Let's Eat: Really cold comfort in Chinatown 

Maybe you’re over rolled ice cream, where counter workers make ice cream by pouring cream and other ingredients onto a super-chilled metal platter. Now there’s N2 Sweet Shop, a chill Chinatown dessertery where they hit the cream with liquid nitrogen at minus 320 degrees. Also this week, I found a rich taste of fall at ITV on East Passyunk, reliable Mexican comida at the local mini-chain El Limon, and different pizza at Rione, a new shop near Rittenhouse. Wine writer Marnie Old has a line on a sale-priced Chilean cabernet sauvignon, and critic Craig LaBan offers his favorite Indian BYOBs. And, oh, before I forget: Center City District Restaurant Week starts Sunday, Sept. 10, and runs to Sept. 19. Need food news? Click here and follow me here and also here. Email me tips, suggestions, etc. here. If someone forwarded you this free newsletter and you like what you’re reading, sign up here and you’ll get it every week. Be sure to check your spam filter if you don’t receive the confirmation email.

— Michael Klein


Camera icon  MICHAEL KLEIN / Staff
Alkut Galip exhales steam while eating an Eskimo kiss at N2 Sweet Cafe.

N2: An ice cream parlor comes out smokin’

Eskimo kisses? Soon as I walked into Chinatown’s new N2 Sweet Cafe (125 N. 11th St., 215-925-3200), Inuit would be fun. N2’s thing is custom ice cream ($7) made with liquid nitrogen that freezes the sweet cream and mix-ins to minus-320 degrees. (Supposedly the fast freeze creates smaller ice crystals, resulting in smoother ice cream.) There’s more. Bring along friends, settle into a sofa or booth, and get Eskimo kisses ($5.99), deep-frozen balls of electric-blue cotton candy served in a metal mug with wooden skewers. Pass the mug. Let everyone pop a kiss into his or her mouth. Feel the chill. Watch as clouds of steam escape everyone’s mouth and nose. It’s goofy entertainment.


What we’re drinking

Montes cabernet sauvignon  

Almost all Chilean wines are made from grapes of French origin, mostly from the Bordeaux region, as Inquirer wine columnist Marnie Old notes. Montes’ reliable cabernet sauvignon has a rare combination of powerful blackberry flavors and brisk herbal aromatics. And it’s on sale this month at the Pennsy Fine Wines & Good Spirits stores for $10.99. You can also pick it up at Canal’s Bottlestop in Marlton ($8.09) and Canal’s in Mount Ephraim ($8.99).


Camera icon MICHAEL KLEIN / Staff
Ricotta gnocchi with corn, black truffle, and guanciale at ITV.

Where we’re eating: ITV, El Limon, Rione 

Last week’s chilly rain sent me shivering into ITV (1615 E. Passyunk Ave., 267-858-0669), chef Nick Elmi’s romantic bistro next to Laurel with the rock-and-roll soundtrack. And there it was. A steaming bowl of rich, velvety goodness: ricotta gnocchi in corn stock, Olio Verde, and sourdough bread crumbs, perfumed with black truffle, studded with local corn and guanciale, and finished with shavings of Grana Padano. Bring on fall.

Dependable Mexican food, efficient service, decent prices, and free margaritas — four reasons that El Limon has opened seven busy, no-frills taquerias in Montgomery and Chester Counties over seven years. Hits include shrimp tacos, tacos al pastor, and tortas, such as the breaded steak (Milanesa).

Our pizza scene is mushrooming. Beyond the crop of wood-fired Neapolitan pies is the rectangular pizza al taglio. At Center City’s Rione (102 S. 21st St., 215-575-9075), Roman native Francesco Crovetti’s 72-hour rise creates airy crusts he tops with substantive stuff, such as potato and sausage, as well as more familiar combos. Figure on a dozen varieties plus the addictive supplì al telefono, a fried ball of rice, ground beef, tomato, and mozzarella.


This week’s openings and closings

Dottie’s Donuts | Society Hill

The West Philly vegan doughnuttery has opened a branch at 509 S. Sixth St., next to Blackbird Pizzeria between Lombard and South.

J’aime French Bakery  | Washington Square West

Frenchman Bastien Ornano rolls out his French bakery at 212 S. 12th St., fittingly (!) next to 12th Street Gym, on Thursday, Sept. 7. Try the merveilleux.

Ugly Duckling  | Washington Square West

The sibling to Northeast Philadelphia’s casual Blue Duck, with beer/wines/cocktails and breakfast-through-late-night operation, opens Wednesday, Sept. 6, at 212 S. 11th St.

Dumpling | Chinatown

The short-lived dumpling specialist at 925 Arch St. is giving way to a Chinese restaurant whose preopening sign translates as “your mom’s spicy.” Oh, really?

Los Amigos | West Berlin

Saturday, Sept. 9, marks the finale of this durable Southwestern/Mexican cantina after four decades, though a smaller menu will be offered until the sale is consummated at end of the month. The Atlantic City location will remain.


Craig LaBan answers your dining questions

Reader:  I have yet to find an Indian BYO in the city that wows me. Any recommendations?

Craig: As I’ve said a number of times, I don’t think there are a lot of great Indian restaurants (BYOB or otherwise) within the city limits. One unique spot I would have recommended in South Philly, Chaat and Chai, recently closed on Snyder Avenue, in preparation for its move next year to a new food court at the Bourse. But there are a few exceptions. I’m a huge fan of Dana Mandi, the no-frills counter-service kitchen at the back of a market in West Philadelphia where the Punjabi flavors bring no-holds-barred heat. Don’t miss the chicken tikka, the muli paratha bread stuffed with shaved daikon, the Punjabi kahdi, or channa masala. Other BYOBs I’ve enjoyed in town that haven’t toned back their flavors too much for the mainstream include Ekta in Fishtown (love the Goan shrimp) and Tandoor India Fishtown, an underrated spot not far from the Berks stop on the Market-Frankford El that lives up to its name with excellent tandoor-roasted items, that, unlike many places, aren’t precooked. All that said, the best Indian food is still to be found in the far western suburbs at places like Bangles (Downingtown) and Devi and Indian Hut (both in Exton). And here’s one more spot to note that’s a little closer in South Jersey, which has a growing population of Indian immigrants: Amma’s South Indian Cuisine in Voorhees. I recently had a meal there that rivaled some of those South Indian places in the far western ‘burbs. Don’t miss the onion rava dosa,  the chef’s natural rendition of Chicken 65 (none of that fluorescent pink color), the excellent pakora fritters, tangy lemon rice, and mutton meatballs. I admittedly ordered them initially because of the name – and the novelty of saying “mutton meatballs” 10 times fast. But they were even better to eat.

Email Craig here. He chats about food at 2 p.m. Tuesdays at Philly.com/food.