Postcard From Tom: Philadelphia

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema's monthly report from the road.

Beginning this month, health-conscious diners in Philadelphia will find more to appreciate than good food as the City of Brotherly Love goes smoke-free in all of its restaurants.

AMADA (217 Chestnut St., 215-625-2450)

A wall of sangria barrels and Serrano hams dangling from the ceiling give the bar the feel of a real Spanish bodega, while broad wood tables, gauzy curtains and a view of an open kitchen distinguish the handsome dining room in Philadelphia's Old City neighborhood. A diner can blissfully graze the day or night away on such snack-size dishes as grilled baby squid, skewered beef and a lusty stew of white beans and zesty chorizo. Tapas $5-$14.

MATYSON (37 S. 19th St., 215-564-2925)

One of many local restaurants that allow diners to bring their own wine, this modest, husband-and-wife-owned storefront in Rittenhouse Square does simple well. Crab-stuffed crepes rest on a bed of creamed leeks, fried oysters sit on a hash of Brussels sprouts, tender lamb shanks are partnered with a soothing vegetable gratin, and halibut takes on an Asian accent with soba noodles and miso glaze. Desserts sound homey but reveal finesse; one of the best is coconut cream pie, topped with freshly whipped Lancaster cream and supported by a crust of chocolate and macadamias. Entrees $17-$28.

VETRI (1312 Spruce St., 215-732-3478)

The reward for (hopefully, finally) snagging one of fewer than 40 seats in this intimate townhouse space, named for chef-owner Marc Vetri, is some of the finest Italian cooking in the country. My dream dinner in late fall commenced with hot fritters that broke open to reveal mortadella mousse; a silken cauliflower flan that hid a center of truffle and egg yolk; and chestnut fettuccine strewn with a ragu of wild boar. The lusty feast continued with baby goat that the chef roasts on a spit outside, giving the meat a crisp mahogany skin; and a warm souffle whipped up from polenta and chocolate. Entrees $19-$45.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company