A few weeks ago, while Philadelphia was having its string of 85-90 degree early Spring days, I met a friend for drinks at Sampan. It's a new spot, more or less across the street from El Vez and Vintage wine bar. In reality, we were waiting for our respective significant others to show up and then we'd all go to El Vez for dinner. We just needed a place to sit down and have a cocktail in the meantime.
Apparently Sampan's chef, Michael Schulson, is kind of a big deal. He has a really successful, "modern Japanese pub" at the Borgota called Izakaya and he has been on TV several times. More on that on Sampan's website.
We got a table on the street and even though it was 6:30 on a gorgeous Friday night, the waiter didn't insist on us ordering dinner nor did he seem to mind that we sat there for about two hours. Score one for Sampan. It's also in a great location for people watching - 13th Street between Walnut and Sansom. There you'll find literally everything, from people on their way home from work in attire totally inappropriate for the office, to yuppies out for Happy Hour, to "gayborhood" regulars en route to Woody's, to totally confused suburban families trying to drop off books to the used bookseller down the road. Saw it all and then some.
Best thing about Sampan was the drink I had. I'm bummed that their drink menu isn't on the website because I don't remember what it was called, but I do know what was in it - a lot of whiskey (my fav liquor), mango, a little tonic, and three cherries soaked - i mean SOAKED - in brandy. It was very tasty and very potent. Eating the cherries will make you cringe, in a good way. Two of those puppies and you'll be geared up for a fun night.
According to uwishunu, Sampan also does the fishbowl drink thing, in case you're in the mood for sharing.
As I mentioned, we wanted to hit up El Vez for dinner, so we didn't eat too much. Sampan's version of the "Philly Cheese Steak" was interesting... it was kind of like a spring roll, but kind of like a slider... hard to describe. But it tasted good and was easy to pick at. The waiter claimed their Edamame Dumplings were a patron favorite so we tried them. Who doesn't like edamame right? Eh, they were kinda just green blob-ish gnocchi-ish things without a lot of flavor. Good concept, less than perfect execution.
I went inside a couple times to hit up the restroom (of course, as I have the tiniest bladder in the world) and was thoroughly amused by the audio playing in there. It's a loop of famous movie lines that you can't help but listen to while going about your business, although it takes you a minute to figure out what they are. Then it becomes like a game to guess the movie.
While I liked my visit, I'm not sure Sampan is going to last too long, unfortunately. It doesn't have a really unique draw and I fear it will be a spillover place from its neighbors (after all, that's how I ended up there). The inside of the place looked pretty suave thought so I'd go back sometime when I want to feel cool and neon and eat interesting Japanese food.