Food is pretty much the only thing that makes winter bearable, so it’s helpful that Center City District schedules one of its twice-yearly Restaurant Weeks for late January/early February. I hit three different spots for this season’s festivities, all of which are definitely worth a visit at any time of the year.
The very name of this restaurant conjures expectations of simple, comforting foods and that’s exactly what Chester and I found on the menu for dinner on a chilly Friday evening.
A relatively new addition to the city’s BYO scene, Russet features farm-to-table dishes with French and Italian twists. It’s location in an old brownstone on Spruce Street, outfitted by the owners (a husband and wife team) with vintage tchotchkes and furniture and tables made of recycled wood, adds to the homey feel. There is a lot of attention to detail given to the menu, right down to rustic, fresh baked breads (lemon-oatmeal on the night we visited) and house made sodas.
Some of the highlights from our visit included melt-in-your-mouth gnocchi with crispy pancetta and a sweet gorgonzola sauce, halibut in a buttery saffron sauce and a rich, chocolate budino with tart cranberries. However, the menu changes daily to take advantage of local, seasonal ingredients, so you might find different options when you go. Featured ingredients and daily menus are posted on the restaurant’s website so that you can get an idea of what to expect.
A group of co-workers and I took advantage of the $20 lunch menu at this swanky French restaurant in the Rittenhouse Hotel. This is probably one of the best deals around for Restaurant Week, as I imagine that lunch on a normal day would probably set you back a bit more.
The restaurant was featuring a handful of dishes from their regular menu, including two kinds of salads, a soup, duck, pasta and scallops. I can vouch for the Caesar salad, (which was one of the prettiest that I have ever had), with grilled Romaine, bits of preserved lemon and a paper thin Parmesan cracker as well as the light-as-air hand-rolled tagliatelle pasta, topped with poached egg and a generous helping of earthy truffles. A trio of miniature desserts, including a cinnamon cream puff, blueberry tart and chocolate mango cake were the perfect finish to the meal.
I hadn’t even heard of this French BYOB in Old City before Chester and our friends Matt and Lara decided to try it out on a Friday night double date. The elegant and simple ambience and the food made this one of the best restaurants that I’ve tried in awhile.
Gnocchi seems to be a popular appetizer at the moment. Bistro 7‘s version was served in a sage brown butter sauce and topped with bits of crispy shallots and tender butternut squash. The gnocchi were light and delicious and the ingredients were perfect for the winter time, but the dish was just a little bit too salty for my taste. The short rib entree, on the other hand, was just perfect. The two generous pieces of beef braised in red wine and rosemary came apart easily with a fork. I also really enjoyed Chester’s lamb tagine. The meat was seasoned with a perfect combination of flavors, including cinnamon and nutmeg.
Many people complain that menus and service can be hit-or-miss during Restaurant Week. But, in doing my research, it seemed that most restaurants were offering really interesting menus this time around (i.e dishes directly from or similar to their everyday menus so that you could really get a taste of what the restaurant was all about) and the service and experience at all of the places I visited was top notch. Hopefully, restaurants have discovered that many people, like me, use Restaurant Week to discover new favorite places and this trend will continue in the future.
While Center City Restaurant Week is over, I was excited to learn that East Passyunk Avenue is set to host its first Restaurant Week from February 24 through March 2. This neighborhood has become a restaurant mecca and many of the old favorites and new hot spots are participating, with menus ranging from $15 to $35. Make your reservations as soon as you can; since some of these venues are tiny, tables are sure to be snapped up quickly!