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Category Archives: eats

Oh, You Fancy, Huh? : Birthday Edition

I’ve finally awakened from my food coma so that I can recap the amazing dinner I had this past weekend at Zahav’s chef’s counter; a must-try culinary experience of 10-12 courses crafted by Chef Michael Solomonov himself. Here are the rules: The chef’s tasting is only offered on Friday & Saturday nights, there’s only one seating at 7:30 PM, and there’s only 4 seats available; you must purchase 2 seats at least a month in advance (It’s only $90/pp & they go like hot latkes!). You can also opt for a $50/pp beverage pairing when you arrive. DO THE BEVERAGE PAIRING! Trust me, you won’t regret it!

I apologize in advance for the lack of details on some of the dishes, as there was no written menu. But just sit back, relax & enjoy the food porn!

Course 1: Potato Chip starter, topped with chives & bottarga

Course 2: Zahav’s infamously delicious hummus, served with fluffy pita bread, lamb’s tongue & pickles

Course 3: Dried figs topped with feta

Course 4: Beet “tartare” with an Avocado crema & Salmon roe (I know lots of people are not keen on beets, but this was tasty & creative!)

Course 5: Lentil Soup with Bone marrow & Challah (This was featured on Zahav’s Instagram page earlier in the day before our dinner, so I was super psyched!)

Course 6: Lamb crudo with Eggplant & fried artichokes (One of our favorites of the night)

Course 7: Sage & brown butter “dumpling”

Course 8: Branzino sashimi with baba ganoush (Our least favorite dish of the night; it was incredibly salty.)

Course 9: The Entree – Short rib with brussel sprouts, radishes & carrots (The short rib cut like butter!)

Course 10: Dessert #1 – Poached apple & Quince

Course 11: Dessert #2 – Dates & Turkish coffee crema

The whole entire dining experience was amazing, start to finish. Chef Solomonov even came out halfway through service to check in on us and see how we were doing. I’m glad to finally add myself to the list of people who have lived through the Chef’s Counter and can now brag/rave about it to everyone else I know! Since there isn’t a pre-set menu, they do ask you in advance if you have any allergies or dietary restrictions. They also ask if you are down to eat anything; just say yes – don’t be a baby about it! I highly recommend it for your next big special occasion – or if you just feel like having a fancy, adventurous dinner. Just dress comfortably, reserve all  your daily calories and prepare to have one of the best meals of your life.

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The Splatty Awards!

Welcome all to our 100th post! In honor of this milestone, I bring you a little something I like to call “The Splatty Awards!”: recapping the best things I have been eating, drinking & doing for the past year or so.

Best food item that comes in a jar: Tomato Conserva at In Riva 

Briefly removed from their winter menu for a few weeks in December (in which I cried into my pillow every night), the Tomato Conserva is back in action!

This sweet bruschetta will have you licking the jar clean & begging for more!

Best New York City to Philly transplant (other then myself): Shake Shack

Danny Meyer’s fast-casual burger joint quickly gained a fandom on Sansom Street in the summer of 2012, and expanded this year with outposts in University City & King of Prussia.

The Smoke Shack was initially conceived for the Philadelphia location, but has expanded to all Shacks globally.

Best food I used to be terrified of but now can’t stop eating: Oysters

Yeah, they’re slimy and salty and weird and jiggly, but they’re also delicious!

I’ve been making it my mission to hit every buck a shuck & half price oyster night in town.

Best pop-up: Lucky Old Souls’ Patty Melt Pop-up at Kennett

 When the LOS truck’s engine went kaput this fall, the team at Kennett lent them a hand – and their kitchen – for the evening to raise money for a new one.

And maybe I’m a little bit biased because it was my suggestion to turn out patty melts; a once in a blue moon burger special they were serving up on East Passyunk last spring.

Best Beer Drinking Event: Philly Beer Week Opening Tap

I’ve been partaking in Opening Tap for the past two years now, and seriously, if you’re not making this a priority during PBW, you’re missing out.

Opening Tap showcases the best and brightest of the local Philadelphia beer scene under one roof (the Independence Visitors Center, to be exact). But remember, it’s a marathon – not a sprint!

Best Beer Drinking Event Involving Animals: Summer Ale Fest at the Philadelphia Zoo

Great Beer + Local Food + Adorable Animals = One of the most awesome times you will ever have. Don’t forget to take a selfie of yourself “drinking a beer” with a tiger!

Most of the animals are actually awake compared to a day trip, and zoo docents are on hand to provide detailed information on your favorite critters.

Best Happy Hour (tie): Sampan and Alla Spina

Sampan gets the advantage as they have happy hour 7 days a week from 4-7 PM, but Alla Spina offers some great bar bites and their Victory Brewing beer collab, Novello, for only $3!

Don’t miss Sampan’s edamame dumplings or the pretzel bites with beer cheese at Alla Spina (they come in an adorable wooden piggy)!

Best Brunch: Jerry’s Bar

The Brunch crowd mourned the loss of Cafe Estelle for many months, but Marshall Green’s famous & delicious sticky buns have finally found a new home in Northern Liberties.

I hated Bloody Marys until I tried the one at Jerry’s and now I’m hooked. Seriously – best Bloody Mary ever!

Best Restaurant: Spot Burger

But isn’t Spot Burger a food truck?”, you’re probably asking yourself. Well, who says a restaurant needs to be defined by four brick walls?

 SpOt Owner/Grillmaster Josh Kim is the hardest working man in these streets right now, and he proves it on a weekly basis with his innovative specials (like a $10 Lobster Roll this summer), as well as his philanthropic efforts. He supports dozens of college organizations and local charities, frequently running specials and donating portions of his proceeds to these causes. He’s been a champion for food truck rights in Philadelphia, residing on the board of the Philly Mobile Food Association, and turned the corner of 33rd and Arch St into the “Food Truck Mecca”. So next time you see his yellow cart around, grab some grub; you won’t be disappointed! Spot serves up one of the best burgers in town.

And that concludes our awards ceremony! I hope you’ll at least check out some of the places and foods I love, in addition to the delicious burgers I recap for you guys each week. Got any great places and foods you think I should try? Post em up in the comments section and maybe they’ll wind up on my “best of” list next year!

What up, Dawg?

The Hot Dog: That delicious encased beacon of mystery meat that graces grills from coast to coast in the summer, satisfying our need for nitrates. As a New Yorker, I was basically raised on the hot dog. From my grandma cutting up a Hebrew National into slices for me to eat as a toddler, to dirty water dogs on a Manhattan street corner, to the world famous Nathan’s franks, hot dogs have always been a staple in my diet.

One of my favorite hot dog joints is back in the area where I grew up. What appears to be a roadside Chinese pagoda is in fact home to some of the best hot dogs I’ve ever had. Walter’s, in Mamaroneck, NY creates their own special blend of pork, beef and veal for their dogs, which they then split and grill in a buttery sauce that leaves them crisp and delicious.

Photo Credit: Roadfood.com

I have intentionally gone out of my way while driving and taken long lunches just to wait on the sometimes atrociously long line for Walter’s. (We were nearly late to my friend’s wedding ceremony once because we were picking up a bag of puppies and curly fries to eat on the way.) Many people tend to throw shade at those willing to wait 45 minutes for “some hot dogs”, or proclaim the food to be “not that great”, but to those people I say “Keep sipping that haterade!”

Photo Credit: Seriouseats.com

The dogs come in 3 varieties: Double, which is 2 dogs on one bun, Single, one dog on a bun, and Puppy, which is a half dog on a baby bun. (I’m partial to getting a bunch of puppies because, since the first bite is always the best, this way you can get an extra first bite.) They also make their own mustard/relish blend, which you can get topped on your dog. I am apparently a heathen in the eyes of some fellow hot dog lovers because I put ketchup on my hot dogs, but I don’t call that evil; I just call that being normal.

…..

However, there’s a place in Philadelphia that is changing my mind about what kinds of condiments should top a dog. Hot Diggity, on South Street, is creating their own “haute” dogs based on a variety of regional favorites. From the cream cheese topped Seattle Grunge to the Chili and Cheese Cincinnati Skyline, plus a variety of specialty dogs (this month’s includes a dog made from Alaskan Reindeer meat!), they’ve quickly grown a following in the food community.

So far I’ve tried 3 of their hot dogs. (They use Sabrett’s hot dogs and traditional style hot dog rolls, as opposed to those awkward top-split ones.)

The coleslaw topped “Southern Comfort” is one of my favorites because I am a coleslaw fiend during the summer.

The Tex-Mex style “Desert Dog” is tasty, but the pinto bean spread was a little heavy for me.

They also had a Mexican-inspired dog as a special over the summer topped with corn salsa, queso blanco & tortilla strips.

I’m definitely making it my goal to try every dog on the menu, even though the Southern Comfort is my favorite. They also serve Belgian style fries with a variety of dipping sauces, as well as house made sodas; the perfect companions to your stomach’s best friend!

s-EAT-tle

I just returned from a 4 day trip exploring the Pacific Northwest city of Seattle – and what trip would be complete without a visit to the World Famous Pike Place Market?

In case you didn’t know, Pike Place Market was opened in 1907 as a way for people to cut out the middle man and avoid high prices for their food and produce. This way, people could “Meet the Producer” (Their slogan to this day) of what they were buying. Every space is rented out on a daily basis, sometimes with vendors rotating if they can’t get there early enough to get their usual spot. They offer everything from fresh fish, to fruit, to flowers, to honey, cherries, beef jerky, t-shirts, wood carvings, calligraphy, bracelets and more.

And of course, there’s the fish throwing.

My first morning in town, I went to a delightful little restaurant near my hotel called Toulouse Petit, which offers an awesome breakfast happy hour with most dishes for a mere $7.50 from 8-11 AM, Monday through Friday. I’m a total sucker for some eggs benedict with avocado, so I ordered up their Avocado & Roma Tomato eggs benedict. My food seriously came out so fast, I wasn’t even sure it was mine – not to mention, I hadn’t even gotten served my morning cocktail from the bar yet. The menu touted the dish as being served in a Creole-style hollandaise sauce, but I could barely taste it. The avocado melted in my mouth though and the potatoes were crispy and delicious. I can’t wait to go back and try their beignets and creme caramel french toast!

That afternoon, I walked around the International District, hitting up Uwajimaya, a Japanese/Asian supermarket akin to Mitsuwa here on the East Coast in Edgewater, NJ. I pretty much died and went to heaven. If I ever moved to Seattle, this would be my mecca. I got melon pan and a chocolate stuffed bread for snacks (which were my favorite when I visited Japan). My sole purpose of this visit was to get some fresh, delicious sushi. So I walked a few blocks over to J-Sushi. When I first walked in, I was a little put off because the staff were sitting at a back table all eating lunch. Having worked in the restaurant business before, I just think it’s bad form to be eating in front of your customers – especially if it’s food from another restaurant. So of course I was skeptical about the food and didn’t really want to leave and find another place to go because I was in the mood for sushi, so I took my chances (even when the waitress took my order with a piece of rice stuck to the side of her mouth). I ordered the J-Combo, which included miso soup, 5 nigiri, 4 sashimi, a roll, 2 gyoza and a little bit of seaweed salad. Well, appearances can be deceiving because the food was fantastic! The soup hit the spot on a cold, misty day. The sushi was very fresh and delicious. The spicy tuna roll was especially spicy; I had to keep eating ginger to cool my mouth down. The gyoza were warm and plump. Definitely worth the $18.95 (as opposed to a lot of place that will overcharge you for a minimal amount of food.)

Later that night, I tried Dick’s Drive In – a local fast food burger place – on the recommendation of a friend who told me that if I did nothing else on my Seattle trip, I must visit Dick’s Drive-In for great post-drunkenness food. Well, I wasn’t drunk but I was hungry and didn’t feel like eating at a sit down because it was pretty late, so I headed over to Dick’s. There was a line but it moves pretty fast because most of their burgers are pre-packaged and ready for the crowds. Had to pay for ketchup which is like UGH for a severe ketchup addict like me, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. The fries were delicious; greasy and fresh hand-cut shoestrings. The burger was better then McDonald’s/BK/Wendy’s quality and definitely hit the spot as far as a quick burger goes.And it was cheaper for a whole meal too! Came to under $6 for fries, burger & small drink. (Obviously, I’m not going to go as far as saying it was the best or worst burger in Seattle; We’ll wait until I go back to visit again to try a whole Seattle Burger Quest.)

The next day, I snacked on one of my Japanese breads for breakfast because I was saving my appetite for that afternoon’s Savor Seattle Gourmet Food Tour, which promised 3 hours of food and booze filled enjoyment while walking around downtown Seattle. The tour started at The Yellow Leaf Cupcake Company, where we met our tour guide Eric (aka the guy in the Kilt) and got to have a little chat with the owner of the cupcake shop while sampling 2 of their most popular cupcakes:

chocolate with sprinkles (top) & pancakes and bacon (bottom)

The pancakes & bacon one was out of this world. Tony & Michael, the owners, rotate 220 different flavors of cupcakes at the shop throughout the year. (They also shared some tricks of the trade that are going to come in mighty handy whenever I decide to move my ass and start my own cupcake business.)

Next stop was Serious Pie, owned by restauranteur Tom Douglas – aka Seattle’s answer to Stephen Starr here in Philadelphia. (Which I guess makes Serious Pie the West Coast version of Pizzeria Stella…) We tried 2 different pizzas: roasted chanterelle mushrooms & truffle cheeseand yukon gold potato, rosemary & pecorino. I’m not a big fan of mushrooms, so I tried to take a slice with the smallest one I could find. The truffle cheese was amazing. On the potato pie, the pecorino is shaved onto the pizza when it comes out of the oven, making it delicate and flaky and delicious.

Third stop was Icon Grill, where we tried a succulent, well prepared tenderloin topped with blue cheese, an Orange Drop martini (their take on a traditional Lemon Drop), and a side they dub “Ultimate Mac n Cheese”, which contains 4 cheeses and is topped with bread crumbs – to which they add more cheese sauce on top when it comes out of the oven. (HINT! The secret ingredient is Velveeta!)

We then walked over to the Pike Place Market, stopping into La Buona Tavola for a little bit of potato leek soup with truffle oil and some samples of aged balsamic vinegars. Next in the market, we went downstairs into Il Bistro, for their seafood risotto with clams and tomatoes, as well as a rich, Sangiovese red wine.

Oh, but we’re not done yet, friends! Next, we got a private tour of the Pike Place Brewing Company – getting to see how they store their grains and brews and how they bottle and fill the kegs. After that, we went upstairs for a beer and cheese pairing. I bet you never though of pairing beer with anything other then the cheese on your nachos, but these were pretty great. We tried an Ale and an IPA with an aged cheddar and a blue cheese, the brewery’s own house made spent grain bread on the side. (Because who doesn’t love carbs with their carbs??)

Second to last stop was Thoa’s Vietnamese restaurant where we ate Vietnamese Pad Thai served with Nuoc Cham – or fish sauce – as opposed to the more gooey, peanut infused style Pad Thai you’re probably familiar with. I really enjoyed this dish because I love Nuoc Cham, especially over Bun (Vermicelli). It was just really light and flavorful. I’ll probably start making my pad thai more like this at home.

Finally – Dessert time! Gelatiamo, serving up delicious, homestyle gelato and sorbetto. We sampled the Caramel gelato and Fragola (Strawberry) sorbetto.

The next day was my very last day in Seattle. I got up early, went back down to Pike Place Market to stand on line for my signature favorite drink: Skinny Caramel Macchiato, at the Original Starbucks.

The line moves pretty quickly and there’s a gift shop as well. The staff are fun and fast (unlike some Starbucks I know – cough18thandMarketcough). They even still use an original hand pressed espresso machine!

I really wanted Fish & Chips – had been craving them for weeks and decided to save the craving for Seattle. I popped into the Athenian Inn in Pike Place, which apparently was where they filmed a scene from Sleepless in Seattle (never saw it so I couldn’t tell you). I got a nice window seat to watch the ferry boats come in and ordered a Pike Brewery Auld Acquaintance, one of their seasonal beers, in a nice, frosty mug.

I’m not sure what they used to batter my fish in, but when they came out, they were neon orange. I was a little skeptical, but I still ate them because I was starving. I’ve definitely had better fish & chips from the freezer section at the supermarket, but I guess you’re paying for the ‘experience’ of eating here.

And that was it! I ate some amazing things and some mediocre things and some kind of questionable things, but I guess that’s true of pretty much any place that you go. I definitely had a lot of other places on my list where I would have liked to eat, plus suggestions that were given to me by friends I made along my journey. I just didn’t have time or the stomach capacity to fit it all in!

So consider this the first installment of S-EAT-tle, for now. I promised I’d be back soon.

Philly’s Best Burger? Part 1: 500 Degrees

Since moving to Philadelphia a little over two years ago, I’ve done the cheesesteak thing and am decidedly over it. Every place in Philadelphia claims to make “Philly’s Best Cheesesteak”. Quite frankly, I’m partial to some Steak-Ums and a nice Italian roll made in the comfort of my own home and without all the waiting on lines, excessive grease and hours spent in the bathroom later on that evening. But what I really wanted to know was, where can I find the best BURGER in Philadelphia?

I’d read some local blogs and started doing a little research. It seems the ‘best’ burgers are all somewhere in the $14-$18 range and served at fancy, upscale restaurants. Is that what we’ve come to – backyard BBQ fare being served a ridiculous markups and touted as being ‘the best’? Eventually, I will probably make my way to some of these places. (Village Whiskey, Butcher and Singer and Pub & Kitchen, just to name a few.) But in the meantime, I’ve been checking out the low to mid-range offerings Philly has to offer and am coming up short handed. Maybe those blogs weren’t kidding after all.

One of the first places I checked out was 500 degrees, a little burger joint on Sansom St (between 16th & 17th) that touts truffle fries and thick milkshakes, as well as being owned by one of the restaurants in town with a high-end burger, Rouge. I ordered their classic burger, medium with cheddar and a side of their ‘famous’ truffle fries. I was definitely impressed. The cheddar was oozing and delicious, the burger itself succulent and with all the trimmings (lettuce, tomato, ketchup, mayo), all encompassed by a glazed brioche bun. The truffle fries definitely helped make the meal – slender and crispy and I could barely finish them all. I passed on the milkshake as I knew I’d already be full without it. I left there satisfied and confident that this burger was already ahead of the pack. However, on a follow up trip a few months later, I was disappointed. Where was the juiciness of the burger I had previously had? The brioche bun tasted stale, dry and falling apart as I ate, my meat was slightly overcooked and too much truffle oil was tossed on my fries. Overall, I would give their burgers a “B”.

I would soon come to learn that the brioche bun was not just a special treat; almost every burger place I visited after that offered a burger on a brioche bun – sometimes to compliment a juicy delicious patty but mostly just to trick you into thinking you were getting a beefy masterpiece while masking a truly terrible burger.

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