Tomo Sushi

Highlights from Staycation 2021

posted in: Cocktails, Dining Out, Drinks, Food, Staycation, Wine | 0

Ever since moving to Philadelphia, Holly and I have taken an annual Staycation. We started taking it in August because Holly had been teaching during the fall and spring semesters. When she stopped teaching, we started combining our Staycation with the Philadelphia Film Festival which occurs in October. We spent our days going to movies, trying new restaurants or revisiting favorites, and mixing in trips to museums or scenic walks.

Of course, all that changed last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. I wasn’t even sure if there was going to be a film festival last year, but when the Philadelphia Film Society announced there was going to be a streaming festival, we decided to take that week off.

Instead of going anywhere, we watched all the movies streaming at home and ordered takeout and delivery. We did get out for one really nice walk along the Schuylkill River, but, other than that, most of our time off was spent at home. I referred to last year’s Staycation as “now with extra Stay.”

I documented our Staycation in my October 2020 Update and my November 2020 Update posts on This Creative Midlife.

Interestingly, in my October post, I noted:

Assuming that this time next year, we’ll have a vaccine for the Coronavirus and the pandemic will be under control, I’ll be curious to see what the festival will be like. It would be nice if the Film Society comes up with some kind of hybrid model in which some films are shown in the theater and others are available streaming. 

Luckily, I was right to hope for such things. We were both vaccinated in the spring, and the film festival featured both in-person screenings and streaming options.

The Film Society had a few safety regulations which made going to movies in-person reasonably comfortable. They required proof of vaccination and mask wearing. They also had 50% capacity in their theaters. They roped off every other seat so even people from the same household had to sit one seat apart. A big upside to this was the roped off seats were staggered for each row meaning that no one ever sat directly in front of you.


Movies

I saw 13 movies in the theaters and Holly came along to 11 of them. We also watched 3 movies at home in addition to some of the animated, live action, and documentary shorts.

As always, it’s difficult to rate the movies since they are always so different from each other. 

I would say the following were my favorite feature films:

The End of Us

Last Film Show

Memoria

Ninja Baby

Petite Maman

Terrorizers

The Worst Person in the World

We didn’t see as many documentaries as we usually do, but one stood out:

Flee

Terrorizers was the first movie I had seen in a theater since we saw The Rise of Skywalker in December 2019. 

It didn’t feel as strange to be back in a theater as I thought it might. As I mentioned, the restriction they had in place helped things feel comfortable.


Food

Going out to eat during Staycation didn’t feel strange since we had started slowly returning to restaurants after getting fully vaccinated in late spring. We mainly tried to eat outdoors but did dine inside on a few occasions with varying degrees of comfort.

We kicked off our Staycation by going to Ambrosia BYOB which is a newish Italian restaurant in our neighborhood. We had been meaning to go ever since it had opened but we never prioritized getting there and then the pandemic delayed a lot of our dining out adventures.

They do have a nice outdoor set-up so there really isn’t any excuse for our not getting there sooner. Our loss since dinner was delicious. As is our custom, we ordered a bunch of dishes to share, including Salmon Belly Crudo, Grilled Octopus, Gnocchi, Squid Ink Spaghettini, and Airline Chicken. We loved everything except the chicken. We tend to not get chicken breast since it is often dry. At Ambrosia, it was better than it often can be and we enjoyed it but it didn’t live up to the other dishes we had. That’s more a matter of our tastes than a criticism of Ambrosia.

Most of the places we went to during Staycation were new to us. However, there were a couple of places that weren’t entirely new to us. One was Tomo Sushi. We had ordered delivery from them a few times during the past year-and-a-half but had never been there, which we rectified during our week.

We ordered many of the same things we had gotten delivered and thoroughly enjoyed (Straw-Veggie, Salmon Yaki, Vegan Red Dragon) supplemented with a couple new items (Spicy Tuna, Shrimp on Fire). Our deliveries were always well-packaged and arrived in good shape but getting our food straight from the kitchen was certainly a delight.

The other place that wasn’t new to us was Oyster House. It had been several years since we had last been there. It had been on our to revisit list for quite some time. During our Staycation, we actually went there twice, the first time for a delicious dinner. 

Holly and I shared the Grilled Octopus, the Fried Calamari, and the Clams Casino. I had the Fisherman’s Stew and Holly had the Halibut. At the end of our meal, we each enjoyed their Twinned Negronis made with 2 different bitter amari, 2 different gins, and 2 different vermouths.

Clams Casino at Oyster House
Clams Casino at Oyster House

The next day, our movies ended in the early afternoon, and we decided we wanted to partake in some Day Drinking. We hadn’t had the opportunity previously during the week and wanted to make sure we did so at least once. It always feels so enjoyably decadent to be sitting in a bar somewhere when we normally would be working.

We shared a bowl of Manhattan Clam Chowder, and order of Fried Calamari, and a couple rounds of Martinis.

Given how much I enjoy seafood, it’s hard to believe that we had gone years between visits there.

The other restaurants highlighted here were all new to us.

We are big fans of and frequent visitors to the restaurants in the Sojourn Philly restaurant group: Rex1516 (now Rex at the Royal), Jet Wine Bar, and Café Ynez. Somewhat recently, they opened a new place, Sor Ynez.

Unlike their first 3 establishments, Sor Ynez is not all that close to us so we waited until we had our week off to venture onto the Market-Frankford El (which was unpleasantly crowded) to get there. Although the ride was uncomfortable, Sor Ynez made us quickly forget about it.

Initially, we sat outside, but it soon started raining lightly so we moved inside. We were there late in the afternoon for an early dinner so it wasn’t yet crowded, and we felt comfortable eating indoors.

Again, we shared a few dishes: Sikil Pak (mayan pumpkin seed hummus, pomegranate, crudite, house chips), “Alt Pastor” Tacos (Spit-roasted cauliflower, red chile, pineapple, salsa verde, onions, cilantro), Mushroom Carnitas Tacos, and Sweet Potato Tacos. 

We started off with a couple of cocktails: a Ranch Water (tequila, lime, club soda) and a Frida (tequila, lime, orange liqueur, charred corn). Both were delicious, and we followed those up with some excellent wines.

Sikil Pak at Sor Ynez
Sikil Pak at Sor Ynez

Another place that had been on our to try list for a long time has been Fitzwater Cafe. We went there for a late breakfast on our way to the theater and really enjoyed our meal. They don’t have a website or much of a social media presence so I wasn’t sure what their menu was like. I was expecting fairly basic cafe fare, but their menu was quite interesting. I wish I had taken a picture of it for reference.

I had the Bella Vista Frittata which featured Italian sausage and roasted red peppers. Holly had an Avocado Toast which included really nice tomatoes.

One standout meal was the one we had at Bar Poulet which is also a somewhat new restaurant near us. It used to be Tria Taproom which we used to enjoy on occasion. Bar Poulet is from the same owners. We are also fans of their Tria Cafe Rittenhouse and Tria Cafe Wash West.

The concept of Bar Poulet is serving fried chicken with champagne. Holly has told me before about what an excellent combination this is, but I had never had it before. After our visit to Bar Poulet, I totally agree about this pairing!

We started with the Heirloom Crudité appetizer and then shared an order of Poulet Frit and an order of Champignons Frit. Of course, we couldn’t resist also getting a side of Mashed Potatoes with Truffle Gravy.

If I had to choose a favorite dining experience of Staycation, I would have to say it was our dinner at Bar Poulet.

Poulet Frit at Bar Poulet
Poulet Frit at Bar Poulet

Although we sat outside on some chilly nights, we were so thrilled to experience something a little close to our usual Staycation. I hope that by the time next October rolls around, the world will be even closer to being back to normal.


Museums

Our one outing other than dining and movies was a trip to 2 art museums.

We went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art for their Jasper Johns: Mind/Mirror exhibit and to the Barnes Foundation for their Suzanne Valadon: Model, Painter, Rebel exhibit.

I was a little familiar with Jasper Johns prior to hearing about the show, but I had never heard of Suzanne Valadon before. In preparation for our visits, I read the exhibition catalog for both. 

Jasper Johns and Suzanne Valadon Books
Jasper Johns and Suzanne Valadon Books

Back in the spring, Holly and I had gone to the fantastic Soutine / de Kooning Conversations in Paint exhibit also at the Barnes Foundation. Earlier in the year, I didn’t know if we were going to get the chance to actually attend because of the pandemic so I read the exhibition catalog. When we were able to go a few weeks after getting fully vaccinated, I realized I quite enjoyed going to the exhibition having had read the catalog. Since I found doing so rewarding, I decided to get the exhibition catalogs for both the Johns and Valadon shows and was glad I did.

I was particularly glad to have read the Jasper Johns catalog because the show was split between 2 museums: the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art. We weren’t inclined to take the trip to New York so I appreciated being able to at least see what the rest of the show was like in the book.

Not only did we enjoy the shows we set out to see, but we also liked a couple of the other exhibits at that time at the Philadelphia Museum of Art: Emma Amos: Color Odyssey and Richard Benson: The World Is Smarter Than You Are.

I can’t express how lucky I feel to live in a city with such great museums.

We had a great week off. We’re certainly happy that we took advantage of taking the opportunity to get out and about. Who knows what the full extent of the omicron variant (or some other future variant) might be? 

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