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

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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).

Midatlantic

Midtatlantic takes University City to the next level in regards to cuisine.  Chef Daniel Stern (of R2L) has fun with the foods of the Midatlantic states and creates a restaurant the encourages exploration.  With items like crab or vegetable scrapple, Tastycake bread pudding, and a multitude of local craft beers, this restaurant has an original and delicious menu that gives a West Philadelphia foodie a chance to come up for air from all the pizza and freezer burgers in the area.

The Drinks

Josh: The Stovepipe

Basically an adult root beer float, but way classier than those words sound. Made with Bourbon, Navan, Drambuie & Root Beer, The Stovepipe was designed by head chef Daniel Stern.  The drink definitely had bold root beer flavors and was a great way to start the meal while we waited for our food.

Rumspringa 2.0

I had the Rumspringa in its first version around when Midatlantic had recently opened. I enjoyed the drink at the time, but it was hard to find the bite of the rye in the cider it was mixed in (really great cider though). RumSpringa 2.0 is made with Rye, Aita Snap, Bitters, Maple & Burnt Orange and was a much more potent and enjoyable drink. All of the flavors complemented one another and it was nice to have a cocktail with Snap in it (vs. the much more proliferated Root by Art in the Age).

Holly: Shrub

I always have the shrub when I got to Midatlantic.  It has gone through a few evolutions.  it has always included fresh fruit, vinegar, and a little sugar with a spirit.  Originally you could choose the spirit, but they learned that the best of us order gin drinks.  The newest variation has gin with fresh muddled berries and tarragon in the mix, and the sweet and sour profile of the drink is very refreshing.  It is a unique drink that I have not seen made in other bars, so when at Midatlantic I jump at the chance to have it.

The Food

Appetizer: Meat and Cheese Board

Now THIS is what charcuterie should always be like. 3 different kinds of meat (plus a terreine), 4 kinds of cheese, condiments, and a pickle jar!  Plus they serve it with a varied assortment of breads in an amount appropriate to the size of the plate.This enormous appetizer is recommended for 2-4 people, and it could easily feed more.  The actual items will change out frequently, but this time we had the pleasure of sampling a house cured summer sausage that was pleasant (if not a little bland) and a chorizo with a great kick. The cheeses, much to Josh’s chagrin, included a soft goat cheese (which actually was quite clean tasting rather than the usual funk of a goat cheese) and the local “Tommenator“, a Tomme style that is brined with Troegs Troegenator double bock.

Main Courses

Josh: The Midatlantic (Burger)

I’ve had this burger before, but there’s about the flavor combinations that keep me coming back. The burger is always cooked exactly how I order (medium rare for me, thank you) and comes with their house made summer sausage sliced on top with horseradish cheddar and pickles.  The Ma Chips are a must. These house made kettle crunch chips are perfectly cooked and fresh and really help the burger to standout from the crowd.

Holly: Corned beef and Cabbage

Rich and delicious!  Corned beef and cabbage is one of my favorite meals (thanks to my father) and this variation was perfect.  The meat was incredibly tender and rich, the cabbage was well cooked but not soggy, and the cute assortment of multicolor potatoes, baby beets, and long slices of carrot were not only delicious but really beautiful to look at. It was topped with a horseradish cream and a couple of croutons (which I could have done without, truthfully).  The whole thing was buttery, savory, and incredibly satisfying.

Dessert:Simmons Chocolate and Peanut Butter Pie

Okay, so this specific time we didn’t get dessert (that meat and cheese board is a beast) but you MUST try this peanut butter pie.  Each little pie is made in an individual (sharable) portion, which is filled with a rich chocolatey -peanutty mouse, and topped with pretzels!  Sweet and salty–feeding our stereotypical foodie nature to its very core.

The Design

Midatlantic has a great interior.  It takes the industrial vibe that is ever so popular in this city and makes it just refined enough that it is appropriate to the level of cuisine it accompanies.  The floors are of polished concrete, which always looks great in my opinion (and it’s really easy to keep clean).  The lights are custom pieces made from bundles of fluorescent tubes with wild looking red wires escaping from the tops into the ceiling, which was left uncovered.  Along the back wall, sheets of wood in various shades of yellow, red, and green create an interesting texture that also draws attention to the open kitchen area and bar, which also had the keg room exposed to draw attention to the plethora of craft brews available.  There is also a private room that is separated from the main dining floor by a sheet metal wall with tiny windows punched through, giving a small peak of any parties that me be planned.  Besides  the fact that the now-ubiquitous Emeco Navy chair was used, this interior is highly original and very successful.

The Overall Experience

This visit the place was actually pretty busy (which is not usual during dinner time as Midatlantic seems to do its biggest business at lunch) so the service was just a tad slow.  But our waitress was polite, very knowledgeable, and eager to help us make good choices in both food and drink.  We also sat outside this time, which was very pleasant due to the glass division protecting us from people on the street and the swanky firepit in the middle of the outside patio.

The Receipt

Midatlantic is definitely not the cheapest place around (especially not in the proximity of its University City neighbors).  This trip we go three cocktails, an appetizer, and two entrees for around $100 before tip.  The great thing about this price range, however, is that the restaurant wont become overrun with rowdy college students during game time, and the quality of food and portion sizes are really worth the slightly higher price tag.  It’s not a place to go every couple of days after work, but it’s great for impressing a date or a quiet evening with a friend or two.

Our Ratings

Drinks: 5/5

Food: 5/5

Design: 5/5

Service: 4/5

Budget: 3/5

Overall Experience: 4/5

Will We Visit Again

Yes, and we already have a few times.  This is one of our favorite places due to its proximity to our home, the fact that it is usually quiet, and the great selection of interesting food and drink.

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