July 27, 2006

Behind the Scenes of Philadelphia Magazine’s Best of Philly 2006

Best of Philly 2006

Every year since 1974 Philadelphia Magazine has been publishing its Best of Philly issue, which includes a section on Food & Drink.

Ever want to know how they pick the winners?

Last night, thanks to Anthony Green, National Constitution Center Vice President for Programs and National Outreach and former editor of Philadelphia Magazine, we got a chance to peek behind the curtain.

As part of the National Constitution Center’s “Philadelphia Talks” series, Green invited Philadelphia Magazine Editor Larry Platt, Executive Editor Tom McGrath, Food Editor April White and Lifestyle Editor Jessica Blatt to talk about the selection process.

Philly Talks, Best of Philly Panel

According to Platt, the process is “still very subjective, by choice.” “There is no scientific method,” he says, “and we don’t want there to be.” But that’s not to say that there’s no method to the madness. White explained that selecting the winners for the Food & Wine section is a year-long process that includes trying restaurants multiple times and her debating with her colleagues. The voting is democratic, but when it comes to making the final selections for the Food & Drink section, Platt said that White’s expert opinion is what counts the most.

Most lobbying efforts fall flat. The panel talked about a pretzel purveyor who spelled out the words “Philadelphia Magazine” in pretzels and sent them to the office. Turns out his delivery was two weeks late; they had already made their picks for the Best of Philly issue. White said they “like to hear about things organically.” And forget about reader’s polls. McGrath noted that when readers pick what’s “best,” you end up with Olive Garden as the best restaurant.

Philadelphia Magazine “is in the business of unearthing Philadelphia gems,” said Platt. The staff dedicates themselves to finding the next cool thing and the fruit of their labor is “a roadmap for navigating the city.” “It’s a celebration of Philadelphia,” Platt said.

The bonus of this event was that you got a free advance copy of the 2006 Best of Philly issue. According to Platt, “Part of the fun of the Best of Philly issue is disagreeing with it.” So, here are a few thoughts:

  • Best Wine Bar: Domaine Hudson Wine Bar & Eatery in Wilmington, Delaware. Wait. Delaware?! The Best Philly Wine Bar is actually in the state of Delaware?! How is dining in Delaware a “celebration of Philadelphia”? I’ve got nothing against Delaware (love your beaches and those ominous black license plates). And I do appreciate that Philly extends beyond Center City. But can we at least pick the Best of Philly winners from our own state?

  • Best Burger: Five Guys Famous Burgers and Fries. This may be the second unopened Center City restaurant in the past two weeks to win an award. Unlike Wine Spectator, though, Philadelphia Magazine does acknowledge that the Center City location of this restaurant has not yet opened (it’s scheduled to open in August), and it does say that there are “Four area locations.” Plus, one of the ideas behind the Best of Philly issue is to be a bit ahead of the curve, and Five Guys does have a tasty burger. So, until the Center City location opens you may have to travel to Clifton Heights, Glenn Mills or Wayne to enjoy this award winner. If geography is still not much of a limitation next year, I'd like to nominate Matchbox in D.C. (mini-burgers) and Tessaro's in Pittsburgh for the Best Philly Burger.

  • Best Local Wine: French Creek Ridge “Blanc de Blancs.” But which vintage? That’s kind of an important detail. According to the French Creek Ridge website, they currently sell two Blanc de Blancs wines: a 1999 Blanc de Blancs ($30) and a 2001 Reserve Blanc de Blancs ($35). Not sure which one won the award. Philadelphia Magazine says its pick is available from the winery, so pay French Creek Ridge a visit (or order online) and try both the '99 and the '01.

Some other highlights of the Food & Drink section of the 2006 Best of Philly issue:

  • Best New Restaurant: Amada. And now your chances of getting a dinner reservation here anytime soon (especially during Restaurant Week) will vanish in 3...2...1....

  • Best Ice Cream: Franklin Fountain. As a friend of mine at work says, this place has that “old timey” feel. The Fountain spins out a formidable chocolate shake that tastes like pure, melted chocolate ice cream. Yet, somehow the treats don’t seem as decadent when a chap who looks like he just stepped out of a time machine serves them to you.

  • Eating Good in the ‘Hood. This column gives you a bird’s-eye-view of emerging restaurant communities in various counties. Northern Liberties gets the nod in Philadelphia County.

Wanna know more? Like who won for Best Cheesesteak, Best Takeout Pizza and Best Wooder Ice? Hang in there; the Best of Philly issue should hit newsstands within a week.

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July 19, 2006

Amada (for lunch)


Amada is an authentic Spanish tapas bar in Old City. As I mentioned a few months back, Wine Spectator mentioned Amada in an article about Philadelphia restaurants in its April 2006 issue. Since then I’ve been looking forward to trying Amada, but it’s been difficult to get reservations the few times I tried.

However, on July 4th, with the exception of the predictable gaggle of tourists in the traditional spots, Center City was virtually empty. Recognizing the opportunity, my wife and I shot over to Amada for lunch.

Independence Hall Amada Lunch Menu

The lunch menu features a smaller selection of tapas as well as salads and sandwiches. We started off, of course, with a pitcher of the Sangria Tinto ($28)—spiced red wine with oranges, apples and cinnamon. We thought the cinnamon would make the sangria too heavy, but that wasn’t the case. The sangria was light, crisp and refreshing, and the cinnamon added a depth that sets Amada’s version apart from the rest. Normally, I prefer my sangria to be a little more potent than Amada’s, but on this hot July day their softer version really hit the spot.

Sangria Tinto

The first dish we tried was the aged Manchego with Truffled Lavender Honey ($7). Amada imports the lavender honey from Spain and then they infuse it with truffle oil. They sell the lavender honey sans truffle oil in jars for you to take home; I’m told the truffled version may be available soon. The lavender adds a light, perfumy background touch without being overpowering. The truffle oil does a nice job of negotiating the connection between the sweet, flowery honey and the savory cheese, making this dish surprising fulfilling for a cheese plate.

Manchego with Truffled Lavender Honey (partially eaten) Chorizo Pamplona

I also ordered the Chorizo Pamplona ($7). The waitress tried to steer me toward the grilled version of this dish, which she recommended, but I was in the mood for a cold meat dish to go alongside the cheese plate and the thinly sliced chorizo was a solid starter. This dish came with mustard, cornichons and crisp, tangy caper berries.

Piquillos Rellenos

Next, we tried the Piquillos Rellenos—crab-stuffed peppers topped with almonds ($12). This dish was our favorite. The peppers were roasted and de-skinned, and the amazingly mouth-watering crab stuffing was warm, rich and creamy. The dish, however, could benefit from a defining spice to pull the peppers and the crab filling together.

Lamb Chops

Finally, I ordered the Lamb Chops ($14). The flavor of this dish lies in its simplicity—the medium rare chops were rubbed only with salt and pepper, allowing the natural juices to seduce your taste buds. But the chops were tougher than I expected them to be and, unfortunately, I didn’t have the right silverware to avoid having to gnaw on the bone. Not that I minded; it was the Fourth of July, after all, and I’m sure that’s what our Founding Fathers would have done.

On Wednesday and Friday evenings at 9:00 p.m. Amada hosts Flamenco dancing on a stage in the main dining area. When they’re not dancing, the curtains around the stage can be drawn to turn it into a private dining room for you and your friends. If you want to feel like an insider, ask for “Table 31” when making reservations for the stage table.

217-219 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia PA 19106
(215) 625-2450

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July 18, 2006

Philly Represents on Wine Spectator’s 2006 Restaurant Awards List

Every year Wine Spectator recognizes restaurants whose wine lists offer interesting selections, are appropriate to their cuisine and appeal to a wide range of wine lovers.

This year, in its August issue, Wine Spectator awarded The Melting Pot (both the Filbert St. and the Germantown Ave. locations), The Oceanaire Seafood Room and Old Original Book Binder’s with the Award of Excellence, an award recognizing lists that have a well-chosen selection of at least 100 wines by quality producers and a thematic match to the menu in both price and style. Curiously, though, The Oceanaire Seafood Room, which is listed as being located at 700 Walnut, has not yet opened.

Past Philly winners of this award include: Barclay Prime, Bistro Romano, The Capital Grille, Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse, Lacroix at the Rittenhouse, Meritage Philadelphia, Morimoto, Morton’s, Moshulu, The Palm, Paridiso, Penne Restaurant and Wine Bar, Roy’s Philadelphia, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Smith & Wollensky, Striped Bass, and Twenty21.

No Philly restaurants received the second-tier award this year—the Best of Award of Excellence, which recognizes lists of 500 or more wines that show either vintage depth or excellent breadth spread over several winegrowing regions. However, past Philly winners of the Best of Award of Excellence are: The Fountain Restaurant, La Famiglia Restaurant, La Bec-Fin and Ristorante Panorama.

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