photo by jenn kosar
Alright, I must confess. I like to think I am a carefree spirit who will grab her passport on a moment’s notice for the adventure of a lifetime. But I’m not. In particular, I cringe at the thought of “winging it” when it comes to dining. The idea that I could find myself in a new [or familiar] city and not have the best meal possible is too much to bear.
It need not be fancy, the latest trendy spot, or even the local classic. It just has to be a really good food experience. I’m willing to wander for breakfast, snacks, dessert, and possibly lunch, but I need the anchor of a dinner reservation. So technically, we were not completely without a plan. I did a little homework and selected Russet, Dandelion, Fond, and Serpico for advance reservations. The rest? The product of happy meandering and last-minute decisions.
photo by Andrew Wood
- Arrival dinner: Russet Set in a restored brownstone, Russet gives you the feeling you are dining in someone’s historic Philadelphia home. Not surprising when you learn the restaurant is run by a husband-and-wife team. Cozy and candlelit, but unpretentious and welcoming. The menu is seasonal American fare. We loved the boudin nour empanadas with five grams of fresh black truffles and the happy valley lamb leg with polenta and roasted winter vegetables.
- After-dinner drinks: Assembly Rooftop Lounge This was primarily a choice of convenience, as it was on the roof of our hotel. It was an unseasonably warm February weekend where drinking outside actually seemed like a fantastic choice. The cocktails were a little too trendy for me, but the setting can’t be beat — a gorgeous view of Logan Square.
- First day brunch: The Dandelion This was definitely one of my favorites, which makes me even happier it is located in Center City right near one of my offices. The Dandelion is a quirky and beautiful spot, set in a restored Victorian mansion with a number of “rooms” that range from traditional pub to elegant team room. The craft beer list was outstanding, and brunch was delicious. I’m a sucker for a handmade ricotta with toast and anything with a poached egg.
- Coffee stops: Shaxby’s, Peddlar Coffee, and OCF Coffee We tried them all. Favorite coffee was OCF; the Fairmount location features an industrial-chic space that certainly would be a wonderful writing spot. The overall winner goes to Peddlar Coffee for its serene simplicity and coffee purist focus.
- Next stop: Fond This was certainly an experience I’d repeat, but with a few modifications. We [of course] opted for the Fond tasting menu, a 6+ course extravaganza complete with wine pairings. All courses featured the chef’s best dishes, which sounds like a great idea, right? The problem — all the signature dishes featured rich, heavy foods in fairly full-sized portions. I know I would have thoroughly enjoyed the chicken liver mousse or the pork belly with okinawa potatoes on their own. Back-to-back, it was a bit much. The surprise favorite course was calamari served Thai-style with congee, jalapeños, and peanuts, paired with a super-dry Australian rose. Another insider tip: the seats by the bar look inviting, but don’t sit there. The restaurant allows people to crowd the very small bar which leaves you literally surrounded by people while you are trying to eat. The pretty windows just aren’t worth it.
- Museum lunch: Fare By this point in the weekend we needed a little detox, and Fare hit the spot. The menu is all local, organic, and gluten-free, and my simple salad with fresh salmon was about the best I’ve ever had. Outdoor seating makes great people watching, even if it is with a view of the Eastern State Penitentiary. It’s near the Perelman Building, an annex of the main Philadelphia Art Museum focused on fashion and modern design.
photo by jenn kosar
- Drinking stops: Tinto, Yards Brewery Yes, there was a lot of drinking. It’s what parents away from their children do. Tinto is one of the most authentic Spanish wine and tapas bars I have been to outside of Spain. Go early if you don’t have a reservation. Yards Brewery was a fun homage to our new craft beer tasting habit, and the Love Stout did not disappoint. It was certainly worth the trip, and looked like a great spot for an Uber-assisted Philadelphia evening with friends.
- Farewell dinner: Serpico This was a divine culinary experience. We sat at the counter and took in the full view of the action. The menu at Serpico is asian-influenced, and every dish is unique and thoughtful in ingredients, preparation, and presentation. From the elegantly simple black truffle ramen to the rich but somehow light ora king salmon with beluga lentils and bacon broth, every dish was a new favorite. The service was fun and light-hearted, but with a serious set of knowledge of the food and the perfect wine pairings. I can’t wait to return and try the other half of the menu.
- Last day brunch: Urban Farmer This is a challenging one, because overall, the experience was not so great. They seemed to be having some major service issues. They were apologetic about it, so I’m giving the benefit of the doubt it was a one-off. I’ll definitely try Urban Farmer again as the brunch was excellent, and the space was a lot of fun.