In your own backyard: The best of Philadelphia

For the last few years I have been calling myself a South PhilaJersian. I consider myself lucky because right in my New Jersey backyard is Philadelphia, and in the City of Brotherly Love are a ton of fantastic restaurants. In fact, the biggest problem I end up having is choosing where to eat. In this addition of our “In Your Own Backyard” series, we’ll look at two of the most popular, upscale eateries in the city.

Le Bec-Fin: its name alone exudes class and sophistication. Opening in 1970 on Spruce Street and seating only 35 tables of guests, Chef Georges Perrier’s French cuisine quickly acquired local critical acclaim and had to move to its current, larger location on Walnut Street. Adding Crystal chandeliers and a wine list of over 400 wines, elegance is an understatement. The prices reflect the ambiance.

The dinner menu consists of three course options. The first is the nine (yes, I said nine), course Grand Degustation. At $185, a little over $20 per course, this option consists of a demi tasting of courses that you choose. The middle priced option, $120, is a six course meal featuring an appetizer, a fish, a palate cleansing, a meat, a sorbet, a pre-dessert and a dessert. And coming in at the least expensive option, $80.00, is a four course meal that consists of an appetizer, a fish, a meat, and a dessert.

There are many options in each course to choose from. If I were going to recommend an option, it would be the seared sea scallops in a light cream curry sauce. The scallops are browned, forming a caramelized crust and the insides are tender. Along with the scallops is a zucchini blossom stuffed with sweet potato, rice, and chicken mousse- totally tasty.

One of the things I hold in highest esteem is service. I can tell you, this was some of the best service I have ever encountered. Not only did our server have a vast knowledge of the foods and wines available, he was patient and guided us when we were stuck when making choices. He was charming and classy, everything you’d expect of a server at Le Bec-Fin. Plan to sit for a couple of hours at least and make a reservation. Gentlemen, this is the kind of place you take the girl of your dreams to ask her to marry you. It is usually a once in a lifetime and amazing evening.

If you are in the mood for a steak, I would recommend The Saloon Steakhouse on South 7th Street. A blend of Italian American cuisine, it never ever disappoints. The Saloon opened its doors in 1967 and has been serving some of the best food in Philadelphia ever since. Its ambiance is artsy and sophisticated without being tacky. Uniquely, this restaurant is not open on Sundays for dinner, so if you want to catch one of their mouth-watering meals, head over Monday through Saturday starting at 5:30 PM. You can, and should, call for a reservation from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM daily.

Soups and appetizers run between $8.00 and $16.00. You can get a traditional Caesar Salad or go with something a little heavier like their Clams Casino, which I recommend hands down. Fresh clams, topped with peppers, celery, parmesan cheese and bacon cooked to perfection. Then, it’s time to make the hardest choice on the menu: the main course. Ranging from Lobster Francaise, $40, a South African lobster tail, shelled and sautéed in an egg batter white wine, lemon and butter, and topped with jumbo lump crab meat, to Chicken Melanzana, $22, boneless chicken breast, layered with eggplant and smoked mozzarella in a white-wine demi-glace.

However, I would recommend the New York Strip Steak, $34; a 14.4-oz. sirloin in a porcini mushroom sauce served with mashed potatoes. I have never had a more tender, juicy, melt in-your-mouth steak. It almost leaves no room for dessert.

I said almost. Their dessert cart is full of homemade delicacies. It’s almost impossible to choose just one. At about $100.00 per person, this is a place that you could visit a couple times per year. It leaves us foodies longing for our next visit before we even leave the building.

So, as South PhilaJersians, we may not be able to see Russia from our backyards, but we sure do have one of the finest cities in the country for eating less than 15 minutes away. Stayed tuned for next week’s “In Your Own Backyard.” You never know where I will wind up next. Happy eating!

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