix. The only other thing I can say is that money is somewhat of an issue, so I'd like to keep this under $150 total (tax, tip, and alcohol included).

Thanks in advance for your guidance, or perhaps steering me in a completely different direction!

Also, it should be noted that as of yesterday all of these places had open tables, though I realize as Saturday gets closer and closer this might change. Thanks!

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  1. I can't help with the burbs, but have you considered Meritage? It flies under the radar but gets good reviews when people notice it. Think you can eat there. I wouldn't do Amis, it tends to be loud and casual as does Alla Spina (I like. Both, just not for what you are describing.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Bigley9

      Thanks for the recommendation! I've heard good things about Meritage though wasn't sure whether it would be a good fit for us. I'll definitely look into it more, though. Thanks!

    2. We live near you, and have been to 333 Belrose a few times. It's a pleasant room, with decent, although not spectacular food, and you can definitely get wines by the glass.

      Have you thought about Savona in Gulph Mills? Not the very expensive side, but the newer BarSavona? We haven't been, but we hear good things, and it's an Italian menu with a lot of vegetarian-friendly options.

      We were at Amis recently - the food is outstanding, but so is the noise level. Definitely not a place for a quiet conversation.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Strocophate

        Thanks for your reply. I looked at Savona's menu. I couldn't get a sense of what the BarSavona was like. Is it "formal" enough to feel like a special dinner, or does it just seem like an expensive (at least for us) meal in a less formal/bar-like setting? Perhaps I'm just being thrown off by the word "bar." Thanks!

      2. I just thought I'd report back. When Thursday night had rolled around and I still couldn't decide where to go I asked my fiance to tell me his preferences. Osteria seemed like a good bet, but by that point they had no reservations left at a time that worked for us. So, he chose Panorama.

        We had an 8:00pm reservation but weren't seated until after 8:15pm. And, once we were seated we sat and sat and sat. We probably received water after about 15 minutes but did not see our waiter for a good 30+ minutes after being seated. So, if you're doing the math you'll realize we didn't order until close to 9:00pm. We finally ordered and were finally given bread at about 9:00pm. My fiance ordered a wine flight and we both ordered appetizers. The appetizers came out pretty quickly but unfortunately they brought out the wrong appetizer for me and immediately took both of our appetizers back. 15 minutes later the correct appetizers came, but still no wine flight. Our waiter checked back in with us once to say that a party of 12 had ordered 12 wine flights before us, which was the cause for the delay. While I'm sure this put a strain on the bartender, I'm not sure how long it takes to make the flights nor do I think it should have taken over 30 minutes from the time of order to get the wine. My appetizer did turn out to be good though I'm told the salad my fiance ordered, which I didn't try, was just so-so. About 15 minutes after finishing the appetizers (and before the wine arrived) our entrees came out. Unfortunately, the entree I was given was again wrong, which I realized after having my fiance taste it (it had seafood in it, which I do not eat). It took us a solid 5-7 minutes to even get the waiter back to the table to tell him that this was the wrong dish, so I watched my fiance eat his dish while staring at my empty bread plate and wondering why the wine still had not arrived. The wine eventually came, as did the appropriate dish, and we were finally able to get bread, but at that point we were both ready to get out of there. If we had had a different waiter we probably would have sent the wine flight back, as there really is no value in a wine flight that arrives 10 minutes after one's entree. We ordered dessert to go, which unfortunately was not very good, and tried to get out of there as quickly as we could. But, we still weren't walking to our cars before 10:00pm.

        So, the moral of the story is that I see no reason to return. It was hard to say what the cause of the bad service was and I don't want to unfairly blame anyone on the wait staff if there were other issues causing the delay. Clearly some of the wait staff was really exerting a lot of effort. For example, the bus boys were clearly hustling around and doing the best they could, but we wouldn't see our waiter for long periods of time, had to flag him down after the food was delivered instead of having him check-in on us, etc. Yet, it is possible that he was spread too thinly or attending to tables in another room. It was a bit odd that there were a good 4+ people there in what appeared to be hostess/maitre de roles who didn't check-in with us after we sat at the table for 30 minutes without seeing our waiter, didn't bring over bread when our plates were empty, etc. All in all, even if the food was stellar, which is was not, and even if the prices were good, which they were not (the total bill with gratuity was $130), the poor service alone was reason enough not to return.

        10 Replies
        1. re: Laura D.

          were others there having similarly bad service?
          Could this be a case where the one waiter had it out for you?
          (I don't know if that makes it better or worse, it was just the thought I had while reading your post).

          1. re: Bob Loblaw

            Hi Bob,
            Service seemed mixed across the board so I don't think it was just us. For example, a party of 2 with a reservation (presumably for 8:00pm) walked in right after us and didn't get seated until close to 8:30pm. We also watched a few other tables arrive and be ignored for longer than expected. Finally, it seemed as if the table behind us didn't get glasses of wine for an incredibly long time after they ordered, and may have been given the wrong wine at some point (though it was hard to hear well enough to know this for sure). I think there may have been a party downstairs, and I know that in the dining room I was in they were setting up for a table of 12 that was arriving around 9:00pm. But, I'm still not sure that either of this things should have caused all of the service issues that we (and others) experienced. They were either poorly or incorrectly staffed, or there as some major issue going on that was not visible to us but which was affecting the entire flow of the restaurant.

            1. re: Laura D.

              That's a shame - I haven't been to Panorama in a number of years but I always enjoyed it and had good service - you'd think with their La Famiglia petigree they wouldn't fail in service. I guess I won't return until I hear something better.

          2. re: Laura D.

            I've never even heard of this restaurant, but I think I now know why.

            What a bummer. Next time, based on your dietary restrictions, I suggest Vedge.

            1. re: Boognish

              Panorama should be better known because it has the best wine list in the city.. especially for wines by the glass. The food unfortunately usually disappoints.

              1. re: cwdonald

                The wine was definitely the selling point for us, but we've always had pretty good, albeit overpriced food here. Unfortunately that doesn't seem to be the case anymore.

                1. re: Laura D.

                  If one was to based their decision to dine at Panorama on the appearance of the facilities and the wine offerings; it looks like a good bet for a nice experience. I certainly would have high expectation. Thanks for the heads-up. Guess this is an example of that old saw about books and covers!

                  1. re: Bacchus101

                    Maybe it was an off night, but it was "off" from start to finish, which was enough to turn me off for good.

                    1. re: Laura D.

                      There are too many good restaurants and new ones opening to try for a place like that to have an "off night."

                2. re: cwdonald

                  Agreed. Never thought the food was special.

            2. Consider Vedge. Food is great (and safe for your restrictions), plus plates are generally small so you can spend as much or as little as you'd like.