I really wanted to like Philadelphia

I’ve been to Philadelphia a couple times for work, and I even spent the night once for pleasure, but I never really got out to see the city.  This past weekend I set out to address that issue, planning a get-away with my other half to celebrate our anniversary.  Part of the fun for me was that the trip was a complete surprise for her.  I gave her almost no details, other than a departure time on Friday and some vague guidelines on events (including a MLB game on Saturday, but not which one).  Heading down to Philadelphia on Amtrak was incredibly easy.  I’ve often suggested that the train is better than flying for the North-East Corridor, and after this weekend’s trips I am more steadfast in that opinion.

So we got on the train, popped a split of Proseco and had some cheese and crackers and enjoyed the ride into town.  We booked in to the Hilton Garden Inn ($55 on Priceline versus a list price of $159 on Hilton.com, and they gave me my HH Diamond benefits anyway, though I don’t think they were supposed to).  Actually, the HGI was the highlight of the trip.  We got a nice room upgrade, free drinks and free breakfast and everyone was incredibly nice.  I actually filled out a comment card lauding some of them; it was that good. 

That night we headed to Buddakan for dinner, an experience that we’d both been looking forward to for some time.  And boy were we disappointed.  The scene was what we expected – “hip & cool” – but the food was most certainly not up to par.  The menu came loaded with options like “Zen-gria” and “dip sum” donuts.  We were surprised to not find Moons over my Hammy™ on the menu (nod to the wife for that gem).  We ordered five appetizers for our dinner.  At most restaurants the apps are better than the entrees, with the chef willing to take a bit more risk on getting creative.  And this was supposed to be a haven of new flavors, so we thought we made a good choice.  Shrimp & Scallop Spring Rolls, King Crab Tempura, Tuna Carpaccio “Pizza,” Lobster Fried Rice and Hot Eel Dice were the choices.  And here’s how they fared:

  • Shrimp & Scallop Spring Rolls – Probably the best of the five, with decent chunks of the shellfish and a light wrapper.  But that was it.  No other flavors mixed in the stuffing.  The dipping sauces were pretty good.
  • King Crab Tempura – Overly soggy and lacking in flavor.  We were spoiled by having the king crab app at Morimoto earlier in the week, but I was still expecting some crab flavor to seep through.  I was denied.
  • Tuna Carpaccio “Pizza” – I was hesitant to order it because it had “pizza” in the name.  I should’ve trusted my gut.  Without the sauce it was sliced tuna and avocado on a toasted pita.  And neither the tuna nor the avocado were all that great.  The sauce was a soy/wasabi blend, so that added some flavor to it and made it passable, but really just barely.
  • Lobster Fried Rice – I’m still trying to figure out where the saffron got lost in the kitchen; it certainly never made it to our fried rice.  The lobster chunks were overcooked and lacking that tenderness that correctly cooked lobster effuses.
  • Hot Eel Dice – This is the only app without a description on the menu.  We asked for one and it definitely didn’t match what was served.  The “dice” is actually a couple pieces of hot eel sushi with a bit of avocado layered in.  And unlike normal eel sushi it was lacking the tangy sauce that is normally served, meaning that this plate also was missing out on flavor.  And it was full pieces. lending no credibility to the word “dice” in the name.

The dessert was OK (we had the chocolate/banana thing), but still not great and certainly not living up to the high expectations that we had.  Maybe our expectations were too high, but it just wasn’t a great meal.  Sad, but true. 

IMGP3044Back to the hotel that night and then up and out the next morning to take in some of the historical sights downtown.  That translates to the liberty bell and the old state house.  We spent the typical 30 minutes going through the liberty bell pavilion, reading the signs and basking in the history.  And I still have absolutely no idea why the Liberty Bell is relevant in American history.  It pre-dates the revolution by 20-odd years.  It was not used as a signal for anything in particular because it broke pretty soon after it went into service.  Best as I can tell it actually did nothing, other than to become an icon for various civil rights groups throughout the past 200 years.  It didn’t figure in the drive for independence nor in the revolutionary (or other) wars.  I guess it is all that is left of Philly’s claim to revolutionary history so they keep pumping it up, but I cannot figure out what its relevance is.  The other building was the old state house. We toured the grounds but did not wait in line to go inside.  Maybe that part of the tour was better, but the grounds were nothing special, save for about a dozen Argenbright security guards posing for photos with the tourists.  Oh, and a statue of Washington.

I’ll admit that we didn’t make it to the art museum nor to the Franklin Center, both of which I’ve heard good things about.  But still, I was left wondering what all the fuss is about in Philadelphia.  At least we saw this guy in the train station which was entertaining:


I’ll probably give Philly another try at some point, like in September when I have another 6am flight out, but until then I’ll be looking at other options, and will continue to try to figure out why the Liberty Bell has garnered the reputation it has as relevant.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. Indeed, after talking with some others who have visited and/or lived there it seems that the historical stuff is a waste (and that the Liberty Bell is rather irrelevant). The art museum and the Franklin Institute are the places to see. Now I know for next time.

  2. I just went to Buddakan in AC and like most Starr concepts, the food was slightly above average but overpriced. When I saw the check and realized that we could have gone to Morton’s for the price, it made me think that Starr pays way too much for interior design consultation. Let me know the next time you are in PHL with tie to kill – it’ll be cheesesteaks and the USS New Jersey with Center City and PHL planespotting thrown in.

  3. I enjoyed my time in Philadelphia though I did not eat at Buddakan.

    My visit was filled with off the beaten path places that my family members knew of and I thought the food was great.

    The city itself has to be experienced from the Center City area as I think that’s where the life is.

  4. Seems like everyone knows the cool stuff to do in Philly except for me. I guess I’m coming to all of you next time I’m in town for suggestions.

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