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.

What others say.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Oakmont National Pub

31 Eagle Road, Havertown

We've driven by it countless times, each time saying that we need to stop in and check it out. But restaurants in the suburbs make us nervous. Most of them are mediocre and disappointing. Finally, we made the leap, and The Oakmont National Pub was a nice surprise.

We peaked inside to see an old bar full of character, but opted to sit outside on the covered patio. There were ceiling fans for air circulation and two TVs to catch the Phillies game. It was really nice to not be on the side of a busy street. For a Friday night after 6pm, we didn't have to wait for a table, but it did fill up soon thereafter.

The beer selection was above par. Aside from your basic domestics, there was Chimay, Guinness, Harp and a rotating Belgian and IPA. Chardonnay's were Kendall Jackson and YellowTail. Prices were very reasonable. $4.50 for a Franziskaner and $7.25 for wine. When you're used to city prices, these are cheap!

Menu selection was good with a wide range to choose from - bar food, salads, seafood, entrees, kids menu. There's definitely something for everyone. The girls had pasta with butter and chicken fingers with fries. Everything was good, but the fries were on the crispy side if you like that. Hubby had the ribs which were spicy and tender. He was happy, but wanted a bigger portion. I opted for the grilled chicken sandwich which was juicy, no frills. Ella declared, "I like this place!" We all agreed. For a family of 4 who had two cocktails each, no appetizers, the bill was just $59. We'll be going back.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


3945 Chestnut St., Philadelphia

The Girlfriends and I dined at Distrito for the latest Girls Dinner and left disappointed. We had high expectations -- it's a Jose Garces restaurant after all, Amada being my all-time favorite restaurant in the city. Plus, the previous Guys Dinner at Distrito was nothing but positive praise.

We even left the menu selection up to the chef -- whether it was Garces or not we have no idea --by opting for the $55/person tasting menu. What happened?

It started off well. Decor is funky, movie theater-esque, a vintage convertible Volkswagen Beetle houses a table, a large wall of creepy wrestling masks, and the Jack Black movie Nacho Libre playing on one wall. Upstairs, we walked by porch swings and giant-sized wicker booths.

We, of course, started with a pitcher of margaritas ($49). That's right. $49. The margaritas were good, but not Copa good. If you don't know what I mean, go to Copabanana and have a margarita. At that price, we stopped after one. Very un-Girls-Dinner-like. Even the wine list was too pricey for us.

Because it was easier to let someone else do the deciding we chose the Tasting Menu. It was a lot of food. Complimentary peanuts showed up first, limey and spicy, then the food assault began. Jicama and Watermelon Salad, Salsa and Guacamole topped with shredded cheese and crabmeat. Delicious! Next was a spicy Yellowfin Ceviche with mango sorbet. Roz thought it was just ok, but I liked it. Huaraches (pizza) Los Hongos with mushrooms was the best so far. Scallops were tasty but had some grit. Carne Kobe Tacos showed up and were not very good according to my carnivore friends. They thought the lamb chops with bacon had nice flavor. Then fried plantains arrived sweet and desserty. Seemed out of place. Finally, lobsters on the half shell with beans and rice arrived chewy. We deemed it just okay. Dessert was Dolce La Leche, light and fluffy.

We topped off the evening with a recap of how unthrilled we were, and a watermelon margarita that Roz loved so much she "wanted to marry it." If we were to go back, it would be for the appetizers and a drink.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Sahara Grill - a quick review

1334 Walnut St., Philadelphia, 215.985.4155

A coworker and I had been trying for weeks to get together for lunch. Finally, our schedules allowed for it. She's not the most adventurous, having once dragged me into an Olive Garden for one of the worst meals I've had in years. If you can't do soup and salad well, you can't do anything well. So fat chance I was letting her pick the spot.

Sahara Grill is nearby and had good reviews so I thought I'd help my friend push her boundaries a bit. I was pleasantly surprised. A very small space with over a dozen tables. The staff was friendly enough, nothing over the top or rude. And the meal came out quickly. My friend and I both ordered the falafal with hummus platter ($9), so the opportunity to try a variety of items was off the table. But, it came with a small salad and hot pita wedges. Be sure you have your breath mints. The hummus is kicking, in a good way. About six falafal balls, crispy fried and soft inside. And the real friend loved them! Even the salad was flavorful.

The place filled up for lunch, which I tend to take as a good sign. I would definitely go back, maybe even try it for dinner with a friend on a casual night.

Friday, May 29, 2009

La Fontana Della Citta

1701 Spruce St., Philadelphia, 215.875.9990

We had been warned. High prices for okay food. But, we pursued the experience anyway.

First impressions were not good. La Fontana Della Citta had the look and feel of a bad suburban restaurant. Gilded framed paintings, marbled faux-painted walls, statues. Statues? Ugh. A bunch of Italian speaking young servers waiting on...just two other tables. Even the website with its auto play music is horrific. It was Girls Dinner, and our collective, "Oh boy." as we walked in the door said it all.

Girlfriend Mo had been there-TWICE-and claims to have had a good experience both times. I was highly doubtful. Especially after we noticed the white bread was stale and the olive oil offered nothing other than greasiness. And, a source of immediate annoyance, the only candle on our table was unlit. Guess the servers were too busy waiting on their two other tables to worry about little details like ambiance. But they had statues for that.

Thanks to Girlfriend Mo, we've now tried calamari in every Italian restaurant we've eaten in in the city. I can't tell you who's is the best, but La Fontana's was pretty tasteless. It came with marinara sauce for dipping which was also, amazingly, tasteless! Salt, a key ingredient, was definitely missing. The texture was light and crispy, but it was down right bland.

At some point, two groups of college girls in short ass dresses came strutting in with their Riunite jugs o' juice. The young Italian servers were smiling so hard, my face hurt. Surprisingly our service did not go downhill from there. And fortunately, the food got better. Hmmm.

The whole fish Branzino special was filleted tableside and was served with sun-dried tomatoes, lemon, and capers. The fish was fresh and the sauce was light and delish. Plus, we found only 3 bones. Of course, zero would have been better, but our expectations were still low. Although, I thought the fish was a little overcooked. Girlfriend Roz disagreed.

The Risotto con Funghi with porcini mushrooms was cooked al dente in rich cognac sauce. Yes, this was a winter heavy meal, and even though it stuck in my teeth, I brought it home and had the rest the next night. Yum.

Girlfriend Mo had another special, the Capellini with Shrimp, Scallops, and Spinach in a rose sauce. I think this was the best entree of the three. Fresh, light with a hint of sweetness.

And yet, the entire time, we snickered at the young girls in their stripper clothes. Girlfriend Roz succinctly put it this way, "I think there's a pole behind me."

We skipped dessert and finished our wine instead. The entrees prevailed, but not enough to warrent a return visit. Ever.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Dmitri's in Queen Village

795 S 3rd St, Philadelphia, PA - (215) 625-0556

Dmitri's is like an institution of the freshest seafood prepared in the most simple way. I'll never forget my first visit. I remember reading the review that raved about the grilled octopus. When it arrived in front of me, it smelled so unappetizing that I couldn't fathom it tasting good. But it did. It was so good in fact, that in the dozen or so times we've eaten there or ordered take out (weekdays only), the grilled octopus was a must-have item. We refused to waste an opportunity to order it.

Except I think I've finally had octopus burn-out. I just couldn't eat it again. My dining partner vehemently disagreed and dove right in. Freshly grilled octopus bits, drizzled with olive oil and served with lemon wedges and hot peppers. Not chewy. Just right. It's best eaten hot right off the grill.

Dmitri's is teeny. Cramped, in fact. Two high top tables placed next to the front door offer window seating as well as a clear view into the open galley kitchen where bar seating is also available for about six. Past that and up a step (Don't trip!) are about seven other tables. Get there early or wait in line...or at the bar across the street at New Wave Cafe.

Hot grilled pita wedges and fresh bread arrives first with olive oil for dipping. If I just ate the pita and the Avocado Citrus Salad I would be perfectly content. The Avocado Citrus Salad is the only salad I order when we dine there. It's not available for take out. My one complaint is that the bowl is way too small. Lettuce, avocado, grapefruit, orange and almond slices are jam-packed in this bowl. It's a struggle to keep the food from falling over the edges.

This last visit I decided to order a special - the scallops. As with all entrees at Dmitri's, the sides were rice and steamed spinach which, I hate to admit, is utterly boring. The scallops were simply grilled in olive oil but were gritty and instantly derailed my appetite. This is why it's best to stick with the basics, I suppose.

For a fresh, simple take on seafood in an intimate atmosphere, give it a shot. Don't expect romantic closeness though. People are in your personal space.

P.S. It's also cash only.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Fabulous Dining at Tinto

116 S. 20th Street, Philadelphia, (215) 665-9150

I'm honored to be a guest contributor to the Table for You blog.

I first went to Tinto in early 2007. I waited far too long for my second experience; I'd forgotten just how fabulous this place is. First, if you are a cheese lover, I must recommend one of the many wonderful cheese courses as a starter tapas. This is a great way to taste cheeses from another country, to experience a different culture. Next came the serrano wrapped figs, which were delicate, sweet and salty. A couple tapas ordered included the diver scallops seared to perfection and the pulpo was tender. As for my highlight, I could not get enough of the artichokes. As I'm not a big fan of artichokes, I inhaled these baby ones with their refreshing lemon flavor. Overall, this place is wonderful and great for any occasion.

Read what others say at Yelp; Gayot; Philly Mag.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Raw Sushi & Sake Lounge

1225 Sansom Street, Philadelphia, 215.238.1903

Raw has been getting great reviews from friends, so a group of us went for lunch today. Lunch time on a Friday was relatively empty. I've heard dinner is packed. Raw a narrow space with a bar and an outdoor patio.

They have an extensive menu that is not cheap, but the quality and freshness are superb. I had the Sashimi Lunch Platter ($16) which comes with miso soup, a salad, two pieces each of tuna, salmon, and whitefish sashimi, and 6 pieces each of spicy tuna and tuna sushi. A ton of food! I don't think I've ever eaten fish this fresh.

Friends had the Bento Box lunches and Tempura, which was a work of art. This things come with a lot of food so don't be fooled. Really, when it comes to sushi, aren't you only worried that it's fresh and quality? You simply will not go wrong here.

Friday, March 27, 2009


707 Chestnut St. Philadelphia, PA 19106 215-925-5555

Amada is my all time favorite restaurant in the city, so when Jose Garces opened up Chifa recently I didn't need to wait a month for them to iron out the kinks before going. He brought in his best, most professional wait staff who really knew the food, a Peruvian and Cantonese fusion of sorts.

Chifa is similar to Garces' other restaurants - sharing small plates. It's a great way to try many different foods. We ordered everything our server recommended and weren't the slightest disappointed. The Bluefin Tuna special was incredible. It is now a regular item on the menu but a modified version of what we originally had. Still delicious. I sent friends there for their anniversary dinner only to hear rave reviews of the Pork Belly Buns, and everything else they had. Since then, I've been back with some friends to find some of the dishes didn't quite live up to par, while others did. You'll start with puffy fried cheese rolls with spicy guava butter - if this was all they served we would have left happy. The Bluefin Tuna ceviche rocks and the Lobster Noodles were fabulous and filling.

If you feel overwhelmed by the menu, let the chef decide. You can't go wrong.

Read other reviews here; and here.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Vintage Wine Bar & Bistro

129 S. 13th St., Philadelphia

My idea of heaven: a wine bar with over 60 kinds of wine and flights ($15) to try them. A friend and I stopped in Vintage Wine Bar & Bistro after work on a cold, cold Thursday evening and found it to be surprisingly uncrowded. That's not to say it was empty. It was definitely not that. But we were expecting standing room only. There were several open tables and we were happy to occupy one of them. The bitter cold could have kept people away.

I checked the online wine menu and it's not up to date with what we had in the restaurant, but it gives you a good idea of the variety.

It's a narrow space with a few tables up front (ideal in the warmer weather when they open the tall windows), a long bar and high tables along the wall. Comfy, casual and candles on the tables. A chandelier made out of empty wine bottles is definitely an eye-catcher. Lots of ambiance and lively characters here.

We started with the Brie en Croûte ($12), Baked French Brie wrapped in puff pastry served with caramelized pear and finished with a gastrique sauce. The brie could have been melted a bit more, but the sweetness was a nice counter to the cheese. Very yummy if you like sweet.

Keeping it light and healthy since we're still recovering from holiday gorge, we both had salads with grilled chicken (add $4). She had the Caesar ($7.5), nicely topped with fresh shaved parmesan, and I had the Vintage House Salad ($7), mixed greens, haricots verts, shallot, pine nuts and cherry tomato served with a honey truffle dressing. Not overpowering with flavor, but light. Left me plenty of room to enjoy my malbec.

Great place to try new wines.

What others say: PhilaFoodie; CityPaper

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Lourdas Greek Taverna

50 N. Bryn Mawr Avenue, Bryn Mawr 610-520-0288

There are a number of restaurants near Ardmore that we keep putting on the backburner. We'd much rather head out in the city. But, it's a new year, so we thought we'd start crossing them off the To Do list.

Thankfully, I did not see the Lourdas Greek Taverna website beforehand because I would have crossed it off the list permanently. At the front door, we hesitated, noticing the brightness, lack of candles on the tables, age of diners - all my usual check points for good ambience were missing. But a friend recommended it and we were already there, so we pushed forth.

Aside from the waiter who was nearly void of personality and humor, and of course, the lack of ambience, the food was fresh and good tasting with the standard greek ingredients (olive oil, garlic, olives, feta).

We started with the Pikilia: dolmades, tzatziki, melitzanosalata, taramosalata, Feta cheese and Kalamata olives (12.95) and served with warm pita wedges. For two people, this was a lot of food. And if you're not up on your Greek, dolmades are delicate parcels made from grape leaves (also known as vine leaves) stuffed with long-grain rice, fresh herbs and seasonings. Tzatziki is a yogurt, cucumber and garlic dip. Although ours was more like a sauce--way too yogurty. Melitzanosalata is an eggplant dip (and I only know this because I looked up the word). If that's what we ate, it was sweet and our least favorite of the four. Taramosalata is a caviar spread. We enjoyed this one the most.

I opted for the pan-seared scallop special which came with wilted spinach and rice. Six huge scallops arrived nicely seared. Tasty, but again, too much food.

The whole fish special was a light fish similar to sea bass and seabream, forget the name, sorry. It was cooked perfectly, filleted tableside and included broccolini and roasted potatoes.
Everything was very good and with great sized portions for a very affordable price. In these economic times, in the burbs, this is a great option.

Cash only. BYOB.

What others say: here; here; and here.
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