My experience at Sampan was extraordinary in that I liked our server, enjoyed the food, but would not return. Maybe it was restaurant week, maybe it was the unlucky trick of having a 10 person party of unusually loud teenagers seated next to us, but having our food inappropriately staggered over two and half hours while simultaneously not being able to hear my dining companion made for an unpleasant dining experience.
As faithful readers (e.g., family members) know, I am not a fan of restaurant week. Usually, it's a limited menu, limited portions, and the only extra value is a dessert I wouldn't have ordered anyways. Sampan actually reverses the equation, though -- it offers four courses, plus dessert, chosen off their entire menu, for $35. This is a lot of food. They're also offering this through October, by the way, should you be very hungry for Pan-Asian and high decibel levels this fall.
After about a 20 minute wait, we are afforded the opportunity to order. Our server is personable and knowledgeable about the menu and sells us on the restaurant week deal. Seconds after we place our order, the crab wanton taco and edamame dumplings arrive -- before our drinks. Seconds thereafter, still before drinks, the pork banh mi and the hamachi ceviche arrive.Drinks arrive a little later. I love a good yuzu sake martini, or really anything involving yuzu. The pork banh mi was a great mix of savory, moist pork with tangy pickled onions and vegetables, while the hamachi ceviche's tempura flakes provided an interesting texture to an otherwise straightforward approach to the ceviche. Then we waited. About an hour for the remaining four dishes. Looking back, we simply should have left at this point. We had enough food, and it was around this point that the party of ten was seated next to us, raising an already high noise level to something requiring earplugs. Our server put in for free yuzu lemonades to compensate for the wait, which I'm fairly confident did absolutely nothing for us. An hour later, my dining companion's peking duck and side of pad thai arrived. Despite the lack of hoisin sauce, the duck's flavors were complex, a good mixture of salty and sweet that contrasted well against the soft tamarind pancakes. Truly tasty morsels. I would be remiss by not mentioning my perfectly caramelized brussel sprouts and tasty scallops over a beet salad.
After finishing what we could, we sat with our completed plates for maybe 20 more minutes, until I was able to flag down our server and ask to move on, in lieu of dessert. Dessert still arrived, small ice cream cones with tiny homemade soft-serve ice cream. Charming, much like the rest of the food, if only we were seated in a different restaurant.
Sampan is located at 124 S. 13th Street, Philadelphia, Pa, www.sampanphilly.com.