Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Falafel Bar in Pictures

Welcome! A colorful dining room at Falafel Bar

Strangely warm weather hit Philly last Friday and I felt like taking a stroll on my lunch hour down towards my wife's office near City Hall to grab some lunch. Among the smattering of new lunch options opening in the neighborhood, I was curious to try the new Falafel Bar on the 1500 block of Chestnut. [menu]

Offerings from the bar include sweet Baklava and salads

The dining room was bright and still a little busy for a late (2:30pm) lunch.  The bar was stocked with several salads ready to go, as well as some sweet & savory stuffed pastries.  We decided to go with the classic falafel and a greek falafel - the difference being a tahini or a tzatziki sauce and slight variation of veggies.

Greek Falafel - Crispy falafel stuffed with tzatziki, cukes & tomatoes 

I prefer this style of falafel to the kind you sometimes get at other falafel joints in Philly - the warmed pita pocket is opened up and stuffed with the contents, rather than served as a 'wrap' style.  Both falafels had a very crispy crust and the toppings were fresh enough. I preferred the richer tahini flavor of the classic, but both were satisfying. I had read some early online feedback declaring 'meh' when it came to comparing this place with others like Maoz, but I thought the falafel itself was better than anything I've ordered from Maoz.

Mediterranean Fries - Sweet potato & potato fries with roasted/grilled peppers

As we were tucking into our sandwiches, a runner from the kitchen approached with a basket of the specialty fries. I thought were a dupe order that belonged to another table, which had received theirs already, but the smiling cook informed me that they were a gift, to enjoy, no charge.

I've never had a truly crispy sweet potato fry in my life that can rival a white potato, but these weren't too bad by sweet potato standards...slightly limp is de rigueur with sweet potato fries, but these were seasoned well and had plenty of flavor. I thought the peppers were decent but unnecessary, adding a bit too much oiliness to the fries while the regular fries intermingled in the basket were so-so.

If you're a regular at some of the other Mediterranean sandwich joints around Center City (Maoz, Argan, Mama's), definitely stop-in and give it a try to see how it stacks up against your favorite places. Being so close to Five Guys, it makes for a convenient alternative when the half the lunch crew wants to go vegetarian and the other half wants to take out a burger.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Enter the Empanada: 943's Opening Weekend @ Italian Market BYOB

Enter the Empanada!

After many months of wandering past the papered storefront for 943 in the Italian Market, we finally had a chance to experience the Italian/Argentinian BYOB 943, which opened for dinner & lunch service this weekend.

The atmosphere was warm and welcoming, with plenty of neatly arranged tables spread across the open dining area - not your typical elbow-to-elbow dining setting.  The open kitchen in the back of the dining room was buzzing with activity as our server brought out some olives & nuts, followed by bread and a chimichurri dip.

Greeted with Olives, Spiced Nuts & Bread w/Chimichurri Spread
After being overwhelmed with snacky hospitality, we settled down to reviewing the menu. If you're a regular reader of our blog, you know that typically we stray towards the small-plates and starters on menus. The entrees looked very straightforward with lots of grilled meats, along with a daily fish special and a ravioli special.

Empandas: Carne and Jamon y Queso
Three different empanadas are offered on the menu - the carne included ground beef and chopped egg filling but the clear winner was the Ham & Cheese empanada, stuffed with a proscutti and a very intense cheese. The dough on these were flaky and perfectly browned. We could've ordered another round they were that addictive.

Pulpo 'Moscardino'-Octopus w/Tomato Broth, Chard, Black Olive & Red Onion

Another exciting highlight on the menu was the octopus, which was served in two styles. This first, called 'Moscardino' was served in a tomato broth alongside sweet red onions, sauteed swiss chard leaves and black olives. The octopus was perfectly cooked, tender and flavorful without any pungency or chewiness that can sometimes be found in octopus that is not fresh or cooked improperly.

Pulpo 'Don Giovanni'-Octopus w/Fennel, Fava Beans & Saffron
Pulpo 'Don Giovanni' was a mix of fava beans, sauteed fennel and saffron. The smaller favas tended to have a less meaty taste than large beans, a more subtle flavor that matched the sweetness of the fennel. The strong character of the saffron wasn't as overwhelming as I had thought at first sniff and ended up working perfectly with the octopus and favas...this was one of the best pulpo dishes we've had in a long time, due in part again to the freshness and perfect tenderness.

Housemade Chorizo y Morcilla and Mollejas
Our last dishes had more affinity with the Argentinian offerings on the menu. The Chorizo and Morcilla sausages are housemade and have the right grind and texture for a filling as rich as morcilla.  The Mollejas or grilled sweetbreads, were a grilled delight, a served in some of the largest portions I've seen for sweetbreads in quite some time.

Mollejas - Sweetbreads and Bacon Jam
The seared Mollejas tasted smoky and rich, the char flavors and the offal character of the sweetbreads were a new combination I'd never fully appreciated until now. The sweetbreads rested on a bed of Bacon Jam, which seemed like a marmalade of caramelized onions and bacon. The sweet and smoky flavor of the jam blended with the sear to make for a BBQ like taste; we kept getting hints of BBQ chicken or livers with each tasty bite.

We noticed other couples enjoying their entrees and desserts, although we didn't get a look at the dessert offerings as we were too stuffed from our meal.  The kitchen staff waved a friendly thank you as we headed out and, opening weekend jitters aside with service, we thought that the staff did a great job serving up a meal that was well worth the wait of over a year.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Winter Appetizers - Miniature Shrimp Chowder Cups

In the run-up to New Year's Eve, we had seen Hubert Keller prepare an appetizer that sliced fingerling potatoes into small cups that held herbed goat cheese for a party appetizer.

 It got us thinking, what if we created mini-soup bowls using the same technique? a Cup..a tiny potato cup.

Flash forward a month...Fair Food Farmstand had some nice looking fingerling potatoes for sale, which we picked up an then sliced into cylinders about 1 inch in length. We scooped out the innards of each potato cylinder, then baked them at 375 until they were soft enough for a toothpick to pass through.


Whole Food had some really nice Maine Shrimp for sale; we hadn't tried these before out trip, oddly enough, to Maine, but the flavor of these diminutive shellfish was powerful enough to flavor the soup and still fit inside each potato cup.

The soup itself used a base broth of butter, shallots, fennel seed & 2 cups of water boiled with the Maine Shrimp and some shrimp shells that we had kept in the fridge just to flavor stock. The Maine shrimp were pulled as soon as they were done...took maybe 1 minute...then shocked in an ice bath. The innards of the potato were also added to the soup stock.

Once the potato scrapings were cooked, a 1/4 cup of cream was added to the broth, which was then spooned into the potato cups and topped off with shrimp and parsley. A shallow pool of soup accompanied the potato cups, along with the excess shrimp. The Maine Shrimp were a perfect fit for the scale of these little, two-bite appetizers.

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