July 30, 2012

Burger Club PHL: Backyard Barbecue

After missing last month's Burger Club meeting at Catahoula, we were looking forward to the July edition.  Instead of heading to another local restaurant, the head of the Club decided we would get out there and make our own burgers!  In the weeks leading up to the event, there was lots of online chatter about side dishes, burger toppings, and the main event itself: the beef!  We decided to pitch in with a classic summer side: cucumber salad.  We were originally inspired from our (Burger Club!) experience at Frankford Hall, where they serve a delicious German-esque variation of the dish.

While home in Gainesville this summer, we made our own  How to Cook Everything's version of the simple salad.  It's- not surprisingly- incredibly easy, although you will need about an hour from start to finish.  I've made it a few times since, and thought it would be a good, lighter addition to the Burger Club fare.  J picked up cucumbers at the Rittenhouse farmer's market, and most everything else we already had on hand.

Cucumber and Dill Salad (tweaked from a mighty fine cookbook)

Four large cucumbers (of the fat, seeded variety)
1/3 large red onion, thinly sliced (about 1/4 cup)
3 Tbsp. salt
1.5 Tbsp. dried dill (or substitute fresh!)
8 ounces sour cream (full fat is best)
freshly ground pepper-- as much as you like!

Prepping the main ingredient takes the most amount of hands on time-- you'll need to wash and peel the cucumbers before slicing them in half longwise.  Use a large metal spoon to scrape the seeds out (trash 'em).  A firm but gentle scrape is best-- you want to get all of the seeds out but keep as much of the regular flesh as possible.

Slice the cucumber halves to desired thinness-- I cut about 1/4" slices.  Combine with the sliced red onion and toss well with the salt.  It does seem like a lot of salt, but it's necessary in order to reduce water content and remove some of the bitter flavors from both vegetables.  The cookbook had a great tip, which I'll share with you-- place the salted cucumbers in a colander and place a large plastic bag filled with ice over the top.  This acts as a super cheap, disposable weight to force some extra moisture out- as well as helping to keep things cool.  You'll want to drain this over a sink or bowl for about thirty minutes to an hour.  You can definitely go longer, but move the cukes to the refrigerator if it will be more than one hour.

Once you're ready to serve, transfer the vegetables to your serving bowl (make sure not to transfer any leftover moisture from the colander), add the rest of the ingredients, and give it all a good stir.  You could also add some chopped garlic or a splash of vinegar if either are up your alley, but it's surprisingly flavorful as is.

Similar to the cucumber and zucchini salad we recently made, it's light and refreshing.  Paired with a burger and some potato salad, you've got a plate of summer I could never refuse!

We were lucky to have delicious versions of both at the Burger Club barbecue.  Our "Burger Master" paired up with Philly Cow Share to source our beef locally.  If you haven't heard of Philly Cow Share and you've found yourself with a fair amount of freezer space, listen up!  If you also often head to the farmer's market or Whole Foods to buy a grass-fed, local steak or some ground beef, you could save yourself a fair amount of money and hassle by purchasing a "CowShare."  Essentially, the system is made to serve individuals and families, offering the meat of 1/8, 1/4, 1/2 and full cows (fully butchered and packaged, of course).  Their website even shows you how much space in your freezer it will take!

1/8 Cow Source
An excellent resource for a city of foodies, the opportunity to sample the meat has me interested in acquiring a chest freezer.  The burgers were made by adding a top-secret mix of spices and condiments to the fresh ground beef- we know it included Italian breadcrumbs, Worcestershire, and dried ranch seasoning, but with multiple cooks in the kitchen, nobody can really know for sure (hence, the top secret status).  Regardless, the meat would have been more than good on its own- producing a soft, almost fluffy textured patty with an intense flavor and just the right fat content (I need someone to measure that, stat).

With a slice or two of blue cheese, fresh tomato and romaine on a potato bun, it made one heck of a burger.  Too bad we weren't ranking them this month!

July 25, 2012

Not Eating Out in PHL

This month's book club selection was yet another piece of blogger-to-author fruit.  While last month's selection gave us heartwrenching stories, delicious recipes, and tons to talk about, our newest read didn't provide the same effects.  "The Art of Eating In" is written by Cathy Erway, a twenty-something blogger (like ourselves) who calls Not Eating Out In New York home.  Her book, subtitled How I Learned to Stop Spending and Love the Stove, documents the two years that she spent avoiding restaurants and take-out spots while surrounded by all of the great eats available in Brooklyn and Manhattan.  The girls in the group felt we could learn something from her (we all admit to eating out too much), and liked the fact that recipes were included-- a good reason to do another potluck meeting.

The book proceeds chronologically, documenting her decision to go restaurant-free and her first forays into her own kitchen.  It then attempts to break itself into topics, ranging from adventures in bread baking, jumping on the freegan bandwagon, and entering many, many local food competitions.  Some parts of the book get a little weird, including detailed descriptions of awkward dinner parties and uncomfortable first dates.  Each "chapter" ends with a few recipes, which sometimes are related to the stories and sometimes are not.  All in all, this book was a hard read- most of us couldn't finish it due to a lack of interest.  The idea was great, the execution not so much.  However, we all still met for a potluck dinner using recipes either out of the book or found on Erway's continuing blog.

As hostesses for the event, we provided two dishes.  The first comes from the author's trip to Morocco, which occurs midway through the book.  While she clearly had to eat out during this trip, she also expanded her food options by taking a cooking class in Marrakesh.  A simple recipe of roasted peppers and tomatoes (literally called Roasted Green Pepper and Tomato Dip or Taktouka Salad) seemed like a good option for a group (although readers beware: Erway's boyfriend broke up with her the day after she made it for him).

The recipe is fairly straightforward, but the simple flavors of roasted green bell peppers, olive oil, garlic, paprika and tomatoes evolves into a savory, complex dip.  We cheated and used (good quality) stewed canned tomatoes instead of fresh, and sprinkled on some crumbled feta and chopped parsley- both for presentation and added flavor.

We served the dish at room temperature with slices of toasted baguette, but it would also go well over pasta.  I'm not sure how this is designated a "salad," but the fresh flavors made it one of my favorite dishes of the night.

Our second contribution was a recently featured recipe on Erway's blog- Fresh Zucchini and Cucumber Slaw with Nectarines and Mint.  Similar to the pepper and tomato dip, her recipe titles are certainly descriptive.  This recipe was particularly intriguing since it uses a variety of fresh summer produce, but adds a few interesting ingredients to spice it up.  Long, thin slices of zucchini and cucumber (made via mandoline and a bit of knifework) are combined with slivers of red onion and nectarine, as well as a simple dressing made with olive oil, lemon juice, and mint.  Her addition of whole grain mustard had me cringing, so I left it out (perhaps I'm just not adventurous enough?).

The salad was another hit- a great side for a hot evening.  The high water content of all of the ingredients makes it very light, and the hint of mint throughout is a refreshing twist.  Most of the recipes on her blog are accompanied by item-by-item cost breakdowns, as well as "Health Factor" and "Green Factor" ratings, giving you an idea of its economical, nutritional, and environmental impact.  These features are both interesting and unique, leaving me much more interested in her blog than her book-- perhaps the freshman debut came too early?

Other dishes of the night included Stir Fried Noodles with Cabbage and Mushrooms, showcasing Erway's Asian heritage in an easy to prep, make-ahead meal that can easily be portioned out for lunches (no food carts or sandwich shops when you're not eating out!).  Another simple recipe that turned out surprisingly more interesting than the sum of its parts.

In her book, Erway recounts a brunch experience at a friend's home- as she "can't" eat out, lots of food related social encounters happen at either her home or another.  This experience led to our last savory dish, a play on nachos that utilizes a casserole style of layering tortilla chips, black beans, cheese, tomatillo salsa, and the like.  A quick bake melts everything together, while still maintaining the chip-by-chip experience of eating nachos.  Nice and easy, using ingredients you're sure to be familiar with- plus, its a dish you could eat for brunch or dinner.  

Most of the dishes throughout both the book and the blog are savory, with few options for something sweet.  Of course we needed dessert to round out the night, so a batch of Whole Wheat Peanut Butter Choc-Oat Cookies were brought by another book club member.  She admitted to making a number of substitutions, in regards to both health as well as what she had on hand, but this reflected Erway's deft ability to alter recipes to make dishes easier or more interesting.

Overall, this was our least favorite book so far.  However, we came away with some unexpected winning recipes, and I also have a better appreciation for amateur chefs.  While her writing style doesn't appeal to me, she's certainly developed quite a following with her blog.  Now, where can I find an underground supper club in Philly?

July 20, 2012

Memphis Taproom

We've been wanting to get to Memphis Taproom for quite a long time.  But.. it's in Kensington. That Kensington.  However, we just heard too many good things about the food (they're famous for the fried pickles...) to put it off any longer.  We invited our good friend to join us for dinner, and coincidentally he has a car... the seemingly safest way to get into the area.

I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I hesitated for so long, because the neighborhood was perfectly nice.  Seriously, I would live there.  We got a great parking spot half a block away and popped into what seems to play the role of "neighborhood bar" quite seriously- a casual but inviting brick building on the corner of Cumberland Street and Memphis Street (hence the name).  The bar was packed, but we squeezed through the narrow space to snag a table in the back dining room.

The menu reflects the general trend of gastropubs- an emphasis on apps and sandwiches. Wings are a standard order for our friend; Memphis Taproom's version are spiced up  with a "pilsner brine" (10 for $9).  The wings themselves were on the smaller side, but with plenty of juicy meat and a thin crunchy breading.  Although these are advertised as "hot wings" on the menu, they were anything but spicy, with more of a sweet glazed sauce.  A tangy vinegar element paired well with the cool blue cheese dressing.

As with most of Philly's hipster-y bars, there are plenty of options for vegetarians and vegans.  The Old Bay Jackfruit Cakes ($9) were intriguing- we're always up for ordering new-to-us fruits and veggies.  A jackfruit is like a fleshy, starchy melon that apparently tastes like an unripened plantain.  There wasn't much in the way of typical fruit flavors in the fried cakes, with more of a savory "stuffing" taste and texture. I thought I recognized a few chunks of artichoke heart?  Regardless, pairing them with a mango and pineapple salsa salad seemed like a miss.  The separate components were fine, but together? No thanks.

Of course we couldn't conclude the first round of dishes without trying the fried pickles.  A bowl full of dill pickle spears are coated in a thick layer of  beer batter and deep fried to a crispy perfection.  The batter is like every fried carnival food mixed into one- one part corndog, one part funnel cake, one part savory cake doughnut.  The high heat makes the spears of cuke seem extra salty and juicy- thankfully the batter soaks up anything that tries to escape.

Source, our camera sometimes rebels against documenting greasy fried things
As a warning, the pickles also hold an extreme amount of heat, so I cut mine into pieces to allow them to cool down a bit.  Every single table around us ordered the dish, reflecting its popularity.  In fact, one couple came in and ordered TWO bowls of fried pickles.  Why? "I don't like to share," explained the female.  Yeah. Now we get it.

The entree list is short and sweet, but one in particular sounded terrific- the chicken fried chicken ($15).  This was really an absurd amount of food for only fifteen bucks.  Three enormous pieces of chicken breast are fried in a super crispy, cereal-like coating. The meat was tender and a tad salty- possibly brined?  Underneath the chicken tenders I found three sides and a generous spread of a habanero mustard sauce that paired well with each of the them as well as with the chicken.  Sauteed rainbow chard was a bit of a surprise as a green- it's definitely on the heartier side, complete with lots of crunchy stems.

My favorite side was the hunk of sweet, cakey cornbread.  Unfortunately there were no corn kernels within the bread, but each forkful broke off crumb-free and was great for mopping up all the extra little bits.  A macaroni salad was more like a loose mac n' cheese mixed with mayo and breadcrumbs.  Well-seasoned, this was great as cold leftovers the following day.

I had a hard time picking between the chicken and the slow roast pork sandwich ($9), so I connived my friend into ordering it so I could steal bites (a tactic I use often when dining with friends).  A thick layer of slow roasted pork shoulder is smothered with melted provolone cheese spread over the edges of a soft potato bun. A tuft of fresh spinach provided some freshness in the midst of the meat and cheese, possibly countered by a smear of garlic mayo.  Everything melded together to make one of the most soul-warming sandwiches I've had in some time-- happiness on a potato bun.  Sandwiches come with a large portion of crispy fries, salty and addicting.  Even when I was stuffed to the brim I couldn't stop myself from snagging a few extra.

A ordered another sandwich, the kielbasy grinder ($9).  She easily swapped out the fries for a basic salad complete with shredded carrot, cucumbers, and tomatoes.  Unfortunately, the lettuce hadn't been properly dried, making it a bit soggy and preventing proper dressing adherence.  Split spicy kielbasy are grilled to a snappy crisp and coated in sauerkraut, sharp white cheddar cheese, and a potent beer mustard.

A toasted seeded long roll still had plenty of softness to squish all of the components together. Cheesy, greasy goodness at its finest.

After that ridiculous amount of greasy, heavy food (don't worry, we took home leftovers!), we were in no mood for dessert.  What we were in the mood for was checking out the Phillies game on the "big screen" aka an area of the brick wall painted white.  The Memphis Taproom Beer Garden, while immediately adjacent to the restuarant, is a separate entity, with food and beverages sold from an immobile truck.  Long tables provide plenty of seating to watch a few innings of the game and do some people watching.

Overall, a fantastic dinner with notable service. Our waitress had a great personality and was so helpful with navigating the menu.  All of our dishes were enjoyable, and the atmosphere- both indoor and out- is comfortable and inviting.  We can't wait to return!

Memphis Taproom
2331 E. Cumberland Street

July 17, 2012

Terrain at Styer's Garden Cafe

I first learned of Terrain at Styer's through my wedding photographer; she pointed it out as a possible venue.  While I'm not having my wedding there, the beauty of the photos I saw (both on their website, and from her) put it on my "must-see" list.  While Terrain is a garden and home store run by the company that owns Anthropologie, the Garden Cafe is a destination in itself- just of the dining rather than the shopping variety.  Terrain is open for brunch, lunch, and dinner, but seems to be the most popular mid-day, perhaps because it corresponds to prime shopping time.

The cafe is located within a greenhouse, complete with beautiful rustic-but-classy decor, furniture, and special little touches.  Even though it was pouring out, it still felt sunny and cozy under the translucent roof.  I honestly would enjoy just sitting in this quiet space independent of eating and drinking opportunities.

Brown paper roll w/ daily specials
Even the tableware had a bit of a country touch- mason jars, stoneware mugs, and finely woven burlap napkins.  We ordered cups of Counter Culture coffee while we perused the menu.  

Every meal starts with a small loaf of bread baked in and served in a flower pot.  A fun and quirky start, but also a delicious one.  Airy and buttery like a soft brioche, countless wisps of the bread were spread with the creamy, salted lavender-spiked butter and eagerly consumed.

Although the bread and butter would have been a great appetizer on its own, we decided to split the Artisanal Cheese Plate amongst the three of us ($18).  A little pricy, but with five tastes of cheese and even more accompaniments, it's well worth the cost.  I particularly appreciated the many slices of toast, as it seems cheese plates often provide far more cheese than bread.

The cafe prides itself on organic, small batch, local offerings, and this plate highlighted that- a Camembert, Sharp Chevre, Smokey Blue Cheese, aged goat cheese, and Cheddar, all from premium, artisanal cheese producers.  They seemed to be chosen for a pickier palate, as nothing was strong in flavor or odor, but the blue cheese was particularly interesting- smoked to have a Gouda-like flavor, with the "blue" as an undernote.  The accompaniments: fresh honey, sweet golden raisins, quince paste, pickled onions, whole-grain mustard, and strawberry- all high-quality items, and fun to mix and match with the different cheeses.

The brunch offerings range from the classics (pancakes and French toast), to some more original options.  J chose the Beetroot Smoked Salmon, thinly shaved and served with a pile of frisee, croissant croutons, and a poached egg ($14).  Crispy fried capers lent the plate a traditional salmon platter flavor combination while adding a unique element.  It almost ate like a deconstructed sandwich, with each bite incorporating many components.  The salmon was bright pink from the blood of the beet, making it particularly beautiful as well.

Our friend (and gracious hostess for our explorations of the Wilmington/Glen Mills area) ordered the lamb dish, which was a bit different than we expected.  Described as a honey-mustard lamb shoulder served with sourdough, roasted peppers, and a mint lebnah, it was the least attractive plating of the meal ($18).  Two large, flat cutlets of lamb were pan-fried in a thin mustard sauce and served over pieces of grilled toast like an open faced sandwich.  However, there was no way to eat the slightly tough meat without fork and knife, thus making the meat and bread pairing a bit awkward.  The roasted peppers and thick yogurt sauce provided some traditional Mediterranean flavors to the dish, and the small arugula salad added a light side to balance the heavier meat.

I opted for a much more traditional brunch dish, the Organic Egg Omelet ($13).  Stuffed with soft sauteed mushrooms, spinach, and goat cheese, the eggs were unbelievably buttery.  As each bite left a pool of butter on my plate, I'm suspicious that it's cooked in a pan full of browned butter- a trick I may have to try.  It was certainly one of the loveliest omelets I've had!  However, a side of small, pan-fried potatoes with bits of red pepper and onion seemed as if they'd been left out a bit too long- the crispness a bit stale, and the insides not quite warm.  An additional pile of mixed lettuce- one of my favorite accompaniments with egg- was composed of soft leaves and a barely-there vinaigrette, giving the plate a freshness that seemed only appropriate while eating in a greenhouse.

The service was great from the start of the meal to the end, with our waitress checking in frequently.  The bill comes tucked into a tiny paperback book of American flowers, giving us the opportunity to learn a few fun facts while we concluded our meal- and again providing a fun, special touch that made the experience unique.

While the food at Terrain Garden Cafe was adventurous and well-prepared, it wasn't something I'd drive back for immediately.  It's also a bit more expensive than our typical brunch.  However, the atmosphere, experience, and a chance to get some great home and garden ideas from Terrain combine to make the trip to Glen Mills well worth it.

Terrain at Styer's Garden Cafe
Glen Mills, PA

July 13, 2012


I love summer for many, many reasons (the heat is NOT one of them), including the calm and quiet of Penn's campus.  "University City" dies down a bit, which means more promotional events to get people over to the west side of the Schuylkill.  The little sister of Center City Restaurant Week, UC Dining Days provides two solid weeks of discounted meals around the area.  We've had great meals at prior Dining Days, and knew we wanted to take advantage of a few new (to us) restaurants this year.  On the cheaper end of the scale, Tria Wine Room serves up the three courses for only $15.

Pre name change; Source
Previously known as Biba Wine Bar, the small restaurant (obviously) has a focus on wine, but also serves up some small plates.  Knowing how good the food is at the Tria in Center City, we had no doubts this would be a quality meal.

The regular menu is small, which is reflected by the trio of options for each course.  J chose to start with the Roasted Beets with Bulgarian Feta Cheese.  The small dish was perfect for an appetizer- a pile of super sweet, glazed roasted beets coated with a thick scoop of crumbly, salty smooth feta.  The presence of both cheese and bread created a theme for the rest of our meal-- every course included some of both.  Here, it seemed like an afterthought, since a beet sandwich doesn't really seem that appealing.  Feta and beets isn't a novel combination, but it's a classic for good reason (especially when the feta is as high quality as the cheese served at Tria).

Phone cameras only today!
The other vegetable-based appetizer option was the Asparagus with Parmigiano-Reggiano, Hazelnuts, and Lemon Oil.  The asparagus were still firm- a cooking feat I'm still working on myself- and well flavored with just a touch of lemony olive oil.  As we were seated next to the "kitchen" (it's hard to call it that since it's about the size of my bathroom), I was able to see firsthand how these were cooked- on a  grill that was essentially an industrial sized George Foreman.  I would have been a bit skeptical if I hadn't tried these for myself!  The thin shavings of the good stuff (ie cheese) and crushed hazelnut halves were both great garnishes, each providing punches of flavor.

The "main course" gave us the option of two sandwiches and a vegetarian-friendly salad.  I chose the Roasted Chicken and Lancaster Cheddar Sandwich, which also involved lettuce, tomato, piquillo peppers, and a truffle aioli.  Both sandwiches come with a pile of balsamic coated arugula, which was a solid, unexpected side.  I appreciate Tria's efforts to keep much of their menu simple but delicious.

The bread is carefully toasted with a light brush of olive oil before it is constructed into a sandwich.  We really loved their house bread- it's thick and fluffy without being heavy, and has a great smoky crust.  The crisp bread was a star both in terms of texture and flavor. However, the chicken itself was fairly plain (although well cooked), and both the cheddar and the aioli contributed less to the overall combination than I expected.  While not particularly exciting, it was still a sandwich I could probably eat every day, and large enough to be a hefty individual dinner portion.
The other sandwich option was even better.  The same oiled and toasted bread, different in almost every other way.  Thick slices of fresh, creamy mozzarella melted over the warm bread, while arugula, piquillo peppers, and tiny, crispy bits of proscuitto (gourmet bacon bits?) filled up the rest of the sandwich body.  Fresh pesto and a garlic vinaigrette made this combination a slight play on the classic caprese.  While it was pretty heavy on the garlic, the sharp and spicy flavors of the pepper, basil, and arugula made this a sandwich that was impossible to put down.

Of note, the one piece of fancy kitchen equipment that Tria's kitchen is able to hold is a meat slicer.  This thing is serious- firetruck red and in a glass museum-esque case.  It was fun to watch the kitchen staff handling it as each individual order came in.

After all that bread and cheese, the last thing I wanted was more of the same.  Tria serves two desserts off of their regular menu, so I at first was disappointed that these weren't the third course options for Dining Days.  Instead, they offer three variations of a cheese plate.  Since we knew nothing from the names of the cheeses, we chose them based solely on their accompaniments, steering me towards the Delice de Bourgogne served with local honey.  The pile of gooey cheese that arrived was a bit of a surprise, but ended up being my favorite part of the meal (and you thought I was raving already!).  A quick Wikipedia check tells me that Delice is a French cow's triple creamed milk cheese.  Essentially, this is stinky butter- and pretty much the most delicious cheese I've ever had.  A tiny piece of bread topped with a generous scoop of the cheese and a drizzle of honey- turns out, stinky cheese is a dream dessert (40% butterfat and sweet honey might have something to do with that).

Delice de Bourgogne
The other cheese plate really couldn't compare, but was a fun contrast to the Delice.  Named "Ewephoria," we had some idea that this was a sheep's milk cheese, and the pairing with Allagash poached dried cherries had us sold.  A hard cheese with a surprising sweetness, it was best eaten in small pieces all on its own- even adding it to a small corner of bread took away from the slightly salty, caramel flavor.  The cherries were also enjoyed on their own- fat, wet tart cherries that again provided that "dessert" touch.

Although Tria may seem to revolve around it's alcoholic offerings, we have to say it's one of the best simple-yet-gourmet meals we can imagine coming from such a tiny kitchen.  I also always imagined it was a tiny hole in the wall, but it's actually much easier to grab a seat inside than it seems.  We wouldn't hesitate to pop in for a snack or a light meal, especially if we were in the mood for a taste of excellent cheese.  Even though the UC Dining Days offerings are extensive, take our advice and try the steal offered at Tria.

Tria Wine Room
3131 Walnut Street

July 10, 2012

Seven Course Tasting Menu at Bibou

As we get older, it seems we have less of a reason to celebrate our own birthday with anything more than a nice dinner (or lunch, as we did this year), and thankfully other friends enjoy celebrating likewise.  One of our good friends recently turned a year older and planned many months in advance to check out the tasting menu at Bibou.  I've enjoyed the heavier fare of winter at Bibou before, but it was an extra special treat to eat from  the summer menu with a small group.  The tasting menu is typically reserved for a two-seat counter overlooking the kitchen (and even this is not advertised), but can be requested for larger groups as well.  The $70 seven-course feast worked its way through much of the regular menu- a great deal for Francophiles.

Unfortunately, we were initially turned away by a waiter- our table was not quite ready for our 7:30 reservation.  The space is tiny so there is no real option besides to stand outside on the sidewalk.  Eventually we settled into our table and commented how nice it was not to have to make any decisions regarding food- always a struggle for us!  We started in on the same thinly sliced, crusty French bread and unbelievably creamy butter that I raved about last time.  I actually tucked the butter remnants into my purse for future at-home consumption...

Our first course was a chilled melon soup, a refreshing way to cool off and ease ourselves into the meal.  The pureed soup included a sphere of sweet canteloupe, but had a savory red wine and basil base- a unique twist on a typically one-dimensional soup.  The addition of a splash of vinegar and some sort of a citrus juice gave it almost a "sweet and sour" element- a well-balanced, interesting, and weather appropriate soup course? We were off to a good start.

Keeping with the light and summery feel, the next dish out of the kitchen was the salade de crab.  A beautiful cylinder of juicy watermelon was nestled atop a pile of a creamy crab meat salad, both of which were wrapped in an impossibly thin slice of cucumber.  Avocado two ways adorned the dish- a plain avocado puree piped onto the watermelon, as well as dollops of "avocado cream"- just a touch of richness to round out the dish.  A small pile of viniagrette coated microgreens accompanied the crab- the dressing on this was so pungent (in a good way) that I thought it distracted a bit from the delicate crab meat.

 Also from the appetizer menu, the escargots is probably Bibou's most recognizable dish.  Served in a curlicue of a plate, these oversized snails matched their firm fava bean counterparts in dimensions.  I honestly enjoyed the sauce the most- a rich, meaty broth full of tiny mushroom cubes and with a slight aftertaste of cinnamon. The escargots themselves were much larger than other snails I've tried, and therefore had a bit more chew and a much earthier flavor.

Our seafood course was an Idaho rainbow trout fillet- a perfectly crispy skin covering perfectly tender flakes of white fish.  This was one of the table favorites during the meal- an impressive array of flavors and textures to pair with the impeccably cooked fish.  A creamy sweet pea and lemon puree was topped with crunchy kernels of yellow corn and blanched green beans- summer vegetables at their finest. The sauce was reminiscent of a piccata- lots of lemon and capers and a touch of dijon mustard.  A brief toast enhanced the nuttiness of a few sliced almonds, which still seemed to work amongst this conglomeration of ingredients.

At this point we jumped directly off the "light and fresh" boat into the "rich and heavy" waters below.  A duo of foie gras consisted of two shared bowls of foie gras custard drizzled with a cherry compote as well as individual foie "steaks" seared and served with poached cherries, a crispy cube of pumpkin bread, and a duck jus.  The custard seemed almost like a creme brulee, and the sweet cherry juice amplified the "dessert" aspect of this half of the dish. Meaty dessert?

I much preferred the savory hunk of foie in its glazed and crunchy on the outside and drippy buttery on the inside glory.  The sweet cherries made a feeble attempt to balance the dish out a bit, and the pumpkin bread- though a fun touch- seemed out of season.  However, you could have just plated the foie alone and I would have been happy.  Everything else is just accessory.  Thankfully nothing distracted from the pure intensity of the liver.

Another hunk of offal was served up next- one of the biggest pieces of sweetbreads I've ever eaten.  Unfortunately the thickness of it made it slightly dry, but a dollop of sweet potato puree and a smoky veal sauce added a little juice.  A tiny pile of sauteed baby spinach provided a ray of green in a sea of brown.

At this point we had already tasted six courses and knew dessert would be coming out next.  It seemed odd to end with sweetbreads, but the kitchen sent out a complimentary (thanks to our wait) plate of cheese to help us make the transition to sweets. An interesting array of sharp, soft, and moldy cheeses- when eaten with a bit of baguette made me feel like a true Frenchwoman.

Our dessert course was slightly overwhelming.  Most of the dishes were shared, allowing us to try several different things but at a rapid pace to ensure we each got a bite of everything.  The creme brulee, which I loved last time I dined at Bibou, was flat and uninspired.  A chocolate cake with wine poached pears fared a bit better due to its fudgy richness and soft fruit topping.  My favorite of the night was the "floating island"- a pyramid of airy meringue in a thick pool of sweet and spicy egg cream made with goats milk.  Bits of homemade almond praline grounded the cloud of meringue onto my tongue.

I also loved the blueberry and blackberry crumble- these fruits are at the height of their summer season and it was wonderful to see them highlighted in such a simple manner.  A bit of crust and a drizzle of caramel, but mostly sweet bursts of berry.

Of course we finished the meal with complimentary toasted coconut macaroons and crunchy dollops of baked meringue, but at this point of the lengthy meal they were more of a formality than a delightful surprise (though this did not keep me from enjoying a bite of crispy coconut).  The chef himself also made his obligatory stop at our table to hypnotize us with his wonderful accent and genuine gratitude.  I also think he gives the world's best handshake- anyone else?

The tasting menu was a great way to celebrate a birthday- I certainly couldn't dine on this every week.  Although only one or two of the dishes really "Wow!"ed me, I felt that the (mostly) seasonal presentation of French cuisine was a tasty experience, enhanced by great company and a cozy environment.

BYOB & Cash only