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James on 8th - Room for improvement

Our reservation was for 9:00, a seemingly easily accomodated date on a Friday, right? Wrong. Our wait stretched and stretched until finally it had been an hour and a half before we got our table. Now, to the owner Kristina's credit, she did ply us with free prosecco and scallop ceviche. Unfortunately the ceviche, allegedly seasoned with fennel and a tangerine sauce, was a bland at best.

Once we were seated, service was smooth and friendly. I started with a sweet potato agnolotti--small ravioli. They were delicious: sweet from the potato, rich from the parmigianno and earthy from the short rib sauce. I selected the slow cooked pork tenderloin with salt cooked apples and kale-parsnip gratin. The pork was tender and moist, but in the end it was just another pork tenderloin. Whatever salt cooking does, I'm not sure, because the apples were fairly plain. The gratin, however, was the real highlight. It was creamy and soft with a little firmness and the kale-parsnip flavor came through in a great way. Overall the dish was satisfactory, but not that impressive. I took a bite of my friend's very small portion of papparadelle with duck ragu and it was tasty pasta, but the sauce wasn't anything to write home about. The winner of the night was the hangar steak with smoked mashed potatoes--very tender and juicy.

I had a tender chestnut cake for dessert, as selection I made after being seduced by the waiters analogy of this cake to my favorite cake, that of the warm chocolate variety. They are not the same. Whereas warm chocolate cake is rich and gooey, this was just warm. There was no melting. The chestnut flavor went well with the fig accompaniment, but I felt let down after the description. My friend's chocolate terrine on olive oil fried bread with fleur de sel was a great concept, but the execution wasn't quite as great. The chocolate terrine was too rich and dense, the bread too thin and hard. Probably the most well executed dessert was the brown ale mousse. It was smooth and fluffy with a unique flavor that wasn't too sweet.

In the end, we shelled out $60 each with tax and tip for what I think was just a decent meal. The place has promise, but they need to work out a few kinks. They also need to reset some of their price and quantity expectations. Cocktails run around $12 and entrees aren't more than a cup or two of product. If that's your m.o., then you need to knock it out of the park with quality and James on 8th hasn't yet.

Feb 10, 2007
KidCube in Mid-Atlantic

WANTED: Memorable dinner for <=$75 per person (including tax & tip)

These are all really great suggestions. I haven't heard of any of them. Keep them coming, thanks!

Dec 08, 2006
KidCube in Manhattan

WANTED: Memorable dinner for <=$75 per person (including tax & tip)

My friend and I are coming into Manhattan for the day in a few weeks. We want a memorable dinner for <=$75 per person. Any cuisine is fine. It should be accessible by public transportation and not too far off the beaten path.

We're chowhounds, so we're very adventurous as long as it's delicious.

Dec 07, 2006
KidCube in Manhattan

Ravenna Review

I'm probably just dense, Kater. I thought your post was more about a personal preference against Italian vs. this particular restaurant. My bad.

Yeah, AmblerGirl, it was unfortunate. Every place has an off night, no doubt. I hope for the sake of the Chowhounders in that 'hood that it gets better. I live in Philly, so I don't dine there much at all.

Sep 14, 2006
KidCube in Pennsylvania

Ravenna Review

After digging on Chowhound, Citysearch, DigitalCity and personal recommendations, I settled on a trip to Ravenna for a recent thank you dinner from a friend. We went on a Thursday night around 7 in the evening.

When I read about Ravenna, most people described it as being in the middle of shopping center and advised me not to judge it by its outward appearance. I was expecting some hole in the wall in a strip mall. It's actually a well kept building among a few other shops and restaurants. The interior is well kept with sections of tile floors, carpet, bright yellow walls and fresh flowers.

I started my meal with rock shrimp on garlic toast and my friend ordered the panzanella (grilled bread) salad. This is where the trouble began. There was only one server at Ravenna that night. She was very gracious and competent, but clearly overburdened. That would explain why we got two mixed green salads instead of our appetizers. We corrected her and she took them away. My rock shrimp appetizer came out shortly thereafter, but my friend's bread salad took at least 10 more minutes. I was done by the time she got her salad.

The rock shrimp were cooked perfectly: firm, but not tough. Their sauce, however, was bland and lacking flavor. The one piece of toast wasn't particularly garlicky as advertised. My friends bread salad did have a tasty vinaigrette which seemed to have been made with an aged balsamic, because it was a bit sweeter and more syrupy than usual. The grilled bread was too tough. The trick with grilled bread salad is that you want the crispy bits of the char to contrast the softer bits of the bread made more tender by the juice of tomatoes or the vinaigrette. I think the salad may have been rushed.

At the advice of fellow Chowhounders, we both ordered the tagliatelle bolognese. Ravenna is supposed to be known for their homemade pasta. Unfortunately, we didn't homemade tagliatelle. We got linguine. Judging from the perfect uniformity of each of the pieces, this was boxed linguine. While satisfactory, it was not what I ordered or paid for. The meat sauce was unevenly distributed between the two portions. Both dishes had plenty of sauce, but my friend's had much more meat.

We chose the well-regarded cheese plate for dessert. The cheeses are from Dibruno Brothers, which is one of the best cheese places in Philly. For $12, I think we got a very generous serving. There were at least 3 pieces of 5 different cheeses. I didn't write the options down, but I enjoyed them all except the parmigiano romano (it was too hard to eat for me, but my friend loved it).

I did have two qualms about the cheese plate. First, the accompaniments were sparse and plain. We got walnuts, balsamic vinegar and figs. Half of the fun of a cheese plate are all the little extras that go with it. I'm thinking of bing cherries, membrillo, lavender honey, etc. I love learning what pairs well with a cheese and trying an exotic new ingredient I don't have on a daily basis. My other qualm was the bread. Cheese is usually best served with a plainer bread (such as a baguette) or cracker to let its flavor stand out. We got three pieces of grilled multigrain bread with walnuts. There wasn't enough bread for the amount of cheese. Plus, the texture and grilling of the bread made it a bit too tough for cheese.

I was disappointed with my trip to Ravenna. I could have overlooked the small service errors if the food stood out. During my trip, the food was underwhelming and, in the case of my entree, incorrect. I don't recommend Ravenna.

Sep 05, 2006
KidCube in Pennsylvania

Where should I eat: Ravenna, El Sarape or Blue Fin?

Thanks so much to everyone who weighed in with their vote. I'm going to go with the popular choice and visit Ravenna (it's easy to get good sushi in Center City). I'll report back with my review!

Aug 31, 2006
KidCube in Pennsylvania

Where should I eat: Ravenna, El Sarape or Blue Fin?

I'm being treated to a dinner in the burbs. After doing some research on Chowhound and other sites, I've narrowed my choices to one of these three:
- Ravenna
- El Sarape
- Blue Fin

Which one would you choose? Why?

Aug 30, 2006
KidCube in Pennsylvania