R2L

R2L Logo

Skyline dining is not something most of us expect to do anytime soon. The Space Needle or a movie set of a lascivious penthouse restaurant come to mind– and instantly the idea is discarded as a luxury expense. R2L dashes these notions  with the force an object would assume were it do be dropped from the 37th floor of the Two Liberty Place tower (which also happens to be R2L’s location).

We chose to visit R2L to celebrate our 1 year anniversary, and we couldn’t have made a better choice of restaurant.  The place was classy, luxurious and incredibly down-to earth (or at least as much as a skyscraper restaurant can be).

The Drinks

R2L-evation

Aviations are a favorite for both of us (especially those mixed by our friend Matt) and it seemed to be the signature drink so while we waited at the bar for out table we both ordered one. Mixed with Amsterdam Gin (spied the bartender pouring it), and subbing Parfait Amour for Creme de Violette (made with rose petals and more citrus) the drink was a hit with both of us.

Perfect Manhattan

I prefer straight up regular manhattans (2:1 ratio) most of the time, but have had perfect manhattans in the past and enjoyed them nonetheless. After gin for the first drink, I knew I wanted to see their skill with rye or boubon and the perfect manhattan just stood out at that point. I’m not sure what the rye was, but the drink was very well mix and fit the bill perfectly to go with my dry aged steak and into desert.

Special Bonus

Because we mentioned in our reservation that we would be celebrating an anniversary, the restaurant provided complimentary champagne.  How sweet of them!  This kind of service is rare at most places, and it was so welcome and pleasing to feel like the restaurant was celebrating with us.

The Food

Appetizer: Lobster Mac and Cheese

I have wanted to try this for some time now, but I am always lured away by other tasty (and usually cheaper) appetizers.  But dammit, this was our anniversary so I felt allowed to splurge– and boy am I glad we did.  This wasn’t a mess of cheese and pasta with bits of lobster hiding within.  Instead, 5 extra-large pieces of macaroni were individually treated to mounds of tasty cheese and a large chunk of meat each.  The morsels were perfectly bite-sized and the flavors were well-balanced and perfectly cooked.  I knew we were in for some great dinner after these bites, which is exactly what an appetizer is for.

Dinner

Josh: Dry Aged NY Strip Steak

Originally we were going to try to hit up one of the big steakhouses in Philly for our anniversary specifically to get some dry aged steaks, but eventually decided on R2L.  Happily R2L has an award-winning a dry aged steak anyway– in my favorite steak cut to boot! I ordered medium rare and this was probably the best steak I’ve ever eaten, but I will qualify that with the fact that I haven’t had any other aged steaks of course. I got the broccoli and wild rice for my side and it was a great combo to the steak and the most perfectly cooked broccoli I’ll ever have.

Holly: Mustard Crusted Pork Chop

You would think that a NY Strip Steak would far and away be the best thing on the menu at a place like this, but I dare you to try to pork chop.  Actually, if you go there and don’t try it I think you will have missed out on one of the best experiences of your life.  This chop had the best texture and the most flavor of any pork I have had anywhere.  Ever.  It was rubbed with mustard and cooked so perfectly that I was almost fooled into thinking I was eating beef.  No lie–I have never had a “foodgasm” before, but ladies and gentleman, that pork chop was the end-all of food experiences for me so far.  It was served with fingerling potatoes, but really who cares?  Damn that chop was tasty.

Dessert

Holly: Variations on Chocolate

Variations on Chocolate is a very fancy way to say you get a crap ton of tasty desserts on one pretty plate (and it’s definitely meant to hold the attention of the ladies).  The plate had 5 tasty little bites, each with its own flavor and texture.  The first was a teeny little macaroon ( maybe?) with an overall taste of caramel, topped with a little chocolate wafer.  Next, a chocolate lollipop filled with peanut butter (my favorite), followed by a dollop of creamy chocolate ice cream.  Finally, a chocolate breakfast is presented with a doughnut and little mug of “hot” chocolate (really a cold milk shake with hot pepper in it–it’s not a new concept, but this is definitely the best execution I have had).  Everything was delicious and it was super fun to have a lot of different presentations on one plate.  In a restaurant that could swing toward the all-too-serious side, this dessert was playful and a great way to end the meal.

Josh:French Toast

There wasn’t as much food to my desert as Holly’s but boy was it tasty and right up my alley. 2 small perfectly made french toast sticks were surrounded by a bevy of accoutrements. There were puffs of bourbon maple whipped cream, a house-made ice cream dollop, caramel drizzle and slices of the most perfectly fried banana sliced with a hard glaze on top of them.  They all were delicious and went great together and after a large meal I didn’t really need a big dessert anyway.

The Design

R2L is a classy establishment.  You kind of know that going in. From the moment you approach their private elevator the “magic” happens.  Everything is perfectly balanced to feel sumptuous and extravagant, but nothing is really intimidating or unwelcoming in its fashionable approach.  The design is inspired by art deco interiors from the 1930s and as such all of the forms are curved, colorful, and tactile, but nothing is flashy or obnoxious.  Even the prevailing use of zebra fabric in the custom seating is tasteful (and very theme appropriate).  The design was obviously meant to highlight the beautiful view, and the space planning was done so that you can see the gorgeous view from almost anywhere you sit in the restaurant (pro tip guys: if you go here on a hot date, make sure you give the better seat to your lady friend).  I felt like my design sensibilities were taken care of almost as well as my tastebuds were.

The Overall Experience

Daniel Stern obviously knows how to train his staff: our waitress was personable, kind, and knew everything about the food she was serving.  She had just the right amount of friendliness and professionalism, as one would expect from a restaurant such as this.  Our food was also served in a timely (but not hurried) fashion and each dish was plated with perfect attention to visual detail.  Our desserts even came with a scripted “Happy Anniversary” written in chocolate on the plate.  As we mentioned before, we also receive champagne and many congratulations from those serving us.  It was appreciated, and the perfect touches that make a night at R2L special.  We would highly recommend it for your next special celebration.

The Receipt

For all this luxury, service, and deliciousness you would expect R2L to break the bank.  It was of course pretty pricey, but it was completely worth it (and not nearly as expensive as one might think).  Pro tip:  If you want the R2L experience but can’t hang the price-tag, spend a happy hour at the bar.  the bartenders are also great, there is a bar food menu, and you don’t need a reservation.  It’s a great way to experience the place without emptying your wallet.

Our Ratings

Drinks: 5/5

Food: 5/5

Design: 5/5

Service: 5/5

Budget: 3/5

Overall Experience: 5/5

Will We Visit Again:

If we could we would be frequent patrons of R2L  but budget will not allow.  We would love to visit again for a bar seat and a casual snack (and we feel completely welcomed to do so but the great bar staff and the view that even the bar allows).


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Franklin Mortgage and Investment

Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co. (herein referred to as the Franklin) is the best bar in Philadelphia with no real contenders. By “bar” I mean a place that not only makes and serves strong cocktails, but where the bar tending reaches gourmet and everything about the establishment is focused around the cocktails. The Franklin is just such a place. We recently revisited the Franklin (my 3rd time there)  for my birthday and had a great time.

The Drinks

Much was imbibed and I got to try a bunch of my friend’s cocktails too, but the only real way to do this is focus on the drinks Holly and I had and that we  can vividly remember.  Cocktails ranged from 12-15 dollars and I’ll list the prices for each drink for those who might be interested.

Josh: Friday Foster

I’ve had a similarly named cocktail at another bar that tasted a lot more like a banana’s foster due to it having mashed fried bananas in it, but that drink was more of a dessert than a real cocktail.  The Franklin’s version was comprised of banana infused Venezuelan rum, punt e mes, cream, cane, egg yolk, & aromatic bitters. The Friday Foster certainly had body, but featured the herbal and spiced flavors of the bitters and punt e mes more so the banana in the rum. This drink was also par of their “Cool It Down” section, meaning it was poured over lots of crushed ice (though high density ice that in no way watered down the beverage. A great cocktail to start the night on a humid day.

Round 2: Regime Change Punch

The Franklin makes a big to-do about punches, and rightly so as they were the first true cocktails. Any and all of the punch drinks can be ordered in a single serving, carafe for 4, small punch bowl or large punch bowl. I would like to go all in and get a punch bowl someday, but I went with the single serving this time. The name just leaped out at me and the with bourbon, applejack, galliano, allspice dram, fresh lemon juice, demerara, honey, black tropical tea, & elmakule bitters in I was a goner. This was probably my favorite cocktail that I ordered simply because the flavors were very balanced and it was very refreshing.

Round 3: The Dead Turk

I knew I was going to order something from the “I asked for Water and She Brought Me Gasoline” menu simply because it is the page that features the strongest and usually most interesting drinks.  With bourbon, ramazzotti, sweet vermouth, apricot liqueur, & Moroccan bitters the Dead Turk stood out. The idea of a Manhattan with addition of apricot made complete sense to me and indeed it worked great. The bridged the bourbon and the vermouth making for a very smooth, very strong drink.

Holly: Mrs. Stackhouse

This drink is from the “Easy Going” (read: girly drink) menu, and as such was sweet, light, and very refreshing.  I have been on a gin kick for a while, so the combination of gin, zucca, honey, lime, strawberry, and salt sounded perfect for a summer evening.  It is served with soda, which basically means this cocktail is a kicked-up gin daiquiri.  It was well-mixed and would have been perfect for most, but I like my drinks a little stronger and I was disappointed that I couldn’t taste the gin.  That’s what I get for ordering from the weak-sauce section of the menu!

Round 2: Continental Divide

Time to kick it up.  I learned my lesson from the Ms. Stackhouse, and I was ready for the big guns.  This cocktail is from the “Rebellious Spirits” menu and featured a perfectly balanced combination of gin, dry vermouth, strega, and orange bitters.  I love myself a good strong martini, and this was a delicious variation.  I especially enjoyed that the vermouth was an important part of the flavor, as many times bars will only rinse a glass in the stuff rather than giving it the full stage in the profile of the drink.

Honorable Mention:

Our friends Jake and Tate both ended getting whiskey sours (not a menu item, but the Fountain can and will mix all sorts of classic cocktails) and for Jake it was a food life changing experience.  These sours had egg white in them for an amazing smooth texture and were poured over a rock of ice.  I had a sip and it was without a doubt the best whiskey sour I’ve had.

The Snacks

The Franklin does not serve any sort of meal (so eat before you go, or plan on hitting up a place nearby afterward), but they do offer an array of snacks/appetizers to keep your thirst going and to counterpoint all the alcohol you’ll be drinking.  According to our waiter, the Franklin used to be 100% drinks, but their insurance was 6 times the usual rate. With the inclusion of some food its gone down to 4 times the rate.  All the snacks are prepared out of house by another restaurant and none of them are hot.

Pei King Pork Rinds

I ordered this before Holly got to the bar and it was a leap of faith on my part. I’ve never eaten a pork rind once in my life and generally always found the idea of them unappealing (but not revolting). Having ordered my first drink I realized that I eat scrapple all the time and can handle that so whats a little pork skin gonna do? These were one of the crunchiest thing I’ve eaten in a long time. The Pei King seasoning was not as spicy as I thought it would be, but definitely gave flavor to what would have been a very one note snack.

Pickles

Pickled foods are a big favorite of ours and we both innocuously thought that pickles would merely be some sliced or small pickled cucumbers in a dish. Wrong! The Franklin is a classy lady and serves only the finest to her guests. What did come was a mason jar filled with 3 different kinds of veggies and none of them the expected “pickles.” Cauliflower, beets, and Brussels sprouts were expertly pickled and the presentation was excellent.  An amazing surprise that left us smiling.

Pastrami Salt Pistachios

We didn’t order these, but one of our friends did and I’ve had them before. Pistachios are one of my favorite nuts anyway, but the pastrami salt really broadens out what would otherwise just be plain old nuts.

The Design

The Franklin is intended to look and feel like a speakeasy.  When you arrive, you are greeted by a usually well-dressed “bouncer’ who escorts you to the door of their sub-street level establishment.  Once you enter, it is dimly lit and filled with masculine surfaces.  The seats are made of tufted red leather (or perhaps high-quality vinyl), the tables of marble, and the walls are a mottled grey-black specialty paint finish.  The crowning design feature surprisingly is not the bar, but the whimsical mural portraying various attendees of the speakeasy participating in such sinful activities such as drinking, dancing, and gambling (including a cameo by Mr. B. Franklin himself).  In the end, a theme that could have been very cheesy is well done, and they managed to make a small space feel warm and comfortably intimate.

The Overall Experience

The service at the Franklin has always been great. There was a small snafu with the check, but considering that it was 1 waiter for the whole place I can completely sympathize. I also got to sit in the awesome booth area with B Frank throwing dice in an alley painted behind me.

The Receipt

A night at the Franklin means a sure investment in gourmet cocktails.  You will get your money’s worth and enjoy your time, but the Franklin should be visited frugally to stay in the black.

Our Ratings

Drinks: 5/5 — If we could give it a 6/5 we would.  Hell, this is our blog. We can do whatever we want.  6/5

Food: 5/5

Design: 4/5

Service: 5/5

Budget: 3/5

Overall Experience: 5/5

Will We Visit Again

Most certainly, as budget allows. In fact I (Josh) plan on going labor day weekend to show the place off to our good friend Tim.

Bar Ferdinand


Located on 2nd Street across from the Piazza at Schmidt’s, Bar Ferdinand draws its name from the bull in The Story of Ferdinand and that inspiration features heavily into the restaurant’s design and cuisine.  Scenes of Bullfighting and roses throughout the restaurant and the tapas, like the word itself, are definitively Spanish in origin.

The Drinks

The drinks are nothing if not interesting for their names, but like most cocktail menus at restaurants the options listed are for the ladies. There were some exceptions though and I ordered the Barcelona (Bulleit Bourbon, Licor 43, bitters, brandied cherries) which was just a really well-made Manhattan. I also ordered a Throwback Lager (Victory Brewing) on draft which was refreshing. Holly had the sangria and said it was quite good, but beyond that they did seem to have a large wine selection which makes Bar Ferdinand a great place for the wine and tapas crowd. Currently there is a gin drink in the cocktail line-up that sounds very intriguing as well so if you go, try the Seville (Tanqueray, Pimm’s, fresh muddled blueberries).

The Food

Tapas:

Almendras de Marcona

We started off with these lightly roasted marcona almonds. The sea salt and the olive oil made these a great snack while we had our first drinks and waited on food. I’m a sucker for any kind of roasted or spiced nuts at bars.

Plato de Queso & Surtido de Carnes

Two separate small plates that had to be paired together for maximum satisfaction. Charcuterie and cheese boards are one of the main reasons Holly and I go out to restaurants.  The cheese plate selections are seasonal, but the meats are always Serrano ham, chorizo, chorizo blanco, and lomo. Both selections came with specific jams, sauces, or spreads to compliment the flavors of the cheeses and meats and most importantly of all they actually gave us the correct amount of bread. One of the greatest disappointments when we go to a restaurant and order charcuterie is that often we only get 4 slices of bread off of a french loaf for an amount of charcuterie that requires double or triple that in an effort to skimp or to nickel and dime customers.

Cerdo Frito – Josh
Consisting of  slow fried pork, Mahon cheese, roasted peppers & onions,  with whole grain mustard this tapas sized sandwich had a flavor profile very similar to a cuban sandwich.  The bread was nice and crispy and the cheese was gooey and the pork had so much flavor.

Queso de Cabra Cocinado – Holly
Baked Caña de Cabra goat cheese, roasted garlic, honey, pinenuts, sage, toasted bread. Unfortunately we lost our notes on this one, but I remember Holly enjoying it at the time.

Dãtiles con Tocino

This was probably the favorite food item for both of us that night. A perfectly fried empanada filled with dates, bacon, cream cheese, honey and almonds.  This dish tasted like a rich and hot version of a baklava with some added smokiness from the bacon.  All the varying textures and flavors meshed and I would happily revisit Bar Ferdinand just to order some of these delicious empanadas again.

Dessert: Churro con Chocolate

I love churros, but when I say that I’m talking about the really commercialized giant sugary twists that you buy from little trucks in theme parks.  This was not that, but was more delicious and quite nice. The plate came with 5 or so perfectly cooked little churros about the length of a finger accompanied by a small dish of chocolate dipping sauce.  I’m not normally a big fan of chocolate but it was had great flavor and paired really well with the crispy churros.

Torrija de Manzana

Holly’s desert choice consisted of cider soaked fry bread, cinnamon ice cream and candied orange zest. This type of desert was right up her alley and I really enjoyed the taste I got of it as well.  The juicy crispness of the cider-bread was really complimented by the creamy cinnamon flavor of the ice cream with the candied orange zest making a nice edible garnish over the whole dish that added some flavor.

The Design

Ole!

Most theme restaurants leave me with feelings of being in Disney Land, without all of the magic.  Bar Ferdinand, however, is a classy take on a theme.  The restaurant is distinctly Spanish: from the bar adorned with dried roses reminiscent of those thrown to a successful Matador, to the Moorish-inspired gold leaf ceiling and arched doorways, to the warm golden hues in the tile mosaics on the walls.  The design is just right for a place that serves classy tapas, and it made me feel good about spending money on small plates.  The design was elevated and refined.  So was the food.  This is a mistake that so many restaurants make: either the decor is too casual/crazy for the prices, or the decor is so over-designed that it feels out of place.  It was refreshing to eat at a place that held in balance the ideas of their food and their decor as a unit, rather than trying to accomplish too many schemes in one small restaurant.

The Receipt

For just over 100 dollars (pre-tip) we got two drinks each, an appetizer, 5 different tapas plates, deserts for each of us and cappuccinos. You could get less and spend as much at Bar Ferdinand but there are lot of tapas options that are nearer to 5 dollars than 10 that let you experience more flavors for less with no loss in quality.

The Overall Experience

Bar Ferdinand had great service, a great look, and great food.  The seats were comfortable (gasp!), the lighting was perfect, and although the air conditioning was a little over-zealous, I couldn’t have been happier with the whole package at Ferdinand.

Our Ratings

Drinks: 4/5

Food: 5/5

Design: 5/5

Service: 5/5

Budget: 4/5

Overall Experience: 5 /5

Will We Visit Again: Yes.  While Bar Ferdinand didn’t have the greatest selection of drinks, the skill of the bartenders and the wide and well prepared selection of tapas more than made up for it.  The restaurant was pleasant and the service was excellent.

Visit Bar Ferdinand’s Website

KraftWork

Kraftwork

This Fishtown foodie haven is the much hipper (and possibly more refined) younger sister to South Philly’s Sidecar Bar.  Kraftwork has everything that a gastro-pub should: great beer selection, interesting bites, and great service.  This joint can (and will) run with the best of the Center City luxury eateries, but it’s down-to earth atmosphere, wait-staff, and clientele make it a great place to try items that may otherwise seem out of reach.  Its non-intimidation factor means that aspiring foodies can dip their toes in the world of weird, while providing a safety-net of familiar options to run back to if the more adventurous menus are too daunting.

The Drinks
Kraftwork is known for their large selection of beers on tap (24 at any given time) which come in varying pour sizes depending on the beer (ranging from 8oz pub glasses to 64 oz growlers). Kraftwork uses a unique system of pairing second set of 24 kegs that will automatically go once the beer on the first list kicks.  This is noted on the menus, which makes it easy to tell what is available at the time of ordering.  In addition to a really great beer selection, Kraftwork has a few cocktails on the drink menu that they also change up about as often as the menu does which tend to have interesting names to match their interesting ingredientsI had The Poe (Dry oaked Gin, Dubonnet, Orange Curaçao, Pechaud’s Bitters, and Absinthe) and it was a well made cocktail.  The Gin was up front (as it should be) and all the other flavors followed, mingling, but each distinct. Cocktail service was fast and our bartender obviously knew what she was doing.  Unfortunately for any of you reading this the Poe is no longer on the menu for you to try, but I would suggest either the J.F. Sebastian (a shout out to Blade Runner) or the Montgomery Scott.

Current Drink Menu (As of Monday May 16th)

The Food

Appetizer: Corn Fritters (from the specials menu)

The fritters piqued our interest and we tried them. They were appropriately sized for an appetizer and perfectly fried (crispy with no excess oil). The came plated with a black sauce which we couldn’t deduce what was in it, but it certainly tasted good and added to the fritters over all as did the greens garnishing the plate.  This was a great appetizer to have with your opening drink and set the stage for the meal to come.

Main Courses

Josh: Burger with Cheddar and Bacon-Onion Jam

Usually Holly is the burger aficionado and I’m the one that tries the other sandwiches or plates at a gastropub, but we mixed things up this time. The menu offers you a couple choices when you craft your burger from the cheese to 1 free topping and of course you can add more depending on what you like. I went with the 2 year aged cheddar (cheddar is by far one of the best burger cheeses) and the bacon onion jam (had to see how that paid off). The burger was cooked exactly to order (I always order medium rare) and the cheese and jam (little crunchy from the bacon and sweet from the onions) did not disappoint. I got the same herb fries as Holly and really enjoyed them.

Holly: Short Rib Sandwich

This beast of a sandwich came piled high with deliciously tender slow-cooked short rib, poblano cream, pepper jack cheese, and fried onions.  Firstly, the meat was perfect: fall apart, juicy, and flavored just right.  But seriously, the best part was that poblano cream.  it added just enough spice to make the sandwich interesting, and it cut through the richness of the short rib.  As with all sandwiches at Kraftwork, the short rib comes paired with either herbed fries or a salad.  If you’re not trying to watch your figure, go for the fries.  They are the perfect match-stick cut, with great texture and a really interesting flavor from the herbs (and German-style mustard aioli).

Dessert: Chocolate Terrine

This aptly named dessert comes with raspberry coulis and salted walnut brittle.  A terrine, for those who don’t know, is usually constructed of meat purée and seasonings, and formed into a little brick to be served with toast and cheese. Well, this was basically a chocolate version of that (and with better texture).  The dense little chocolate “brick” melted perfectly in our mouths, and when paired with the slightly sour raspberry sauce and salty brittle, it became a harmony of opposites to quell the most discerning foodie into submission.  Salty-sweet, crunchy-dense, clean and rich flavors and textures marry to create the perfect little ending to a great meal.

Current Dinner Menu (As of Monday May 16th)

The Design

Kraftwork’s menu is full of items that are constructed from familiar elements presented in an interesting way, and their interior mimics that notion.  One wall features the almost-stereotypical crumbling brick wall, but the plaster damask pattern (designed to look like it was crumbling as well) makes a ubiquitous design feature into a piece of art.  What would normally be extremely uncomfortable backless bar stools are custom-designed (by a sculpture artist) with ergonomic seats and personal foot rests.  Structural I-beams are the support for industrial lamps that look like they come straight from the mind of Dr. Seuss.  And a GIANT saw with laser-cut hops in the blade calls attention to the focus of the place: a central U-shaped Bar made of perforated steel and wood.  This is one time that I wont criticize an industrial interior: Kraftwork’s designer got it just right with elements that make the urban industrial look cool again.

The Overall Experience

Kraftwork more than delivered on all of our expectations. We went in expecting good food, hipster staff and customers, and a decent beer selection and got all of that, but not quite in the way we expected.  The food was the highlight of the night (I thought that the beer would be – Josh) as both the appetizer and the dessert were more than their menu descriptions belied. Although a good portion of the staff and customers were hipsters, there were some normal middle-aged couples  and our bartender looked like she could have worked in just about any kind of place. The beer selection is as good as it looks,  but despite trying out a beer made with rye (which was delicious)  it was Josh’s cocktail that took prize  above all of our beer selections in a restaurant that’s supposedly all about beer.  Everything about the outing was enjoyable and we can equally recommend it for a date, ladies night, or guys night out.

The Receipt

Appetizer, two dinners, 4 drinks, and dessert!  We managed to get all of this for  just under 65 dollars (and we weren’t even trying to be thrifty).  Kraftwork is a really great place to grab a bite (or a beer) on a budget.

Our Ratings

Drinks: 5/5

Food: 5/5

Design: 4/5

Service: 5/5

Budget: 5/5

Overall Experience: 5/5

Will We Visit Again: Yes.  They have an ever-changing specials menu and the beers are also regularly rotated.  Not only was the service, food, and drink selection great, but it was easy to get to and super easy to find parking. Be sure to check out their Facebook page for the most up-to-date food and drink menus!

Visit The Kraftwork Website