Philadelphia has always done a fine job promoting its numerous multiethnic restaurants. The Book and the Cook weeklong event, which began in 1985, draws famous chefs, cookbook authors and food journalists each spring to cook and dine in our restaurants. Since that time, many of our restaurants and chefs have garnered awards from Esquire, Food and Wine, Gourmet, Bon Appetit and the James Beard Foundation.
You don’t have to wait until March to enjoy special one-of-a-kind dinners because the first Center City Restaurant Week kicks off on Sunday. More than 40 restaurants will offer a three-course dinner for $30. Some chefs are creating special dinners, some invite you to order from their menu.
The participating restaurants comprise an interesting mix of cuisines. New American bistro, French, Italian, Cuban, South American, Irish, Japanese, Mexican and Chinese fare are included, along with restaurants that are either classic steak or seafood houses.
If you want Cuban, head over to Alma de Cuba, Caf� Habana or Cibucan, which offers Cuban and South American dishes. Among the dishes at Alma de Cuba are black bean soup, wild mushroom empanada, Cuban skirt steak and chicken "arroz Imperial," with lemon verbena flan for dessert. Caf� Habana serves homestyle Cuban dishes such as mussels with chorizo, grilled swordfish with salsa verde and caramel flan. Cibucan, which is offering a four-course dinner, is noted for island and South American fare and will include guacamole with plantain chips, pan-seared scallops with basil and lime, plantain-crusted tuna and lemon flan.
Award-winning chef Guillermo Pernot’s Nuevo Latino dinner at ¡Pasion! will feature Ecuadorian shrimp ceviche, a choice of roasted chicken breast with black bean tamale or churrasco de Entrana, Argentina’s famous skirt steak with mushroom escabeche, yuca fries and chimichurri sauce. Cuban flan with caramel sauce is the sweet. Hawaii, our 50th state, is represented at Roy’s. The meal includes an appetizer sampler, a choice of blackened ahi tuna, honey- and Dijon-mustard-broiled short ribs or habachi-style salmon. The sweet is chocolate souffl�.
The cuisine of France will be well represented with a strong nod to the Mediterranean. Audrey Claire, a cash-only restaurant, has always presented fine Mediterranean fare. At Bistro St. Tropez, chef Patrice Rames will feature his regular menu while South Philadelphia-born chef Chris Scarduzio will offer classic steak frites as the entr�e at Brasserie Perrier. Over at Caribou Caf�, new chef/owner Olivier St. Martin will feature peppered tuna Proven�al, a choice of either Norwegian salmon or ribeye Bordelaise and classic profiteroles au chocolat for dessert. Le Bar Lyonnaise, downstairs from Le Bec-Fin, will offer a white bean soup prepared with arugula, Parmesan cheese and prosciutto, roasted salmon and cr�me caramel. Loie, one of Center City’s newest restaurants, has received raves for its authentic French onion soup, so it is among the appetizer choices, along with steamed mussels and goat cheese salad. Salmon and steak frites are the entr�es, with a sweet choice that includes warm chocolate beignets and coconut cake.
The regional cucina of Italy will be in capable hands at a number of restaurants. Bellini Grill, which is BYOB, offers a four-course dinner that includes a small salad, an appetizer, entr�e and a dessert. Buca de Beppo, which serves large portions family-style, features a four-course dinner for $30 a couple. Both Bellini Grill and Buca de Beppo will present their regular menus from which you can select dinner. Caesar salad, veal either Fran�aise or Parmigiana, flounder with lemon and caper sauce with a side of pasta, and cannoli will be available at D’Angelo Ristorante.
Among the appetizers to be served up at Davio’s are a lobster minestrone and saut�ed calamari with roasted garlic. Pan-roasted Atlantic salmon, pan-roasted Tuscan chicken breast with asparagus and mashed potatoes and a selection of seasonal desserts rounds out dinner. Chef Alberto Delbello of Il Portico will present carpaccio di salmone or mista salad, a choice of scallopine funghi, pesce misto or gnocchi along with coffee and dessert. Toto Schiavone has planned an elaborate meal using truffles and aged balsamic vinegar at his restaurant, Toto. Among the appetizers is carpaccio Modenese, which is paper-thin slices of beef that have been scented with aged balsamic vinegar with a cabbage-radicchio confit with shavings of Parmigiano. Entr�es include salmone al profumo di Crescione, which consists of an herb-crusted broiled filet of salmon in a watercress brodetto with Taylor bay scallops, sweet corn and mixed summer peppers. A selection of desserts and coffee or tea are included. Chef Nunzio Petruno, who orchestrated the kitchens at Monte Carlo Living Room for many years, is now in charge at Trattoria Primadonna. He invites his diners to select their three-course dinner from his regular menu.
A number of chefs have created their own style of New American cuisine. The style is influenced by Italian, French and Asian ingredients and techniques. Chef Tom Harkins, who was born and raised in South Philadelphia and marches with the Comics each Mummers Parade, has his own distinctive style at Circa. His special dinner features choices such as duck spring rolls with vermicelli noodles and an apricot sweet and sour dipping sauce; roasted organic chicken with soft polenta enhanced by fontina with creamy salsify and peas; ravioli made with spinach and asiago and for dessert, a warm apple galette with thyme ice cream and caramel jus. At Opus 251, South Philadelphia chef Anthony Bonett wants patrons to choose any three courses from his regular menu, which always has the right touch of Italian, French or Asian flair.
If you have a taste for steak, The Prime Rib, Shula’s Steak House, Jolly’s and Smith & Wollensky will all be participating in Center City Restaurant Week. If fish strikes your fancy, you can choose from any number of creatures of the sea at The Sansom Street Oyster House, Bookbinder’s 15th Street, Sole Food Seafood Restaurant and McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood Restaurant.
Joe Poon will offer his unique Asian fusion fare at his restaurant in Chinatown. Jade Harbor Seafood Restaurant in Chinatown will offer a three-course dinner for $30 a couple.
Unfortunately, space does not permit me to describe all the delicious dishes that area chefs are preparing for Center City Restaurant Week, which runs from Sunday through Sept. 19. The cost of dinner does not include drinks, tax or gratuities, and reservations are strongly recommended.
For more information and to view each menu, visit the Web site at www.centercityphila.org.