Compared to other cities in the country Philadelphia is relatively small, so despite its important role in American history, it often gets overlooked. Until recently, I had only been there once when I was 12 on a school trip to see the Liberty Bell. So, when I was invited by a friend to visit Philly for a weekend, I felt like I needed to go and see what Philly’s up to these days.
We decided to stay at the Hotel Palomar (a Kimpton hotel) near Rittenhouse Square. It was perfect for us; a nice, clean boutique hotel in a great neighborhood, walking distance to lots of shopping and the Rittenhouse Square park. Also nearby is the Rittenhouse Hotel, a little more expensive than the Hotel Palomar and slightly more traditional. If you’re looking to stay very close to the Liberty Bell and other historical sites, check out Hotel Monaco, another trendy Kimpton Hotel.
As my friend and I discussed our culinary schedule for the weekend trip, I assumed it would largely consist of items commonly known as the cuisine of Philadelphia: cheesesteaks, hoagies and soft pretzels. I’ve never been so pleased to be proven wrong. Here are some of our favorites from the weekend.
Sbraga: Sbraga is a beautiful, airy restaurant located on Broad Street, otherwise known as the Avenue of the Arts. The restaurant is located right near the Kimmel Center, the Academy of Music, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. We sat at the bar, which offers the full dinner menu and was actually a really nice experience. There’s also a chef’s counter with seating, as well as the main dining room with regular tables. You can’t go wrong with anything at Sbraga, and the menu changes constantly due to seasonality, but the most memorable dishes we had were the foie gras soup, the roast pork with provolone bread pudding and long hots, and the "Key lime pie" dessert.
Zahav: Zahav is an Israeli restaurant located in Society Hill. There are some familiar Mediterranean dishes on the menu, but also some unfamiliar, surprising flavors that are very different than anything else I’ve tasted before. Definitely start with the Turkish hummus and laffa bread. The hummus is served warm with melted butter and grilled garlic, and the bread is completely addictive. Next, move onto the grilled duck hearts. Don’t let the hearts scare you; when we were there, these delicious, flavorful pieces of meat were served with fried onions and a hint of sweetness. We also had the excellent house-smoked sable, served on challah bread with a fried egg and poppy seeds. For the main dishes, there’s a mix of poultry, red meat, and fish offerings; we loved all of the main dishes we tried, so you really can’t go wrong, but our favorite was the branzino, served with a walnut pilaf, green beans, and tzatziki.
Serpico: OK, I’ll admit, I am cheating on this one. We didn’t actually eat here because it wasn’t open yet. But, this place looks fantastic. The chef is James Beard Award-winning Peter Serpico, originally the opening chef de cuisine at Momofuku Ko and director of culinary operations for the entire Momofuku empire. The menu at Serpico is focused on fresh ingredients with simple preparations, and I’d like to eat everything on it. The raw fluke (tonburi, charred jalapeño, celery, and soy) and the duck liver mousse (pomegranate and grilled bread) both caught my eye immediately, along with the corn ravioli (chorizo, white cheese, pickled and roasted onions, sour cream, and lime). If this restaurant is as good as it sounds, it will be amazing. In fact, I think I’ll be paying another visit to Philly very soon to decide for myself.