Postcard From Tom: Philadelphia

Sunday, May 1, 2005

The most diverting spot for a cocktail in Philadelphia is Rouge (205 S. 18th St., 215-732-6622), an intimate bistro that overlooks Rittenhouse Square and offers top-shelf people-watching. Before or after your drink of choice there, try dinner at one of these popular restaurants:

BUDDAKAN (325 Chestnut St., 215-574-9440)

Even before you see any food, this pan-Asian restaurant gives you plenty to feast on: a wall of water, a dimly lit "moon" over the kitchen and a giant golden Buddha seated front and center. The menu is almost as fetching as the scenery. Zero in on ginger-sparked chicken dumplings, lobster tempura with asparagus, and grilled aged beef served with mustard-drizzled "Szechuan fries." And save space for "dip sum" doughnuts, served in a Chinese carry-out box with a trio of sauces. Entrees $18-$45.

DJANGO (526 S. Fourth St., 215-922-7151)

One of the most sought-after reservations in town, Django proves surprisingly low key. What look like embroidered dish cloths cover the tables; the chairs and plates are mismatched. Yet the cooking is serious. A spread of fava beans and slivers of pheasant confit grace a crisp disk of toasted bread. Guinea hen is prettily framed with squares of guinea hen sausage and a savory rhubarb cobbler dotted with foie gras mousse. Wild halibut comes with delectable hush puppies -- and okra that will convert okra haters. Entrees $24-$26.

MARIGOLD KITCHEN (501 S. 45th St., 215-222-3699)

Working in a former Victorian town house, chef Steven Cook has more tricks up his sleeve than most magicians. He fashions "risotto" from clam chowder, dusts a chocolate tart with smoked paprika and turns breakfast into dinner with an appetizer that features a fried egg, cheesy bread and bacon-flavored potato foam. What could easily be a freak show turns out to be some of the most appealing food in the city. Destined for my food hall of fame: braised pork belly atop garlic-laced shrimp grits. Entrees $18-$26.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company