Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Smoke Truck Rolls Out - Bebe's Killer BBQ in Mobile Form

After a long absence excellent BBQonce again returns to Philly. This is BBQ so good it makes my wife homesick for good Southern cooking- although I argue that real BBQ is Texas style this slow-cooked pork is good enough to make me forget my Lone Star hangups and dive in.

Follow the twitter feed and see this truck gets around. I caught up with The Smoke Truck at Broad and Spring Garden but Mark Coates is covering all bases it seems and has been popping up all around town.

I picked up this lunch spread for $8 - sandwich (pork or brisket) pickles and sweet tea - along with a case of Swine Fever!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Steampunk Style! Steamtable Flavor? The Farmer's Cabinet in Pictures

Looking for a place to hold a Steampunk Fourth of July Party in Philadelphia? 

Must have:

Diverse beer list to impress all your aficionado friends? Covered...don't miss the beers from Denmark and Italy can outshine the Belgian and German stunners.

Top-notch offerings from the bar? The drinks are extensive and meticulously crafted...enough to sway an ardent beer hound over to the other side of the menu.

Atmosphere and character...Live Music? Lit almost entirely by natural sources like candles and kerosene lamps, The Farmer's Cabinet evokes all the grit of a turn-of-the-century hunting lodge and the charm of the majestic railway hotels along the Continental Divide...with period-appropriate live music to boot. Subdued lighting, apothecary jars galore and animals mounted on the National Mechanics but without the chiptunes.

Great Food? Certainly.   I've been dawdling on writing this post up because I really love what the Farmer's Cabinet is doing and I felt like being critical of just one aspect would be unfair to a place that I enjoy frequenting, but when the LaBan one-bell review hit the phood-o-sphere I figured that dredging up some of the dishes E and I have eaten there over the last 3 months would provide some decent quality pictures and opinion around what I thought was a pretty accurate review.

Overall we really liked the variety of ingredients splashed about the menu, which seemed in line with the larger feel of the place. But it was a general lack of seasoning and some misfired concepts that would caution me recommending the food. The cheese, charcuterie and baked goods were delicious though, so there's no fear of going hungry while you enjoy all those great drinks.

The Good

Apricot Bread w/ lard 'butter' and seasonal jam
Nice way to welcome the diner...the bread was fresh baked...the spreads of lard 'butter' and jam was rich and pleasantly sweet. The jams changed between the dinners we ate but they were always delicious and chunky.

Buffalo Short Rib w/ Sunchoke puree and Horseradish Scallion salad
Our dining partners seemed to naturally gravitate towards the tastier dishes on the menu...this short rib was perfectly cooked but the horseradish scallion slaw was what had me begging for another shared bite.

Ground Short Rib Burger w/ Cheddar & Bacon Jam
Another selection by one of our didn't overwhealm him by any means but compared to some of the other oddities that were arriving on the table, I took his relative silence on the dish to mean that it was a tasty burger that went well with the Belgians that we were washing our dinner down with.

Peekytoe Crab Roll
A really delicate preparation, not overly seasoned so the crab flavors came through. In general most of the dishes we tried at Farmer's Cabinet suffered from a lack of seasoning...a serious lack of basics like salt was noticeable several times...but for this dish the restraint worked.

Pretzel with Smoked Beer Mustard
HERE'S where all the salt went! I wish it was just a joke but we found ourselves pinching off salt from the pretzel and sprinkling it over a few dishes to bring up the flavor volume. The mustard was so-so but the pretzel was delicious. I'm starting to see a pattern emerge...some baked goods, like the cheese and charcuterie, seem to really hit the mark here.

The Bad

Pea Tendril Salad
When eating with your eyes...the presentation was just so rough on this that I'd swear it made the salad taste worse than it really was.

Pan-Fried Oysters w/ Sweet & Sour Cucumbers, Curry Aioli  and Trout Roe
This looked great on paper but was a sloppy, soggy mess on the plate. The oysters lost all their crusty, molten unction when bathed in so much felt like they had sat out or been cooked in oil that was not hot enough, although the trout roe was a great idea. Why? it was the only hint of salt that we could detect in the dish.

Cast-Iron Tomato Tart
LaBan mentioned the Tart as a highlight and to be fair we tried this early on in it's existence when it was still a tomato tart, but the problem was not the filling but the crust of the tart itself - dry, tough and lacking seasoning. Although the flash of the camera tends to was everything out, the crust really was very white and had none of the flavor you would expect...butter, salt, herbs, or even a spritz of olive oil. 

Bourbon Braised Escargot
This was just a big pot of awful. Along with the soggy oysters, I chuckled when LaBan mentioned that his escargot were "doused in something so vividly bitter we pretty much couldn't eat it".  Ditto. Although he neglected to mention the Werther's Original Caramel Candy taste that followed the bitterness

Duck Egg in a Jar - Shirred egg with Black Trumpet Mushrooms
This dish could have been really good but it suffered from poor execution - it sat too long in the steambath that I'm guessing it was cooked in. The yolk was hard and the double-cream & egg surrounding dried to a pectin-like glue....although the flavors of mushroom, possibly spiked with truffle oil, were present.

The Dish-No-Longer-Appearing-In-This-Restaurant

Fried Lamb Kidneys & Sweet Potato Biscuit w/ Spicy Greens
Seeing this on the menu re-awakened Ansill's offal stirrings in our heart but it was nowhere near the same level.  Lacking salt in the greens, the kidneys were barely fried, tasting like they had seen a saute pan for barely a moment, and the biscuit was a severe letdown (not as bad as the hardtack that we experienced at Adsum though - Southern Science: Adsum...)

Also no  longer available...Cheesecake in the Men's Room
Last time I was here I noticed that the pin-up art was no longer gracing the men's room wall..don't know if this was a Beer Week re-decoration or something more permanent. 

The Dish They Need to Bring Back

We did have a great dish at the Hitacho Nest Beer Brunch that would qualify for dessert. The picture is lost somewhere on my phone though.

Described as an Okinawan Pancake, imagine a golf-ball sized nugget of sweet, muffin-like dough deep fried so that it was crispy on the outside but custardy-soft and warm in the center with a buttery corn meal batter flavor. They need to put that on the menu

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Harissa Faux-Lobster (Prosciutto-Wrapped Monkfish) with Morcilla and White Sweet Potatoes

Prosciutto-Wrapped Harissa Monkfish with Morcilla and White Sweet Potatoes
One weekday evening I found myself wandering through Reading Terminal after work with a strange urge to buy some Monkfish.

I didn't have a recipe in mind when I bought it, so when we got home and searched the pantry we began grabbing all sorts of leftovers to include:

  • an excess of prosciutto laying around from the weekend
  • a 'White Jewel' sweet potato from Fair Food Farmstand
  • a small bag of hot peppers
  • a nub of strangely dry morcilla from Garces Trading Co.
  • half a carton of vegetable stock
Harissa dressing and Morcilla chunks

We created an ad-hoc Harissa using the peppers and diced up the morcilla and sweet potato, which went into the broth to cook until tender. I removed the skins from the sweet potato and baked them in the oven coated in olive oil. I was hoping they would give a little crispness and texture to the stew.

Faux-Lobster...Prosciutto-Wrapped Monkfish
Monkfish has been called 'poor-man's lobster' because the texture can resemble that of a lobster tail. We figured that wrapping it in a pan-fried 'shell' of prosciutto would give it tons of flavor.  Sliced into coins, the tail was topped with harissa relish and served with morcilla & sweet potato stew. It was a strange combination of salty prosciutto, sweet potato, spicy pepper and rich cured morcilla...not sure if we would stick with the harissa and sweet potato again, but such is the result of a 'leftover challenge'.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Bloody Good - An Early Look at The Farm and The Fisherman BYOB

Lately the concept of farm-to-table has been in full swing in the restaurant-o-sphere in Philly - Talula's Garden in the latest in a cavalcade of farm-to-table concepts.When it comes to the The Farm and The Fisherman, a BYOB located on the 1100 block of Pine in the space formerly occupied by Paul, the name is more than just a casual nod to convention.

We had late reservations on a busy Friday and even thought the week-old restaurant still exhibited some of the opening 'jitters' you would expect, we were impressed with the warmth and friendliness of the place.
The menu that was announced during their opening had already undergone some substitutions and revamping. Gone were two of the dishes that I had looked forward to most - a Lamb Sirloin & Neck dish and a sunchoke & lobster knuckle soup. There were still lots of seasonal offerings spread across the three sections (Appetizer, Mid-Plate, Entree).

Fresh Warm Rolls and Housemade Butter

Although the service was holding up admirably for an opening, there were a few noticeable gap. However we were plied us with some delicious, flaky and just-from-the-oven warmed rolls while we settled in, a real treat.

Pancetta Wrapped Egg with Russian Kale & Mushrooms
This was my favorite dish of the night, a Pancetta-Wrapper Egg served over Russian Kale with bits of pancetta and mushrooms flavoring the sauteed greens. Kind of a brunchy dish, but very delicious and gooey with lots of savory elements to soak up the sauce.

Bloody Beet-Steak - split, smashed and sauteed crispy in pan-drippings
This was the most cleverly simple dish of the evening - a smashed beet that was sauteed in pan drippings. The beet's skin crunchy and rich, similar to a baked potato...and to think I've been peeling these things all along. The richness of the drippings transformed the earthy sweetness of the beet into a satisfyingly 'meaty' dish.

Roasted Celery Heart, Creamed Rice Grits w/Parsley and Roasted Red Quinoa
Elizabeth giggled when this plate hit the table. "An over-sized kiwi fruit exploded on the plate!", was how she summed up this dish's look.  We had ordered it because the thought of roasting a celery heart whole seemed like some sort of vegetarian homage to offal, sort of a nose-to-tail approach to the part of celery that usually gets trimmed away or under-utilized.  The creamed rice was flecked with toasted quinoa which gave each bite some textural interest.

Pig Ear Salad w/ pine-nuts & sherry vinegar
Speaking of offal, the Pig Ear salad was an odd mix of elements - the ears were somewhat tender but piled on to the point that the overall chewiness of the ear took over all of the more delicate elements of the salad.

Sweet & Sour Pork Belly w/raisins & celery root
I think I've been affected from the excess of crispier lacquered preparations of pork belly that I've been having lately - I found the softer braised belly somewhat lacking in flavor and rather flat...perhaps the sweet & sour flavors were too much, but it seemed like the melted belly fat disappeared under the whammy of raisin & vinegar.

It's been about a month since we dined there and I after scanning the latest menu I see lots of changes. The fact that the beet steak is still on the menu confirms that the things we really enjoyed are a hit and, while seasonal, hopefully will be on the menu for a little longer.

Overall we really enjoyed the Farm & Fisherman's approach and clearly the more creative ingredients signal that there is plenty of worth checking out here. Add to the fact it's a BYOB and the service was excellent, Farm and the Fisherman will keep us coming back for a taste of the seasons.

Greek Wine & Octopus @ Opa

Pulling this article from the pile marked DRAFT articles that we never seem to get around to posting on our blog...

We stopped into Opa last month to grab a small plate and a glass of wine during happy hour. There's been alot of press recently about the beautiful interior and we enjoyed sitting at the bar and drinking in all the detail.

The wine list was (obviously) biased towards Greek wines, which is unique and makes for a fun tasting session.  However for many people, ourselves included, Retsina is the only familiar Greek wine and the staff was a little unsure on the specifics of each varietal; I overheard the bartenders having a quick conference to figure out how to describe one of the white wines to a curious patron.

Grilled Octopus & Chickpeas
Braised & Grilled Octopus with Chickpea.  I actually had forgotten completely about having this dish and in fact I hadn't even thought about posting about it until I saw the latest Citypaper review by Adam Erace on the octopus and then remembered I had a picture on my phone...which kinda says how forgettable we found the octopus.

A little less than tender, it wasn't a disappointing as some other octopus experiences that have been had around Philly (I'm looking at you Dmitri's is she.) but I didn't think it was the best in Philly.

We are looking forward to going back and seeing if this dish has been tweaked...from the Citypaper review it sounds like a few changes were made to the chickpea accompanying the octopus.  We'll also be ordering the kokoretsi  - a tasty grilled dish made with lamb offal.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Szechuan Pepper Calamari and Springroll-Wrapped Head-on Shrimp

We've been playing around with some Asian-style appetizers lately and two in particular were kinda fun to make.
Szechuan Pepper Calamari

We've been watching Season 5 of The F-Word and one recipe that stood out was a Szechuan Pepper Calamari - the detail on this that drew me in was the technique for scoring the calamari that created strange crispy strips instead of rings. The aromatic, almost floral aspect of the Szechuan peppers also brought some zip and interest to the dish. The cucumber salad accompanying it was pretty pedestrian but necessary to balance out the heat from the calamari.

Springroll-Wrapped Head-on Shrimp

We sort-of-borrowed stole this recipe from a dish we'd tried at The Corner. We took the idea of using unusually large head-on shrimp but replaced the shredded phyllo of the 'shrimp-in-a-blanket' with strips of spring roll wrapper, then deep-fried the shrimp until crispy and golden. We served the shrimp with a red-pepper & tomato chutney and dusted it with some smoked paprika.  The spring roll strips held up beautifully and kept a tight seal on the shrimp. All of the great flavors trapped in the body oozed out as you twisted the heads off and created a rich sauce inside of the crispy pastry.

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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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Spring Garden Lunch? Colosseo Pizza Delivers

As you know from my earlier post on Sakura sushi, non-food truck lunch options on North Broad St. can be limited, so I was thrilled to see a new pizza joint open up last month at the corner of Spring Garden and 15th.

Colosseo Pizza has a pretty wide variety of by-the-slice pizzas, sandwiches and other typical fare for a pizza shop. It always seems to be pretty busy with a mix of people dining in and carrying out during the lunch rush, but if you come during off-hours you'll have the place all to yourself.

Veggie Pizza & Margarita

Let me be clear, this isn't one of those wood-fired thin-crust envelope-pushin pizza places that has been all the rage in Center City last year (Stella, Zavino, Barbuzzo, etc.). This is just some decently made pizza, with balanced amounts of sauce-cheese-toppings on a firm crust, which is plenty enough to satisfy.

I've tended to stick with the classic Margharita but the veggie options were pleasing. Without stopping to ask for the rundown, the selection looks pretty wide as you survey the long marble counter containing an ice cream shop-like spread of pizza varieties.

Meatball Sub

I also tried out a few of the warm sandwiches. Generally they tended to be a bit on the dry side, lacking sauce or being served on bread that was a bit oversized.

The Meatball sub had a good flavor in the sauce but it seemed to disapear in the roll, leaving the meatballs on their own...needed more sauce.

The sausage and pepper sandwich likewise was a bit undersauced but carried through on flavor - the peppers were undercooked in a few places making it a little too crunchy/watery.

Chicken Parmesan Sandwich

The chicken parm sandwich was just that, a grilled chicken breast, slice of cheese and some marinara sauce, which makes for a lighter lunch option than the heavier subs.

Like all the sandwiches, ask for extra sauce if you order it...while the portion of chicken was plenty enough to satisfy, the marinara was spread around in amounts that seemed more like an afterthought.

Final verdict? If they can work the issues out of the sandwich prep, Colosseo could be a great option for Italian lunch but for now stick with the pizza an enjoy the wide variety in a setting that is pleasant enough for a lunch out of the office.