Tinto

Tapas is  a style of restaurant, one where you eat various small dishes and share them with friends over drinks, originating in Spain. Much like Bar Ferdinand, Tinto takes the Spanish origin of Tapas to heart in both its decor and in its menu offerings.

The Drinks

Tinto, like many tapas restaurants,  puts a heavy emphasis on their wine selection (see logo above).  If you discount sangria as a cocktail (which I do) there were only 4 cocktails on the menu and a meager selection of beers.  This was to be  expected, however. Wine List, Beer & Cocktail Menu

Seasonal Sangria

This summery beverage was a sweet mix of rosé wine, melon liqueur, and fresh fruit and was a perfect accompaniment to my meal.  It was incredibly girly, but delicious.  So delicious, in fact, that I had two.

Iraty
I wasn’t particularly wowed by the cocktail and beer selection. They seemed like good safe choices, but no stand outs in a restaurant which is obviously all about the wine. The Iraty consisted of Bourbon, campari, muddled lemon, and soda water (fizz on the menu) and basically ended up tasting like an old fashioned with more citrus. It could have been really watered down like the cocktails from Barbuzzo (review perhaps to come later), but it thankfully wasn’t. I felt no inclination to have a second drink when the server asked, however.

The Food

1st Course

Mahon

I like cheese a lot, but will often steer clear of cheese plates at restaurants as they usually feature blue cheeses and goat cheeses (goat cheese is way too funky for me), but I am quite often willing and ready to try almost any firm cheese that is not from goats. This was a pasteurized cow’s milk cheese that was a firm, buttery, and salty cheese that reminded me of a manchego and went great with the honey, apple slices, and quince paste they provided with it.

Jamon Serrano

I really like Serrano hams and this andalusian mountain cured ham did not fail.  It had a great chew and flavor, and a fairly lean cut. The Serrano came with an egg yolk salad that was really rich but went great with it. Both my cheese and my charcuterie came with a decent amount of bread. Not as much bread as we got at Bar Ferdinand, but an adequate amount which is more than you get at most restaurants when you order charcuterie.

Figs
These tasty little bites were serrano ham-wrapped–the perfect combination of sweet and salty.

Gazpacho
I have developed a taste for gazpacho recently, and although this combination of heirloom tomato and avocado was tasty, it wasn’t as delicious as the watermelon gazpacho at Distrito (that’s probably the only good thing we had at Distrito, however).

2nd Course

Pulpo
I am a huge fan of octopus, and I pretty much order it wherever it is available on the menu.  This beautifully composed plate also contained confit potato and stripe of piquillo pepper paint, and a delicious but slightly strange lemon “powder.”  The textures, colors, and flavors were all beautiful and very fun to look at and eat.

Merluza en Salsa Verde
I have been itching to try sea bass for a while.  This was perfect–the crispy outside was a great textural contrast to the perfectly soft fish.  The plate also had  cockles with salsa verde, which were an interesting counterpoint to the very simply prepared fish.

Butifarra

This combination of house-made garlic sausage, lentils, and pedro ximenez was probably the most interesting thing I ordered (though most interesting thing I ate was holly’s octopus), the sausage and lentils went great together and I slurped (quietly) down the broth when I was finished.

Moules Basquaise

These were really great mussels. They came with chorizo and sauce basquaise, which was delicious, although the chorizo was really in it more for flavor than for eating. This dish also came with bread for which I was pleasantly surprised and this time it was toasted to better stand up under the sauce.

Dessert

Chocolate
A simple, but delicious, flourless chocolate cake with  chocolate mousse and passionfruit sorbet.  As always, I picked up the chocolate dessert on the restaurant week menu, and although this wasn’t exactly memorable, it was tasty and a nice way to finish a meal.

Torrijas

This was dulce de leche, caramel mousse, and orange supremes–A great dish combining fresh citrus with lots of caramel flavor. It seemed that every restaurant week menu had a chocolate dessert and then some other kind of dessert and these options eventually helped us decide where to go based off of would I like desert or no as the 2nd factor. This one stood out and helped us pick Tinto and it lived up to being interesting.

Food Menu

The Design

Tinto feels moody and actually kind of “sexy” due to an interior lavished with warm woods, charcoal greys, and custom candle-lit accent walls.  We ended up being sat downstairs in what is probably usually their private dining area, which felt cozy and private (even though we were technically in the same booth as another couple).  The booths actually felt more like couches–they were soft and you actually sink into them (which may or may not be a good feature.  I have yet to decide).  The design makes you feel as if you’ve been whisked away to some exotic and somewhat undiscovered foreign locale without feeling like some Disneyland theme restaurant.  It is a very successful mood for a tapas restaurant, and I enjoyed the interior for this reason.  I will only give it a 4/5 however, because the basement area really could have been more fully realized in the concept, but hey, no one’s perfect, right?

The Overall Experience

The service was great: fast, and the tapas plates came out at all the right moments during the course of the meal.  As the hostess led us to the basement stairs I had some real trepidation about our seating arrangements, but the basement was cooler than the rest of the restaurant. It was a great date night with lots to talk about just from the food and would be a great place to take a first or second date.

The Receipt

With it being a restaurant week night, the food was only 70 dollars. the Receipt total was around 100 since I had a cocktail, Holly 2 sangrias, and we each had coffee with our dessert.  It was definitely affordable and I’m glad we went, but I know the prices are higher normally and I’m not a big enough fan of Spanish cuisine to make a return until the next restaurant week.

Our Ratings

Drinks: 4/5

Food: 5/5

Design: 4/5

Service: 5/5

Budget: 5/5 (due to restaurant week)

Overall Experience: 4/5

Will We Visit Again

Hard to say. The service and food were great, but it’s probably too expensive to not go during restaurant week (and we really like to use restaurant week to try new places).

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).


Center City Restaurant Week

Every Philadelphia foodie’s favorite time of year: Center City Restaurant Week is back!  September 12-16 & 18-23 restaurants will be featuring three-course dinners for $35 and three-course lunches for $20.  This time around many of the restaurants will also be featuring locally sourced products in the recipes: look for the tractor symbol on the menu!

We will probably be checking out Zahav–an Israeli restaurant in Washington Square.  Their restaurant week menu looks pretty great, and has the added bonus of more bang for your buck with 4 courses instead of the usual 3!

List of Participating Restaurants

Happy Eating!

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.

Nodding Head

Nodding Head is a small brew-pub on Samson St in Center City.  It is nestled in among a lot of high class eateries and city bustle, but its second floor location makes it a quiet spot to grab a unique beer and a bite.

The Drinks

I did not order cocktails, though through all appearances Nodding head had a full bar that looked like it was straight out of the Winchester of Shaun of the Dead fame. Nodding head is best known for being a brewpub and winning lots of awards in Philly for their beers.  Holly and I both started out with their Ich Bin ein Berliner Weisse which is as they describe it “not a hefe-weizen.” It was a wheat, but had a nice bit of sour at the end and for mine I got it with the Woodruff syrup that definitely altered the flavor and made it almost taste like a hard cider.

Round 2 involved 60 Shilling for Holly and Grog for myself. Holly enjoyed the 60 Shilling Ale (a Scotch ale) and enjoyed it despite normally liking lighter (color) beers. The grog was a great english ale which is a style I have been having more and more of lately whenever I find it.

The Food

We originally decided to come to Nodding head to try their charcuterie platter, BUT SADNESS availed as they were sold out (we later found out that they no longer serve it).  We still got a great meal.

Josh:Pulled Pork Sandwich

Been on a bit of a pulled pork bend lately, but summer is the season for barbecue and it was the only thing on the menu that immediately jumped out at me. The pulled pork was probably the best I’ve had this summer (tried the pulled pork at Silk City and one other place I can’t recall). The sandwich was a good since, the pork was juicy and the barbecue sauce flavorful, and best of all they didn’t go overboard with the coleslaw (bonus points for a slice of melted cheddar too!).  Instead of fries, I got potato wedges and they really exceeded my expectations. They were crisp and cooked throughout and seasoned with paprika.

Holly: Moroccan Mussels

These little beauties come in either a 1/2 pot or full pot (2lb) portion.  The 1/2 pot is definitely enough food for one person, as the shellfish is accompanied by bread (an appropriately sized piece, I may add) and  fries in the Belgian tradition.  The Moroccan Mussels are flavored with ginger, garlic, cinnamon, tomato sauce, coriander, cumin and lemon zest–a delicious flavor adventure to the Mediterranean. The mussels were cooked well, and the broth was definitely worthy of being sopped up with the provided bread.  The fries were also seasoned well, but they came with a mayonnaise dipping sauce that seamed a bit heavy for the pairing.  I’m not always so hot on mayo dips for fries anyway having grown up on ketchup.

The Design

In the truest spirit of the “dive”, Nodding head is an achievement of run-down chic.  The bar is made to look like the stereotype of an old pub, with somewhat tattered wallpaper and lots of wood paneling.  I do happen to love the church-pews for seats and the large-scale tables.  The centerpiece of the restaurant is the large case of name-sake bobble heads at the top of the stairs, and the some-what visible beer stills toward the back of the dining area.  Nodding Head is surprisingly large, with a side dining room for busy days and many booths for groups.  It may not necessarily be beautiful to look at or innovative in design, but the space is well planned and it never feels cramped or unwelcoming.

The Overall Experience

This was our second go at the place as a couple (Holly had been many times with friends and enjoyed it, but the one time Josh went we received HORRIBLE service, to the point that Josh never wanted to go again.  We did decide to give it another go as it seemed like that fateful night had to have been a fluke.  To our pleasure it definitely was.  Our service this time around was great–polite, fast, and accurate (even entertaining at times).

The Receipt

5 dollar beers and food for around 10 dollars a person makes for an affordable outing. You could find beer for cheaper elsewhere but it’ll be PBR, Kenzinger, and Yeungling (all offense meant towards PBR) whereas at Nodding head you’re getting a great selection of craft brews in varying styles.

Our Ratings

Drinks: 3/5

Food: 4/5

Design: 2/5

Service: 5/5

Budget: 4/5

Overall Experience: 3/5

Will We Visit Again

Nodding Head is a great place to grab lunch or dinner for around 10 bucks and is basically Good Dog Bar as a brew-pub. While not a place to wow friends and family it is a go to for beer and burgers.