Long-time readers of 22nd & Philly know we started the blog to share our experiences with the food culture and restaurants in Philadelphia. Our focus on the overall "experience" comes from the belief that memorable meals are defined by more than just food. If you think back to your favorite meals, you are sure to uncover fond recollections about the conversation, people and atmosphere, too.
This defines our recent visit to 943 in a nutshell.
943 opened earlier this year and is located in the heart of the Italian Market. Much like one of our other favorite BYOs, Portuguese-inspired Koo Zee Doo, 943 brings a unique food culture to the city with its Argentine/Italian blend.
It was founded by Pascual Cancelliere, a long-time chef in Philly. He has said 943 honors his late father, John, who was born in the Abruzzi region of Italy but raised in Argentina, like many other Italians who immigrated there. 943 is still a family affair, with Pascual’s mother involved in the cooking, wife making the dessert and seven children all helping at the restaurant. Two of his daughters were servers the night we visited. Their shared passion for delivering a traditional Argentine/Italian meal shows and really ups the ante on their guests' experiences.
The meal started with a few surprises from Pascual - a tomato and mozzarella plate, smelts, and samples of his pappardelle and ravioli dishes. The ravioli stole the show, with a delicious gorgonzola sauce and mushroom/pesto filling. It's these small tokens that often set the tone for a memorable evening.
Between the three of us, we then ordered an array of appetizers including ham/cheese empanadas, grilled octopus, sweetbreads, and chorizo and blood sausage.
|Jamon y queso empanadas|
The empanadas are made by Pascual’s mother and perfectly cooked. I think they could have a successful food truck only serving them. Besides the ham/cheese empanada, you can also order beef or chicken.
The grilled octopus was some of the best I’ve had in Philly. Octopus is often too rubbery for my liking, but this was cooked just right and the mix of saffron, fennel and fava beans was a perfect complement. The sweetbreads were something different and tasty to try, but we preferred the other appetizers more. (P.S. If you don't know what sweetbreads are, they aren't bread.)
To me, blood sausage has always seemed strange to eat. But Phillyfooddude was adament about us trying it at 943 and we are so glad we did. Wow. I don’t know who discovered the magic of blood sausage, but it was incredible. Pascual said we need to have the blood sausage and eggs he makes for brunch, next.
|Blood sausage and chorizo|
For the main course, we split the grilled chimichurri short rib with duck-fat fingerling potatoes and the hake, a simple white fish flavored with mushroom, lemon and capers.
Argentine short rib is not braised like you see at many other restaurants. Rather it is grilled on an open flame with only simple seasonings. Phillyfooddude was licking the bones clean, which means the short rib passed our unofficial test of awesomeness. For those who might want to try another meat course, he also raved about the skirt steak from a previous visit.
Kristy said the hake was one of the highlights of her meal. Especially after eating so many appetizers, the light, flaky fish hit the spot for her. And even though mushrooms and capers are not her favorite individual flavors, combined on this fish with lemon it was delicious.
The meal ended with Pascual offering us alfajores (lemon crisp cookies with dulce de leche), tiramisu and flan, all made by his wife who makes all the desserts. I preferred the cookies over the others.
We agree with some comments on the web about the service - the servers could be more attentive with such issues as refilling water and providing new silverware after each course. The décor is also a little sparse for a decent-sized dining room, but keeps it simple at least.
Overall, though, 943 is a hidden gem for foodies, especially if you go on a quieter night and get to spend time talking with Pascual and his family about their influences and passion for the restaurant. It’s certainly one of the best BYOs we’ve been to in the city lately in terms of overall experience. If you want a suggestion on Argentine wine to bring, try the Elena de Mendoza malbec at right. It was about $10 and a very smooth addition to our great meal.
Thanks to Phillyfooddude for making the recommendation and for sharing his homemade chimichurri sauce with us at the end of the night - we used it to make an awesome egg sandwich as well as a killer tilapia and shrimp dinner.
(updated 9/9: we mislabeled the flan, it's really tiramisu. fixed.)