Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Back from Costa Rica

A week and a half of tropical paradise, and now back to snow and indoor light.  C'est la vie.

A few notes on Costa Rica:
  • Gallo Pinto with Salsa Lizano is one of the best breakfast inventions ever.  
  • We need good Casado in Philadelphia.
  • I learned last night that most of the Ceviche in Philadelphia is shark -- when the fishermen catch shark, it's hard to sell on a menu, so most restaurants mask it as ceviche.
  • Fried plantains make every meal more enjoyable.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Not such a Triumph

Triumph Brewing Company
117 Chestnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19106

Hankerin' for a burger, my friends and I decided to brave the wait at Village Whiskey. However, when the wait was quoted at 3+ hours and it was already 8 PM, we decided we needed to try something else. One of my friends in particular is a huge fan of the blue cheese burger at Triumph, so we decided to cab it to the O.C. and try out the food.

Upon arrival, we were told we'd be on the wait list (apparently a busy night in Philadelphia) -- we grabbed drinks and about twenty minutes later our buzzer asked us (in a woman's voice!) to return the buzzer to the host desk! Mind you I should digress briefly to talk about the brunch stout. Slightly sweet, very coffee-ish, and an undetectable amount of bitterness made this a great stout -- it tasted a little like irish coffee, to be honest. Really intriguing beer. Anyway, we sit down and they don't have enough menus and ask us to share. Strike 1. Then they don't have water glasses, so we wait for water. Strike 2. I then order my burger and a second beer, this time going with the "Jewish Rye" -- which tasted somewhat like a lion's head with an after taste of caraway. Again, a rather pleasant, albeit kitschy beer.

Now the burger comes out. Sure it's cooked medium rare and there's a ton of blue cheese as well as this goopy tomato marmalade spread on the bun. Bun is eggy and soft. But the burger truly lacked any distinguishable flavor. Salt? Pepper? This was just ground meat griddled up until hot. Did not taste or looked hand packed either. At this point, I am fully doubting my friends' taste in burgery goodness. Next time, I'm sticking to Good Dog.

Cafe Coco

1735 Market St
Philadelphia, PA 19103

This should more aptly be named "a tale of two Coco's."

Cafe Coco is the little deli in the basement of my office building. It's a little dated in decor (what with the neon lights and metal "ice cream parlor" chairs reminiscent of 1990 (or Rachael's Nosheri). The place is small and the selection seems smaller, with a few breakfast pastries out and a small grill for egg sandwiches. Prices are reasonable. And that's where the story of Cafe Coco, the mediocre deli in the basement of the Mellon Bank Center ends.

Then there's Cafe Coco, the catering. Thick, hearty chili. Make your own salads with TONS of ingredients (two types of chicken salad AND grilled chicken??? Mozzarella balls galore???), tasty, not-too-vinegary pasta salad. And all sorts of assorted panini. Boy, when lunch comes in from Coco, I just have to smile.

Funny thing is, despite how much I enjoy the office lunches from here, I never do make it down there for a quick sandwich. Must be something about the lights...


124 S 13th St
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Usually Asian fusion means a) deep fried, b) sushi, or c) a chinese restaurant that's trying to branch out by offering thai noodle dishes, pho soup, and a few rolls out of a how to make sushi handbook. Thus, when my friend suggested we try Sampan, I was a little worried that all the good Michael Schulson dishes would be left at his restaurant and we'd be stuck with yet another cheesesteak eggroll, tuna tartare, and duck salad. While there is a tuna tartare (which we didn't try out of want to be different), I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of the menu on the website.

Arriving at the restaurant, there was no wait (several tables were open -- I guess it is a Monday), but I was struck instantly by the sleek, sultry, yet inviting and Asian decor. Think Pegu Club in NY. I think this is the look that Chew Man Chu was going for and missed.

For drinks, they have a small beer and wine by the glass list, as well as a few specialty cocktails. My friend went with some iced tea thing that was a little too girly for me -- I stuck with a decent, albeit light, Chinese beer (Tiger) that I hadn't had before.

As for food: everything is served family style with no rhyme or reason to delivery. Which is fine, because there's no delineation between apps and entrees (ahem, another strike to Chew Man Chu -- read my review ;) ) Cheesesteak Bao get a little away from the cheesesteak eggroll trend, and alas, these are delish, with sriracha replacing ketchup, a sharp provolone adding a salty bite, and the tender, juicy meat just enough for one-to-two bites of goodness. But these are hardly bao. More like a softer bruschetta.

Edamame dumplings are as everybody's stated. Decadent (due to the truffle oil), yet a little heavy. Are they mixed with potato? Even if you puree the crap out of edamame, the edamame flavor isn't so light...

Chicken Buri Bap is a play on Bi Bim Bap -- moist dark meat chicken is piled on already-crisp rice, topped with veggies and a fried egg, and the egg is broken apart by the runner. Frankly, I'd rather this was done in the kitchen -- while I would have missed the "show," our runner really didn't do justice to this dish, so I had to do a little work on it. Furthermore, without the typical hot sauce, it missed a little of bi bim bap's kick. I bet we could have asked for it on the side, but that's almost like asking for salt -- I just wouldn't do it at a well-respected chef's restaurant.

Speaking of salt, the short ribs were beautifully presented over lo mein with a few well chosen veggies, and some sort of honey wasabi sweet crunch that was a welcomed surprise. But the meat was too salty and although tender, was not as moist as I expected.

Continuing our gluttony we also tried the chicken samosa -- although surprisingly spicy (it hit late and hard), the soft flaky pastry helped hold together one of the strongest dishes of the night.

For dessert, we shared the peanut butter cups -- baked chocolate cups filled with peanut butter and mascarpone. Decadent. Simply.

Bill was very reasonable and I left stuffed. Frankly, several more dishes I wanted to try (which rarely happens for me), so I plan to be back. But first, I will have to try Zama...


1009 S. Eighth St
Philadelphia, PA 19147

My buddy and I somehow got in for a 9PM reservation to enjoy their 4 course Sunday, $45 menu.

We started with a hearty, rich lentil based soup with small chunks of veal in the stock. What was so memorable about this soup was that it was incredibly thick, rich, and smooth, with the soup almost coating the spoon -- a delicious way to start the meal.

Second course was a choice between escargot, oxtail terrine, and foie gras. They had just run out of the oxtail, which worked out well as my friend wanted the escargot and I the foie gras. The escargot sat perfectly cooked with lima beans in a rich, salty sauce. My friend commented that it was the single best escargot presentation he's ever had. For me, I've never had better foie gras either. Buttery and soft, yet crispy on the outside, this paired incredibly with the kumquats and a small piece of syrupy bread.

For mains, the choices were a pigs feet braise, scallops, hangar steak, or a branzino fillet special. I chose the branzino, perfectly seared over well cooked veggies. Very light yet very flavorful. My friend went with the hangar steak, which was cooked medium rare. The highlight, however, was the asparagus and hashbrown mix served as a side. This is classical french cooking at its best.

Dessert was a choice of cranberry pie, creme brulee (sold out), chocolate roll, or ice cream and sorbet. My friend went with the ice cream and sorbet -- a scoop of slightly too sweet raspberry sorbet and a scoop of light and delicate pistachio ice cream. I went with the chocolate roll, which intertwined layers of soft white cake with perfect chocolate mousse. A garnish of whipped cream and a few berries completed a great dessert. I wasn't expecting a lot out of dessert here -- as a small byo, they don't have a pastry chef that I'm aware of -- but it was very well executed.

Service was professional if a bit rushed. Charlotte, the co-owner, makes sure to stop by every table and greet customers -- her charm is only overshadowed by her husband's cooking. A great meal, and truly lived up to the hype!

Chew Man Chu

440 S Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147

I was in the area and not in the mood for Korean, so we stopped by Chew Man Chu to check it out. Ain't nothing wrong with good Asian food.

Mind you, one of the crazy women who work at my hair cutter was saying that she was there opening night and "everyone" was there. With this nugget in the back of my mind, I was expecting a little bit Pearl, a little bit PF Changs, and a dash of Mad River. And that's pretty much exactly what I got. I'm not really sure what the decor is -- it's not really cheeky; it's not really d-bag-y; it's not really modern. The centerpiece of the room is a large fluorescent table that I'd personally be scared would irradiate my food. So I'm taking a point off for decor.

Wait staff were nice, eager, helpful. Not amazing but certainly serviceable.

As far as food goes, I was expecting full on Asian. I got Chinese with a hint of Thai. Very few Korean, Japanese, Malaysia, Cambodian dishes, etc. Now that's fine in my book, but they go to great lengths to make the place sound pan-Asian. Not pan-Asian.

We started with the steamed veggie dumplings, which to me were under-seasoned although not bad. We also had the chicken moo shu, which came with a giant fried egg on top. The moo shu was a solid version -- well seasoned and not greasy. However, the surprisingly large chicken chunks kind of threw me off as too chewy for the dish. We also tried the tofu green curry which had a great curry and coconut flavor, enriched with basil.

Portions are huge, and are brought out as they're ready. Frankly, this creates a little bit of a problem, as we received our curry about 5 mins before the rice came out. The dumplings were also the second dish to come out -- I would have preferred a true appetizer course. Oh well.

So I found this place overall "meh." Nothing outstanding, but nothing horrible. It's well priced and a lot nicer than your run-of-the-mill Chinese joint, but I'm not going out of my way to go back.

Cafe Loftus

136 South 15th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102

I'm not really sure how to describe Loftus. Maybe forgettably solid. Maybe La Colombe lite. Sadly, I feel the place lacks any identity of its own.

It kind of looks like La Colombe, what with the marble bar counter, pastry display, dark woods and light paint, and they serve La Colombe coffee, but whereas La Colombe is bustling, quick, loud, and intense, Loftus is relaxed, slow, and quiet. The barista is a little slow to make drinks but I can deal with that for an inexpensive coffee and a place to sit.

Haven't tried the sandwiches or any food other than an orange, but the selection is varied (albeit small). It's a great largely undiscovered go to.

And we're back.

After a 2+ year hiatus, I'm back to writing about food. And really back. For now, I'm just uploading a lot of my reviews from another site, but I expect to keep this updated with a little more content (pictures, random food articles, random Philly stuff). I'm probably a little slower to blog than to post on other sites, but I'll do my best to update this pretty regularly. Oh and Craig LaBan, if you're looking for anybody to take with you to a meal, I'll keep your identity REALLY quiet. Promise. Sam Sifton, same goes for you...
Publish Post

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Campo's and Overpriced Denim

My friend Rudy is one of the few people who can convince me to change planned behavior. That is, if I was planning on not drinking, Rudy can get me to drink. If I'm supposed to leave for somewhere at three and take a train, Rudy can typically convince me to leave at six and drive with him. Rudy also convinced me to shell far too much money out on a pair of designer jeans just because he wanted to go to the jeans store. But they do look pretty good on me... (digression).

Anyway, Charlie's Jeans for Men is located on 2nd and Market...right by Campo's. Now I've always loved Campo's despite their relatively high prices, sometimes surly counter service, and a location pretty much always out of my way, but when in Rome, one should do like the Romans do.

I had my standard Chicken Salad. Their version is homemade (i.e. you know there's actual chicken in there) and the pieces are pretty chunky. There's also a decent amount of celery in the salad. There is, however, far too much mayo, as I still feel my arteries being clogged. I had the sandwich served standardly (with pickles on the side -- no free vinegar cukes here!) with lettuce, tomato on a hoagie roll. I added sharp provolone to the mix. Oddly, their sharp provolone is sprinkled on, leading to a little bit of a mess.

Taste wise, the sandwich was fantastic. Creamy mayo-chicken goodness, crunchy veggies, a soft roll, and a sharp tang from the cheese is about all you can ask for in life. With a soda, this came to a little pricey $10.

Rudy went with the cheesesteak, which he seemed to like a lot. His friend Paul, however, went with something worth discussing: The Stockyard. The Stockyard is a hoagie made with chicken, steak, both american and mascarpone cheeses, bacon, pepperoni, and fried onions. We watched them throw all of the meats on the grill, allowing the fats to meld, as they spread the bread with mascarpone. Then, melting the cheese, they put the entire heart attack on the bread. Now, Paul is not a small guy (he's probably around 6'4"), but he only got about halfway through what he called a great hoagie. On the flip side, when he brought his tray back in to have the other half wrapped to go, there was a big puddle of grease on the table. MMM...fat.

Anyway, Campo's is always a fun option down in Old City... 2nd and Market. Added Bonus? They sell beer.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Wawa Mac N' Cheese: Nothing Comes Closer To Home

A quick post as I've finally deciphered the familiarity of the taste of Wawa Mac and Cheese. Velveeta? No. Kraft Dinner? No, eh. Jones? Certainly not. But Stouffer's? Yes, everyone's favorite microwaveable meal is available already nuked at the Wawa. I cite two reasons:

1) Overcooked elbows: Alone, this is not a valid reason. But neither Wawa nor Stouffer can produce anything even close to Al Dente, resulting in a too-soft noodle.

2) Cream Cheese consistency: You know when you eat cream cheese and it reminds you of peanut butter, in that you can't seem to get the cheese film out of your mouth? And it's tasty, so you just kind of deal, despite being grossed out that your mouth is now enveloped in a coating of dairy. Well, mix that cheese with some canned Cheddar, and you have Wawa Cheese. What it lacks in sharpness or, well, flavor, it makes up for with that certain sense of home. Why does this remind me of home? Because nothing comes closer to home than Stouffer's. Point proven.

What I would give for a 24 hour Whole Foods in Rittenhouse...