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My week in Philadelphia

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My week in Philadelphia

Adam Stephanides | Jul 18, 2002 01:50 PM

I've already written about my return to Le Bec-Fin; here are the other dining highlights of my week in Philadelphia.

I'd avoided Susanna Foo on my first visit, despite the raves in guidebooks and dining guides, because from what I'd read the food sounded Westernized. This time, though, I decided to try it. Having been there, I'd describe it as fusion rather than (even Westernized) Chinese: a few Chinese dishes, and some Asian (not just Chinese) ingredients in a basically Western matrix. (Though if Ms. Foo, who is Chinese, wants to call her cuisine Chinese you could argue that she has a right to.) With this in mind, though, it was very good. My appetizer, the "summer sampler," was good, though I don't recall what was in it. My entree, the crispy duck served with pureed sweet potato, was very good. The desserts had very little Asian influence that I can recall. I had a "banana chocolate tart": two sheets of cashew phyllo with chocolate ganache between them, topped with caramelized bananas and banana ice cream: again very good.

The other big-name restaurant I went to was Pasion! (iirc), my notes on which I appear to have misplaced. The standout dish here was my appetizer, the arepa sampler. The Big Dog would doubtless disapprove of putting fancy-schmancy toppings on top of arepas, but the arepas were quite good and complemented the toppings very well (I really wish I had my notes). The entree was a fried whole fish, iirc: good but nothing exciting. I don't recall what my dessert was, but it was interesting.

My hotel was within easy walking distance of Chinatown, and (since I didn't know of any other good, cheap, convenient places) that was where I ended up eating most of my non-fancy dinners. The best place I found was Shiao Lan Kung, which I believe is on the north side of Race St. Again, I don't have my notes, but both of the meals I had there were very good: the only dish I recall was the "House Special Pig Leg," which was very peasant-style (a large bone, covered with mainly skin and fat), but very tasty.

I did try to hit some "Philadelphia institutions," with mixed results. I went to Reading Terminal a few times; the best thing I had there was Bassett's ice cream, which is indeed quite good. I had a roast pork sandwich at Tony Luke's; it was good, but not really worth making a crosstown trip by bus for (as I had to). And I had a cheesesteak from one of those two cheesesteak palaces South Philly, which was nothing special (I didn't have it with cheese whiz, which I didn't know at the time was the "authentic" version).

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