Monday, February 23, 2009

Braised Artichoke & Tarragon-Butter-Cream Ricotta Gnocchi

We spied these Globe Artichokes at the Italian Market...2 for $3. One cookbook we have based on Roman cuisine had a recipie for braised artichoke that we wanted to try out.

After cleaning and breaking down the artichoke to the stem and heart, you place it in a saucepan for a snug fit, add olive-oil and sear the chokes. Once the chokes take on a slight sear, you add the braising liquid.

I used aboout 1/4 cup dry white wine, 1/4 cup Shaoxing wine (Chinese Sake cooking wine) and then enough water to cover the artichokes.

Simmer the braising liquid, covered, for about 30 minutes or until a knife goes through the cap completly. Then remove the cover and reduce the liquid. Take the artichokes out carefully, now that they're delicately cooked.

The finished results are an intense, almost nutty flavor...immediately Elizabeth smelled buttered pecans when I pulled the chokes from the braising liquid. Cooked tender, these were the perfect alternative to a starchy potato and accompanied our grass-fed strip-steak we bought at D'Angelo's.

Although the artichokes were a flavorful surprise, the star of the meal were Elizabeth's pillowy soft ricotta gnocchi.

We served these gnocchi in a sauce that was inspired by the escargot dish that we enjoyed at Zinc last weekend. We sauteed high-quality butter, shallots, garlic & tarragon in a pan for about 15 minutes, then finished it with another tablespoon of butter, 1/4 cup of cream and a teaspoon of Pernod...the anise-fennel liquor rounded out the unctious buttery sauce, already made sweet by those sauteed shallots.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Homemade Fridge-Raid Pizza

The best way to get rid of all those little antipasti, meats and cheese nubs leftover from weekend small-plates dinners? Throw it on a pie!

I hand-knead the dough, let it rise about 45 minutes, toss it up, brush in olive-oil then bake it around 400.

Cooking the dough first without a topping helps to keep the pie from getting soggy...I've never been able to get a home oven to hit the pie with the heat you can't immerse the pie in that all-around pocket of heat you can from a real pizza oven, so you've gotta do this pizza in a two-step process.

Once the dough has been cooked into a perfect golden disc (say 15 minutes? You'll be able to tell when the center 'holds' without giving and the edge won't fold)I'll pull the crust out, crank the oven to 500F and start putting on the toppings.

Here's the finished product. We've got some good pepperoni from Di Bruno Bros., along with some leftover Sicilian olives, goat cheese, mozz and some roasted red-pepper slivers.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Road Trip - Stoudt's Antique Mall & Brewery

Halfway between Philly and Harrisburg you'll find a clever day trip destination for the antique obsessed and beer-seeker, the Stoudt's 'Compound'. There is plenty of good ink spilled about the history of Stoudt's in Pennsylvania brewing, but they've built a mini-empire around the brewery. There's also a bakery, a restaurant and a sprawling 400+ vendor antique mall in on Sundays.

Walking around the labrynth of cast-away decor and kitchsy clutter, you could find an interesting thing or two to stop and look at. One of the more interesting objects in the mall was an old post office cabinet, complete with combination-lock P.O. Boxes...made me think of what checking your mail was like in some rural post-office 80 years ago.

Elizabeth was on the hunt for Bakelite bangles (there was rumored to be one vendor amongst the hundreds with a decent collection), I was on the hunt for beer. They have a 'festhaus' of sorts that sits between the brewery & mall. After bagging a few good bangles, Elizabeth & I tucked into a pint at the bar.

I was a bit disappointed with the taps selection, as I wanted to try their seasonal barleywine but theywere only tapping the stuff you can get in the bottle.

I had the Fat Dog and heavy...not too bad, but one was enough.

Elizabeth's red-tinged Scarlet ESB was a more balanced beer...I can see why this is one of thier better-known beers.

After scoping out the 'festhaus', we navigated our way through the mall and back into the restaurant. The bar was a mob-scene; the bar-tender swore he'd never seen it so busy.

We waited about 30 minutes for a spot at the bar, then ordered up some beer-friendly food.

The schnitzel was delicious...thin but not tough, perfectly breaded and not greasy. Resting on a bed of spatzle that was perfectly tender but not at all mushy. The dish was lacking seasoning though...we vigourously shook the salt on this one.

The schnitzel and stout had already pushed me across the oh-so-bad-for-you food line, so we threw some onion rings on top of the order. Huge and chunky, full onion chopped-reformed rings here.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

ZINC Bistro a Vins for Post-Valentine's Day Dinner

If you're suffering from Bella Vista Bistro Burn-out, then head up to 11th & Locust for Zinc...just don't go after the culinary equivalent of the Bataan Death March...Restaurant Week X 2 with Valentine's Day for the caboose.

My wife & I had dinner here one night after the dining Apocalypse that is Valentine's Day. We were one of three couples in Zinc that night and were quickly seated and served; the decor was evocative of 'Bistro' , but the calm and comfort of the room seemed to echo the relaxed vibe of the service.

Little did I realize that I mistook the quiet, easy manner of the server as we ordered our meal it slowly dawned on me that the kitchen & wait-staff were suffering from PTDD..Post-Traumatic Dining Disorder.

The battle-ravaged menu bears witness to the intensity of a restaurant being enjoyed-to-death...three of the entrees we were hoping to try had been 86'ed by the hordes of diners that we had witnessed last night packed into the dining room...we walked by Valentine's Night and even remarked..."Wow, that place is packed?!?! Let's go tomorrow night."

Normally I'd go three-stars when met with such setbacks, but the highlights of Zinc's menu were enough to suggest better times lay ahead for me...on a regular night, the promise of good food, drinks and atmosphere has forced me to slide the star-o-meter one more notch over to the right.

Drinks were the initial attraction. The selection suggested a forgotten 'sophistication'...if you want to venture off the beaten-path of wine, the aperitif and digestif offerings point the way to some forgotten classics. My wife had a Cassis & red-wine cocktail and I tried a martini w/ Lillet & orange. They have an arsenal of brandy. I finished the meal with a glass of Framboise Eaux De Vie...the pleasant burn and aromatics reminded me of a more flavorful grappa.

The wines themselves are offered simply by varietal... glass or bottle...the service made decent recommendations...they had a red from Loire (Chinon) that I'd never heard of and paired nicely with the Calf's Liver (server recommended after we already decided on it).


Escargot Pastis - Little sauteed escagot floating on rafts of puff-pastry adrift in a sea of buttery pastis-spiked sauce. The escargot were delicious, with an earthy texture, but the combo of top-half flaky, bottom-half butter & pastis soaked puffs were beyond description. I was using the usually ignored starter bread to sop up every drop of this had a fennel-tarragon/anise layer that soaked into every bite of pastry.


Lobster Bisque - This may have been great when it peaked around dinner time, but we usually dine late and by 9:30, the soup had crossed over into that too-thick stage...lobster flavor was overwhelming, but a harsh salty note killed that rich-savory taste of lobster that lingers on the palate when it's in a bisque.

Calf's Liver - This was NOT how I imagined liver. Far from the flat shoe-sole filet I always see in the grocery store, this was a veritable Gibraltar of deep, earthy meat. Seared and medium, drowned in a sweet shallot and sherry vinegar sauce, the liver was a dish that opened my eyes to how good offal could be. I kept trading fork-fulls of my now humbled mignon for slabs of the pink-center, crispy seared liver with my wife. Paired with the soft but aromatic red from Loire, Chinon, this dish was a return-trip on a plate.


Filet Mignon - It was perfectly cooked and served with a side of root puree, which seemed to accompany many entrees...the puree was excellent and could fool you into thinking it was a whipped mashed potato. Having said that, I really wanted to try Skate & Pork Belly (86'ed strike 1), the Roast Quail (86'ed strike 2) and the Sea Scallop & Buerre Blanc (86'ed strike 3).

The desserts were mercifully modest proportions of chocolate pot de creme and an praline studded ice-cream with tart raspberry sauce.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Median Meals? Quotations Offers Anything But.

We found ourselves in the suburbs of Philadelphia and in need of a decent weekend lunch. Last time on a pumpkin-gathering excursion, we enjoyed some apps & brews at Iron Hill in Media. I noticed Quotations from across the street...the front windows covered in wise words extolling the virtues of a well-poured pint and time spent in good company.

The tap list here is stunning for the suburbs...I enjoyed the Bells Hopslam, like Dogfish 120 Minute, the 10% ABV had plenty of muscle. Pictured here is a Winter Warmer...Elizabeth enjoyed De Dolle's Oerbier...a semi-sour Belgian.

What better to chase down some mid-day beer than with steamers; these little beauties came 1 1/2 dozen with a decent broth...a bit too much salt for my taste.

This is indulgence...fries smothered in crab-meat and cheese. I thought fries were a necessary evil when having steamed shellfish. I would've preferred a shredded cheese to a whiz, but it wasn't horrible...the fries were coated with Old Bay and made covered the usually metallic taste of Whiz.

Although Iron Brew was a great place to try some local brew, especially the samplers, I liked the tap selection at Quotations and have officially made this my go-to place for decent beer in West DelCo.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Main Line Monk's? Try Teresa's Next Door

Elizabeth & I drove out to a gastro-pub on the Main Line with a friend where they were hosting a Troeg's Nugget Nectar Firkin night. Bar staff went the extra mile and squeezed every drop out of that firkin...I kid you not, my pint was the last one to be had from that keg...

...see the one on the right? Last pour.

The atmosphere is between hip wine-bar and exposed-brick beer-bar, but very inviting. The hostess was nonexistent after we put our names on the waiting list...we even got passed over...but once we had a spot in the cushy booths, everything went smoothly.

We shared the artichokes...the stemmed marinated 'chokes were halved and sauteed. The crispy tops and firm stems made for great textures...the only problem was that there were only four 'chokes on the plate.

Most of the table ordered the mussels and they were plump, swimming in delicious buttery broth...comes with enough fries and bread to sop up the last drops. Like Monk's you've got an assortment of preparations...spicy...creamy...classic...hearty.

Elizabeth's croq monsieur was a fancy ham & cheese sandwich...nothing too telling.

The draft beer list is extensive...I bounced between bold stouts and hoppy IPAs all night without even coming close to trying everything they had to offer. I noticed that Teresa's has become a sort of beer-event HQ for Beer Week, which tells me that this is the go-to place on the Main Line for beer hunters

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Beer Review - Yards' Love Stout

Love Stout...I love the bottle and love the beer.

If you've never ambled amidst the tattooed denizens of South St., the the irony of this bottle would be lost on you. The 'Mom' dagger & heart drew this beer off the shelf at the Foodery and into my satchel...the taste has me looking forward to finding it on tap around town.

After a winter of River Horse Oatmeal and Sly Fox O'Reilly, the Yards Love Stout offers a sweet diversion from the drier stouts.

It pours a true glass and finishes smooth, with enough caramel & toasty-ness to match the medium-body. No sourness in the all-around solid, sweeter stout.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Beer Review - Voodoo Vator Dopplebock

The name is much cooler than the beer. I was lured in with a fantasy of a smoky bayou blackness...chicory or some other peculiar aromatic to perfume the usually heavier dopplebock. I should've read the brewer's {Atwater} hometown...Detroit.

Still, the flavors are decent and mask the 9.5% ABV punch of the Voodoo Vater.

I kept getting an aftertaste that reminded me of cola watered-down by melted ice...thin malted sweetness. The further you get into the pint the more detectable the grassier bitterness becomes, but it was a little too weak.

Being weaned on Aventinus Wheat Dopplebock on draft, it's hard to find another dopplebock that I really prefer. I saw somewhere that this will be coming on draft to Philly, so I'll give it a shot off the taps to see if the weak body was a bottle phenomena.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Restaurant Week Winners - Zahav Gets the GoldStar

Restaurant Valentine's Day, it's one of times a diner must be choosy...great restaurants can slip into a tired 'Greatest Hits' mode, cranking out plate after plate of lackluster food so that tourist-diners can check another restaurant off their 'Eat-Here-Before-You-Die' list.

After seeing a bit of buzz on the web about Zahav delivering great food & service during RW I knew that this place wasn't following the sell-out script...I grabbed a reservation on OpenTable immediately.

There has already been alot of coverage on Zahav, so I won't bore you with the details of how the mixed decor of old desert castle and modern wine-bar flair made for a great dining space.

What I do want to emphasize is the level of service...although we had arrived early for reservations and had parked at the bar, we were asked if we needed a table by a friendly staffer...during dinner, we decided to switch over to sparkling water and just mentioning this to the 'water-filler' server brought on a chilled bottle from our waitress moments plates and silverware were brought for every course....again, normally I don't waste time talking at length about service, but during RW, good service is always worth a mention.

Zahav (which I read somewhere means "gold" in Hebrew) gets the GoldStar...

I told you all that I would try out the GoldStar during dinner and I think the verdict is in...drink this beer! After reading a great post over on BROG about how he had the River Horse Wit with dinner and maybe regretted passing on GoldStar, (I tried it and agree...too much flavor fighting with the food) I made sure that I sampled GS.

The beer had slight honeyed sweetness that helped to hold up with the spicier dishes while maintaining the lager 'drinkability' factor. Better yet, it was served in a Gold Star glass. I want one of these glasses! Although I'm not a beer-glass collector, I loved the gold-star imprint at the bottom of the glass.

The asst. manager overhead me raving to Elizabeth about how The Foodery had picked up GoldStar now and stepped in to introduce himself. It was a little loud and I didn't catch his name (sorry!), but he was very friendly and shared with us his struggle to get Gold Star not only into Zahav, but into Pennsylvannia via the PCLB. It took nearly 8 months worth of bureaucratic wrangling to accomplish but the manger said "I'm Israeli! I'm persistent!" End result is another great go-to option for a food-friendly beer...the guy even recognized this accomplishment, saying "When I saw it on the shelf at the Foodery, I was proud", placing his hand on his chest. Be proud, it's a great showcase beer.

But we didn't come to Zahav just to talk beer...we came to eat!

Much of the RW menu seemed to be part of the regular menu, so here's the rundown:

The Salatim 'tower of salads' was alot of fun; a tiered offering of marinated turnips, tabbouleh, red-pepper and eggplant purees, a chickpea salad..this thing had it all. The hands down favorite though was a beet salad that seemed to be mixed with a touch of honey possibly and dusted in shaved nuts...maybe pistachio or almond?

A beautiful plate of hummus landed alongside the Salatim...smooth and creamy, with enough tahini to give it body. The flatbread carried a healthy dusting of spices as well.

The RW menu had you select a series of mezze plates for a second course. Here you see the famous Fried Cauliflower, which lived up to it's reputation. Although the mini-crisp texture of the fried florets was delicious, the main star here was the garlic-mint-chive-dill-spiked yogurt sauce beneath.
In the background are the fried Haloumi cheese cubes, served with a date puree and pines nuts. This one's going on the list for our next cook-alike party...the date spread was rich and paired well with Elizabeth's glass of Monastrell, a bold red wine.

The Kibbeh was a traditional preparation...sitting on a bed yogurt-tahini spread, these breaded lamb nuggets were not aggressively spiced and allowed for the strong lamb flavor to leap out of the bulgar-wheat crust.

Finally, the leek & mint fritters were a great study of texture...the outside was crispy but the batter on the inside was still a bit gooey...this was the flavor-texture combo I had hoped to have with the Bechamel croquettes at Cafe Apamate.

Third course was the skewer course...and although there were plenty of good vegetarian and 'fish-only' options, we went double-down on meat.
Here's the Bulgarian beef & lamb balls, served on a bed of rice & white-beans with a parsley & tomato sauce. The basmati rice was a nice touch...gave some nuttiness to the beans. The texture of the Bulgarian balls themselves was very dense and chewy...not a crumbly mess, but firm and packed with flavors of lamb.

I had the merguez skewer..the grind on the spicy lamb sausage was fine but like the Bulgarian balls, it held together nicely. Like the Kibbeh before it, the spices were not as aggressive as other preparations I've had of these dishes, which really allow for the lamb flavor to come forward...somebody expecting more oomph may be disappointed, but I think the low-key meat spices helped bring out the subtle aromatics of the herbs and accompanying you see a matbucha...I looked this up after dinner and it's kind of like a red-sauce...roasted tomatoes, peppers, garlic & olive oil.

OK, at this point you're probably done with our review...and yes, we were nearly stuffed too. But there's always room for desert. The Cashew Baklava was served with a scoop of ice cream and a smear of sour berry sauce...the ice cream was listed as an Argan Oil ice cream...I'd never heard of it, but Elizabeth told me that this was a new fad in healthy in Vitamin E maybe?
The baklava were a little dense, kind of like a granola, but an empty plate testified to how much I enjoyed the semi-sweet morsels.
For dessert, Elizabeth had ordered what looked like Cousin It wearing an hat made of a sour yogurt ice cream...this was called "New School” Konafi. Although topped with a tangy frozen treat and coated in crunchy flakes, the center was simply a core of bitter-sweet chocolate. When you scraped a spoonful of the Konafi together each crunchy bite would start with a cool-creamy tartness, then yield to a chocolaty smoothness. Having those contrasting textures and flavors made for a wonderful finishing course.