How to navigate Center City District Restaurant Week!

City District Restaurant Week is something that everyone should try at least once in their lifetime. There is a variety of places that one can go for lunch or dinner, and may or may not leave you wishing for more!

Over the last two years, Eric and I have visited many places, some good, some okay and some that left us thinking one visit was enough. Talking with our friends, it seems that we have a 50-50 split on whether or not they like restaurant week. I think it’s a good opportunity to try out a restaurant that you normally wouldn’t because of either price or uncertainty if you will like the food. Others feel that it doesn’t truly reflect a restaurant, that they aren’t putting their best foot forward. Valid arguments on both sides but we enjoy restaurant week and trying out new places.

One new place we tried after reading so many good reviews about them was Lou Bird’s. They are located on the corner of 20thand Lombard Streets near Rittenhouse Square. The owners wanted a restaurant that had that neighborhood bar feel to it, a casual yet elegant place where you can come in, relax and have fun. Lou Bird’s certainly has all that.

When you first walk in, you’re immediately struck by the warm and inviting décor. The bar area is really nice with its wood and exposed brick throughout. Beyond that is the spacious dining area in the same style. Deep red tones and comfortable seating certainly makes it a place where you could spend hours with your friends in a comfortable and friendly setting.

We started our meal with their burrata and heirloom tomato salad and the mussels. Both dishes were delicious! The tomatoes and buratta were so fresh and tasty, with the perfect amount of olive oil, salt and pepper. The mussels were fantastic. They were served in a white wine sauce which was delicious.

For our entrees, we ordered the steak and chicken marsala. The steak was a New York strip and came with hand cut fries. The chicken was served with shiitake mushrooms over cavatelli pasta. The steak was cooked to my instructions, medium rare, but fell a bit flat in the seasoning and temperature departments. It unfortunately was not very hot when it came out and it needed a bit more seasoning. The fries were good but they too needed to be fried a little longer. The chicken marsala was good. Nothing really too exciting but it was a nice dish.

For dessert, we ordered the New York cheesecake with fresh fruit and their chocolate layer cake with raspberry and chocolate syrup. Unfortunately again, both fell a bit flat to our liking. They were both good but didn’t have the “wow” factor we were hoping to experience. Luckily, their signature cocktail for restaurant week was a wonderful drink made with Effin vodka, cucumber, mint and club soda. It was delicious and refreshing. Just the right amount of vodka so it didn’t overpower the drink, it was really top notch.

Overall, it was a good experience for our first time here at Lou Bird’s. It could use a few tweeks which I shared with the owner, Norris Jordan. He was very gracious and really appreciated the comments. You could see his passion and dedication immediately when talking with him. He enjoys talking with patrons and getting their feedback. It’s good to see restaurants that continue to strive to do their best and not just sit back and rest on their laurels. If you’re looking for a good restaurant with that neighborhood appeal, you can’t go wrong here.

 

Our next venture with restaurant week took us to another place we heard good things about but hadn’t tried yet, Farmicia. Located at 15 South 3rd Street in Old City, it’s a very popular spot for brunch, lunch, dinner or late night snacks. Even though they have an extensive wine list, they’ll let you bring your own bottle with no additional fee. That’s awesome!

When you first walk in, you can help but notice how spacious the restaurant is laid out. It’s bright and beautifully decorated throughout. Large windows in the front looking out onto the street add a wonderful touch of natural lighting. There is a large bar area on one side of the restaurant plenty of seating throughout.

We started our meal with their soup of the season, which was a chicken soup and their baked meatballs. Both were outstanding! You can’t go wrong with chicken soup which was delicious. Not too salty, and with the right amount of spices. The baked meatballs was served with fontina and manchego cheese, house marinara and a basil pesto sauce. It was amazing. Served piping hot and melted in your mouth, they did a really good job with this first course.

For our entrees, we both ordered the duck breast served with sweet potatoes, romanesco, maple beurre blanc and a fennel salad. We normally don’t ordered the same thing but we both were in the mood for duck this evening for some reason. Unfortunately, the duck was a bit dry and overcooked when served to us. The presentation was beautiful but it was overdone. I decided to change my order and requested the roasted chicken that came with mushroom barley, roasted carrots, hazelnuts and chicken jus. This was delicious. It was cooked perfectly and the chicken melted in my mouth. With our entrees we each ordered a glass of wine. I got the Cotes du Rhone and Eric ordered a Bordeaux. Both were really nice and paired exceptionally well with our dinners.

For dessert, we ordered their classic vanilla bean creme brûlée with a freshly baked sugar cookie and vegan lemon ginger cake. Both were good but I found the creme brûlée to be a bit over sweet and I wish they had let the custard set a bit longer. The lemon ginger cake came with an avocado coconut ice cream and a carmelized pineapple. The cake was a bit dry but the ice cream was delicious. As an added treat, we ordered a chocolate martini which was outstanding. We probably would have been fine just having this for dessert but you live and learn.

Overall, I’d say Farmicia did a nice job. The food was good, the atmosphere and décor were outstanding. I would definitely like to come back and give them another try.

 

Our third and final venture into restaurant week took us to Sampan, located at 124 South 13thStreet. Our expectations were really high because we had never heard one bad thing about Sampan from people we know. Their food gets very high marks so we were eager to try them out. When we first walked in, the décor was beautiful. Low lighting and decorated very nicely. The bar area is in the middle of the restaurant with dining rooms on either side.

Although we got there not long after they opened, I’d say within 45 minutes, the place was packed. That’s a very good sign! The staff and service was top notch. Everyone was so friendly and attentive. Our waitress checked on us through our meal to make sure we were pleased with everything. And boy, we were pleased! The food here was amazing.

With their restaurant week menu, you ordered seven sharable items. Everything we ordered was absolutely delicious! We decided to go with the tuna rice cracker, edamame dumpling, Vietnamese chicken satay, hamachi ceviche, filet mignon, salt and pepper seafood stir fry and the shrimp pad Thai. Everything, and I mean everything, was outstanding. We had absolutely zero complaints with everything. Each dish was perfect. Now I know why everyone raved so much about Sampan. For example, the filet mignon here was better than at some famous steakhouses that we’ve been to. It was cooked perfectly and melted in your mouth. I can’t say enough about the food here.

If the food was perfect, how were their cocktails? One word. Fantastic! We ordered their Ming Mule, Dr. Lee and the Dragon’s Flute. The Ming Mule was vodka, lychee, mint and ginger and it was seriously delicious. Dr. Lee was rye, apple, jasmine tea and lemon. Trust me when I say this is one doctor you won’t mind going to over and over again. And the Dragon’s Flute was rum, dragonfruit, vanilla and bubbles. Again, it was so good. The attention to detail in not just the food but the cocktails as well was just amazing.

Everything we heard about Sampan was certainly true! It’s no wonder why this place is so popular. The food and drinks are amazing! It’s a fun place to come and just hang out at the bar and enjoy their amazing happy hour menu as well. One word of caution though. Sampan fills up quickly so get here early, claim a good spot and enjoy! If you have never been to Sampan, go! Now!

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