June 27, 2010


A few years ago, when we were still youngin's in college, our dad came up for a visit (Yes, our parents like Philly. A lot.) and we chose to check out the brand-new-at-the-time New Orleans style Cajun restaurant Les Bon Temps. It was a gorgeous place with lots of fleur de lis, stained glass, and a set of grandly sprawling marble stairs showcased in the center of the restaurant. The food was terrific- I can still remember the eggplant beignets, delicious in their unique sweet-yet-spicy way. We liked it so much, we even made a reservation there for our graduation dinner, though we later canceled it due to its slightly inconvenient location. Unfortunately, about a year after we dined on fried oyster po boys' and jambalaya, Les Bon Temps was closed.

Fast forward a couple years to now. We have kept an eye on what the space was destined for, and as soon as the menu for the replacement restaurant was released, we knew we would eventually check it out. It just so happened we were due for yet another visit from the folks, so it seemed like the perfect occasion to return to one of the newest spots in Philly, now called Tweed. Considering the new ownership (a Philly native turned French hotelier) and the choice of chef (previous experience with Eric Ripert), we had pretty high expectations.

Upon entering the restaurant, the complete gutting and renovation of the space was appreciated. Everything is very modern with clean lines, simple color schemes, and a good use of glass and dark wood combinations. We were seated at a table right up the new (and much narrower) staircase; I loved the rose velvet on the chairs but did take note of the seeming lack of actual tweed patterns. The service was good if not a bit awkward- our waiter seemed very eager and checked on us periodically throughout the dinner with lots of "How is everything?" and "Can I get you anything at all?". These might seem like normal questions, but he asked them in a way that seemed borderline obsessive.

The first thing we were served was the bread- before drink orders were even taken. There was a choice of a nutty-raisin-wheaty bread (obviously my choice) and a rosemary foccacia (obviously A's choice- she hates raisins), both of which were good. The water they serve is cucumber-infused, which some like and some do not, primarily based on whether or not you enjoy vegetables. I thought it was an upscale touch but certainly understand that not all diners appreciate it. Our waiter provided a rather short list of specials (one appetizer and one entree), which A & I ended up taking advantage of. The menu is considered "classical food with a modern twist" and makes a concerted effort to utilize locally produced ingredients (yay freshness). With this in mind, the heirloom tomato appetizer making an appearance as a special sounded like just the right start for a hot summer evening.

Although I don't know how much this cost (thanks Mom and Dad!) the salads and appetizers hit right around $10 so I'd think it was probably priced pretty equivalently. A & I were really looking forward to thick slices of sweet and firm tomato... and that is not quite what we were served. Six thin slices of slightly mushy tomato were completely soaked in a basil infused oil with lots of chopped shallots, salt, and of course the requisite drizzle of balsamic. I couldn't even taste the tomato, though I am not sure whether this is because the taste was completely masked or because it simply was not too flavorful; I'm sad to say I think it was the latter. In our opinion, if the tomato is no good (whether that be taste/texture/etc), you should certainly not feature it as a special. Common sense? Apparently not.

For the entree, A & I both chose meat that we love- mine in the form of grilled mahi-mahi, and her's in the form of a duck burger. The mahi dish ($24) was a complete 180 degree turnaround from the tomato disappointment. The large-ish piece of grilled fish was perfectly cooked, creating flaky flavorful mouthfuls. Served on a proportionate pile of sauteed spinach and covered in a sweet red pepper and onion concoction... let's just say the combination neared perfection. Lots of fresh herbs helped round out the flavors. I'm not sure if this was a seasonal addition to the menu (aka they had some good mahi come in that day) but I don't see this dish on the PDF menu on Tweed's website. If it was, I feel very lucky to have eaten this dish. If not, I feel equally lucky because I can go back and order it again!

A enjoys duck, so the duck burger ($12) which includes a choice of fries or salad, was an easy choice. The menu notes the addition of caramelized onion and cherry chutney- sounds like two good accompaniments to me. However, they fail to note that the duck is heavily accented with orange peel and Grand Marnier- two very distinct flavors that completely overwhelmed the meat. The ground duck was pressed thin and overcooked (A ordered her burger medium), making for a mealy dry orange-flavored patty. The addition of the somewhat sparse toppings within the almost-stale onion-flecked bun completed the overall very unenjoyable sandwich. The lightly dressed lemony pile of spring greens was good, but didn't make up for such a disappointment.

The dessert menu had a few intriguing options (birchbeer float? peanut and chocolate ganache bar?) so we decided to split the carrot cake ($7). This dish lived up to Tweed's promise of a twist on a classic, as it was served up roulade style with a goat cheese cream spread. The goaty-ness of the cream could have used a little more sugar to balance that flavor, and the actual cake seemed a little on the dry side (an unfortunately common theme here...) and tasted more like a simple spice cake. A scoop of butter pecan ice cream provided the nuttiness you usually find within the cake while a carrot juice drizzle was the only real form of carrot we could see. This rendition of carrot cake made us wish for the regular old kind with the orange frosting carrot on top. This was absolutely one of those "good in theory, bad in practice" type dishes. Though I didn't try it, the dense lemon-hinted cheesecake with fresh blueberries was proclaimed a much better option off the dessert menu.

Overall the dinner leaned toward the negative (with one shining star of a grilled fish). We really wanted to like it, but everything just seemed a little too over-thought. The tomatoes might have been good with less basil, the duck may have been good with less orange (and less cooking), and the dessert would probably improve with the addition of carrot and nuts back into the cake. Seemingly simple fixes that take out the "twists" and move back toward the "classics". Pricing was fair for the city, the environment was slick, service was certainly adequate, but the real misses in execution will probably deter us from visiting again, at least until we give the kitchen some more time to work out the kinks in the menu.

114 S. 12th Street

June 23, 2010

Giant Veggie Potstickers

As spring moves on into summer, our CSA box is getting more substantial (and quite heavy. I'm glad the pick-up spot is two blocks away!). This past week, we received:

1 head broccoli
1 bunch red beets
1 head curly endive
1 head Napa cabbage
1 head Romaine lettuce
1 head radicchio
1 head white cauliflower
2 yellow squash
1 bunch green shallots
1 head green Bibb lettuce

(No pictures were acquired- sorry!)

Yes, I had to somehow squeeze seven "heads" into our fridge- the produce drawers were stuffed to the max, and several items couldn't quite fit in (leading to some wilted green onions, but oh well. Is there some way to make the entire fridge humid?) Spring is definitely lettuce season, and so we have been eating what seems like endless amounts of salad. J swears she would never get tired of salad, but frankly, I think I might be reaching my limit.

All of this week's items are quite familiar to us, but not necessarily ones we would buy on a regular basis. I wasn't really quite sure what to do with the Napa cabbage- for those of you who don't know, it is sort of a cross between crisp lettuce, white cabbage, and bok choy. It originates in China, and therefore is often used in Asian style dishes. Last week, I created a cabbage stir fry with a soy sauce based dressing, but this week I wanted to more deeply explore my Napa options.

First stop: TasteSpotting. Yes, you've heard it here before, but seriously, I'm not sure what I would do without this website. A search for Napa cabbage spit out a handful of options, and I decided to run with the vegetarian potstickers. A little bit random, something I would never think to make myself, and a good first "trial" use for a vegetarian protein J and I have never tried before-- tempeh. We like tofu, but we've never branched out into the realms of tempeh and seitan, other forms of vegetarian protein that can be used in ways that tofu can't. Tempeh, like tofu, is made from soybeans, but is more naturally processed and uses the whole beans in its creation. There may or may not be a fermentation stage. Sounds kind of strange, looks kind of strange, but hey, we're always interested in trying out new foods.

Vegetarian Potstickers (adapted from this recipe):

1 package LightLife TempehTations, Ginger Teriyaki Flavor
2 cups thinly sliced Napa cabbage (about half of a large head)
3-4 green onions, sliced
6-8 baby Portabella mushrooms (halved, and then sliced)
2 T white cooking wine
1 T soy sauce
1 T sesame oil
8-9 Nasoya Egg Roll Wrappers

When browsing the options at our grocery store, we realized that we couldn't use plain tempeh-- they simply did not sell it. However, they did sell a tempeh-based product that was conveniently already flavored with Asian-y spices and sauces. A little disappointed I wouldn't be able to follow the original recipe, but less work for me. I also had the option of wonton wrappers and egg roll wrappers- basically the same thing in two different sizes. Technically, I should have gone with the wonton wrappers, as potstickers are usually on the small side. I had planned the potstickers as the base of our meal, so I went with the larger egg roll wraps instead.

The first step is browning the tempeh. I opened up the package and was greeted with some brownish cubes in a bit of sauce. As I dumped them into the pan, they started to fall apart pretty quickly. This product is a mix of soy and brown rice (which is common in tempeh making), and more closely resembled the latter. After a few minutes in the pan, it started to brown up (alright, it was already brown. It began to get a bit crispy). I gave it a quick chop and transferred it to a bowl, and then added the cabbage to the hot pan.

A very thin slice is critical here- the cabbage will cook down quite a bit, but you don't want a lot of chunks in your potstickers. After five minutes of steaming and stir frying, the cabbage was very wilted and turning a bit brown. Into the bowl it went, and sliced mushrooms took its place in the pan. Another few minutes and the mushrooms were on their way to softening up. To hasten their progress, I added the white cooking wine which evaporated quickly but allowed a bit of steaming action for the 'shrooms. In the last minute or two of their time in the pan, I added the chopped green onions to remove some of their onion-y bite. All of this made it into the same bowl with the tempeh and cabbage. I sauced up the mix with a tiny bit of soy sauce and sesame oil- the tempeh came with its own ginger sauce and I knew it wouldn't need a lot more flavor (or sodium. Yikes!)

Then, potsticker creation. The egg rolls are very easy to work with- pliable and soft. I laid each wrapper onto a "plate"- a very classy piece of tin foil- sprayed with cooking spray, and spooned 2-3 tablespoons of filling into the center. Then, I used my finger to smear some water onto two adjacent edges. Fold over into a triangle, press (somewhat rigorously), and then create ridges by pinching the connected edges together. Repeat with remaining wrappers and filling. I was able to make eight (extremely large) potstickers- each about the size of a small calzone! The dough is raw and the filling is a little cold at this point, so back into the pan they must go.

I like my dumplings a little bit crisp, and the recipe was informative on how to go about doing this. Heat your pan, spray with cooking spray, and then place each potsticker face down into the pan (it got a bit crowded). After 2-3 minutes, flip over, and resume the crisping process on the other side. Then, add 1/2 cup of water to the pan and place a lid on top. I checked after a minute or two and all of the water was gone, so I ended up using more water than the recipe called for. This step allows the parts of the potstickers that are not actually sticking to the pot to be cooked via steaming. I allowed them to steam for 3-4 minutes total and then removed them from the pan.

You can serve these with a simple teriyaki or soy sauce... sauce, but I thought they were delicious on their own. Although it's on the thin side, the egg roll wrapper provides a very doughy bite. The flavor of the filling was really good- I felt like I was eating at a Chinese restaurant. The soy sauce and sesame oil definitely boosted what sauce the tempeh came with, providing tons of salty, savory goodness. The tempeh and mushrooms together had a nutty, earthy flavor which was balanced by the cabbage- still slightly crisp and fresh, even with all that cooking time. The potstickers were also extremely filling- I could only eat two before calling it quits.

Supplemented by the rest of the head of Napa (stir fried the "usual" way) and some roasted broccoli, the dinner was quick (about half an hour?), easy, and a bit of an adventure. They didn't end up exactly like a classic potsticker, but they were delicious nonetheless. I'd love to try these using plain tempeh and adding my own flavors, but the tempeh product we picked up was a great substitution. I also think you could use the same filling and wrappers to produce excellent egg rolls, which could then be baked, pan-fried, or deep fried. Forget Chinese takeout- make your own healthier version at home!

June 20, 2010


In a city chock full of restaurants, it's fairly easy to find whatever it is you're craving. Restaurants featuring food from all corners of the earth abound (although some require a bit more seeking out than others). However, I do have to say that sometimes it's the basics that are more difficult to find here. Looking for an affordable steak? I'm not sure it exists. A high quality red gravy Italian place in Center City? Can't think of one. Creative sushi in a more upscale environment that provides creative options beyond raw fish? (I mean really, I am not interested in a seaweed salad or chicken katsu). I've been on the search for this last one for quite some time. I can't give a good sushi recommendation for any restaurant in Philly- and no, I have not tried many of them, so if you want to throw out your suggestions, I'd be happy to take them. Recently, two new sushi restaurants have opened, both with more of an emphasis on presentation and decor than the typical sushi spot around town.

Looking for a dining destination to take a visiting friend, I decided on Doma (one of these two new options). Boosted by a fairly good review from Craig LaBan, I knew it had to be several steps up from the other sushi places I've tried (some of which I'm not sure would even receive a single bell). I made reservations just two days in advance- I wasn't sure what the walk-in status would be as it is a fairly small place. However, our dining mate was running late and I called last minute to change the reservation. Extremely accommodating, thankfully- although we later noted that the restaurant never reached full capacity even at the height of dinner service. Still, some restaurants may have been a little less cheerful about our last minute switch.

Doma's location perhaps contributes to its seeming lack of booming business. Located on the edge of Center City civilization (ie Callowhill Street) on the same little strip as Sabrina's Cafe and King of Tandoor, it's not exactly prime real estate. However, we appreciated the walk, and found the quiet street a bit of a sanctuary away from the rest of the city. Doma sports two outdoor tables (small parties only), which seems unnecessary: dining outdoors can be great, but you usually want to have some sort of a view or at least a steady stream of pedestrians for people-watching. The diners seated outside had a great view of an empty grassy lot. Inside, the dining room is long and narrow, but well-lit and with appropriate decor- certainly Japanese influenced but not to the point of annoying stereotypes. The hostess double checked that we were alright with sitting at a bar height table (not sure why this would be a problem?) and showed us handy hooks under the table for our purses. Hey, it's the little things.

The menu is split into several parts, which can be problematic for people who can't seem to make decisions (that would be me). Cold appetizers, hot appetizers, entrees (which include a mix of Japanese and Korean dishes), Bento boxes, and a variety of sushi, sashimi, and rolls. Craig LaBan raved about the Korean food- bibimbop and chargrilled shortrib for example, but we were there for the sushi. We decided to tackle specific areas of the menu, creating a tapas style appetizer session and each choosing a specialty roll.

The appetizer options are quite varied, and each sounds as delicious as the last. We struggled to choose only three but decided on a single cold appetizer along with two from the hot options. The waiter asked if we wanted them all at once, but we chose to have them arrive as they were prepared- better for enjoying each dish on its own. The first up was the octopus ceviche ($9). Several thin slices of cold octopus were topped with a fresh mango salsa. The presentation was beautiful (and very photogenic), something we would comment on throughout the meal. However, the serving was on the small side- only 5 or 6 slices, not easily split among three people. The meat had an excellent chewy texture and was well complemented by the somewhat spicy but sweet fruit, but the flavor of the octopus failed to present itself. I know it is not supposed to have a heavy flavor, but a hint of seafood would have been appreciated. Fortunately, this was our least favorite part of the meal and it was over and done with quickly.

The second dish to arrive was the steamed buns. As you know from our Nashville trip/Chinatown adventures, we're interested in bao buns. We weren't expecting to find these at a sushi restaurant, but were thankful that the menu held enough breadth to cover these delicious little items. Doma's version did not disappoint. Instead of a thick chewy breading, the bun was flat and openfaced, allowing the filling to be placed on top and then wrapped up. There are three options for filling, and we chose the meatiest of them all- pork belly ($12 for 3 buns). Thick slices of the fatty meat were piled with pickled cucumber slices and a rich sauce. No real assembly required, just pull one side of the "bun" over the meat and devour. The meat itself was perfectly cooked, and extremely well complemented by the pickles-very thinly sliced, sweet and sour with much remaining crunch. Bao buns tend to stick to your teeth, and the crunch was really key to breaking up this soft texture. The sauce was also spot on- It had me wiping my plate of the remaining drips with the last few bites of bun.

Minus five for non-uniform plating.

Our last appetizer was also the most unpronounceable- okonomiyaki. The menu describes this dish as a Japanese-style seafood pancake, but a bit of Wikipedia research was required to really decipher what it was that we had eaten. The base of the dish is a thick "pancake", similar in thickness and serving style to pizza. It is formed from flour, grated yam, eggs, shredded cabbage, bacon, green onion, and a variety of seafood- I believe ours had squid and shrimp at the very least. All of this is broken into small pieces, mixed together, and then grilled up like a pancake. It almost resembles a very large potato pancake. This is then drizzled with spicy, creamy dressing, and topped with "vegetables" (pretty much just finely shredded red bell pepper) and bonito- yes, those annoying woodsy flakes that creep and crawl with the slightest movement of air. It appears as if it would be a bit difficult to eat with chop sticks, but is surprisingly sticky. The combination of flavors and textures (even with a sparse covering of bonito) was really a delight, and it was a very shareable dish.

We had a good view of the sushi chefs throughout the night- two men working sporadically to construct and plate a huge variety of possible rolls. Watching the plating was fun- many of the rolls require a very artistic presentation. The three rolls that we ordered were not of this variety, but were still beautiful to look at and well presented side by side. The Hamachi Verde roll ($9) consisted of avocado, jalapeno, scallions, kanpyo (apparently dried squash?), and roe, and is topped with hamachi (yellowtail) and kiwi. A fairly simple roll in relation to the other specialty rolls, but simplicity worked in this case. It was somewhat strange to have the fish on top of the roll, but it worked in its favor- allowing the flavor to be more accessible. The kiwi added a sweet, tangy finish.

The Dragon roll ($12) is a classic found at many sushi restaurants- but a popular dish can often be used to gauge the overall quality of a restaurant. Eel, cucumber, and tempura crunch are wrapped and topped with avocado, roe, and a thin, sweet sauce. Again, Doma did a great job- the roll was well constructed, the avocado was perfectly sliced (I'm not sure how they do that), and the flavors fresh. The only necessary addition was a dab of wasabi- it needed some heat. The wasabi at Doma is definitely on the weak side- at least to the point that I could consume little bits of it alone without wanting to cry. I like my sushi spicy, so this was a bit of a downside.

Finally, the Triple Spicy Double Tuna roll ($13)- long name, but relatively few ingredients (for sushi anyways). The spice is provided by spicy sauce and sriracha inside, and a sichimi pepper ground on top (probably the spiciest of the three). The roll contains tuna, tempura crunch, and scallions- the short ingredient list forced this roll to be chock full of fresh tuna, which we fully appreciated. It is also topped with seared albacore tuna (a lighter, less smooth version of the fish), hence the "double" part of its name. It was a bit pricier, but well worth the money considering the quantity of fish involved. It also lived up to its name- very spicy in an unexpected way. The ground pepper powder hits you like quality Mexican food- a type of spice that is not usually found in sushi (spicy sauce and wasabi are more of the nose-burning kind of heat).

At this point, the meal had been very satisfactory- many small portions spaced out throughout almost two hours. We were hesitant to order dessert, but figured that splitting a single dish couldn't hurt. We settled on the Japanese sundae ($6), a base of green tea ice cream blended with red beans and tiny chunks of mochi, all topped with fresh berries, and green tea infused whipped cream. The dish successfully combined many typical Japanese flavors, allowing them to meld together without losing each of them individually. The whipped cream seemed a little off to me- I was sure that it was actually "fish" flavored, but I think that it was solely because of the seeming lack of sweetness. Try drinking strong green tea with no sweetener- the harshness of it can become almost savory. Thankfully, the whipped cream slowly melted into the ice cream, and at that point added a little extra flavor burst. The ice cream and bean mixture was interesting- red beans are considered dessert in Japan, but are not terribly sweet. Here, the beans were whole, providing a creative textural addition. The berries were perfectly fresh- altogether, the dessert was a good ending to the rest of the meal- not too rich, allowing everything to be enjoyed in moderation.

Strategically positioned to hide semi-consumed status.

Our final bill didn't break the bank- solid, creative, fresh sushi with a variety of interesting sides and appetizers, as well as a bit of dessert all for a very reasonable price. This will definitely become our go-to sushi spot (unless we're just loafing around and want some takeout to eat in the park), particularly during good weather, as it allows for an enjoyable walk through a part of the city we don't often see. Our dinner here was more of an eating adventure as opposed to an "eat and go" meal, providing both the food and the entertainment for the evening. It would be a superb date spot (if my boyfriend was remotely interested in sushi), and fun for small groups as well. Finally, a sushi success!

Doma Japanese Restaurant
1822 Callowhill Street

June 16, 2010


West Philly is definitely on the quirky side. It's a little bit hipster and a little bit ghetto. Restaurants in the area tend to maintain this vibe, including Abyssinia, a great little Ethiopian restaurant at 45th and Locust. A & I were in the area for non-food related reasons (and no, we weren't buying drugs or guns) and decided to check it out, mostly due to the fact that it was convenient and that we had never eaten Ethiopian food. A noted that although most of the Yelp reviews made positive comments about the food, the lack of/slow service was a downside. Arriving at around 6:15 helped us beat the rush, and the sole hostess/waitress/busser/possibly chef led us to a table. We snagged a couple of hand sanitizer wipes from the basket at the front, since we knew our hands needed to be nice and clean for this eating event. Ethiopian restaurants traditionally do not provide utensils. A & I eat many things with our hands, including pancakes and, oddly, salad, so we were totally prepared.

The atmosphere was... eclectic... and odd... but still managed a hint of charm. There were several younger families which made me happy- kids should be exposed to all kinds of food, not just french fries and tater tots (you can't survive on potatoes and grease, people). The back wall was covered with a giant picture of a very beautiful, soothing waterfall scene. There is also an odd raised stage type area with woven tables and chairs and sombrero looking covers on the tables. We couldn't decide what this was for- no one was sitting in this area.

The menu is a little bit on the limited side- as far as I can tell, all of the dishes fall in the "stew" category- primarily composed of meats, beans, and lentils. All of the dishes are served with injera, which is a thin sourdough crepe type bread that essentially tastes like slightly sour air. This is a good thing though, because it is what you use instead of a fork! A & I wanted to try out as much of the menu as possible, and Abyssinia makes this easy by providing a number of "combination" dishes. I chose the vegetarian combo (a bit of 6 different veggie dishes for $8.95) and A ordered the "Abyssinia Special #2" which combined a beef dish, a lamb dish and 3 veggie sides ($10.95). Our waitress asked if we could share a plate, confirming our meatatarian status with a quick "You eat meat?" (looks at A) "You eat meat?" (looks at me).

The plate sharing thing seemed a little weird, but we got to see a couple examples before we were served. Fortunately, the wait wasn't as long as we had feared, and service generally seemed totally normal. Our food was brought out on an enormous platter (think Thanksgiving turkey plate) which was lined with several layers of injera. Additionally, a couple huge pieces of injera were folded up and served on another enormous platter. I'm not sure you guys are aware of how big these things were. Also, each of the different items were literally just plopped onto the plate in little piles.

Because A & I's combination platters had several shared components, we had a little bit of overlap on the plate which made it a bit easier to each try everything. The beef "dish" was my personal favorite- spicy ground beef that they claim is "medium-rare" but I just found to be delicious. I think it was a combination of the fact that we never eat ground beef and the perfect level of spiciness that made it so good. When we first began eating from the platter, the extra pieces of injera provided us with our "utensils" but as we ate the little piles of food, the injera left underneath with all the spices and meat juice was able to be eaten. The great thing about the injera is that it really didn't taste like anything- you could completely enjoy the food without it being overwhelmed by another flavor.

The other meat was a lamb stew- small chunks of lamb in a rich sauce- not as much spice here but certainly a good level of flavor. A doesn't like lamb too much so I gladly took charge of the pile. I did have an interesting encounter with what I can only guess was a piece of bone. It was firm but still chewable, and once I bit down and broke it into several pieces, I felt committed to finishing the job and ended up just swallowing it. Not exactly unpleasant but definitely weird.

There were also several legume stews- a garlicky lentil, split peas, and brown lentils in a mustard-tinted sauce. All relatively good, and the small size of the piles prevented them from getting redundant. On my side of the platter there was also a heartier stew with potatoes, green beans and carrots, cooked to the perfect amount of softness without reaching the mushy stage, with an interesting ginger turmeric based flavor. The Ethiopian flavors are definitely along the lines of Indian food although there was never any overpowering curry action. We also noted that, unlike Indian food, there was no greasiness whatsoever. This was very much appreciated, especially by our little fingers (no need for extra napkins here!)

The plate was rounded out with a mini salad and some collard greens. A liked the collard greens, but I thought the lack of meat or grease in their preparation made them a little bland. The salad was pretty American.

For those of you who have never eaten Ethiopian and might be a little nervous in trying it out, we thought we'd put together a little tutorial on how to go about consuming the food.

Step 1: Tear off piece of injera to a palm-sized portion.

Step 2: Plop injera over desired pile of food.

Step 3: Pick up injera using the fingertips, grabbing a mouthful amount of meat or stew within the injera "pocket".

Step 4: Open mouth. Insert injera-wrapped food blob. Enjoy.

We were in no way stuffed at the end of this feast-like meal. We certainly didn't use anywhere near all of the injera, but there was no need. It was the perfect way to transport food into our faces, but it really provided nothing on its own. We happily paid our rather small bill and made the longish trek home (there may or may not have been frozen yogurt purchased and consumed along the way).

229 S. 45th Street

June 8, 2010

Barclay Prime

Some events in life require serious celebration. Our preferred method of celebration, of course, involves food. A perfect restaurant meal is not just food though- it's a long, slow period of enjoyment that involves many delicious eats, friendly and effective service, and the right ambiance. We have celebrated many important events in our lifetime at restaurants- our 13th (surprise) birthday party at the Melting Pot in Gainesville, our 21st birthday at Pod, and our college graduation dinner at Estia (although the meal here was subpar, the celebration was not!) come immediately to mind. As we've previously mentioned, we recently passed our respective preliminary/comprehensive exams, which is a critical point in the long process of earning a PhD. We spent A LOT of time preparing for and stressing about these exams, and I can't remember ever experiencing such a feeling of relief and accomplishment upon hearing that I passed.

So what to do to celebrate? While we enjoyed get togethers with friends and classmates, we knew we wanted to celebrate together, just us, at a really nice restaurant. One that we would never think about going to on a regular weekend, one that would probably be a one time event. One of my most memorable celebration dinners took place at Barclay Prime- the Stephen Starr steakhouse literally around the corner from our home. My first encounter with this restaurant revolved around the one year dating "anniversary" with my boyfriend (we're coming up on three.. any ideas for this celebration?), and we were both completely won over by the entire experience. It is definitely one of the best meals I have ever had, and I wanted to share that with J as well. So to Barclay Prime we went!

I'd love to say that I was just as blown away during the second visit, but unfortunately, such was not the case. An enjoyable meal was had, but we both agreed that it was not one of the best meals, starting from the get-go. Upon arrival, the hostess explained to us that the reservations before us had arrived late, and therefore we would have to wait about ten minutes. I'm sorry but.. that's not really my problem. Please don't explain the details of your hosting job. I frankly don't care. Each reserved table should be ready at the time of the reservation. No excuses. Finally, we were led to our table- in the far corner of the restaurant. I was a little bummed, but it gave us the privacy we thought we might need to take pictures discretely in such a top notch place (Note: the lighting is dim at best, and does not allow for great photography. We did our best!)

Our waiter took his time getting to us (granted we watched him hustle many tables around us), both to get our water order and subsequently our food order. Almost a painfully long time. When he did get around to asking what we would like to eat, he took several minutes to explain the additions to the menu (along with their prices, which I thought was helpful as most specials are announced unpriced, allowing for sticker shock when the check comes) and made some of his own suggestions. One of these was the scallop appetizer, which I had my eye on but J didn't want to get (she doesn't love scallops). However, with his recommendation, we ordered them, along with the "famed" Kobe beef sliders as a second appetizer. On my first visit, I saved some money by sharing a steak with the bf, and knew this was what I wanted to do again (nobody needs 20 ounces of cow for themselves). We asked for the 21 day dry aged ribeye, medium rare of course, to be served with a side of mushrooms.

But first, the bread. The complimentary bread has changed since my first visit- because it was fabulous and I would definitely have remembered it. A large warm popover, served with whipped butter... decadence at its finest. This was no ordinary roll, no simple slice of bread. It smelled and tasted somewhat like fresh homemade Belgian waffles-- a very good thing. The outer crust was flaky, like a croissant, and surrounded a very airy middle- pockets of air breaking up very dense doughy bread innards. I really can't explain how good it was. The meal seemed to be picking up.

The first appetizer to arrive was the scallops. It was maybe the ugliest presentation of food I've ever seen- thankfully, it tasted better than it looked. Two thinly sliced fried green tomatoes each supported a Nueske bacon wrapped scallop (Nueske is a meat producing company, which I was unaware of at the time). Not huge, but not tiny either. All of this was drizzled with a maple syrup-based sauce. The one thing that comes to mind when thinking about this dish is FAT. The tomato was too thin to support its thick coating of corn meal and subsequent dunk in the deep fryer. The scallop, a healthy bite of seafood on its own, was overwhelmed by the thick bacon wrap. I like bacon. But I also like scallops-- and a bacon-wrapped scallop should be able to present both flavors and textures. The syrup sauce was much appreciated- SOMETHING to cut through the grease and salt of the rest of the dish.

This is an embarrassingly bad picture. The combination of low light plus shiny scallops confused our camera.

Next came the sliders. These babies are pretty famous- at one point named in the top 5 best burgers in America by GQ (although I'm not sure what their food expertise is, exactly). I ordered these with the bf and we were both pretty awestruck at the tenderness and flavor of the meat. I HAD to get them again. I have no idea what happened- have I become a more choosy eater? Are these sliders no longer made with the same beef? Was the chef asleep at the grill? Whatever it is, they just weren't great. The twosome arrived with absolutely no description by the food runner or our waiter- but I remembered that the two burgers are not identical, as they have different toppings. J was glad I pointed this out, we cut them in half, and each tried them both. Honestly though, we weren't sure what the toppings were exactly- except that one had tomato and one did not. The meat was a bit on the dry side, and had a good char, to the point that it was the main flavor. Kobe beef... dry? Not normal. The tiny brioche bun seemed like a good cradle for the meat, but just holding the mini burger left my fingers dripping with oil. J literally tried to wring drops out of it. Of course I want a buttery bun. I do not want to feel like I just swam in the butter plate. It reminded both of us of a McDonald's hamburger, which is just sad. Barclay Prime, I know you can do better.

Thankfully, the star of the show was up next. But first- the knives. If you're going to eat a steak, of course this requires a knife. One of the neat quirks at Barclay Prime is the knife presentation. Our waiter brought a tray featuring five different knives, and briefly described each one and allowed us to pick which we'd like to use. J went with the knife that was "modeled after a Japanese samurai throwing knife" while I took the much less ostentatious small German utensil (he had a big brother named Handel.. no lie. But Handel was a bit too big for my small hands).

Can you tell which one is which?

Then came the ribeye. OH the ribeye. It really is my favorite cut of meat, regardless of how unhealthy it is. The 20 ounces of pure delight came sliced for us, making the sharing process much easier. The meat was cooked to absolute perfection, a salty seared outer crust encasing a velvety red inside. Literally, it was velvet. J decided to chisel out a piece of just the inside, untainted by the outer edge, to enjoy the meaty flavor all by itself, and requested that I do the same. It is clear evidence of why humans are meant to be meat-eaters.

The steak went perfectly with the sauteed mushrooms- creamy chunks of mushroom that I kind of wanted to drink out of the bowl. These mushrooms also went well with my remaining pieces of popover, which could be used as a sort of scoop, maximizing the mushroom to bread ratio. Seriously, if my meal had consisted of the ribeye, the bread, and the mushrooms, I'd be planning any cause for celebration at all at Barclay Prime.

Our meal was absolutely devoid of any real vegetable or remotely healthy item (emphasized by the pictures, I am sure. Shades of brown, anyone?), but we didn't mind as it was meant to be a no-holds-barred kind of meal. However, we did draw the line at dessert- the restaurant has a lot of delicious sounding options, but I think we were somewhat disappointed at some aspects of our meal and decided against risking another failed (and altogether ridiculously expensive) item. Instead, we had our last chunk of meat wrapped up (probably about 3 ounces of beef which they placed into a huge takeout container... extremely funny to see sitting all alone through its clear plastic top). They also present you with a small bag of homemade granola to take home- banana hazelnut flavored. Granola? From a steakhouse? We suppose they want you to feel a little healthier the next morning. This granola was nowhere near as good as our late Grandma's granola, but I suppose not everyone has such high standards.

Celebrations like this come few and far between. Regardless of the imperfection of the meal, we are still thrilled that we have passed such a milestone in our lives, but the next time we want a decadent, expensive meal out, we'll probably venture elsewhere.

Barclay Prime
237 S. 18th Street

June 6, 2010

Food as fuel

A & I have an almost ten year mostly-love-but-some-hate relationship with running. After many years of using running as a fun activity/exercise, we've recently been trying to get back into the racing scene. The goal here is not to win, but to give us something to train for and have fun with. Because so much of our running is typical of "road" running, we decided to sign up for a 10k trail run, imagining six miles of a nice shady dirt path in the country.

Most races offer pizza and Gatorade at the finish line. However, the idea of eating a greasy piece of pizza after racing is in no way appealing. Knowing we'd have about a half hour drive home after the race, we knew we wanted to pack some snacks. Post-race food should be protein-rich, but instead of buying some processed protein bars, we decided to make our own. A found this recipe online, and we decided to roll with it because we already had all of the necessary ingredients. Also, it was just so simple.

In center: Top- almonds; Middle- coconut; Bottom- flax meal

We started out with 2 cups of almonds, which needed to be chopped up in the food processor. Our food processor is a little on the miniature side, leading to a few improvisations. We chopped the almonds relatively fine, but depending on how chunky you like your power bars, you can chop for more or less time. We also added in the flax meal (1/2 cup) and the almond butter (1/2 cup) which completely filled our food processor. A little more blending to try to mix these ingredients together (could definitely be done in a stand mixer at this point!!), and then we gave up on the processor and switched to arm power, moving the mixture to a bowl. We added in the remaining ingredients (pinch of salt, tablespoon each of agave and vanilla extract, and 1/2 cup of both shredded coconut and coconut oil) and mixed everything together. The original recipe includes a step for "melting" the coconut oil (much like you would melt butter) since room temperature coconut oil is typically solid. Thanks to the ridiculously hot weather, our oil was already liquefied in the jar, eliminating the need for this step. Mix everything well, press into an ungreased 8" pan (or really any flat dish), cover and refrigerate.

The night before our race, I cut the now-hardened mixture into 8 protein-bar-sized rectangles and wrapped them up in foil, making it easy to snag a few when we were packing up early the next morning.

The race was tough- not at all like we imagined. Rocky single-file trails up and down mountainous terrain, requiring the use of lots of muscles not used to working quite so hard. (This picture is only a slight exaggeration of what we were dealing with.) While we had an absolute blast, we were definitely glad to have a good source of protein at the end. Add in some fruit and an infinite amount of free VitaCoco coconut water, and we felt very well refueled postrace.

We're suckers for anything with nuts in them, so these bars were automatically winners in our book. The mix of chopped nuts with almond butter gave the bars an overall nutty flavor with lots of crunch. Coconut flakes provided another subtle flavor- we used unsweetened so the bars only had a touch of sweetness from the agave. The oil provided some healthy fats and helped to hold everything together. Because the bars sat in the car during the race, they "melted" into more of a nutty mush, but it was still easy to eat- no utensils required. I do think they'd be a bit more appealing in their hardened form, so I would suggest using a cooler or using this as an at-home post-workout snack if you want your bars to remain intact. Overall they were perfectly delicious and exactly what we wanted to eat after the run. The original recipe suggests melting a layer of chocolate over top, which would move these guys out of the "snack" and into the "dessert" category- perhaps we'll try it in the future.

Two bars mushed together into nutty deliciousness.

June 5, 2010


You may know that we have a slight obsession with sandwiches. Philly itself is a sandwich kind of city- it seems you can't say "Philly" without someone thinking "cheesesteak," and of course we have many variations of the roast pork sandwich and the Italian hoagie as well. We grew up eating what seems like a million sandwiches (plain peanut butter every single day during high school), as well as watching (and continuing to watch, on occasion), our dad's strange habit of making a sandwich out of whatever is left on the table at the end of a meal. We even listened to quite a few renditions of the "Sandwich Song."

However, a sandwich is not just a sandwich. There are the sandwiches you make for yourself at home (although I've made some pretty good ones, if I may say so myself), the ones you get at a local deli, and then the "artisanal" sandwiches. As documented here, we pretty much rave about the sandwiches at Paesano's to anyone who will listen. However, there are quite a few other specialty sandwich shops around town, some of which we've visited (Garces Trading Company, John's Roast Pork, and DiBruno's come to mind), and some of which are waiting for us to discover. An addition to the sandwich-making list was recently made near J's place of work, and early on in its fledgling restaurant life, some ventured to compare it to Paesano's. So for this, we were "forced" to check it out.

Jake's Sandwich Board actually has quite a few uncanny similarities to Paesano's. The menu is laid out similarly- large chalkboard menu, and all of the sandwiches have special names. Even some of the gourmet flavors are similar- fried eggs, cherry based sauces, whole roasted pig... a little disappointing that Jake's doesn't have a LOT of originality in terms of their sandwiches. But, I guess if the flavors work, and they make good sandwiches, I shouldn't complain too much. Jake's does have a few more options though- up by 3 with 13 options on their regular menu as opposed to Paesano's with 10. One great option at Jake's is the ability to design your own sandwich- to a degree. The base consists of whole roasted pig, but you can pick from a variety of toppings, condiments, and even choose your roll, all for a single price ($8). I went for roasted long-hots, broccoli rabe, sharp provolone, and cracklings as my toppings (forgoing raw onion, crushed chili, and roasted peppers) and also asked for the addition of horseradish sauce, all served on a multi-grain Carangi roll.

One more great thing about Jake's is the variety of sides- while not extensive, they cover the basics (classics?)- fries, shakes, and floats. You can add these to your sandwich as a "combo" for not a whole lot extra, although with the fairly high price of the sandwich, it can add up (granted you get A LOT of food). J decided to order the Village Turkey sandwich and made it a combo with a vanilla milkshake and fries. She drank the milkshake, I ate the fries (guess we weren't on the same sweet/savory side at the time, but hey, it worked out well). The Village Turkey consists of roasted turkey, cherry wood smoked bacon, arugula, and black cherry spread ($8), with the combo adding an additional $4 to our bill.

The restaurant is airy and laid-back: order at the counter, grab a table and wait for your order to be called. At lunch time on Saturday, there were VERY few other customers- great for us, as we didn't have to wait long, but odd. Perhaps it experiences more of a lunchtime rush during the weekdays, as Jefferson Hospital is pretty much next door. (Note: Jake's also serves breakfast sandwiches and free coffee in the mornings-- something I would totally hit up if I worked nearby). The service was a little slow- I'm fairly certain at least one of the employees was learning the ropes, but like I said, it wasn't a problem since we were the only ones in line.

The "do it yourself" sandwich turned out great- I was very happy with my choice. The roast pork was deliciously juicy, but not in a fatty way- the juice ran clear and thin. The horseradish definitely hit me with each bite (much stronger than Paesano's, if I remember correctly). My choice of toppings was perfect- not too much, but just enough to add extra flavors and textures to the pork. The roasted long hots and broccoli rabe contributed earthy, moist vegetable goodness, while the sharp provolone gave it all a salty kick. The provolone was oddly shredded onto the top of the sandwich- I prefer slices, as they tend to meld better with the rest of the sandwich. General rule of cheese: parmesan is for shredding, provolone is for slicing. The cracklings were perhaps one of my favorite parts- little crumbles of fried pig skin sprinkled all over the sandwich. I'm not going to lie, I picked most of them off so that I could experience their flavor all alone (and share a few with J). Overall, a great sandwich. Am I going to rave about it? Probably not. Am I going to crave it in a few days? Absolutely.

J's turkey sandwich was a little subpar (particularly in comparison with Paesano's). While each component shone in its own right, it just didn't come together in the right way. Concept=there, execution=needs some work. I think my own opinion was biased due to my own sandwich (we actually didn't share half and half this time!), but it just seemed sort of measly. As you squeezed the bread to take a bite, everything flattened out and seemed unsubstantial. Perhaps if the meat and arugula portions were stepped up a notch, this sandwich would be even more enjoyable. But, like I said, each component was a bit special, especially the cherry sauce. It was somewhat creamy- I wouldn't think to combine mayo and cherries, but I believe this is what was done, and it was delicious.

The fries and shake were good sides- not spectacular, but exactly what each of us was wanting at the moment. The shake was creamy and more on the thin side, but with obvious vanilla specks and good flavor- definitely heavy on the sugar. The fries were greasier than I would have liked, but they were hot and crispy and I realize I can be altogether too picky. Jake's definitely makes a solid sandwich, perhaps one of the best that can be found in Center City. As an everyday lunch spot for the average person it may be a little pricy, but as I know quite well, you get what you pay for. Fresh, quality ingredients, and huge portions means $8 is worth it for a sandwich (in my book). Now if Jake's could move a little closer to University City (in a related note, why can't Paesano's open a food cart?) I would probably make it a more regular lunch spot.

Jake's Sandwich Board
122 S. 12th Street

June 1, 2010

Coconut Rhubarb Muffins

This past week's CSA share was quite loaded but also somewhat "familiar" -- it included some of the novelty items of the first two weeks such as purple broccoli, but also included lots and lots of greens- kale, baby spring greens, romaine, and more bundles of spring onions (I think a farmer out there has a large surplus). The one "new" item was rhubarb- but unlike the spring onions farmer, the rhubarb farmer was a bit stingy. We received two (and a half? one was tiny) stalks of the vegetable, which really isn't much.

Rhubarb: front and center (lookin' a little like a weird webbed foot)

So what exactly do you do with rhubarb? Although it is officially a vegetable (it looks and feels a lot like red celery), this plant has been almost completely lumped onto the dessert menu. While searching the internets for a recipe that used just a tiny bit of rhubarb, the majority of what I found was on the sweet side. Strawberry rhubarb pie is of course everyone's favorite and most common, but you can also make pies with rhubarb alone, combine it with a number of other fruits, throw it into breads or chutneys, or in a rare instance of a savory option, use it in a stirfry (apparently the tartness of rhubarb goes well with Thai style dishes).

As the long holiday weekend was one of quite a few indulgences, I simply was not in the mood to create a huge pie filled with sugar and butter that would surely tempt me until the last crumb was eaten. I also wasn't looking to do any extra grocery shopping- I needed all of the necessary ingredients to be in my fridge and pantry. Therefore, I leaned towards the muffin/bread category. I found this recipe while perusing TasteSpotting and deemed it the winner. However, it was going to need a bit of tweaking- it called for two cups of rhubarb which I most certainly did not have, and a few other ingredients were missing as well. Thankfully, I'm pretty much the Queen of Improvisation (which unfortunately usually doesn't end up so favorably when baking).

The adjusted recipe that I used is as follows:

Coconut Rhubarb Muffins:
Makes 12 small muffins

1 cup diced rhubarb
3/4 cup whole wheat flour (plus a half handful)
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut
3/4 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 white sugar
1/8 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp cinnamon (or more to your taste)
1 Tbs flax meal (plus 3 Tbs water stirred in and allowed to sit for two minutes)
1 carton (6 oz?) Trader Joe's strawberry yogurt (or whatever flavor you'd like)
Small handful of pecans, chopped

Mix together the dry ingredients (flour, coconut, baking soda, and salt) in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together the oil and sugars, and then add the vanilla, cinnamon and flax + water combination (yes, vegan eggs once again!) In two or three steps, add the flour mixture alternating with the yogurt into the wet ingredients until everything is combined. At this point, our mix seemed quite wet, which is why we added our extra "half handful" of flour to achieve a better consistency. Finally, add in your chopped rhubarb (smaller is probably better, and make sure to discard all green leaves as they are apparently poisonous).

Spoon into muffin tin- we used muffin/cupcake wrappers but if you don't have them, use a muffin tin sprayed with cooking spray. Fill each wrapper about 2/3rds full, and top with pecans- or whatever nut you prefer. I crumbled about one whole pecan onto each muffin. The original recipe- which we halved- was supposed to make 12 muffins. I'm not sure what kind of muffin tin the other baker was using, but our version also made 12 muffins, albeit on the smaller side.

Bake at 350 for approximately 30 minutes (we took ours out a little early). My taste test was done soon after they came out of the oven-- I couldn't wait! The muffin was still very soft and warm, definitely nowhere near dry (this is a good thing). The crunch of the nuts and the almost gooiness of the rhubarb complemented each other well. The faint sweetness of the muffin and the nutty flavor from the whole wheat flour and flax was offset by the tartness of the rhubarb, in a pleasant way. These are definitely not an indulgent dessert, but rather a healthy treat. They will definitely be consumed for breakfast in our household as well. Thankfully, my improv work in the kitchen was a success. Overall, a fun experiment with a new food item- I never expected to prepare a dessert from our CSA box! I'm sure we are in for a long summer full of continued surprises.