It’s become de rigueur by now for every city from Des Moines to Dubrovnik to tout its “bourgeoning food scene.” But Philadelphia has the distinction of having New York City (and D.C.) actually importing its chefs and its restaurant scene—the latest being Jose Garces’ Amada, which opened earlier this year in Battery Park. And Philly restaurant god Stephen Starr has just opened Le Coucou at the 11 Howard hotel in Soho, his sixth in New York.
We hop the Amtrak south as often as we can, as much for the music scene as for the tonnarelli neri at Barbuzzo. So we were especially motivated by a recent invitation to fete the artistically-inclined makeover of the illustrious Hyatt at the Bellevue.
Hyatt at the Bellevue
The hotel itself is a genuine legend dating to 1904, when it was opened as the Bellevue-Stratford. It’s the sort of place where there seems to be something historical/fascinating around nearly every corner. Its recent refashioning by Marguerite Rodgers Interior Design was in thematic partnership with the likes of The Pennsylvania Ballet and the Opera Philadelphia. Original costume design sketches now adorn the hallways, while select local artists were engaged to contribute new works for the rooms.
The hotel also sits virtually equidistant between Center City’s two hottest food scenes, S. 18th St in one direction, S. 13th St in another. But its own XIX Restaurant & Bar, under new chef Ned Maddock, should be your first stop for sophisticated, Euro-accented New American (grilled Spanish octopus, braised rabbit leg, excellent raw bar) and smart international cocktails…all in a spectacular 19th floor setting. The adjoining XIX Café is literally one of the most breathtaking spaces in which you’ll ever take Sunday brunch.
South 18th Street Dining
Cool little veggie-vegan Latin bar, serves up Verde Luz and Rosado margaritas in a setting straight out of Oaxaca. A sustainable food geek’s dream, delish brussels sprout tacos and street cred empanadas are all made from non-GMO ingredients.
Stephen Starr’s cheeky approximation of an classic Blighty pub nails it on all counts. Indeed, the hunting trophies, Churchill bust and Sex Pistols “Queen” poster land it just this side of kitsch, and the music is totally aces. Ironically order up an Iron Lady cocktail to wash down your lamb’s shepherd’s pie and triple cooked chips. (The Amer-Asian Serpico is Starr’s latest Philly opening).
Awesomely bourgeois, it feels as if the entire lunch crowd has just popped in from a Princeton alumni gathering. Sleek, spare and air-kissy, for maximum “being seen” grab a seat at the bar, and throw eye-contact over asparagus salad with rhubard, green goddess and arctic char, or grilled octopus with sweet potato, spiced pistachio and coriander yogurt.
All-afternoon wine and cheese bar puts the EU on your plate. Pair exquisite selections of fromage imported from France, Switzerland, Holland and Portugal with a smooth Austrian Zweigelt or a lighthearted Piedmontese Dolcetto.
South 13th Street Dining
Endlessly sceney Mediterranean, even the bar is shoulder-to-shoulder at lunch. The sage ravioli, grilled octopus and wood-fired sardines are all aces. But much more fun is sharing a sophisto charcuterie plate and wild boar sausage pizza with your favorite Europhile friends.
So much Italo style, it looks air-lifted from Amalfi or Capri. Errs on the side of the classics (squid ink tonarelli, saffron arancini, Moroccan spice ribs). But pull up to the beautiful bar for oysters, crudo and the Mediterranean tasting board, paired with a good Vermentino.
Behind its cool faux-bamboo facade, Sampan delivers mod Asian street food nirvana (crab wonton tacos, wok hay shrimp). Its Graffiti Bar does one of the hippest happy hours in town, with sexy cocktails like the Ming Mule and Junmai Fizz for just $9, and $4 chicken bao buns.
Barbuzzo’s hot Spanish cousin. Fiery red interiors set the scene for rapturous plates of Jamon Iberico de Bellota and Crispy Callasparra Rice. Or just pull up to the bar with a bold Tempranillo paired up with Figs & Chistorra Chorizo.
Center City Drinking