Christmas in Rittenhouse Square

Winter Break 2018

Cocktails, Dining In, Dining Out, Drinks, Food

As with Thanksgiving, we needed Christmas to be a little different this year. Since Holly and I have been working at the same place (again) since September, we had the same time off from Christmas to New Year’s Day. Even during those few years we weren’t working together, we normally had just about the same time off, but it’s nice knowing that our schedules will be identical.

In the past, we have treated this time off as a kind of “second Staycation.” Our plans aren’t usually as elaborate, but we take the opportunity to get to a few spots we didn’t get around to during our October Staycation or just get to places we know we like. The weather this year, with the exception of one really rainy day, was pretty nice so we got to a few places in addition to cooking special things at home.

Our break started simply with a visit to a friend’s house for her annual Gluhwine party on Friday night. On Saturday, we made our usual run to the farmers’ markets followed by brunch at Rex1516, one of our all-around favorite spots. We’ve been going there frequently for years and know many of the people who work there so spending the first Saturday of the holiday break there feels like visiting friends.

The holiday cooking kicked off on Sunday with a delicious cheesy egg polenta.

Cheesy Breakfast Egg and Polenta Casserole
Cheesy Breakfast Egg and Polenta Casserole

We have a tradition of making seafood on Christmas Eve and then some heartier fare on Christmas Day. In the past on Christmas Eve, we have made Seafood Paella, Sicilian Fish Stew, and Cioppino.

This year, since we were celebrating Christmas without my mom, Holly and I and my brother decided to go out on Christmas Day so Holly and I shifted our cooking plans.

Sunday was the day before Christmas Eve but we decided to have our seafood dinner then and made a tasty fish and posole stew.

Seafood Pozole
Seafood Pozole

In between our tasty breakfast and tasty dinner, we went for a walk to see some local Christmas decorations. We walked through Rittenhouse Square, then to City Hall to see the official Christmas Tress, and then over to Love Park to walk through the Christmas Village and see a special display called “The Present.”

Another Christmas tradition since moving to Philadelphia had been going to Parc on Christmas morning. Again, since our Christmas Day plans changed, we shifted our Parc outing to the morning of Christmas Eve. I had the French Toast with Apples and Holly had a Spinach and Goat Cheese Omelette.

This year, our special Christmas dinner, which we had on Christmas Eve, was a cassoulet. We have made a cassoulet on a couple of other occasions but for those times, we had difficulty getting all the proper ingredients but this year we were able to do it right. Not only did we get all the right components (including duck confit, which we’ve had trouble locating in the past), we had the excellent cassoulet beans from Rancho Gordo. You might think all dried beans are the same, but they are not. We’ve belonged to the Rancho Gordo bean club just shy of a year and it has been a delight trying all the various beans. We followed David Lebovitz’s recipe, and our cassoulet turned out fantastic.

On Christmas Day, after opening our presents, we made a Spanish breakfast casserole before meeting my brother at the newly renamed Philadelphia Film Center, formerly known as the Prince Theater, to see Mary Poppins Returns. I hadn’t seen the original Mary Poppins in ages so we watched it over the weekend. I was glad we did because I didn’t remember much of it. Seeing it right before the sequel helped the new movie make more sense. Other than finding it a bit longer than it needed to be, I overall rather enjoyed it.

Spanish Breakfast Casserole
Spanish Breakfast Casserole

After the movie, we had dinner at SuGa. We shared a variety of dishes, including wild mushroom dumplings, curried chicken dumplings, scallion pancakes, goat cheese wontons, cumin Mongolian lamb, Sichuan chili shrimp, and Nova Scotia lobster fried rice XO.

The more Staycation-y part of the break began on Wednesday. We had a nice, lazy day before trying Giuseppe and Sons, a new Italian place just a few blocks away. We enjoyed the food but were a little disappointed with the pacing. The server let us know that everything is made fresh so would come out as it was ready which resulted in most of our food coming out all at once. There are plenty of places that make food to order but are able to pace the meal correctly.

The next day, we headed to East Passyunk to try Mike’s BBQ which is a fairly new place that we’ve been wanting to get to ever since it opened. The food was amazing. We shared a roast pork Italiano, a brisket cheesesteak, and an order of mac-n-cheese. As much as we enjoyed our lunch, we later had meat regrets. We were stuffed. We followed up lunch with a couple of beers at the Pub on East Passyunk which only made us feel more full. Perhaps if we had gone there a different time when we hadn’t had cassoulet a few days earlier and a big Italian meal the night before, our bellies may have handled things better. Lesson learned.

Friday was the one rainy day. We started the day by taking the books we were reading to Good Karma Cafe. Although this cafe is only a few blocks away, we had been there only once in our seven years in Philadelphia. We decided we needed to be better neighbors. It turned out to be a lovely morning. We were able to get a seat by the window and watch the rain as we read and drank our coffee. We had some thoughts of going home for breakfast but were enjoying our time at Good Karma so got a couple of bagel sandwiches. The coffee and food were excellent so we definitely need to get back there again before another seven years go by.

Coffee at Good Karma Cafe
Coffee at Good Karma Cafe

We went home for a while and then went over to Friday Saturday Sunday for afternoon cocktails. We are big fans of FSS and had been frequent visitors when they first opened a year ago. They deservedly became very popular which is great for them, but we have occasionally had difficulty getting in because of the crowd. We figured a Friday afternoon would be a good time, and it was.

We started with two of their specialty cocktails, a Fortune Seeker (Calvados, Batavia Arrack, Jamaican Rum, Mulled Cider Reduction, Red Wine) and a Low Road (Angostura Rum, Rioja Vermouth, Sfumato, Rose Water). We followed those with a couple of classic cocktails, a Martinez and a Martini.

Saturday, we did our usual farmers’ market routine and just cooked at home. On Sunday, we got sandwiches from Caffè Vienna, a new Italian sandwich place also just a few blocks away. We share a Broad Street Bully (spicy hot sopressata, dry capicola, sharp provolone, prosciutto di Parma, fried long hot peppers, blend of hot spices) and a Jackson Street (chicken cutlet, sharp provolone, roasted peppers, broccoli rabe). The chicken cutlet was a cold sandwich, which was fine, but unexpected. Delicious regardless as was the Broad Street Bully.

Jackson St and Broad Street Bully from Caffe Vienna
Jackson St and Broad Street Bully from Caffe Vienna

We didn’t have any plans for New Year’s Eve which has been our recent trend. During our first few years in Philadelphia, we had gone out, but I think our days of big New Year’s Eve plans may be behind us.

That doesn’t mean we didn’t find ways to enjoy the day.

For lunch, we went to Cheu Noodle Bar which has become, for whatever reason, a favorite place to go when we’re off from work. Partly because it’s a small place and having a day off means we can get there when they open and don’t have to wait for seats.

We shared an order of the broccoli with Vietnamese sausage and peanuts. Holly had the shrimp Dan Dan noodles, and I had the brisket ramen.

For dinner, we made Red Red (African Black-Eyed Peas Stew). As with the cassoulet, the black-eyed peas came from our Rancho Gordo bean club.

Red Red (African Black-Eyed Peas Stew)
Red Red (African Black-Eyed Peas Stew)

On New Year’s Day, we went to Tio Flores for lunch where I had the garlic shrimp quesadilla, and Holly had the mushroom quesadilla. At home that night, we made chicken with apple butter bbq sauce, baked beans, and corn muffins.

Needless to say, we really enjoyed the time off. I feel lucky that we work at a place that gives us that week. It was definitely tough going back to work, especially since we don’t have another day off until Memorial Day, although we do have some travel plans before then.

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