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Nowadays, when most people hear the word “swank” they think first of Hilary, winner of this year’s best actress Oscar. Not me though. For me, swank is a way of life — all glitter and fabulousness. I don’t actually live that life, but it’s a goal. So how happy was I when I first heard of a new restaurant called Swanky Bubbles at 10 S. Front St. in Philadelphia? I dreamed of a place where I could pretend I was the jet-setting, high-society girl I know I was born to be — a place to glide through a sparkling pink mist of champagne bubbles, with nattily dressed men laughing at my every sly joke and Frank Sinatra swinging in the background. That’s just how I pictured the place. I was a little off but only on the details. I had the degree of spectacularness down pat. Situated next door to the venerable blues house Warmdaddy’s, the restaurant offers a more understated swankiness than I imagined. For some reason, I was convinced everything would be pink inside, but there is no pink. Blue is the predominant hue. The shade is presented most gorgeously on the bar and tabletops, which are mosaics of varying tones of blue and green cracked glass. Velvety red chairs line the bar and the upstairs lounge, and deep blue curtains drape the walls. The music in the background is more techno than swing, and the atmosphere more lounge than soiree. One big plus for the night-owl crowd, though — dinner is served until 1 a.m. The building is long and narrow, and both rooms are dimly lit, creating an intimate, closed-in feeling. I could almost forget the outside world at my little table for two — if only the door weren’t open, blowing chilly March air onto my bare arms. I almost asked to have my seat changed, but then I thought, “What a wonderful excuse to warm up with some cocktails!” Swanky Bubbles, owned by John and Vincent Frankowski, who also run Martini’s Lounge, bills itself as a champagne bar — the only one in Philadelphia — and it sure delivers. The menu offers a wide array of fun champagne cocktails. I like the way they’re all different colors, practically allowing you to drink a rainbow. I started off with the Metropolis ($6), a mixture of Stoli Strasberi, a splash of strawberry liqueur and champagne, which was pretty good, if not very strawberry-y. My guest started off with a Tangerine Dream ($6), consisting of orange juice, Cointreau and champagne. He liked it, but felt a little girly drinking it. He tried to regain his masculinity later with a dirty martini. Luckily, our waitress was quite helpful, because we were a tad perplexed by the menu. It is not divided into the traditional categories of appetizers and entrees. Everything is grouped together under the heading “Bubblicious.” Most of the food is Asian-inspired, with French and Spanish influences. What the restaurant encourages, both the waitress and a blurb on the menu told us, is an atmosphere of “social dining.” Swanky Bubbles, like Mr. Rogers, wants everyone to share. Therefore, most things are served in small dishes, although guests have the option of ordering items in double, triple or quadruple sizes for more substantial servings. In a separate section, the menu also offers a variety of sushi, maki, sashimi and caviar. Although I love choices, I have issues when it comes down to making decisions. So it’s obvious we took our sweet time finalizing our selections. Causing us the most grief was wondering whether we had ordered too much food or too little. Our server assured we would have just enough. I was no sooner done ordering an Emerald ($6) — champagne and melon liqueur, my vote for best of the cocktails — when our food arrived. Everything is served family-style, which means it comes to the table as soon as it’s ready. A lot of our food came out at once, so some things were a little cool by the time I got to them, but it was nothing I couldn’t live with. Spicy soba noodles ($7), pan-seared scallops ($10) and wasabi mashed potatoes ($4) were cramped onto our wee table. Our settings consisted of small square glass plates and heavy silver chopsticks. Forks are also available for the chopstick-impaired. The large diver scallops were incredible, not at all rubbery. Served with a slightly tangy triple vinegar sauce, they were seared just enough on the outside, leaving the interior moist and soft. The taste the sauce left on my pallet melded amazingly well with the few slices of caramelized papaya served on the side. Changing course on the flavor map, I moved into spicier territory with the soba and mashed potatoes. I guess in this day of trendy restaurants, wasabi mashed potatoes aren’t anything new. But this was my virgin experience. They weren’t as hot as I feared, but they definitely had a kick. The soba was more pungent. The slippery green-tea noodles were tossed with scallions, julienne peppers, snow pea shoots and baby bok choy. Although they had me flagging down the waitstaff for water, the spiciness wasn’t lasting. Our sushi selection had a Northeast coast theme — Philly rolls ($9) and Boston rolls ($10). The Philly variety were filled with smoked salmon, scallions, cream cheese and a touch of crunchy tempura that I really liked. The Boston rolls were packed with poached shrimp, which I found a little chewy, cucumber and a spicy sauce. My guest and I both thought the rolls were mediocre, but the two pieces of tuna sashimi ($9) we ordered were some of the freshest we’ve ever experienced. The last entree to grace our table was truly a grand finale — unagi ($10), broiled eel served over sesame seasoned sushi rice with avocado and caramelized onion. This was the first time I’ve seen eel served on its own and not in a sushi. I certainly hope it won’t be the last. The sweet, smooth meat yielded easily to my fork, and the avocado turned out to be the perfect companion on its way down into my stomach. I don’t know why more restaurants haven’t ventured into eel dishes. Other items on the extensive menu include typhoon shrimp ($18), deep-fried and wrapped in wontons with a sweet-and-sour peanut sauce; soft-shell crab with a sweet chili glaze ($10); chicken capon ($12), pan-seared and served with cranberry-ginger and white Asian sweet-potato mash; and potato dumplings in a gorgonzola cream sauce ($7). The fish of the day was tempura fried whole fish basted with an orange sesame champagne glaze. Alas, the point in the meal I generally anticipate most, causing me to sacrifice many a warm delicacy to the doggy bag — dessert — burst my swanky little bubble. I sulked inwardly from the moment the dessert tray was presented, knowing there was nothing I found terribly exotic or intriguing. The bananas tempura piqued my interest, but I thought they sounded a little too heavy and persuaded my guest to give them a go. I opted for the more refreshing peach mango cobbler. The cobbler was decent, tasting exactly like cobbler should. The bananas were passable, but I thought they could have used a more generous sprinkling of honey and some ice cream to get rid of the dryness. Other dessert choices that night included chocolate mousse, coconut creme brulee and strawberry parfait. All are $6. The small servings and social atmosphere make Swanky Bubbles a great spot to meet up with friends for some good conversation or to fill your belly up before a night out on the town. Just be ready to feel swankified. Swanky Bubbles, 10 S. Front St., Philadelphia, serves dinner between 4:30 p.m. and 1 a.m. daily. All major credit cards are accepted, as are reservations. Call 215-928-1200 or go to www.swankybubbles.com for more information.

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