Emmanuelle

emmanuellephilly

Emmanuelle is a new spot in the Piazza in NoLibs, but bonus: it’s in the BACK (away from the noise and bustle of the front section of the Piazza).  It is a really cool little place, and we kind of hope it doesn’t get discovered because the quiet atmosphere and friendly staff make this place one of our current favorites.

The Drinks

THEY HAVE A PHO FLAVORED COCKTAIL RIGHT NOW! ’nuff said.

But seriously: Emmanuelle’s menu is intriguing, fun, and challenging in the best way.  Split into “The Entire Civilized History of the World” (classic cocktails) and “New Shit that has Come to Light” (original cocktails), the menu has a wide variety of drinks with a flavor profile for every palette.   At this point, I have sampled most of what I find interesting on the menu and I can safely say that I don’t see myself becoming disinterested with these flavors.  The complexity is really attractive to me – as a lover of flavorful, well-made foods, the obvious next step in my culinary advances is to become more adventurous in the drinks department.

Which brings me back to the Phở cocktail – you’ve probably read our posts showing my love of Asian noodles (here, and here), but I just wasn’t convinced about a cocktail with that flavor profile (not because I was unconvinced that it would be well-crafted, but because I genuinely don’t like “spicy” drinks most of the time). The bartender assured me that is was more “savory” than spicy (despite a float of Sriracha), and I am really glad I went for it.  Do you love Phở? Well, prepare to spend a lot of money at Emmanuelle while this is on the menu because it’s INSANE-ly tasty.  Seriously, go try it.  Right now.

Josh will probably also want to give a shout-out, since their house rye is Rittenhouse.  This place really was made for us.

Menu

The Snacks

They have a small sampling of bar snacks, which are just enough to help you fill your stomach with something other than alcohol. (But really, why would you want to?) We have tried their mixed nuts, which came in an adorable cut glass mason jar (catering to my love of cute, hipster-popularized vintage memorabilia) and were salty and herbaceous, a perfect complement to my cocktails.

The Design

I had a mentor in school who described his design style as “Modern Victorian.”  While this place is a pretty over-the-top interpretation of that, there’s not really a better way to describe it.  Emmanuelle is named for a French soft-core porn film (yeah, really) and the interior reflects that.  It is a darkly-lit, jewel-toned, and eclectically-styled interior with fun custom art pieces, damask wallpaper, and mirrored ceiling soffits. It’s really much classier than my words are making it sound – I promise.  Even Josh liked it, and it helped me to finally convince him the “eclectic” interiors really are a good idea, and that the Victorians knew where it was at (their over-stuffed rooms probably looked baller in lamp-light, while in our standard brightly-lit spaces they would feel overwhelming). My preferred mark of a well designed restaurant interior is that it matches the product, and Emmanuelle’s interior does that perfectly.

The Overall Experience

The bartender made a point to introduce herself at our first visit, a group of girls sitting next to us involved us in a conversation, and the barback got a bottle of gin down from the top shelf for our friend to look at because the bottle was recently redesigned.  The people here are super great, and even though we are probably not “cool” enough for Emmanuelle, we never feel like we aren’t welcome.

The Receipt

Cocktails of this quality should cost more than what they do at Emmanuelle – only $10 – $12 per drink (on the menu).  It still may not be an every-night-of-the-week place, but it’s definitely doable often.

Our Ratings

Drinks: 5/5 — (Remember how we tried to give Franklin Mortgage a 6/5? We can petition to do that again, right?)

Food: 5/5

Design: 5/5

Service: 5/5

Budget: 4/5

Overall Experience: 5/5

Will We Visit Again

We already have, and plan to do so again.

Alla Spina

Alla Spina is Marc Vetri’s latest venture in Philly, boasting a pork-centric menu and more approachable pricing than his other Philly locales.  In the lull of hurricane Sandy, we decided that it would be a good night to try it out sans-crowds.

The Drinks

Holly had  a flight of sour beers which helped her find the one beer she wanted to drink for the rest of the night. I tried their unique Alla Spina Weiss (brewed by Victory) which I instantly loved.

Alla Spina is definitely beer-drinker’s restaurant, with over 20 beers on tap and an extensive bottle list. This was Vetri’s goal with this place, since the rest of the Vetri family is pretty heavily geared toward wine drinkers.

Current Tap List on PhillyTapFinder

The Food

We both hadn’t really eaten much that day and driving around looking for a place to go/making up our minds only increased our hunger. So, we went to town.

Both: House-made Pretzels with Spicy Beer Cheese

This was one appetizer we both seriously underrated in our minds before actually getting.  For 5 dollars you get at least 10 giant soft pretzel balls and super tasty hot cheese dip. The best pretzel flavor-wise that I’ve ever had was the classic german-style bretzels at Brauhaus Schmidtz, but Vetri’s pretzels take the cake for texture and just-out-of-the-oven warmth. The cherry on this sundae was that the pretzels were served in a wooden bowl carved in the shape of a pig. INSTANT LOVE.

Josh: Beer Cheese Toast with Fried Egg and Bacon

This was both more and better than I expected it to be. I usually don’t go for over-easy eggs, but this was kinda the perfect storm for it. The sourdough toast was covered in a cheese sauce very similar to that we had for the pretzels (only better), and the bacon came wonderfully smoked and perfectly chewy. This was one of the best examples of breakfast food made for dinner I’ve had in awhile.

Holly: Pig Tails with Fennel Agrodolce

This was definitely a dish Holly was interested in, but I wanted no part of it. The pig tails were perfectly crisp and were presented almost like buffalo wings (although far tastier and of course porkier). These were a super delicious appetizer that was messy in the best possible way.  It sounded gross and weird, and it tasted like perfect bar food. Foodie heaven.

Both: Slow-Roasted Glazed Pork ShoulderSlow Roasted Deliciousness

Did I mention we were crazy hungry? For the main course we went above and beyond and ordered the pork shoulder off the specials menu, and it was possibly one of the best foodie experiences I have ever had in a restaurant (major props to Vetri and whoever was in the kitchen that night).  The wait was long (though aided by the aforementioned delicious appetizers) but well worth it, and as the dish hit the serving window the chef excitedly called out “this is for you!” to our table. The pork glaze on top was perfectly caramelized and crisp, giving way to a layer of fat underneath and incredibly juicy and tender pork. The glaze was salty, sweet, and acidic: complementing the meat perfectly. To help cut through the fat, the roast pork was served on a bed of mustard greens, sliced carrots, and thinly sliced apples. This dish was meant for two, and truthfully we could not finish it after the appetizers, but it did make for some of the best leftovers I’ve ever had.  If you are interested in giving it a go yourself, try out the recipe.

Dinner Menu

The Design

Like any good restaurant design, the interior of Alla Spina enhances and mimics the philosophy behind the food.  Alla Spina falls somewhere between industrial and rustic, with a fun atmosphere aided by bright colors, warm lighting, and custom street art created by a local graffiti artist.  The restaurant is literally a converted car repair shop, and the designers from Gruber Design Associates intended to keep that feel.  The interior distinctly urban with an underscoring of Italian elements.

Why do we know about some of the design developement for Alla Spina?  Holly was contracted by Gruber Design Associates to create concept art for the space.  Check it out:

Alla Spina Restaurant Rendering

Design by Gruber Design Associates

The Service

Despite not having a hostess in any real way, we were acknowledged as soon as we walked in the door and seated right away. Our service was prompt and basically everyone in the place was very on the ball. Part of the reason we go out weeknights if for the smaller crowd and faster service in general – this apparently was doubly true during the approach of a Hurricane Sandy.

The Receipt

Drinks range from 9-11 each and prices on the beer list were harder to nail down, but all seemed appropriate for the bottles. The food is good value, they offer a solid menu with variety of charcuterie, cheese, desserts and a daily mac and cheese that change up and could be anything when you arrive.  We spent around $100, but as we have already mentioned, we went to town on this meal.  You could easily stop by for a drink and appetizer and spend under $30.

Our Ratings

Drinks: 5/5

Food: 5/5

Design: 5/5

Service: 5/5

Budget: 4/5

Overall Experience: 5/5

Will We Visit Again:

We already have 🙂  Pro-tip: You HAVE to go there for brunch. Hearty food, great atmosphere, and friendly prompt wait-staff are the best.  We went there on New Year’s day and watched the Mummers Parade on the big screen while we nursed our growing hangovers – it was the perfect cure.

Restaurant Website

Brick American Eatery (Brunch)

We had the distinct pleasure of trying Brick a few months ago on a whim.  It was a really good whim.  This cute little family-owned joint is in a great part of South Philly, where parking is easy and the folks are pretty friendly, too.

The Drinks

This place has bottomless bloody marys at brunch.  That’s why I chose it, and it was a darned good decision.  The Marys just kept coming (especially because we sat at the bar) and they we tasty. Holly was the only one drinking since I had a caffeine headache so I kept to the coffee which was serviceable, though nothing to write home about.

The Food

Holly: South Philly Skillet

This was the perfect hearty breakfast.  It was full of savory sausage, grilled veggies, and cheese and it all mixed very well.  it tasted like something I would make at home, which usually isn’t appealing to me when i am paying for it in a restaurant, but Brick feels like a place where home-style cooking is exactly what should be served.

Josh: Country Omelet

I couldn’t make up my mind and wussed out on getting the stuffed french toast w/baileys and the chocolate waffles because I was afraid they’d be too sweet so I got this omelet which was good sized and as a bonus came with toast (multi-grain) and little side cup of mixed fruits.

Current Brunch Menu

The Design

Absolutely nothing to praise, but nothing to criticize either really. An approachable place with lots of brick walls (as one might expect).

The Service

They seemed to be fairly busy in the small dining room so instead of waiting half an hour we sat at the bar that had only 2 people at it instantly. The bartender had good service and we got to hear some interesting stories as she talked with her coworkers.

The Receipt

Very affordable. These weren’t the best Bloody Marys ever, but they were bottomless and our food was reasonably priced for the quality and amount we got.

Our Ratings

Drinks: Bottomless Bloody Marys will always get a 5/5

Food: 4/5

Design: 3/5

Service: 4/5

Budget: 4/5

Overall Experience: 4/5

Will We Visit Again?

Maybe.  It was a really cute place.  It will probably be a good place to check out for dinner with friends sometime.

Restaurant Website

Federal Donuts – 2nd Location Preview!

Stand aside Krispy Kreme, you have met a match that cannot even be met. Philly’s very own quirky chicken ‘n’ donuts joint is opening a second location TOMORROW (10/3/12)! There are no other words but Hawesome.

We have been frequenting the original FedNuts location in South Philly since they opened, and although we will probably continue to visit the original, a new Fednuts will open its doors soon at 16th and Sansom in Center City.  Josh wins everything, so he got chosen to sample some free donuts and chicken during their dry run on October 1st -and since he could “Bring the chicken to his friends, but not his friends to the chicken” I got to wait in the car and cry tears of sadness while he got to shmooze with the coolest fast food place around.  Then I ate the food with him when he came back, so my tears were short-lived.  Here’s what we think of the new flavors!
Donuts!

Turkish Mocha – The fresh donuts are always my favourite because of the texture, and this one was no exception. A great combination of not-too-sweet with chocolate/coffee flavor.

Strawberry Fennel- I didn’t really like this one, and Josh was torn between getting vanilla spice and strawberry-fennel as the 2nd fresh flavor to sample, but ultimately decided to go with strawberry-fennel because it was the more adventurous of the two. Josh enjoys fennel, but not fennel seeds themselves, and thankfully they did not use whole fennel seeds in this, so he throughly enjoyed the sweet and savory combination.

Maple Bacon – The fancy donuts are usually a bit too sweet for my liking, but how could I pass up on a combination of my favorite animal and my favorite sweetener? (I am a Vermonter, after all).  It was not too sweet, thankfully, but I still wish there was more bacon flavor.  Tasty breakfast in a single baked good!

Lemon Bar – FedNuts donuts are always delicious but sometimes their donut aspirations don’t always live up to their inspiration. Lemon bar does not suffer this fate: it had the right balance of sweet lemony flavor with a nice bitter taste at the end just like a real lemon bar. Interestingly, the lemon bar donut was actually less sweet than its bacon-y friend, which we both enjoyed.

Chicken!

We opted for the Cowboy coffee spice blend, which was a great kind of tangy, bbq-esque flavor which went great with the fried chicken.   I can’t wait to try dill pickle flavor upon another venture!  I am excited for the new chicken flavors at the CC Federal Donuts, since we have just about exhausted the menu at the original, and although it’s always good, it’s just not as exciting anymore.  The truth is, we were in a stale relationship with Fednuts, and this new location is exactly what we need to “spice up”(pun intended) our romance.

As always Fednut delivers the tasty.  I wish parking were easier, but this place is going to be bananas when it opens.  Good luck donut-seeking friends who try to get in tomorrow!

Visit their website for more info.

Pho and Cafe Saigon

I wanted to try Pho and Cafe Saigon, upon the recommendation of our friend Jake and the pre-tested menu by Josh.  It’s also only a few block from our house, so it was the choice place to impulse buy dinner before I had to jet off to roller derby practice.

Since this was my first real foray into ANY kind of truly Asian restaurant, I was a little intimidated by the curt service and the fact that the people who frequent this joint really are Vietnamese, and speak the language.  I can only imagine how obnoxious us whities are to the owners (who did set up a restaurant in the middle of Penn-land, so I guess I can’t feel too sorry for them).

Josh and I kept it safe.  He got a rice flake platter, and I went for the brisket Pho.  I like “nasty-bits” so I probably would have really enjoyed some beef tendon, but I will just have to go back for it.  Not that going back is going to be a problem: This Pho was delicious!  The brisket was tender, and actually what I am always expecting when I order brisket at a BBQ place.  The condiments we enjoyable.  The noodles were chewy, had a nice texture and really soaked up the flavor of the broth.  And that broth!  I also really enjoyed how hands-on Pho is.  It’s kind of cathartic to go through the ritual of adding the noodles, hot sauce, meats, and bean sprouts into the broth, letting them soak, then eating slowly with chopsticks and a spoon.

We got take-out this time, so no opinions are really necessary on the decor or service (although they had some pretty sweet looking fish tanks in there).  All I can say is, if you haven’t gotten in on the Pho craze yet, you definitely should try it out at Pho and Cafe Saigon.

Menu (from menupages)