Tuesday, July 30, 2013

#14: AKI Japanese Fusion Restaurant & Sake Bar

Welp, my baby sis is going to college in a few weeks. I was 6 when she was born, so I remember mostly everything about her childhood. I remember when my parents brought her home from the hospital, I remember her face scratching phase (my other sister has the scars to prove it), I remember her favorite bathing suit with a hippo named "Henry" on it, and I remember when she swallowed my hair clip and we had to take her to the hospital. If Shannon actually read my blog, she would hate me right now.

We all love to go out to sushi together, so Regan & I decided to take Shannon to AKI to celebrate her graduation and her new journey to college. It is right at 12th & Walnut, which is one of my favorite areas of the city. Since it is pretty far from Fairmount, we drove to AKI and paid $12 to park in a lot right across the street. In my book, this isn't bad at all. Definitely as much as a cab and/or public trans would cost for 3 people.

I tyipcally try to sugar coat places I don't like in the beginning of my blog. I talk about the decor and the atmosphere, blah blah blah. But its taken me 4 days to write about this place and I don't feel like going through all of that today.

We decided to go with the "All You Can Eat Sushi" special. $24.99 per person and we could order anything we wanted off of a special menu. I guess we thought we were really hungry and that we would be getting our moneys worth. We started with some appetizers. I got a side mixed greens salad w/ ginger dressing, Shannon got Miso Soup, and the Regan got Vegetable Spring Rolls & Edamame. The edamame, soup and salad were good, pretty basic and what you would expect. The Vegetable Spring Rolls were good, just tiny. I find this to be a trend in sushi restaurants: apps that are impossible to share.

We then put our first and only order of sushi in with the waitress. We ordered California, Shrimp Tempura, Spicy Tuna, and the Golden Dragon rolls. We intended to order more than this, but after you wait 1 hour to get 4 rolls,  you are less than enthused to continue ordering. We even had trouble finishing those 4 rolls. I was feeling a bit sick (not going to go on the record and contribute that to the sushi but... ). And there was a a "Rules" section on AKI's All You Can Eat Sushi Menu that specified that you MUST finish all of you're sushi or you will get charged. Okay so there were no capital letters, I am paraphrasing a bit. Anyways, we were feeling really pressured to eat all of the sushi even though we were stuffed. And if you've eaten a lot of sushi before, you know that once your full from sushi, you can't even think about attempting to force another piece down your throat. So this was the state we were in. I felt like my 9 year old self having to finish all of my milk before I was allowed to leave the table. We tried hiding some sushi under other food and under our napkins- if I had to pay even MORE than I already did for this sushi, I was not going to be happy camper. I even  had my speech ready if they were going to charge us.

Long story short- they didn't charge us extra, but we still didn't get our money's worth.We ended up paying $85 for the $45 worth of food we ate (I am cringing in this moment). Our eyes were bigger than our stomachs and in the end we probably shouldn't have gone with the all  you can eat special.  Like I've said in past blogs, we're not huge sushi people. My sisters actually only like 3 types of rolls between the two of them. That being said, the sushi we did get was basic. In no way should it have taken 60  minutes to make 4 of the most common rolls. The sushi was fine but I've definitely had better, fresher sushi in the past.

My justistifications for AKI sucking so much:
1. It was Wednesday, they are a participating SIPS restaurant, the sushi chefs could've been backed up. But we went at 8pm. And there were only 4 other tables filled in the place.
2. There was a pretty large table there that arrived at about the same time as we did. But you're a restaurant in the city on a Wednesday night in the summer, have your crap figured out.

I personally would not choose go back to AKI. Maybe I would sit at the cute bar and have a few rolls, but there are much better sushi places in the city. 5 stars for convenience, 1 star for service, 2 stars for sushi. Luckily, we made the best of it and still were able to enjoy ourselves. I'm due for a positive experience at a restaurant on my list- cross your fingers for me people!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

#13: Tequilas

I have been looking forward to trying Tequilas ever since I got my huge packet of gift cards. I picked up the envelope at the Center City District building and couldn't even wait until I got home to start opening it up and looking at the restaurants while driving (I do not recommend doing this). Anyways, Brendan and I made a 6pm reservation at Tequilas on a Wednesday night. We were thinking we might get to use some Sips deals while dining, but no go. (For all of my out of town blog readers, Sips is basically a happy hour special that a number of Philadelphia restaurants and bars participate in on Wednesdays from 5-7pm in the summer.) The bar was in a completely different room than the dining area and it was PACKED for Sips. It looked fun at first, but then a line formed to just step into the bar room, and that did not look fun. So, we sat in the dining area and got no deals, which was pretty apparent by our bill at the end of the night.

Tequila's is an authentic yet modern Mexican restaurant located on the corner of 16th and Locust. The place is really cool inside, decorated with some impressive wall paintings. A lot of skeleton creatures...

I liked the feel of the place. The dark lighting, plants and wall decor really transports you to feel like you are in Mexico. That being said, I am going to have to attribute my awful pictures to the dark lighting. And to the fact that it was packed from wall to wall (even in the dining area) so using my flash was very obvious, and we tried to avoid it at all costs. Brendan tried holding the tiny candle on the table to the food while taking pictures, but it didn't exactly do the trick.

I am not sure if it was because it was Sips or what, but the place was very, very crowded. We felt a bit rushed by our waiter, which I don't really want deal with ever, especially at 6pm on a Wednesday. No, I do not want to order my meal at the same time that I order my drink. No thanks. I digress.

I ordered a basic margarita. $10- no big deal. I kind of expected a decent size, or the absolute best margarita I've ever had, if I'm paying $10 for it, but it wasn't. Brendan ordered a Mexican beer, which I actually really liked. It was comparable to a Corona I would say.

To start,we ordered Empanadas Del Dia. "Handmade corn tortillas, filled with the freshest ingredients selected each day by our chef." Well, the chef picked beef . I would've preferred something more exciting but they were still really tasty and a perfect appetizer.

Now on to the entree round. Brendan ordered the Molcajetes. It was beef tenderloin served in a lava rock bowl, covered with a spicy salsa made from tomato, garlic and chile de arbol and accompanied by corn tortillas to make your own tacos. It also came with a side of guacamole, beans and rice.Brendan is easy to please and loved it. I thought that the beef was a bit chewy and rubbery, but it was fine. The corn tortillas were light, fluffy, and tasty. The presentation was pretty amazing, too. I recently got my Dad a molcajete for Father's Day to make guacamole and basically I have been using it more than he is. So overall, I am a fan of the molcajete and I think it really makes the presentation.

I was deciding between two dishes, the Chiles Rellenos and the Enchiladas Playa. When this becomes an issue for me, I usually ask the waiter and see what he or she recommends. Our waiter, clearly did not have time for my questions and quickly said the Enchiladas. So that is what I got. They were stuffed with crabmeat and shrimp, served with creamy poblano and chipotle peppers sauces. This dish was a lot for me on a Wednesday night. I could only finish one enchilada. However, I was impressed with how fresh the seafood was.

Tequilas was an overall good spot. The portions weren't huge and the atmosphere was fun and exciting. The waiters carried the drinks around on the top of their heads and on their fingertips which was entertaining to see. I will say that it was pricey and I was expecting more. I've heard great things about Tequilas and have been really excited to try, but it didn't exactly meet my expectations. I think that the service and the food/drinks not being up to par probably had a lot to do with the amount of people in the bar taking advantage of the specials. Anyways glad to go and glad to start hitting the 30s to go in my gift cards!

Monday, July 8, 2013

#12: Cooperage Wine and Whiskey Bar

Gift Card Number 12 was used to celebrate Brendan and I's five year anniversary. Not the most romantic spot you could say, but we're all about convenience. And the fact that Cooperage was 2 blocks from the train we needed to take to a concert in Camden is what sold us. When researching Cooperage I found two addresses, which stressed me. Not knowing Old City very well- OK not at all- I wanted to know exactly where to tell the cab to drop us off and to avoid having to turn around 5 times searching for the place. We figured out that it was inside the Curtis Center. This also threw me off. When restaurants are inside an office building I get slightly disinterested. It just doesn't feel authentic to me. It reminds me of TGI Fridays or Ruby Tuesdays. And honestly my gut was right. Cooperage felt like a chain restaurant to me. I had to double check if it was or not (it's not). From the location to the menu to the service- I didn't get an authentic Philly restaurant vibe from this place at all. Even the mason jar water glasses seemed like a reach to make this place feel like a convincing whiskey bar.

I hate to be overly negative so I will point out some positives. We ate around 630 on a Friday. It was pretty packed with happy hour goers and they had a lot of good drink and app specials from 5-7.We got to take advantage of this and ordered some beers and guacamole and chips. The guac was fabulous! It was full of avocado chunks and had a spicy kick to it.

However, the beer offerings were... Annoying. I like to go into a bar and find a beer that I know and like and enjoy it. Not happening for me here. I am in no way a beer aficionado, but I'm not a complete idiot when it comes to beer. That being said, I literally knew 0 beers on the draft list and 1 beer on the bottle list (Yuengling). I attempted to be adventurous and order a random one and I hated it. Oh wait, I'm supposed to be talking about the positives here. Whoops. The food was good. Brendan got the French dip sandwich and said it was cooked perfectly. I had the veggie burger which was just okay. Super messy and difficult to eat.

Veggie Burger
French Dip

We finished off our meal with two shots of Jameson- in the spirit of a whiskey bar and to possibly help me forget about my experience here. Cooperage seems like a fun after work happy hour spot or a good place to grab something quick. Only in those two cases will I venture back.