Table Talk: El Camino Real, from Bar Ferdinand's Kamihira

The look is "Mexican border bar" at El Camino Real, set to open Tuesday in Northern Liberties.
The look is "Mexican border bar" at El Camino Real, set to open Tuesday in Northern Liberties.
Posted: December 11, 2008

Tuesday is the targeted opening of El Camino Real, the "Mexican border bar" at 1040 N. Second St. (215-925-1110) in Northern Liberties, in the Liberties Walk space that previously housed Deuce.

Owen Kamihira also owns Bar Ferdinand, the Spanish tapas bar, across the way. Before getting into restaurants, Kamihira had a hand in some of Stephen Starr's designs, including the Buddakan Buddha and the iconic martini olive at the Continental.

ECR's atmosphere will be rustic, supposedly evoking a dusty, low-lit, turn-of-the-20th-century cowboy-bar setting, down to the oak flooring. Artist Murf Sherman carved an eight-foot longhorn skull from a pine tree for one wall. Joe Brenman created a wooden Virgin of Guadalupe, enshrined in a steel bathtub illuminated by Christmas lights. The bar was pieced together from reclaimed oak from a covered bridge in Lancaster; the backs of the vinyl seats were hand-sewn from Mexican falsa blankets.

Oh, yes, the food: Chef Jen Zavala, who's lived and worked from Connecticut to California (including Northern Liberties' Deuce and Silk City), is aiming for a northern Mexican experience with two separate menus: Texas barbecue on one, and Juarez-style staples, including her grandmother's refried beans and carnitas, on the other.

Price range is $3 to $22. Drink list will include many bourbons and tequilas (25-plus varieties of each).

What's new

Jake's in Manayunk has gone the BYOB-optional route at all times, for a $5 corkage. Owner Bruce Cooper had been offering the BYOB option on certain days. Cooper recently opened the casual Cooper's Brick-Oven Wine Bar next door.

Rylei has moved from Frankford Avenue in Mayfair to Bucks County's Mallard Creek shopping center (130 Almshouse Rd., Richboro). Jennifer Brennan-Vargas and her husband, Jose Vargas, are keeping its New American BYOB concept and phone number, 215-335-0414.

Ho Sai Gai, closed for nine years, has reopened at 10th and Arch Streets after an extensive redo. Its sibling near 10th and Cherry will remain.

What's coming

The West Philly building housing Abbraccio (847 S. 47th St.) has been sold to Benny Lai, owner of the Vietnam Cafe and Fu Wah grocery store next door and Vietnam restaurant in Chinatown. Abbraccio's Roger Harman said the space was simply too large for the Italian restaurant. Abbraccio will remain through mid-February as Harman and partner Vincent Whittacre renovate a smaller place at 4800 Baltimore Ave. into a BYOB/coffee shop, which will be known as the Gold Standard. (That's the name of the previous operation owned at Penn by Harman and his late partner, Duane Ball.) The Gold Standard is supposed to open in March. Lai said he would expand Vietnam Cafe and buy Abbraccio's liquor license.

Seasons 52, billed as a "fresh grill and wine bar," is aiming for a spring opening in the "Bistro Row" next to Nordstrom at Cherry Hill Mall, near a California Pizza Kitchen, a Maggiano's and a Capital Grille. This will be the eighth Seasons 52 and the first outside of the Southeastern United States from Darden Restaurants, whose brands include Bahama Breeze, Capital Grille, Red Lobster and Olive Garden. Running counter to steak-house/comfort-food trends, Seasons 52 focuses on healthful dining with a seasonal menu. It serves 60 of its 120 wines by the glass. See an overview at www.seasons52.com.


Contact columnist Michael Klein at 215-854-5514 or mklein@phillynews.com. Read his blog at http://go.philly.com/insider.

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