The Answer to Your Late-Night Cheesy Fried-Food Post-Bar Cravings: ROSA BLANCA

Executive Director of PhillyGayCalendar

Rosa Blanca, the newest restaurant by mega-chef Jose Garces, may fill the much-needed void in Center City for a weekend late-night, somewhat classy, eatery (I mean, the male wait staff wear cute little tight black tuxedos) with a lot of fried food to soak up the liquor that you’ve consumed earlier in the evening at Woody’s or Tabu.  The new dining spot, which opened at 707 Chestnut Street in the former Chifa location, is open until 2AM on Friday and Saturday (midnight is closing time for the rest of the week), and although there are some things to be desired about the eatery, the overall concept is unique and sorely appreciated.

The restaurant, which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, has an interesting juxtaposition of space; when you first walk in, you feel like you are in an old-school aqua-colored diner, with a whirring espresso machine and a case of delicious-looking pastries (they do take-out).  As you move through this brightly colored area, there is a huge bar area adorned with stools and a host of bartenders.  The back half of the dining establishment, however, is dark, sexy, and candlelit—this part of the restaurant reminded me quite a bit of the old space, Chifa, which I still miss quite a bit.

PhillyGayCalendar’s director, Steve McCann, and I ate at Rosa Blanca on Thursday evening, and quickly came to realize that the smaller and cheesier (and I do mean that literally) the plates were, the better (and cheap, too).  The menu, which contains a huge amount of both traditional and Garces-influenced Cuban-inspired dishes, was almost overwhelming—we started with two “sides,” Queso Frito and Yucca Frita, both of which would be perfect for late-night snacking.  Of note, the Queso Frito, or “fried cheese,” was so wrong it was right (think slabs of cheese essentially toasted on both sides and served as is; you’re welcome).  The Yucca Frita (okay, enough with the language already: yucca fries) were also excellent.

We moved on to several other dishes: Steve enjoyed the Croquetas de Jamon (ham croquettes) and, his preferred pick, the Empanada de Jamon (ham and cheese empanada), as there was more cheese in this dish (are you noticing a theme?).  I tried the Empanada de Queso (ricotta and mozzarella empanada…don’t laugh), which was fine, followed by something GREEN (gasp!), the Ensalada Verde, which was, alas, only adequate.

Just in case you didn’t get enough to drink at the bars before you end up at Rosa Blanca on Saturday evening, there’s an abundance of cocktails on the menu.  I consider myself a mojito connoisseur, and was immediately intrigued by some of the specialty ones on the restaurant’s list.  The first one I tried was blended with basil and tamarind; as unique as this drink may sound, it was only okay.  The verdict: the classic mojito is clearly the way to go—it was fresh, crisp, and packed a punch.  There were also a wide spectrum of other cocktails and so many rums that I could barely keep track.

The wait staff, despite their nifty little tuxes that I described above, were clearly still new, and, alas, quite shaky at times.  The bus boys kept trying to clear our plates long before we were finished; yet, we had to ask for clean plates to enjoy our food once the “dirty” ones were whisked away.  With further training and practice, I’m sure this will improve, although it was a little annoying.

Yes, Rosa Blanca isn’t exactly in the gayborhood so to speak, but if you’re looking for a good bite and a nightcap at 1 AM on a Friday, you really can’t ask for anything better than a Garces restaurant that serves fried cheese and a variety of empanadas.  No shade to the Midtown II, but it’s absolutely worth the walk to 7th and Chestnut. 

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