CITY TAVERN: A favorite destination for tourists, the City Tavern boasts one of the prettiest back yards in town. In addition to lush Willow Oak trees, there are beautiful Honey Locust trees, azalea bushes that sprout patriotic, ruby-red flowers in spring, and a bounty of hydrangeas and other seasonal flowers. The quaint, shady garden area is great for families; parents have been spied sipping cocktails and nibbling on appetizers while the little ones play in the grass. There is a tented area and veranda seating, plus benches scattered throughout the garden area—perfect for having a drink in an intimate outdoor setting.
COPPER BISTRO: Despite having one of the teensiest kitchens in town, Copper Bistro chef/owner Dan Connelly apparently didn’t have enough tables to keep him occupied. So he expanded to a tiny courtyard with a homey, urban-decay-meets-cottage-garden charm in a corner outside the restaurant’s rear dining area. The crisp, white linens, modern restaurant plates and glossy, black wooden chairs are right at home with the beat-up brick and concrete walls strung with hanging lanterns—as is a pair of worn wood saloon doors.
The Copper Bistro menu changes whenever something comes into season—or, as Connelly puts it, “conversely out of season.” But you can count on rotating game dishes (ostrich with blueberry gnocchi—yum!), along with an eclectic, but not way-out, mix of American bistro offerings. The seafood-packed bouillabaisse is standard fare, too.
This summer, Connelly offers a biweekly clambake. You’ll have to add a few crunches to your workout and restock your wine and craft beer supply just to keep up with the crabs, mussels, shrimp and lobster (plus steak and chicken à la carte), along with salad and vegetables—all served family style.
COQUETTE: Coquette offers “island” dining in the middle of Fifth Street (one table). Kind of quirky, plus they have a late-night menu.
CREPERIE BEAU MONDE: Situated not far from Philly’s famous Italian Market and Antiques Row, Creperie Beau Monde features a really cute iron railing with twinkle lights and green market umbrellas on both sides of the restaurant’s corner. Prices are reasonable, and there are plenty of choices for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike.
ERNESTO’S: Just a stone’s throw from the Kimmel Center, Ernesto’s (pictured below) is a superb pre-theater destination. Contemporary twists on traditional Italian are on the menu at this sort-of BYO. There’s a basic bar with a limited wine list, and you can bring your own for a $5 corkage fee.
Chef Cirilo Pantoja serves his popular calamari fritti appetizer with pomegranate molasses and mango chutney, instead of the expected side of marinara, and the Milanese-style osso bucco is a consistent standout—a so-tender-it-fell-off-the-bone-hours-ago, two-inch-thick veal shank served with saffron risotto. Non-meat-eaters can indulge in the vegetable Napoleon’s luscious and savory layers, made with eggplant, spinach, tomatoes, roasted red peppers, zucchini and polenta.
While you might not feel compelled to dine al fresco in your theater attire on a hot summer evening, Ernesto’s does have one of the most serene courtyards for miles. Alas, the wisteria is long gone, but the quietude and barely there décor will calm your soul and steady your spirit.
POSITANO COAST: It’s hard to say which is more enticing: Positano Coast’s Sopra Lounge (pictured below), with its brilliant azure blues, breezy whites and airy fabrics, or the sophisticated outdoor dining balcony. But rest assured the lounge’s cushy upholstered banquettes will be waiting until 2 a.m.—as will the signature Positano Lemon Drop.
In the meantime, the balcony soothes with its white, navy and turquoise hues, flowing white drapes, and modern, white tables and chairs. The contrast between all that white and the brighter colors conjures an energy that no doubt spills over into the wilder Sopra—open to the outside via full-length windows.
Notable eats include the tuna finger appetizer (herb-crusted sushi-grade tuna napped in a ginger-and-cilantro dressing), branzino acqua pazza, braised short ribs, grilled rack of wild boar and polenta with juniper berry and black currant jus, and the peas and pancetta side dish. A well-timed jaunt to the restroom might just reward you with a sighting of Georges Perrier on his night off, seated at the square mahogany bar in front of an order of short ribs. And you definitely want to check out the backlit photos of Italy’s Positano Coast.
ROUGE: Rouge’s minimalist sidewalk seating (pictured below) is perfecto. But the most romantic seat is inside, to the left when facing the bar, where you can people-watch through the glass windows that open onto the sidewalk.
When Rittenhouse Square is in full swing, there’s plenty to catch your eye, but the truffle pomme frites—laced with a generous dose of earthy truffle oil and a splash of Parmesan cheese—are also intriguing. Superb small-plate choices include tomato gazpacho with baby cilantro salad, cornmeal-crusted oysters, tuna tartare, and a mixed baby greens salad with eggplant caponata, crispy red onions and Cabrales blue cheese. And the very rare and supple pan-seared yellowfin tuna big-plate is delish.
The legendary Rouge burger, with Gruyère cheese and caramelized onions, has been known to make grown men cry (for its $16 price tag as much as its taste). And Friends of Rittenhouse 2008 specials like scallop ceviche with blood oranges and mint shouldn’t be too hard to swallow in the name of preservation.
SOUTHWARK: This eclectic, quietly sophisticated bistro is known as much for its mind-numbing Manhattans and deep selection of bourbon, rye and vermouth as its cozy, dolled-up comfort cuisine. The brawny bar sees a lot of action, but the elfin courtyard—adorned with trellises and planters set between simple, pretty wrought iron tables and a pergola dripping with seasonal flowers—shows off Southwark’s quixotic side. A bank of windows along the exterior allows for two-way viewing from inside and out (a great way to spy on other people’s food when you’re feeling indecisive).
Southwark’s seasonal menu changes frequently, and all ingredients hail from within 150 miles of Philadelphia. But even during mid-summer, earthier combinations seem just right—like the grilled quail appetizer with creamy blue-cheese polenta and a baby arugula and hazelnut salad, or pan-seared black cod fillet with beluga lentils, ruby red grapefruit, roasted baby beets and garlic mayonnaise.
ZOCALO: Stepped-up fare and a cosmetic overhaul have put this oldie-but-goodie back in the limelight, giving the new owners a good excuse to expand the patio. It’s less dramatic, yes. But when you’re knee-deep in a pitcher of margaritas or sangria, and basking in the warm evening air and candlelight, you’ll hardly notice.
Premium tequila comes with a tasty V8-ish side of sangrita, a traditional chaser spiked with hot chilies and lime juice, and the salty-sweet margaritas burst with strawberry, raspberry, peach, tamarind and ginger flavors. Longtime Zocalo fans can rest assured that favorites like sik-il-pak (coarsely ground pumpkin seeds, cilantro, garlic, lime and jalapenos), champiñones al guajillo (mushrooms sautéed with garlic, white wine, butter and chile guajillo), and cochinita pibil (zesty shredded pork simmered in an achiote, orange and vinegar reduction, and topped with lime-oregano-marinated onions) are alive and kicking.
City Tavern, 138 S. Second St., Philadelphia; (215) 413-1443, citytavern.com
Copper Bistro, 614 N. 2nd St., Philadelphia; (215) 627-9844, copperbistro.net
Coquette, 700 S. Fifth St., Philadelphia; (215) 238-9000, coquettebistro.com
Creperie Beau Monde, 624 S. Sixth St., Philadelphia; (215) 592-0656, creperie-beaumonde.com
Ernesto’s, 1521 Spruce St., Suite 101, Philadelphia; (215) 546-1521, ernestos1521.com
Positano Coast, 212 Walnut St., Philadelphia; (215) 238-0499, lambertis.com
Rouge, 205 S. 18th St., Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia, (215) 732-6622
Southwark, 701 S. 4th St., Philadelphia; (215) 238-1888, southwarkrestaurant.com
Zocalo, 3600 Lancaster Ave., Philadelphia; (215) 895-0139, zocalophilly.com