February 22, 2013

Little Fish: Sunday Tasting Menu

Little Fish, a tiny little BYO seafood restaurant, has a decent history in Philly.  It was Mike Stollenwerk's first  restaurant in the city (I'm pretty sure?), winning him a number of awards, but has since undergone both location and chef changes.  However, it still clings to its original features- serving the freshest of fish to no more than 20 people at a time.  Fresh fish typically comes at a price- entrees are in the mid-to-upper $20's.  Thankfully, Little Fish offers a special Sunday tasting menu at a hard-to-beat price: $33 for five courses.  

We snagged seats for the 5:30 seating (there's a second seating at 8 PM), and we got a table with a decent view of the kitchen/plating activity.  Everyone is served at the same time, so it requires a bit of coordination and choreography in the kitchen.  They eased into it with a salad course- a nice light arugula and fennel mix in a preserved lemon dressing jazzed up with an unpronounceable North African spice.  A little shaved parm and pine nuts to finish- quality ingredients composed to make a bright start to our meal.

Our salad was accompanied by a crusty slice of baguette with a chimichurri sauce.  The addition of parsley to the typical olive oil and garlic mix was a surprising (and neon-green!) twist.

My favorite dish of the evening was the tartare- in my opinion, the best way to serve a piece of fish is raw.  This particular rendition utilized tuna; they didn't specify the type, but the range of pink hues suggested some fatty belly pieces mixed with leaner side pieces.  The dish was tossed in a sweetened soy sauce-based dressing for a light seasoning- the flavor of the fish was still the major player here.  Young coconut was pureed to add additional sweetness while cashew crumbles took this out of the baby-food realm.  Not that I think raw fish is acceptable food for a baby...

Our meal warmed up with a creamy pureed sauerkraut soup.  Sauerkraut soup definitely sounded weird to me, but not unlike the kimchi stew we tasted at Vedge, it was a little funky and very innovative.  A heavy hand of cream helped balance the tang.  A single scallop had a perfectly seared crust and tender center, and was topped by a tiny bit of bacon marmalade and "mustard seed caviar."  These accompaniments easily could have overpowered the buttery scallop, but careful proportions worked in their favor.

The "main" dish of the night was a very Asian-inspired swordfish, glazed with a miso sauce and garnished with "Chinese broccoli" and crushed peanuts.  The flavor profile was quite reminiscent of the stir-fries my dad used to whip up in his wok during our childhood, and the meaty swordfish was the perfect hearty choice for a winter meal.  Unfortunately, I was so confused by the fact that the "Chinese broccoli" was without a doubt celery... that I forgot to take a picture.  Sorry guys!

*Edited to add: one of our friends saved the day and provided us with his own picture of the dish (thanks, Mike!).

Thankfully I got my act together for dessert, a pineapple cake heavy on the brown sugar, served with caramel and a scoop of whipped cream.  The cake itself was like a dense crumb cake and was topped with a sweet glaze made with pureed pineapple.  The pineapple flavor was pretty subtle, but added an extra element to the very sweet caramel.

The portions were definitely on the smaller side (check out Foodspotting for real entree sizes- quite generous!) but we were very satisfied at the end of our meal.  Unfortunately we were waved out the door a few minutes before we felt ready to end the experience- they had to prep for the next wave of diners in the second seating.  However, Little Fish does accept credit cards now (they used to be cash only) which is a plus.  $33 was a steal for this terrific meal!

746 S 6th Street

February 18, 2013


Even though we loved our experience at Horizons, Philadelphia's former premiere vegan eatery, we've been slow to make our way to Vedge, the reincarnation restaurant by chefs/owners Richard Landau and Kate Jacoby.  It's always received excellent press but 1) it can be pricy, particularly considering the ingredients and 2) it's near impossible to score a reservation at prime time.  We called three weeks in advance of our birthday and were unable to get in.  Thankfully, they hold a few seats near the bar for walk-ins, so our plan was to arrive at opening to ensure a spot.  However, I continued to stalk OpenTable, and was able to snag a last minute reservation (thanks to whoever cancelled!).

I naively thought that since it is so hard to get in, it must be a tiny place.  Plus, it's tucked away in a brownstone on Locust Street- it has to be small!  Not the case- there are multiple dining rooms within the restaurant, each larger than the next as you move from the front to the back.  However, it's still relatively small in terms of seats- each table has sufficient space to carry on a conversation without breathing down their neighbors neck.  It's almost novel, really.

The menu comes in two parts: the regular menu, with a number of appetizers and "entrees" (really just slightly larger plates), and the "Dirt List," an ever changing menu of seasonal vegetables fresh from the farm (or maybe greenhouse at this time of year?).

One negative aspect of Vedge we've heard time and again is that diners often leave hungry.  When the main focus is the vegetable, and not a vegetarian protein or fat source, we can see how this may happen.  But, we think if you order smart, you can eat a solid meal without ordering fourteen dishes apiece.

We each selected three items, a mix of dirt list and regular eats.  Each plate is small, but shareable among two- if you're part of a larger group, you may consider ordering multiples.  Our meal started with a lovely "stack" of salt-roasted golden beets, avocado, and smoked tofu, topped with two dainty triangles of rye bread and served with a creamy cucumber-dill sauce ($10).  The number of creamy dishes is impressive considering there's not a drop of dairy in the house.  We chose this dish because it consists of so many of our favorite ingredients and flavors, and it was even better than we imagined- incredibly fresh and flavorful, with a good mix of interesting and familiar.

The room we were seated in contained a fireplace and a large cozy seating area where a large group was gathered- not a "real" table, but fine for snacks and drinks.  Our two-top was tucked into the corner giving us a great view of the front room and plenty of privacy.  The space really is beautiful- well kept and decorated with sparse but well chosen pieces, including this awesome chandelier of spoons.  I'd also like to take a moment to praise our server- she was the epitome of efficiency and grace, and provided the best service we can remember in recent months.

Our second dish was a vegetarian riff of one of J's favorites- pate.  Vedge's version is made with grilled sweet potatoes, blended into impossible smoothness and thick enough to require a knife to spread ($9).  Small, perfectly formed lines of whole grain mustard and chopped cashews roasted in jerk spices added additional vinegar and spice elements to the small toasts.  The sweet potatoes had a peculiar flavor very similar to... meat.  The kitchen does wonders with a smoker, infusing a rich flavor without the need for a single animal.

 Weirdly, one of our favorite dishes was one of the most simple- the "Fingerling Fries" off of the Dirt List ($6).  I'm still trying to figure these little guys out- they were almost like fat potato patty bricks (in a good way.. that doesn't sound all that appealing).  The potatoes were carefully crushed at some point in the cooking process (boiling/roasting/frying/all of the above?), leaving smooth ovals that perfectly retained their shape.  They were then tossed in a "creamy worcestershire," an amazingly tangy, bright sauce that I wanted to lick off of the plate.  The serving was generous, which may have been the answer to filling up- lots of carbs!

While Vedge clearly can make a simple potato dish the highlight of our birthday dinner, the chefs also have quite an eye for creativity.  The "Funky Kimchee Stew" stood out to us as an ideal rendition of a dish that utilizes exotic flavors and cooking techniques to produce something that no (adventurous) carnivore could deny ($9).  Maybe it's just the spice-lover in me, but the combination of the pickled cabbage and a good dose of hot togorashi mixed with a warm, comforting broth and tons of fresh vegetables is my ticket to happiness.

Our "soup course" was well-balanced by the arrival of our salad (or maybe it was the other way around...).  The Scarlet Turnip Chopped Salad was a Dirt List item of the day, and while it was plenty refreshing while remaining flavorful, was our least favorite of the night- but hey, it is just a salad ($9).  Vedge kicks it up a notch by mixing chopped romaine, turnip "croutons," cauliflower bits, and an olive-tahini dressing, served with a chunk of toasted bread topped with a bit of avocado.  In any case, I definitely want the recipe for that dressing.

 Our "big splurge" of the night was an order of the Winter Squash Pierogies, slightly heartier and thus one of the more expensive item on the menu ($14).  Some wonderfully prepared maitake mushrooms and firm winter squash were cooked with madeira to add a touch of richness.  The pierogie dough was some of the best we've had- doughy with a slight chew, but crisp on the edges.  A "crust" formed from finely chopped toasted hazelnuts provided a crunch that rounded out each bite.

We honestly would have been perfectly content to call it a night, soaking in our last few moments by the warm fireplace before heading out into the snow.  However, Kate Jacoby is well-known for her vegan dessert masterpieces, and we felt obligated to sample her wares.  Her menu doesn't change often, which is just as well, since each choice has been carefully curated.  The Chocolate Uber Chunk is perhaps one of the most popular, and comes in a very visually appealing form- the rule of three, right?

The multi-layered dessert-in-a-jar (reminds us of our beloved budino from Barbuzzo) starts with a peanut-pretzel base, a salty, crunchy bottom layer that is a sturdy bed for a creamy malt custard.  A layer of vegan whipped cream completes the stack, while a tiny scoop of stout ice cream served as a slightly bitter complement.

We're clearly a bit head-over-heels for this restaurant, recently ranked #3 in the city by Philadelphia Magazine (though we never forget a few grains of salt while reading these types of ratings).  Vegetarians and vegans are clearly delighted to have an upscale restaurant in which nothing is off limits, and while I would never take a true meat-and-potatoes man here, it's clearly got much appeal for food lovers of all kinds.  The atmosphere is nothing short of adorable, and works for dates, small groups of friends, and even business affairs.  Landau, Jacoby & Co. have a great thing going and it shows- if you're wanting to check it out, better make that reservation at least a month in advance.

1221 Locust Street

February 14, 2013

BBQ & Southern Breakfast in Raleigh, NC

A couple of weekends ago, I made the drive down to Raleigh, North Carolina with my guy.  Already on the road for work, he decided to add a couple of extra hundred miles to visit some close family friends. Road trip to the South? Where it might be warm(er)?  And where they have sweet tea and pulled pork? Where my cousin recently relocated? Check, check, and check- I didn't have to think twice.  Unfortunately, the whole "warmer" thing was not to be; instead, we encountered a pretty vicious ice/snow storm.  Thankfully, we survived the drive and were rewarded with a fantastic lunch at The Pit right in downtown Raleigh.

While perusing for some outdoor shots of the large restaurant, I stumbled across a rather comprehensive review of Carolina BBQ.  The author of this blog swears The Pit is the absolute best there is- and there's a lengthy podcast to explain why.

I was kind of hoping for a hole-in-the-wall authentic down-home type restaurant, but The Pit is pretty classy and quite spacious, which meant no wait for weekend lunch for a group.  Fortunately, the food is exactly what I was looking for- classic Carolina 'que.  The Pit provides a quick overview of the history of Carolina BBQ- the vinegar sauce (typically apple cider vinegar based) was developed without tomatoes because tomatoes spoiled easily in a time without modern day conveniences.

It was easy for me to choose the "Carolina Classic Combo" ($9.99)- a taste of both their fried chicken and the chopped BBQ, along with hush puppies and two sides AND a biscuit.  "Chopped BBQ" is their name for whole hog pork (literally a pig cooked whole and every piece of meat chopped and mixed together) that has been dressed with the classic tangy vinegar sauce.  I added a few extra splashes to the meat and it was terrific- a much different texture than pulled pork, but smoky, and with the perfect cayenne/sugar mix of sweet and spicy.  The fried chicken was also excellent, with a thick and extra crunchy fried shell and tender meat (I detected a possible brine?).  The sides were superb as well- of course I chose fried okra and cabbage collards, two purely Southern delicacies.

My boyfriend wanted to order the double combo- a choice of two of ANY of their meat options, but ended up being served just the brisket ($9.99).  Which was actually a blessing in disguise, because the brisket ended up being my favorite meat of the day.  Thick slices of super tender beef with a perfect crust of char and spice rub reveal their long, slow transformation in the smoker.  It reminded me of the sleeper-hit flank steak at Fette Sau- just really flavorful with that melt-in-your-mouth texture that's hard to come by.  Sweet potato fries, creamed corn, and a flaky biscuit= carb-y trifecta.

My cousin joined us for lunch, and although The Pit is only a few blocks from her workplace, this was a new experience for her as well.  She decided to go a more traditional route with the pulled pork, an ungarnished pork shoulder "ready to sauce as you would like." On each table, The Pit offers both the vinegar sauce as well as a thin, slightly sweet barbecue sauce more familiar to the palate of non-natives like ourselves.  It's hard to go wrong with fork-tender pulled pork, and it provided a fun opportunity to experiment with the different sauces.

I had a wonderful time chowing down on a new-to-me type of BBQ, and I'm so glad we got to experience what other eaters believe to be "the best" (though I'm sure this could lead to heated arguments...).  

Even though we literally woke up still full from BBQ the next day, my cousin and I ventured back into the city to check out Big Ed's, another Raleigh original.  A Philly friend alerted me to this place after Craig LaBan tweeted about it a few weeks before my trip.  Apparently their pancakes are famously large and a challenge to consume, which means this place is right up my alley. The next Pancake Pantry? (<-- slightly embarrassed to link to that post, it was early in our blog's lifespan).

The place was packed on a Sunday morning, but an energetic and efficient waitstaff kept things moving- we didn't even have to wait for a table.  This was really the authentic greasy-spoon Carolina experience I was hoping for- our waitress had a terrific accent, called us "honey," and brought biscuits straight away to our checkered tableclothed table. Steamy, fluffy, with a lightly toasted crumbly outer edge.. these didn't even need butter because they literally WERE butter.

I couldn't help but spend a few minutes to take in all of the entertaining antique decor hanging from the ceiling and filling the walls- from bedpans to baskets to wagon wheels to license plates.  There was actually an old, rusty bike hanging directly above us.  A group of tin cans was labelled "redneck wind chime."  Loved it.

There's something for everyone at Big Ed's- their menu is enormous and filled from top to bottom on either side with every Southern breakfast (and lunch!) item you could imagine.  Unfortunately our stomach capacities still hadn't recovered from BBQ, so giant pancakes were out of the question (if you eat three, you get a free T-shirt!).  The list of side dishes was most intriguing to me, allowing a mix-and-match type meal.  I wish I'd been brave enough to try the "Rose Pork Brains"!

I started out with another biscuit, this time with sausage gravy ($3.69).  Our waitress warned me this wasn't going to be a picture-perfect white sausage gravy, and I'm glad she did- the gray-brown gravy was less than visually appealing.  However, the spicy flavor of the sausage and the thick, flour-thickened texture of the peppery gravy made that biscuit a buttery transport vessel for the Southern breakfast of my dreams.

Even though we didn't see it on the menu, a Yelp-er spoke highly of the "cheesy potatoes" which sounded like something that we needed to experience.  We asked our waitress about them, and she said they should be a menu-regular- we responded to her "with bacon and onion?" with zombie-like nods. Waitress knows best, right?  Obviously, crispy home fries with melted cheddar cheese, smoky bacon, and pan-fried onions were indescribably delicious.

My cousin also couldn't resist breakfast in biscuit form, and ordered the sausage, egg, and cheese on a biscuit (~$4).  The cheese was ingeniously folded into the fried egg, keeping everything in a neat little package.  Sausage can come in patty or link form; we agreed links on a sandwich make little to no sense.  The fried patty was a sink-your-teeth-in version of the crumbly gravy sausage. Nothing complicated about this one.

I'm a fat kid all about balance, so I also ordered some of the spiced apples for sweetness ($2.29).  Peeled apple wedges are cooked just enough to take out the crunch, but these still had plenty of bite- not mushy in the least.  Sweetened with a brown sugar and cinnamon glaze, I was kind of wishing for a flaky pastry crust to make a darn good apple pie.

While the most enjoyable part of my weekend was getting to spend time with people I really care about, Raleigh also provided me with some super tasty eats to remind me that I was in the South.  Barbecue and some good old homestyle cookin' were just what I needed to get me through these last few months of winter!

The Pit
Big Ed's (No real website! They do ZERO advertising other than word of mouth.)

Raleigh, NC

February 11, 2013


If you're a long time reader, you'll know that we're iffy about Center City Restaurant Week.  If you're a long time Philadelphian, you may be as well.  However, if you're up for eating a multi-course meal and are OK with spending $35 per person for a meal (hard not to, these days), then sometimes you can seek out the few really good deals that exist.  For the past several months, we've been looking to spend a Garces Group gift card we received as a wedding gift, and I figured a birthday dinner was worthy of its use.  However, getting a reservation on a Friday during Restaurant Week was near impossible- I even called to be added to a "waiting list," but stalking OpenTable daily turned up a prime reservation.

A Peruvian-Cantonese fusion restaurant, Chifa is one of Garces' more exotic restaurants.  It's interior is rather sexy, with seating options giving diners a bit of privacy with the use of curtains and booths.  Our waiter was very knowledgeable and friendly- Restaurant Week can be a headache for restaurant employees but thankfully we were treated well.

The prix fixe menu gives a variety of options for both the first and second courses- from which you choose two options each.  The obvious choices jumped out at us immediately- starting with the Pork Belly Bao Buns ($9 on the real life menu).  We've actually tried these before, during a Garces Progressive Dinner, and knew we needed them again.  Fluffy, chewy bun, sweet and salty glazed pork belly, and pickled accoutrements- it's an auto order.

The Spring Roll ($8) was my main disappointment of the night.  A single roll was cut into four small bites, making it a bit less messy to eat.  However, the wrapper wasn't fried well, and it lacked the crunch I was expecting.  The smoked shrimp filling was overwhelmed by the breaded, soggy wrapper.

Thankfully the following two dishes in our first course were stellar.  The Duck Tacos ($9) were generously portioned on two small flour tortillas.  A pile of braised duck meat was mixed with housemade kimchi, and with an avocado based dressing and some crunchy sliced radishes it was a quite a mix of flavors and textures.  I do think it's a bit of a "safe" dish, as were most of the Restaurant Week options, but still with plenty of pizazz.

On the safe scale, I'm not sure where ceviche fits-- it's never been my favorite seafood preparation, and "raw" fish may not appeal to the masses.  However, the highlight of my meal was certainly the Peruvian Ceviche.  The name applies to the ingredients involved in the sauce, not to the actual fish- the type of seafood may vary from night to night.  However, the Peruvian will always see you a "leche de tigre" or tiger's milk, a common name for the mix of lime juice, garlic, onion, chilis, sweet potato, mote (hominy-like) and cilantro that make up a classic ceviche from this region.  The fish of the night was salmon and was incredibly smooth and velvety.  The punch of lime, garlic, and cilantro with a kick of heat kept the dish bright- it would make a perfect summer snack.

On the other hand, the epitome of safe is a bowl of mussels ($10).  Our first dish of the second course still provided plenty of fun flavor, with a Thai-style twist of coconut milk, lemongrass, and Thai basil.  I'm not sure how Thai food fits into the landscape of typical "chifa" (the name for Chinese cooking in Peru), but I'm certainly glad it does.  The spicy broth would also make a phenomenal soup on its own.

I will literally jump at the chance to eat anything labeled as a tamale, so had no problems deciding on the Humita ($12, listed as a "vegetable" on the regular menu).  A filling choice for vegetarians (minus the bacon), a square of dense masa cake filled my tamale quota, and brought another style of cooking into the mix.  Woodsy mushrooms, charred corn and bacon in a creamed corn sauce made this decidedly comforting.

The "chaufa" regained footing as a solid Chinese style dish, but with essential Peruvian ingredients.  At its core- simply shrimp fried rice- the addition of bits of chorizo and sweetness from mango puree combined into more than just a bowl of rice ($10).  No chintzing on the Restaurant Week portion either- tons of large shrimp were found deep in the bowl.

My final savory dish was the Vegetarian Curry, another rice based dish with a heavy, thick coconut based sauce (typically $15 with the addition of crab on the regular menu).  The waiter warned me that it would be spicy, and he was right- I love as much heat as I can take, and this definitely pushed my limits.  However, after four or five bites the flavors became somewhat one-note, and the heaviness of the curry sauce became a bit overwhelming.  A bit more rice and a little less sauce would have made it slightly better balanced.

There were two dessert options, leaving it obvious for us to choose both.  As my husband doesn't like coconut and can't eat ice cream, the Bien Me Sabe was my designated choice ($8).  A square of coconut cake reminded me of a drier, fluffier tres leches- evaporated milk must have been one of the components.  A tiny scoop of guava ice cream melted into the cake like a cold sauce, giving each bite just a bit of fruitiness.

The Suspiro (translated to "sigh" in English-- an interesting name?) was also fruity, keeping both dessert options light and bright ($8).  A lemon custard is topped with meringue and toasted to perfection- creating a thin crust and a bit of crunch.  Two alfajores, a thin, crispy traditional cookie eaten in a number of Spanish-speaking nations, accompanied the custard.

At the end of the meal, I was more than satisfied- a potential downside to enjoying a Restaurant Week meal, as it's necessary to enjoy multiple courses (oh, darn!).  I loved the ability to navigate through so much of Chifa's regular menu- clearly they can't afford to put the larger, more expensive dishes on the prix fixe, but I doubt I would even order them on a regular visit.  Tallying up our meal, it's clear that if purchasing all of these items on a normal night, we would have easily spent $100, leaving us with some obvious savings (the gift card helped immensely as well!).  It's hard to say which of Garces' spots is my favorite, but Chifa has become a real contender.

707 Chestnut Street

February 7, 2013

Kanella @ COOK

For our birthday, we decided to cough up the cash for a return visit to COOK.  Last time, we got to check out four different chefs and learned a lot during our incredibly delicious (and entertaining) dinner.  Even though prices have only gotten steeper, when we saw that Konstantinos Pitsillides from Kanella was going to be paying COOK a visit, it didn't take long for us to snag a couple of seats.  Again, since we were trying to absorb every bit of information from one of our favorite chefs, I'll present what we learned in a not very organized list.

1. Arrive at COOK 5-10 minutes before your class starts to grab the best seats in the house- front and center. You also get to see some prep work in action.  Considering Konstantinos' stern and serious demeanor in the kitchen, we were a little nervous about how his personality would come out during the evening.  The first words out of his mouth were actually "So.. I'm not going to talk..." which caught us off guard. Thankfully they were followed by "..until everybody gets here."  Even more thankfully, he turned out to be an incredibly gracious, and at moments hilarious, "host" for the evening.

 2.  Konstantinos is from Cyprus, a country I know absolutely nothing about.  In fact, I thought it was a part of Greece, but it is in fact its own independent nation.  However, the island has been conquered by a number of nations over the centuries (Greece, Egypt, Persia, Rome, and Britain to name a few) which has helped shape its own unique cuisine.

3. The word Cyprus actually translates to "copper" which explains all of the copper implements decorating Kanella's walls.  In turn, Kanella is the Cypriot word for "cinnamon"... and Konstantinos has a fantastic way of pronouncing it with his somewhat sultry accent- the emphasis on the L's.

4.  Our meal started out with a plate of olives, pickled vegetables, and "hummus"- which in this case, was actually a dip made with yellow lentils.  He adds a few carrots to enhance the color of the dip.

5. Konstantinos' father still resides in Cyprus and regularly sends the chef fresh olives to use in a number of dishes at Kanella.  Olives are marinated, or "cured," for two days before they're sent stateside.  Konstantinos swears this is legal.

 6.  We were also given generous chunks of dense, crusty bread for smearing with lentil dip.  Kanella used to bake their own bread, but Konstantinos decided it was using up far too much of the limited space in their kitchen.  Now he outsources it from a bakery in North Jersey.  I hear the water up there makes a better dough anyway...

7.  The meal was a reflection of what Konstantinos serves during his Sunday prix fixe "mezze" (a number of small dishes).  He advertised this special meal, noting he always has both a vegetarian or meat/seafood option.  However, restaurants don't get fresh seafood delivered on Sunday's, so he has to be creative.  Note to self: Never order seafood on a Sunday.

8. Konstantinos actually has a degree in Tannery and Chemical Engineering, which he could have utilized to join his family's tannery business.  However, he blames his transition to cooking on his ADD- working in a kitchen keeps his mind busy and challenged.

9.  As part of the first course, we were served a fatoush salad: crispy pita, peppers, tomatoes, cukes, and a few crunchy pomegranate seeds for a bit of sweetness.  The pita was dusted with sumac, a popular spice on an island where lemons are scarce.  Sumac has a surprisingly pleasant lemon flavor and aromatic profile.. and he promised us this wasn't the poison sumac we're all accustomed to hearing about.

10.  The sous chef that Konstantinos brought along did a lot of the cooking while the chef regaled us with jokes and cooking instructions.  The sous single-handedly made us one of his "staff meal specials"- a verrry slow cooked scrambled egg dish filled with shredded zucchini, leeks, and kefalotyri cheese, which Chef compared to an aged Pecorino.  The eggs were finished with Greek yogurt, and along with a handful of fresh dill, helped to make some of the world's best scrambled eggs.

 11. A pot of giant beans were simmering on the stovetop when we arrived.  Both chefs carried a large (copper?) spoon in their back pockets, which were occasionally pulled out for a quick taste of a dish as it came together.  When the beans were deemed ready, they were served with a bit more cheese and white anchovies.  We were reminded of our last visit to COOK, when Peter McAndrews boldly claimed that if you don't like anchovies "you may as well kill yourself."

12.  The scramble we were served is a vital part of a mezze- it's not complete without one!  I also need to reiterate how amazing this was.  At one point, I turned to A and pointed out that we had paid $175 to eat scrambled eggs.. and I was totally OK with that.

 13.  My favorite dish of the night was the grilled octopus, served with capers and cilantro and a squeeze of lemon juice.  Konstantinos actually receives his octopus frozen, which he claims is better than any fresh option available in Philly.  These tentacled animals were marinated and then braised (thanks for the correction, Kanella!) for an hour, rendering them tender but still with a bit of a snappy bite.

14. Another attendee asked the chef the secret to knowing when octopus is ready to go- without undercooking or overcooking it.  He looked thoughtful for a moment and then instructed her "Well, one thing you can do is to take a fork and a knife and cut off a piece and eat it..."  Thanks, Chef.

15.  We had a little break as the chefs prepared the third course.  Konstantinos cooked a bulgar wheat as a starch to be served with braised chicken.  He likes to experiment with grains, but stays true to what is native to Cyprus.  Even though he's tempted by quinoa, he won't serve it in the restaurant.

16.  Bulgar wheat was a new grain for some of the group, but he pointed out that you can easily find it at "that overpriced store called Whole Foods."

17. We were served a very traditional dish of lamb kafta and sausage with a thick tzatziki sauce.  The kafta was made from ground lamb, dried apricots, and pistachios- yes, it was as good as it sounds.  Actually, better.  The sausages were made with veal, red wine, and peppercorn.  Konstantinos has a special (and secret!) spice mix that he uses in a majority of his dishes at Kanella- it includes "cumin, fennel, coriander, and ...something else."

18.  One question that came up was "Who is the most famous person to come from Cyprus?"  Konstantinos' answered with the name of an Archbishop... I'm not sure anyone actually caught the name.  Lily, one of COOK's fantastic servers, pointed something out to us. "Wait, aren't George Michael's parents from Cyprus?  He's way more famous than Archbishop Blah-blah."  Way to school the Chef, Lily.  Sorry, Archbishop Blah-blah!

19.  Our last dish was slow-braised chicken punched up with tons of flavor from the help of preserved lemon, olives, and mint (keeping the skin on doesn't hurt either!).  Konstantinos braises meat at 500 degrees- quite high when most chefs consider a braise "low and slow."  He claims the key is an extremely tight seal to lock in the moisture.  He also claims to be an "arrogant shit."

 20. Another question that came from the group was what Konstantinos cooks at home. When he does cook at home, he typically eats grilled meat, salad, bread, and wine.  The Mediterranean diet is "not a diet, it's a way of life."  And from the looks of those bulging biceps, it's working out for him just fine.

 21. For dessert, the chefs set up a deep fryer directly in front of us.  We went home permeated in the smell of peanut oil.

22.  Loukoumades- which translates to "honey puffs"- contain no honey, so the translation bothers Chef. These ultra light and sweet treats are my new favorite form of fried dough.

23.  Once the chefs cleaned up (and passed out some leftovers! We claimed a hunk of bread.) and removed their classic striped chef aprons, we realized they were both wearing (different) Kanella t-shirts.  Where can we get our own??

24.  Our second annual experience at COOK can only be described as incredible and certainly once-in-a-lifetime.  It's so amazing to have your favorite chef cook what feels like a private meal directly in front of you- and become your new friend in the process!  We're certainly even more enamored with Chef Pitsillides and his restaurant now.  I wonder which session we'll end up at next year...

253 S. 20th Street