This New Basement Ramen Bar Might Be the Coolest-Looking Restaurant In Philly
Plus, Kiddo hits Wash West, SIN comes to NoLibs and some bad news from the ice cream world.
Howdy, Buckaroos! And welcome back to the Foobooz food news roundup. We’ve got quite a few things to get to this week, but I know y’all are more concerned with getting ready for Halloween, so I’ll keep things brief.
Ramen, Blade Runner Style
In science fiction, food can be a powerful tool for world-building. If you understand how people eat, you can tell an awful lot about who they are.
In the movies, just about the best sci-fi food scene comes near the beginning of Ridley Scott’s cyberpunk masterpiece Blade Runner. It’s after the slow, distant pan over the city — the fires and flying cars reflected in one unblinking eye. After Leon’s unfortunate Voight-Kampf test. We get a hard drop straight into Los Angeles in an alternate 2019. It’s dark, rainy, everything is neon and holograms. And there’s Deckard, our man, waiting for a seat at the local noodle bar, just trying to get himself some lunch when Gaff shows up to ruin his whole day.
I have spent my whole life looking for a noodle bar like that, a moment like that. Gigantic nerd that I am, that single scene has informed a lot of how I write about restaurants to this day. And I know I’m not the only one out there who remembers this scene fondly, because guess what? Philly is about to get a Blade Runner-style noodle bar of its own.
No, for real. The cats from GLU Hospitality, along with brand-new partners at [Box]Wood Architecture and Design, are bringing Chika Ramen Bar to Rittenhouse Square and the big inspiration for the place? Blade Runner.
“Chika” is Japanese for “basement” and, appropriately, our Chika is located underground at 1526 Sansom Street, beneath the new Bagels & Co.
Upstairs, the space used to be Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook’s Goldie. Downstairs was CookNSolo’s Rooster Soup Co., then the Rooster and, finally, a Rittenhouse location of their Federal Donuts. Now, it’s going to be Harrison Ford’s noodle bar, and I could NOT be more excited because not only did they work hard to get the look of the place right (says the team: “We want to attract fun eclectic groups of people who can feel like they walked into another dimension when entering our space.”), but they’re also taking the food-and-beverage parts seriously with chef Dean Leevongcharoen (ex of Ramen Bar) handling the food and Michael Ego dreaming up a properly Blade Runner-inspired cocktail menu (because yeah, there’s also a bar).
They’ve kept the basic physical layout of the place the same: counter seating, stools, booths along the walls. But [Box]Wood has come in to cyberpunk the place all up, adding mirrors, metal, neon and graffiti. And since both cyberpunk in general and Blade Runner in particular have such roots in the ’80s, they are leaning heavily on the whole dark-and-cramped-and-shiny feel. All they need is to pump in the sound of rain and hire Edward James Olmos to loom creepily over everyone’s shoulder and it’ll be perfect.
Anyway, I’ve got some more details. There’s seating for 48 — including 14 at the bar. The menu will feature a handful of different ramen options, plus hand rolls, salads, agedashi tofu and the like. Leevongcharoen will be running a from-scratch kitchen, with ramen broths cooked for 24 hours and everything made in-house except the mochi. When it opens, Chika will be doing dinners and late nights — closed on Monday, but open from 4 p.m. to midnight on Sundays through Thursdays, and until 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. There’s lunch service planned for the future, maybe a brunch, too. But that might be a while off yet.
Most importantly, though? Chika will be opening this week — on Thursday, November 2nd at 4 p.m., to be exact. So now y’all will know where to find me in case Captain Bryant needs anything.
Now what’s next?
Kiddo Loves Vegetables
Washington Square West got a new “vegetable-forward” restaurant over the weekend with the opening of Kiddo at 12th and Pine. And maybe I’m just becoming a big ol’ softie or whatever, but I like the story that chef Wyatt Piazza tells about his inspiration for the place. He was working in the culinary garden at Vallette in Sonoma County when … Well, I’ll just let him tell it.
“I was giving a tour and a little boy who was there with his grandmother — maybe he was six years old — ran off and picked a Berkley Tie-Dye tomato straight from the vine. He bit right into it like he would an apple. The look of wonder and excitement on that kid’s face, that’s the inspiration for Kiddo. Since then, it’s been my goal to pique natural curiosities for simple yet flavorful ingredients and for people to experience that joy through food.”
And that’s nice, right? Sappy, but nice.
The menu at Kiddo is split into five sections. There are snacks like tempura Honeycrisp apples with cheddar Mornay, and roasted brussels with brown butter; small plates with mushroom fondue, winter greens with sheep’s cheese or herb-crusted pumpkin wedges with maple crème fraîche — which I have to admit I’ve never seen anywhere before. There’s a rotating list of pastas, brown butter pear galettes with honey for dessert, and a “Big Plates” section that include some sustainably-sourced meats like coriander-crusted duck breast with pear, sorrel and hazelnuts or pork chops plates with chicory, compressed apples and an apple gastrique.
It is a nice looking menu — modern, thoughtful, heavy on the extremely-locally-sourced fruits and vegetables, but not going exclusively vegan or vegetarian. The place even has a cookie tray for dessert, featuring a spread of seasonal cookies for the table. And how adorable is that?
Anyway, Kiddo opened last Friday. Service is currently running Wednesday to Monday from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., plus brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Right now, it’s BYOB, but they’re working on scoring a liquor license and hope to be offering craft cocktails of their very own soon — plus non-alcoholic cocktails featuring homemade shrubs.
Looking For SIN in NoLibs
I don’t know if you guys have been keeping track, but for a very long time now, a brand-new restaurant (with a very bad name) has been prepping for its big opening in Northern Liberties. Since at least January of this year, SIN (which stands for “Steak Italian Nightlife” and just … ugh) has been working in the space at 1102 Germantown Avenue, on the ground floor of the Beverly apartment complex. The team has been building out a BIG 5,000-square-foot, 200-seat restaurant concept that’s basically all vibes, and then a restaurant. In that order.
The sneak preview and “media influencer” dinner will be held in early November. The public opening will come shortly after. And while I don’t know a ton about how SIN has been filling up that space at 2nd and Germantown, I do know a couple things.
First, it’s going to be more of an Italian restaurant than a steakhouse — but will also be a steakhouse. Its design aesthetic is black, white and silver everything, plus a DJ. Early in the evening, it’ll lean restaurant. Later, it’ll be more night-clubby. There’ll be a custom cocktail program and a sizable wine list.
And it looks like the partners behind the project (bartender and real estate developer Justin Veasey, along with Mike Connors and William Muhr Jr.) are looking to make the NoLibs location just one of many SIN outlets. They’ve already got their eyes on expansions into other markets once the flagship gets up and running.
Herr’s “Flavored by Philly” Contest Is Back
This is the thing where you nominate a flavor inspired by some local restaurant or small food business for the chance to win $5,000 and a year’s supply of Herr’s chips if the joint you picked wins.
In the last round of competition, Corropolese tomato pie was the winner — and deservedly so. The chips didn’t smell great (which, I’ll admit, was weird), but they tasted fantastic. Kinda like a ketchup chip (for which there is an absolutely rabid fan base), but not so sweet or overwhelming, and with an undertone of salty parmesan and a little garlic. Some guy from Royersford won the five grand (and free chips) for nominating Corropolese; and Corropolese themselves took home a $10,000 prize for beating out John’s Roast Pork and Mike’s Korean BBQ Wings.
So hey, if you’ve got a favorite local food that you think would be awesome in potato chip form, here’s what you do: Go here sometime before November 14th and cast your ballot for your favorite local food. After that, a panel of expert judges will pick three worthy local flavors from all the entrants and make some chips. Come summer 2024, we’ll all get the chance to eat said chips, then vote again on which of the three is the best. It’s as simple as that. And I’m not telling you all that you should be voting for Angelo’s upside down pie…
But you should totally be voting for Angelo’s upside down pie.
Philly’s Most Expensive Thanksgiving
If you don’t want to cook Thanksgiving dinner at home are looking for a bit of a splurge, we think we’ve found it for you over at the Loews Philadelphia Hotel on Market Street.
For $1,500, you get to stay overnight in their Presidential Suite (pictured above), where a private in-suite waiter will serve up a Thanksgiving meal for six people. Plus, you get a $200 gift card to Macy’s, which is right down the street. The best possible part about this deal is that there’s only one bed in the Presidential Suite, so you can tell your in-laws, no, I’m sorry. You can’t stay over. (In all seriousness though, special rates are available for any additional guests.)
North Philly-based Human Robot Brewery has finally opened its South Philly outpost in the former home of Separatist Beer Project/Carbon Copy at 12th and Morris. They actually kicked things off over the weekend so they could have their beer flowing for their new neighbors during the East Passyunk fall street festival.
Chef Yun Fuentes’ Bolo is running a Sunday-only “Roast Lechon Dinner” that’s basically a whole roasted pig with sides like black cherry mojo, mashed yuca, chickpeas with red sofrito and more. It’s $55 per person, reservations are highly recommended and, if you can’t make it on Sundays, the team would like me to let you know that there’s also live music every Thursday night from Cuban band Conjunto Philadelphia. Do with that information what you will.
And finally, some sad news to close out the week. I just got word that both Weckerley’s and their partners at Li’l Pop Shop will be closing their doors come December. Weckerley’s has been an institution in Philly for the last 11 years, slinging French-style, custardy pints and ice-cream sandwiches from their shop in Fishtown. Owners Jen and Andy Satinsky took to Instagram to make the announcement, and to say: “THANK YOU for being a part of this remarkable experience. You haven’t just supported us, you’ve inspired new flavors, pushed our creativity, and been an inseparable part of Weckerly’s Ice Cream. We look forward to sharing a few more scoops with you before the year’s end.”
Weckerley’s will close up shop on December 23rd. Li’l Pop Shop shuts out the lights in West Philly on December 2nd (though their catering business will keep running into the new year). So even though the weather might not seem great for ice cream or popsicles, if you’re looking for a last taste, get there soon.
And maybe stock up the freezer for warmer weather while you’re at it.