Sf visits Phl ... thoughts for a friday?
- bbulkow Jan 24, 2014 09:25 AM
I'm planning a weekend trip to philly soon. When GF and I do a long weekend, I pack a list of casual and semi-casual spots in different parts of town, wine bars, out of the way places, tourist eats (several best cheesesteak lists.... etc), but we also have one reserved dinner.
Being from SF, we're a little jaded, but generally like food that is modern, surprising, with new and unusual tastes. Restaurants that are straight-ahead of a given style (even the best of that style) is not what we're looking for this time.
Price is no object, we like wine (BYOB fine). we like apps & small plates, we really will eat anything, and assume we can transport ourselves anywhere.
Here's my short list at the moment:
Are you asking for a rec for your one reserved dinner?
How did you narrow it down to those four? None of them would be my pick for a one-night-in-Philly dinner, but of them, Sbraga would be my pick, then Fond. I wouldn't suggest Amada, it's good but not good enough for an out of towner for your one dinner in Philadelphia. I haven't been to Marigold since the current chef took over, opinions on it vary quite a bit.
Here here Bidley you are right on. I would add in Vernick, Will (modern american) , Le Virtu (abruzzo centered italian) and Nord (scandanavian) as places to consider.
Amada is pretty basic tapas. Unless you are going there for the roasted pig, I would probably pass on it. You can find comparable tapas places in San Francisco.
It is well worth getting down to the East Passyunk neighborhood where there are lots of newer restaurants. They tend to be smaller, BYO, and some of the most interesting food in the city. And if you have a car, consider buying your beverages in a state other than PA as our liquor stores selection are dreadful.
Just to try to give a bit more context for several of the restaurants mentions.
Fork is a French inspired modern food restaurant. They have a new chef Eli Kulp, who has reinvigorated the place and elevated it to one of the better restaurants in the city.
Serpico is run by former Momofuku kochef Peter Serpico. You will get David Chang type food here.. inventive and definitely interesting.
Ela is a modern small plate restaurant in Queens Village run by Jason Chichonski. People are split on it.. some love it some hate it. There is definitely some interesting technique used in the cooking .. (eg noodles made out of scallops.).
Best restaurant in Philly propper right might be The Farm and Fisherman IMHO (BYOB). Farm-to-table done right, despite the silly name. Chef used to be CdC at the famous Blue Hill at Stone Barns.
I'm tempted to say Serpico is #2 (not BYOB). Ex-chef from Michelin 2-star Momofuko Ko, so you know it's creative. Very small but interesting wine list.
Vedge (vegan) might be #3. I know scary, but it really has mind-blowing veggies. They were talking about opening a location in Cali last year (SF?) but they put it on hold. BYOB or wine list are essentially the same cost ($25 corkage or $25 markup). Interesting wine list.
Obviously we're not mentioning some favorites like Bibou, since it sounds like unusual/creative is your thing. Noord (Nordic, well-known Chicago chef who recently moved back home) might also fit. Vernick, Fork, High Street, The Fat Ham, Will might also fit. I like Fond, but for some reason I've never liked it as much as everyone else.
Marigold is a very intersting choice, but I'm going for the first time in a couple of weeks and so can't comment on it further. All the restaruant this thread are very good. The only one I'd drop is probably Amada (good, not great, a bit boring).
Interesting that no one has mentioned what is probably the most recommended restaurant on this board: Zahav (modern Israeli, James Beard award-winning chef). Although personally, after the Kitchen Counter dinner last weekend, I'm over my facination with it. I wrote an only 4-star Yelp review and everyone is going "WTF?" to me!
Shoot me an email and I'll tell you about an undergound restaurant that would be right up your alley.
Regarding BYOBing, if you don't bring it with you from SF, the selection isn't toooo bad as long as you go to one of the "Premium" outlets for the state-run PLCB stores. But I guess it depends on how big a wine geek you are (in my mind, some of the non-premium outlets are truely awful in their selection, but it varies).
You can find out where they are here:
If you do bring some wine from CA, please bring me a few bottles of Ridge Monte Bello while you are at it...
Re: BYOB, I've left out the fact that GF and I grew up near Phl and get back to the fair state of pennsylvania now and again. I grew up in delaware, her in swarthmore, so we're quite aware of the wine situation. We won't go as far as bringing some of our Ridge Advanced Tasting Program bottles (the Triangle bottling is very interesting), the challenge is to make do with the local tipple.
Ok, ok ---
I can't do Le Virtu because SF is in the middle of a very long flirtation with very excellent modern tasty italian, and we've been knocking around italy a bit recently. The menu at Fork feels a bit staid, similar Vernick, Will. Farm and Fisherman... I'll have to do a bit more reading.
We're to the point where we don't order entrees much any more. Two apps, a chance to rest and consider the menu again, then another two apps. That's how we roll. Did that tonight at our local high end cal-viet place, Tamerine (Palo Alto) where we haven't been in a few years because it's too crowded, but went on a whim and found a spare two spots at the bar. Nice.
Will report back, of course.
My tastes are more In line with yours but i think this guy will like ela and probably not looking for the kind of stuff on your list.
Laurel on east Passyunk might be a fit too.
Only problem is, the small byobs might not appreciate this approach to ordering.
Btw at sbraga you must order the prix fixe if you are seared. At the bar you can order a la carte but no reservations.
Of your list, Fond would be my first choice.
I agree that Serpico should be considered.
For out of the way places and a different experience, you should add Maize in Perkasie to your list but expect to sit there with your BYOB for at least 3 hours.
Another out-of-the-way place that shouldn't be missed, is Birchrunville Cafe -- only open 4 days a week.
Are you going to NY at all? If so, WD50 should be on your list for sure.
We had also been relocated to SF "the city" from the Philadelphia area. We lived in Pacific Heights and at that time certainly would not have considered Philly food offerings even close to that of SF. Now one can, without doubt, find excellent choices in Philadelphia that will not be close to exhausted in a long weekend. The suggestions made here are mostly all good choices according to my tastes. I am always a bit surprised at the mention of Maize and Kanella, both of which have a loyal following. Unless you want to travel out into the hinterlands; I would stay in Center City or at least Philadelphia county. We will look forward to your comments.
Although I obviously have not tried all of your fine dining venues, just an easy perusal of menus directs me more to your second list when equating Philly restaurants with SF.
I have the distinct feeling that Philly patrons are not quite as comfortable with "out there" WD50 type restaurants in the main.
Not that they don't have their place but I wonder how long these places actually tend to last in our city of Brotherly Love.
Definitely more in the range of the latter; Rich Table and State Bird certainly. I know of nothing of the Crenn or Commonwealth type menu in Philly, but then I do not seek out that style. Some of the dishes at Vedge may approach based on their uniqueness in use of vegan ingredients, but not a direct comparison for sure.
I'd go to Serpico over Fond but Fond is very good too. They usually do a great job at Fond with sweetbreads (not on their current menu, I see) and other offal, and fish. The skate wing is reliably excellent, there was also a tuna ceviche-style dish on their old menu that I loved (not on the current menu). Dessert there is great, the malted milk chocolate ice cream dish has been on the menu there a long time, I'd recommend that.
Given your stated preference for apps/small plates and modern/surprising, I really don't see Fond as the right fit for you.
My list, echoing others and in no particular order: Serpico, Zahav (see if you can score a weekend chef's table seat), Fork or especially it's sibling High St. on Market, Vernick, Cheu Noodle Bar, Vedge, Kanella, Talula's Daily
A comment on the Zahav chef's table. It books a month in advance, and there are only 8 seats per weekend. It is highly unlikely he will be able to get this seat. And they are not booking in February, so March is the earliest its available.
Cheu Noodle Bar.. I love eating lunch here, I am not sure I would make it a dinner destination. Really flavorful food, but really not in the same league as the other restaurants that you mentioned.
Ok, so here's what happened.
I got reservations at Sbraga, simply because I could. Serpico didn't have seats, etc etc. Then on the way to the airport, I called to confirm & ask if they could add one more chair --- nope. Although I found that odd - usually there's one table that has just enough space, they simply couldn't accommodate.
My first call was to Marigold Kitchen, and, yep, no problem. I asked for an early table, and they gave me 6pm (right at opening). As it looks like they have only one seating, this was a bit odd, although of course they need to space the dining.
MK ended up being the perfect meal for that evening. I don't know why the board doesn't recommend it more highly. The courses are light and flavorful, presentation is excellent, atmosphere is a little bare bones but excellent for a party of five that wants to hang out. Here's the menu we had:
Liquid Nitro Popcorn
Frozen Citrus Salad
Cracker (2 year old agend cabot cheddar)
Butternut Squash Bisque
Foie Gras Choolate Tuile
BBQ Potato Gnocchi
Of these, every course was good, and some were great. The potato foam with the bass made the dish exceptional (the bass was exceptional itself). The Fois Gras Tuille was a hard cookie with, instead of chocolate inside, a lighter concoction of fois gras. The presentation of the beet salad was exceptional as well. This is clearly michelin-1-star cooking, and at a reasonable price - with tax and tip, only about $120/pp --- and without wine, but bringing our own (my parents brought it from a huge wine store called State Line Liquor, right at the MD/DE border where she's on good terms with the staff) cuts costs significantly.
I can only think that you guys don't like tasting menus.
Yet, your recommendation of Serpico did not go amiss. After a mid-day at the Barnes and Mutter, we had an early drink and snack at the bar at serpico. The bar is slightly maligned, compared to the actual "chef's bar" that makes up the bulk of the restaurant. The food is good --- but we could only have a few dishes, and sampled the scallop crudo and the hand cut pasta (with snail sausage). I didn't taste the full bite that buttermilk should have, but the dish did sing overall, same with the pasta. Each dish had a coherence of theme that went beyond the interesting ingredients.
Other spots we hit and liked were Monk's, where we were dazzled by the mussels at 1am. I do like a good mussel, and these were at par of those in belgium, and after a long flight, doubly so. The fries were sub-par, not double-fried, but the atmosphere on the late side, along with the actual beers available, was just the thing.
We also stopped in at Farmer's Cabinet. Although there seem to be some great cocktail spots (the laundry place, Franklin Morgage, etc) we like music on our saturday night and Farmer's seemed like the right combo --- unlike Chris's Jazz, which was highly recommended by the bartender at Serpico, but the food options at Farmer's seemed a better chance. We were quite happy with that choice, nothing too over the top, but the music and atmosphere hit the spot.
Tomorrow we're going to do a few cheesesteaks. Don't hate me.
While late to the party, my choices would have been:
Farm & Fisherman
To start a cat fight
cheesesteaks while overrated, some are far better than others, mine would be:
John's Roast Pork
Hope your parents spoke to John or Rick, the owners of State Line,John short and stout with long white beard, and Rick with sleepy eyes and blond hair, both are sooooooo knowledgeable.
we know both john and Rick, we have been buying wine there since before I was legal. they run a pretty great shop.
for the kind of dinner we had, and the added amusement of getting reservations (which I asked ask of you to ignore) marigold kitchen was perfect.
why so little love here?
Here's my 2 cents about cheesesteaks.
The "standard cheesesteaks" seem to be pretty freaking bland. Even with Whiz. I can only think that's a "thing". However, Pat's has these great chilis to add on the side - Arbols, I think. Boy, does that make a difference. I've never seen anyone use Arbols.
I really, really like a pepper steak with hot and sweet. Some of the better known places with an attitude don't want to make that for you. Maybe if you're from their 'hood, but not for me, some freak from out of town.
Local pizza joints that makes steaks will almost certainly make you a peppersteak with hot and sweet. The philly steak joint in Palo Alto (which flies in Amaroso's, and has decent prices - like a 10" for $7 ) will make me a pepper steak with hot and sweet.
Once you get over that hurdle of making a steak with hot and sweet, I think you're arguing fine points. I liked the meat at Sonny's. I didn't try some of the listed places - I had only one afternoon dedicated to cheesesteak.
In SF, we have a similar problem with our hometown burritos that you have with cheesesteaks. I ate a LOT of burritos in my 20's - it was the heartiest dinner you could have for $5 and 15 minutes. I still love a good al pastor regular, and have my favorite spots, but al pastor is a finicky thing (depends on how fast they're serving it off the skewer, and a place during a rush will be worse than the same place when it's slow and the pork gets a chance to sear).
Now Chipotle has spread the SF burrito everywhere. Chipotle is surprisingly decent and true to the canonical Misson Burrito.
After yesterday I realize that:
1) It's ok to like some kick in your steak. If Pat's can serve chili arbol as a standard condiment, I can enjoy hot cherry peppers cooked in. Even if Pat's and Gino's won't cook hot cherries into the steak.
2) It's OK to like a really bland cheeseteak. If all you get is steak and provolone, it's a purer experience, and there's a certain joy in that. Certain places that use better meat will sing if that's what you like about a good steak.
3) Mushrooms add very little. And I love mushrooms (generally).
4) not chopping the steak as you cook it is valid. I prefer the steak chopped generally, chopping folds in the onions and somehow ends up unlocking more taste.