Sunday, April 25, 2010

Japanese Omakase @ RO-ZU

We had heard from an acquaintance that RO-ZU, a new Japanese arrival to the BYOB scene at 7th & Bainbridge, was serving up some excellent product. That recommendation, combined with some positive press convinced us to try the omakase, fixed-price meal where Chef Todd Dae Kulper serves up a series of dishes based on your interests - all you have to do is select the price-point that you'd like to pay per-person, have a seat at the bar, sit back & enjoy.

We went on a Saturday with some last minute reservations being made after I'd read that you should call ahead for the omakase. RO-ZU was busy but not packed when we arrived at 9PM to take our place at the bar.

We selected a modest $50 omakase, but you could go to $65 or splash out with the lux $80 - I think that's where the really wild stuff starts to come into play and the chef let us know that if we called a few days ahead to reserve the $80 tasting, they would have some really stunning product ready for your dinner. Chef Todd also mentioned that the omakase never repeats if he can help it and every time you come back, he'll take you a little further into his repertoire.

Chef Todd first performed a quick interview to find out our likes and dislikes and then set to work deftly shucking two tiny oysters...Kumamoto I believe. Wrapped in a thin blanket of big-eye tuna, topped with a micro-dice of jalapeño and resting in a small dribble of a tangy sauce (ponzu?), the amuse was a great palette opener, with the fresh oyster's hint of salinity livening up the tuna.

Next up was a dish of Scottish salmon, dressed with tomato & sea salt and served with a citrus-splashed salad of tomato & red onion. The salmon was can see the banana leaf garnish showing through the translucent flesh. This was Elizabeth's favorite dish, mostly due to the quality of the salmon and the clean flavors of the tomato.

Here we have what I call the 'Hot Tuna' dish, a serving of yellowfin tuna topped with a hot pepper ring and garnished with fried garlic & shallot. Chef Todd fired up the blowtorch to superheat a bowl of oil that was then drizzled over the fish, releasing the heat locked in those pepper rings and lightly searing the fish. Combined with the rich sesame oil and fried garlic & shallot crisps, the heat from the pepper was pleasant and not overpowering, with the tuna itself being a good texture and quality.

The only thing THIS dish was missing was a slice of bread to sop-up the sauce...wait, wrong cuisine! The big-eye tuna was served with a daikon slaw and a dice of sweet onions. The sauce was king on this dish, a butter & yuzu combination that had been bubbling away on the one tiny burner behind the bar. It amped up the play of the deep flavors from the last dish, building a great progression from light, clean flavors to the deep and complex.

We've reached the end of the progression here with grilled eel & asparagus, served over a sweet sauce. This was one of the dishes that I had been looking forward to after reading the review from the Inquirer - the article had made mention of how the sauces were all house-made in small batches with one in particular being made from roasted eel bones. The switch from cool fish & warm sauce to cool sauce & warm fish was a clever switch-up as well...the pleasant smell of the eel searing under the burner of a tiny oven behind the counter replaced the smell of butter & ponzu hovering around the bar.

We thought we were finished and much to our surprise we were greeted with a huge plate of nigiri.
Chef Todd had overheard us talking about the contents of the 'fish locker' at the bar, pointing out the Spanish mackerel fillet in particular, and had decided to set us up witha nice progression containing 4 different types of mackerel.

Left row is big-eye tuna, Scottish salmon, fluke, and hamachi. On the right Spanish Mackerel, kohada/gizzard shad, blue mackerel, and Iwashi/Japanese sardine. We really enjoyed his description of each fish, how it's used and what makes it special within the cuisine.

We finished the omakase over a warm bowl of smoky Shiitake soup. I was taken back by the flavor and asked if there was a type of tea that gave it such a strong 'campfire' flavor. The punch of smokiness came from a type of cured fish flake that is heavily smoked and then shaved. It sounded like a type of bonito but this was the strongest I had ever sampled...not so strong that it was unpleasant though.

I'd definitely recommend making your reservations for the bar if, like us, you're new to the cuisine and are interested in the preparation & thought behind these cooking with these ingredients, as the chefs were very friendly and worked the meal around your interests. Being a new business I hope that they do well...they do a lunch service too that sounds good and may yield up some better camera really isn't handling the night-dining too well these days.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Opening Menu @ The Wishing Well

Wishing Well on 9th & Catherine, just a block north of the Italian Market, recently opened so we stopped in during the first week to check out their drink selection and sample a few features on the compact but promising menu.

The cuisine seems gastro-pub and doing some research on the chef, who used to run a place called the Lamplighter in Atlanta which also focused on southern-style gastro-pub, I was expecting good things.

The menu is divided into small plate/large plate, with about 4-5 large options and nearly double the small options.

The menu has some pretty decent beer selections, as well as a wine-by-the-glass selection that was comparable to the draft pints in price and selection. Elizabeth had glass of Spanish white for $7 and I enjoyed some PBC Fleur de Lehigh .

The room itself was a little bright for a pub and it seemed like the front half was the pub and the back half of the room was a little more was a good mix though, much like the drinks menu, you could lean toward a solid pint to sip or a glass of wine to savor...have a few beers w/ friends at the bar or do a bit of serious dining in the back.

But let's talk about the food.

We weren't too hungry and just ordered a few small plates to share, along with the daily special, a half-dozen Cape May salties...they arrived with a Meyer Lemon mignonette, flecked with coarse black pepper...a sweet & peppery twist on the salties.

The Fritto Misto was a fun mix of fried morsels..shrimp, scallops, mushrooms, onions and lemons...thinly sliced, the fried lemons were my favorite. The coating on the fritto was a simple seasoned dusting and not some greasy batter. I saw three more bowls of the Fritto fly out of the kitchen while we were enjoying our dish.

The Short Rib Quesadilla had some serious chipotle flavor in the accompanying sauce, but the meat was smoke-kissed & tender and the flakiness of the tortilla made for a delicious texture. The tomatillo/avacado salsa was unremarkable. I noticed that the quesadilla is not on the menu any longer...disappointing because I would've ordered it again. However the short rib is making an appearance of it's own on a larger plate now.

We weren't in the mood for a burger but I hear that the Wishing Well is throwing it's hat into the burger ring with the SHAME burger...a scrapple & easy egg topped burger that's already gotten some good reviews over at Unbreaded.

Not quite ready to replace places like Royal Tavern and SPTR at the top of the South Philly gastro-pub pile, but I like Wishing Well for the mix of wine & beer offerings, the fresh decor and the offerings on the's not trying to be like those other places and its offer two distinct directions for dining options make it a great neighborhood spot.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Morris House Hotel & M Restaurant

Beautiful Spring day a few weeks back and we just had to have that first meal outside. Not being in the mood for a major outing, we settled on a few small plates in the courtyard of the M House Hotel & Restaurant.

Here's the sign on 8th beckoning you into the courtyard to enjoy a glass of wine and an empanada. Yes, wine & empanadas..I'll get to that in a minute. The wines-by-the-glass were a little pricey, but you're paying for the atmosphere of the courtyard...a fair trade on a gorgeous Spring afternoon.

First, some pretty standard but delicious bruschetta...this was goat cheese with tiny diced squash made for a unique topping.

The truffled honey & rich creamy Delice de Bourgogne cheese is a combo that I'm putting in the rotation at home.

But this is what I was really there for...empanadas. The flaky crust was perfect - I could only imagine how much lard or shortening went into these beauties. I heard that the same family that runs the restaurant has been trying to open an Italian/Argentinian place down in the Italian Market and that the empanadas were going to be featured there as well.

While the ham & cheese was a classic combination, our favorite filling was the meat, egg & olive empanadas. A well-seasoned filling (possibly cumin?), these lived up to the hype - just look at the consistency of the crust and the gooey, savory filling. They have a special that allows you to sample all 3 varieties of empanada for $16.

Their menu was extensive enough that we could've enjoyed a full service but it really makes for a great pit-stop on a day when you're out & about in the Washington Square West section of Center City.