November 19, 2015

The Nana Test: La Fontana Della Citta

On one of the recent beautiful November nights, we took the opportunity to grab an outside seat at La Fontana Della Citta, an Italian BYOB near Rittenhouse Square. We've walked past a million times and seen it both empty and packed, leaving us to wonder - is that place any good?

La Fontana can be classified as an average BYOB that suits the purpose of an Italian meal. It’s not the place for special night out or a particularly dynamite experience. But, if you just want a decent bowl of penne, like I did, you’ll walk away pleased.

Let’s take La Fontana Della Citta through The Nana Test.

Atmosphere: Nothing especially unique. The outside seating was a bit too dark, even for November. The meal could have benefited from some more warmth from the waiters, too. Friends have told us that it gets quite boisterous later in the evening when a youthful crowd drowns their pasta with wine. The menu hints at this with some odd warnings such as a two credit card maximum per table, a $16.95 minimum per person after being seated and a request to leave promptly after paying your bill. 3 out of 5

Simplicity: La Fontana has an expansive menu covering just about every Italian dish. The presentation is basically, "here is your dish to eat." Kristy’s gnocchi lacked the ideal fluffiness, but the vodka sauce hit the simplicity notes. Olive oil for the table (which only came after we asked for it) was terrible and could have been a store brand for all I know. Too simple. 3 out of 5

Gnocchi in a blush sauce with random chunks of mozzarella cheese. That last part was awkward.

The sauce: Arrabiata is one of my favorite sauces and I've found many lacking spiciness, or worse just come with a hot pepper on top. La Fontana’s had a deep red sauce flavor with just the right amount of spice. The sauce sums up La Fontana in a nutshell - I could make their dishes better at home, but then I would have to spend the time to make it. In other words, La Fontana gets the basic job done in a pinch. Side note: Di Bruno's homemade jar of arrabiata is a great option for an Italian night at home. 3 out of 5

Penne Arrabiata

Serving size and bread: As the cornerstone of a great Italian meal, it's surprising that La Fontana completely neglected this area. The bread tasted like stale Wonder Bread. Terrible. The serving size hit the Goldilocks note, though - not too much, not too little. 1 out of 5

Antipasti: For only $10, La Fontana provides an above average portion and solid variety of meats and cheeses. The actual antipasti though was a microcosm for the meal - neither great nor bad. 2 out of 5


The secret sambuca test: Our little guy was ready to get going so we did not have a chance to grab an espresso or digestif. I did overhear the waitress tell another couple that they have house red and white wine for guests that don't bring their own. I’ll give the benefit of doubt and assume they had some sambuca. +1

Overall score - 13 out of 25

*Kid friendly? While we did not eat inside, we think La Fontana would be fine with a kid, especially if you're on the early side. It's not a high-end BYOB.

On a related note, we've quickly realized that outside dining is a godsend for newbie parents. It's been a great way to check out restaurants, keep the baby occupied and store the stroller. We're hoping it's a short winter and/or more restaurants will continue to embrace the needs of parents.

October 19, 2015

The 2nd Best Thing at Pizzeria Vetri is Still Not Pizza

Last year we wrote about Pizzeria Vetri and told everyone that the best thing to eat there isn't even pizza. It's the rotolo. Turns out the second best thing is still not pizza, but the calzone. 

The calzone didn't cross our eating radars until we dined at the kitchen counter at the new Center City location on Chancellor Street. The secret must be out, as the pizza creators were busy making calzones one after another. After spending an hour drooling, we knew the calzone was on our hit list. 

The prosciutto cotto and ricotta stuffed, folded pizza is a mouthwatering delight of tastiness. Vetri's light and slightly sweet pizza dough somehow tastes even better as a calzone than pizza. 

While the pizza is certainly some of the best in the city, trust us and go try the calzone. Of course, get a rotolo on the side and the daily thick crust (the third best thing!). 

*Kid-Friendly? Absolutely, especially the new location. It's down the street from our day care and has become the perfect spot for a bite and beer. There is plenty of room inside for your stroller. 

Two warnings though, First, the bathroom did not have a changing table. Second, be careful when you sit outside - the pizza oven vent is up above and at times can be unbearable. Kids or no kids, I'd suggest sitting just inside near the window to avoid the fumes. Awful. 

September 30, 2015

Same Same but Different in NoLibs

There are so many hot new restaurants in Philly, it's tough to know which to try next. On the top of our list was Same Same in Northern Liberties... and it should be on yours, too.

We first met Chef Chad Kubanoff and his wife Thuy in London during our inaugural Chowzter/FoodieHub blogger trip and spent an entire day with them food hunting through various markets. Proving how small our world really can be, it turned out Chad was from Bucks County but living in Vietnam at the time, cooking at a top restaurant and running motorbike street food tours with Thuy, who was born and raised in Vietnam. For FoodieHub, they represented Saigon, offering expert recommendations for where to get the best banh mi, noodles and more around the busy city.

They moved back to the U.S. last year to fulfill Chad's dream to open a restaurant here at home. Same Same shows off some of the best street food Saigon has to offer. You'll barely recognize the former Koo Zoo Doo space turned casual, with a small courtyard and local street signs on the walls.

Definitely check out Same Same for lunch or dinner. Pho will be added to the menu soon, just in time for winter. In the meantime, here's what we ate...

For a main dishes at Same Same, choose between a banh mi sandwich, noodle bowl or lettuce wraps, and then pick your featured meat/vegetable. Our banh mi was with pho-spiced pork confit, made with a dry rub of star anise, cinnamon, black cardamom and black pepper. The pork is marinated overnight, slowly braised in pork fat for 8 hours and seared to order. The bread comes from Ba Le Bakery on Washington Ave. Loved it! Really rich, fresh flavors on an excellent roll. If we lived Northern Liberties, stopping in often for a banh mi lunch would be a no brainer.

For something to share, grab an order of vegetable spring rolls and Thuy’s delicious chicken salad. The latter is a very light and fresh dish made with shaved cabbage, pulled poached chicken breast, toasted peanuts, fresh herbs and lemon. We cleaned the plate. The simple spring rolls are delicately fried, adding the perfect little crunch to your meal.

Lettuce wraps come with fresh mustard leaves, green lettuce, lots of herbs, pickled daikon radish, pickled carrot and rice noodles, plus a bowl of house made fish sauce dressing for dipping. We loved this sauce, which Thuy said is mixed with a little water and sugar to make it slightly less pungent. Delicious. The staff at Same Same will also show you how to properly roll a lettuce wrap, including the green lettuce inside a mustard leaf to make it stronger. Who knew?! We ordered the tender chicken thighs marinated with lemongrass, ginger, fish sauce and a bit of chili.

Overall, the food at Same Same was light, tasty and very fresh. We ate a lot but never felt stuffed and trust that Chad and Thuy make sure the experience/ingredients are authentic to the streets of Vietnam.

*Kid-friendly? Absolutely. Casual atmosphere, colorful finger foods and smoothies, and a resident baby (Chad and Thuy's own 3 month old!) make it a great place to bring along the kids. Our little guy tried really hard to get his fingers on a spring roll but he'll have to grow some teeth first.

August 30, 2015

Gennaro's: Is this Pizza Better than Pizzeria Beddia?

Philly has taken center stage in the nation's Pizza Wars with Bon App├ętit naming Pizzeria Beddia the best in America. Sadly, we have not been there yet, and with the lines now reaching preposterous levels, I am not sure we will at all. Anyone want to wait in line and deliver us a pie?

That leaves us chasing the best of the rest, which are probably just as good, like Pizzeria Vetri, Pizza Brain and Square Pie (our current favorite). An overlooked place to throw into the mix is Gennaro's Tomato Pie in South Philly.

Mike Giammarino's cash only, no reservations BYOB serves Philly a little slice of the old NYC Italian pizzerias such as Patsy's or John's of Bleecker Street. It makes sense, considering his family owns Lombardi's in Brooklyn and he ran the Center City spinoff that closed in 2005.

Giammarino returned to Philly in 2013 to open Gennaro's and we're glad he did. His thin crust pies are on par, if not better than, many of the new joints popping up everywhere. Gennaro's low key, neighborhood vibe is enjoyable as well.

We ordered two styles - the white pizza with mozzarella and ricotta cheese and our favorite plain tomato pie with mozzarella, crushed tomato and olive oil. Both were fresh with the distinctive thin crust providing a nice crisp bite.

Old school NYC pizzerias are known for delivering delicious charred taste out of coal-fired ovens. Lacking its own coal oven, Gennaro's suggests cooking their pies a little longer to mimic the flavor. Our pies tasted more burnt than charred so we'd skip that step.

Gennaro's has a new spot on Passyunk Square called Grace & Pat's that serves up "Grandma Style" pies. If the thicker, but not Sicilian thick pizzas, are anything like my Italian grandmother's then I will be a regular visitor. Craig Laban is a big fan. Has anyone been yet?

*Kid-friendly? Yes, Gennaro's is very casual and a fine place to bring kids. There are fun, vintage photos and decor on the walls, and of course the food is right up any kid's ally. It's not huge and the tables are tight, though, so you might want to leave the stroller in the car or by the door.

August 23, 2015

Celebrate the Seasons with Dinner at Townsend in East Passyunk

The Fountain at The Four Seasons may have closed, but its legacy lives on in the next generation of great Philly chefs, for whom restaurants like the Fountain served as training grounds.

Townsend Wentz started his journey to greatness at The Fountain, and after stops at Lacroix, Twenty21 and a few NY restaurants came back to Philly to run McCrossen's  (which we loved while he was there). Last April, Wentz opened his namesake Townsend on East Passyunk Ave. 

We got to experience the summer menu this July and it was one of the most delicious meals we've had in a while. Start to finish, Townsend delivered on delicate flavors, beautiful presentation and great service. The photos below speak for themselves. Our three-course meal plus one shared dessert was plenty filling but well paced so it didn't leave us stuffed. 

Clockwise from top left: Pan Roasted Magret Duck Breast with summer white bean cassoulet and port reduction; Jumbo Lump Crab Risotto with truffle-asparagus salad; Rabbit Pot-au-feu with roasted loin roulade, braised rabbit, carrots and potatoes; Potato Gnocchi with sweet corn, mussels, wax beans and pickled fresno chilies. These were all second and third courses. As appetizers we also had the Andalusian Gazpacho with basil oil and brioche croutons and the Marinated Hamachi with cucumber, sesame, lime, cilantro and furikake. Each bite was better than the one before, though if I had to pick a favorite it would be the risotto. 

Townsend is a French restaurant nestled in a Passyunk rowhouse with seasonally inspired menus. Get there soon to try what we had. I can't wait to see what Townsend offers for fall. There's a bar just inside the door, seating in the back and more upstairs. We lucked out with the front bay window seat upstairs and a lovely view of Easy Passyunk Ave at dusk. Great idea for Valentine's Day, a birthday or other special occasion. 

*Kid-friendly? It is feasible to bring a child to Townsend, probably best during earlier hours, but it is such a nice experience that we'd recommend calling up the babysitter and making Townsend a night out just for mom and dad. 

... and for dessert, chocolate souffle. Just do it.