Alfresco, old & new

Open-air dining arrives with the spring

Posted: April 12, 2007

SPRING HAS sprung, and with it a flowering of outdoor patios, decks, and sidewalk cafes at local restaurants.

The old standbys are still around, from Rittenhouse Square's Rouge to Old City's Philadelphia Fish & Co. and Manayunk's mainstays, Derek's and Jake's.

But there are some notable newcomers this season, as well as some unsung existing gems, outdoor enclaves and escapes worthy of spending a few hours lazing and grazing at an afternoon brunch, or cuddling up for a romantic evening with a bottle - or two - of wine.

Here are some unique alfresco dining experiences for spring 2007 in the city and the burbs.

_ Tavern 17, 220 S. 17th St. (www.tavern17

restaurant.com) Welcome the latest resto-lounge to tony Rittenhouse Square. Tavern 17, situated between Walnut and Locust streets near the Radisson Warwick Hotel, will open May 1 with 170 seats indoors and 16 to 20 outside. Only this outdoor patio will have both a human menu - featuring items like "tavern sliders," orange-glazed salmon, tuna and beer carpaccio - and a separate canine menu, for discerning, barking customers. Happy hour will commence each day at "1700 hours" sharp.

_ Patou, 312 Market St., Old City. (215-928-

2987 or www.patourestaurant.com) The see-and-be-seen patio on the sidewalk outside Patou on Market Street seats a cozy 14. Get there early on a Friday or Saturday for chef and owner Patrice Rames' authentic southern French food, from lobster salad to a pan-sauteed skate fish. After dinner on weekends, head inside to the deep-blue-and-white-swathed, Cote d'Azur-style lounge for live jazz.

_ Meredith's, 10 Leopard Road, Berwyn, (610-251-0265) Get there early for dinner to get seats on the patio outside this cozy cottage-style BYOB cafe. At lunch, the place is a local cult favorite for homemade soups and appetizer plates on gorgeous sunny days, but seating is limited to 16.

_ Avalon, 312 S. High St., West Chester. (610-436-4100) This European-style BYOB screams date night with a spacious, 50-seat brick patio shaded by tropical plants and peppered with white-linen-covered tables topped with fresh flowers. This spring, owners are adding a mosaic wall and fountains to the alfresco decor. The sharing plates are flat-out sexy, from mussels to hummus, exotic-mushroom mixes or cheeses. The pastas are Italian-influenced, while the entrees range from tandoori salmon to Australian free-range lamb or sesame-seared scallops with a blood-orange salad and lemon vinaigrette.

_ Positano Coast, 212 Walnut St. (215-238-0499) For a hipster night in Old City that doesn't involve a beer-soaked floor or bass-thumping music, slip into a deck chair at Aldo Lamberti's white-washed Positano Coast. The outdoor seating area and dining tables flank giant, glass push-open windows, for a chic way to dine and be part of the action inside and out. Chef Pippo Lamberti never tires of trying new and outrageous seafoods, prepared in really unique ways. This spring, Lamberti - known for his crudo, an Italian take on sushi - is unveiling a rack of wild boar grilled with juniper berry and black-currant jus and fresh polenta, as well as a sea-urchin pasta.

_ 333 Belrose, 333 Belrose Ave., Radnor, (610-293-1000) The fine American cuisine at 333 Belrose, the site of a former colonial stable, will be served up this spring in a 60-seat, slate-and-stone courtyard that is surrounded by flowers and ringed around a gorgeous 200-year-old oak tree. The restaurant has created a new spring menu featuring an eclectic mix of American cuisine with French touches, from butter lettuce salad with champagne vinaigrette to salt-crusted jumbo shrimp with saffron onions.

_ Oceanaire Seafood Room, 700 Walnut St. (215-625-8862 or www.theoceanaire.

com) This national chain and 2006 newcomer to Washington Square will boast a 40-seat outdoor dining area this spring in a quaint courtyard off St. James Street near 7th. The patio area will serve continuous meals - and cocktails - from lunch through dinner and into the evening, until 10 p.m. weekdays and 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. The food is fun, an extensive seafood menu that harks back to the giant plates and gluttonous desserts from decadent 1930s cruise ships. Try the frozen creamsicle Baked Alaska on a warm day.

_ Ecco Qui, 3200 Chestnut St. (215-222-ECCO or www.eccoqui.com) Next to the Phoenix building's Tir Na Nog bar and restaurant sidewalk patio at 16th and Arch streets, our pick for a fun open-air, after-work happy hour is Ecco Qui (translated "here it is" in Italian) at 32nd and Chestnut streets on the Drexel campus. Owned by longtime University City pizzeria czar Joe Scarpa, the 50-seat patio along Chestnut Street has a laid-back, Shore vibe with its colorful umbrellas and resin chairs, the type of place you'd go after work to grab a beer or martini with friends and munch some bruschetta or an "Ecco Sampler" with wings, cheese sticks and poppers.

_ The Water Works, 640 Water Works Drive (215-236-9000 or www.thewaterworksrestaurant.com) With the distinct honor of being one of the largest outdoor sit-down dining venues in the city, the Water Works restaurant seats 98 outside for alfresco meals, and this season, a 150-seat cliffside dining patio will be added in the back of the building along the brick apron adjacent to the Art Museum. This new seating area is billed as "grab and go" dining that will cater to the runners, bikers and other exercisers looking for snacks and cold beverages - alcoholic or non - at the end of their workouts.

* Restaurant M, 231 S. 8th St. (215-625-2946) This gem at the Morris House Hotel has a beautiful, red-brick patio and garden.

But the real draw outdoors this spring will be a wood-burning oven near the patio, where chef David Katz will be grilling up everything from pork chops to flatbreads, quail, organic chicken pressed under a brick Tuscan-style, whole fish and more.

This spring, Sunday brunch will be served indoors and out.

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