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  1. Tonight was exactly two weeks to the day (according to the delightful hostess who seated us) since Bibiana's opening. If this is a restaurant that's still ironing out early kinks though, it really doesn't show it. Service was clicking, the food was--with two minor quibbles--excellent, and in general Bibiana feels like a place that's aiming high. Service deserves a call out...the meal was well paced, and there was always someone around when we needed something. At one point we stopped another waiter on his way back to the kitchen, who graciously and knowledgeably walked us through the wine list. Two different managers came over to ask about our meal. Overall I really got a sense of genuine, shared enthusiasm for the new venture. Highlights of our dinner included a wonderful little plate of saffron arancini, a creamy, earthy risotto encased in a perfect little crunchy shell. Great stuff. A squid ink spaghetti with blue crab was wonderful, each component intensely flavorful on its own but even better in combination. My entree of whole grilled branzino, filleted tableside and served with a lemon and dill sauce spooned on top, was fresh and well cooked and would really have been a winner if it had been served skin side up to preserve the skin's crispiness. That was minor quibble #1. When I mentioned this to one of the managers who had come over to ask how things were, they apologized and brought over a glass of wine on the house. Completely unnecessary, and I really don't think I gave the impression I was unhappy, but a nice touch. Earlier in the meal I was a bit unnerved by how quickly the grilled sardines came out of the kitchen...sure enough they were warm, but hardly seemed like they'd been grilled - no char, no crispy skin. Not sure what went on there...too bad, too, since they were really very tasty little fish. That was minor quibble #2. Desserts were delicious. Overall we were really pleased with our first meal here, and I wouldn't be surprised at all, just given the energy and enthusiasm of the place, if it gets even better over time.
  2. Pennsylvania 6, a moderately upscale Modern American restaurant with locations in Philadelphia and New York City, will be opening SepNov, 2015 at Franklin Square. Among other things, diners should anticipate a strong wine program, as Mark Slater will be the opening sommelier.
  3. First I should mention that on my first visit to a restaurant, I tend to go along with whatever they suggest, rather than requesting something else (another table, etc.), and evaluate the place based on the default experience they deliver. If it's bad enough I will tell them, and walk out and eat somewhere else. Tuscano West is one of those downtown restaurants (usually Italian) that I've walked by hundreds of times, but never really thought to try. You know -- once you've endured the disappointment of ballyhooed places like I Ricci, why bother? Wait until you get to New York, Boston's North End, Philly, or San Francisco. But a Groupon tempted me, so... I arrived at 6:00 on the Wednesday night following hurricane Sandy, well before my wife, who was coming from work, for our early (6:30) reservation. I checked in at the stand, and headed to the bar for a Scotch. The bar does not have a price list of its single malt Scotches. This is significant, since prices for the the same whisky vary wildly from place to place. (With over 100 single malts at home, why should I overpay for mediocrity at a bar?) My wife arrived at 6:25. We returned to the stand, which was staffed now by someone else, who had no idea who I was. We were not offered a choice of the nearly empty dining rooms, but were ushered immediately to the isolated front room, rather than the much more interesting rear room with views of the kitchen. And to the only microscopically tiny two-top in that front room. I observed that we wouldn't be able to order much with such a tiny table, but the woman either didn't get the jab, or chose to ignore it. In addition to being very, very small, the table was oriented along the long axis of the room, (the opposite of all the other tables), thus insuring that one person (me) would be able to observe absolutely nothing but the blank wall behind a wood service counter -- not the dining room, not the outdoors through the window -- for the duration of the meal. Already, Tuscana West had made a bad impression that it could not overcome. Normally, at this point, I would have gone elsewhere, but this was a Groupon night to try a new place... The wine list is not kept up to date; they were out of the wine we ordered. The waiter recommended a Chianti, Ruffino Ducale Riserva 2007, which he said was priced slightly higher, but would be provided at the same price as the wine they were out of. It tasted a bit astringent, of which I advised the waiter (there was no mention of decanting and no decanters in evidence), but opened up nicely by the end of our second course. A small plate of olive oil accompanied two breads: the usual completely ignorable, cottony, Italian Wonder Bread equivalent, and a Focaccia that my wife enjoyed. A shared appetizer salumi plate included one slice of a nice salami, three slices of a dull mild sopressata, one coarsely-cut slice of undistinguished prosciutto, three slivers of an unidentified hard cheese, and some excellent marinated peppers. It was good, but not excellent, and was more than we needed for a shared appetizer. Secondly, we shared a special hot appetizer of Italian sausage with sauteed onions in a sort of Italian barbecue sauce with stick cinnamon. The sauce was wonderful, but the sausage itself was quite bland and ignorable. My wife had a nightly special of duck breast in pomegranate sauce, with risotto. The duck was fine (though not nearly as good as the D'Artagnan breasts we cook at home), cooked medium rare as requested, but the risotto -- the same risotto with gorgonzola that was available on the menu as a stand-alone dish -- was a disappointment, somewhat dry and not at all toothy. I had a nightly special of pork loin with vegetables. The three generous slices of pork were overcooked, in a nice sauce of lemon and sage; potatoes were perfect, but the rest of the vegetables (carrots and beans) were barely warmed through,and not to my liking. We asked about desserts, and our waiter rattled off a list. I opted for cheesecake -- plain, so it could be the star that cheesecake deserves to be. A minute later, he returned, saying that he was told they were out of the cheesecake, so I ordered my second choice raspberry and blackberry tart. In a minute our waiter again returned, saying that they had only one slice, which I took to mean the tart -- until, ten seconds later, a server placed a slice of cheesecake before me. The cheesecake was a nice light ricotta variety, with a graham cracker crust flavored with cinnamon. We ordered double espressos, decaf -- but they don't offer decaf, so we settled for regular (I'm very caffeine sensitive, so I paid for this in lost sleep later.) What urban restaurant doesn't offer decaf espresso these days? How hard -- and expensive -- is it to keep a pound of ground decaf or decaf beans around? The double espressos, when they came, were of decent flavor, but weak -- more like an Americano -- and served in larger cups. At this point, we decided to have our after-dinner drinks at home, and paid the check. When we left at 8:50, the maitre d' stand was unmanned, so there was no farewell or opportunity to offer comments. To summarize: the table was horrendous, the food was interesting but also had significant flaws, the service was very good but hampered by the table location. For $200 on a Wednesday night, you can do much better.
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