Browsing Category

Philadelphia

Art, Philadelphia, Tours

Philadelphia Mural Art Tour

A tour of Philadelphia’s fascinating mural art is an absolute must, to get a glimpse of the city’s home-grown creativity.

There are over 3000 murals in Philadelphia, telling the stories of the communities, scenes from everyday Philly life and paying homage to prominent historical figures.

The Mural Arts Program began in 1984 as an initiative to combat graffiti, headed up by then Mayor Wilson Goode.  Muralist Jane Golden reached out to graffiti writers and encouraged them to channel their creativity and energy into painting murals to beautify the neighbourhoods.

Our tour guide Jerry, of the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, picked us up in a big silver van outside PAFA for an afternoon of mural spotting.

We visited mural sites in West and North Philadelphia, including many residential areas that are definitely off the beaten track.  The murals we saw depicted the city’s love of baseball, the influence of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and geometric, non-figurative patterns in predominantly Islamic areas.

A particularly touching mural was ‘Alex’s Lemonade Stand’ – a tribute to young Alex Scott who set up a lemonade stand to raise money for cancer research at the local hospital before sadly losing her own battle to cancer.

Producing a mural is a dedicated process; the Mural Arts Program receives over 1000 applications per year and just 100 are granted.  Some are financed by donors, however, many are sponsored by corporations giving back to Philly.  I asked Jerry if working with corporate giants affects the grass-roots philosophy of murals, but he had a more straightforward approach – whoever pays, the community benefits from the support.

Once the wall is approved and prepped, murals are either painted directly onto the wall or painted onto parachute cloth in a studio and then transferred onto the wall.  Once the mural is complete, the residents celebrate at all-day block parties with music, food, performances and activities for children.

The Mural Arts Program offers a number of public and private mural art tours, including the guided group tour lasting 2 hours.

For more, visit: www.muralarts.org and www.philadelphiausa.travel

Philadelphia, Shopping, Stores, USA

Shopping In Philadelphia

Philadelphia is the perfect city to refresh your wardrobe and it has one distinct advantage over neighbouring New York – tax-free shopping.  Not only is it exciting to explore the stand alone stores of covetable American brands that haven’t yet made it to the UK, but to also get an extra incentive on top of the usually favourable exchange rate.

Here are some of the best places to shop in Philadelphia…

Rittenhouse Row, including Walnut Street, is a real destination for designer and high end high street shopping with stores such as Burberry, Kenneth Cole, Coach, Club Monaco, Lucky Jeans, Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters, designer boutique Knit Wit and sneaker store Ubiq.  The neighbourhood also features the Shops at the Bellevue (a historic luxury hotel), including Polo Ralph Lauren, Tiffany, Nicole Miller, Williams-Sonoma and Teuscher Chocolates.  For a break from shopping, have lunch on the terrace at Stephen Starr’s stylish brasserie, Parc.

Chestnut Street is one of the most popular shopping streets in Philadelphia and includes the Shops at Liberty Place shopping mall.  Here you can find J.Crew, Bath & Bodyworks, Victoria’s Secret, Godiva Chocolates and Nine West.  However, the most exciting shop on Chestnut is the amazing Italian gourmet produce store, Di Bruno Bros.  It’s the place to grab a tasty deli lunch, stop for a coffee and cannoli, find interesting gifts to take home or just drool over the beautifully-presented Italian delights.

The Piazza at Schmidt’s, Northern Liberties is lined with a number of independent boutiques, cafes and restaurants and is the perfect spot for weekend brunch and shopping.  Try Blooms for womenswear and accessories by local designers, Corsa for streetwear and Sole Control for rare and limited edition sneakers.

Out of town….

Philadelphia Premier Outlets® is the place to find major bargains at outlet stores by designers and brands.  Located in Limerick, PA, approximately 40 minutes drive from the city, Philadelphia Premier Outlets® features over 150 outlet stores by designer and affordable brands.

Womens and menswear stores include BCBG Max Azria, Theory, Polo Ralph Lauren, Elie Tahari, Calvin Klein, Coach, Diesel, DKNY, Michael Kors, True Religion Brand Jeans, Kenneth Cole, Lucky Brand, GAP Outlet, Banana Republic Factory Store and Last Call by Neiman Marcus.

Beauty shoppers will find great bargains at Bath & Body Works, Crabtree & Evelyn, BareMinerals and Lancôme.  My favourites stores were the chic and colourful Kate Spade New York boutique outlet, Yankee Candles (with an impressive range of different scents) and the Converse store, where I bought two pairs of sneakers.

There are regular daily bus services from the Greyhound Terminal in central Philadelphia to Philadelphia Premier Outlets® and shoppers can sign up to the VIP Shopper Club online  to receive additional discounts.

King of Prussia Mall is department store heaven - Bloomingdales, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Macy’s and Lord & Taylor can all be found there.  Located 25 miles from Philadelphia, King of Prussia Mall is the largest shopping mall on the East Coast with  over 400 stores.

Some of the more exciting stores that don’t have a presence in the UK are Madewell, Aeropostale, Lilly Pulitzer, Williams-Sonoma and Pottery Barn.  It would be easy to spend a whole day at King of Prussia Mall.  However the dining choices aren’t particularly interesting there, so I’d recommend a light lunch or coffee break at Cafe Nordstrom and then head back into Philadelphia for dinner.

For more shopping ideas, visit: www.philadelphiausa.travel and taxfreephilly.co.uk

Hotels, Philadelphia

Marriott Philadelphia Downtown

On my visit to Philadelphia for the opening of the Barnes Foundation this summer, I had the pleasure of spending five consecutive nights in the same glorious bed at Marriott Downtown Philadelphia.

Marriott Downtown Philadelphia is conveniently located in the Convention Center part of town, within walking distance of Museum Mile, Rittenhouse Square, the Old Town and shopping on Walnut and Chestnut Street.

The hotel is connected to the Pennsylvania Convention Center, so it attracts a large number of business guests.  However, it’s also a great base for exploring the city and much less corporate than expected.

After a day of travelling (albeit very comfortably in British Airways World Traveller Plus), I was pleased to be greeted by the wonderfully efficient and welcoming staff and have a hassle-free check-in.

My Concierge level king room on the 22nd floor was spacious and appointed with enough amenities to make me feel at home.   It was designed in a contemporary style and the colour scheme of deep purple and chartreuse with highlights of warm wood and cream.

My room included large comfy armchairs, a large writing desk, plenty of wardrobe and drawer space, a tea and coffee maker, complimentary bottled water, an iron and ironing board and a very large flat screen TV positioned perfectly in front of the bed.

A highlight of staying at a Marriott hotel for me is always the trademark Marriott Revive bed.  These beds feature across all Marriott properties and are just so sumptuous and heavenly, like floating on a marshmallow cloud.  In the evening, my bed linen was turned down and a scattering of chocolates appeared on my pillows.

The bathtub was a decent size and featured a bath and shower, bathrobe and slippers and the most wonderful aromatherapy products by Bath & Bodyworks, which I enjoyed using during my stay and wish I’d picked up extras from the store before leaving Philadelphia.

My room included access to the Concierge Lounge on the top floor, which offers a complimentary breakfast, drinks and snack throughout the day.  I had breakfast each day in the Concierge Lounge (apart from the weekend, when it’s closed), which offered a tasty selection of hot breakfast items, delicious muffins and mini pastries, bagels with cream cheese and peanut butter, freshly squeezed juices, teas and coffee.

This was a much slicker and relaxing affair than 13, the expansive ground-floor restaurant, which had a larger breakfast selection, including dishes made to order, but was somewhat lacking in atmosphere.

On my last morning, I enjoyed breakfast in bed – poached eggs with bacon and potato rosti with a blueberry muffin, freshly squeezed orange juice and English Breakfast Tea.  It was delicious and just what I needed before a long day of tax-free outlet and mall shopping and then a long flight back to London.

A perk of staying at Marriott Philadelphia Downtown is the indoor swimming pool and fitness room.  My itinerary was jam-packed, so I didn’t have time to take a dip, however I imagine this is a perfect way to unwind after a day of exploring the city.

There are also plenty of dining options with two restaurants Circ and 13, as well as 24-hour room service and a Starbucks in the lobby, for a quick bite and morning coffee.

Sadly, Marriott Philadelphia Downtown charges for wifi access, which I hope it will soon reconsider, especially as a number of Marriott hotels are now offering this service complimentary to hotel guests.

My stay at Marriott Philadelphia Downtown was very comfortable and enjoyable, which was in part due to the friendly, uplifting staff.  They went out of their way to help with everything that I needed, which ranged from hunting down members of my group to providing a brand new coffee machine in my room, so I could enjoy a cup of tea without any errant traces of coffee (for allergy reasons).

There are an increasing number of independent boutique design hotels in Philadelphia, however, if you’re looking for a high quality, dependable hotel in a central location with excellent service, Marriott Philadelphia Downtown is the place to stay.

British Airways offer three nights at the 4* Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Philadelphia from £749 per person based on September 2012 departures.  Includes return British Airways flights from Heathrow and accommodation only.  For reservations visit ba.com/philadelphiaor call 0844 493 0758

Chérie City was a guest of Marriott Philadelphia Downtown.

Photos by Marriott Philadelphia Downtown and Chérie City.

Market, Philadelphia, USA

Reading Terminal Market, Downtown Philadelphia

Reading Terminal Market in downtown Philadelphia is absolute heaven for foodies.  It should be top of the itinerary when visiting, as you may find yourself gravitating back there each day for a sneaky cannoli or Philly Cheesesteak.  Anyone staying at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, like I did, is in luck because it’s directly opposite on North Street.

Housed under the arches of Reading Terminal’s former train shed, the historic farmer’s market first began trading in 1892.  It houses over 80 vendors selling fresh local produce, hot dishes, baked goods, ice cream, preserves, books and homeware.

Pennsylvania Dutch merchants come to sell at Reading Terminal Market (usually excluding Sunday to Tuesday), so this is the place to try authentic Amish specialties.

Some Reading Terminal Market favourites include fried chicken at Down Home Diner, gumbo at Beck’s Cajun Cafe, buritos at 12th Street Cantina, Bassett’s ice cream, cupcakes and cannolis at Termini Bros and chocolate-covered pretzels at The Famous 4th Street Cookie Company.

There are a number of places claiming to make the best Philly Cheesesteak, but for first-timers, it’s got to be Carmen’s Famous Italian Hoagies & Cheesesteaks at Reading Terminal Market.  But it’s not only the sandwiches that are famous - President Obama stopped by for a Carmen’s cheesesteak, Bassett’s mint choc chip ice cream and some apples during a trip to Philadelphia in 2010.

Carmen’s makes hot sandwiches fresh to order and understandably with the Obama connection, it had the biggest queue.  I stood in line diligently for 40 minutes to get my cheesesteak and hoovered it down in a fraction of the time.

There are a few variations on the cheesesteak, but if in doubt, just go ‘Philly style’ with Cheese Whiz (or Provolone if you don’t do processed cheese).

My cheesesteak came in an Italian-style roll and included thinly sliced grilled steak, sauteed onions, peppers and mushrooms and gooey Cheese Whiz.  It was real comfort food – satisfying, rich, meaty and messy.  I’d definitely order a cheesesteak again, but probably with Provolone or American Cheese.

For more cheesesteaks and food markets in Philadelphia, visit: www.philadelphiausa.travel

Reading Terminal Market on Urbanspoon Carmen's Famous Italian Hoagies on Urbanspoon

Bars, Philadelphia, Restaurants

Stephen Starr Dine Around, Philadelphia

Stephen Starr is Philadelphia’s best-known restauranteur, whose portfolio of eateries range from chic Pan-Asian fine dining to colourful Mexican brunch joints.  Starr began his restaurant empire in Philadelphia, gaining an unrivalled reputation before venturing into New York with Buddakan, Morimoto and Caffe Storico and restaurants in New Jersey and Florida.

Dining at a Stephen Starr restaurant is an absolute must for foodies visiting Philadelphia, however, we managed to visit three on the same evening!  A ‘dine around’ is more of a clever press trip concept than a new dining trend in Philadelphia, but it’s possible to do if you eat light and plan with precision.

We started our restaurant crawl at Parc, a chic Parisian bistro overlooking Philadelphia’s leafy Rittenhouse Square.  Parc has a great atmosphere –  bustling and lively with an elegant bar and terrace.  Its ‘mega bistro’ concept is similar to NYC’s Balthazar and Pastis and the friendly, chatty staff help maintain an unpretentious ambiance.

We slid into one of the intimate leather banquettes and feasted on boards of charcuterie with country pate and chicken liver mousse, a selection of fromages with walnuts, house-made bread and a platter of fresh chilled shrimp.

The charcuterie and fromages were authentic and of exceptional quality.  The chilled shrimp was not only visually pleasing but was ever so fresh and succulent.

The wine list at Parc is also impressive, with an extensive collection of Champagnes and wines categorised by their character – aromatic, rich, spicy, exotic, elegant or classic.  The choice of cocktails is slightly more edited but still interesting.  I enjoyed the potent and refreshing Basilic – Smirnoff Citrus, elderflower liqueur and basil (without the cucumber).

Parc is the perfect all-day dining destination with plenty of character and an unrivalled location next to Philadelphia’s boutiques and bars.

Our next stop was The Continental, an institution of the Philadelphia bar scene.  The buzzing three-floor diner, lounge and martini bar is super retro, filled with over-sized martini olive lamps, leather booths and cute animal-shaped seats.  We had a drink at the bar and then went up to the rooftop for dinner.

The varied menu has a global outlook, with dishes including French Onion Soup, Vietnamese Summer Rolls, Indian Kofta, Korean Pork Tacos, Chilean Sea Bass and Cheesesteak Eggroll.

For my main dish, I went for the Jumbo Lump Crab Pad Thai (it’s hard to resist anything with jumbo lump crab when visiting the States).  The pad thai noodles were cooked perfectly and coated in a light, nutty sauce, crushed peanuts, egg, tofu and scallion and topped with fresh, meaty jumbo lump crab.  The portion size was enormous, so only add an appetiser or side if you’re really hungry.

The Continental is a fun, young and vibrant place for enjoying martinis with friends or starting a night of stylish bar hopping with a bite to eat.  The music can be loud at the rooftop bar, so if you’re eating there, try the ground floor diner.

Alma de Cuba, one of Stephen Starr’s original restaurants, is sultry, sophisticated and romantic with a dimly-lit dining room and lounge.

Chef Douglas Rodriguez’s Modern Latin menu takes inspiration from Old Havana and features numerous ceviches, Sugarcane Tuna, Chorizo Sliders, Rum Cured Duck Breast and ‘Fried Cow’.

To finish off our dine around evening, I tried Alma de Cuba’s signature dessert, the Chocolate Cigar.  Rich chocolate mousse was rolled in soft chocolate almond cake and finished with an Alma de Cuba paper cigar sticker.  The decadent cigar was served with creamy dulce de leche ice cream and cool sugar matches, which were lit by our waiter.

After dinner, head down to the bar for delicious rum-based cocktails.  Try an authentic Suave Mojito, Black Cherry Caipirinha, Havana Old Fashioned or Alma Colada.

Stephen Starr’s most popular Philadelphia restaurants Buddakan and Morimoto are notoriously difficult to get into, so book a table far in advance.  Also, word has it that Starr is planning to bring a unique cinema eatery to central Philadelphia, where there are surprisingly no movie theatres.  Nothing is confirmed as yet, but it already sounds like the ideal date night!

For more dining in Philadelphia, visit: www.philadelphiausa.travel

Chérie City was a guest of PCVB

All photos by Chérie City

Parc on Urbanspoon Continental Mid-Town on Urbanspoon Alma de Cuba on Urbanspoon

Art, Music, Philadelphia, USA

Arts & Culture in Philadelphia

Philadelphia is the city to watch for art and culture this summer, particularly with the monumental re-opening of The Barnes Foundation and the Rodin Museum.  Whether it’s a downtown hidden gem or a world renowned institute on ‘Museum Mile’, Philadelphia’s art scene has plenty to discover…

Philadelphia Museum of Art is the third largest art museum in the United States, with an impressive permanent collection ranging from artefacts from Asia since the third millennium BC to iconic Modern Art.

The striking Neo-Classical building houses more than 227,000 objects and each floor is dedicated to different eras and cultures in art.  Prominent collections include American Art, Indian & Himalayan Art, Costume & Textiles, European Decorate Art & Sculpture and Modern & Contemporary Art.

The steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art are immortalised in the film Rocky, as he uses the city as his training ground.  Look out for Rocky impersonators – I was lucky enough to capture one in the picture below.

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) is the oldest museum and art school in the United States.  The exquisite Victorian Gothic building houses an internationally renowned collection of American paintings and sculptures that span three centuries.  Alongside the permanent collection are exhibitions featuring works by prominent contemporary American artists.  During my visit, I saw a powerful installation by video artist Bill Viola and PAFA & Dr Barnes, in celebration of The Barnes Foundation’s new home.

Also part of PAFA is the acclaimed art school with an impressive studio and gallery space.  Visit the Undergraduate and Postgraduate exhibitions to see an overwhelmingly high standard of work from America’s next big artists.

The re-opening of The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia has been one of the most talked about happenings in the international art world for many years.  The Barnes was founded in 1922 by Dr Albert C. Barnes, a chemist who made his money by co-developing a revolutionary drug, thus selling his company to pursue his passion for art.

The Barnes is world renowned as having one of the finest collections of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Modernist paintings.  Dr. Barnes amassed an impressive number of paintings by the great European and American masters such as Matisse, Cézanne, Renoir, Picasso, Modigliani, Glackens and Pippin.

Click here to read more about the Barnes Foundation.

The Rodin Museum re-opens this month after extensive renovations, housing the largest collection of sculptures by Auguste Rodin outside of Paris.  Opened in 1929, the Rodin Museum owns nearly 130 sculptures including bronze casts of The Thinkers, The Burghers of Calais, Eternal Springtime and The Gates of Hell.

On the day of The Barnes Foundation media preview, we were treated to a sneak peek of the Rodin Museum.  It’s an elegant, petite space with stunning gardens, close to The Barnes Foundation on Benjamin Franklin Parkway.  Take time to linger in the gardens and enjoy the contemplative atmosphere of the museum.

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens is the spectacular mosaicked wonderland by artist Isiah Zagar on Philadelphia’s bohemian South Street.  Back in the 1960s, Zagar dedicated his life to beautifying the South Street neighbourhood, buying and transforming derelict buildings into creative masterpieces with his wife Julia.  In 1994, he started work on the vacant space near his studio, which became the Magic Gardens.

He constructed staircases and walkways and adorned them with emblems of his travels, evenings with friends and disused ‘scrap’ material.  The Magic Gardens are most prominently decorated with bicycle wheels, coloured bottles, ceramic tiles, mirror mosaics and hand-painted inscriptions.  Look closer and there are personal dedications to Julia and his sons Ezekiel and Jeremiah.

Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center is the home of the celebrated Philadelphia Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia and Philadanco.  The Kimmel Center was built in 2000, designed by architect Rafael Viñoly and named after philanthropist Sidney Kimmel.  Located along the city’s ‘Avenue of the Arts’, the Kimmel Center is one of America’s best venues to enjoy classical music.

I had the pleasure of seeing chief conductor Charles Dutoit’s farewell concert, marking his last performance with Philadelphia Orchestra after four seasons.  The Philadelphia Orchestra performed a varied programme of Glinka, Chopin and Ravel’s epic Daphnis et Chloé in the spectacular Verizon Hall.  Seeing the Philadelphia Orchestra play in their hometown is a great experience and one that should not be missed!

For more arts and culture in Philadelphia, visit: www.philadelphiausa.travel

British Airways offer three nights at the 4* Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Philadelphia from £749 per person based on September 2012 departures.  Includes return British Airways flights from Heathrow and accommodation only.  For reservations visit ba.com/philadelphia or call 0844 493 0758

Bars, Philadelphia, Restaurants

Sampan & Capogiro Gelato – Midtown Village, Philadelphia

Chef Michael Schulson’s Sampan brings Asian fusion to Philadelphia’s chic Midtown Village.  The restaurant has a sleek vibe with simple wood tables and striped banquettes, back-lit murals throughout the two dining rooms and a bar overlooking the kitchen.

I visited alone for a pre-theatre bite, before seeing the Philadelphia Orchestra at the nearby Kimmel Center.  I was originally placed at the bar, but after requesting a proper seat, I got a much better table outside on the terrace, so I could people-watch in the sun.  Luckily Sampan had availability just less than an hour before dining on a Saturday night, as I’d spent the day exploring and hadn’t foreseen restaurant reservations for that evening.

I sat in the glorious sunshine and ordered a Plum Tea – Finlandia Vodka with plum oolong tea and mint, served in a jam jar.  It was refreshing, cooling and aromatic, with just the right amount of vodka.

The menu at Sampan offers a combination of small plates, larger meat and fish dishes and sides.  I unknowingly over-ordered, forgetting that ‘small plates’ in Philly don’t correspond to those in London.  I asked the waitress to recommend a suitable number of dishes to order, but she must have suspected I had a voracious appetite – not so, since the week of indulgence in Philadelphia had taken its toll.

I started with the Shrimp & Lobster Dumpling with miso broth, scallion and tofu ($7).  The broth was light and cloudy and the plump dumplings were intensely flavoured and full of fresh seafood and plenty of ginger.

Shortly after came the delicious Chicken Satay with sage, mustard and Togarashi ($8).  The two sticks of chicken were succulent, well-marinated and nicely chargrilled.  The portion size was large and could be shared or ordered as part of a main meal.

I enjoyed the chicken satay with a side Kim Chee Fried Rice with shrimp, shallot and Sunny Side egg ($8).  The fried rice was rich, slightly sweet and filled with fresh shrimp.  This side dish was more than enough for two to share.

I was beginning to feel really full when my Crispy Rock Shrimp with pickled radish, yuzu and chili aioli ($14) arrived.  I was expecting perhaps three large piece of rock shrimp, but there were at least 20 chunky pieces.  The batter was a little too thick and they were smothered in chili aioli, taking away some of the crispiness.  The rock shimp was tasty, but overly rich and so my attempt to get through the dish was pitiful.

Surely the waitress could have foreseen that one person couldn’t eat a whole plate of battered rock shrimp, however she did offer to bag up all of the left-overs to take out.  I’m sure the Philadelphia Orchestra wouldn’t appreciate the wafting aromas of fried rock shrimp while trying to get through Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé.

There was no time for dessert, but I strolled back from the Kimmel Center, past Sampan and saw that Capogiro Gelato was still open.  I couldn’t resist stopping by for a scoop of the most incredible Bacio and Cannella ice cream.  Late night gelato is a real perk of summer in the city!

Sampan is a great place to come with a group of friends or for an intimate dinner a deux and share a few plates, so you can try a good selection of dishes.  There is also a Happy Hour menu of appetisers and sides and a Chef Tasting menu ($45) for something more inventive.  Sampan’s next door Graffiti Bar is the place to continue the cocktails on the open-air patio.

Chérie City dined with a gift card courtesy of PCVB.

All photos by Chérie City

Sampan on Urbanspoon Capogiro Gelateria on Urbanspoon

Bars, Cafes, Philadelphia, Restaurants

Dining in Philadelphia

Philadelphia has a thrilling dining scene, whether it’s fine dining with impressive views over the city or a vibrant bistro hidden atop a designer furniture showroom with only a kitsch neon sign marking the door.  Here are some of my favourite Philadelphia food finds…

Fine Dining

Chef Daniel Stern’s R2L is Philadelphia’s highest restaurant and the views of the city are spectacular.  Located on the 37th floor of Two Liberty Place, the expansive R2L serves Modern American cuisine while Liberty Bar & Lounge offers posh bar plates and cocktails made with hand-cut ice (there is even a Happy Hour).

We experienced the ‘Height of R2L’ seven course tasting menu with wine pairings.  Dishes included Grilled Truffle Flatbread, Hot & Cold Seafood Platter, Tuna Tartare, Lobster Macaroni and Cheese, Black Truffle Risotto, Roasted Chicken Breast and a trio of steak cuts with buttery mashed potato.  We finished with a Strawberry Rhubarb Crostata which came served with pots of vanilla cream and crunchy caramel peanut brittle.

Food is of a high standard and the slick ambiance makes it a great choice for a memorable dinner in Philadelphia.  Request a window table and bring a jacket, as the air-conditioning is fierce!

Hidden Gem

Bistro St Tropez is one of those ‘in the know’ places that only a local would lead you to.  Perched on the fourth floor of the Market Design Center, Bistro St Tropez is a bright, industrial-luxe space with spectacular views of the Schuylkill River, 30th Street Station and the Modern Art Museum.

Owner and Chef Patrice Rames offers a menu of Provençal and Mediterranean dishes alongside a few American classics such as Maryland Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes.  I particularly liked the delectable Pain Perdue with house-cured Scottish salmon and cranberry grappa jam.

Just a few weeks ago, Bistro St Tropez opened Le Petit Cafe du Bistro St Tropez on the first floor of the same building.  The cafe is perfect for a light bite on the go, such as breakfast pastries with Illy coffee and freshly squeezed juice, casse-croûtes, home-made quiche and salads.  Apparently, the béchamel-smothered Croque Monsieur is already a big hit.

Breakfast

Enjoy a French breakfast with an American twist at Chez Colette, Sofitel Philadelphia.  The charming brasserie is filled with iconic French posters and nostalgic light jazz.  I started the day with English breakfast tea, freshly squeezed orange juice and a yogurt smoothie shot and shared a basket of the most delicious, flaky croissants.  My Eggs Benedict ($15) with Canadian bacon and roasted red bliss potatoes were perfectly cooked and substantial.

The menu offers so many delectable and decadent breakfast dishes that it’s tempting to really indulge.  However, the ‘Getting in Shape’ section of the menu offers healthy alternatives such as Wheat Belgian Waffles, Egg White Benedict and Seasonal Fresh Fruit.  It’s also possible to create your own omelette.

Chez Colette is ideally situated for a morning of tax-free shopping on Walnut and Chestnut Street, or touring Philadelphia’s sights.  Such an elegant breakfast to start the day is a real treat!

Gastropubs

McCrossen’s Tavern is a cosy, family-run pub that is on the cusp of the Philadelphia Museum Mile, but doesn’t seem to have been colonised by the art crowd.  It’s conveniently located just a few blocks away from The Barnes Foundation and the Rodin Museum, in the leafy Fairmount Park neighbourhood.

Opened in 1937, the pub offers a great selection of beer, including the local Yards Philadelphia Pale Ale, and the most delicious Mediterranean and American fare.  We stopped by for some sharing plates of oysters, baked mussels, risotto, marinated vegetables and Cajun fries with garlic mayo.

Kings Oak American Grill in Philadelphia’s hip Northern Liberties neighbourhood is the place to come and watch a game and enjoy exceptionally good food.  As we were a large group, our set menu included Pea Soup with basil oil, Roasted Chicken with mashed potato, haricot verts and chicken jus and Sticky Toffee Pudding with Bassett’s pralines and cream ice cream.  Kings Oak is one of the few sports bars to offer bistro-style food alongside grilled American small plates like crabcake sliders, buffalo shrimp and sweet potato fries.

There is also an extensive range of craft beers to choose from.  I asked our waitress to recommend a light but interesting beer and she picked a winner – the raspberry-infused Abita Purple Haze beer brewed in Louisiana.

Kings Oak overlooks The Piazza at Schmidt’s, so you can enjoy brunch there and check out the indie boutiques or make a night of it and visit the local bars such as Ortliebs Lounge.

See more Philly food on Pinterest.

For more Philadelphia dining tips, visit: www.philadelphiausa.travel

British Airways offer three nights at the 4* Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Philadelphia from £749 per person based on September 2012 departures.  Includes return British Airways flights from Heathrow and accommodation only.  For reservations visit ba.com/philadelphia or call 0844 493 0758

Cherie City was a guest of PCVB

R2L on Urbanspoon Bistro St. Tropez on Urbanspoon

McCrossen's Tavern on Urbanspoon Kings Oak on Urbanspoon

Cafes, Philadelphia, Restaurants, USA

Garces Trading Company, Philadelphia

Garces Trading Company, by Iron Chef Jose Garces, is one of my favourite foodie finds in Philadelphia, especially for a posh lunch.  Located in the well-heeled Washington Square West neighbourhood, Garces Trading Company is an informal yet chic dining room with communal wooden tables and its own mini food hall.

The market includes a deli offering a vast selection of charcuterie and artisanal cheeses and a tempting patisserie with decadent cakes, pastries and house-made bread.  The retail shop is filled with house-made preserves and olive oils while fine wines can be found at the wine shop.

The cafe-restaurant menu focuses on Mediterranean antipasti, paella and seafood and American classics such as gourmet sandwiches, salads and deep dish pizza pies (a reference to Garces’ Chicago roots).

For a light lunch, we shared a few boards of charcuterie and cheeses, served with scrumptious honey mustard, quince and lavender honey.  The bread was fine, not particularly memorable, but the olive oil was exceptionally good, with just the right amount of bitterness.

I ordered the Santa Maria Express ($14), which includes any half sandwich and soup with a non-alcoholic beverage.  I had a bowl of the thick, hearty Tomato Bread Soup with half a Roasted Turkey on ciabatta with smoked bacon, molasses aioli and baby romaine.

The soup was slow roasted, rich and strongly flavoured and the sandwich was full of succulent, moist turkey and the most incredible maple cured crispy bacon.

For dessert, there are some elaborate French-style cakes, but I prefered a lighter mint tea and selection of macarons ($9 for six).  My favourites were the salted caramel and the French- American hybrid of peanut butter and jelly (the lilac one).

The prices are very affordable, given the high quality ingredients and the stylish environment.  It’s the kind of place that I’d make my local brunch/lunch spot and could happily work my way through the sandwich menu!  Now, perhaps we could tempt Chef Garces over to London…

Chérie City was a guest of PCVB

All photos by Chérie City

Garces Trading Company on Urbanspoon

Market, Philadelphia, Tours

Things To Do In Philadelphia

Philadelphia is one of East Coast America’s most vibrant cities, with a remarkably thriving art scene.  Steeped in monumental American history, Pennsylvania’s largest city is full of colonial charm.

Whether it’s tax-free shopping on chic Walnut and Chestnut Street, exploring the cultural institutions on ‘Museum Mile’ or strolling around the quirky, leafy downtown neighbourhoods, Philadelphia has something for all.

There is something honest and unpretentious about Philadelphia and the city has its own strong sense of identity.  With a thrilling dining scene, Pennsylvania Dutch influences and a forward-thinking approach to community art, Philadelphia really is the city of the moment.

Here are a few ‘must sees’ to add to your Philadelphia itinerary…

LOVE Park

LOVE Park (officially named John F. Kennedy Plaza) is the perfect place to chill out in the aptly named ‘City of Brotherly Love’.  At the foot of Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the park is home to pop artist Robert Indiana’s iconic Love sculpture, which was first placed there in 1976.  It can be tempting to jump right into the clear blue fountain on a hot summer’s day.

Liberty Bell

The Liberty Bell is Philadelphia’s most treasured piece of history – an iconic symbol of American independence, dating back to 1752.  The Liberty Bell was cast in London’s East End at Whitechapel Foundary and was then shipped over to America and placed in the former Pennsylvania State House.

The bell cracked on its first ring and had to be recast twice by local artisans.  Since 2003, the bell has been housed in The Liberty Bell Center.  A part of the leafy Independence National Park, the Liberty Bell is surrounded by historical monuments including Independence Hall, Carpenters’ Hall, National Constitution Center, First Bank of the United States.

Try to avoid peak times when visiting Independence National Park, as there are often queues to view the Liberty Bell.

Reading Terminal Market

Foodies will be in heaven at Reading Terminal Market – it really is that good.  The huge indoor market in the Convention Center district offers fresh local produce and mouth-watering street food, including the iconic Philly Cheesesteak and hoagies.  Try Obama’s cheesesteak of choice at Carmen’s (if you can handle the queue) followed by an ice cream from Bassetts, where the President picked up dessert.

It’s also the best place to sample authentic Pennsylvania Dutch food, as Amish vendors sell their delectable baked goods, gourmet deli sandwiches, farm-fresh juices and dairy products and preserves.

Rittenhouse Square

Rittenhouse Square is Philadelphia’s ‘posh park’, lined with high end restaurants, boutiques and the five star Rittenhouse Hotel.  Luckily, I was in town at the right time to visit the annual Rittenhouse Row Festival, sprawling over six blocks of Walnut Street.  Philadelphia’s best restaurants pitch up around Rittenhouse Square and offer small plates of their signature dishes and street food snacks, such as Kobe beef hotdogs, steak sliders and pulled pork tacos.  I followed the smoke from the grill and ordered the most incredibly delicious burger from Marathon for just $6.

There’s a great, chilled out party atmosphere with live music, DJs and outdoor bars and activities for families inside the park.  It’s a great way to try dishes from Philadelphia’s coolest dining spots with a more modest price tag and no reservations needed.

Italian Market

On the same baking hot Saturday, Philadelphia’s Italian community was hosting its own block party, the annual South 9th Street Italian Market Festival.  There were stalls offering all of the authentic Italian street food you could think of – meatball platters, cannolis, pizza, Philadelphia’s famous Tomato Pie and thankfully…gelato!  I cooled down with a refreshing Limoncello Sorbet.

A visit to the Italian Market is a must for foodies in Philadelphia.  Look out for the original family-run Di Bruno Bros, Isgro’s pasticceria and Claudio Speciality Foods.

Antique shopping on Pine Street

Pine Street is one of those picture perfect, tree-lined streets that make you fall in love with East Coast America.  Known as Antique Row, Pine Street is home to a number of dealers selling fine art, antiques, oriental carpets, rare and new books, furniture and vintage clothing.  It’s the place to pick up a collectible piece or just enjoy a stroll along one of Phildelphia’s prettiest streets.

See The Phillies

Baseball is a big deal in Philadelphia, so why not go and see The Phillies play at Citizens Bank Park.  Grab a hot dog and a beer and watch Philadelphia’s team play, or take a look behind the scenes with a tour of the ballpark.

Philadelphia Big Bus Tour

There’s no better start to a city break than taking a bus tour.  They’re a quick and comfortable way to get your bearings and become acquainted with the main sights, while finding out the history behind the city by local experts.  The Philadelphia Big Bus Tour all the way from the Philadelphia Museum of Modern Art to Penn’s Landing with lots of monuments and neighbourhoods in between.  Best of all, the buses are hop on hop off and open-top, so you can enjoy the warm weather.

For more exciting things to do in Philadelphia, visit: www.philadelphiausa.travel

British Airways offer three nights at the 4* Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Philadelphia from £749 per person based on September 2012 departures.  Includes return British Airways flights from Heathrow and accommodation only.  For reservations visit ba.com/philadelphia or call 0844 493 0758

Art, Philadelphia, USA

The Barnes Foundation Re-Opens In Philadelphia

The re-opening of The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia has been one of the most talked about happenings in the international art world for many years.  For the grand opening week, in mid-May, I was invited to the press preview to discover the new Barnes Foundation.  A controversial relocation and redevelopment has divided critics, art lovers and locals, however, it was a pleasant surprise to see just how good the new campus looks.

The Barnes was founded in 1922 by Dr Albert C. Barnes, a chemist who made his money by co-developing a revolutionary drug, thus selling his company to pursue his passion for art.  The institute was originally located in Merrion, a suburb of Philadelphia, with the view to ‘promote the advancement of education and the appreciation of the fine arts and horticulture’.

The uncompromising Dr. Barnes had a profound distaste for the Philadelphia art establishment and rejected the typical ‘museum’ concept, from his unique presentation of artworks to limited access for visitors.  Art and education were free and there for all to experience, but effort was required and rewarded.

In the 1990s, The Barnes hit operational difficulty, due to zoning restrictions, and the foundation went to court to overturn Dr. Barnes’ wishes for the collection to remain at Merrion.  They succeeded and so began the $150 million transformation of The Barnes into an accessible new gallery in the heart of Philadelphia, on Benjamin Franklin Parkway (also known as ‘museum mile’).  The Barnes is now in the close company of the Philadelphia Museum of Modern Art, Franklin Institute, Academy of Natural Sciences, Please Touch Museum, Free Library of Philadelphia and the soon to re-open Rodin Museum.

The stunning new 93,000-square-foot Philadelphia campus was designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien.  The building features a textured grey and gold Negev limestone exterior on a stainless steel skin with bronze accents.  It occupies a four-and-a-half-acre site with landscape design by OLIN.  The red maple trees and shallow pools surrounding the walkway give it a sense of calm and tranquillity.

The Barnes is world renowned as having one of the finest collections of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Modernist paintings.  Dr. Barnes amassed an impressive number of paintings by the great European and American masters such as Matisse, Cézanne, Renoir, Picasso, Modigliani, Glackens and Pippin.

Also in the collection are ancient and African sculptures, Native American ceramics, jewellery and textiles and Pennsylvania German decorative arts (curated alongside the paintings with an admittedly bizarre sense of logic).

In contrast to the minimalist building, the presentation and order of the works has remained reverently untouched.  The paintings are still scattered (almost like a Pinterest board) in Dr. Barnes’ meticulous manner on a beige background, rejecting the typical white wall and minimal spacing of a regular gallery.  The only exception is that state of the art lighting has been used to bring out the true colours of the artworks, as though they have been cleaned.

The Barnes maintains its horticultural legacy by being a ‘gallery within a garden and a garden within a gallery’.  Dr. Barnes believed in the strong interplay between art and nature, so glass-covered internal gardens break up the rooms, partly so that the art doesn’t become overwhelming.

It also continues its commitment to education with comfortable, well-equipped classrooms, seminar rooms, 150-seat auditorium and a library.  Special exhibitions will soon feature and a summer programme of events, workshops, lectures and tours has been planned. A talk that caught my attention on 18 July is called “No Thanks!” Artwork That Dr. Barnes Chose Not to Buy or Keep – discussing why he rejected Van Gogh’s Starry Night and why at one time he wanted to trade away Matisse’s Seated Riffian.

In addition to this, Free First Sundays offers free admission to The Barnes every first Sunday of the month from 1pm-6pm (advance reservations are required).

Timed admissions will help to control the number of visitors and maintain The Barnes as a place of contemplation and uninterrupted study.  Considering that the original Barnes allowed a maximum of 500 visitors for only two and a half days per week, with telephone reservations required at least two weeks in advance, this is a monumental development.

The Barnes has now developed a more social aspect with visitors being able to dine at The Garden Restaurant and The Coffee Bar and shop for arty gifts at The Barnes Shop.  Barnes at Night also sees the gallery open until 10pm on a Friday evening with live music.  This seems like the biggest blow to the wishes of Dr. Barnes, but at least the gallery will come alive and reflect the energy and vibrancy of Philadelphia.

The Merrion Campus continues to be home to the Foundation’s education programs and the Archives.  The Barnes Arboretum, containing more than 2000 species/varieties of trees, is set to re-open to the public in autumn 2012, following extensive renovation.

Without having seen the original Barnes, it’s difficult to adopt a firm viewpoint on the transformation.  It’s a question of whether the public interest and preservation of these historical artworks should outweigh the collector’s life-long wishes.  Context aside, The Barnes Foundation is a spectacular building with an enviable art collection.  It strengthens Philadelphia’s position as the ‘city of the moment’ for arts and culture.

For more information on Philadelphia’s arts and culture scene, please visit: www.philadelphiaUSA.travel

British Airways offer three nights at the 4* Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Philadelphia from £749 per person based on September 2012 departures.  Includes return British Airways flights from Heathrow and accommodation only.  For reservations visit ba.com/philadelphia or call 0844 493 0758