The Belgian gourmet-bakery chain has landed on Rittenhouse Row, toting along its vaguely European, rustic farmhouse interior and its signature “homemade” breads — which are actually baked in and shipped from Maryland — and pastries. There are also dainty tartines and ladies-who-lunch salads, which can be eaten at a communal table meant to encourage camaraderie. Snag a jar of their version of Nutella on your way out, so you can eat heaping spoonfuls of it in the privacy of your own home — trust us, you’ll want to.
Just when you thought there wasn’t room for another restaurant at the white-hot nexus of 13th and Sansom streets, along comes this stylish Greek spot. The moody-meets-Mediterranean room is dominated by a central bar, which serves up smart cocktails (try the lemony Antho, a crisp dill and vodka sipper) to pair with tasty small plates like saganaki or a trio of adorable mini lamb gyros tucked into waxed paper. Chef Andrew Brown offers larger plates as well (braised rabbit, Creek Stone Farms rib-eye), but it’s hard to resist the snackability of the mezides.
As long as Garces and Starr keep avoiding the ‘burbs, Main Liners will resort to getting their Spanish-tapas fix from places like this one, where an Amada-slash-El-Vez-inspired menu (tableside guac, paella, roasted suckling pig) doesn’t yet measure up to its urban counterparts. Still, the margaritas are big enough to satisfy dinner guests at Camille Grammer’s. What to nosh: chicken-and-raisin-stuffed chile relleno. What to skip: the crabcake.
“They’re feeding on the desperation of restaurateurs in a down economy,” says John Brandt-Lee, chef-owner of Avalon in West Chester, when asked about Groupon, OpenTable Spotlight, and the countless other coupon websites offering deals at Philly-area restaurants. “They suck. And you can quote me on that.”
The number of such sites has multiplied exponentially over the past year, based on the wild success of Groupon (which is so hot it turned down a $6 billion buyout offer from Google). Most operate on a variation of this formula: Diners pay $25 for a $50 gift certificate to the participating restaurant. There may be a time limit on how long the deal is available, or a certain number of people may have to buy in to activate the deal.
The benefit to diners seems obvious — twice the buying power for half the price!—and restaurateurs pull in customers who might not otherwise have come to the restaurant. But many restaurant owners aren’t fans.
“The deals get the seats full, but we’re not making any money on the tables,” Brandt-Lee explains. In exchange for sending an e-mail blast about a given restaurant’s deal, “OpenTable Spotlight takes $12.50, so we only get $12.50 for $50 worth of food. And they take away all of your rights to setting disclaimers” on dates and times. Brandt-Lee says the large cut that the sites take makes it difficult to maintain his standards, so he no longer participates. “Something has to give. Unfortunately, it ends up being the quality of food.”
And, possibly, the quality of the clientele. “The sites are all enticing, especially in July when it’s so quiet,” says Chris Mullins, manager of McGillins, who’s been approached by various dining-deal sites. “We’ve been here for 150 years — we’re not looking for a rush of 200 diners in one day. We look for the long term.”
Brandt-Lee puts it more tartly. “The sites promise diners, but they’re coupon-clippers, not diners. They don’t care about getting good food, they care about getting a deal.”
Both Mullins and Brandt-Lee do like and participate in deals with Restaurant.com, which allows restaurateurs to set whatever restrictions they’d like on the quantity and dates of the deals they offer. No money changes hands, but the site provides the businesses with e-mail addresses of the customers who buy deals to add to their own mailing lists.
One restaurateur who participated in an online dining deal for his new high-end restaurant (and didn’t wish to be named—even virtual coupon-clipping still has a stigma attached to it in some circles) had a different take. “It went better than expected. We thought it would be a cheap clientele, but they were decent, and there has been repeat business. The thing is, Groupon can’t make people want to go back. You have to do that with good product.”
Passover is on its way and that reminds us: Most kosher wine is best when … avoided. Or so we thought until speaking with Zahav’s Steve Cook, whose savant-like knowledge of the Manischewitzly-maligned genre left us all verklempt. Here, three drinkable and rabbi-approved wines to try — all Israeli, to boot! — whether you’re keeping the faith or not.
All selections are available at Zahav (237 St. James Place, 215-625-8800), as well as through your local PLCB store. Prices listed are PLCB retail.
Tomorrow is March 15. The Ides of March. Slightly more than one month until your taxes are due. Or, if you’re a food nerd, the day that Vetri does away with a la carte and begins serving only a $135-per-person, nine-ish-course tasting menu.
Chef-owner Marc Vetri sent us a sneak peek of the options for the first tasting menu, although as he told us, “You’re going to get a lot more than what’s on the menu. We’re going to start you off with a whole lot of different tastes and flavors that we’ve been messing around with that aren’t on there.”
Last week, buried in a press release announcing the upcoming East Passyunk festival, Flavors of the Avenue, was word on two new restaurants opening up on the Avenue — a very nebulous project from the people behind the Green Eggs cafes — and Birra, a restaurant and bar at 1700 East Passyunk Avenue, from Gordon Dinerman, most recently of City Tap House. We spoke with Dinerman today and got some preliminary details.
Because this is Philadelphia — or excuse me, Philadelphia and its surrounding counties — it is the law that every blog post most include at least one comment challenging the geographical location named in the post. Because if someone got murdered on a corner of 6th and Bainbridge, what’s really important is making sure you correctly identify whether it was on the Bella Vista or Queen Village corner. Commenter Josh A. has a take on it that we really enjoyed:
What is up with Philadelphian’s obsession with geography? It’s not bella vista it’s society hill. It’s not northern liberties, it’s fishtown. it’s not fishtown, it’s port richmond. Or is it just SIWOTI? (someone is wrong on the internet)
You’ll find Josh A.’s in our post on Main Line Restaurant Week. Which is, technically, Main Line and the Western Suburbs Restaurant Week.