Expensive Restaurants: The 2009 Philly Mag 50

Alison Two
Fort Washington | International | Entrées: $13-$20
Ranking: 28 • Last Year’s Ranking: New to the List
Good things are happening at Alison Barshak’s second eatery (the first being Alison at Blue Bell)—in particular, good things in seafood. Mussels arrive in a white wine broth, with bits of mint, chorizo and spiced red pepper; fat, fleshy scallops are served with dense little puffs of gnocchi; pho noodles and tender hunks of braised oxtail complete the grilled tuna. If we didn’t already know Barshak’s food from her years at Blue Bell, and Striped Bass before that, we’d have counted this place planted on a tree-lined stretch of Fort Washington merely a pleasant surprise—but given her track record, Alison Two is proof that Barshak is, inarguably, a major player in our food scene. Order: Fish dishes shine; a juicy roast chicken is flawless. 424 South Bethlehem Pike, Fort Washington, 215-591-0200. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other DetailsSee MenuMake a Reservation

Center City | Indian | Entrée: $18—$24
Ranking: 11 • Last Year’s Ranking: New to the List
When chef Marcie Turney and partner Valerie Safran opened their chic no-reservations bistro a year ago, they weren’t trying to reproduce Tiffin or Café Spice or any type of buffet. For their fourth business on the block, the pair planned a 54-seat Indian bistro in the same vein (charming, nouveau, authentic) as Mexican BYOB Lolita, gourmet market Grocery, and shelter boutique Open House. They’ve succeeded. Bindi is indeed charming, with modern pearlescent chandeliers. It’s also nouveau: Green cardamom, lime juice and mango puree make up the rum mixer. And it’s authentic, transforming traditional spice blends, street food and classic vindaloo, curry, masala, paneer and roti into fare that’s refined yet comforting, exotic yet accessible—and easily some of the best Indian in town. Order: Bengali-spiced roast duck pani puri. 105 South 13th Street, 215-922-6061. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other DetailsSee Menu

Birchrunville Store Cafe
Birchrunville | French-Italian | Entrées: $13-$20
Ranking: 27 • Last Year’s Ranking: 13
To say this Chester County BYO has a loyal following is an understatement. Never before have we seen multiple diners making reservations for their next meals before their entrées even arrive. And it’s not like Birchrunville is convenient: Dinner is only served Wednesday through Saturday, there are only two seatings on weekends, they don’t accept credit cards (good luck finding the nearest ATM), and the restaurant is off the beaten path even for nearby residents. But after eating here, we get that it all adds up to quirky charm and a heartfelt dining experience. The menu options are few, but slight spins on classics—beet-and-goat-cheese salad is enlivened with breasola and mâche; a well-cooked Chilean sea bass gets a cabernet sauvignon sauce—and a few surprises, like boar, are, like the clientele, pleasantly approachable. Order: The moist, warm butterscotch cake. 1403 Hollow Road, Birchrunville, 610-827-9002. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other DetailsSee Menu

Bistro 7
Old City | Contemporary | Entrées: $21-$30
Ranking: 31 • Last Year’s Ranking: 23
Chef/owner Michael O’Halloran is poised to expand his culinary reach in Philadelphia—an Asian-focused restaurant is in the works—but his Old City oasis (we love the tonal faux-bois art) isn’t scaling back. In fact, more than ever, items are being made from scratch in the restaurant’s pint-size kitchen. And while we’ve always loved the freshly baked breads, the charcuterie course—with items like braised-rabbit-and-truffle terrines and wild boar rillettes smoked, cured and prepared on the premises—caught our attention. But of course, this kitchen has time to experiment, since so many stalwart items—like the billowy potato gnocchi—have been perfected. Order: The seasonal salad—it’s always well-sized, well-dressed, and way beyond a house-salad standard. 7 North 3rd Street, 215-931-1560. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other DetailsSee MenuMake a Reservation

Conshohocken | Seafood | Entrée: $21—$30
Ranking: 10 • Last Year’s Ranking: 3
This clean-lined Conshohocken BYO celebrates simplicity—so light and airy, all pale grays and Shaker-style chairs. Amiable servers don’t even play up the complexity of chef Chip Roman’s dishes, though they certainly could wax poetic on the way the cherry jus mingles with the pistachio-crusted ball of foie gras, or how the smoked ­salmon wrapped around a soft deep-fried egg meshes so nicely with the crème fraîche. Happily, the scene, the servers and the chef all let the food speak for itself. And this food doesn’t just speak; it sings—­without ever being heavy or overdone.  Order: The delicate bouillabaisse is a proven crowd-pleaser, but you can’t go wrong with the house specialty—fish. 119 Fayette Street, Conshohocken, 610-397-0888. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other DetailsSee MenuMake a Reservation

Old City | Latin-Chinese | Entrée: $21—$30
Ranking: 16 • Last Year’s Ranking: New to the List
Jose Garces’s latest restaurant filters his popular small-plates approach through the multifaceted lens of the melting-pot cuisine of Peru, where Asian/Latin-American fusion restaurants have proliferated. But don’t expect Chifa to stray too far from the proven Garces formula, starting with the sort of sultry atmosphere we’ve come to expect. With its low light, painted tiles, and semi-private corner booths wrapped in beads, it doesn’t disappoint. Neither does the food, in which Asian touches and masterful preparation are intriguing enough to keep us coming back. Don’t be intimidated by the hard-to-decipher menu—servers here can explain everything. And the cultures that have influenced these dishes (Japanese, Chinese, French) make even the strangest-sounding dishes taste deliciously familiar. Order: Pork belly buns. 707 Chestnut Street, 215-925-5555. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other DetailsSee MenuMake a Reservation

Old City | New American | Entrées: $21-$30
Ranking: 30 • Last Year’s Ranking: New to the List
We’ve always loved Fork. It’s uncomplicated in the best of ways, with its New American food, cordial and urbane vibe, and realistic prices. (Not to mention that it has one of our favorite bars to eat at in the city.) But it was the recent addition of chef Terrence Feury that reestablished the restaurant’s original intent by bringing the food up to par with the ambience. His ever-changing menu lets his expert cooking techniques and unfussy approach shine, meshing global influences (house-made blood sausage with sauerkraut; duck confit; lemon ricotta fritters) that never stray from the modern-American mission. And it’s a welcome one: In an era of themed-to-the-death and small-plate eateries, this easy restaurant is a breath of fresh (but classic) air that gives weight to our dining scene. Order: Appetizers and the crispy-skinned roast chicken. 306 Market Street, 215-625-9425. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other DetailsSee MenuMake a Reservation

South Philly | New American | Entrée: $21—$30
Ranking: 12 • Last Year’s Ranking: 21
Truth be told, we’ve always liked Daniel Stern best at his smallest. And now that the all-things-to-all-people project that was Rae is, at least for the moment, tabled, we’ve ­happily returned to his Queen ­Village ­jewel-box bistro. Here, among Stern’s black-and-white family ­photos, the perfectionist chef-owner continues to turn out über-precise, just-edgy-enough cuisine that has, in our opinion, taken a turn for the accessible. The menu is as manageably sized (there are about a dozen items, sans specials) as ever, with descriptions that are less opaque—chicken and waffles is comfort food with a twist—and portions that have grown, so you’ll fill up on that steak and potatoes. Order: Minestrone, or breakfast for dessert. 617 South 3rd Street, 215-922-3850. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other DetailsSee MenuMake a Reservation

South Philly | Italian | Entrée: $21–$30
Ranking: 3 • Last Year’s Ranking: 6
Candied bacon, it turns out, tastes like peanut brittle. But better. Sweet, crunchy, salty, and vaguely redolent of actual meat, it takes an already luscious dessert—roasted apples atop a brown-sugar cake—and turns it into something you remember. Something you talk about the next day. So it goes with pretty much every dish at James, the refined little foodie refuge in Bella Vista, where a sunchoke soup manages to be light (tinged with lemon) and rich (served over black truffles), and a buttery, loose risotto—the most delicate you’ll find this side of Milan—is dotted with bits of oyster. Chef Jim Burke and his wife, Kristina, run the show with such intense attention to detail that naysayers have called the place too precious. The naysayers are wrong. James has earned serious accolades from Food & Wine magazine for the very reasons that we remain evangelical about the place: It has a serious chef making memorably good food in a pretty space. What’s not to love? Order: Tagliatelle with duck ragu, shaved chocolate and orange. Seriously.824 South 8th Street, 215-629-4980. 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 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 | Mexican | Entrées: $21-$30
Ranking: 45 • Last Year’s Ranking: 48
When owners Valerie Safran and chef Marcie Turney’s tiny, shiny, rustic-chic Mexican BYOB opened five years ago, they immediately faced comparisons to the bright lights and big salads of also new, also Mexican, also on 13th Street El Vez. But they didn’t have much to worry about, because Lolita’s lines are out the door nightly. Their stylish first-come, first-seated (on weekends) patrons can’t get enough of the gently tweaked, deeply flavored Mexican fare—or the pitchers of in-season fruit juices that make for the city’s yummiest DIY margaritas. Order: Pulled chicken tamal.106 South 13th Street, 215-546-7100. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other Details

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

Washington Square | Japanese | Entrée: $21—$30
Ranking: 13 • Last Year’s Ranking: 10
It’s neither the newest nor the flashiest of ­Stephen Starr’s restaurants, but ­Morimoto remains his best. To be sure, the ­seven-and-a-half-year-old Japanese hot spot is a splurge (since when is a cup of miso worth $7?), but it’s also the biggest fish in Philly’s sea of sushi spots, and rightly so, given its smart Tokyo-mod decor and a toro tartare with caviar that alone is worth the trip. It’s widely known that the restaurant’s namesake, Masaharu Morimoto, is rarely in the Philly flagship; he’s usually at the New York outpost or fulfilling his Iron Chef duties. No matter. The food is beautifully executed, be it tidy little rows of sashimi or more complex dishes like the “Duck, duck, duck”—a trio of mellow roasted duck breast, rich confit risotto and a runny-yolked duck egg. And the ­service—attentive, practiced, confident—is some of the best in the city. Ask for Benjamin. Order: The Morimoto omakase, which at $120 is pricey but worth it. 723 Chestnut Street, 215-413-9070. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other DetailsSee MenuMake a Reservation

Berwyn | Pan-Asian | Entrées: $21-$30
Ranking: 32 • Last Year’s Ranking: 40
“Wow. You guys really ate a lot of food!” That was our (otherwise adept) waiter, surveying the damage after a long, lovely meal at the cool French-Asian-fusion spot in Berwyn. We did order a lot: Nectar’s menu is gigantic and creative, and it’s hard to know whether you should go with an exotic meat entrée, a lighter noodle dish or the sushi. Our solution: Just get what sounds good. Nectar has earned its place among the top restaurants because so many of chef Patrick Feury’s creations turn out to be worth the order. Note to sushi-lovers: You’ll find some of the area’s best here. Order: Kung pao vegetable and tofu wok, and the chilled no-rice sushi roll with yellowtail, salmon and bass.1091 Lancaster Avenue, Berwyn, 610-725-9000. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other DetailsSee MenuMake a Reservation

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

Grays Ferry | Mediterranean | Entrées: $21-$30
Ranking: 43 • Last Year’s Ranking: 42
Graduate Hospital’s Pumpkin is the quintessential neighborhood restaurant, down to its diminutive size (just 28 seats) and familiar service (warm enough to melt butter). But if your neighborhood BYO can pull off the sophisticated food this place serves—a cold, fresh trout tartare zipped up with cilantro and an ­avocado-mango salsa, or the tender sturgeon in an oxtail broth with cabbage and shiitake ­mushrooms—count yourself lucky: Few places have managed to blend such a modest vibe (the tablecloths are brown paper) with such an ambitious menu (it changes nightly). Order: Chef Ian Moroney’s flavors really sing in the seafood dishes. 1713 South Street, 215-545-4448. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other Details

Collingswood | Sushi | Entrées: $21-$30
Ranking: 38 • Last Year’s Ranking: 38
It’s not a slick atmosphere that makes this South Jersey sushi spot stand out—the hurried service and ’70s-era wood paneling can’t compare to the region’s newer sushi sellers. But there’s a reason why, after 35 years, people are stilled lined up at the door, and it’s because of Sagami’s ­never-miss-the-mark Japanese standards. Starters like tempura are impossibly light, and dumplings are homemade, while classics like teriyaki are authentic enough to put other, corner-cutting Japanese restaurants to shame. Sushi is truly the hallmark here. Again, nothing is fussy—just excellent cuts of fresh fish and simple combinations executed with precision. Order: Round out your sushi meal with a sampling of starters. 37 West Crescent Boulevard, ­Collingswood, 856-854-9773. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other Details

Sovana Bistro
Kennett Square | Italian | Entrées: $21—$30
Ranking: 18 • Last Year’s Ranking: New to the List
Don’t let the shopping center it’s housed in fool you, because this energetic, Chez Panisse-evoking restaurant in Kennett Square is lovely inside, with dark walls and an airy vibe. Refreshingly, “local” here isn’t so much a theme as a natural complement to the seasonal bistro menu—you’d tell a friend about the creative wood-burning-oven pizzas, well-composed salads and fresh-cut pappardelle before mentioning that the mushrooms were foraged mere steps away. While the service can be flighty, the high-quality ingredients, low price point (pizzas are under $15; entrées are mostly below $30), something-for-everyone menu and suave dining room make for an easy meal and a restaurant with staying power. Order: Something off the locavorist “100-mile” menu. 696 Unionville Road, Kennett Square, 610-444-5600. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other DetailsSee Menu

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