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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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Oh, You Fancy, huh? : Burger Edition

Happy 2014! It’s a new year and we are back in the burger eatin’ saddle. I’m really looking forward to this year because I’ve got a couple of big milestones coming up. Next week, A Side of Ketchup will hit its 100th post! I am promising to make it a super special, action packed (?), burgerlicious treat, so check back for that. Also, I am turning the big 3-0 this month as well! To celebrate, I’ll be dining at the Zahav chef’s counter and will (hopefully) be able to recap all 10 amazing courses for you guys, provided I don’t slip into a food coma first. Additionally, I’m heading to Las Vegas at the end of the month for some extra celebrating and will be recapping the best burgers & other delicious delights Sin City has to offer.

So we’ve already had our first big snow storm of 2014 and what better way to have spent my snow day then lunching at Butcher & Singer. Their elusive “lunch only” burger (Monday-Friday) is probably one of the best deals in town at a mere $10.95! (That’s steakhouse quality at Five Guys prices) The burger is a whopping 10 oz Filet Mignon patty on a brioche bun, topped with English cheddar and caramelized onions. You’ve also got a little iceberg lettuce, tomato, pickles and “secret sauce” on there as well, and they give you a ton of fries. (I couldn’t even finish them all!)

The burger came out cooked perfectly medium, as I would expect from a place that makes meat temperature their main business. I loved everything about this burger. The meat was juicy and bloody, with an amazing char on the outside. The bun was thick and soft, withstanding all the drippings (although I did have to take my time eating it to ensure that I wouldn’t run out of bottom bun first). It’s a good thing that the hostess seated me in a corner where no one else had to look at me because I was destroying this bad boy! I was kind of embarrassed about the way my napkin looked afterwards, but hey, that’s what you get for serving something this amazing at a fancy, white tablecloth place, right?

Look how massive this thing is!

It was an all around excellent burger (Stephen Starr is not messing around, folks!) and definitely the right way to kick off a new year of burger eating, especially at the price point. I highly suggest – nay, I demand! – taking a long lunch break to get the Butcher Burger. Both your stomach & your wallet will thank you!

Burger Rating: “A”

Oh, You Fancy, Huh? (Philly Edition)

A friend and I went out to celebrate my very belated birthday with dinner this weekend and found ourselves at Rittenhouse Tavern, which is very much un-tavern-like and very underrated. It’s located inside the Philadelphia Art Alliance building, so if you blink you’ll miss it if you’re walking down the street. I joked that I was going to get the burger (a special LaFrieda dry-aged blend, topped with Ed’s special sauce and sharp provolone on a brioche roll), but since my friend knew the chef (the very talented Nick Elmi), we got a little bit of VIP service.

Chef Elmi put together an amazing tasting  featuring a few of their menu items, as well as some special treats (like a rosemary smoked marshmallow for the dessert course!). I didn’t want to take pictures of everything and distract my dining companion or the other patrons since the lighting was pretty low, but once the table next to us cleared, I was able to capture some of my favorite dishes from the tasting.

Amuse Bouche: Truffled jelly-crema duck egg.  It was rich with truffle flavor, great texture, and it came in an adorable, hollowed out egg! This was sinfully delicious and produced the quote of the evening: “I’m a slut for truffles.”

Main course: Sweetbreads – It was my first time having sweetbreads so I didn’t have anything to compare them to. But they were amazing, beautifully plated (accented with cute little flowers!) and delicious; buttery smooth. They are not currently on the menu but hopefully the Chef will bring them back soon!

Dessert: Panna cotta – OMFG. This was ridiculous. So rich and velvety. I wanted to basically stick my face in the cup and lick it clean. That’s how much I loved it.

There was also a chocolate marbled foie gras that was part of the terrine plate that was out of this world. (Who would have thought that foie and chocolate pair so well together?) A veal and shrimp ceviche -part of the amuse bouche – brought back memories of my ex-bf’s love of fried veal cutlets, but this dish was certainly above his “refined” culinary palate. A chilled soup with salmon roe was tasty, but not really my cup of tea. (Although the roe was much on par with roe I’ve had in Japan and far less salty than the kind they use in local sushi joints.)

In a city rife with top chefs and award winning restaurants, Rittenhouse Tavern is definitely an overlooked gem. Why they didn’t make any “Best Of” lists was something we spent a good while speculating over in between courses (money and favoritism being some pretty obvious factors), but I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is looking for an amazing tasting menu experience. Every dish was elegantly prepared and wonderfully delicious.

Five courses will run you $60/pp, with an additional $40 wine pairing option.

Comida!

Back in the day, I used to run a little blog called “Mexican Fridays“, where, you guessed it – we would choose a different Mexican restaurant every Friday to eat at. I use the term “eat” very loosely as it was mostly us sharing a pitcher of margaritas and drunkenly shoving some chips and/or fajitas into our faces. It was kind of a short lived thing because we usually got too tanked to remember what we ate and my waistline started rapidly expanding from the all the empty calories. 

Mexican food is definitely one of my favorite kinds of food – and when I say Mexican food, know that I’m referring to the Tex-Mex, Americanized version of the cuisine that most of us have come to know as “Mexican”. Don’t be a total snob about it and say “Oh well, that’s not real Mexican food!” I grew up in an area that was very heavily populated by Mexican immigrants, so I’ve been to my fair share of hole in the wall taquerias, but obviously, that good ol’ Americanized stuff is what’s more readily available. 


A lot of places are trying to incorporate finer cuisine into their Mexican-style menus, and there’s no greater sign of this then in the Philadelphia area. From El Vez to Distrito to La Calaca Feliz, there are nopales salads, duck confit nachos, hamachi ceviches and pulpo tacos side by side with jumbo margaritas and bowls of fresh guacamole topped with lump crab meat. But the thing that really gets on my nerves the most is that they’ve all appropriated the same aspects of Mexican culture into the decor: the bright colored roses, the skeletons, the low rider bikes, the Luchadores. So every place has become a carbon copy of the other because someone said “Hey, I like this! People here like this! Let’s do the same thing at our place!” 

 El Rey’s skirt steak sopes: pretty and delicious

Can we maybe tone it down a bit? Yeah, the Day of the Dead festival is awesome but maybe we do it for a day or a week in the fall? I’d like to walk into a mexican restaurant and actually see a Mexican flag, maybe some paintings on the walls of Aztec ruins, even some cheesy mariachi guys with a horn player strumming “La Cucaracha“. Something that actually feels like a little, roadside cantina in Tijuana. Anything but these overkill, super-hipster neon Mexican places adorning Center City. 

Exhibit A from one of the biggest offenders
On the opposite end of this spectrum, one of the better mexican places I’ve eaten at here in Philly is Mexican Post (Love Park/Cherry St location). The decor inside is so minimal, you might forget that you’re even eating in a mexican restaurant, but the food is pretty great. On my most recent visit, I got a chicken chimichanga that was ridiculously good; covered in sauce, slathered in cheese with a side of rice and beans.

Look at that bad boy! 
Who needs Kobe beef tacos with truffle oil infused avocado reduction sauce when you’re getting a delicious version of something that’s standard? Plus, something like this takes the guesswork out of paying $15 for something you’re not sure you’re going to like and that probably won’t even fill you up. Mexican food isn’t meant to be fancy and overpriced; it’s meant to be comfort food, to taste good, fill you up, and want you coming back for more. And I definitely plan on visiting Mexican Post again whenever the mood strikes.
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