Tag Archives: burgers

The Upper West Side: OK, It’s Not All Bad

big nick inside

Even though I’m thinking of moving all my restaurant reviews to Yelp, I figure I at least owe you this post. And by “you” I mean both my readers (are you still here?) and my neighborhood.

Ready? Let’s do this.

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My Lunch: Smiths Restaurant|Lounge

No, that’s not my lunch up there, but it’s the only photo I could find for Smiths Restaurant|Lounge, the new(ish) resident of 19th Street’s tumultuous restaurant/bar collective.

I think there used to be a pizza place in the Smiths spot, but it’s gone now. As is Bootsie’s, another bar across the street. Only Matyson, buoyed by great reviews and a fanatic customer base, seems to thrive in this dead zone between Market and Walnut Streets.

Can Smiths make the case to stay here for a year or (gasp) more?

As its name suggests, the answer is a concrete maybe. Smiths is a good place – not terrible, not great… just average. The space itself is very open, despite having two bars and (at least at lunch) a burgeoning clientèle. I was also impressed by its cleanliness, both in terms of design and the lack of clutter. With its unassumingly simple decor, one could make the case for Smiths being the anti-Continental.

The menu consists of a somewhat elevated take on bar food, as illustrated by the above picture of crabcake sliders. The cooks get all of the staples right – the angus beef burgers were big and juicy, the sandwiches highlighted some novel flavor combinations, and the thin-style fries were a perfect match of crunchy and chewy. The appetizers we ordered – quesadillas and crispy crab wanton rolls – were only decent, though the flat bread pizzas and crocks looked quite adventurously prepared.

There were some distractions, however. The flat panel TVs that adorn every wall (seemingly in lieu of any real decorations) struck me as overkill. I understand how these kind of places want to attract both the foodie crowd and the beer crowd, but the pairing just didn’t seem organic here, especially for a location known more for its proximity to downtown businesses than its sports bar crowd.

Also, and I feel this is a bit of an anomaly, we were seated close to the kitchen, meaning a lot of server foot traffic. The thumps of a flat-footed waitress with thick heels combined with a weak floor made it seem like Andre the Giant was crossing behind my chair every five minutes. I swear I could feel my chair shake a little bit each time she passed.

Aside from such issues, I would definitely visit Smiths again. It has all your bar basics and better-than-average food, though it still has a lot of work to do before it’s considered a “destination” for out-of-towners.

Enjoy it if you get there, don’t worry if you don’t.

My Top Ten in Philadelphia (original)

DISCLAIMER: The below list is NOT current. For the final Philly 15, click here.

Before we proceed, a little warning: this list is shamefully biased toward the Rittenhouse Square area of the city (where I live), as well as restaurants that I’ve visited multiple times. It is neither fair, nor objective.

1. Melograno (BYOB)

I’ve never had a bad meal at Melograno, the best of both the oodles of BYOBs and plethora of Italian restaurants I’ve been to in Philly. The space is small and it can be hell trying to get a seat (especially on a weekend), but you’re in for a treat when the food finally arrives. The open kitchen is foodie heaven, and the food is top-notch. Never overlook the specials.

2. Tinto

You can read more about this excellent tapas joint elsewhere on the site, but suffice to say, you can’t go wrong. Bold flavors, inventive dishes and a great wine list make this new Jose Garces restaurant a place to beat in 2008.

3. Matyson (BYOB)

It is virtually unnoticeable on the ugly block where it resides, but if you find it, thank your lucky stars. The nouveau-American cuisine is beyond tasty and, like Melograno, you can’t go wrong with the specials. It may be a little more expensive than it should be, but you can’t complain about the ROI (return on investment).

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