Thursday, December 30, 2010

Max Brenner, Philadelphia - Quick Review

1500 Walnut St., Philadelphia

After a show at the Arden Theater, my Girlfriend, Mo, and I were looking forward to checking out Max Brenner with our kids. From what I'd heard, everything is made with chocolate!

We arrived mid-afternoon, mid-week hoping it to be slow. Unfortunately, it's the week between Christmas and New Year's Day so anyone with vacation time to use up is off. The second you walk in the door expect to be blasted with the scent of chocolate. It's piped right in. If you stuck out your tongue you would taste it in the air.

When I walked in to Max's, I expected to be smack dab in the middle of the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory--everything to be made from chocolate, taste like chocolate, be chocolate. It was almost so.

While we waited, oh so painfully, for our table to be bussed from the last batch of diners, the kids entertained themselves by watching a giant vat o' chocolate on auto blend. And, of course, touching every gift package in sight. Plus, as we waited, we had the pleasure of overhearing a patron complain about the slow service.

 Hmmm, there seems to be a theme, and I'm getting less and less excited to sit down with four wound up kids.

Once we were finally seated, there was plenty to choose from for the kids...we ended up with the Ultimate Treat which included your choice from a dozen different hot chocolates and an item from the lunch menu.

Mo and I both ordered the Grilled Chicken Panini, delivered on a wooden slab with exactly 5 waffle french fries. Grilled chicken, goat cheese, spinach, tomato, black olive pesto on a toasted panini roll was delish.

We agreed to go back for a Girls Night Out and try some of the fancy chocolate cocktails and munch on the chocolate desserts. With the four kids, there was no time for lingering over anything luxurious this time. But definitely worth a revisit.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Slate Restaurant

102 S. 21st Street, Philadelphia

Slate was a convenient choice for Girls Night Out. Being relatively new and close to the Cleopatra exhibit which the Girlfriends and I had just explored, why not venture a try? It was a cold night and we weren't up for a long walk.

Once we walked in, however, we were a little let down to see just one other table of patrons. That always makes me nervous. But, at least we have no problem getting a decent table. The ambiance was nice for a neighborhood restaurant. It had potential...

The menu was reminscent of typical bar food, but kicked up a notch. It looked promising.

We started with traditional calamari and spicy remoulade ($9) which was good. It was crispy and had a nice kick. The baked goat cheese ($8) salad with toast points was just average thanks to the bitter lettuce that was nearly inedible if you didn't pair a leaf with the cheese.

One Girlfriend and I ordered the tilapia in parchment paper with seasonal vegetables. If you're watching your waistline, this is the way to go as it has no sauce, no spice and no flavor. Just steamed fish and vegetables. However, it arrived for the Girlfriend...raw. As in, not on purpose and not edible. R.A.W. What chef doesn't check his food before it's sent out?

Another Girlfriend tried the pasta with scallops and shrimp. But it was oily and seemed to be "low tide in oil", because the scallops were fishy.

To top off our less than mediocre experience, the ladies bathroom was "pissy", and the wine pours were ridiculously slight.

Not worth a return visit...ever.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Hoof + Fin

617 S. Third Street, Philadelphia

We went against our own rule of waiting to dine at a restaurant until it's been open at least a month. You know, so they can work out the kinks. But, the Girlfriends and I just didn't want to wait to get to Hoof + Fin in Queen Village. Three weeks opened is close enough.

If you've read anything about it already, then you know it's in the old Gayle space and has outdoor seating in a small courtyard. Bonus!

Overall the ambiance was intimate and cozy, thanks to the very dim lighting. If you have old eyes, bring your flashlight for the menu. It's farmhouse style with a touch of rustic, dish towel-esque napkins, butcher block tables, coat hooks on the wall and vintage paint-by-number artwork (clearly scavanged from someone's grandmother's basement) hanging awry on the walls. The noise level wasn't an issue as the restaurant never fully filled up.

Complimentary skinny breadsticks arrive first in a mason jar with basil cream dipping sauce, heavy on the basil. We heard the couple specials, one of which was a suckling pig. Interesting, I thought. The Girlfriends opted with the calamari and truffle aioli which also came with some grilled vegetables. It was very lightly breaded and mild. A nice starter. We also tried the cheese and corn empanadas. The empanada had a very thick crust, which when you cut into caused the sweet manchego cheese to ooze out. It also came with a small side salad. We liked the calamari better.

Roz had the pappardelle with braised short ribs in a putanesca sauce. It was not a heavy dish, slightly sweet sauce, and a good portion (meaning, not a ridiculous amount). She was very happy with it. Mo had the butternut squash risotto with mushrooms and soy beans, lightly flavored, not overcooked (as I find risotto so often is) and the beans were firm. It was also a good portion. You can order small or large plates of the pasta. While we didn't order a salad, we saw on another table that it comes in a metal bowl - the exact same bowl I use at home for mixing. The consensus at our table was that it was taking the rustic theme a little too far.

Because I don't eat red meat or pork, I had a hard time finding something on the menu. I selected "From the Grill" which has a small variety of seafood and meat. You have the option to pair it with one starch and one vegetable from a list of sides. I had the Mahi Mahi with grilled vegetables and buttermilk mashed potatoes. I hate to say that I was horribly disappointed. There was no description of the fish other than "grilled." I wrongly assumed it would be lightly seasoned and would taste mainly like mahi mahi. Big mistake. One bite in and I had a mouthful of Old Bay. And that's about all I could taste. So much Old Bay in fact, that I couldn't even eat it. Mo didn't have an issue with it so we ended up switching plates. The mashed potatoes were good, but the vegetables were saturated in balsamic vinegar. If you order something From the Grill, do yourself a solid and ask how it's seasoned.

Desserts were limited in selection. I'm always disappointed when there isn't something in chocolate, so we had bread pudding with vanilla ice cream and tres leches. Both were very good.

We had no problems getting same day reservations. Service was excellent and attentive but not overly so.

Check out the menu.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


926 South Street, Philadelphia

The boys tried the highly rated French Bistro Supper for guy’s dinner last night. Whereas we did not ask the Supper crew to "whip us up something special," for the most part it did not disappoint.

The hype about Supper is that it is a quaint space with innovative modern French food reasonably priced but with small portions. And that just about covers it.

The ambience was a highlight. Check out the picture. The open ceiling is a nice touch. We sat downstairs and immediately noticed that the large windows are meant to be opened in the warmer months. That sounds great, but keep in mind that Supper is located on South Street across from one of the most popular Whole Foods Markets in the US.

It was oddly quiet for a Thursday night. The four of us were one of four groups of people in the restaurant with nobody sitting at the bar. I’m not sure if this is due to the location or the economy, but we were surprised. Of course despite the availability, they seated us next to another couple which was slightly annoying since it made our table a little cramped.

After we ordered beverages (nice wine selection by the glass, above average craft beer selection), the chef/owner, Mitch Prensky came by and introduced himself. He is very personable and has a nice sense of humor. We were impressed except for the fact that he was on his way out, leaving us to the other chefs in the kitchen.

For appetizers, we had the smoked wings made with birch beer, buttermilk and pepper. We all agreed that the wings were amazing. They were cooked perfectly and the combination of the tangy pepper/birch beer was beautifully balanced by the buttermilk. We also had the crispy squid which is made with Sichuan sausage and sambal. The squid was flavorful and had a citrus taste to it. Overall, the group had mixed reviews on it. I thought it was just ok.

For the entrees we each got something different so we could taste as much as possible. Why does that sound so gay when I type it? Not that there is anything wrong with that, but I digress. John had the vinegar chicken. I know John very well, too well. He never orders chicken at dinner. He was relatively happy he did as it was very good, but a tad dry.

Marcus rolled (yes Marcus rolls) with the Spicy Crusted Tuna. From the moment he ordered it I thought mistake. I was right. It was good, but tiny and not different than other tuna entrees at other Philadelphia restaurants.

From the moment we walked in, Marc was set to have the Duck & Waffles. Remember this is a newish French Bistro so you are bound to find a few offbeat items. Marc made the reservations so he clearly looked at the menu prior to us going to know that this dish was offered. Marc loved it. It was good, but you have to appreciate Duck. It was cooked perfectly and the maple bourbon ad jus was an excellent compliment.

I ordered the only Large Plate, Beef Short Rib. This was also cooked perfectly. The meat literally fell off the bone and the saffron cous cous was also tasty. I was a little disappointed with the amount of fat and the portion size.

The good news is that Supper also serves excellent sourdough bread. And, they are more than happy to refill the bread. This minor detail goes a long way with smaller portions.

Overall, Supper is good, not great, but definitely worth a visit.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Amis Trattoria

412 South 13th Street, Philadelphia

Amis is Marc Vetri's third restaurant in Philly that opened last month. Compared to his first two, Osteria and Vetri, Amis has a more casual, neighborhood vibe with palatable prices and Italian cuisine with Roman influence.

Amis has a warm and cozy atmosphere with butcher block-like tables, an open kitchen with a counter for dining, a small bar and large windows overlooking 13th Street.

Our server was incredibly knowledgable and professional and described the menu superbly. The wine list was completely unfamiliar but our server simply asked what we liked and confidently replied she had something we would love. I'm always skeptical when a complete stranger claims to know I'll LOVE something. Fortunately, she wasn't too far off.

The menu encourages sharing but it's not required. Portions are well-sized. Unlike at Vetri, you don't leave hungry.

Plates from the left side of the menu are intended as starters. We had a seafood misto, which was deep fried shrimp and sardines (top). Think tempura style. The shrimp were not peeled and still had legs and tails. The sardines were reported as "a little fishy". So I didn't go there. Next (right) we had brushetta with eggplant. Nice flavor, mild. The bread is soaked in olive oil and grilled. Jacks up the roof of your mouth. And, another brushetta (bottom) with ricotta and olive oil. Again, mild and light. A girlfriend had dined here before and recommended we get the Artichokes - whole artichokes flash fried...twice. My arteries will never be the same. The girlfriends liked it. I thought it was just okay.

Choosing an entree was tricky. There were many items with strange and unappetizing sounding names like pork jowel, fried tongue, tripe... I'm just not that adventurous. One girlfriend had rigatoni with swordfish in a red sauce and eggplant fries (below). That was not a typo...eggplant fries. They rocked! Lightly crispy on the outside and super soft on the inside. And, they kind of tasted like a french fry! That dish was very nice, not sweet, good chunks of swordfish and tangy tomatoes.

I opted for the "comfort" food and had the tocconelli pasta, which is similar to spaghetti, with pecorino and black pepper. S.A.L.T.Y. It was so salty I couldn't eat that much. I could feel myself bloating instantly. But, the other g's weren't bothered by it. The gnocchi with oxtail ragu was rated very good, as was the buccotini with pork jowl, which was barely spicy and very salty.

But, hands down, the belgium waffle dessert with nutella and hazelnut ice cream was the winner. We should have ordered more. The pear torte was very mild and lightly sweet. Not a bad ender, but not as good as the waffle.

As one girlfriend said, it will be interesting to see how they change the menu for the summer. This was clearly a winter selection.

And a word to the calorie counters. Don't bother. They don't even carry skim milk for cappuccinos.

Friday, January 1, 2010


1415 W. Porter Street, Philadelphia

Yet another spot for Girls' Night Out, L'Angolo was selected not just for the delicious food, but also for its flirty Italian waiters. It makes the night that much more fun.

L'Angolo is intimate, cozy and friendly. The kind of place where the whole restaurant joins in to sing happy birthday.

We started off the evening with Bitch wine. We were in that kind of a mood. It was a little sweet but not as horrible as I thought it would be. Fun for the label.

Fresh bread with olive oil and olives promptly arrives at the table. And we quickly ordered up Baked Wild Mushrooms with rosemary and fontina ($8.50), heavy on the mushroom flavor, and fresh Grilled Calamari with herbed olive oil and lemon ($9), just right on the grilled flavor.

The grilled vegetable special with homemade ricotta was so good, my girlfriend wanted to "drink it with a straw".

Mahi mahi was fresh, but girlfriend pulled a whole piece of garlic out and was a little frightened of the repercussions. Lobster ravioli was also fresh and delicious. I can't imagine not ordering when I come in here.

Desserts were to die for. Especially the pumpkin cheesecake. Tiramisu I will never turn down but this was was "not bad"
Definitely worth a visit, and a return.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Pizzeria Stella

For a quick bite on the way to a Sixers pre-season game, we stopped in to check out the newly opened Pizzeria Stella, Stephen Starr's latest venture located right on Headhouse Square in the old Cosi spot. On a Friday evening around 6 there were plenty of open tables inside and out. But they didn't last long. There could be a bar, but we didn't stay inside long enough to notice. It was too nice outside. Besides this place is more about eating than getting your drink on (Which you can do if you so choose. It's not a byob.) What I did notice, however, was the large open dining space, open kitchen and ceiling-high pile of cut wood for the oven.

A glance of the menu showed a short list of wines, all by the glass. And, the beer list--while also short--included a selection like Lagunitas made it interesting.

We split an order of the calamari and octopus salad with new potatoes, olives, red onions and dressed with olive oil ($5). It was fresh, not chewy, and light. Thumbs up. We also split the Margherita pizza with buffalo mozzerella and topped with leaves of basil ($13). The pizzas are sized as individual with a very thin crust, which makes them light and easy for one person to finish. The sauce wasn't sweet and the cheese wasn't too greasy. All wins in my pizza book.

I overheard our dining neighbors raving about something with an egg over easy. It could either be the Tartufo pizza (black truffle, fontina, egg, parmesan) or the Asparagus (sunny side up egg, parmesan, olive oil). I'm guessing the Asparagus. Either way, he said it was something he's never before tasted - and it sounded like he wanted more.

We definitely want more. We'll be going back.

March 18, 2010: Edited to add a return visit.

Not as good as the first, I'm disappointed to say. It was a Thursday. Early evening, like 6:30ish. Plenty o' tables to be had, but still a decent crowd. The hubby and I were seated at a communal table, which was empty, on the end, closest to the people traffic. As I'm eyeballing the hubby about this predicament, the hostess promptly seats a family with two very young children directly next to us. Ummmm, oblivious, anyone? We were out without our kids. A couple. On a date. Fortunately, our neighbors recognized the situation and asked to be moved to a separate booth. But still. Get smart hostess! Aside from that, the food was good, but not great. Might've been an off night. Just thought you should know.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Village Whiskey

118 S. 20th Street, Philadelphia

Written by RD

Don’t rush to Village Whiskey. We went over, we thought early--6PM on Friday -- and it was packed. There seemed to be a strange table getting/giving arrangement. No reservations. The young woman taking names did not seem to know what to do. When we asked about the two empty tables in front--if we could have one--she told us that they were being held for people who were “on their way.” Evidentially, if you stop by and give your name and number, they call you when the table is ready and you scurry over. Sounds like a reservation to me.

We sat at the bar for drinks while awaiting a table. The young bartender spent most of his energy mixing a Sazerack for 10 minutes while wowing the girls with his banter and moves. Then it took him another 10 minutes to pour a 1.5 ounce vodka for my dining partner and a scotch for me. By now, the table is ready. (I think my description of the guy would be officious.)

On to the table! Great waitress, Beckie who was charming and helpful. Could not order another Scotch as they had run out of Dewar’s. Declined an offer of a free anything else in the scotch line and got wine. The food overall was great. I’ll tell you about that later. The burgers were cooked to perfection. They were even shaped to perfection. Perfectly round, uniform 8 ounces, very well ground, tasty beef. But, you know where I am going with this...bordered on the bland. French fries cooked in duck fat with a secret blend of salt and spices –eh. Not worth it.

Drinks $13-14 each. Burgers $9 (plus whatever you put on top was extra). Fries $5, Oysters $3 each (not bad.) Pickled “firsts” were delicious and $4-6. Burger dinner for 2 $105 plus tip. Not rushing to return. Maybe better after things calm down and on a weekday night.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


246 Market Street, Philadelphia

It was Girls Night Out and we headed to Privé before the end of Restaurant Week. There was plenty of space to sit outside, so we did. We were promptly served sliced bread with olives (4) and a topping combination of chopped feta with roasted red piquillo peppers and secret spice. Our waiter appeared with a great attitude, ready for some fun, until he disappeared for quite some time exactly when we needed our 2nd bottle of wine. Girls Night Out should never have a dry moment.

We started with Fig and Prociutto Salad with gorgonzola, rucola and white balsamic. It needed salt and pepper, which was not on the table. Booo. Mac and Cheese topped with crunchy breadcrumbs, but again, needed seasoning. Exotic Mushrooms with boursin cream sauce was the best in the bunch. Mushroomy flavor, but not overpowering.

Entrees were the Mahi Mahi over risotto. The fish was fresh and done well but the risotta was was too sticky. The chicken entree was okay but needed to be kicked up a notch. The steamed veggies were the best part. The shrimp dish, which included just 3 shrimps but cooked well, could yet again use more seasoning. "I had Rice -A-Roni last week that is better than this," said Roz.

Dessert was a hit except for the chocolate (which wasn't very flavorful) with a side of not-warm creme brulee. Creme Brule must be warm, although it did have a nice flavor and came with homemade marshmallows. The citrus cheesecake had a subtle hint of goat cheese and was out of this world.

Probably not worth a return for us - there are just too many really good restaurants out there - and for most of the entrees to need salt and pepper - bland! Plus, our disappearing waiter had the nerve to add 18% gratuity to our three-person check. Fat chance, pal.

Monday, August 17, 2009


775 S. Front St., Philadelphia

It was time for Couples Dinner and the six of us headed to Southwark for drinks. An intimate spot, so not the best choice for our group pre-dinner drink. But they do have great service, wines and beers. The ambiance is soothing. Beautifully renovated with deep dark woodwork and jazz in the background--more appropriate for romance perhaps.

From there we strolled over to Saute, excited to try a new restaurant and with an outdoor space to boot!

While I want to give the food a relatively positive review, the service could have been better. Much better. Actually, our server could have had a better personality. How is it possible to be void of personality with a fun-loving group and their 6 bottles of wine? He alone nearly ruined the experience. Plus, the fact that they turned off the outdoor ambiance lighting on us (before 11 pm on a Saturday night!), completely pissed us off all to the point of not returning.

The new owners renovated the old Le Creole spot, even taking the trashbin filled alleyway and turning it into a nice outdoor area NOT on the sidewalk. Bonus! The menu is small, but makes it easier to choose. We started with the Crab and Tomato salad. The combined feedback from our group, "Where are the Jersey tomatoes?" These were flavorless and colorless. Fortunately, the dressing was nice and made up for the lack of tomato flavor. Shrimp ceviche had a nice kick and was fresh, however the avocado wasn't ripe or soft. Boooo. Grilled Pineapple was sweet at first then had a twist of heat. Nice. Polenta was sweet and salty, everyone loved it. And they put ripe tomatoes with it!

Lentils were coconuty, not to much curry. Scallops weren't gritty, very good. The special fish, Opah, was yummy over rice, but overcooked, as was the pork tenderloin.

Desserts were a waste of money. Someone likened them to "Jenny Craig Shit" Go somewhere else.

Before they turned the lights off on us, we all agreed we'd come back. The place has potential. Definitely hit or miss, and the outside was great. But the rudeness of kicking us out killed that chance.

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