(this post is part of ShopMoxie’s “Best of the U.S. by Local Bloggers” series launched 9.12.13)
Best of Philadelphia
aka The City of Brotherly (in this case, sisterly) Love
So, about this gig… I recently decided that life wasn’t busy enough, or maybe it was just that I wasn’t writing enough… Anyway, I started a new blog (you’ll find a link buried somewhere in here) and in establishing myself as an independent blogger outside of my PR/Marketing biz, answered a query for ShopMoxie bloggers. I was very happy when I received a thoughtful email from founder Tom Tovar, who actually took the time to review my writing history, and my fledgling blog, inviting me to be a part of a Best of the U.S. by Local Bloggers series. As we exchanged emails, and learned more about each other (take it from me, this guy is interesting!), he really took me by surprise and offered me the opportunity to kick off ShopMoxie’s “Best of the U.S.” guest post series. Having spent many years writing such copy for Main Line Today magazine, I was instantly game. My only disclaimer, is that Philadelphia is full of wonderful businesses to frequent, as I am certain every city across the country is. Our collective picks are not meant to slight any of these businesses. If we had the time and the space, we’d cover all of our favorite haunts. However, what you are getting today, and in the coming days, is the tip of the old iceberg… places we know and love and feel strongly that you will too. So with no further ado, I present a handful of picks for my hometown, Philadelphia, U.S.A. Forget what you’ve heard about us in the news; we love our city. And, we really love our food.
Sophisticated night on, er in, the town: Presidential Suite, Hotel Palomar
The next time someone asks me for a suggestion on where to celebrate a special anniversary, birthday or momentous life event, I will definitely be pointing them to Hotel Palomar (117 South 17th St. at Sansom, Philadelphia; 215-563-5006) This past February, I had the good fortune of being part of a milestone birthday overnighter. Before you go judging my budget-consciousness, a little full disclosure: other than dinner and drinks, this was on a free ride. Now, I don’t have many swanky suite stays under my belt, but even with limited comparisons, it’s hard to deny the Presidential Suite’s fabulousness. Stylishly dressed up in traditional with a contemporary twist furnishings, each room is comfortable without being cold; decadent without feeling pretentious; it is clearly a Best of Philadelphia. If you’re into bathrooms, the lavish glass enclosed tub/shower with intricate mosaic floor tiling and Carrera marble will have you swooning.
Push aside the luxurious stretches of fabric separating you from the rest of civilization, and you’ll be rewarded with an interesting perspective on the city. In my case, that was a black and blue sky, dark clouds and scattered bursts of white and yellow lights…very much like a charcoal drawing. Any plans you had to go bouncing around the city, will likely fade away once you get a taste of the Presidential. Especially during the colder winter months, I recommend booking Square 1682‘s private dining room.
Our meal did not disappoint, nor did our gracious server, who not only knew his food and drink, but also how to dole The Lady Treatment. You’ll be tempted to run back upstairs to the comforts of Kimpton—and the luxe tiger and zebra patterned robes that await—but take it from me: suck up the full, tired feeling that comes with a delicious meal, and hunker down at the bar for one (or three) of the restaurant’s signature, and delectable, high-minded cocktails. Great sipping, great people watching. Be there AND be Square. If you’re lucky enough to get two nights in, take advantage of the in-house yoga and bike programs, which will make a handy excuse for taking those extra bites and sips during your stay. Here’s the scoop: Hotel Palomar offers yoga mats in room and an ON DEMAND yoga channel 24/7. If you call down to the front desk, they provide a complimentary roll out service including a delivery of flavored water and trail mix to your room for after your work out. And, there are complimentary bikes on premise for a joy ride around the city.
Worth the drive or the walk in the cold, rain, sleet or snow: Bloody Mary, The Dandelion
Another favorite haunt in that corner of the city, is The Dandelion (124 S. 18th St., 215-558-2500), a superb weekend brunch/lunch spot that serves up a wicked good Bloody Mary, along with a few other lascivious libations. (Be forewarned, this joint is multilevel and requires strong stair negotiating skills.) The vibe is reminiscent of The Standard Tap, in Northern Liberties, with lots of warm woods and a homey feel that leaves you thinking what a cool house it would make. Afternoon Tea pose a conundrum for patrons, with tea and cocktails available from 3-5pm. I haven’t had a meal there that I didn’t like, but if you need a recommendation, the EVERYTHING is worth the bite. How’s that for Best of Philadelphia?
Perfect Pairings: Couture and Customer Service…Nicole Miller
It is not true that all women love to shop, at least for clothes. However, when a big event is around the corner, and a figure-flattering dress needs to be procured, like, yesterday, my go-to is Nicole Miller in Manayunk (4249 Main St., 215-930-0307). And my favorite reason to go is store manager, Samantha Sciolla, who can read a woman’s body type within seconds. (Yes, better than you men!) Whether you’re looking for formal (charity ball, wedding, graduation), street or contemporary career fashions and accessories, this longstanding Main Street boutique keeps up with the trends without shunning the classics and they know how to combine couture with customer service. (There’s also a store in town, at The Bellevue.)
My favorite “say yes to the dress” story actually does have to do with my wedding dress. I was shopping solo, carrying on about it being a second wedding, “…still want a gown, has to cover this, hide this…” After being banished to the dressing room, I hear a knock: Samantha hands me two gowns. “This is the one you’re going to buy; this is the one you’ll try on because you feel you have to.” I didn’t even bother zipping the second dress, and I’ve been a born again Nicole Miller customer ever since (there are some sweet sales throughout the year). The wedding dress story is just one of many similar scenarios where Samantha made getting the desired dress, skirt, blouse, boots, etc., possible and guilt-free. If you go, tell her I sent you.
Romantic Dinner with a side of the Best.Foie.Gras.Ever, Bibou
Bibou (1009 South 8th St., Philadelphia; 215-965-8290) is not new (opened in 2009), however it is to me. I finally got a chance to visit this petite byob last spring, for my first wedding anniversary. I’d just met Charlotte Calmels, wife and partner of chef Pierre Calmels, earlier that month. After engaging in a lively conversation about cooking, dining, sharing food experiences with children, and more, I realized how ridiculous it was that I’d not yet dined there. In comes Open Table. Happily, I can report, unlike many hyped experiences, Bibou delivers. Every morsel of the 7-course meal (Chef’s Tasting) had my taste buds doing somersaults. Especially the creamy foie gras that was perfectly seared to a rich mahogany, and so buttery that I was licking my lips all night. Gorgeous stemware and decanters elevated our wine sipping several notches (save your best bottles for Calmels cuisine). Cap that off with attentive, but not overbearing service that left us plenty of time to savor each course (embarrassingly, I think we reveled in the food far more than our first-year memories), and we were in a state of absolute dining bliss. All you need to do for a similar experience is make a reservation.
Just outside the city limits…I Sea-food, I Buy It, Philadelphia Lobster & Fish
Tucked in a corner of Wynnewood, just around the block from the R5 Philadelphia Lobster & Fish (333 E. Lancaster Ave., Wynnewood; 610-642-1082) is a dangerous place for my wallet. Not only will you find a sublime selection of fresh seafood—personally cherry-picked by owner John Shon each morning—this quietly humming fish market stocks its cases and shelves with pristine produce priced far lower than its neighbors.
It’s impossible to go in and not come out with twice as many groceries as you need. It’s practically a ritual for me to wait to the last minute (about 90 minutes before friends are slated to arrive for dinner), to race over and make a flurry of purchases. Upon returning to my kitchen, and within minutes of pulling out the goods, it’s totally plausible that I can have a gorgeous selection of house-made maki, tekkamaki, and shumai dumplings plated; a tuna steak swimming in a wasabi-soy marinade, skate prepped for a brown butter lacing, or thick-cut salmon steaks seasoned with fresh and dried herbs ready STAT—all with time to spare for a quick shower.
Talk about an easy button! When I really want to cheat, there are 15 different prepared entrees and sides available throughout the week, along with $2.99 containers of fresh, peeled garlic cloves, fully-cleaned mixed greens, baby bok choy and Brussels sprouts, sliced zucchini, cut-up mango, pineapple, honeydew, blood oranges and other quick-cook-quick-eat ingredients.
During planting season, you’ll be treated to an impressive curbside display of flowers and herbs, proudly tended to by Shon. Everyone I’ve turned on to this local purveyor agrees: it’s a feel- and taste-good shopping experience every time.
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