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Open letter to Philly's small restos: where do you get off?

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Open letter to Philly's small restos: where do you get off?

GDSwamp | Apr 3, 2007 02:20 PM

Trey Popp has a great (negative) review of a place called ChriStevens in this week's Citypaper that touched a nerve with me. He makes some nice points about the confusingly high prices at this new BYO whose most successful entree is (apparently store-bought) orechiette with rabe and tomatoes - not exactly a thrill-ride of a dish.

Lately I've been feeling bent out of shape about the number of Philly restaurants that feel entitled to charge big $$ for unimaginative, amateurish cooking. It's kind of an odd phenomenon. Whenever my wife and I manage to go out (and it's rare lately) and decide to try some little place we haven't heard of, we end up paying $28/entree for food that's poorly plated, inexpertly cooked and seriously unexciting in concept. The prices are the oddest thing to me, since we've also eaten out at a couple of really special places in NYC in the last 6 months, where we've gotten incredible food for prices that are actually about the same as what run-of-the-mill BYOs are charging here. I don't get it - why do mediocre bistros run by amateur chefs in Philly feel ok about charging the same prices as stellar restaurants in one of the world's most expensive cities?

And just to be clear, I don't think I'm being a snob here. I'm not saying "Philly restaurants shouldn't be allowed to charge as much as New York restaurants." I'm just saying that since average incomes and the cost of living are higher in NYC than here, it seems like restaurant prices here should be at least a little bit lower. And by extension, if top-notch places in that very-expensive city are charging, say, $25-$30 an entree, it seems weird that middle-of-the-road places in this less-expensive city are also charging $25-$30 an entree.

It bugs me. We have such a limited budget for going out, and I feel like I ought to be able to either (a) find places where I can get a nice meal, prepared with a little bit of flair, for $15 or $16 per person, or (b) know that if I spend $40-$50 per person in Philadelphia, I'm going to get something really amazing for all that money. Instead I consistently get the worst of both worlds.

Is there some kind of specialized inflation going on in this city? I realize I sound like a grump, and I'm sure there are plenty of worthy places out there that either deserve the high prices they chrage or charge low prices for solid food. But at the very least, I can't seem to find many of those restaurants. And in the meantime I'm getting gunshy about trying new places.

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