December 30, 2011

Sweet Cheeks Q

Between finding a wedding caterer for A and taking a trip to Memphis to visit friends, it seems like we've been on a serious BBQ kick recently.  I'm spending a few days in Boston- not a place I'd expect to find some good Texas barbecue, but my boyfriend vouched for a newly opened place near Fenway (opinion based on roommate leftovers).

The place was pretty busy on a weeknight, but we were offered seats at a large communal high-top table.  They take a no-frills, down-home approach- wood paneling and a heavenly smoky aroma make up the decor, silverware and napkins are delivered in a tin can on the table, and drinks are served in mason jars.  The menu is pretty straightforward- choose your meat, choose your sides, add a biscuit or a side of hush puppies.  We did a little sauce tasting while we waited for our food- the regular is a lightly doctored tomato sauce (boring), the thin vinegar sauce is slightly sweet and has a good kick (if vinegar is your thing), but the hot sauce is the clear winner- a little sweat-inducing heat that balances the tomato and vinegar components well.

I ordered the simplest "tray" option (just one type of meat), opting for a half slab of the Berkshire pork ribs ($19).  Sides are broken into two categories- choice of one each from hot and cold.  Everything comes piled on a paper-lined silver tray, with "hot" sides steaming up a mug.  Trays typically are served with a few slices of white bread, pickles, and onions (requisites for sandwich making) but we both subbed in one of their infamous biscuits ($1.50 extra, or $10 for 4).

I honestly didn't know where to start, so I dug in to the Cita's broccoli and cheese casserole.  Whole chunks of lightly steamed broccoli are drenched in a thin cream-butter-and-cheese sauce and what seemed like toasty biscuit chunks for good measure.  I liked that it was creamy like a soup but still maintained crunchy, satisfying bites of broccoli.  My cold side was the farm salad- I wasn't expecting anything exciting here, but Sweet Cheeks brought their A-game: a flavorful combination of arugula, brussels sprouts, chopped hazelnuts, and purple grapes tossed in a barely there olive oil dressing and topped with shaved Pecorino Romano.  Yes, I could eat that salad every day. 

I haven't even gotten to the good part-  the ribs.  Six of 'em to a half-rack, with a brilliant red color and meaty ham-like texture.  The meat isn't falling off the bone, but this provides a nice amount of chewiness.  I was impressed with how much meat there was- I could only get through two of the smoke-infused ribs before calling it quits (so lame).  Of note- I typically love my ribs slathered in sauce, but these guys were perfect as is.

My meat-loving boyfriend snagged the most classic meat options- pulled pork and brisket- ordering the double "Big Cheeks" tray: your choice of any two meats for $24.  The brisket was unlike any I have ever experienced-  thick slabs of marbled "Great Northern" beef that melt in your mouth.  I'm used to chewing my brisket, but that's not necessary here.  I was wary of the thick strip of fat across the top (and around the sides...) but this was butter, not gristle.  As for the pork- I'm a bit of a pulled pork snob, but even this had me completely in awe of the Sweet Cheeks 'que techniques.  The meat was shredded, tender, and with an incredibly concentrated meatiness. Most impressive is that this flavor comes entirely from the pork- they make it devoid of any sauce.  A few drops of hot sauce amped up the heat without masking the smokiness.

The biscuits were another highlight- massive balls of buttery, flaky carbs with a crispy outer surface and pillow-y innards. Can't beat that.

We brought enough food home to eat again for dinner the next night- and everything was just as tasty as leftovers (trust me, you WILL have leftovers).  Although the prices were a little higher than I'm used to paying, the quality (and quantity...) of each component of the tray completely justified any residual sticker-shock.  The owners of this place really did their research well- though I've never had the "real thing," my boyfriend spent a summer in San Antonio and begrudgingly admits that Sweet Cheeks might top his list.  It definitely tops mine.

Sweet Cheeks Q
Boston, MA

December 26, 2011


To kick off the Christmas weekend, we made plans to celebrate with a good dinner out.  With my parents visiting for the holidays, we wanted to choose a restaurant that would cater to a variety of palates and would offer a fun dining experience.  Since there are seemingly three dozen new-ish spots open in town, we also decided to cross one of them off of our list, and settled on Sbraga.  Even though we like Top Chef, we never considered Kevin (Season 7) one of our favorite contenders.  However, he has quite a good reputation, and has been getting lots of good buzz since the opening of his first restaurant here in Philly.

Chef Sbraga works the kitchen seemingly nonstop Source 
Prime time reservations were impossible to snag, so we ended up going a little later than I would have liked.  The fixed price menu (either $110 for ten courses or $45 for four) is a bit of a novelty to us, but I actually really liked basing my decisions solely on what I was in the mood for, and not on price.  While perusing the options, we were each served a massive flaky popover.  Even though it's hollow, it's still a hefty start to the meal, and likely the best complimentary bread I've ever had-- fresh out of the oven, warm and buttery, with a hint of truffle oil.  After my dad's first bite, he attempted to steal the rest of ours and pile them on his plate-- nice try.

Just try not eating the entire thing.
Two notes about service: 1) When we were first seated, our table had white linen napkins.  After we were seated, the napkins were taken away, and replaced with dark ones.  Still haven't figured out why.  2) Our initial "server" came to explain the menu, but he seemed a bit lost and stumbled frequently.  He also spoke so quietly that none of us could really understand his explanations (even after asking him to speak up).  A few minutes later, another server came to take care of us, and walked us through the menu again, and then stuck with us throughout the night.  We're also still pondering this one.

We chose to do the smaller tasting menu, which gives you options at each point.  We all tried to order something different, which wasn't as hard as I expected- sometimes, we all legitimately wanted different items.  My choice for the first course was the eggplant terrine, beautifully constructed with layers of eggplant, roasted red peppers, and goat cheese.  It was topped with a tiny spoonful of crushed black garlic, which was a foreign flavor to me- still not sure if I'm a fan, as it's rather bitter.  This was a delicious and thankfully light start to my meal.

My dad chose to get the beet dish, which I didn't try but just have to comment on one of the menu-listed ingredients for this dish: soil.  Soil?  Somewhere I had read online (perhaps in one of the most recent reviews?) that this simple plate had pumpernickel crumbs, but I still found it odd that this isn't explained whatsoever on the menu.  Quirky- and my dad said it was the best soil he'd ever had, but I can definitely see this creating confusion.

The other two chose the foie gras soup- which I can definitely see becoming a Sbraga staple (many of the menu items change seasonally).  The thick, creamy soup is poured tableside (into an awesome bowl-- we all loved the variety of dishes our food came on) served over an onion and rose petal relish.  For those of you (like us) that don't love the flavor of rosewater, don't be scared-- there isn't even a hint of it here.  Just the rich flavor of pureed duck liver (which I swore I wouldn't eat again anytime soon..).

After licking our plates (and bowls) clean, we waited a reasonable amount of time for the second course.  The pacing of the meal was spot on, which was actually one of my favorite parts of the experience, since it gave us time to rest and carry on conversation between courses.  The second course is seafood based, and J immediately laid claim to the "Fish n' Chips" option, a beautiful plate of Indian-spiced cauliflower remoulade serving as a base for a small handful of crispy fries and lightly battered, fried fish (unfortunately, I don't know which species).  I think J wanted to order this as her third course as well.

Bad picture, good food.
My dad chose the artic char, a fish similar in texture and flavor to the more common salmon.  While he found the flavors a bit underwhelming, the beauty of this plate is too much not to share- the thick, sweet (pomegranate or beet?) syrup held firm to the plate while the thin celery root puree filled in the spaces.

The menu really spans a wide array of flavors from around the world, which is well represented by my fish choice, the black cod served with spiced lentils and a bok choy "chip", as well as a pile of spicy kim chee'd veggies.  The flavors of each part were intense, but complimented each other without competing.  The 2" cube of cod was coated in a tangy, barbecue-like sauce that I couldn't get enough of.

The third course is the meat-based dish (and while there is a vegetarian option, I just.. wouldn't) and my dad ordered the already infamous meatloaf.  Both of the servers who explained the menu to us made a point to emphasize this dish, which was a superb recommendation.  The meatloaf contains zero bread, which maximizes the meatiness.  The tomato-bacon marmalade was like a thick, savory icing to the meat cake.  We all laughed at the mini pile of potatoes (it was like a doll-sized serving), but by the end, I think we were happy not to have huge portions- the richness of the food combined with the multiple courses leaves you stuffed.

My mom ordered what I consider the most approachable dish on the menu- buffalo chicken.  I had low expectations, but Sbraga delivered on this bar food favorite.  Three pieces of bone-in chicken were fried in a slightly spicy batter- and I won't lie, this is some serious fried chicken.  I'm not sure of Sbraga's background, but he could easily lead a Southern style restaurant, based on this dish alone.  The other components of classic buffalo wings- the sauce, the blue cheese, and the celery and carrots- were all present as well, each in a unique form.  Chunky blue cheese crumbles lay under the chicken- some of the best, smoothest blue cheese I've ever had.  A shaved celery and carrot salad completes the plate, and a tiny bottle of a thin, vinegar-y riff on buffalo sauce accompanied the dish (I think my little trial taste was the only time the bottle was used-- it's unnecessary with the explosion of flavors already present here).

My plate consisted of a breakfast classic- sausage gravy, a soft, flour-y Southern style biscuit (like I was saying...), and a fried egg, all over a bit of potato-artichoke hash.  This is really the breakfast (and lunch, and dinner) of my dreams- perfect for any meal, rich and decadent without being overwhelming.

J ordered the double lamb dish, which pairs a piece of fatty lamb belly and a perfectly cooked bone-in lamb chop with a sweet cinnamon spiked oatmeal.  Both pieces of meat were fantastic- there were a few comments that the chop didn't even taste like lamb (only the slightest hint of that earthy, gamey flavor).  The oatmeal base, however, was not the best accompaniment- sweet when we wanted salty.  I'm a master of savory oatmeal breakfasts, so I was particularly turned off- but one wrong turn in a meal full of rights is more than acceptable.

The four course tasting comes with dessert, although we've heard rumor you can skip dessert and leave for just $35 a head.  The desserts are the masterpieces of Sbraga's wife, and while they showcase creativity and use only the best ingredients, there was something missing that we couldn't quite put our finger on.

Caramel Apple Mille-Feuille

Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Cranberry Relish, Streusel and Salted Caramel Gelato

Dark Chocolate with Mascarpone and Coffee Granita (Shaved Ice)
The highlight for all of us (minus my mom who somehow lacks the coffee-loving gene) was the coffee granita, reminiscent of the refreshment of a deep, dark iced coffee in the dead of summer.  The pairing with the creamy, slightly sweet mascarpone and the bitter dark chocolate was everything you'd want in a dessert.  However, while it was a perfect combination, it comes down to three delicious ingredients- how challenging can that be?

We're glad Sbraga is thriving- for some reason, I'm scared that the Symphony House space might be eternally cursed after Craig LaBan's 0 bell rating of former occupant Chew Man Chu.  Some have noted that the location is only convenient for the theater/Kimmel Center crowd, but it's just a measly three blocks off the central line of Walnut Street.  As for us, we'd love to go back to Sbraga and sit at the counter right off the kitchen- the dining experience further expanded to include entertainment.

440 S. Broad Street

December 22, 2011

Foie Gras Tasting at Meritage

We've just wrapped up a crazy month at work (although we do seem to say that a lot, don't we?), and as a little treat to ourselves, we decided to jump in on one of Meritage's weekly tasting menus.  I often see these menus floating through the blogosphere, usually highlighting a seasonal or rare ingredient. Otherwise, this little neighborhood gem of a restaurant isn't on the forefront of our must-revisit list, though it really should be.  It's good for just about any occasion- you can catch a game in the front room with a short list of delicious bar snacks, meet up with a group of friends for a fun and filling mix of small plates, or make it a romantic date spot.  We've been ourselves a handful of times- usually for one of their specialty dishes, the Korean Fried Chicken.

Back to the important part-- the tasting menu.  The reason it caught our eye?  Foie gras. Four glorious courses of foie gras.  Five, if you include the amuse bouche, which also incorporated the infamous ingredient.  For a reasonable price of $39/person, no less!

While we love foie (sorry, PETA), we were also recently discussing an article we read in the Economist, highlighting a recent scientific (yay, science) look into what makes good foie gras.  Apparently, some ducks just make bad fatty livers.  Who knew?  The tasting menu came at a good timing, since we were well-primed for some "meat-butter," as J calls it.

Note: the article also has a fascinating picture of how exactly a goose is force-fed.  I'll refrain from showing it here, for those who find it cruel.

Meritage has consistently solid service, and our waitress was attentive without being needy.  Even though we ordered the fixed price, fixed dish menu, it's still nice to have someone checking in on you.  After placing our order (we didn't even need to open the menu), we received bread service, which seemed a little unnecessary, since our amuse arrived almost immediately after.
A little slice of soft toasted brioche was topped with a dollop of creamy foie gras mousse, as well as a couple pieces of spicy pickled apple to add a bit of crunch- it was a good combination of sweet and salty. While just a tiny bite, it set us up for a solid meal to come.

Our second dish arrived a bit too quickly- more than a minute to eat the amuse isn't necessary, but it's nice to take a breath before diving into the next dish.  The first course consisted of two dumplings, stuffed with foie and shiitake mushrooms.  Dumplings have always been a specialty of Chef Anne Coll, which might be explained by the fact that she trained under the dumpling master herself, Susanna Foo.  This rendition was superb- very crispy on the outside, which might be a turn-off to some, but is how I happen to like them.  The inside was rich and meaty, more solid than we expected (more like a meatball than typical foie texture), and dripping with the rich truffle-butter sauce.  Completely over the top, it was definitely one of our favorite dishes of the night.

The second course was again extremely quick to come out, making me nervous that our meal would last half an hour, but I was quieted by the flavors- and foie- of the plate in front of me.  While the initial menu called for duck confit, our waitress informed us ahead of time that we would be getting duck breast instead.  Disappointed?  Maybe for a minute.  We did notice that a couple who was seated shortly after us did receive the confit, so maybe it was still in the preparation stage when we arrived.  

This was actually my least favorite dish of the night, not because of poor preparation but because of a contrast in flavors I didn't love.  The base of the dish consisted of curried lentils- amazing on their own- and was topped with thin slices of perfectly rare, buttery duck breast.  The busy-ness started when the meat was topped with a sweet, tangy pomegranate reduction.  There was also a small pile of a kumquat-pineapple chutney, as well as the obligatory foie, served torchon style.  A torchon- meaning towel in French- is essentially a long roll stuffed full of foie (or other ingredient), which is then carefully sliced into tight discs.  Overall, we liked each component of the dish, but it didn't come together.  At all.

The fourth course redeemed anything we didn't like about the third, presenting us with one of the best dishes we've eaten this year.  A fun little stack of ingredients, topped with the best part of all- a small filet of foie.  Look at that.  It's huge.  The second layer was a monstrous roasted diver scallop, for size comparison- and this wasn't just any scallop.  It was perfectly cooked, meaty yet soft, and surprisingly, a perfect partner to the foie.  We both ate this in tiny slivers, scooping both layers on our forks before taking a bite.  The bottom layer was a single braised shortrib "ravioli" (seemed a lot like a dumpling!) in a bordelaise sauce that complemented the rich meat well.  A side of spinach was a bit of an afterthought, but we always appreciate a spike of greens.  To us, it was almost like two dishes- the foie + scallop, and the ravioli + spinach.

While some savory tasting menus either skip dessert or forego the special ingredient, we were completely fine with a sweet take on the stuff.  Foie mousse was mixed with peanut butter, which actually helped reduce the meaty flavor of the liver.  It didn't hurt that it was encased in a solid coating of frozen dark chocolate and served over a smear of currant jam sauce (reminiscent of a seedless raspberry jam).  The peanut butter and jam combination is timeless, and had us almost licking our plates.

Although foie is known to stir up some controversy, we try to focus on the final product- something absolutely delicious that should probably only be eaten on special occasions in small quantities.  In this case, we felt that the tasting menu was a good way to get our fill, as well as to have a mini-celebration of our recent accomplishments.  As much as we love it, it will probably be awhile until we order foie again (famous last words, probably).  The foie-based tasting menu is no longer available, but we recommend you keep an eye on upcoming options- if they're anything like this, they're well worth it.

500 S. 20th Street (at Lombard)

December 20, 2011

S'Mores Brownies

The holiday season is in full swing, and it seems like we've been going to a million work/school related Christmas parties.  Some of them are catered, and some are potluck- my favorite!  My lab is quite multi-cultural, so our potluck was a fun opportunity to try some new and different dishes.  Since I was in the middle of prepping for an important meeting, I needed to throw together something quick and easy that would also be a crowd-pleaser- and this recipe fulfilled both of these requirements quite well.

Similar to regular s'mores, you really only need three ingredients to make this seemingly fancy and elaborate three-layer treat: a box of graham crackers, a box of brownie mix, and a bag of mini marshmallows.

What you need.

Layer 1: The graham cracker.  To fill an 8"x8" pan, crush enough crackers to make a cup and a half of crumbs.  For me, this was a little less than one package (1/3 box) of grahams- though I went the lazy way and crushed them up in a bowl with a meat pounder (not the best idea)- and then fished out the larger pieces toward the end.  Next time, I'll get out my food processor.

Melt 6 tablespoons of butter and use a dollop to grease a foil-lined pan.  Mix the rest into the crumbs and press the whole lot into the bottom of the greased pan.  Bake for 20 minutes at 350F.


Layer 2: The chocolate. While the first layer is setting up in the oven, mix up the second layer- again I took the path of least resistance and used a mix- a fudgy, dark chocolate Duncan Hines version.  Of course, you could always use your favorite recipe for homemade brownies!  The mix had options for making denser brownies versus cake-y brownies- and because I wanted this to emulate a real s'more- melty and gooey- I went with the dense option, which required one egg, a bit of canola oil and some water- ingredients I always have on hand.

Baking the graham and butter mixture allows it to really compact and form a crispy and sturdy crust.  As soon as the pan came out of the oven, I smoothed the brownie mixture across the top and popped it back into the oven, following the directions on the box for baking time.

Twenty minutes later...

Layer 3: The marshmallow. When my toothpick came out relatively clean (again, going for the gooey factor), I spread a layer of mini marshmallows across the top, fired up my broiler, and positioned the pan under the center of the flames.  You want the marshmallows to puff up and brown a little bit, but if you've ever roasted a marshmallow, you know the process needs to be closely monitored.  I watched the entire time- it took about four minutes to reach my desired marshmallow puff level, but of course this is dependent on how far your pan is from the flame and how powerful your broiler is.

I let the brownies cool completely before I cut them into individual pieces.  I used the edges of the foil to pull the whole square out of the pan and place it on a cutting board.  As I cut, the marshmallows seemed to fuse onto my knife- I recommend wetting or greasing the blade to prevent these sticky guys from latching on.

I'm never one to claim something is "too rich" to eat- but for these, you want to keep the size moderate to small.  The buttery crust crunches and gives way to the rich, chocolately brownies and the fluffy toasted 'mallows.  They're not nearly as messy as the real thing and have an extra indulgent density- so satisfying to bite into.  Not quite as fun to make as the fire-roasted version, but a unique and easy treat- perfect for feeding a crowd over the holidays!

December 18, 2011

American Sardine Bar

While we've recently been professing our love to the gastro side of the gastropub, most of our favorites are a bit of a hike away.  And although we're fine with walking down to Passyunk on a warm day, our Floridian roots keep us indoors more during the winter.  Thus, we were pretty excited to see that American Sardine Bar- cheffed by SPTR's Scott Schroeder- was slated to open a little closer to our neighborhood.  It's still technically in South Philly (since when is "Point Breeze" a common name for the area?), but just a couple blocks past Washington.

The corner spot has the best marker- a giant hanging sardine can, rolled open-- you can't miss it.  While the downstairs has a long bar that takes up the majority of the narrow room, the upstairs offers a quieter, more open space.  We sat ourselves at a communal table and admired the eclectic art while deciding on some eats.  The menu isn't provided to each individual diner, but is posted on a chalkboard located in the corner of the room.  Apparently it's common for groups to snap a picture on an iPhone and pass it around the table.  Thankfully, it's pretty simple, consisting mostly of sandwiches (notably, no burger, which didn't break my heart but might be disappointing to others). 

We ordered a mix of items in an attempt to eat as much of the menu as possible.  J started with the Jewish Chicken Noodle Soup ($6, if you didn't notice on the above menu), which epitomizes the Schroeder specialty- comforting and familar, but with a bit of a spin.  The soup was steaming hot, with loads of egg noodles, soft carrots, shredded chicken and a touch of dill for extra flavor.

We put my fiance in charge of eating one of his favorite sandwiches (I've decided he literally lives on pulled pork sometimes), the Walt Wit Braised Pork sandwich ($8).  He was slightly skeptical, since he wasn't sure he'd like the flavor the Philly-area beer lent to the meat.  Thankfully, the flavor was subtle, letting the pork take center stage on a perfectly toasted, odd shaped ciabatta roll spread with a creamy goat cheese sauce.  I would never think to put pulled pork and goat cheese together, but the combination was delicious.  

Although ASB is sandwich-centric, the sandwiches stand alone-- if you want a side, you'll have to fork over another $5-6.  Although this pushes your total sandwich+side price to the $15 range, it's worth it- the sides are (mostly) large portions and not just afterthoughts to your main dish- you could easily make a meal out of a couple of these.  The three of us split a bowl of mac n' cheese with tomato and bacon ($6).  Familiar elbow macaroni in a simple cheese sauce is updated with a touch of tomato sauce mixed in (no tomato chunks!) and a hint of bacon.

My addition to the table was the Falafel Sandwich ($7), served on a massive piece of fluffy naan (which the waitress wasn't certain was housemade), three massive fried falafel balls, and a pile of veggies.  A tzatziki-like sauce provided a coolness to offset the slightly spicy pickles- my favorite part.  It was almost impossible to eat- way too big to pick up- but I made it work by tearing off pieces of naan and filling it with chunks of falafel and a little pile of veggies, making many mini sandwiches out of the single large one.

On the side, I ordered an absolute auto-order- roasted Brussels sprouts ($6).  While the portion was a bit measly (I expected maybe twice this amount), the flavor was over-the-top good.  Sliced in half, the mini cabbages were toasted until crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, with a solid amount of oily richness in each bite.  The veggies themselves didn't have a lot of heat, but end up with a tiny piece of chili pepper on your fork and BAM, you're reaching for your water.  In a good way.  While the Brussels don't top those at Varga, they definitely come pretty darn close.

Our final bite of the evening was in reverence to the name of this new spot, the Sardine Sandwich ($2). I was laughing at the tiny price of this dish, but quit laughing when it arrived at the table- it really is small.  The bread is thinly sliced from a narrow baguette, and topped with a pile of shredded lettuce and red onion and a scoop of sardine salad.  If you're wary of sardines, you shouldn't be.  Especially in this rendition, it's particularly reminiscent of canned tuna.  The sandwich is finished with a slice of hard boiled egg (in the back of the picture, and can be used for a size reference!). Tasty, but tiny.  If you're set on the sardines, order three of 'em.

Overall, it was a solid showing of Schroeder's talent in the kitchen.  While the menu is significantly abbreviated compared to SPTR, it's kind of like a fun little brother to the original.  With its more convenient location, we think we'll add this to our go-to list for an inexpensive, quick dinner with friends.  We'd love to see it bring in additional quality restaurants to the area, as it could certainly use a few upgrades.

American Sardine Bar
1801 Federal Street

December 14, 2011

Vic Sushi

During my recent trip home to Florida, I met up with some friends at one of our favorite sushi spots- a trendy restaurant in "downtown" Gainesville.  We got to talking about the lack of good sushi in our respective current cities- last time A & I had good Japanese food we went to New Jersey for it...  Our conversation reignited my need to find good sushi in our area, and I decided to finally check out a little take-out spot that a few friends had recommended.

I called in our order after work on a Friday, specifying when I would be able to pick it up.  It was dark out and the only part of the awning I could see said "sushi bar" so I had to cross my fingers and hope I was arriving at the right place.  They hadn't taken my name over the phone, which I thought was a little strange- the woman working the counter had to rifle through a few bags of food before determining which one was mine.  Can you tell picking-up food to-go is a novelty to me? The inside of the store was bright and pleasant, but only a few seats at the counter means most people go the take-out/delivery route.

A & I both started out with a seaweed salad ($3), a generous pile of algae in varying shapes and shades of green and yellow.  Tossed with a sweet rice vinegar-based dressing, the seaweed acted like a little salad- something I ate in between pieces of sushi in lieu of pickled ginger.  I do prefer my seaweed salads to be more on the salty/spicy side of the spectrum- a bit too sugary for me.  A solid (and inexpensive) appetizer nonetheless.

Vic's is pretty well-known by the Yelp-er's for their three-roll special- your choice of three "regular" rolls for just $10.95.  Definitely a good way to go if you're sticking to simpler maki preparations.  We agreed on a few of our favorites- a Philly roll, an Alaska, and a spicy tuna.  Good-sized hunks of creamy fat-streaked salmon and an equally good-sized cube of cool, firm cream cheese- the Philly roll is superb.  Sub the cream cheese for avocado and you're in Alaska- either way, the fat content of both guarantee a great mouthful of sushi.

The spicy tuna roll was a pretty major disappointment- I know this roll typically uses leftover tuna "scraps" but the filling in this was more of a mushy pureed tuna mixed with a not-spicy-at-all "spicy" sauce.  It had the essence of a spicy sauce- the creaminess from the mayo and a hint of balancing sweetness- but just the barest hint of sriracha had us wanting far more of the burn.  But two out of three ain't bad- I told A that next time we should just get three Philly rolls.

We also chose a couple of special rolls from their extensive list.  Ingredient quality is certainly a large aspect of how enjoyable a sushi experience is, but we also like to see what kind of creative ways a sushi chef can combine different flavors and textures in a single bite.  And yes, these should be able to be eaten in a single bite.  First up was a Red Dragon ($10.95)- eel, avocado, and cucumber topped with tuna.  We ate a few pieces of the fish off of the top- this was definitely no high-quality toro (fatty tuna belly)- very lean and topped with a little sprinkle of ginger dust.   Overall the roll just didn't have a whole lot of flavor- it certainly wasn't bad, but it wasn't exciting.

Fortunately, the Lucky Roll ($10.95) was explosively flavorful- not surprising considering it's contents.  Puffy chunks of lightly fried tempura shrimp, avocado, and cucumber are wrapped up and drizzled with a sweet and salty eel sauce, layered with thickly sliced salmon, more avocado, and topped by a sriracha-heavy spicy sauce.  Hello, everything I love in one bite.  We're not typically fans of non-raw components in our rolls, but the combination of velvet-y salmon and chewier shrimp was a winner.  Definitely our favorite roll of the night.

 After stuffing ourselves to the brim with seaweed, rice, and raw fish, we knew we'd found our new go-to sushi bar.  Just a short walk away, affordable prices, great quality fish (minus the spicy tuna..), and a solid list of specialty rolls that we'll have to work our way through- so glad we finally "discovered" this little place.

Vic Sushi
2035 Sansom Street