Ultimate BYOB Guide


Tamarind

What to Know Before You Go: Credit cards accepted.

Buy a Bottle At: 704 South St., Philadelphia.

There’s an inexplicable lack of good Thai restaurants in Philadelphia, or so I thought before I visited Tamarind. With a Chinese place on every block, it often seems as if no other Asian cuisine can gain much of a foothold in the city. Hopefully, Tamarind will help to change all that, because the food coming out of the kitchen here is delicately flavored, elegantly prepared and frighteningly affordable. Sautéed ginger curry was flavorful but not overwhelming like some curry dishes can be. The accompanying chicken and shrimp were both fresh and tender, and fabulously subtle when taken with a bit of rice. Radna, a dish of stir-fried flat noodles, arrived at the table in a glistening brown sauce studded with shrimp and assorted vegetables. It was both simple and satisfying. As for beverages, your best bet is a beer. In fact, when the waiter saw my bottle, he brought out a frozen glass. That’s what I call service.

117 South St., Philadelphia, 215.925.2764.


La Locanda del Ghiottone

What to Know Before You Go: Cash only.

Buy a Bottle At: 32 S. 2nd St., Philadelphia.

My job demands that I be careful of how much food I eat in one sitting. Some days I eat two large restaurant meals for work, so if I want to avoid looking like an aging former pro-wrestler and maintain the ability to get around without the aid of a walker, I have to be hyper-conscious of my portions. For better of worse, this is just not possible at La Locanda del Ghiottone, which literally (and appropriately) translates as “The House of the Gluttons.” The crepini con funghi, a plate of two homemade crepes filled with wild mushrooms and topped with a gloriously rich nutmeg cream sauce, could have been a meal on its own. It was perfectly seasoned, struck an excellent balance between the wrapping and the filling and vanished from my plate in less than five minutes. When I ordered the penne amatriciana, the waiter suggested I might like it better if the kitchen made it with homemade spaghetti instead. Halfway into a food coma, I was in no state to argue. It was a good thing I didn’t: La Locanda’s version of this old favorite was rich with crispy strips of pancetta and built on a thick, flavorful tomato sauce. After finishing that, I decided to reward myself for such Herculean feats of power eating with a piece of tiramisu. It was both sweet and bitter, one of the best tiramisus I’d had in weeks. And it was with dessert that I was finally defeated: Halfway through it, I had to lay down my fork and surrender. I was full. The House of the Gluttons had won, as I suppose it always does.

130 N. 3rd St., 215.829.1465.


La Creperie Café

What to Know Before You Go: Credit cards accepted.

Buy a Bottle At: 1913 Chestnut St., Philadelphia.

Situated in what is arguably the most Gallic neighborhood in the city, La Creperie Café is a decent spot for crepes and other quasi-French-style goodies. But while the food is actually quite nice, the service tends to be a bit weak. On a recent visit, there was but one gentleman running the front of the house-seating people, serving them, bussing their tables, everything, really, except cooking their meals. And while he did an admirable job under the circumstances, there were, nonetheless, too many problems for what was, after tax and tip, a $32 meal for one. The mélange salad, a heaping plate of mixed spring greens, onions, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, walnuts and warm goat cheese in a French vinaigrette, was the highlight of the meal. As an aside, when I called after my meal, I was told, rather dismissively, that the exact ingredients in the dressing were secret. You would have thought I asked Rummy for the nuclear codes. Unfortunately, I was only halfway through that salad when my crepe arrived, forcing me to make a decision-finish the salad and allow the crepe to go cold, or push aside the salad, which I was enjoying, and start eating the crepe. I went for the crepe because I wanted to taste it hot, and I’m glad I did. La Royale was a nice combination of grilled chicken breast, Swiss cheese, tomatoes, onion, olive oil and basil, all folded into a beautiful homemade crepe. But while the food was perfectly fine, I won’t be running back. For that kind of money, I should feel as if there were some semblance of rhythm to my meal. Also, it wouldn’t hurt to treat customers with just a modicum of civility when they call.

1722 Sansom St., Philadelphia, 215.564.6460.


Effie’s

What to Know Before You Go: Cash only, reservations accepted, outside seating available.

Buy a Bottle At: 29 S. 11th St., Philadelphia.

Effie’s is what I like to call a third-date restaurant: First you do the safe coffee or drink. Then you follow it up with a dinner that’s meant to impress but not overwhelm, and maybe a movie at the Ritz. The third date, though, should be a bit more casual, a bit more laid-back. Which is exactly what Effie’s excels at. The space is perfectly nice, the service is friendly and the food is both reasonably priced and tasty enough to provide a nice background to what really matters on a third date: witty repartee and making googly-eyes at one another. As for the food, you can’t do better than to order the thassaloniki platter, a pretty assortment of five appetizers, including the particularly subtle taramosalata and the vampire-killing melezaanosalata, which is a puree of roasted eggplant and enough garlic to wipe-out all of Transylvania. If you get a kiss after eating it, you may as well book the wedding band and start looking for hotels in Hawaii. With the entrees, the shrimp santorini was a standout. I’m generally not a big fan of cheese with seafood, but the combination of sautéed shrimp with feta, garlic, tomatoes and scallion over rice worked beautifully. And if it’s nice out, sit in the open-air courtyard and flirt by moonlight. It may not be Greece, but it’s romantic enough for me.

1127 Pine St., Philadelphia, 215.592.8333.


Fatou and Fama

What to Know Before You Go: Credit cards accepted.

Buy a Bottle At: 4049 Market St., Philadelphia.

Fatou and Fama has achieved the kind of city-wide recognition that most restaurants would kill for. I had always wondered how a Senegalese – West Indian – Soul Food restaurant all the way up by Penn had attracted such a large and devoted following. But now, after what must be one of the tastiest meals I’ve had in a long time, I get it. The restaurant itself is rather sparse, though the few West African touches are nice and colorful. But the food was so good that I’d have been happy to eat it outside to the dulcet tones of police sirens passing by. The fried plantains were perfect: Candy-like and caramelized on the outside, virtually liquid on the inside. They were otherworldly with the Troegs Dreamweaver wheat beer I had brought. But the yassa chicken is what will stay with me. The menu describes it as “grilled chicken marinated with garlic, mustard and lemon cooked in brown onion sauce.” And while that’s technically what it is, it’s also so much more. The sauce is both highly sweet and gorgeously spicy, and the chicken is as tender as any Jamaican jerk I’ve ever had. The interplay of smokiness, heartiness and delicacy in the dish were haunting. I’m just annoyed that I won’t be able to enjoy any barbecued chicken this summer: I’ll be comparing everything to what I ate here, and undoubtedly, nothing will measure up.

4002 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, 215.386.1031.

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*Disclaimer
At AroundPhilly.com, we only post reviews of the restaurants at which I have a positive experience. I visit many of them, and the sub-par ones don’t make the cut. This way, you don’t waste your time reading about not-so-good restaurants when you visit the site. Unless it’s truly terrible. Then we’ll let you know.

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