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It’s peak pop-up dining season in Philly. Here are two highlights.

Philly's restaurant scene goes all-out in December. Here's a handful of special events to consider.

Sate Kampar chef Ange Branca will be serving a seven-course dinner centered on Wagyu beef over 12 nights at Cake & Joe in South Philly.
Sate Kampar chef Ange Branca will be serving a seven-course dinner centered on Wagyu beef over 12 nights at Cake & Joe in South Philly.Read moreHieu Pham

December is the busiest month, passing by in a whirlwind of errands, get-togethers, and — ideally — cookies. That’s all the more true for Philly’s restaurant scene, which observes the season with a festive decorations, holiday spreads, New Year’s Eve dinners, and other special events. It would be futile to try to round up everything, so we bring you just two highlights (and a shortlist).

Musi on the Ave

This week, the back-of-house team from Musi BYOB, which closed in October, reunited in the kitchen at ITV on East Passyunk Avenue. They’ll be there through the end of the month, serving up a smart, snack-y selection of dishes that channel both bar-food vibes as well as Musi’s “relationship cuisine” mentality. What does that mean? Think crispy potatoes and citrus aioli, baked gnocchi with mushrooms and feta, and cheesesteak sliders.

That may sound straightforward but, in typical Musi fashion, dive into the details and you’ll discover there’s much more going on. The potatoes are the Upstate Abundance variety from Row 7 — the flavor-focused seed company that gave us the honeynut squash — and the aioli incorporates citrus peels, cantaloupe-rind kimchi, and strawberry gochujang. The gnocchi uses those same potatoes as well as cheese from Perrystead Dairy; it’s baked with Mycopolitan mushrooms and Birchrun Hills’ farmhouse feta. And the sliders are mini-Frizwits, chef Ari Miller’s signature sandwich, which upgrades the classic cheesesteak with all-Pennsylvania ingredients: Primal Supply steak, Abundantly Good cheddar, bread from Ba Le bakery. (There are vegetarian and vegan versions of the Frizwit, too.)

Chef Nick Elmi, who owns ITV and its upscale sibling, Laurel, reached out to Miller the same day he announced Musi was closing to gauge his interest in a collaboration. Miller and his crew — chef de cuisine Emily Horner, recently promoted from sous chef, and Ariel Tobing, promoted from cook to sous chef — welcomed the opportunity. It afforded them the chance to execute ideas they had sketched out before they knew Musi would be closing.

“One of the biggest and most difficult parts [of closing] for us all as a team was, we had conversation, we had hope and desire. There were plans,” Miller said. “When you put something out to ferment in May or June, it’s done with the idea that there’s going to be cause to use it in December.”

Other menu items include pork kebabs and hummus, red eye chili (made with coffee from Caphe Roasters), Horner’s Breadily Available focaccia with whipped butter, and cardamom-steeped milk malabi. It’s all designed to complement ITV’s seasonal cocktails.

Through December at ITV, 1615 E. Passyunk Ave.,

Sate Kampar’s Wagyu dinner

Further east in Pennsport, chef Ange Branca is taking over the kitchen at Cake & Joe for 12 nights to serve up a beefy spin on the Feast of the Seven Fishes. It’s admittedly pricey — $200 per person — but for a reason: Each course (even dessert) features Japanese Wagyu.

Branca got on the Wagyu wagon recently, after learning about this breed of cow, its particular physical makeup, and the ways Japan’s Wagyu differs from other countries’ in a recent course given by Nan Sato, owner of the Philly-based business Wagyu Sommelier. In the class, Sato demonstrated a point by giving Branca and the other chefs a raw piece of Wagyu to hold. The meat is so richly marbled, the fat “literally starts to melt in your hands,” Branca said.

Her menu integrates Wagyu with seafood and Branca’s Malaysian and Hakka Chinese influences. There will be laksa soup with strips of Wagyu cooked tableside, Hakka abacus beads (a gnocchi-like dumpling) with Wagyu, chili crab in Wagyu pastry, Wagyu lor bak (a twist on five-spice pork rolls), and Wagyu confit potatoes with sea grapes, among other dishes. Branca also works beef into the final course: shortbread made with Wagyu fat.

The BYOB dinner runs Sunday through Wednesday evening at Cake & Joe (1401 E Moyamensing Ave.). Tickets can be booked at

Other events

Branca’s not the only one playing on the Seven Fishes theme. On Dec. 20 at Kensington winery Mural City Cellars, there’s Feast of the Seven Pickles, a collaboration dinner between Fishtown Pickle Project and pop-up outfit Paffuto Philly. Expect an Italian menu (charcuterie, caprese, arancini, pasta, seafood) plus wine pairings and lots of pickles.

The The W hotel bar extended its “Secret Garden” popup with botanically obsessed bartender Danny Childs, who crafted five boozy seasonal cocktails (like the Pine Barrens negroni), mulled wine punch, plus two NA beverages (homemade cranberry ginger ale and pepita nog). They’re all sure to be liquid masterpieces. The collaboration will wrap up this Sunday, Dec. 18.

Want a Center City experience in South Philly instead? Make a reservation at the The Prime Rib Library Bar pop-up in Live! Casino & Hotel Philadelphia, near the stadiums at Ninth and Packer. Or head north to Chestnut Hill, where Bluebird Distilling’s offshoot cocktail and coffee bar Char & Stave has a holiday popup location that’ll go permanent in spring 2023.