I just came back from the annual Popular Culture Assn. convention, this year in Philadelphia. I printed out scores of posts and made it an all-Chowhound trip.
I was always under the gun for time at lunch, so except for one exception, I went to the Reading Terminal, not that this was any deprivation.
We went to a different place every night for dinner, and didn't have a single bad meal, although none was stupdendous from beginning to end. In ascending order of dinner preferences:
1. Vietnam -- this not only seems to be the most popular Vietnamese restaurant in town, but the most popular restaurant in the entire Chinatown area. There is a tendency toward excessive sweetness that mars all the generally well-prepared sauces. The barbecue platter appetizer looked awfully tempting.
2. Mezzaluna was bustling on Saturday night, and a few of the pasta dishes were particularly tasty, but the Dover sole was flat, the bread tasteless, and perhaps I'm bitter primarily because my spaghetti con vongole was underseasoned, with bland clams to boot. Best dishes: a sea bass with tomatoes, capers, and olives, and the grilled calamari with a balsamic vinegar reduction.
3. Nan -- the sign outside says, "Modern Food." Luckily, once inside, the room is serene, the service friendly, and the food non-gimmicky. Sort of French with Thai influences (the chef is Thai), the food was much more consistent than the above two, although the appetizers, in general, were stronger than the entrees. The big winner, though, was the sweetbreads, with one exception, the best dish on the trip. This dish was cited in the latest Philadelphia Magazine poll for good reason.
4. Azafran -- I'm not exactly sure where the "Mediterranean" is. I'd say pan-Latino is more like it. Although Venezuelan cuisine is the base, there are plenty of Cuban and South American influences. Funkier and louder than the other places, the service was casual but caring. So many plates and dishes were flying among the six of us. Not much to choose between Nan and Azafran purely from a food standpoint, but there was more spirit in the kitchen and the dining room. Fantastic sweet plaintains (Azafran also serves Fu Fu and green plaintains), a wonderful lamb shank, interestesting fish presentations, etc. I wasn't as wild about the ceviche as others, but I'd be happy to try it all again.
Went to Monk's corner for lunch one day. The moules and frites were fine (a wonderful dipping sauce for the frites). Wasn't nearly as excited by the charcuterie plate (the sausages were all a little pallid). Great beer selections, of course.
But enough about this. The star of the trip, it isn't even close, was Tommy DeNic's, and I thank Bob and the other Chowhound's who raved about the pork sandwich with aged provolone (spinach and roast peppers are the other options). I became so obsessed with this sandwich that I must have brought a dozen other people to eat it, and never even made it to Tony Luke's.
This is nothing less than one of my favorite sandwiches anywhere, ever. I loved the provolone, which I eventually found out is not an obscure imported cheese, but Boar's Head aged(!) Grande Provolone, hand shredded.
I tried the roast pork with and without spinach, and actually preferred it without. It's a totally different sandwich, still a great sandwich, but an undeniable soggier one. The bottom line is that the pork has a delicate flavor. The provolone is enough of an accompaniment. I also have to add that the DeNic family is wonderful, and as far as I can tell, every single person who works there genuinely cares about food. As they started to recognize me as a roast pork stalker, they started talking to me about food, and when they had a second, they'd congregate together and talk about food and meat, in particular.
This is a stand run by Chowhounds for Chowhounds.
I did mosey around the RTR and did find some other things I liked (Bassett's ice cream was better than I remembered, finding that sweet spot between clean low-fat Breyer's and high-butterfat, sometimes numbing Haagen-Daaz). The fish at Kim's and the prepared food at Salumeria's and the bananas everywhere looked terrific. The RTR is a terrific destination.
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