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Photo: Eli Siegel
Photo: Eli Siegel

Family-style dining at Aqimero

A refreshing take on South American cuisine in the heart of a gorgeous hotel lobby.

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Walking into the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Center City is a jaw-dropping experience. The ornate building, originally built in 1908 to house the Girard Trust Bank, recalls the Roman Pantheon with an oculus in the center of the ceiling and bold Ionic capitals seated atop long columns that encase the room. The interior of this magnificent space has recently been converted into the hotel’s own bar and restaurant — Aqimero.

The idea of Aqimero is to offer guests a variety of South American dishes that can be enjoyed together by a group of people, shared family-style.

“We want to offer more interesting dishes, not just chicken and a filet of fish like many other hotel restaurants,” explained Chef Vincent Giannini. “It’s a shareable format with a price point on par with similar places in the city.”

Indeed, there is simply no way a single person could consume the entirety of the Churrasco Board, one of the restaurant’s most emblematic dishes, which contains a heaping platter of picanha steak, linguica sausage, iberico spare ribs and lamb loin served with salsa verde and chimichurri sauce. I’d highly recommend enjoying it with a glass of Faustino I, a Gran Reserva tempranillo from 2005.

Similarly meant to be shared are a selection of smaller plates that make homage to a variety of South American ingredients.

“Our dishes are rustic,” said Giannini. “There’s usually two, three, or four ingredients on a plate. Each is high quality and prepared to taste exactly how I think it should.”

Highlights include: the Queijo Coalho, grilled Brazilian cheese sticks topped with oregano and seasoned with a wonderful pepper relish; the Stuffed Poblano, a large poblano pepper filled with chorizo, rice and monterey cheese; and the Street Corn Tortillas, bicolor corn tortillas topped with queso fresco, cotija, brown butter and tarragon.

There’s also the Tuna Tartare — tuna flavored with pineapple, avocado and olives — that goes wonderfully with a glass of Sancerre Sauvignon Blanc which also features pineapple. The gooey delicious Pao de Queijo is another nice treat that is surprisingly gluten free, as it uses tapioca flour.

These wonderful plates are all inspired by Chef Giannini’s time spent living in Brazil, where he picked up knowledge of the local cuisine, as well as his experience cooking in high-end restaurants in Philadelphia, such as 24, JG Domestic and Wm. Mulherin’s Sons.

“Before this I mainly cooked Italian food,” said Giannini. “Italian cooking is a good base for anything because you take simple ingredients and make them stand out.”

The restaurant also doubles as a relaxing lounge where you can enjoy many of the same smaller dishes as well as sip a glass of wine or cocktail directly beneath the oculus. They have a Happy Hour, Monday through Friday between 4pm and 6:30 p.m. with half-priced drinks, discounted food, and a cocktail of the month. Every Saturday and Sunday between 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. they offer a bottomless brunch with cocktails and huevos rancheros.

For more information about Aqimero check out their website, www.aqimero.com. Hours: BREAKFAST: Daily | 6:30am - 11:00am, LUNCH: Monday - Friday | 11:30am - 3:00pm, DINNER: Sunday - Thursday | 5:00pm - 10:00pm, Friday & Saturday | 5:00pm - 11:00pm

BRUNCH: Saturday & Sunday | 11:30am - 3:00pm.

Address: 10 AVENUE OF THE ARTS, PHILADELPHIA, PA 19102. Prices: $12 - $65 (Some dishes, such as the Churrasco Board ($88), are more expensive, but meant to be shared by multiple people.)

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