Return of The Palm
Nearly 16 months after closing for renovations, the Palm — one of the city’s power-lunch destinations over the years — returns to the Bellevue on Saturday, July 15. Will it regain its glory? That’s to be seen. Or scene, as it were. Also this week is word on three interesting veterans: Gran Caffe L’Aquila in Rittenhouse, Vietnam in Chinatown, and Lloyd in Fishtown. This week’s drink pick can be found in University City at what may be the snazziest newcomer of 2017, Walnut Street Cafe. A Michelin-starred dining/bar team out of New York is rocking it from morning to late night. Put chef Daniel Eddy on your watch list. Critic Craig LaBan shares his Cape May restaurant recommendations. Need real-time food news? Just click here and follow me here and also here. I love hearing from you. Email me here with tips/questions/etc. If some nice person forwarded this free newsletter to you 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 see that all-important confirmation email.
Does the Palm still have the power?
When your restaurant closes for 16 months of renovations, it can lose steam. And, potentially, clientele. New Philadelphia Palm general manager Paul Sandler, opening the Bellevue location Saturday, July 15, doesn’t seem worried. Turns out that last summer and this summer, Sandler was priming the customer pump as the longtime general manager of the Atlantic City location. The Philly location is new, top to bottom, with Philly-theme murals and the Palm’s trademark caricatures duking it out for wall space. “It’s not an old man’s steakhouse,” Sandler says, and you’ll see it in the granite-topped bar, now off to one side. Unless you feel a need to schmooze among the general population in the clubby dining room, sit with friends at the 12-seat table tucked in an alcove beneath a Rocky caricature that advertises “Rocky 50” with Sly Stallone holding a crutch, and, by all means, get the chicken Parm. Weekdays for lunch, daily for dinner.
What we’re drinking
The Concrete Jungle at Walnut Street Cafe
Pineapple and lime juices, Amaro Montenegro, and ginger syrup play out against a licorice-y background of Cruzan Black Strap in this pineapple-garnished drink ($14) at the Walnut Street Cafe at the FMC Tower at Cira Centre South, near 30th Street Station. Fancy wine instead? Operators Patrick Cappiello and Branden McRill offer 50 by the glass, loading their list with uncommon gems.
Where we’re eating: Gran Caffe L’Aquila, Vietnam, Lloyd
Those who enjoy espresso and gelato are in luck at Rittenhouse’s elegant but affordable Gran Caffe L’Aquila (1716 Chestnut St.), where the coffee is roasted and ice cream is made in labs on the second floor by Italian masters who left L’Aquila after the 2009 earthquake. Menu hits include the pasta carbonara ($15.90), which gives you spaghetti tossed in pecorino, egg, and black pepper. That would be delicious on its own. But then the kitchen adds a porky one-two punch of guanciale and a dollop of pancetta gelato — savory gelato?! — which melts gloriously over the dish. Saturday, July 15, is National Gelato Day, and GCL’s Stefano Biasini will be outside the restaurant from noon to 4 p.m. handing out samples of sweet flavors, including a new strawberry cheesecake.
With all the Vietnamese restaurants around, let’s not forget an old-timer. The Lai family’s Chinatown fixture Vietnam (221 N. 11th St.), one of the first in the region (opening in 1984), is now offering a $15 fixed-price, three-course weekday lunch special: rolls and noodles, capped by green tea or mint chip ice cream.
Lloyd is a sleeper of a Fishtown bar, boasting a wide and deep whiskey selection and serious food to go with it —Welsh rarebit, chicken-and-waffle sliders, and a spin on fried green tomatoes ($13) topped with pulled pork and napped with Cheddar and buttermilk ranch dressing.
Center City District Restaurant Week returns Sept. 10-19. That’s right, Mabel: It will run nine days, not the two weeks. Many of the 125 participating restaurants are extending their $35 specials to Saturday night, and 50 are offering the $20 lunch promotion. List should be available shortly.
This week’s openings and closings
The Bagel Place
Ringo Roseman’s cafe at Fourth and Queen Streets in Queen Village offers big windows, 21 classic water/honey-bath bagels, 16 spreads, breakfast sandwiches, lunch sandwiches, other baked goods, drip and iced coffee, and smoked fish (salmon, sable, and sturgeon) by the quarter-pound.
We’re down with the franchise operation out of North Carolina, new at the King of Prussia Town Center (201 Main St., King of Prussia). Easy idea to grasp: Vanilla doughnuts get your choice of many glazes and toppings for $1.45 — so you don’t get too much of a bill.
Jezabel Careaga of Jezabel’s at 26th and Pine Streets has opened a tiny offshoot at 208 S. 45th St. in West Philadelphia for cookies, empanadas, coffee, teas, and general merchandise. Open Wednesday through Saturday.
Well, no, silly. It’s not just salad. This cheery New York City import also offers diet- and budget-friendly bowls and toasts in its new home in the former Knit Wit space at 1729 Chestnut St. near Rittenhouse Square.
Naf Naf Grill
The Middle Eastern quick-serve opens its Malvern location (625 Morehall Rd.) on Wednesday, July 12, with free food from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The Wrap Shack
The Washington Square West outpost of the Rittenhouse sports bar is new at 112 S. 11th St. with a dozen taps and a fun menu. As it faces Jefferson Hospital, there’s a 9-11 a.m. happy hour to cheer up the overnight crew.
The Fairmount landmark was sold and closed after more than three decades. A version of the recently closed Italian hit Modo Mio is on the way.
The Chinese restaurant/karaoke bar’s 14-year run at 937 Race St. came to a close, as the landlord evicted management. A new operator is on the way.
Your dining questions, answered
Reader: Do you have a preferred restaurant in Cape May?
Craig LaBan: Cape May has long been one of the gastronomic centers of the Jersey Shore, especially for quaint, upscale dining — but there’s not a whole lot of new offerings this year. That’s why my recent packages did not include any Cape May destinations beside the Taco Shop at the Cape May airport, which is really in Rio Grande. Over the years, however, I have loved the Red Store in Cape May Point, an old general store turned all-day cafe and market, which morphs into one of the loveliest dinner spots at the Shore at night. I’ve also enjoyed the Black Duck; Lucky Bones (more casual); the Washington Inn; the Blue Rose Inn, which I featured in this piece in 2014; and the quirky Exit Zero Cookhouse featured in last year’s round-up, which focuses on deliberately inauthentic but nonetheless tasty curries. Also, the Rusty Nail for a stylish beach grill. I have heard the Ebbitt Room has a talented new chef in the Virginia Hotel, and would have checked it out if I’d had more time (and money!). Have heard many good things about George’s Place and its new tasting room on the Washington Street Mall, Shamone, as well. Also, by the way, the casual wiener stand Hot Dog Tommy’s is now run by second-year operator named Bruce (who nonetheless apparently still answers to Hot Dog Tommy). But the dogs are still top notch — including the “Tornado,” topped with mashed potatoes and fresh chili, a combo I liked more than expected, even if the bun got mushy.