Best New Restaurants
1713 South Street; 215-545-4448
Opened: September 2004
The scene: The bold orange logo announces Pumpkin's place on the 1700 block of South Street, and the view through the expansive plate-glass windows entices diners into the lively one-room restaurant. Twenty-eight-year-old chef Ian Moroney is hard at work in the open kitchen (when he isn't pulling up a chair in the dining room to chat with patrons), and 33-year-old owner Hillary Bor — Ian's girlfriend — oversees the BYOB's boisterous, sage-colored dining room, casually decorated with butcher-paper table coverings and salvaged-window wall hangings.
The menu: Moroney's name is familiar from his eight years in the kitchen of Queen Village's little Little Fish, and his seafood dishes are the most popular on Pumpkin's menu, printed nightly. A generous bowl of saffron-scented fish stew overflows with flavorful lesser-known fishes like waluu and hake; Moroney's squid stemperata is lush with raisins, pine nuts, chiles and parsley. Pork loin, grilled, with an intense rosemary jus or broccoli rabe, often makes an appearance, as does the satisfying lamb pappardelle, its fruity mahon cheese flecked with mint.
The details: Dinner. Closed Monday. BYOB. Cash only. Average entrée: $19.
237 South 18th Street; 215-732-7560
Opened: October 2004
The scene: The sedate Barclay has come alive with Stephen Starr's 13th restaurant, a sexy update of steakhouse stereotypes. The dining room whispers “library,” with its high ceilings and shelved walls lined with books, but the mod furniture and dance music belie the serene appearance, creating a mellow but hip dining atmosphere. There are Starr-style gimmicks — the much-hyped $100 cheesesteak; the presentation of an array of steak knives for the diner's choosing — but the steaks are serious.
The menu: Chef Todd Mark Miller, who has worked alongside Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Nobu Matsuhisa, has sourced some of the best meats available for Barclay Prime. Featured on the menu is the luscious Gachot and Gachot rib eye (from the butchers who supply Peter Luger in New York), which can be paired with sauces like the fragrant rosemary balsamic, but doesn't require any flavor boost. Start with the snappy shrimp cocktail or the classic oysters Rockefeller, and don't pass up sides of huge asparagus, and caramelized shallots with tender roasted potatoes.
The details: Lunch weekdays; dinner daily. Average entrée: $36.
1091 Lancaster Avenue, Berwyn;
Opened: July 2004
The scene: There's a 12-foot-tall Buddha overlooking the Rockwell-designed dining room, and a well-heeled crowd sipping the cocktail of the moment at the bar, and it was nearly impossible to find a parking spot on a Friday or Saturday night, until a free valet service was introduced. But this isn't Buddakan; it's Berwyn, decorated with a two-story wall of candles and brilliant orange carpet. Such over-the-top dinner-as-theater isn't the norm on the Main Line, but patrons are eating it up, with bright orange chopsticks. If you can't snag a seat at the central sushi bar or in the cacophonous dining room, there's a separate entrance for carry-out.
The menu: Two kitchens are at work here. Behind the sushi bar, chef Masayuki Tsuruga turns out surprising striped bass/scallion and lobster/radish sprout rolls, alongside standards like a kicky spicy tuna roll. Behind the scenes, chef Patrick Feury, whose French training was supplemented by three years as chef de cuisine at Susanna Foo, pairs nectarine and pickled vegetables with an Indian-spiced vinaigrette, and tender pork loin with not-too-sweet tamarind.
The details: Lunch weekdays; dinner daily. Average entrée: $22.
500 South 20th Street; 215-985-1922
Opened: May 2004
The scene: Stepping into Meritage is like stepping into film noir. The restaurant's sensual soundtrack of Charlie Byrd and João Gilberto, plus shadowy lighting, lends a moody, mysterious aura to the space that most remember as the Waldorf Cafe. The theatrics don't end with the soundstage of a dining room: Waiters are well-groomed and fastidious in observing all Miss Manners' rules; the black-clad hostess is a seductress direct from Central Casting; and the owner delivers with a flourish a signed, numbered certificate, à la Tour D'Argent, to each patron who orders the chef's signature Tunisian Meritage.
The menu: It's as appealingly anachronistic as the atmosphere. While most restaurants have abandoned classics such as veal Oscar, Meritage chef Grant Langdon Brown executes a faithful version, with Summerfield Farms veal tenderloin topped with lump crab and truffled béarnaise, that should rekindle the decadent dish's popularity. Brown's seasonal menu is an eclectic mix of wine-friendly options like rosemary skewers of grilled figs and Casciotta d'Urbino cheese entwined with prosciutto; paella overflowing with seafood; and that Tunisian Meritage, a trio of lamb dishes with a refreshing Middle Eastern-influenced salad. The $49 ($69 with wines) weekly tasting menu tours the globe, recently landing in Morocco, for date-and-couscous-stuffed squab, and in Austria, for braised beef cheeks.
The details: Dinner. Average entrée: $26.
1500 Walnut Street; 215-732-4444
Opened: April 2004
The scene: Unless you were a regular at Neil Stein's Striped Bass, it's difficult to spot the changes the landmark restaurant underwent when Stephen Starr took over — but there is a distinctly different vibe in this beautiful room. The classy regulars are still here, rubbing elbows at the narrow corner bar, and the sculpted bass still arcs over the bustling open kitchen, but the dining room is sleeker now, sharp with mirrors and crystal light fixtures.
The menu: Don't worry if you don't see superstar commuter chef Alfred Portale in Striped Bass's open kitchen; his protégé, 28-year-old Christopher Lee, is just as accomplished at creating beautifully plated fish dishes. The multi-tiered shellfish tasting, striped bass with black beluga lentils, and crisp, cold peeky-toe crab salad now share the menu with equally impressive meat dishes, including rich duck confit risotto and slow-braised pork belly with an apple-balsamic kick. One of Portale and Lee's most popular entrées plates meat and fish together: quickly seared yellowfin tuna and softly braised short ribs, separated by a sea of ruby-colored pinot noir sauce.
The details: Dinner. Average entrée: $36.
114 Chestnut Street, 215-925-1444, and 2015 Burlington Boulevard, Mount Holly, 609-914-0800
Opened: December 2003 (Philadelphia) and June 2004 (Mount Holly)
The scene: By day, this Old City spot (which now boasts a Mount Holly location, with plans in the works for a Lancaster County site) is an Indian buffet sans the elephant figurines and other trappings typical of Indian restaurants. Instead, the walls are a lively tribute to the food, painted with abstract murals in shades of Indian spice. By night, Karma, opened by Penn alum Munish Narula and New Delhi chef Dominic Sarkar, attracts both mango-tini and makhmali murg tikka crowds with an accessible menu and friendly service.
The menu: Karma's eclectic menu spans the subcontinent, with must-have classics like vibrant tandoori chicken and lesser-known dishes such as tandoori phool, cauliflower marinated in traditional Indian spices and cooked in a clay oven. Indian aficionados zero in on the paneer tikka masala — Indian cheese in a complex curry — and butter chicken dilkhush, pieces of tender dark meat bathed in a buttery-sweet tomato sauce.
The details: Lunch and dinner. Average entrée: $15.
Village Walk Shopping Center, 1990 Route 70 West, Cherry Hill; 856-751-1711
Opened: April 2004
The scene: Inside this 135-seat BYOB, a front café is decorated in sleek black;
Victorian-style chandeliers light a rear wood-and-textured-wallpaper dining room where diners delve into sophisticated French-Italian dishes you would expect to find on Walnut Street. To chef Alex Capasso's surprise, his signature rabbit preparations were as big a hit as his steaks when he opened; the manager frequently delivered the rabbit entrées himself, to meet the diners driving the trend.
The menu: The seasonal Misto (Italian for “mixed”) menu offers both expected Italian dishes and more inventive options. Impeccable ingredients elevate a traditional antipasto; rich buffalo mozzarella and potato gnocchi are painted with a light tomato sauce. A frothy porcini sauce adds depth to a fist-sized homemade ravioli stuffed with shredded roast chicken and mushrooms. This summer, it was the succulent braised rabbit, served on mascarpone polenta, that kept the manager running; now Capasso is serving an equally popular braised lamb shank with sun-dried tomato orzo.
The details: Lunch Tuesday through Saturday; dinner Tuesday through Sunday. BYOB. Average entrée: $22. b