Ask April July 2006


Q: We want to celebrate out anniversary at a romantic restaurant with music and possibly dancing. We will be staying in the Rittenhouse area. —Nancy

April says: It doesn’t get any more romantic than a Friday or Saturday night at Bistro Romano, where the piano music of Craig Star blends harmoniously with authentic Italian fare. It’s worth the cab ride from your Rittenhouse-area hotel to order the refreshing Caesar salad, prepared tableside for two.

But leave room for the devilishly good and very sexy chocolate desserts served on marble tabletops at the Swann Lounge and Café at the Four Seasons. There’s live entertainment and dancing on Friday and Saturday nights. And when you need to give your feet a rest, collapse into the plush couches with your hubby and soak up the casual elegance with sophisticated martinis.

Or, if you are true music lovers, there’s Zanzibar Blue (200 South Broad Street; 215-732-4500). Reserve an intimate table for two for dinner and a show. (Check the out the star-studded concert schedule at zanzibarblue.com). And while there is no formal dance floor, they welcome the uninhibited to get up and move.

Q: I’m planning a bachelorette party for 10 to 15 guests. I’d like to do something fun, classy, unique — and not too expensive. Any ideas? —Erin

April says: Try new-to-Philly Lucky Strike Lanes (1336 Chestnut Street), which caters to celebrating groups. Your server delivers hip, tasty cuisine and kitschy drinks as you lounge on plush couches. Book two or three sparkling lanes glowing with art deco décor. If you can get together during the week or before 9 p.m. on weekends, you can reserve a lane for $45 per hour.
For something different, there are wineries like Crossing Vineyards (1853 Wrightstown Road, Washington Crossing; 215-493-6500) where you can plan a private, wine tasting in the tasting room or on the outdoor patio. For only $25 a head, sample 16 different wines accompanied by platters of cheese, fruits and crackers, or savor seven tapas plates with complimentary vinos for $50 per person.

Q: I am looking for a female chef in the Philadelphia area. I never knew there were so few of them. Why? —Linda Hartman

April says: We’ve also noticed the dearth of female chefs who “man” the kitchens of Philadelphia’s restaurants. Philly isn’t the only dining scene dominated by men — according to a 2005 survey on StarChefs.com, 89 percent of executive chefs nationwide are male. Although women executive chefs do fare better in cities like San Francisco, Seattle and Boston, women everywhere are more likely to be found baking cakes and scooping gelato as pastry chefs.

Anne Coll, the executive chef at Susanna Foo, says that despite the overwhelming majority of male chefs, the number of women in Philly kitchens is much healthier than even five or six years ago. Still, it’s tough for a woman to be taken seriously. Coll asserts it takes immense dedication to gain the respect of a staff, “especially at an established restaurant where predominantly older men work the kitchen.” Coll’s won our admiration: Before she took the helm at Susanna Foo, she worked next to Georges Perrier at Le Bec-Fin.

Alison Barshak of seafood-centric BYOB Alison at Blue Bell agrees it’s hard to manage a kitchen of men who don’t want to be managed by a woman. “It’s challenging to be a women in any aspect of the business world, but it’s even grittier and more physical in the kitchen.”

Other female chefs who can take the heat include Roberta Adamo of University City pasta destination Penne, Sheri Waide of Queen Village’s eclectic Southwark, Michele Iovino of South Philly Italian BYOB Nido (1540 West Ritner Street; 215-755-0860) and Lynn Marie Rinaldi of East Passyunk Italian classic Paradiso.

Read more Ask April columns: June.