December 17, 2013


A recent rainy Friday night found me at Serpico, a new-ish collaboration between the infamous Stephen Starr and ex-Momofuku chef Peter Serpico.  The squat stone structure seems a little out of place on noisy and eclectic South Street, but it gives way to a large welcoming dining room complete with open kitchen.  We were sent to the "bar" (a makeshift counter) for a few minutes before our seats opened up at the counter overlooking the action. I really enjoyed watching the chefs (including Mr. Serpico himself) and the expediter put on their nightly show.

The menu is heavy on the small plates, so my friend and I decided to split four of them.  We're both suckers for poultry liver, so the duck liver mousse was a no-brainer ($10).  While the portion was on the small side, the extremely smooth texture of the mousse, the sweet-tart dollops of pomegranate puree and a section of crusty grilled bread made for a satisfying start to the meal.  Serpico also provides an impossibly thin piece of crispy sesame "cracker" to get the tastebuds warmed up.

 The deep fried duck leg ($13) seems to be here to stay, surviving several changes of menus.  We have no idea how Peter pulls this off, but apparently it involves meat glue, and we're not even mad.  The incredible smoky sweet meat complete with crispy skin is perfectly accented by a little hoisin sauce, lightly pickled cukes, and a compressed Martin's potato roll.  A side of pickled veggies and sriracha dipping sauce basically provided all of my favorite things.  Other apps we enjoyed included a tangy sunchoke salad and a pasta dish highlighted by bits of crispy chicken skin.

 Entree options seemed slightly less inspired, but the kimchi and tomato stew sounded like an interesting twist on a bouillabaisse ($24).  Stuffed full of mussels, clams, squid, and chunks of flaky monkfish, the funky tomato-based broth certainly had an extra dimension of flavor than your traditional seafood stew.  However, the entree portions are quite generous, and after awhile the flavors dulled and everything became a little bit one-note.

The duck  breast ($21) was incredibly well-cooked, again maintaining that incredibly flavorful skin that covered the velvety piece of meat.  However, that was essentially the extent of what I liked- the sweet potato was plain and the chopped cabbage overly vinegared. My friend popped that green thing in his mouth, chewed, swallowed, and immediately admitted, "I maybe wasn't supposed to eat that."

 We lingered at the counter as things got quieter and the chefs wrapped up their stations, choosing to enjoy a cup of green tea and dessert.  The green tea was served in a "traditional" manner, using a finely ground green tea powder, hot water, and a little brush-whisk.  For a little sweetness, we shared the goat cheese sorbet, a refreshing combination of a buttermilk-like sorbet, crumbled shortbread, tiny balls of Asian pear, and sprigs of fresh mint.

We sat at the counter for almost three hours, slowly enjoying the food, company, and watching the chefs do their thing.  Although we ended up paying a fair amount, I really felt like the whole experience was worth it.  Next time, we'll go even heavier on the small plates!

604 South Street

December 12, 2013

Dinner at Ants Pants: Take Two

The popular South Street brunchery Ants Pants Cafe added dinner service about a year ago.  We visited soon after (unfortunately, we still haven't been for brunch or their infamous coffee) and liked it, but weren't overly impressed with the simple sandwich-heavy menu.  Recently, the restaurant hired a new chef (Nicole Loesch, formerly of Fork) who has revamped the menu.  We were invited back to sample the new eats, and happily obliged.

The menu still includes some of the original dinner options, including an Aussie-themed burger and sweet potato fries- pretty solid basics, so we can see why you'd keep 'em around.  However, the rest of the menu is much more inspired, including a few delicious daily specials.

One of these specials was the mussels du jour, a crazy big bowl of bangin' shellfish for only $5.  The flavor of the day was Thai chili & coconut, a great sweet and spicy combo.  Tiny discs of sliced chilis found their way into the open mussels and gave it a good kick.  We all wanted a spoon to slurp up the rest of the broth, but the perfectly grilled baguette served that purpose well enough.

We were clearly on a seafood mission, so also opted to order the salt n' pepper calamari.  These two dishes make up 2/3rds of the appetizer choices-- they're going for quality over quantity.  The calamari was another generous portion, freshly fried, and served with lemon myrtle aioli ($10).  Lemon myrtle is an indigenous Australian herb, so this sauce was a delicious shout-out to Ants Pants' Aussie roots.

Between our apps and the arrival of our entrees, our server cleared the entire table and brought fresh silverware- just another little touch that brings the experience up a notch.  The service was perfect overall, with a single server adeptly managing all of the tables with a smile (granted there are <10 total tables, but still!).

My entree was another special of the day, a grilled sea bass with homemade kimchi and rice ($16).  The kimchi was thickly cut, not the long thin strips of cabbage I'm used to, but it worked well to deliver an addition of texture and crunch.  The sea bass was well cooked, but I did discover a few small bones- nothing I couldn't eat around, but I can see it making other customers unhappy.

We brought our mom along since our dad was out of town, and she instantly decided to order the scallops with pumpkin risotto ($16).  A smaller portion than some of the other dishes, but rich enough to satisfy, with plenty of creamy risotto and crunchy macadamia nut topping.  Risotto does tend to be a hit-or-miss dish, and may be a little too ambitious for such a small cafe.  We thought it could have used a bit more salt to balance the sweetness of the squash.

The Ants Pants Burger is actually NOT the Australian burger, but instead includes all of the American favorites- melty Roquefort, lots of crispy bacon, and sautéed onions ($15).  A bit of sliced tomato and a pile of arugula complete the sandwich, which we compared to the infamous Good Dog burger.  Although the cheese is on the outside, not stuffed into the meat, I'd say that's a pretty big compliment.

The Pork Bahn Mi represents a total 180º from the original Ants Pants sandwich options.  It might not be the most authentic bahn mi you can get in the city, but it's pretty darn good, with lots of crunchy pickled veggies, sharp spicy jalapeños, grilled sliced pork and a salty pate spread ($12).  The option of a (large!) lightly dressed side salad is always appreciated, too.

Our server pushed us to try some of Ants Pants coffee options, so we ordered a decaf "short white."  Huh?  Yeah, we were also confused to see this option on the drink menu, next to "tall black."  This lingo stands for two common espresso drinks: a small latte and an Americano.  The decaf version was both easy to drink and lovely to look at.

The restaurant treated us to three of their signature desserts, which absolutely blew us away.  If I lived nearby, I'd stop in just for dessert on a regular basis.  All three were desserts I know I couldn't get anywhere else- an espresso and anise pot de creme, a Lamington cake with Tim Tam ice cream, and a fruit Pavlova ($7-8/each).  The pot de creme was creamy, rich, and full of flavor- even our mom, who notoriously hates even a hint of coffee, loved this dessert due to its strong licorice flavor.  The Lamington is a traditional Aussie sweet, with layers of sponge cake dipped in chocolate, sandwiching a bit of cream between.  As for the ice cream.. well, if you've never had a Tim Tam, you're missing out.  The pavlova may have been our favorite, however, as it has an extremely interesting texture.  Named after famed ballerina Anna Pavlova after she visited Australia, it is a super light meringue yet eats "like a gummy bear" once you hit the bottom layer.

I'm not going to lie, besides the general cafe decor and our awesome server, it's hard to believe this is the same restaurant we visited last January.  The new chef definitely stepped it up many notches, and is producing affordable dishes with a special touch.  The nod to original Australian eats remains, but with a much more sophisticated feel.  If you went once and weren't impressed, we definitely recommend another visit.  Thanks again to Ants Pants for treating us to a dinner I'm still thinking about!

Ants Pants Cafe
2212 South Street

** Our meal was provided complimentary by Ants Pants but all opinions are our own**

November 30, 2013

Eat This Now: Spring Lettuces Salad @ Strangelove's

Sometimes we just have that one killer dish that we want to share.  Last night we had a quick dinner at Strangelove's, which we've enjoyed previously.   After a lot of Thanksgiving indulgences, we were both in the mood for a serious salad, and Strangelove's has a few offerings on their "Greenery For Your Scenery" section of the menu.  I got a repeat dish- the Russian Kale Salad, which is still a really refreshing bowl of crunchy kale, sweet roasted beets, edamame, and lots of nutty farro and pecans.  A creamy dressing takes a little bit of the earthiness out of the kale.

However, we also tried the Spring Lettuces salad, and while seemingly out-of-season, it makes for a killer meal.

The combo of soft baby lettuces, crunchy fennel and radishes, cherry tomatoes, and green olives offers a ton of texture and flavor.  A sharp sherry vinaigrette adds that necessary acidity.  Although random, a perfectly cooked chicken breast slathered with cilantro-heavy guac is just... really darn delicious.  Eat this ASAP!

216 S 11th St

November 22, 2013

Fall Menu at P.F. Chang's

Remember a few months ago when we made a visit to our closest Pei Wei to try some of their new menu items?  The restaurants PR folks kindly sent us a gift card to try it out, and we were happy to do so-- they are still serving those delicious, fresh lettuce wraps too!  Although Pei Wei is a solid spot, it's more of a quick weeknight dinner kind of place.  P.F. Chang's represents the company's more upscale offerings, with 20 years of "Asian-inspired" eats across the country (and world!).  Typically found in or near a shopping mall, I think of P.F. Chang's as the Asian version of the Cheesecake Factory- seats hundreds, is just as friendly for a date, a group dinner with friends, or a family meal (kids meal included), and offers more options than you will ever be able to eat.

Not my picture (source), but those horses impressed me!
This has been a crazy year, so apologies if I haven't kept you up to date- my husband and I now live about 45 minutes from the city, significantly closer to NJ than Philly.  Thus, our nearest P.F. Chang's is in Princeton.  This restaurant also came with another Cheesecake Factory classic- a wait.  You can make reservations in advance, which I was unaware of, so we ended up waiting about 40 minutes for a table for 2.

The PR folks were nice enough to send us another gift card, this time to try the newest Fall menu additions.  These are highlighted in a special section of the enormous menu, making it easy to hone in on them- and they sounded so delicious that I hardly looked at the regular options.  We started with an order of Crispy Korean Chicken Wings ($10.95 at the Princeton location).  The menu picture of these is seriously irresistible, plus who doesn't like wings AND Korean flavors?

Korean Wings; P.F. Chang's Pic

Korean Wings, the real deal

Somehow the chefs finagle the wings so that the meat is bunched at one end, and the bone becomes a cleaner handle.  Great in theory, but somehow it made the amount of meat seem very small-- and the "crispy" portion thus took over a bit.  Although the batter:meat ratio was quite high, the flavor more than made up for it-- the sweet, sour, spicy mix that Korean food gets just right.  You also get 8 wings for the price- a great deal.

I also chose a Fall menu addition for my entree, the Citrus Mustard Prawns ($17.95).  Tail-on shrimp are very lightly battered and wok-fried with a mix of vegetables, including zucchini noodles, which kind of blew my mind.  I knew that you could make this magical vegetable pasta, but have never actually had it.  I honestly believed that my plate had noodles AND zucchini ribbons until I was eating the leftovers the next day.  It's all made from the green squash!

Although the plate wasn't the prettiest, I loved every bite.  The dish came with at least a dozen large shrimp. making it too much to handle in one sitting.  The mustard sauce might have been the best part-- made with a significant amount of that delicious nose-tingling Chinese mustard.

My date (also known as my husband) took his Sweet and Sour Chicken duties very seriously (he also ordered this picky-eater's-favorite at Pei Wei over the summer).  P.F. Chang's version is- not surprisingly- very similar to Pei Wei's, although you pay $4 more ($12.95 vs. $8.95).  I ended up eating the leftovers a couple days later, when it was probably even better (more time for the flavors to meld).  However, the dish came with many chunks of candied ginger, dyed red (a bit of a surprise to bite into-- I thought they were syrupy cherries at first!).  Although this wasn't a seasonal menu item, it's a good dish to try to get a feel for the basic talents of an (Americanized) Asian restaurant.

I wish we had more room to try additional items-- the autumn menu even includes dessert, such as Caramel Apple Wontons- hello!  P.F. Chang's does a good job at reinventing some comfort favorites with an Asian twist.  For you city folk, the nearest restaurant is probably in Cherry Hill, NJ, so next time you're at the Cherry Hill Mall, take the opportunity to satisfy your Asian cravings.

**Thanks again to Karwoski & Courage PR for the gift card.  This is not a sponsored post, and all opinions are our own.**

October 16, 2013

Brunch at Dandelion

Did you guys know I'm obsessed with brunch at Parc (warning: link to an OLD post!)?  I think I've mentioned it a few times :)  There's just something magical about the combination of delicious food, authentic atmosphere, and really great service (something you can always count on at the Starr establishments).  Just a few blocks down the street, another Starr spot delivers an equally magical brunch experience: the British-style pub, The Dandelion, provides a very fun experience with delicious eats.

When you're catching up with a few girlfriends, an order of scones for the table is a necessity to start ($9.25).  Round, dense, and crumbly, they're pretty darn near perfect (minus those pesky raisins, which I admittedly childishly picked around).  The house-made raspberry jam was a key component, adding a bit of bright sweetness and additional moisture to each bite.

We split a couple of dishes between the two of us since we struggled to decide what to order from the fairly expansive menu- always a problem with us.  The English Breakfast ($16) is filling enough for two, since almost every item on the plate is particularly hearty.  It includes two eggs (any style; over easy for us), a fat, juicy Cumberland sausage link, baked beans, crispy bacon, fried brioche toast, a small side of roasted tomatoes and mushrooms, as well as a piece of black pudding (for the more adventurous of us.. not my favorite).  That's a heck of a lot of food!  I might be one of the few people I know who actually wants to eat baked beans in the morning-- I think I'd fit in well in England.

To accompany that hearty breakfast dish, we also split a bowl of the fresh tomato gazpacho, which I don't believe is currently offered on the menu-- it's such a summer dish!  It was a wonderful counterbalance, with lots of acidity and nice garnishes of crispy toast with olive tapenade, watercress leaves, and some high-quality olive oil.  Super refreshing and light, and can I please comment on how adorable the china is?

Another super popular dish at The Dandelion is the burger, which both of our friends ordered.  I've actually reported previously on the burger (found here), which has gone through some transformation since that first visit long ago.  A little pricier at $16.50, but a LOT better.  This is definitely one of the best in the city, with all of the best burger components served just right- a buttery bun, shredded lettuce, thinly sliced red onion, bacon, pickles, and a "Churchill" sauce (alright, that's a new one).

The burger comes with a cute little tin of triple cooked "chips" or thick steak-cut fries (my favorite!).  Even though there are so many authentic British dishes on the menu, this burger is seriously worth an order here.

Although I didn't fall in love with The Dandelion when I first went for dinner (almost three years ago), I'm completely sold on the brunch experience.  The intimate spaces and bright sunshine streaming in the bay windows is a completely different atmosphere than the dark, "pub-y" nighttime vibe.  Take your girlfriends, your mom, or your lover here for brunch, and pretend you've woken up in England if just for a couple hours.

The Dandelion Pub
18th and Sansom Streets

October 6, 2013


Since the parents became native Philadelphians, they've wasted no time diving right into the restaurant scene.  Although my dad is currently taking a "concentric circle" dining approach- eating at restaurants starting as close as possible to their Rittenhouse condo and moving outwards from there- I recently convinced him to take a nice walk down to Passyunk Avenue with me.  His half-Finnish heritage made Noord, the new-ish Scandinavian restaurant, a good choice.


The owner, Joncarl Lachman, has a very noticeable presence in the dining room, checking in on patrons and even pouring water.  He showed us to a small two-seater smack in the middle of the restaurant- a longer, narrow room that seats 35.  Nice weather allowed wide-open windows and a nice breeze, though the noise levels did get a bit high with the outside traffic and inside BYOers.

We were treated to a big hunk of house-baked barley bread and soft butter chock full of roasted garlic.  The haphazard shape gave it an uneven char and required some slightly awkward ripping, but we were glad to get our hands dirty.  Dense and ever so slightly sweet, this crusty loaf is a good enough reason to pop in.

The menu has plenty of options and had us stymied for quite some time.  Almost every entree was a contender, but unfortunately there were just two of us and decisions must be made.  And honestly, the menu is VERY approachable.  It really isn't all herring and lingonberries. 

However, we did start with a couple of rather "traditional" appetizers.  The bitterballen ($10) are advertised as fried pork meatballs, but forget ground meat.  A thick, crispy, hush-puppy-like outside gave way to a creamy, nutmeg-scented pulled pork filling.  A sharp, grainy mustard sauce and a few sprigs of baby lettuce finished the plate. These aren't IKEA's Swedish meatballs by a long shot.


My dad has an affinity for pickled herring, so the Holland Sliders ($9) were an easy choice.  Lachman sources his herring from the local purveyor Samuels & Son, already packed in a wine sauce.  Here, the fish is served simply on fluffy potato rolls with a sweet, crunchy bread and butter pickle.  A little plain for my taste- I try not to order things at restaurants that I could make at home.

For the main course, we compromised and decided to split one fish dish (seafood makes up half of the options) and the braised pork shank ($23), a dish I would expect to see at Cochon.  A huge piece of slow-cooked, super tender, bone-in pork is nestled in a pile of firm brown beans and cider-braised collards.  Comfort food at its finest, with pieces of a potent vinegar-infused apple gastrique revitalizing our tastebuds from time to time.  Lachman told us that this was standard dinner fare growing up in South Philly, separating his family's identity from that of their lasagna and meatball-eating Italian neighbors.

Choosing a fish was difficult- they all sound amazing- but we settled on the stuffed rainbow trout ($25), complete with head and tail.  The flaky white meat was easily accessible under the thin skin, complemented by artichokes and sweet onions layered between the fillets.  Braised collard greens made another appearance here, but the best part by far was the dill and white wine broth.  The creamy concoction really showcased every flavor, soaking up essence of fish, sweetness from the onion, and just an overall richness without being overpoweringly buttery.  This fish and that bread and I'm all set. 

The best part of the experience, apart from the delicious food and casual four mile round trip stroll from Center City, was the interaction with Lachman.  He is the definition of friendly, with a genuine smile, warm laugh, and engaging personality.  Even though he was constantly attending to other diners, checking on food before send-out, and generally running the show, he took a few minutes to chat with us without seeming at all in a hurry to rush off to something else.  It truly made the dining experience memorable.

1046 Tasker St. (corner of 11th and Tasker)

September 17, 2013

The Turf Burger at Billy Murphy's

A few months ago published a reader-voted "Best Burger in Philly" list.  I'm typically very wary of those types of lists, but the fact that they had 75 burgers from across the city and surrounding suburbs up for a public vote made it slightly more credible. Slightly.  Four of the top five ended up being never-heard-of places in the 'burbs, with the lone Center City winner coming from Village Whiskey.  Since A has temporarily been living in East Falls, we decided we might as well check in on #1: The Turf Burger at Billy Murphy's Irish Saloon, aka The Saloonery.  Extra bonus?  The burger is only $5 on Tuesdays.

The place is the definition of a dive, and the few men at the bar gave us suspicious looks when we walked through the doors. Clearly we weren't regulars.  Thankfully the waitress was nice enough and brought us big pint glasses of water.

We let her know we were just in to try the burger (typically $7.75), but since it doesn't come with fries, we ordered a large basket to split.  Our waitress informed us they were hand-cut, which was somewhat surprising considering the dive atmosphere.  When our burgers were delivered, one of the first things we noticed was the little tag, encouraging us to go vote for the burger on  If they used a similar tag for the vote, they may have had an advantage in the competition simply by notifying their customers that such a competition was even ongoing.

The other thing we noticed was that this burger is a beast.  It includes a ridiculously (inches!!) thick Black Angus slab patty topped with bacon, American cheese, fried onions, pickled jalapenos, and a generous dollop of chipotle aioli on a really dense "country white" roll.  Pickles on the side.

Between the thick patty and the thick bun, eating this required quite the physical feat.  However, we simply pulled out some of the breading from the top of the bun, and it nestled right on top- still intense, but edible.  While the toppings definitely had a lot of spicy pizzazz, the star of the sandwich is definitely that Black Angus. They advertise an 8 oz serving, but I beg to differ- it has to be larger.  Even better, it was somehow a perfect medium-rare throughout, making for a really flavorful, juicy meat without relying on char or a heavy handed seasoning. 

While the burger was very satisfying (as were the fries), it's a stretch to say it's the Best Burger in Philly.  However, it certainly wins the award for Biggest Bang for Your Buck!

Billy Murphy's
3333 Conrad Street
cash only

August 28, 2013


Growing up, our family went to the beach at least a dozen times a year.  I mean, we lived in Florida, of course we went to the beach.  Unfortunately, living in what is probably the most "landlocked" city in the state, the closest beach was 90 minutes away.  Of course, since this was the closest, it seemed everyone from our hometown flocked to the exact same ten mile stretch of beach every weekend.  Since moving to Philly, I equate this phenomenon to Atlantic City- it seems it's a weekend extension of Philly- easiest to get to and full of fun stuff.  This extension also relates to restaurants- Philly food writers discuss the eats in AC, and Philly restaurateurs extend their business to the beaches.  Jose Garces has a huge collection of restaurants in Revel, one of the newest casinos on the beach.

Yuboka (sorry, no idea how to put that line over the O) is one of the newest to join the group, as a dim sum and noodle bar adjacent to the casino.  Kind of a great idea- both counter and waiter service are available, making it a quick stop if you're in a hurry to get back to the slots.  We sat at one of the communal tables and started the meal with a few items off the dim sum menu.  The Shanghai soup dumplings come five to an order, with a thick wrapper enrobing a mouthful of broth and some spiced ground meat (pork or chicken?).  At $9, they're about four times the price you'd pay in Chinatown-- and not quite as good.

Chicken dumplings, soup dumplings, half eaten pork ribs
The chieken dumplings (5 for $8) were similar- by no means the worst dumplings I've ever had, but rather middle-of-the-road for the high price.  Sure, we're sitting in a nice, brand new casino, so I expect to pay higher prices, but I also expect high quality eats.  The BBQ pork ribs were by far my favorite of the three items (5 ribs for $9).  Chinese spare ribs tend to be a little dry for me, but these were meaty and heavily sauced.  Just a single rib provided plenty of meat for me, and strongly flavored with Chinese five spice (cinnamon was definitely in there).  Unique and super flavorful- and maybe even worth the price.

We each ordered an "entree," although the noodle based dishes come in various sizes, making it somewhat difficult to determine what you'll get.  I ordered the cold sesame noodles, a small pile of soft, thin noodles in a tahini based sauce ($9).  Shreds of carrot, pepper, cucumber and mint bulked up the bowl and provided some much needed crunch, but also watered down the already muted flavors of the sauce.  A good squirt of sriracha helped, but.. I could easily make this at home.

The biggest bang for your buck come in the form of noodle soups.  We tried the Duck Noodle Soup, a huge bowl of thick udon noodles, roast peking duck (complete with skin), and tons of vegetables- mushrooms, baby bok choy, and cabbage, among others ($15).  I was impressed, but others decided the simple flavors (and larger portions) at Nan Zhou were far superior.

 We also tried the lamb bun (spicy stir fried ground lamb and veggies stuffed in a strange, cracker-like bun), breakfast congee (egg, pork belly, and congee accoutrements over a pile of extremely salty rice porridge), and the "Mouth Watering Cold Chicken."  See.. if you're going to specifically name your menu item "mouth watering," you should probably amp up the flavors.  Instead, the cubed cold chicken was bland, with the suggested side order of white rice obviously offering no support (chicken: $7; rice: $3). It seems Garces may be catering to a different audience in AC, one with much less discerning tastebuds.

With other Garces alternatives of a mini-Distrito cantina, a huge Village Whiskey (that takes reservations!), and a full-sized Amada, all within the same casino, we agreed we wouldn't recommend Yuboka over these other carefully curated options.  As the only spot unique to Atlantic City, his move into the Asian arena doesn't do him too many favors.

500 Boardwalk, Atlantic City, NJ

August 7, 2013

CHeU Noodle Bar

Awhile back now (a few weeks?), a friend and I stopped in for dinner at CHeU Noodle Bar.  With a name like that, you might expect a Chinatown location, but this small (read: a handful of tables and a long bar) spot is tucked onto 10th Street within a stones throw of Thomas Jefferson University, amongst good neighbors Kanella and Varga Bar. Although the menu is certainly inspired by Asian cuisine, the "two dudes from Philly" that run the place rely heavily on creative liberties.  Although the space is small, it has lots of personality: plenty of light, wood paneled walls accented by a giant collage, and the bar looks over the cooking space for those who like getting in on the action.

With the relatively small number of seats, service is great- almost everyone working seemed to check in on us from time to time. A large glass vase of chilled water was a nice touch on a hot summer day.  The menu seems to change constantly, and there are also daily specials announced on a chalkboard.  The fried chicken bun-of-the-day was an easy choice to start ($2.50).  Don't expect a traditional pillow-y bun here- they use a thin, English-muffin inspired bread to encase your filling of choice.  In this case, a perfectly breaded and fried puck of juicy chicken was accented by tangy quick pickles and a touch of sweet and spicy BBQ sauce.  Every flavor was perfectly balanced- this actually ended up being the highlight of my meal.

Photos courtesy of my iPhone

We were also enticed by the dumplings in chili oil ($4), a regular on the menu but with rotating fillings.  That particular day was "pork and pickles" so there were a lot of similar flavor nuances there as in the bun.  Although I preferred the crunchy breading of the chicken over the chewier pork, the paper-thin dumpling skins make for a much more exciting delivery vehicle than a thin muffin.  The dipping sauce at the bottom was addicting.

For some reason, we also picked out the BBQ pig tails (apprently going for a southern theme here so far), which looking back was not the best decision after our experience with a similar dish at Alla Spina.  Don't get me wrong- there were some serious deliciousness infused into the crunchy tails.  The peach kimchi had a latent kick that was tempered by the fruit's summer sweetness.  However... it's just not my favorite thing in the world to nibble off little bits of pieces here and there from thick chunks of vertebrae.

It definitely is my thing to eat wings though- the meat to bone ratio is much better.  The black garlic wings ($8) are a commonly raved about item around the internets, and for good reason.  Extra crispy, coated in a mild black garlic puree with a touch of sweetness, and accented by a squeeze of lime juice, sesame sesds, and a few sprigs of cilantro.  The shishito peppers were a bit confusing.. not quite sure how to eat a wing and a pepper at the same time, but maybe that's not the goal here.  The portion size is also quite small- only five wings to an order.  However, the uniqueness of flavors definitely increases the value factor- you're not going to get these anywhere else.

We went a little crazy with the meats, so I needed to balance that out with something green.  A big bowl of broccoli ($7) hit the spot.  Steamed and then sauteed in a soy-based sauce, the broccoli had plenty of crunch and just the right amount of little charred spots.  Crumbled spicy Vietnamese sausage and crushed peanuts rounded out the dish.  This is probably not the most veg-friendly restaurant in town.

Obviously, as per the name, the main fare involves noodles.  I chose the miso cod ($12), a big bowl of onion-based broth, plenty of chewy and pliable noodles, and accents of cilantro and pickled Thai eggplant.  The strip of cod was flaky, soaking up lots of moisture and flavor from the broth, but also standing up well alone with a satisfyingly sweet and salty glaze and a sprinkle of sesame seeds.  The way it was served made it difficult to incorporate the fish into the noodles, but the flavors were all spot on.  Noodle-wise, the pros over at Nan Zhou have 'em beat- these seemed a hair overcooked for my preference- but overall a solid bowl of food.

While our meal was by no means perfect, the guys at CHeU seem to be having a really fun time with flavor combinations, something I appreciate more than any other aspect at a restaurant.  I have to mention the service again because it was great- everyone seemed happy to be working and the vibe was just really upbeat.  I would recommend sitting at the bar if there's just two of you; the interaction with the staff is worth it.  Hope to be back soon (especially now that scrapple is back on the menu..)!

255 S. 10th Street (between Spruce and Locust)

July 31, 2013

Pei Wei

Living in the suburbs*, I am more inclined to hit a chain or non-local restaurant.  Whether it's because I have less options or more accessibility, I'm totally fine with it.  I've been absolutely loving living within five minutes from a beautiful new Target (my bank account, however, is not as happy with this), which sits adjacent to a string of popular find-them-everywhere-but-they're-still-good-right? eateries.  It just feels so.. suburban!

The timing was just right for an invitation to sample some of Pei Wei's new menu items.  Pei Wei is essentially P.F. Chang's less busy, more casual little sister.  While we've only been to P.F.'s once in our lives, we can see the appeal- it's like an Asian Cheesecake Factory, with a pages-long menu and enormous, satisfying portions.  Pei Wei is much smaller, with fewer options, and a more basic street food and noodles menu (read: also cheaper!).  Order at the counter when you walk in and find a table to await your selections.

The decor makes an attempt at providing an authentic Asian experience, and the open kitchen is a nice touch.  You can tell the chefs aren't just microwaving your meal!  While we were invited specifically to try the lettuce wraps, we ordered a few items to supplement.  We brought along our chauffeur  my husband, who ordered the sweet and sour crispy chicken, served with your choice of white or brown rice ($8.35).  Just about what you'd expect for the dish, with large chunks of breaded and fried chicken, fresh vegetables, and pineapple tossed in a sweet glaze.  A bit better than a food cart or your corner Asian take-out restaurant- it just tasted fresher.

We also ordered the Dan Dan noodles, a huge portion meant for sharing served with the namesake spicy meat sauce, crispy cucumbers, and bean sprouts.  Decent flavor, but who are we kidding, we made a bad choice.  No Dan Dan's will ever live up to Mr. Han Chiang's, so obviously we were a little disappointed.

The lettuce wraps definitely fared much better.  Like the sweet and sour chicken, you could instantly recognize the freshness of the dish- look at those lettuce leaves!  Although iceberg lettuce isn't our first choice for salads, it's perfect for these wraps as the high water to flavor ratio gives you a crisp, crunchy, refreshing blanket for the spicy filling.  We ordered two versions, the Korean Steak wraps and the Thai Chicken, both relatively new on the menu.  The chicken was J's favorite, with a ton of Thai flavor from the chopped cilantro and mint, as well as a citrus-y sauce ($6.95).  I don't often think of Thai food as refreshing, but this definitely was!

I preferred the Korean Beef, since I'm minorly obsessed with the flavors of Korean BBQ ($7.75).  There's just something about that rich, dark, and spicy chile sauce, and it goes particularly well with red meat.  Both dishes also had a fair number of fresh veggies as well, including cucumbers, carrots, and bean sprouts to bulk up the dish while keeping it light.

The lettuce leaves were perfectly cut to make construction of the wraps super easy, although a few more pieces per plate would have being great-- it's dangerous to overstuff them!

While the flavors were way better than I expected, I also could have used slightly larger pieces of meat.  I can see the benefit to shredded meat in a wrap (the smaller everything is, the easier it is to roll up), but the tiny shreds of chicken and beef didn't hold as much flavor and moisture as larger chunks might.

If I was out shopping and stumbled upon a Pei Wei, I wouldn't hesitate to drop in for a quick meal- it's super inexpensive and I like knowing I'll get a freshly prepared meal.  The lettuce wraps are also a great healthier option- you still get the flavors you're craving without a huge bowl of noodles or rice.  Thanks to Pei Wei for inviting us to give it a try!

* I realize East Falls isn't technically a suburb...

Pei Wei
4040 City Ave (next to Target on Monument Rd)