The Perfect Martini “How To”s Collected

martini-with-twist

Over the course of the almost two years that I’ve been writing this blog I’ve posted many random martini quotes, several reviews of restaurant and bars, made opinionated comments about stemware, and expounded on my pet peeves.  And, of course, I’ve also written extensively on what I believe makes a great Martini.  But these “How To” posts are scattered throughout this website and are hard to find.   No Longer!

Here, finally, is a compendium of links to the “How To” articles of Martini Making.  These describe my thoughts and beliefs of making the “Perfect Martini”.  Or to be most precise, my perfect martini.   The posts describe more than just the recipe and process of assembling the finest cocktail, but give some of the technical background of ‘what’ and ‘why’.

So here below for the first time are assembled the heart of Martini Magic…..

Here’s where we start, the art of creation:
The Perfect Martini Process

This link will help you find the answer to the age old question that keeps us awake at nights …. is Shaken really better than Stirred?   And why?
Shaken vs. Stirred Revisited: Conclusion.

If you just want to really know what they mean when some Gin snob warns you about ‘Bruising’, here’s the real deal.  (Hint; its not what you think.  But then, it’s not what they think either!)
Shaken vs. Stirred Revisited : Bruising

Are there really differences between Shaking and Stirring??? Yes!  And here are the two most significant differences.
Shaken vs. Stirred Revisited: Dilution
Shaken vs. Stirred Revisited: Temperature.

Finally, does Shaking taste better?  Read below to find out.
Shaken vs. Stirred Revisited: Taste

Cold Ice is critical to making the perfect Martini.  If you’re confused about the difference between warm and cold ice, check this out.
Cold Ice Please!

Of course a great Martini needs a suitable container from which to sip this marvelous beverage.   Here are a few thoughts on stemware.
Thoughts on Stemware, Part One
Thoughts on Stemware, Part Two
Thoughts on Stemware, Part Three
And even…..
To Stem or Not to Stem

As always, comments are very welcome.  Please let me know what you think especially if you disagree with my comments.

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Bar Review: Larsen’s Steakhouse, Valencia, CA

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Larsen’s Steakhouse in Valencia is a hidden jewel, well worth the effort to find it.

Because getting into Larson’s is not obvious.  It is located within the Westfield Valencia Town Center.  That is easy to find via the usual assortment of Android and iPhone apps.

As you approach the restaurant you will easily see the “Larsen’s Steakhouse” neon sign.  And you will immediately notice a brightly lit patio with heaters and an entrance doors just below and to the right of the Larsen’s sign.  You can see past the entrance inside to several TV monitors with the usual gamut of sports games on.  That is BJ’s Bar and Grill, that is NOT what you want.

So walk up to the Larsen’s neon sign and proceed left.   Just there is a nondescript door with very small lettering stating “Larsen’s Steakhouse” and the ‘LS’ logo above.  That’s the right spot.

The interior is clean, comfortable, and inviting.  There’s white walls with lots of dark wood accents, white table cloths.   The two times I’ve been there they had live music in the lounge playing.

The Martinis were excellent.  Nicely chilled stems, well prepared, and amble.  The barkeep asked if I wanted it stirred or shaken, offered several options for garnish, and allowed me to sample the gin before specifying my choice.

On that note, I sampled the Uncle Val’s!  Very very intense juniper with subtle accents of citrus and herbs.  But the juniper easily overpowered all flavors.  I had Val’s in my second Martini and it was good.  But I think that it is better suited for a G&T.

Larsen’s is the only Restaurant that I’ve visited recently that has Nolet’s Gold!  So if you’re looking to try this elite and highly rated and reviewed gin, here’s a great place for it.  While I would have loved to try Nolet’s Gold, it was just a bit outside my price comfort range.  But I’m saving my nickels for the right occasion.

Overall I give Larsen’s Steakhouse the coveted two Stems.  This is a place that I would definitely go for the Martini alone.

Martini Glass UprightMartini Glass Upright

For Gin selection, Larson’s gets an A.   Their selection includes:  Bombay, Bombay Sapphire, Tanqueray, Tanqueray Ten, Tanqueray Rangpur, Beefeater, Beefeater 24, Hendricks, Boodles, Caorunn, Uncle Val’s, Plymouth, St. George Botanivore, Nolet’s Silver, and Nolet’s Gold.

Bar Review: Traxx, Los Angeles, CA

320px-Los_Angeles_Union_Station_Sign

On a recent visit to downtown Los Angeles I found my way into a little bar called Traxx and was pleasantly surprised with the service, decor, and most importantly, the Marini.

Traxx is located within the beautiful and historic Union Station in Los Angeles.  Yes, the Amtrak / Metro Rail / Metrolink station.  Not where one would expect to find a quality bar.  But indeed this small and obscure bar is quite an oasis within the mad hustle and bustle of rail passengers rushing to & from the tracks, buses, taxis, and ubers.

Now one has to be careful that you find the bar and not the Traxx Restaurant.  The two are operated as a common entity, but they are physically separate.  I understand that the restaurant is really quite fine and their drinks come from the separate bar.  Alternatively, food orders at the bar come from the Restaurant kitchen.   But I have never had the good fortune to be at Union Station when the restaurant is open so I can only speak to the Bar itself.

The bar is just to the right as you enter the Station’s main entrance.  There are no large signs or neon lights inviting you in so its easy to miss if you’re rushing in to catch a train or rushing out to catch a taxi.  But if you slow down you’ll find it.

Once the original Telephone Room for all of Union Station, it is a time machine to a lost era.  Decorated in  gorgeous art deco wood, terra cotta, and marble tiled floors that spill out onto the main ticket concourse.  This is the classic atmosphere that catered to Bogart & Bacall, a backdrop of the classic golden days of Hollywood.   You can almost feel the ghosts of yesterday brush against you today

As for the Martini itself, they were excellent.  The stems were well chilled, the Martini was well shaken, poured immediately, and ample sized.  The barkeep was professional, friendly, and quite helpful.

Overall I give Traxx one Stem.  The criteria for two stems has always been “Worth a trip just to try the Martini”.  I can’t quite say that I would go there ONLY for the Martini.  But I would definitely go there for the Martini and the ambiance.

Martini Glass Upright

For selection Traxx gets a A.  Their Gins during my visit included Plymouth, Botanist, Bluecoat, Aviation, Few, Beefeater, Bombay Sapphire, Bombay, Tanqueray, Hendricks, St. George Botanivore, St. George Terroir, and Monkey 47.

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*****   Rating Definitions   ****

More on Union Station:

Union Station is definitely worth a visit.  This opulent station was build in 1939 and combines Spanish Colonial, Art Deco, and Streamline Moderne Architecture that represent California’s heritage and future ambitions.

The lower parts of the interior walls are covered in travertine marble and the floor in the large rooms is terra cotta with a central strip of inlaid marble (including travertine, somewhat unusual in floors since it is soft). The ceiling in the waiting room has the appearance of wood, but is actually made of steel.

02-union-stationUnion-Station-LA-Waiting-Ro

It was built to consolidate rail services from the three main passenger railroads serving Los Angeles at that time (the Union Pacific, Santa Fe, and Southern Pacific).   Conceived on a grand scale, Union Station became known as the “Last of the Great Railway Stations” built in the United States and remains the largest railroad passenger terminal in the Western United States.  It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

UP-Logo SP-Logo ATSF-Logo

Today, the station is the major transportation hub for Southern California, serving almost 110,000 passengers a day.   In addition to being the origin of Amtrak’s three long distance trains (the Coast Starlight to Seattle, the Southwest Chief and “Texas Eagle” to Chicago, and the Sunset Limited to New Orleans), it also serves Amtrak’s California Pacific Surfliner regional trains which run frequently to/from San Diego north to either Santa Barbara or San Luis Obispo. The station is also the hub of the Metrolink commuter trains and serves as a stop on the Metro Rail system.

Bar Review: Moshulu, Philadelphia, PA

Mishulu Deck Martini

Or When is a Martini Stem not a martini Stem?

That is my Martini on my most recent visit to Moshulu!

First let me explain a bit about Moshulu.  She is a four-masted steel barque built  in Scotland in 1904 and is the largest remaining original “windjammer”.   Her first runs were shipping grain from Spain to Australia and back.  Later, between 1904 and 1914, she shipped coal from Wales to South America, nitrate from Chile to Germany, coal from Australia to Chile, and coke and patent fuel from Germany to Santa Rosalía, Mexico.

But now she is a floating restaurant docked in Penn’s Landing, Philadelphia.  And a very good restaurant!  The decor is classic nautical.  Well, really, what else would you expect!  There are two ‘floors’ available; the interior main deck with a dining rooms and bar/lounge and the upper, open air though covered, dining area.  Above this is another bar.  The views of the Delaware river, and New Jersey on the opposite shore, are wonderful from almost anywhere on the boat.  Only the tables on the Philadelphia side miss this view.

I’ve eaten here several times over the years and I’m never disappointed.  Whether inside, outside, or at the top bar the experience is wonderful.  It is absolutely a great place for a romantic dinner and drinks. Especially when the weather allows sitting up on the deck.

So what does this all have to do with the Martini photo above!  Yes the photo above is of my served Martini.  As my regular readers knows, I’m a bit old fashioned, if not obsessed, about my stems and I was a bit taken aback when this was presented to me.  I also know from experience that the main level bar serves their Martinis in ‘martini’ stems.  So in my mind I’m wondering ‘What’s up with this?’

Well after an excellent dinner I headed up to the top level bar to witness directly how they made the martini and have a talk with the barkeep.  It turns out that the bar purposely used the brandy stem for all Martinis ‘upstairs’.  Or more specifically ‘in the wind’!

Since this bar is open air and a bit above ground level, its gets a bit breezy.  They have had the unnerving experience of seeing their Martinis served in martini stems being blown over on several occasions.  Turns out that the brandy stem is much more stable in the wind than the martini stem.  As the barkeep advised, “You can have the Martini in the brandy or in your lap”.  Given that choice I chose to enjoy the Martini in the snifter.

As for a Martini Rating, Moshulu gets one stem.  Their Martinis are very good, they’re just not quite good enough to warrant a trip based on their Martini alone.  However I would highly recommend the restaurant as a whole and am looking forward to returning.

Martini Glass Upright

For Gin Selection Watermark gets a TBD.  Unfortunately I didn’t get the details of their entire gin selection.  I know they have the ‘Big 5’: Bombay, Bombay Sapphire, Tanqueray , Tanqueray Ten, Hendricks.  There is also Nolet’s and, being located in Philadelphia, they have Bluecoat.  But I believe there are other selections.  Fortunately this just gives me an excuse to go back and do a bit more research.

An interesting side note; in the top photo, that blurry grey thing in the upper background is the retired battleship USS New Jersey.

For more information on Moshulu:
www.moshulu.com

Moshulu Logo SQ

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*****   Rating Definitions   ****

What is a Martini?

After my recent post on Eggnog Martini (Egg Nog Martini??? Really?) in which I generally described my amusement, if not disdain, of various cocktails described as “Martinis”… or more typically, ‘somthing‘tini a person very close to me asked “OK, what makes a Martini a Martini”.

To answer that I’ll ask, “What makes a chocolate chip cookie a chocolate chip cookie”?  Bear with me here and all will be clear.

There are a lot of ‘-tinis’ out there that are, or have been, popular, even trendy;  Appletini, Chocotini, Cranberrytini, Peachtini, Watermellontini, Peppermintini, Bacontini, etc.  These cocktails may indeed  be delicious, fun, and frivolous.  The common element in these cocktails is that they are served in a martini stem and usually made with vodka.

But a martini stem does not a Martini make.   Similarly a small baked bit of batter alone does not a Chocolate Chip Cookie make.

A Martini has a definite recipe.  It is composed of Gin, Vermouth, and a garnish.  Vodka is an acceptable, if not traditional, substitute for Gin.  The garnish may be an olive or twist.  And it’s traditionally served in a martini stem, but that does not make it a Martini.

A Chocolate Chip Cookie has a definite recipe with very few variations.  It is a cookie made with Chocolate Chips.   And maybe some walnuts and / or marshmallows.  It is not a biscotti, or bagel, or muffin.  It is a cookie.  And it must have Chocolate Chips.

A Martini does not have apple, chocolate, peach, peppermint, or Eggnog.  A Chocolate Chip Cookie does not have raisins, lemon peel, oatmeal, cranberries, or peanuts.

Oatmeal raisin cookies are delicious and a personal favorite.  The look very similar to Chocolate Chip cookies, but they are not a “Oatmeal Raisin Chocolate Chip cookie”.   And an Appletini maybe fun and tasty, but it is not a Martini.

So what makes a Martini a Martini?  Gin, Vermouth (proportions to personal taste) and a garnish; olive or twist.  Preferably served chilled in a chilled martini stem.

Do All Hotel Bars Suck??

OK, maybe I should ask ‘do all business hotel’s bars suck?’

I’m sure there are divine resorts out there somewhere on a moonlit beach that serve awesome never-to-be-forgotten martinis.    And exquisite penthouse bars topping luxury hotels in the cosmopolitan centers of the world that serve flaming ice cold martinis in giant stein sized stems.  You know, the places with Astons parked outside, topless Victoria Secret models lounging at the pools, and where cognac or champagne ads are perpetually being filmed.

Most of us mere mortals do not stay at these places on business or even family vacations. No, most of us business travelers are not CEOs, CFOs, CTOs, or C ‘pick a title’ Os.  We are are the road warriors that do real work for our companies.

We end up at the Hampton/Courtyard/Ramada/Howard Johnson/Four Points.  And if they have a bar, they just suck.   But what do you after 8 hours of flying in two, or more, aluminum cans and you finally get to the hotel at 9:47pm??  Go out looking for a decent bar??

You grimace, sigh heavily, and go down to the local hotel bar and order a drink.   Then you pray.  Pray that the local beer slinger knows what a martini is.   Pray that the local concept of a DRY martini is not a 2 to 1 ratio!!!  In either direction.  O.o  Pray that they know the difference between a twist and a slice, or worse a wedge, of lemon.

YES, I have experienced each of these disgraces to the noble Martini.   And many more.  I’ve previously detailed some of these experiences of my Martini pet peeves which you can see in my previous post, ingeniously named Martini Making Pet Peeves.

This is why I try very hard to stay at the local big city hotels when I travel, much to my boss’s amusement.  Even if I have to drive an hour into ‘the sticks’ to get to my meeting.  In the city I have a much better chance to find a good bar that knows how to make a good Martini.

Driving an hour to work in the morning is better than an evening with a bad martini!  If I just had an Aston it would be two hours!

The Perfect Martini Process, V1.0

Since this blog has existed I’ve advocated and supported the concept that your Perfect Martini is just that, yours.  My Perfect Martini is mine.  And the two may not be identical.   What is important is that we find that which works for each of us.

Having said that, I thought it time to share what I believe works best for me.  Interestingly over the course of the last year researching for this blog and writing about Martinis and Martini preparation my taste has ‘evolved’.  My preference has moved a bit drier and I’m garnishing with a twist much more often.  Lime if available.

Anyway, here is my process.  Note that I say ‘process’, not recipe.  The recipe is pretty simple:  3 ounces of chilled Bombay Sapphire Gin, a capful of Vermouth, and a twist.  But it is the process of putting that together that really makes the Perfect Martini.

The process starts with advanced preparation.  Put the bottle of Gin and your Martini stem in the freezer and the vermouth in the refrigerator.   IF you use a massive shaker, that should go in the freezer too.  This should be done well before you need to prepare the Martini.  (I just leave my gin in the freezer and vermouth in the fridge permanently.)

Then make the twist.  I always prepare the twist before the martini so that the martini doesn’t wait, and get warm, if I make the twist at the end of the process.  No, the twist will not wilt or dry out in the 90 seconds you make the Martini…. it will be just fine waiting for its grand entry at the end of the process.   This goes for olives, if you prefer them…. spear them before the martini.

Finally we start making the Martini proper.  Fill the shaker with about a cup of cold ice.   (See Cold Ice Please! for comments and description of “Cold Ice”).  Take the cap off the Vermouth bottle, fill it with Vermouth and put that in the shaker with the cold ice.  Swirl or shake the Vermouth and ice briefly and then drain the Vermouth.  Keep the ice, of course.

Next put 3 ounces of Bombay Sapphire Gin into the shaker.  (That’s 6 tablespoons or a 3/8 cup if you don’t have a jigger.)  Shake the shaker vigorously for about 10 seconds.   10 seconds is all you need to chill the liquid, any more and your just working your biceps, triceps, and delts.

Now, quickly remove the Martini stem from the freezer and pour the Martini from the shaker into the Stem.  Take the twist and lightly run the rind around the edge of the stem, squeeze a bit of the oils into the liquid, and drop it gently into the Martini.

Finally take the Martini out to the porch, sit comfortable, look at the sunset over the beach, and enjoy the Perfect Martini.

 

A Brief History of Martini

The history of the martini is a murky one.  As one might guess with many alcoholic concoctions through time, things weren’t always written down.  This appears to be the case with the Martini.

Still, the history of the martini can easily be traced back to the late nineteenth century, when it was first listed in bar-tending manuals.  For example, the Martinez cocktail is referenced in the 1887 Bartender manual by Jerry Thomas, of the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco.  The “Martinez” is also detailed in an 1884 cocktail book by O.H. Byron, as “a Manhattan in which gin is substituted for whiskey.”

There are also a few historical references points from which we can at least set some boundaries.  Gin itself goes back to the 17th Century Holland, though ‘modern’ Gin started a bit later.  Gordon’s produced its first version of London Dry Gin in 1769 and Beefeater came along in 1862.  An Italian vermouth maker, Martini & Rossi, started marketing its product under the brand name Martini in 1863.

Still the exact location and date of the invention of the “Martini” is a bit confusing.  There appear to be 3 1/2 main conflicting story lines.  The first, and the half, is that the Martini originated in California.  The second that it originated in New York.  And finally that it was a marketing ploy.

The town of Martinez, CA, advertises itself as the birthplace of the Martini so we’ll start there.  It suggests that the drink in fact originated in a prominent bar in Martinez, where it was known as a “Martinez Special.” There it was served to a celebrating gold miner on his way to San Francisco, who, after enjoying the drink so much, delivered the recipe to San Francisco when he had to instruct a local bartender on how to make it.  That bartender is allegedly the “Professor” Jerry Thomas.

During the late 19th century Thomas was renowned around the US for his innovative bar-tending work, flashy techniques, and man-about-town demeanor.  He claims to have invented the cocktail himself while at the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco.  He contended that it was for a gold minor on his way across the bay to Martinez and beyond to the California gold fields.  Thomas therefore named it in honor of this traveler.

Whichever of these may be true, or not, none-the-less Thomas is noteworthy for publishing the first seminal cocktail manual, The Bar-Tenders Guide. The aforementioned 1887 edition included the Martinez cocktail.  The recipe was:  a dash of bitters, two dashes of maraschino (a cherry liquor), a wineglass of vermouth (most likely sweet vermouth), a pony of Old Tom gin (a sweetened gin) and a quarter slice of lemon!

However that is nowhere near today’s gin and vermouth definition of a Martini.  So does that count as the invention of THE Martini?  Or just a predecessor?

Another interesting note about the California stories is the reference to the gold miner.  The California gold rush started in 1848 with the first ‘rush’ of incoming minors in 1849.  Hence the name ’49ers’ for the San Francisco American Football team.  The Gold Rush peaked in the early 1850s and was pretty much done by the late 1850s.  If these stories are to be believed that puts the date of invention firmly in the 1850-55 range.

Another theory promoted by some cocktail historians is that the Martini first appeared at the New York City’s Knickerbocker Hotel.  This hotel was, in the early 20th century, manned by bartender Martini di Arma di Taggia.  He claimed to invent the drink before World War I.   The story goes, he served a drink, a favorite of John D. Rockefeller, that blended London dry gin, Noilly Prat Vermouth, and orange bitters.

This is certainly a more Martini-like concoction and its likely, though  impossible to verify, that he named it after himself.  Its also very possible that di Arma di Taggia knew of the Martinez of California, perhaps from some returning Gold Miner?  Or even had acquired a copy of Thomas’ Bartender manual.   So its quite possible that both the West Coast and East Coast theories are, in fact, part of the natural evolution of the Martini.

Finally, some believe that the martini was named after the Martini and Rossi vermouth.  This seems to be an obvious source – customers ordering a gin and vermouth concoction at a bar would simply ask for a “gin and Martini.”   Given how simply drinks were labelled in the 19th centuries, it’s plausible that this got shortened over time to ‘Martini’.  Martini & Rossi, as part of their branding or marketing, would certainly have encouraged this transition.  This would be true even if the company didn’t invent the “Gin & Martini”.

Ultimately no one will know for certain who, when, or where the Martini came to be.  Personally I adhere to the gradual evolution idea.  Somewhere in California a Martinez was created.  Over time the drink evolved to the Martini, likely with a New York push which added a modern ‘cosmopolitan’ flair and aura.  And mostly certainly encouraged by Martini and Rossi.

 

 

 

A Martini Elitist??

Apparently I’m an elitist drinker?

I’m not sure what makes me an elitist though.  Is it the look I get when I order a ‘Bombay Sapphire’ Martini and the bartender looks at me with big vacant eyes and you can hear their mind sort of going “Whaaaaa?”  Then they sort of look at that bottle of ‘Martini & Rossi’ Vermouth gathering dust and you can see them wondering if that’s what I want.  And this wasn’t just the bartender.  This was the waitress, bartender, and manager!

Or is it that in my mind I’m thinking that they’re a moron?

This is not an idle imagination, this actually happened to me, twice, on my recent trip to Scotland.  Mind you, this wasn’t in the city center of Glasgow or Edinburgh where I’ve had no problem.  But it wasn’t in the far hinterlands of the Outer Hebrides where one might excuse a local beer tender.   This was in a middle sized tourist / seaside / fishing town.  This is the largest town in the highlands with 10,000 locals and untold numbers of tourists.  (I’ll keep the name of the place to myself to protect the ignorant.)

Considering that Scotland produces 70% of the Gin produced in the UK, you would think that a Martini would be universally recognized.  Or does everyone order G&T?

Seriously though, if you’re a bartender at a local bar serving beer to locals 98% of the time whose never seen a movie, read a book, or finished High School, I can understand perhaps not knowing what a Martini is.  But other than that, you absolutely should at least know that a Martini is a drink unto itself.

Or am I really a Martini elitist?  If so are we a dying breed?

Bar Review: Del Frisco’s, Philadelphia, PA

Martini at Del Frisco's Philadelphia
Martini at Del Frisco’s Philadelphia

Let me start by saying up front that Del Frisco’s is my favorite Philadelphia restaurant.  Del Frisco’s is an impressive Steakhouse, for the Steaks, the service, the wine list, the magnificent bar, and the extraordinary interior.

The restaurant occupies the former location of the First Pennsylvania Bank.  In fact you can book a special occasion downstairs IN the bank vault.  Very cool!  The building itself, the Packard, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The main dining room is three stories tall.  There is a secondary bar at the back of the restaurant up a flight of stair at the mezzanine level.  There are also second floor balconies with tables on either side of the main room.  However, IMHO, the most impressive single element of the interior is the ceiling: obviously hand built, very intricate, ornate, and very beautiful.  The second most impressive element is the three story wine ‘cellar’ in the center of the restaurant.

The food is great and the steaks are excellent.  The service has also always been excellent; accurate, helpful, and attentive yet discreet.  The main bar is long curving with comfortable chairs.  That is where I usually find myself, IF I can find a seat.  This place is very popular and often crowded around the bar.

The martinis here are excellent; ample, well shaken, well chilled, and served with a smile.  My favorite barkeep is Ebony and is highly recommended.  She is always happy, energetic, and helpful.  For their Martini’s Del Frisco’s should get two Martinis.

However, for Gin selection at Del Frisco’s only gets a “C-“.  Their gin selection is limited to a rather pedestrian Bombay Sapphire,  Tanqueray, Tanqueray 10, Hendrick’s, and Beefeater.  Which is really quite surprising considering their impressive wine list and good selection of Scotches and Cognacs.  (I don’t even look at anything else…… )

Overall I have to give Del Friscos’ one Martini.  While they stock my preferred Gin, Bombay Sapphire, if you prefer something else you may find yourself disappointed by the lack of selection.   Martini Glass Upright

*****   Rating Definitions   ****

Del Frisco’s Philadelphia web site:  http://www.delfriscos.com/steakhouse/philadelphia