Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Occupying the former location of Astral Plane is fish, chef Mike Stollenwerk's 3 month old center city cousin to Little Fish, a south philly BYOB where I've never been - and apparently have been missing out big time.
I'm not huge on ordering fish at restaurants, mostly because mediocre establishments tend to keep fish in the boring world of salmon with dijon or tuna with wasabi mashed potatoes. Not that I don't like these things but I'd rather cook them at home and try new stuff when I go out.
The menu at fish is fresh and exciting - not a single seared salmon in sight- but not so weird that you couldn't bring your grandmother. Everything was good and a few things were incredible.
Started with oysters with banyuls mignonette, right on the oysters not on the side. And another dozen with cucumber and lemon. Takes some balls because some crank is going to send them back and ask for cocktail sauce. Anyway, great oysters - good selection ranging from mild to super briney - all fresh, delicious and perfectly shucked, no dirt or pieces of shell or busted up oysters.
I wish I had a bowl of the lobster with white beans in front of me right now. Basically a lobster chili, super comforting with that deep flavor that you usually only get from real mexican food. I'll go back just for this.
The peekytoe crab cake also blew me away. Crab cake is usually the #1 contender for mediocrity on every menu unless you're at a shack on the ocean that is literally pulling them out of the water in the back. But this was anything but. Ratatouille sounds like a strange combination but it was awesome. And the crab cake itself was possibly the best I've had in a 'fine dining' setting.
Hamachi with mustard seed was super simple and delicious. The beet salad with chicken skin was sort of your standard goat cheese & beet salad with a few chicken skins thrown on. The combo of crispy skin / beet and goat cheese was awesome but i would push this one out of the safe zone, more skin and less beets and maybe even a smaller portion.
My skate wing with truffled spaetzle & leek fondue was fantastic. The parmesan broth was similar to a sauce we used to make at BP for the braised chicken gnocchi ... the kind of thing that made all the screaming and flying pots & pans worth it - although Stollenwerk's sauce was lighter and probably doesn't have bacon in it.
It was a flavor that I've been missing and this brought me back in a big way to what I love about this kind of food. Less gimmicks and more delicious flavors executed perfectly. And real truffles.
Also fantastic was the snapper with merguez sausage and paprika. Then giant scallops with butternut squash, Israeli couscous and curried mussel broth, seemed like a lot of competing flavors to me, especially compared to the simplicity and harmony of the other dishes.. but everyone else at the table loved it.
Nice cocktails too, on the old fashioned / retro side of things, and great to see belgians, local beers, pacifico and miller lite on the same menu. The overall experience was outstanding. For a nice dinner in the Rittenhouse or Graduate Hospital area I would recommend Fish without hesitation.
215 545 9600
Sunday, December 27, 2009
Pho Saigon is my new pho haunt. But I need a car to get there, so anyone who reads this please invite me. I dont really need a car but its harder to get to then all the other ones near Washington.
What I love about this place is that it reminds me of California. Because all the good food in California are in strip malls, it's a given. So Pho Saigon is in a strip mall, it's super clean ( clean for the asian eating standards ) and it has slightly hilarious outgoing Vietnamese waiters. Which took me by surprise in Philadelphia. The vegetables and the meat taste really fresh, my beef comes out bright red rare in my Pho and they have the BBQ pork summer roll. They also indulged Jenni by giving her 2 eggs on her BBQ pork vermicelli bowl, genius, yes.
1100 South Columbus Boulevard
Philadelphia, PA 19147-5513
I know I'm late on this BBQ posting, because Bebe's has been open for a while now, and it has lovely reviews so there's no reason for me to wait this long. I've been trying, their hours have just been extended and now they have delivery ( YES!) South Philly just got sweeter.
So were going to take our pork focus away from hotdogs and to Bebe's beautiful pulled pork. Which lovely Tamara, my biscuit angel, pulls from the bones and chops up right in front of me and drenches in their North Carolina style sauce. Everything of course was awesome and I don't have a single need or want for anything more. I am normally a sucker for sticky sweet tomato based BBQ sauces, but everything about Bebe's BBQ was done with love, detail and care. So there was no need to hide mediocre meat behind a sauce, at Bebe's everything was moist delicious and the sauce complimented the meat perfectly.
What made visiting them on Sunday a little bit more special was the smoked chicken, which for a pork lover like me, actually swayed me a little bit. It was amazing. The spicy biscuits were so good I don't think I came up for air or spoke until they were all gone. And to top it off was the most perfect tiny pecan pie.
It was a great way to end a year of good eating.
In the Italian Market
1017 South 9th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Here's last week's Hot Dog Of The Week article for Serious Eats.
Shipped from Alaska, Reindeer hot dogs are available at MA's Hot Dog Stand in Anchorage, Biker Jim's in Denver, and Beez Neez in Portland.
Mike of MA's and Biker Jim (who happen to be old kitchen buddies) both serve their caribou dogs with grilled onions cooked in coca-cola. Biker Jim adds cream cheese from a caulk gun, Seattle Style.
Friday, December 11, 2009
Picked up some natural casing NY state hot dogs at Wegman's in Collegeville, PA. Got a pack of Zwiegels 6 to a pound "Texas Hot Dogs" and a 3 pound pack of Sahlen's for the freezer. They also had Zwiegel's White Hots - a pork,beef and veal uncured dog unique to Rochester.
This is particularly exciting because these products are extremely hard to find in Philadelphia, if not impossible. Normally eating these dogs would mean a 6 hour car ride to Buffalo or Rochester.
The Zweigel's were the best. Pan fried in butter and topped with mustard. Also tried one with onions and a mound of real PA Dutch pepper cabbage from the Reading Terminal Market - which I realize is complete regional blasphemy but it was delicous.
The Amish pepper cabbage was more briney and sweet than the pepper hash you would find on a hot dog at Moe's or 25th & Passyunk. More of a pickled flavor, like cabbage relish, but still delicious on a hot dog.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Haven't been to Chickie's in a few years, ever since Cosmi's became my hoagie spot.. Still amazing. Just got the standard Italian which here includes Genoa Salami, Coteghino and Mortadella. I love how they just sort of crumble the sharp provolone instead of trying to slice it or something.
Chickie's has also got some new specials going on like a fried tomato & bacon hoagie, sort of an italian fried green tomato BLT.
They're been on plenty of Best Of Philly lists and it's well deserved.
1014 Federal St.
Word is that the Pulled Pork Italian (different than roast pork) is the way to go at DiNic's in the Reading Terminal.
Still no vote from me on the best pork sandwich in Philly. Although I'd put this up there with John's and George's on 9th street. (The one that was on the Sandwiches That You Will Like PBS show). Haven't been to Paesano's yet though, I hear good things....
11th & Filbert
Saturday, November 28, 2009
Philadelphia comfort food all the way. South Philly waitresses, thick milkshakes, homemade soup, two dollar old-fashioned cocktails.
The mashed potatoes next to my chicken croquettes might have been from a box. But there was about a pound of them covered in delicious gravy. And my 7 dollar dinner came with a bowl of homemade escarole soup.
Meatballs I had on my next visit were also definitely homemade. The burger was another hit, a real hand formed patty and pretty juicy, didn't taste like it had seen a freezer. Killer milkshakes and giant slices of banana cream pie for a few bucks.
Dying to try their creamed chipped beef on toast, my last few plates of that have been pretty rough. Lots of great SOS out in Amish Country but not much in the city. Might have to drop the 16 bucks and try out the 10 Arts version.
Believe it or not I had never actually eaten at John's Roast Pork until a week ago. Tried plenty of times, but usually got there 15 minutes after they closed the doors. One day this summer I even rode down there at 10 am and there's a big sign on the door, "on vacation".
Finally caught them when they were open and have to say John's lives up to the hype, especially the roast pork. It has a unique flavor like they might throw some cloves or something in the mix. I would rank John's a notch or two above Tony Luke's, whose famous roast pork is decent but fails to knock my socks off ..although their Texas Tommy is amazing. I would say John's and George's on 9th street are in the running for best Roast Pork that I've had.
John's cheesesteak -winner of "best" many times over- was decent. Heaping piles of meat on seeded Sarcone's bread, very similar to Cosmi's Steak. I love Sarcone's Bread, especially for hoagies but I have to say I prefer a cheesesteak with a medium amount of meat and a softer Amoroso long roll, just sturdy enough that it doesn't fall apart.
Steve's Prince of Steaks comes close to a perfect cheesesteak for me, at least in the bread department, although I prefer the meat more thinly sliced. It's tough to pick a favorite, there's a handful of places that consistently do Roast Pork and Steaks really well, after that it comes down to personal preference and/or neighborhood loyalty.
But if you were wondering if it's worth it to take an extra hour for lunch, or wait in a long line to get John's Roast Pork before they close, the answer is definitely YES.
So if you aren't sick of turkey yet... Last week I whipped up some turkey empanadas with dried cranberries simmered in red wine, cinnamon, chiles, bay leaf, etc... The cranberries by themselves were pretty amazing, tasted like mexican christmas.
I assumed I could find Goya empanada wrappers no problem but after going to half the mexican grocery stores in Philadelphia, I found lots of amazing stuff but no Goya Discos. I realized I'd better bust out the flour and rolling pin.
I'm not too much of a pastry / measuring guy so I was worried but turns out empanada dough is super easy. Flour, salt, fat, water & vinegar. I used half butter and half bacon fat for the shortening, and to my surprise the dough turned out great on the first try. If you've ever made pierogies it's almost the same.
I made enough filling for about 4000 empanadas and was up until 2am thanksgiving eve rolling out dough so now I have a bunch in the freezer. My mom made her classic pennsylvania dutch side dishes of pepper hash and potato filling and some amazing cranberry/orange relish.
Rolling out the empanadas I listened to some great thanksgiving-related Jean Sheperd podcasts. Best known as the author & narrator of A Christmas Story, Sheperd got started in radio and nearly all of his shows are documented in a podcast that you can subscribe to with itunes.
Monday, November 23, 2009
Friday, November 20, 2009
In Puerto Rico last weekend for a wedding. Rincon is a real deal rustic surfing village with stray dogs and dudes selling coconuts and empenadas out of trucks on the side of the road.
I tried some streetmeat but what did it for me were the bakeries - sort of like bodegas, where you can grab coffee, cigarettes, 6 packs of beer - plus there's a full-on bakery in the back cranking out fresh bread, sandwiches and pastries every day.
Puntas Bakery is close to the beach on Rt 413 (the main drag of Rincon) and plastered in surfing stickers. I was a little worried when I saw a philly cheesesteak on the menu. Went for a combination pork-beef-chicken sandwich and an egg & cheese with bacon. Delicious. The sandwiches are made on the bakeries' own pan de agua (water bread) and pressed. Pretty much exactly like a cuban without the pickles or mustard but plenty of butter and mayonnaise.
Punta Mar Bakery, a little further down 413, had more seating, no cheesesteaks and an amazing pineapple turnover. Another delicious sandwich with shredded chicken, sliced ham and cheese. I could eat these things every day for the rest of my life. Also an assortment of ribs and meats under a heat lamp. Amazing.
Latest Hot Dog Of The Week for Serious Eats. Grab one at Famous 4th Street Deli (pictured below). About halfway through I took my side of slaw and just dumped it right on the dog. It will blow your mind.
They also make a knish dog. Check out the new location on 19th St. just north of Chestnut.
Saturday, November 7, 2009
I briefly had a layover in Hawaii to visit my parents for dinner on my way to Korea, and I had a taste of why I am the eater I am. Here is a quick photo I took of the deli counter at FoodLand ( yes isn't that the best name for a grocery store?) and the poke ( a variety of seafoody salads) portion of the deli counter. Probably the only place in America where perfectly normal people walk up to the deli counter to get seasoned sea snails and kimchee crab for there afterwork snack or on the way to the beach.