Do you occasionally (perhaps always) struggle making that absolutely perfect menu choice when out to dinner? It happens to most everyone at one time or another, and hey, we’re talking about hard-earned money here!
Well, not to worry, because you can hardly ever go wrong letting the chef be your tour guide. And that’s why I hardly ever pass up a tasting menu when available. You mean, the executive chef wants to whip me up what he feels are his best dishes and I just sit here and stuff my face? And I’m supposed to argue with that? Yeah, no thanks.
Tasting menus are a great way to sample different dishes rather than be tied down to just one. You’ll try new things you otherwise wouldn’t, and you’ll have a lot more fun with a large group. So if you (or your date) are the indecisive type, consider these seven spots for your next dinner reservation:
Looking for a lively meal out with a party of eight or more friends? Han Dynasty’s tasting menu is truly an experience to behold, with spacious locations at Old City and University City. The menu starts at $20 per person and is totally customizable; you can even alter the spice levels. The $25 option with a 1-5 spice range was met with unanimous approval on a recent visit to U.City, and the servers were especially helpful with the selections.
Fairmount’s go-to Mexican spot operated by Tim Spinner, the $29 chef’s tasting menu is an economical way for you and a date to enjoy three select courses of the kitchen’s top offerings. The key is to get to the bar during happy hour (4-6 M-F & 11-12 F-S) and share the nachos de la casa ($5) with short rib (+$2) as a starter, then split the tasting menu. Each dish is plated exceptionally and presented in detail by the wait staff. If the stars are aligned that evening, it’s not unheard of to end up with an extra course as a treat (just don’t hold me/them to it).
Chef Lee Styer and the gang are back with not only a brand new summer menu but also a special 6th birthday tasting menu that runs Wednesday through Saturday this week only. The tasting menu is $60 for six courses (plus a complimentary glass of champagne), showcasing some of this East Passyunk hot spot’s most popular dishes throughout the years. Then, on Sunday, pop in for another round of Fond’s “Cocktail and Wine Tasting,” which happens one Sunday a month from 2-4 p.m. for $50. Wine director David Snyder and beverage manager Kristian Fidrych pour various wines and craft cocktails with front of the house manager Tory Keomanivong doing his thing to ensure top-notch service. Be sure to follow @fondphilly for daily dinner updates and special events.
Dinners run $155 a head at tasting menu-only Vetri Ristorante, but if you follow @marcvetri on Instagram be on the lookout for his spontaneous $75 collaborative pop-up dinners, “Enoteca at Vetri.” His most recent one, about a month ago, sold out 36 seats within an hour of a spur-of-the-moment posting, inspired over a cup of coffee that morning with chef pal Georges Perrier (Le Bec-Fin). So in other words, don’t dawdle. The upstairs at Vetri, an intimate space with a demo kitchen where the Enoteca dinners take place, was recently voted Best Dining Experience by the folks at Philadelphia Magazine.
Fresh and local have been key staples of this tiny (cash only) New American BYOB at 17th and South Street for the past 11 years. Chef Ian Moroney’s five-course prix fixe Sunday menu continues to draw in diners, and at $40 per person, it’s one of the better deals out there. Take a peek at the tasting menu here. The regular menu changes daily based on what’s fresh and seasonal from local purveyors.
The hummus alone is worth the trip to this modern Israeli restaurant located at the Society Hill Towers overlooking Dock Street. On second thought, that’s precisely why Chef Michael Solomonov opened Dizengoff. At Zahav, small plates are featured and a great way to experience the range of James Beard Award winner Solomonov (Abe Fisher, Percy Street Barbecue, Federal Donuts) is to try the “Tayim” (taste of Zahav). For $45 per person, you get salatim and hummus with laffa, and your choice of two mezze (small plates), one large plate al ha’esh (grilled over coals) and dessert.
The renowned monthly tasting menu is on a little summer hiatus, but come October it returns in a big way with some mouth-watering highlights. A word to the wise, you’ll want to call now to reserve your seat. On the third Tuesday of each month, decorated chef Christopher Kearse opens up the doors (normally closed Mondays and Tuesdays) for an intimate $55 five-course tasting menu focused on a single, local ingredient. In October, that ingredient will be pumpkin, and then it’s pork in November, followed by lobster in December. Check out last month’s tomato-centric dinner menu.