Center City West Restaurants: The 2009 Philly Mag 50

Barclay Prime
Rittenhouse Square | Steakhouse | Entrées: More than $30
Ranking: 17 • Last Year’s Ranking: 16
As more steakhouses set up camp around the city, it just becomes more obvious: Nobody tops Barclay when it comes to a splurgy, spectacular steak dinner. Sure, it’s a little over-the-top (a $120 strip; that $100 cheesesteak; an entirely too earnest tableside knife presentation), especially in frugal times like these. But frankly, that’s part of the appeal. More than anywhere else in the city, chic, beautiful Barclay provides us with a glittering escape, one where hunks of perfectly seasoned beef sizzle on our plates; where even potatoes feel like a delicious extravagance (try the truffle whipped version); where servers call us “sir” and “ma’am” as though they mean it; where we’re compelled to linger over good crème brûlée and even better port. Tomorrow, when we’re a couple pounds heavier and our wallets are a couple Benjamins lighter, we’ll pay our penance. But first, we feast. Order: The 24-ounce porterhouse, and potato skins. 237 South 18th Street, 215-732-7560. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other DetailsMake a Reservation

Center City | French | Entrée: More than $30
Ranking: 6 • Last Year’s Ranking: 12
With entrées priced in the upper $30s, formal table settings and gracious waiters, the Fountain Restaurant is taking the last-man-standing approach to fine French dining. And if it keeps on executing with such perfection, survive it will. Some menu items seem to defy culinary logic, like an egg yolk that’s panko-crusted-crispy yet oozing on the inside. Others are just shining examples of the seasoned staff’s timeless cooking techniques, like the simmered-for-hours Pommery mustard demi that coats the ideally pink veal chop. And while this is cooking in its most classic form, dining here means you’ll remember the stellar service, hushed conversations and tasteful dining room as much as you do the food—which is exactly the experience the Fountain is going for. Order: The cheese course—it’s a treat that’s rarely done this well. 1 Logan Square, 215-963-1500. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other DetailsSee MenuMake a Reservation

Rittenhouse Square | Eclectic | Entrée: More than $30
Ranking: 5 • Last Year’s Ranking: 2
We wouldn’t blame the brass over at the Rittenhouse Hotel if they freaked out when Matt Levin announced in December that he was leaving Lacroix to open his forthcoming Masano in Northern Liberties. It was Levin, after all, who turned the hotel restaurant into one of Philly’s most exciting places to eat. But everyone can relax: Levin’s young chef de cuisine, Jason Cichonski, is at the helm, and he’s rocking the job with an innovative menu (love the tomato-cheddar soup, garnished with a wistful drizzle of charcoal oil) and note-perfect execution (even an escarole salad was a triumph) on almost all the dishes. Add to that a contemporary Zen decor, servers and a sommelier who are unerring in their recommendations, and details that make us smile (amuses-bouches that could be art; the chef’s take-home breakfast pastry, gratis), and you have a restaurant we’re still excited to call our own. Order: The five- or eight-plate tasting menu—the more you get to sample here, the better. 210 West Rittenhouse Square, second floor, 215-790-2533. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other DetailsSee MenuMake a Reservation

Le Bar Lyonnais
Center City | French | Entrées: $21-$30
Ranking: 33 • Last Year’s Ranking: 15
Upstairs, at Le Bec-Fin, you get the glittering chandeliers. Downstairs, at Le Bar Lyonnais, you get to eavesdrop on Georges Perrier as he gossips and flirts with the ladies at the bar. Upstairs, you get Dover sole filleted tableside (market price). Downstairs, you get succulent duck leg confit with a Beluga lentil salad ($17). Upstairs, you still want to dress up even though Perrier said we could wear jeans. Downstairs, you come as you are and nobody raises an eyebrow. Not everyone prefers the relaxed Le Bar Lyonnais to the fine-dining shrine above it, but we do. It remains one of the city’s best-kept secrets, the insiders’ place to splurge on Perrier’s well-executed French classics without breaking the bank. Order: French onion soup. 1523 Walnut Street, 215-567-1000. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other Details

Le Bec-Fin
Center City | French | Entrées: More than $30
Ranking: 46 • Last Year’s Ranking: 26
As identity crises go, the one suffered by our beloved Le Bec has had foodies wringing linen napkins for years, because we so desperately want the place to succeed. Although it’s slipping, we’re not giving up: Georges Perrier’s signature dishes are still executed with such care and precision (and we like that we can now get them à la carte). If he could just resurrect his roast pigeon, nurture other once-­sublime classics (galette de crabe, escargots, Dover sole), and quell his proclivity for muttering “Merde” while stomping past tables—all the while preserving that ever-glorious, worth-the-trip-alone dessert cart—we’d fall in love all over again. Order: Champagne and anything from the dessert cart. 1523 Walnut Street, 215-567-1000. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other DetailsSee MenuMake a Reservation

Le Castagne
Rittenhouse Square | Italian | Entrées: $21-$30
Ranking: 34 • Last Year’s Ranking: 24
It has the heart of a red-gravy joint—with food that can always sate your pasta craving—but with refining touches, creative combinations and lighter sauces. The evidence is in the commitment to the homemade, especially the pastas, which are well matched to special sauces, like the shellfish saffron broth served on egg noodles, and the chestnut cream that envelops spaghetti and gets a sprinkling of cocoa powder. The gauzy decor feels a bit outdated, and Le Castagne isn’t breaking ground, but it’s consistently delivering on its promise to give diners above-the-curve Northern Italian food. Order: The noncommittal pasta sampler that lets you choose three to try. It’s not listed on the menu, but they’re happy to oblige. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other DetailsSee MenuMake a Reservation

Center City | New American | Entrées: $21-$30
Ranking: 37 • Last Year’s Ranking: 27
Six-year-old Matyson is a standard-setter when it comes to BYOs in this town. For some reason, the small, welcoming spot just off 19th and Market seems never to have drawn the fuss and fanfare other restaurants of its caliber receive—but don’t forget to remember this one. The Continental fare (which changes seasonally) is thoughtful and tasty; the simple dining room is pretty; service is comfortable and competent; and creative weekly tasting menus are a real deal at $45 a pop. Order: Soups, which are always seasonal standouts. 37 South 19th Street, 215-564-2925. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other DetailsSee MenuMake a Reservation

Rittenhouse Square | Italian | Entrées: $13-$20
Ranking: 25 • Last Year’s Ranking: 19
This past year, beloved Italian BYO Melograno moved to a new home on Sansom Street, but the larger, airier dining room didn’t diminish the hour-long waits. As dissuading as those waits may be, they’re a testament to all the things chef/owner Gianluca Demontis and his front-of-the-house wife, Rosemarie Tran, continue to do so well. This neighborhood-feeling restaurant manages to elevate itself with a take on Italian that leans towards the streamlined and refined. Even though the curt waiters and the clamor of the wide-open room can make dinner feel rushed, the well-set price point and light flavors that linger—like the bright lemon dressing on the arugula and prosciutto salad, or the dash of truffle oil on the cod—give this spot a cult-like following. Order: Any of the house-made pappardelle pastas. 2012 Sansom Street, 215-875-8116. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other Details

Center City | New American | Entrées: $21-$30
Ranking: 36 • Last Year’s Ranking: New to the List
Eateries perched at the tops of tall buildings usually offer better views than food. Not so Nineteen, the classy restaurant that crowns the Park Hyatt at the Bellevue. An elevator ride transports visitors to an opulent dining room in serene shades of cream and ivory, with cushy upholstered chairs, a dramatic cascade of pearly orbs dangling from the vaulted ceiling, and breathtaking city views. The setting alone would attract our attention, but the food is so good that we’d go even if the place were in a basement. Every part of the meal is considered, from the outstanding house-baked bread to the bitter and complex chocolate soufflé with salted caramel ice cream. Best of all, Nineteen delivers major elegance at a surprisingly low price, with entrées that top out at $24 (for tender, flavorful bison tenderloin)—and proves there’s room for more fine hotel dining in this city. Order: A drink at the bar after dinner. Trust us, you won’t want to leave. 200 South Broad Street, 215-790-1919. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other DetailsSee MenuMake a Reservation

Fairmount | Italian | Entrée: $21–$30
Ranking: 4 • Last Year’s Ranking: 1
There are tons of reasons to love Osteria, the rustic Italian gem belonging to Marc Vetri, Jeff Benjamin and Jeff Michaud: the smell of spiced sausage as pizzas are pulled from the oak-burning oven; the happy clanking of forks and cacophony of conversation that set this place apart from the more reverent vibe of big sister Vetri; the solicitous sommelier whose joy in life, it seems, is to bring you tastes from the well-thought wine list; and the food. Oh, God, the food. Last time, we loved the pork cooked on a spit, the soft, fatty deliciousness of roasted pig juxtaposed with a crackly bit of skin; the time before that, gnocchi so light they were more like a pasta soufflé, embellished with a crunchy strip of pancetta; and countless crisp-crusted pizzas before that. And while entrées can be a tad inconsistent, almost two years in, the magic hasn’t even begun to wear off. Osteria still thrills. Order: The octopus salad, which is lemony, lightly charred, and just the right amount of chewy.640 North Broad Street, 215-763-0920. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other DetailsSee MenuMake a Reservation

Rittenhouse Square | French | Entrées: More than $30
Ranking: 19 • Last Year’s Ranking: New to the List
If Paris were as charming (and accessible) as this new Rittenhouse bistro, we’d all be expatriates by now. If you’ve happened to spend a rainy Sunday morning brunching in Stephen Starr’s sprawling tribute to a French brasserie, or if you’ve lunched on the delightfully simple salmon tartine at a sidewalk table facing the park, or spent an evening sipping vouvray and nibbling moules frites, then you know: Parc is like a mini-vacation, filled with warm homemade baguettes and rich onion soup and pretty little profiteroles. And when “La Vie en Rose” is on the speakers, joie de vivre is in the air, and there’s more wine to be ordered, it’s damn near impossible to head back home, to reality. Order: French Onion soup, brandade or moules frites. 227 South 18th Street, 215-545-2262. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other DetailsSee MenuMake a Reservation

Pub & Kitchen
Rittenhouse Square | Pub Food | Entrées: $13-$20
Ranking: 23 • Last Year’s Ranking: New to the List
Overnight, it seemed, Chaucer’s vanished and this new, cleaner bar appeared in its place. Locals were skeptical, because Chaucer’s was a lovable dump. But as soon as we got a taste of Pub & Kitchen’s burgers and onion rings, potato chips and meatballs, oysters and lobster BLTs, most of us happily erased Chaucer’s from our memories and threw our collective arms around the newcomer, where delicious but unpretentious food meets the relaxed corner bar of our dreams. (And now, Northern Liberties and South Philly aren’t the only ’hoods with real, not-trying-too-hard, food-focused bars.) It helps that Jonathan “Johnny Mac” McDonald (formerly of Snackbar) has brought his personality and passion to the kitchen. He’s given us bar food that’s some of the best food in the city. Order: Sautéed chicken breast with Irish biscuits and gravy. 1946 Lombard Street, 215-545-0350. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other Details

Rittenhouse Square | Spanish | Entrées: $13-$20
Ranking: 22 • Last Year’s Ranking: 22
Tinto, Jose Garces’s Basque-themed Rittenhouse restaurant, has a neighborhood-y feel, especially during happy hour, when the bar fills with solo drinkers knocking back glasses of Spanish red while reading the paper. But that only adds to the warm, clubby vibe here. The food is from a region that straddles France and Spain, and whose proximity to the ocean means a more seafood-focused menu than at Tinto’s sister restaurant, Amada (though offerings can be overseasoned). Luckily, the places share a commitment to excellent Spanish cheeses and charcuterie, as well as an interesting selection of Spanish wines. Before the restaurant’s 2008 expansion, the cramped quarters and high-top tables made it a little uncomfortable, but now, with plenty of room to spread out, this is a cozy, grown-up place for a leisurely, authentic-feeling meal. Order: Moules Basque. 114 South 20th Street, 215-665-9150. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other DetailsMake a Reservation

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