Ultimate BYOB Guide

Shinju Sushi

What to Know Before You Go: Credit cards accepted, reservations recommended.

Buy a Bottle At: 1100 Chestnut St., Philadelphia.

The walls of this small sushi restaurant are covered with faux movie-style posters featuring anthropomorphic pieces of sushi in place of actors. My personal favorite is a poster with a green background at the top of which is written “Tears For Wasabi.” Below it is a picture of the planet with three little sushi-men atop or beside it. Above them is written “Everybody Wants To Rule The World.” Brilliant. As for the sushi, it’s quite good. If you order a la carte, sushi comes in two-piece servings. The tuna was fresh and tender, and cut perfectly small. There’s an interesting selection of specialty rolls, and the one I ordered, the Duo Roll, was one of the best I’ve had in a long time. It consisted of asparagus, avocado, and crunchy tempura flakes all rolled up together inside rice, and then topped with broiled yellow tail and unagi. Extra sauce-which was just as sweet as it was spicy, and quite tasty as a result-was artistically drizzled around the plate. The balance of flavors and the juxtaposition of textures were very well conceived and executed, and aside from that damn Tears For Fears song I had stuck in my head, I enjoyed my meal at Shinju immensely.

930 Locust St., Philadelphia, 215.351.6265.

Trattoria Lucca

What to Know Before You Go: Credit cards accepted, reservations recommended.

Buy a Bottle At: 1940 S. Columbus Blvd., Philadelphia.

The space is less cramped than what most of us have come to expect from South Philly Italian restaurants. It’s also more clean-lined, a bit more elegant, and more refined than most of the neighborhood restaurants in this part of the city. I only wish, though, that that air of restraint hadn’t found its way into the kitchen, too Unfortunately, while the food was perfectly nice, it simply kept missing the mark because of a seeming reluctance to season the ingredients aggressively enough. An appetizer of grilled calamari was tasty, sure, but not nearly as good as it could have been with a bit more flavor. The Caesar salad was excellent, however, and the dressing as creamy and lusty as I had hoped for. Rigatoni with peas, Parmigiano, prosciutto, truffle oil and cream should have been a showstopper, but it, too, suffered from a lack of salt. Of course, when I speared a piece of prosciutto with my pasta all the flavors came alive beautifully. There wasn’t anything terrible about my meal at Trattoria Lucca, but I certainly wasn’t blown away by it, either. The ambience makes it an excellent date place, and the music tends toward the Euro-romantic, but if it’s food you’re focusing on, you’re better off going to Tre Scalini.

1915 Passyunk Ave., Philadelphia, 215.336.1900.

Little Fish

What to Know Before You Go: Cash only, reservations recommended.

Buy a Bottle At: 724 South St., Philadelphia.

This may be one of the tiniest restaurants in the city, which is both a good thing and a bad one. It’s size, barely bigger than the average Center City studio apartment, lends it a feeling of quaintness, of intimacy. But it also means that the space fills up quickly with the aroma of everything the chef is cooking in the kitchen, which, while generally quite pleasant, does occasionally clog the air with the heavy smell of hot cooking oil and the like. The service was laid-back, professional, and friendly, and the food was very good: Small, sweet mussels with white wine and garlic were nothing fancy but expertly executed and flavorful. Wild bass marsala with sunchoke, white carrot, and fava beans was rich but not overwhelming, and cooked perfectly. Desserts were portioned just right and tasted like the kind of treats the best home cooks would make (this is a compliment). The bread pudding was a stand out, and as opposed to the versions served at most restaurants, this one wasn’t too sweet or mushy. The homemade whipped cream topping made an already excellent dessert even better.

600 Catharine St., Philadelphia, 215.413.3464.

Blue Nile Café

What to Know Before You Go: Credit cards accepted.

Buy a Bottle At: 4924 Baltimore Ave., Philadelphia.

I have a wife, lots of friends, and a job that I love. But I’m giving serious thought to moving to West Africa, because if the food over there is half as good as it is at both Fatou and Fama and Blue Nile Café, then I’ll have a very happy early retirement. Tucked into an unassuming storefront on the 4500 block of Baltimore Avenue, Blue Nile Café really isn’t much to look at, from either the inside or the outside. But the food more than makes up for any atmospheric shortcomings. Many of the items on the menu were unfamiliar to me, so I asked the waitress what she would recommend. “Grilled chicken with vermicelle,” she said. And while this sounded like the kind of bland dish that they serve to people who let on that they’re unversed in the intricacies of West African cuisine, I told her that the chicken sounded fine. It was a brilliant move on my part. Ten minutes later, she brought out one of the single best grilled chicken dishes I’ve ever had. It was rubbed with “a lot of different African spices” as the chef later informed me. He wouldn’t get any more specific than that, but I didn’t particularly care. The chicken (officially called “poulet bressé”) was spicy, sweet, deliciously rich and topped with onions, tomatoes and peppers. The side of vermicelle was spicy from the ground pepper and sweet from a sauce of deeply caramelized onions. And all of this for $10. I washed it down with some of their homemade (and non-alcoholic) ginger beer and drove home happy. Next time there’s a deal on flights to anywhere in West Africa, I’m out of here. I’m officially in love with the food.

4527 Baltimore Ave., Philadelphia, 215.386.1971.

Mandoline

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

Buy a Bottle At: 32 S. Second St., Philadelphia.

Mandoline is exactly the kind of BYOB that Philadelphians love. It’s in a small, adorably appointed space, the service is friendly and the food is well prepared and tasty. The goat cheese pistachio cake with a black mission fig and balsamic was excellent, but it’s so rich that you really should order it with the intention of sharing with someone else. The steamed clams with chorizo in a tomato saffron broth over spinach linguini was delicious, but I would have preferred a few hunks of grilled bread instead of the pasta, the better to sop up the sauce with. Still, chorizo and clams are a happy combination, so I can’t really complain. The sautéed barramundi was perfectly cooked but could have used a bit more salt, and the truffle sweet corn broth was nice, but I didn’t taste much in the way of truffle. Still, the accompanying lobster ravioli was a nice touch, if a bit overcooked. The s’mores dessert, however, was wonderful: marshmallow gelato, a warm fudge brownie, and graham crackers with both caramel and chocolate sauces were as gooey and rich as I had hoped, like a grown-up version of everyone’s favorite childhood dessert.

213 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, 215.757.0275.

AroundPhilly Staff

When we're not browsing Reddit or preparing TPS reports, the Aroundphilly.com staff likes to bring you freshly-sliced internets for your viewing pleasure. If you have an idea for an article or really awesome photos of Nabi, send us an email at editorial@aycmedia.com.

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