PALACE AT THE BEN A stark contrast to the run-down West Philly Indian spots and no-frills Tiffin on Girard Avenue, Palace at the Ben, near Washington Square, is all soaring ceilings, polished service and swanky bar scene. Tiffin addicts may scoff at the prices, but for an elegant Subcontinental outing bathed in tamarind margaritas and pomegranate martinis, Palace takes the prize. The creamy chicken Cashmere is outstanding, as are the okra masala, fish curries (but steer clear of the salmon, a fish never served in India) and tandoori kabobs. The $13-$15 lunch thalis (think Indian bento boxes) make for a good intro to the restaurant. 834 Chestnut Street; 267-232-5600.
BLACKBIRD DINING ESTABLISHMENT When last we spotted Alex Capasso, he was at critically acclaimed but short-lived Misto in Cherry Hill. Now the veteran chef has resurfaced with his first solo venture. We’ve missed his handmade pastas, as a simple mushroom fettuccini reminds us, but his rabbit-braising, porcini-frothing style seems muted in this BYOB’s airy dining room. Tarragon pesto is a quiet side for black bass; lamb tenderloin, which also gets a touch of licorice, is weighed down by a doughy tortellini. Still, the careful textures of seasonal dishes like aborio-crusted shrimp with avocado salad deliver what Capasso’s fans crave. 619 Collings Avenue, Collingswood, 856-854-3444; blackbirdnj.com.
TAVERN 17 The Warwick wants to get hip with Tavern 17, a bright, sleekly designed replacement for the hotel’s quiet Circles on the Square. But Tavern 17 is actually just off the Square, and here, two-bite “sliders”—à la Barclay Prime, though without the tenderness of Kobe-style beef—are only $2.50 apiece. The grazeable menu is clearly aimed at the signature-cocktail crowd—with elaborately presented bar snacks like the towering trio of french fries and the spare but pretty cheese trio—and at the morning-after-the-signature-cocktail crowd, with a breakfast menu of ample omelets and the, yes, trio of chocolate waffles. 220 South 17th Street, 215-790-1799; tavern17restaurant.com.
CHICK’S CAFE & WINE BAR Really, does any neighborhood ever have enough wine bars, places where a quick after-work glass of Martin Codax tempranillo or pint of cherry-tart Duchesse de Bourgogne ale (and maybe a nosh of fried zucchini sticks and calamari) turns into a full-on meal of pillowy gnudi draped in spinach and prosciutto, or a pristine pear-and-Camembert panini with a side of fries? The answer is, of course, no. We could always use another Tria or Vintage, and we’ve found one in Kater Street’s circa-1873 tin-tiled taproom. On chef Jim Piano’s menu are a few glitches: a sloshy fregula and clams, a too-chilly trio of cheeses, and a general excess of figs, chorizo and gorgonzola. But then again, can any neighborhood ever have enough blue cheese? 7th and Kater streets, 215-625-3700; myspace.com/chickscafe.