Much of my mailbag consists of readers searching for elegant-dining options in Northeast Philly.

Last week marked the debut of Rylei, a romantic white-tablecloth BYO in a former deli in Mayfair (7144 Frankford Ave., 215-335-0414) - about 20 minutes from Center City and five minutes from I-95's Cottman Avenue exit.

Rylei, a 40-seater, also marks the pro cooking debut of the self-taught Jose Vargas, a former front-of-the-houser at the Palm. (He's not to be confused with Jose L. Vargas, chef at Center City's Mission Grill.)

Vargas is partnered with his wife, Jennifer Brennan-Vargas, who also has a long history in the front of the house at such downtown restaurants as Tony Clark's and the Palm.

Vargas "started cooking for me at home and this kind of just took off," his wife says. The restaurant name combines those of children Ryan and Leila.

His new-American menu consists of starters (up to $12; try the gnocchi) and a la carte entrees (high teens for chicken and salmon to $25 for the New York strip and veal chop).

Vargas' Dominican roots come through in his desserts, notably a dish combining broiled plantains and figs, topped with balsamic vinegar. Credit-card machine should be working any day, Brennan-Vargas says. For now, it's open for dinner Tuesdays through Saturdays.

What's new

Last week also saw the rollout of


- Matt Ito's Japanese BYO that made its mark in Cinnaminson - in new quarters in Haddonfield's Shops at 116 (116 Kings Highway East, 856-354-8200). There's a 10-seat sushi bar, plus two white-tablecloth dining areas. Most lunch entrees are under $10; most dinner entrees are under $20. It's closed Mondays.

Ardovino's Cafe (1491 Hurffville Rd., Deptford, 856-227-9944) represents the restaurant debut of Pauline Arabia, who for years cooked and catered for the oral surgeon for whom she worked. The look says Tuscany; there's one menu ($6 sandwiches, $9 pastas, $12 and $13 chicken dishes) on all day from 11 a.m. daily. Ardovino is Arabia's great-grandfather Ardovino Savone.

Soup for you: The Original SoupMan, the franchise from Al Yeganeh (the inspiration of the Seinfeld "Soup Nazi"), has opened at 512 Haddonfield Rd. (Chapel Plaza) in Cherry Hill.

More next week on the seventh Marathon Grill, opening this week at 10th and Walnut Streets.

What's coming

Construction is underway on


, a modern-American in the former Vespa store at 926 South St., across from Whole Foods. Mitch and Jennifer London Prensky, who own Global Dish Caterers, in the past have staged "rave" dinners in random spaces under the name L'Atelier. They hope for a July opening. Mitch Prensky, a native New Yorker and French Culinary Institute-trained former assistant to Jacques Pepin, intends Supper to have a welcoming vibe, a la Gramercy Tavern. "I want it to give you a hug when you walk in," he said.

Briefly noted

Top Dog

on Route 70 in Cherry Hill has retooled as

Taylor's Grill

, same as the owners' newer place in Williamstown.

Chinatown's Cherry Street Vegetarian (1010 Cherry St.) pulled the plug after 15 years. Business was slow, I hear.

New manager at La Bohème in Center City: Claudia Litwack, who worked for 20 years at Sansom Street Oyster House.

El Vez in Center City has started Sunday brunch.

New exec chef at Center City's Public House Logan Square: Michael Powers, whose resume includes corporate chef for Brandywine Heritage Restaurants. Public House's New York location is up for a mid-May opening at 140 E. 41st St. There's another spot in Denver, and the partners also have Mission Grill in Philadelphia and Manhattan restaurants Butterfield 8 and Wicker Park.

Summer University City Dining Days will run from July 26 to Aug. 2. New pricing structure. Dinners were $20, $25 and $30; they'll be $15, $25 and $30 this time out. List of restos will be online at some point at

Peeks at the new Fuji, in Haddonfield, and Rylei, in Northeast Philadelphia. Go to