If you check your online resources such as www.citysearch.com you'll notice that La Locanda del Ghiottone has some mixed reviews. One user complains that it's "cramped, noisy and rushed." I would tend to agree with this assessment, but it didn't take away from our meal. The space is certainly small and you'll find yourself at times rubbing elbows (literally) with your neighbors. The noise is substantial with contributions from the casual BYO crowd and the open kitchen. as for being "rushed," the waitstaff should absolutely be described as such, but our meal wasn't - despite a busy night, we didn't feel pressured to stuff ourselves and leave. Upon arrival, we were seated immediately at a table with a view into the kitchen. It's always comforting when a restaurant isn't afraid to show you what goes on behind the scenes. We ordered the mushroom stuffed crepes to start. They were smothered in a delicious alfredo sauce and garnished with italian parsley and basil which added a welcome freshness to such a rich dish. The crepes were properly soft and light. This dish worked nicely as a shared first course. For our entrees we ordered a four cheese ravioli and a braised lamb shank. The ravioli was served in lovely, sweet, red gravy. It was simple but executed perfectly and served as a sizeable portion. When the lamb arrived at the table our waiter referred to me as Fred Flintstone - this piece of meat was legendary in size. We knew immediately that they were living up to their reputation of serving "family style" portions. A braised lamb shank is not so easy to perfect, but La Locanda came awfully close. The slow-cooked shank maintained its moisture and the sauce it was served in (likely thickened and enriched by the marrow) was a savory delight. It was served with risotto alla milanese, a creamy saffron seasoned dish that is commonly paired with veal shank, but worked equally as well with the lamb. We enjoyed the food immensely, had a very jovial waiter, and would definitely return to La Locanda. We recommend a Chianti Classico to match with almost anything on their menu. Our choice was the Castello Banfi Riserva 2003 which had elegant cassis fruit notes and a decent finish.
Tips: make reservations, bring cash, see if you can get a table near the kitchen where the action is
Total Cost = $50 with tip (the wine we brought was an additional $12)
Friday, April 27, 2007
Our most recent dining adventure, and it most certainly was an adventure (explanation to come) was to the Queen's Village neighborhood of Philadlephia to Dimitri's on the corner of 3rd and Catharine. We were inspired by the late but much welcomed arrival of spring weather and decided last minute to seek out an appropriate meal. First thought, like most, was for fish/seafood. Recently someone had mentioned Dimitri's to us so we grabbed our insulated wine tote and a bottle of white from the chiller since it's a BYOB. Of course, when dining in Philadelphia, in order to save big BYOB's are the obvious choice. Dimitri's labels itself a Greek/Mediterranean restaurant, perfect for a balmy evening. We had been forewarned that they do not accept reservations and were prepared for a wait, but as luck would have it they seated us right away despite a seemingly packed dining room. Parking in the vicinity is near impossible so if you're willing to walk a few blocks, there are some lots and meters closer to South Street. They have a single dining room and it could easily be described as cramped, but we'd rather say charming. Along with the tight space comes the noise - it was hard to hear yourself speak at times and while this may turn away some we were more concerned with their reputation for good seafood and a reasonable pricepoint.
Our waitress was friendly but not overly so which was most likely due to the chaos going on around her (a table of 4 just behind us were really enjoying the BYO option!) The same person who had mentioned Dimitri's to us had also recommended we get the grilled octopus so we shared it to start off. It was grilled to perfection, tender and sweet, which can be difficult as octopus gets very dry and fishy when overdone. The octopus was served in it's marinade which was a red wine vinegar concoction along with kalamata olives and pepperoncini. Two of us were barely able to finish this large helping. Dimitri's always has a grilled whole fish on special and on this particular night it was striped bass, so we didn't hesitate. We also ordered another special which was tilapia baked in a simple white wine and butter sauce and seasoned with paprika. The striped bass was simply prepared and delicious - very moist and the meat easily pulled away from the skin and bones. We recommend this item if you want something very fresh with no frills. The chefs let the fresh ingredients speak for themselves and it was much appreciated. It's not for someone who likes heavily seasoned fish with elaborate sauces and reductions. Our second entree, the Tilapia was also perfect in its simplicity - flaky, moist flesh and a light and not overpowering sauce that was in accord. Despite our satisfaction we feel that it did not necessarily distinguish itself as an item to be listed as a "special." It didn't exactly blow us away, but absolutely did not disappoint either.
So after enjoying ourselves with fresh seafood and a beautiful spring evening the check arrived and the meal came to just over $50 which was perfect except for the fact that Dimitri's only accepts CASH. Now, in fairness to the proprietors we knew this, but in our haste to satiate our appetites we forgot to stop at the ATM beforehand despite having a specific conversation not to forget the dough. Anyway, no big deal, the waitress tells us there's a Wawa with an ATM at 2nd and Christian. So Jocelyn elects to stay behind and finish our wine (a 2005 dry resling from Alsace which is IDEAL for grilled fish) and Zach willingly accepts his responsibility of finding the ATM. Except when Zach arrives at the aforementioned Wawa and the ATM is "Temporarily Out of Service." With the cashier at Wawa being reluctant to even answer the question, "where is the next closest ATM?" he sets out on an aimless trek. Nothing in sight around Washington Avenue... No ATM at the bar across the street... There's another Wawa in Headhouse Square just north of South Street... EIGHT BLOCKS north of Washington!!! Well, at least this was a chance to walk off some of a gut-bursting meal. Half an hour later the bill was paid and we were on our way home.
Our overall impression of Dimitri's can be summed up in one word which we've already noted more than once - simple. And not in a negative connotation. Sometimes you just don't want overly elaborate ingredients or preparation techniques. You just need a lucid interpretation of a meal. And this is what Dimitri's specializes in. If you're looking for more, go elsewhere. For a relaxed, reliable, unpretentious alternative to the jet set crowds of Rittenhouse this should work just fine.
Tips: Go early, expect a wait, and learn from our mistake and bring plenty of cash! Also, utilize the waistaff and ask what's freshest that particular day.
Total Cost = about $56 with a 20% tip
Thursday, April 12, 2007
By now everyone knows about Amada. Chef Jose Garces (right) is about to open his third concept in Philly and Amada is all of a sudden the seasoned veteran in his arsenal of nuevo latino restaurants. So while the fire cools, it's the perfect time to sample the tapas style menu which is conducive to our goal of eating on the cheap. And now that it's finally warming up, a glass of sangria and some small plates to share are the perfect complement. The first time we went to Amada about a year and half ago we couldn't resist all of the tasty items on the menu and with clever persuasion by the charming waitstaff we soon ran up a hefty bill and a bursting gut. Now, having returned a few times with some experience, we know how to get the most for our buck.
It turned out to be a warm evening and a generous glass of sangria to start was just the right thing. If you're into white wine, try the Santa Rita 2005 Sauvignon Blanc which has nice acid and hints of unripe peaches. For red, try the Dominio de Tares 2004 which gives a lot of bang for the buck - one of the most interesting wines you'll try, it's a full red with a nice smooth finish and pairs well with many of the savoury items on the menu.
We started our meal with a cheese plate, the cana de cabra, which is served with a fig and cherry marmelade. For lover's of montrachet this is a simimlar cheese made from goat's milk. The sweet marmelade is a nice addition to this creamy and tart cheese. Next we ordered the jamon serrano with melon - salty and sweet never disappoints! Our third and final plate was the campesino which is a skirt steak served over a frisee salad with apoached egg and chorizo migas. We devoured every last crumb of this! The contrast of hearty steak and eggs with the light frisee is wonderful - a little hint of smokiness and spice from the chorizo is the perfect touch and this dish left us craving more.
The damage with a more than fair tip came to just under $50 for two. With so many items to choose from it's easy to mix and match and share to compose a meal and the waitstaff is more than helpful in making the best selection for your taste. So in light of our first venture being a success, go out and try Amada as the weather improves and we promise you won't be left with empty pockets and you definitely won't be disappointed!
Tips: make reservations long in advance for the weekend, keep in mind that the late night crowd is noisy so go early if you value quiet conversation, and every Wednesday and Friday there is live Flamenco music and dance. Take advantage of the staff - they know their food, wines, and they are down to earth.