Philly's Japanese game has been stepping up of late, and today marks the debut of a sophisticated restaurant in Fishtown, run by former chef at Morimoto, that serves only a $135-a-head tasting menu known as omakase.
Also this week, my stops include Central Bucks for homespun Italian in a low-key setting, Center City for a new bar-restaurant that has quickly become an Instagram darling, and Conshohocken for happy hour.
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Hiroki: Morimoto’s ex-chef goes solo
Omakase, which literally translates from the Japanese into “entrust” (as in, put yourself in the chef’s hands), has been popping up all over. The granddaddy of them all in Philly is the experience at Morimoto, the Iron Chef’s restaurant on Chestnut Street in Washington Square West.
For 10 years, Hiroki Fujiyama, 48, wielded the knives at Morimoto's counter. And when Method Hospitality execs decided to open an omakase restaurant behind their wildly successful Wm. Mulherin's Sons in Fishtown, they put in a call. Turns out, the Kyoto-raised chef, who came to the United States two decades ago to work in D.C., was up for a new challenge.
Just like his sensei, he now has his name on a restaurant.
Hiroki, whose entrance is through a Brutalist facade at Lee and Master Streets (the other end of the alley from the new Pizzeria Beddia), is a sleek, minimalist spot with only 26 seats: 12 at sushi counter and 14 at tables. Two seatings a night, Tuesday to Sunday. Allow about an hour and 45 minutes.
This is not a parade of nigiri. For your $135, you start with zensai (seasonal small bites), sashimi, cooked fish and cooked meat, and then move on to 12 nigiri, a handroll, tamago (an omelet), miso soup, and dessert (right now, a strawberry roll cake). The experience is $195 with optional sake pairings, though you can order sake and wines, plus Japanese gin, whiskey and shoju.
Reservations are through Resy.
This Week’s Openings
Albertino's Ristorante | Berlin
Albertino Gallelli and family, who had Albertino's restaurants on East Passyunk and in Willow Grove, have set up a rustic Italian BYOB in Twin Roads Plaza (17 Clementon-Berlin Rd.).
Bualoy Cuisine | Devon
Laotian/Thai BYOB at 300 W. Lancaster Ave. in Devon Plaza offers a showcase for a Laotian-born home cook.
Chey's Kitchen | Rittenhouse
Cheesesteaks and smoothies are on the menu at this subterranean shop at 132 S. 17th St., which was Underdogs and more recently Shoo Fry.
Ciao | West Chester area
Chef Sandro Frusone (of Gnocchi off South Street) hits Westtown Township with homespun Italian cooking at his strip-mall BYOB at 3438 E. Street Rd.
Felly Bistro on Pass | Queen Village
"Felly" is Felipe Marquez Jr. and his wife, Kelly, whose BYOB at East Passyunk Avenue and Catharine Street, the former Village Taverna (769 E. Passyunk Ave.), serves an American menu inflected with Caribbean and Latin American dishes.
Splash Club | Broomall
"The Hyatt meets the Hard Rock" at this swim club with cabanas, a fire pit, and a restaurant-lounge with music and TVs; opens this weekend.
Sushi Hatsu | Ambler
Modern Japanese BYOB at 51 E. Butler Ave.
This Week’s Closings
Chaat & Chai | Historic District
Anney Thomas says things didn't work out for her Indian stand in the Bourse food hall on Independence Mall East; last day will be May 31.
Market on Ninth | South Philadelphia
BYOB/market yearling at 943 S. Ninth St. just never caught on, joining the short-lived 943 and Neuf.
Station House | Haddon Heights
A landlord-tenant dispute reportedly is behind the shutdown.
The Wild Burrito | South Philadelphia
May 23 will be the last day after 3½ years for the Pennsport location, at 2015 E. Moyamensing Ave. Owner Joe Carpenter, blaming the high fees charged by third-party delivery services for eating into his profit, will start his eighth season at the Jersey Shore with the original Wild Burrito in Wildwood (4020 Ocean Ave.).
And a heads-up that Will BYOB’s last night on East Passyunk will be June 2 as chef-owner Christopher Kearse preps for the opening of Forsythia in Old City. Also: The Amis Trattoria location on 13th Street in Center City bows out Aug. 30.
Where we’re enjoying happy hour
Jasper’s Backyard, 101 E. Seventh Ave., Conshohocken; 5-7 p.m. daily
This sprawling bar-restaurant, which took over the Casmar Cafe several years ago, delivers a something-for-everyone experience. There's a cozy side, complete with fireplace and full-length windows that's just right on cold days, plus a true "backyard" with a patio and a bar in a separate building for spring and summer. And a plus, since it's tucked into a residential neighborhood, is comp valet parking.
Jasper's is at the corner of Seventh and Harry, so it dubs its happy hour "7th & Happy Hour," with $7 food specials including garlic chili wings, pulled pork fries, hummus and corn chips, and nachos. Also for $7, the bar pours two beers, an Absolut martini, and an "overpoured wine" ("poured with a heavy hand," the menu says). Well drinks are $2 off, and bottles and cans of beer are $1 off.
Note: It’s spinning off two more places: Jasper’s Westside Tavern is up for summer at 101 Ford St. in West Conshy, while farther out will be a spot called The Fort, a bar-restaurant that will be built adjacent to the Holiday Inn on Pennsylvania Avenue in Fort Washington.
Where we’re eating
Blume, 1500 Locust St.
Restaurateur Teddy Sourias and his crew are masters of beer and brown spirits at such bro-friendly spots as Bru, Tradesman’s, and U-Bahn. They have the beer garden thing down at Uptown and get into the yuletide spirit at their seasonal Tinsel. Now for a spot that has quickly become a magnet for millennial and Gen Z women, who pose for pics against the butterfly painted on the outside window. (OK. I did it, too, one night for laughs. Felt cute, might delete later.)
It's Blume, a top-to-bottom redo of the cider-heavy Cinder Copper & Lace. Let's start with Blume's most popular cocktail. You get a glass with club soda and pineapple juice, topped by a wad of cotton candy. You also get a small beaker of vodka to pour over the cotton candy. As the vodka melts the cotton candy, you can sense the cellphone cameras snapping away. Take a sip of the drink. Sweet? Don't worry. Your teeth will stop chattering in a little while.
This $14 confection is just one of the fun-loving, Instagrammable touches in this energetic setting. but for all the colored cocktails (there’s a purple one, too) and design gimmickry (the name “Blume” spelled out in lights on the ceiling, neon signs, bold wallpaper), do stick around for chef Aila DeVowe’s food, including a cauliflower “steak” with tabbouleh ($14 and one of many vegan options); a creamy avocado sundae with crème fraîche, tomato and Parmesan ($6); assorted flatbreads ($12-$15); and a surprisingly substantial spin on chicken satay accompanied by farro in peanut sauce ($15).
Florentino’s Italian Cuisine, 18 S. State St., Newtown
If you look up "sleeper" in the dictionary — well, maybe not a dictionary, per se, but indulge me for a moment — you might find Francisco Argueta's low-key Italian BYOB in downtown Newtown. White tablecloths, Muzak soundtrack, quaint feel — backed by solid cooking and caring service.
Looking for cutting edge? Just twirl the fettuccine around Argueta’s rich, creamy Bolognese sauce, take a bite, and forget the fads. Start with the whole wheat garlic bread ($3.25) or a refreshing fennel and mushroom salad ($11.50) that mixes the earthiness of the mushrooms, the snap of fennel, and the peppery bite of arugula.
Most entrées are in the $20s. Puzzling to me, however, is why eggplant Parm and the signature lasagna are both $25 while most of the sautéed chicken dishes are $22 and the veal dishes $26, but I'm no accountant.
Tip: The state store two blocks away is a so-called Premium Collection outlet with a great selection.
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Craig LaBan’s Q&A does not appear this week.