August 31, 2012

Lemon Cheesecake

Seems we've been on a restaurant reviewing craze recently-- we're still doing plenty of cooking at home, don't worry!  Most of our meals lately have been quick and painless, as these crazy life endeavors like planning a wedding, submitting scientific papers for publication, and moving across the city have been both stressful and time consuming.  However, we still try to squeeze in social events to keep us sane in between- and these inevitably revolve around food.  Meeting up with a new friend recently, I offered to bring dessert, and realized I hadn't used my mini tartlet pans in quite some time.  Remember those guys?  I've used them to make Rustic Pear Tartlets and mini quiches (among other, non-blogged treats), and thought they would make a simple dessert a little more fun.

The Tartlets.
I knew I wouldn't have a ton of time to devote to the dessert, but browsing the internets provided an easy cheesecake recipe.  Ironically, I've never made cheesecake before (probably breaking a baking rule that prevents trying a new recipe when in a time crunch), but if you haven't either, this is the recipe for you.

Easy Lemon Cheesecake
(Gluten Free)

For the crust:
1/2 c. almond meal
a pinch of salt
2 tbsp. brown sugar
1.5 tbsp melted butter

For the filling:
6 oz. cream cheese (low or full fat)
2 tbsp. greek yogurt or sour cream (low or full fat)
1/4 c. sugar
1 egg
1 tbsp. lemon zest
2 tbsp. lemon juice

A traditional cheesecake is often made with a graham cracker crust-- but without any graham crackers on hand, I chose to make an almond based crust.  Trader Joe's actually sells almond meal for a fantastic price- cheaper than buying whole almonds and grinding them yourself.  However, if you only have 'em whole, it's easy enough to make-- stick them into your food processor and let it go for a minute or two.

Fancy camera work, no?
I wouldn't recommend doing it in the middle of the night: it makes quite a racket in the beginning as the whole nuts jump around.  Combine the almond meal with the rest of the crust ingredients and mix well- it won't form a nice dough ball in any way, but you'll be able to work with it.  Press the mixture into whatever pan you choose to use- a small springform would probably work if you don't have the mini tart pans.

The butter in the mix prevents it from sticking, so no worries about greasing the pan(s).  Make a smooth, even layer at the bottom, packing it in to make sure there are no gaps.  Bake the crust for 6-8 minutes at 350- just enough to help firm it up.

While the crusts were baking, I got to work on the filling.  This was literally one of the easiest desserts I've ever made.  With a handheld beater (a KitchenAid-type stand mixer would work as well), cream together the yogurt, the cream cheese, and the sugar until smooth (a minute or less!).

Add the remaining ingredients and continue to beat until everything is well incorporated.  The filling will be on the wet side- for some reason I expected something thick, but it has the consistency of plain yogurt.  Once your crust is out of the oven (I didn't even wait for it to cool), carefully pour the filling over the crust to your desired height.  I split the recipe into four small cheesecakes, so they weren't particularly full.  I loaded them onto a wire rack, but a baking sheet would also work.  Technically nothing SHOULD drip out of the pans, but better to be safe.

Put the cakes back in the oven for 25 minutes at 350, plus or minus five minutes.  Not very exact, I know, but it really will depend on your oven and the thickness of the cakes.  When they're done they should look solid- you can carefully touch one to make sure it is no longer soft.  My mini cheesecakes only took twenty minutes.

You'll want to cool these completely before removing them from the pans.  The cooling process helps set them further- I stuck them in the refrigerator overnight.  The firmer the filling, the more success you will have with the removal!

The lemon juice and zest gave the filling a rich yellow color, and I loved seeing the little dots of zest. Perhaps I was overly proud of my little baking success- most things I bake end up tasting fine, but rarely are they so beautiful.

The combination of lemon and almond isn't necessarily one I would automatically jump to but it worked well.  Pre-baking the crust gave it a rich, roasted flavor that complemented the tang of the filling.  With just a few tablespoons of sugar, the filling wasn't overly sweet, but just enough to even out the tartness of the lemon.

The ratio of crust to filling made each bite a mix of textures and flavors, and the small size made it perfect for an individual portion.  The recipe is also easy to scale up or down, depending on your needs.  I am really looking forward to making these again, in any number of possible flavors- chocolate peanut butter would be dangerously easy!

August 28, 2012

The Industry

Although we've never written about it, Good Dog is one of our go-to neighborhood staples.  With their multi-level dining space, we can always seem to find a place to sit.  There is usually a game on TV, or if you're more of a player than a watcher, there's the pool/dart/arcade room upstairs.  The hipster-y vibe is pretty standard for Philly- it's a common place for us to take visiting friends.  Of course, the most important part- the food- has never let us down.  With plenty of sandwiches and salads, fun riffs on bar food, and of course, The Burger... you really can't go wrong.

Ok, enough about Good Dog. They've been around for awhile and everybody knows about them.  However, the good people who own Good Dog recently expanded into a new-to-me neighborhood with The Industry, one of the newest gastropubs on the Philly food scene.

I forgot to snap any pics of the space- the inside of the large corner building consists of one airy, open room (the antithesis to Good Dog), with the addition of a row of tables lining the sidewalk outside.  The menu is also quite different from its predecessor- plenty of influences (Asian, Mexican, Indian, etc) mix to create a selection of intriguing options.
Though A wasn't dining with me, I had a good replacement as my good friend loves to share.  We started out with something off the "snacks" part of the menu- our waiter described these dishes as basically just a few bites- smaller than a "small plate."  We agreed on the pork nuggets ($6) which are pretty self-explanatory- fried chunks of meat that resemble chicken nuggets.  However, instead of a regular chunk of meat, The Industry uses testa- a sort of head-cheese made of various pork scraps mixed with a gelatinous broth, the result of cooking down pig's head/feet with a bunch of herbs and spices.  A super crispy panko crust offset any potential Jello-like textures, and the creamy and spicy chili pepper aioli was a great flavor match.

We also split two of the "small plates" which were much more substantial- a couple of these could easily act as a full meal.  My favorite dish of the evening was the lamb neck gravy ($10)- a super savory stew of lamb meat in a rich tomato based sauce. A hefty dollop of ricotta cheese added some not-too-heavy creaminess while thin pieces of crunchy grilled baguette served as a gravy transporter- though the big rounded soup spoons worked well too.  Overall just a really well-balanced, well-executed, and interesting dish.

We were eyeing the pork sausage (served with whole grain mustard and pickled vegetables) but opted for The Generals Wings ($12) instead as we'd already eaten a pork dish.  Wings are one of the only recognizable "bar foods" on the menu; however, the kitchen mixes things up a bit by coating their version with a thick and sweet glaze tasting mostly of candied oranges.  The wings are unbreaded, unlike their namesake General Tso's chicken.  While I admit to enjoying wings in any form, these were too one-note for me to really love.  A little more spice please!

For my main course, I strayed from the meat-fest that made up the first couple of courses and ordered the sweet corn arepas ($15). This dish showcased the international influence of the menu, as arepas are native to Colombia and Venezuela.  Essentially a baked cornmeal cake, the arepa itself had a dense polenta-like texture and flavor. Relatively plain on their own, the cakes were jazzed up with a roasted tomato and poblano sauce filled out with plenty of quartered crimini mushrooms.  Though entirely different in flavor profile, the sauce had the same perfect balance that I saw in the lamb gravy.  Spicy, sweet, a little smoky- if you had told me there was meat in here, I would have believed you. Hearty without being heavy.

Our waiter highly recommended the Kentucky Fried Guinea Hen ($17), another dish that demonstrates some super crispy frying skills.  Although the guinea hen is slightly smaller than a chicken, this plate serves up a leg and attached breast which ends up being a decent piece of meat.  A crunchy cucumber salad and Mexican-street-vendor style corn on the cob (smothered in butter, parmesan, lime, and a bit of mayo) gives a summer BBQ feel to the dish.  The one complaint was the use of Frank's Red Hot as a dipping sauce- Frank's is fantastic, but why not make a hot sauce in house?

We forged on, taking a look at the dessert menu.  The kitchen keeps it pretty minimal- cheese plate, doughnuts, a heavier chocolate item, and a lighter fruit shortcake.  We'd been discussing Federal Donuts, so I think fried dough was on the brain ($6).  These guys were a little dense- with a few of them actually having uncooked middles- and were coated in plenty of cinnamon and sugar.  The little pot of homemade blackberry preserves was the real winner- sweet and syrupy while maintaining plenty of tartness and big chunks of fruit. No FedNuts, but a passable dessert.  A little vanilla ice cream and a scoop of those preserves would have made me quite happy as well.

Although The Industry is in a slightly strange neighborhood (though only a few blocks from recognizable areas), it still represents a great addition to the gastropub scene.  Like the location, the menu provides just the right amount of adventure without getting inaccessible.  It's not often you can try entirely new dishes (testa? lamb neck gravy?) at a bar!

1401 E Moyamensing Ave
Anyone in the food industry gets 20% off!

August 24, 2012

The Cambridge

Our little world has recently expanded, with J moving out of the condo we've shared for the past four years in order to make space for my soon-to-be husband (will take me awhile to get used to that word!). Now that she's living a mile away, I sense we'll soon get a good handle on the good eating spots in her new neighborhood- which includes one of our new favorites, Hawthornes.  Of course, in weird coincidence, the folks behind Hawthornes just opened a new spot in our original neighborhood, helping to expand the eating destination that South Street West is gradually becoming.

I really cannot picture the last restaurant/jazz spot? that was here (Tritone), so The Cambridge, at least in my mind, started with a fresh slate.  It's immediately inviting, with open windows and lots of reclaimed wood.  The dining area is large and spacious, with little nooks to feel a bit of seclusion and apparently a secret little patio out back.

The focus at Cambridge seems to be the drink selections- a large bar takes up a good chunk of sitting space on one side of the room, and the food menu is not immediately delivered.  This isn't that surprising, considering Hawthorne's wall of beer, but the food here should definitely not be overlooked.

There is actually slight overlap in the food selection between the two spots, although my overall feeling is that The Cambridge offers a step up in terms of flavors, ingredients, and presentation (I may also be biased by the difference in atmosphere though).  Since we had tried the pierogies at Hawthornes and enjoyed them, we decided to start our meal with the same dish at The Cambridge-- a fair way to compare the kitchens, right?  The three pockets of potato and cheese are served in identical style at both spots- wooden board, sour cream, and a balsamic glaze (with an identical price point of $10.

The Cambridge
They were also fairly matched in terms of the doughy-yet-crisped outer layer.  BUT, the prize goes to The Cambridge, as the sweet pea and bacon filling was much more flavorful than the small shreds of pulled pork and subtle provolone filling at Hawthornes.  A rotating menu of peirogie fillings means we'll have to return.

We took advantage of the more adventurous appetizer options, and chose to share the Charred Octopus as well ($13).  Large tentacles of crisped Spanish octopus are served between a small pile of lemony arugula and a mix of cannellini beans and a few roasted vegetables.  The octopus definitely played starring role, with the crispy edges being our favorites (the fat parts don't have nearly as much flavor).

The sun set on us while we waited for our second round of food (how dare it!), and as the evening wore on and the space filled up, we became acutely aware of a complaint many early reviewers seem to share-- the rustic wood and metal based interior is lovely to look at but not a great sound absorber.  Thankfully our table by the window helped remove us from some of the noise (but couldn't rescue our photos after dusk).

Our two dinner dates both ordered "The Cambridge Hall," one of the variations of burger offered ($15).  A fairly pricy burger (in my opinion), but with the patty consisting of dry aged beef, and the toppings including brie and wine poached pears, perhaps its worth it.  I liked the presentation of the meal on a metal tray lined with brown paper-- just like the eats at the newly minted Blue Belly BBQ.  The hand cut fries were just right (I may have eaten more than a few- for taste testing purposes of course), but the burger wasn't as interesting as it sounds.  From the burger expert himself, "the pears were nice-- slightly sweet-- but overall, not that memorable."

J and I both chose a sandwich and shared them in order to sample more of the menu.  My choice was the "Sensei Kris," an Asian rendition of pulled pork ($12).  A soft kaiser bun is filled with shredded pork tossed in a thick, sweet hoisin sauce.  On its own I could eat this all day-- the juicy meat and the deep flavors are some of my favorites- so combined, I was in love.  However, add some spicy slaw and pickled jalapenos AND serve it with a lovely side salad-- it's basically all over.

We were also both interested in the Rock Shrimp "Po' Boy."  It's surprising how many restaurants serve sandwiches using the New Orleans name, and how few of them truly get it right... The Cambridge's version may be far from authentic but it's a truly solid sandwich.  A toasted baguette gave our jaws a bit of a work out, but held the soft pieces of battered shrimp, tomato, lettuce, and creamy avocado salad (much like guacamole without the lime and spice) in perfect form.  I'm really starting to think the kitchen polled me at some point, asked me all of my favorite foods, and then combined them ALL in delicious dishes here.

The side salads aren't just a weak pile of iceberg- they are a substantial mix of various baby greens tossed with fresh tomato chunks and a barely there vinaigrette.  You can sub fries for an additional $1.50, but why would you? (Oh wait, those fries were pretty stellar..)

Even though J is now a fifteen minute hike away, I almost feel like Hawthornes connected us by giving us The Cambridge-- no matter where we are, we always know that a solid meal is just a few steps away.

The Cambridge
1508 South Street

August 21, 2012


At the beginning of the year, the "Midtown Village" duo of Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran revealed their latest project, a complete transformation of former Indian restaurant Bindi into a Spanish tapas spot called Jamonera.  At this point in their careers, it's inevitable that anything they open will be successful.  Craig LaBan sure thought so, awarding Jamonera (a play on the Spanish word for ham, an ingredient seen throughout the menu) three bells only four short months after opening.

It took us awhile to make it there ourselves, but a sweet rewards check from OpenTable encouraged us to make a reservation- the bill at tapas restaurants always seems to add up quickly!  The space is pretty dark- lots of rich colors, a copper bar, and wood chandeliers- definitely unique.  We were sure to request a brighter table in the window thanks to the longer summer sunlight.

Like any tapas place, the menu is extensive and everything sounds delicious, making our decision making a bit difficult.  The majority of the items are under $10, and our waitress suggested three items per person, also standard for a tapas menu.

The first dish out of the kitchen was the berenjenas ($7), probably the most beautiful plate of fries I've ever seen.  Long cubes of eggplant are lightly breaded and flash-fried, making the porous starchy vegetable soft and mild-flavored (though best eaten hot!).  A shaving of zamarano- a slightly nutty aged Spanish sheep's milk cheese- as well as a drizzle of truffle honey melted into the crispy fries. I could have done with more of each!  A smoked tomato dipping sauce was both too sweet and too acidic, but the fries were just fine on their own.  The simple fries need a simple accompaniment, and I initially worried that the kitchen was perhaps trying to do too much.

Our second dish immediately turned around the dining experience.  The English pea croquetas ($8) was one of the most creative and well-executed plate of fried food that I've ever tasted.  A mixture of peas and goat cheese is rolled into golf ball sized bites and coated in a thicker breading, similar to a hush puppy.  The bright flavor of the peas and the creamy goat cheese, though a seemingly strange combination, worked incredibly well together.  Crab salad made with radishes and fresh mint was light, contrasting the fried dough underneath and providing both a temperature and textural compliment.  A horseradish cream sauce underneath tied everything together. Plenty of components on the plate here, but the dish was one of our favorites- a sign that the kitchen is capable of producing seamless dishes with a complex ingredient list.

The Lancaster pig egg ($5) was an auto-order for me- I love seeing how a basic deviled egg can be kicked up a few notches.  Two essential additions were made here- fat pieces of crispy pork belly (no commentary necessary here), and a romesco sauce.  I had no idea what a romesco sauce was, but we absolutely loved it.  Red peppers, tomatoes, and almonds are blended together to make a chunky red sauce- this would have been terrific over pasta with a few olives.

We were given a plate of olives and firm white beans at some point in the beginning of the meal, which was fun to snack on between dishes.  Olive palate cleanser?  Why not.

While the olives are Jamonera's version of a gratis starter, we still felt the need to order a side of carbs. Sister restaurant Barbuzzo makes a mean grilled bread, so I felt that $2 was an appropriate sacrifice for another taste.  Crunchy and charred on the edges, fluffy and olive oil permeated in the middle- almost as good as our dad's version.

We balanced our more appetizer-like start to the meal with a couple of "raciones"- larger plates to share.
The seared scallops ($13) were another perfect reflection of summer: lightly seared with a tender center and accompanied by a summer squash, eggplant, and pepper pisto.  I fell in love with pisto in Boston, but this rendition was more appropriate for the light scallops- not as dense with each ingredient still resembling its original appearance.  A few seared baby tomatoes and a heap of chunky chickpea and olive puree rounded out the dish- a fine example of a light and fresh yet extra savory dish.

A had done some internet-sleuthing before our arrival, and she insisted we try the foie torrejas ($12)- of course, I never say no to a fatty piece of duck liver.  In this dish, the sizeable (especially for the price!) chunk of foie is kept relatively intact, allowing it to be enjoyed as is.  The rest of the components were incredibly unique, providing a sweet, almost dessert-like background for the creamy foie.  A thin piece of french toast is drenched in a thick, raisin-y sherry and topped with caramelized peaches and pickled cherries. A sprinkle of toasted almonds complete this "breakfast"- a completely new foie experience.

Although we had consumed plenty of food at this point, we knew dessert was not to be missed (hello Barbuzzo budino!).  Desserts here are extra-large, venturing away from the small-plate norm of the tapas style menu.  A & I agreed on the jarra de queso ($8)- quite literally a jar of cheese...cake.  This cheesecake wouldn't have been able to stand alone on a plate- it was like an incredibly light whipped cream cheese mousse with only the subtlest sweetness.  A crust of marcona almonds and brown butter provide a crunchy cookie crumble in each bite, while fresh fruit (enormous raspberries and blackberries!) celebrated summer.  A beautiful and perfect ending to the meal.

On our way home, I texted one of our friends and declared Jamonera a contender for best tapas in Philly- up against some serious competition in Jose Garces' realm alone.  The kitchen here is definitely turning out some serious foodie fodder- the complexity of the dishes provided for plenty of discussion between the visual appeal and ingredient combinations.  It also speaks volumes about Turney as a chef, that she can wander the world of flavors and cooking styles and come out with winning dishes every time.

105 S. 13th Street

August 15, 2012

Breakfast Stack

For years and years, I was a cereal-for-breakfast kind of girl.  All through high school and college, a bowl of cereal was the only thing I could even imagine eating in the morning (minus the occasional restaurant or diner breakfast, of course).  After a couple years of grad school, I gradually changed my daily schedule to include a morning workout.  After a sweaty gym session, a simple bowl of carbs didn't quite do the trick.  Now, I tend to crave something salty and savory (and sometimes spicy) instead (I've even blogged about a few savory breakfast items before).  But-- what to do for a special breakfast on the weekend??  While we still make pancakes with impressive frequency, I recently pulled together a "Breakfast Stack" for a satisfying post-run brunch.

Not THIS kind of stack!
With four components of the "stack," (no seriously, I didn't make up this term), it did take a bit of preplanning to pull together the necessary ingredients.  I also was forced to use an ensemble of kitchen appliances, so.. don't make this on a day you won't have time for dishes.

Layer One
The bottom layer takes the most amount of prep and cook work.  I had a spare sweet potato, so decided on a simple variation of sweet potato latkes.  Into a small bowl I added:

1 medium sweet potato, peeled and grated
2 tbsp. whole wheat flour
1 flax egg (1 tbsp. ground flax + 3 tbsp. water)
2 tbsp. chopped green onion
salt + pepper

The mixture was a little loose, but I was able to scoop it into two handfuls and press them into a heated pan with a generous amount of olive oil.  Fried about four minutes on each side, the grated potato has plenty of time to cook through, and the edges had a chance to crisp up.  I could easily eat these on their own for breakfast (or dinner) any day, so next time I'll have to triple the batch.

Layer Two
After that (semi) work intensive opener, I added a layer of smoked salmon atop the sweet potato cake.  A bit of a splurge (price wise), but the cool, salty fish is one of my favorite foods-- all of my favorite breakfast dishes include it!

Layer Three
In my opinion, the cornerstone of a savory breakfast dish is the egg.  I typically eat an egg or two fried in a bit of olive oil, but for this dish, I saved the frying for the potatoes.  A poached egg allows for the desired runny yolk without the extra oil-- plus, it gives the stack a bit of an Eggs Benedict feel.  I handed this job over to J, who pulled off perfect poached eggs-- gently dropped into a pot of gently boiling water (spiked with a hefty splash of white vinegar), the whites firm up in just a minute or two.  (Notice: The consumption of raw or undercooked eggs may increase your risk of... just kidding!).

Layer Four
The final "layer" is a slight variation of a sauce I've found myself making at least once a week this summer- I refer to it as an avocado cream.  Avocado is a great addition to savory breakfasts- it's technically a fruit, but the rich flavor, creamy texture, and healthy dose of unsaturated fats brings a little something special to the morning meal.  For the sauce, I combined...

1/2 avocado (increase 1/4 avocado per serving)
2 tbsp. low fat sour cream
juice of 1/4 lemon
pinch of salt

...into a small food processor.  If you're feeling lazy and have a super ripe avocado, feel free to just mash everything together.  The high speed spin in the processor gives an amazingly smooth texture, but the flavors are the most important.  I wouldn't leave out the lemon or salt- the lemon helps the sauce keep it's bright green color and the salt really amplifies the flavor.

Spooned over the top of the egg, it didn't do much for the looks of the dish, but provided a cooling effect to each bite.  The hot-cold-hot-cold layers of the stack made for a fun contrast, and the egg yolk, salmon, and avocado combination was a trifecta of richness.  Served with a few pieces of ripe summer peaches, it made for a complete meal with so many of my favorite foods.

Is anyone else a savory breakfast fan?  I'd love to hear some new ideas!

August 12, 2012

El Limon

A good friend of ours recently moved to Conshohocken from Center City.  To us city-dwellers, this may as well be the middle of PA.  However, she quickly conned us into coming to visit with the promise of terrific Mexican food.  In her quest to find the best that her new locale had to offer, she discovered El Limon, right on the main drag of Fayette Street.

Although Taqueria Veracruzana has been on "The List" for years, we've never made it to South Philly to try some of the more well-known Mexican places.  El Limon reintroduced us to the world of tacos and tortas.  The menu has all the expected dishes- burritos, tacos, fajitas, enchiladas, etc.  My favorite?  The "ships and salsa."

Of course we had to place an order for the "ships," salsa and guac ($5), a great starter for our group of four.  A plate full of super crunchy, deep-fried tortilla wedges had a thick, grainy texture that only homemade ships chips have.  The guac was a great mixture of creamy and chunky, with a standard flavor profile- garlic, cilantro, and lime.  The salsa was more memorable- tomatoes, onion, and jalapeno diced fine without becoming mushy in the least- a sure sign of a freshly made salsa.  Plenty of citrus and a little spice and perfect for scooping.

Our friend vouched for the tacos, so A ordered one of the chicken variety (all tacos $2.50, add $0.25 for a "supremed" version) as well as a steak sope.  Unsupremed tacos come in double-layered corn tortilla topped simply with diced white onion and cilantro.  The pile of meat was generous without overfilling the folded finished product.  Big chunks of white meat chicken were marinated in a chile-based sauce that was sweet and spicy, but a little one-note.

Steak sope, chicken taco.

One of our friends also went the one sope, one taco route- this time a taco supreme.  An extra quarter gets you lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, and sour cream, which I would recommend to build a few layers into the final composition of the taco.  Actually, I'd say just get the sopes ($3 each).  Instead of a soft, foldable taco, the tortillas are deep fried to make a crispy base.  The giant round chip  is smeared with refried beans, piled with meat of your choice, and then topped with the same taco supreme toppings.  A's steak was well-seasoned, but played less of a starring role due to the other pieces of the sope puzzle.  It was actually easier to eat than I thought it would be- use of a fork and a knife is advised.

Carnitas sope, chicken taco supreme.
Our Conshy friend took her own advice, ordering three tacos as her dinner- steak, chicken, and chorizo.  For a mere $7.50, you can get a wide variety of flavors- mixing and matching is a must.  Fish tacos were also on the specials menu that evening- we'll have to make a return trip to try those.

I ignored the taco advice (mostly because I knew A would share) and opted instead to try a torta- essentially a giant Mexican sandwich.  The Torta de Milanesa ($6.95) is made on a soft, untoasted bun and consists of breaded and fried steak, huge pieces of avocado, lettuce, tomato, mayo, a few pickled jalapenos and "Mexican cheese."

I'm not entirely sure of the specific type of cheese that they used, but it was extremely soft, giving almost a grilled cheese element to the torta- but without any of the crispy bread.  Instead, the bun squished down considerably, compressing the meat and cheese into somewhat of a gooey mess.  The meat was a little on the tough side, which I expected, but not to the extent that it inhibited the eating process.  I will say that the veggies on the bottom did a good job of spilling out, which again, I expected considering it was like a mini salad on my sandwich.  The verdict?  Not my favorite sandwich.

A & I also split a salad- the ensalada de tortilla ($5.95).  True to its name, the pile of mixed greens was almost completely covered with fried strips of corn tortilla, often in layers of three or four.    Red and green peppers and avocado complete the mix, and the whole thing was well-coated with a drizzle of "delicious chipotle dressing" (their description).  The mayo-based sauce certainly had a nice chipotle kick to it, but I felt that it was a bit too heavy, masking the freshness of the veggies and overpowering the namesake ingredient.

It was a fun adventure to make an evening date out in "the 'burbs," and El Limon lived up to its hype, at least in the taco department.  Right up the hill from a SEPTA station on the Norristown line, it's very accessible.  Our view of Conshohocken definitely changed- it's actually a super cute area with plenty of shops, restaurants, and cafes- just another charming Philly neighborhood.

El Limon (no website)
103 Fayette Street
Conshohocken, PA

August 8, 2012


Marc Vetri's continually expanding mini-restaurant-empire has provided us a few opportunities to experience his food (even though he himself isn't doing the cooking), both at Amis (two visits) and Alla Spina.  His namesake restaurant is too far off the charts for our lowly grad student budgets (don't mind all those other tasting menus we manage to do...), and Osteria seems like the quiet little sister that lives on the outskirts of town.  Always getting high ranks in any citywide contest, it doesn't seem to get quite the blog/internet hype that the others do.  Nevertheless, over the years we keep hearing bits and pieces of praise, so while our padre was footing the bill visiting, we headed on over.

The whole "North Broad" thing was new for me (J went to Alla Spina, in the same general complex, without me), and I'm still confused about it as a dining destination.  I'm all for expanding good eats to all corners of the city, but this one wouldn't be at the top of my list.  However, the location suits Osteria very well, as it's able to spread out and provide spacious, warm, multi-room, almost suburb-like dining (imagine!).  We were seated at the long spread of tables inside the main doors, with a view of the kitchen, the bar, AND the greenhouse-like "patio" dining room.  Our waitress was quick, cheerful, and efficient- service in general is not something I can imagine finding fault with, as it seemed the staff to guest ratio was 1:1.

The bread basket is diverse and enormous, which is always something I wish I knew ahead of time-- it might change my food order!  Long, thin, crispy "breadsticks," fresh, fluffy foccacia, and an earthier, drier semolina-herb loaf that was just right for dipping into fresh olive oil.  With a dinner of pizza and pasta coming up, we tried not to devour the entire thing.

We took a bit of a risk by ordering the salumi plate ($14).  A risk?  But Vetri does awesome charcuterie, right?  It does seem to be one of his specialities, but the salumi plate at Amis was disappointing (three small portions for the same price!).  Osteria's salumi plate is an excellent way to start the meal- six portions of house cured meats, each representing a different part of the pig or a different preparation style.  Our server explained each of the types of meat, each more delicious than the last.

The proscuitto di Parma stole the show though- ribbons of salty smooth, melt-in-your-mouth meat... vegetarians, you're missing out.  The meat plate is served with a little bowl of artichoke mostarda- we had to ask our server about it since it was so intriguing.  Chunks of caramelized artichoke lay in a thick, syrupy sauce with a hint of mustard and spice.  The flavors are developed using a long, multi-step boil/rest/concentrate/repeat procedure- sounds like a lot of work, but well worth it.

Osteria is extremely well known for its pizzas-- and as one of them won this years Philly Magazine Best of Philly: Pizza award, they're not messing around.  One big caveat though: there are two pizza styles at Osteria, the "tradizionale" and the "napoletane."  The main focus is on the former, with six options, including the prize winner.  These pizzas have a thin, crackery crust, and to us, no matter what you put in the middle, it's not going to be good.  Since we're lovers of the thick, chewy crust (see: Nomad, Pitruco), we ordered the Marinara, napoletane style ($18).

A truly lovely pie, with sauce bursting with sweet summer flavor sharpened by slices of fresh garlic, and a crust anyone can love.  However, I'm still a bit boggled at the price tag- I know it's a nice restaurant, but this pizza has no pricy toppings.  How is it more expensive (alright, only $1 more but still) than the octopus-topped pizza?

As we wanted our meal to be a good reflection of the complete menu, we knew we needed to choose a pasta dish.  To make our decision-making easier, our waitress let us in on the fact that the kitchen will do half portions of all the pasta dishes, giving us the go-ahead to order two halves.  My choice was the herbed bufala milk ricotta fazzoletti with rapini and chili ($16/whole).  I had to ask our waitress what style pasta this was-- it means "handkerchief" in Italian, as it is shaped from large squares of thin pasta, folded over the soft cheese.  The texture was similar to lasagna, but the flavors of the rich cheese and the sharp rabe-like rapini made it unfamiliar.  My favorite dish of the night-- next time I'm getting a whole plate to myself!

J took charge of making the other pasta decision (yup, leaving our dad with no say), quickly choosing the chicken liver rigatoni with cippoline onions and sage ($16/whole).  When voicing her opinion, he seemed a bit wary- this was basically a bowl from his nightmares (apparently liver and onions brings back bad memories).  Of course, we all dove right in on its arrival-- the chicken livers are well chopped and bring a rich, meat-on-steroids flavor to each bite of chewy homemade pasta.  If you ever thought you couldn't love liver, try this dish.  

The artichokes in the mostarda didn't quite satisfy our craving, so an order of artichokes alla giudia hit the spot ($10).  Instead of the soft, boiled Roman-style artichokes we're used to, these babies (no, literally) are first blanched to soften the outer leaves and then essentially deep fried.  The result: a chewy mouthful with a bit of the bitter flavor remaining.  Not a healthy vegetable side, but a really fun snack.

Someone please teach us how to photograph fried food.
As the end of the meal approached, I was almost regretting ordering a final, large dish.  I've heard multiple friends rave about the polenta, and since I am a full-blown lover of corn, had insisted on the rabbit "casalinga" with pancetta, brown butter, sage, and soft polenta ($26).  I'm not sure if it was my state of fullness, the mindblowing simple-yet-soulful flavors of the previous courses, or the fault of this dish, but it wasn't my favorite.  The polenta was a bit thin, with large grains of cornmeal- an interesting texture that made me question whether I had actually ever eaten true polenta prior.  The falling-off-the-bone dark meat of the rabbit was tasty (what can I say, those bunnies are delightful), but each bite seemed one note- I was either tasting sage, corn, or rabbit, but never all of them at once.

At the end of the meal, as full as I was, I didn't want to leave.  The lively, comfortable atmosphere, a well-paced, delicious meal, and of course, the wonderful company, provided a feeling of contentedness that is rare in this stage of my life.  A final two comments-- on my way to the restroom, I noticed a sign in one of the kitchens stating "Treat it like it's yours and someday it will be," quoted from the American restaurant God himself: Thomas Keller.  It seems that each employee at Osteria does just that, and whether or not this prophecy will come true for any of them seems almost irrelevant to them- they're doing their job, and doing it well.  And lastly, in one of the restrooms, a framed case displays a young child's schoolwork, a sentence-by-sentence (fully illustrated with stick figures) description of a meal at Osteria.  This love letter from a six year old to his wild boar ragu melted my heart and helped solidify this spot as one of the top in the city.

640 N. Broad Street