Restaurant week in Philadelphia is always wild and hectic.
And unless you have a plan and a strategy, you're liable to be disappointed.
Some higher-end restaurants that participate in the $35, three-course dinner specials dumb down their dishes and skimp on portions while pretending to offer a stellar deal. And some of the lower-end restaurants simply boost their prices and don't offer a whole lot more. Plus, nearly all the restaurants are super-crowded and reservations are a must.
This year the whole experience is spread out over two weeks and continues through January 28.
But you still have to know the territory and plan ahead.
We knew where we wanted to go right from the outset. Our first and only choice this year was Chris Scarduzio's contemporary Italian gem, Table 31, located in the sparkling new Comcast Center at 17th & JFK Boulevard.
Sleek is the only way to describe Table 31.
Within the 15,000 square-foot restaurant are a variety of innovative dining and event spaces, each equipped with state-of-the-art audio-visual systems. Two stunning bars, ground- and second-floor dining rooms, an intimate second-floor mezzanine lounge, a second-floor private dining room and an elegant third-floor banquet facility make the new this place an ideal setting for any special meal.
For our evening out, we nestled ourselves in a plush but nonetheless cozy booth in the main dining room that gave us a spectacular view of the entire scene. The high-ceilinged room is tastefully understated in shades of chocolate, cocoa and latte with flashes of deep red thrown in via large mirrors that reflect out to a huge streetside glass wall covered in sheer, translucent curtains.
And the food completes the whole approach that is set by the decor -- or maybe it's the other way around. Anyway, this place successfully marries traditional Italian cuisine with playful, contemporary twists to create a very memorable dining experience. The whole atmosphere puts one in mind of the legendary Four Seasons restaurant in the Seagram's Building in New York, but on a much small scale.
There is not a friendlier host in the city than Chris Scarduzio and at every turn his staff mirrors the warm, inviting tone that he sets. Our server, Michael Rohrbach was attentive, helpful and accommodating throughout the evening and every staff member was courteous and professional.
We chose from the Restaurant Week menu and we were not disappointed.
Our appetizers included the Garganelli Pasta with forest mushroom bolognaise, the Belgian Endive with arugula, pickled beets, ricotta salata and pecan vinaigrette and the Rock Shrimp Fritto Misto with lemon caper aioli. The Rock Shrimp were outstanding but suffice it to say that no one was disappointed. Every appetizer was excellent.
For our main courses we selected the Roasted Breast of Chicken with parmesan fregola sarda and rosemary essence, the Monk Fish Scaloppini with barlotti bean fricassee and pancetta vermouth sauce and the Roasted Norwegian Salmon with scallops, cauliflower puree, five root vegetables and dijon mustard sauce. Once again, delightful dishes superbly prepared.
For dessert we opted for the Warm Apple Crostata with coffee gelati and a selection of housemade gelati and sorbetti. The warm apple was perfect for a cold evening and the gelati and sorbetti were just enough (and just sweet enough) to satisfy.
And, BTW: the martinis were perfectly mixed and the coffee was rich and hot.
On top of all this, our valet parking was free since we arrived before 7 pm.
No doubt about it: This was our best Restaurant Week experience ever. And we won't wait till restaurant week to return again. This is a keeper!