Friday, April 29, 2011

High Tea at The Dandelion

With the royal wedding coming up fast and furious, I thought it'd be a good idea to prep for it by doing high tea at The Dandelion. And while I'd loved the pork belly I had for dinner a few months back, what I was really looking forward to when the restaurant opened was English tea and sweets.

I finally had the opportunity when a good foodie friend was visiting from out of town. What would be more quintessential Philadelphia than high tea, right? (Cough cough.) I invited two other tea-drinking girlfriends along, and we arrived on a gray and rainy afternoon reminiscent of London.

We were seated on the second floor, in what I've nicknamed "The Dog Room," as we were literally surrounded by all forms of dog paraphernalia and prints. There was simply nothing in the room that did not have a picture of a dog on it. It was quite bizarre, yet utterly calming at the same time.

What was unsettling, however, was the random collection of tattooed, pierced, punk rock types that walked into the room and proceeded to camp out at the bar while we were sipping tea from flower spray tea cups. It was as if they just fell from the sky into the room. We didn't know what to make of them, except that they were a bit loud for high tea. The staff may have done better to seat us in a smaller space if a big party had been expected.

Of course, that was pretty much the only thing that was worth complaining about, because the experience was amazing and delicious, and authentic to the point that it made us feel as if we should've been sitting up tall, crossing our ankles, and drinking tea with our pinkie fingers in the air.

While we were waiting for the entire party, we asked for the roasted spiced bar nuts, which were sprinkled with rosemary and served warm. Great smoky flavor without too much salt (like other bar nuts).

For our savory dishes, we went with the deviled eggs, the butter lettuce salad, the chicken and duck liver parfait, and the crab and cheese toasties. The deviled eggs were well-seasoned and creamy without tasting too much like mustard or mayonnaise. The butter lettuce salad brought together a nice blend of tastes and textures, including apples, grapes, walnuts, and stilton.

Although the crab and cheese toasties were both novel and delicious, our favorite savory dish was probably the liver parfait. Not only was the liver simultaneously super light and super creamy, but it was complemented extremely well by the buttery brioche toast. In addition, the waitress was gracious enough to bring us more bread when we asked for it, even though it was more decadent than your average dinner roll.

In the meantime, our 6-cup tea pigs of chamomille and breakfast teas served us well, coming steeped with loose leaves, which we had to carefully strain out in our flower spray teacups. On the one hand, I think that we could've been provided with more tea options. However, at the end of the day, good short menus generally trump confusing long ones.

For our sweet dishes, we ordered everything except the banoffee trifle (which shall be tried next time, of course). As a citrus lover, I immediately picked the steamed lemon pudding and the lemon ice cream. While some found the ice cream a bit salty, I loved the contrast of tangy and salty. In addition, I loved the faint sweetness and mushy cake consistency of the steamed lemon pudding, which melted in the mouth along with the golden lemon syrup.

On the sweeter side, the sticky toffee pudding was one of the best examples of sticky toffee pudding I've ever tasted. Sitting on, drizzled in, and soaking up the toffee-rum sauce, the cake-like pudding became moist yet managed not to fall apart. The denser pudding worked well with the lighter and creamier date ice cream, with neither being overly sweet. And most importantly, I could definitely taste (and smell) the rum.

I viewed the mousse crunch and cherry sorbet as a modern version of PB&J minus the bread. Another great combination of flavors and textures. But because we were at high tea, we absolutely had to order the traditional tea cookie plate, which came with shortbread, scones, Devon cream, lemon curd, and berry jam. The plate came perfectly composed, with two triangular pieces of shortbread (with just enough crispness and chew), two raisin scones (buttery and moist), and three pots of cream, curd, and jam. Given the substantial nature of the various components, that plate alone might've been sufficient had we not ordered any other food.

At the end of it all, each of us paid less than $20 for a quintessential high tea experience. In my opinion, it was well worth the shillings.

The Dandelion
18th and Sansom Streets
Philadelphia, PA

P.S. For those of you looking to experience a bit of the royal wedding, check out the viewing parties at the Rittenhouse Hotel and the Four Seasons Hotel. In addition, you can make Prince William's Chocolate Biscuit Cake or order ice cream inspired by William and Kate!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

JG Domestic

I went to Garces' JG Domestic for the first time for dinner on a Tuesday night. The restaurant is in the Cira Centre, sitting beneath crisscrossing escalators and tall windows, adjoining 30th Street Station. The decor is all crates and checkered cloth and fake chalkboards--which clashes almost spectacularly with the gleaming chrome of the skyscraper that houses it. I'm not sure whether this was the right choice. Why not embrace the modernity of the space, instead of trying to insert rustic ambiance where it jars? There's something hokey and forced about it. And despite attempts to make the restaurant feel small and cozy, this is a losing battle. The soaring ceilings, the sunlight pouring in: it's inherently airy and open, and I'd say it'd be near impossible to change that short of major architectural alterations.

I ordered the Maine Lobster Cappuccino and the Jidori Chicken. I also tried the asparagus with quail egg. I love lobster bisque, and the idea of vanilla emulsion with it fascinated me. It arrived in a steaming mug, a thick layer of foam on top. Floating in the soup were hunks of lobster and a couple of butternut squash dumplings. Taking a bite was a confusing experience as my tastebuds kept expecting it to taste like coffee. The soup was thinner, closer, actually, to the consistency of cappuccino. Add to that the sensation of foam on the tongue and the mild sweetness of the vanilla, and it was like eating a seafood latte, which sounds disconcerting, but is actually pleasantly strange. The dumplings were rich but a little too heavy. I don't know if they're necessary; the lobster pieces would have been sufficient. Although it was an interesting twist, the soup was already a new perspective on the classic. Adding dumplings was less putting it over the top and more overdoing it. The chicken, served with baby carrots, fingerling potatoes, and cipollini, was delicious and well worth the price. It's a lot of food; comparatively, the portion of the lamb loin was paltry. The chicken was submerged in a thick, homey-smelling sauce. The carrots were packed with flavor, the meat juicy, the potatoes golden. Upscale comfort food at its finest. Of course, I can't not mention the amazing, flaky, melt-in-your-mouth rolls, which came to the table warm and buttery. I didn't get a chance to try the desserts, sadly. It was a good meal, but apart from the lobster bisque (which was more gimmicky than truly sensational), not really a memorable one.

JG Domestic
2929 Arch St
Philadelphia PA 19104

Monday, April 25, 2011

Cuba Libre - A Ticket to Havana

Growing up in New York, it was easy to access delicious Latin cuisine for not much money. That said, if I ever have to pay more, I better be getting something else out of the experience. With Cuba Libre, I got delicious food, affordable prices, and a ticket to Havana.

Walking into the space, you're literally transported to the tropics. As you enter, you pass through a dark curtain to find yourself at a dark bar--one that has great happy hour specials ($4 bites, $4 drinks), 5-7PM, Monday-Friday.

As soon as your entire party has arrived, you can wander into the restaurant, with its high ceilings, palm trees, and Old Havana decor. If you choose, you can sit up on the second floor, where tables wrap around and overlook the main dining area. Otherwise, you can sit in the shade of the palm fronds on the first level, or in the more intimate spaces in the back.

Regardless of where you are, the atmosphere of the restaurant is lively, with both smaller and larger parties chatting and laughing over mojitos and capirinhas. The drinks menu is extensive, and the last time I made it to Cuba Libre (around the holidays), I remember my dinner date being very impressed with the authenticity of his drinks. In addition, the restaurant is known for its rum collection, so that should certainly be tried if rum is your liquor of choice.

On my most recent trip, my out-of-town friend and I decided to sample a few aperitivos rather than tackle the larger platos (of which the Paella Nueva and Camarones con Cana are absolutely phenomenal, by the way). Not only did this strategy give us the opportunity to try several smaller dishes, but it also left us with room for our post-dinner Max Brenner adventure! (Priorities, folks, priorities.)

Because April was Empanada Month, we decided to sample the Empanada de Langosta Eclipse, an empanada made with black corn dough, filled with Maine lobster and coral butter, and accompanied by a mango escabeche salad and passion-fruit citrus mojo. The dish was well-balanced in terms of tastes and textures, with the black corn giving the empanada structure and crispness, and the rich filling being cut by the tangy mojo.

To satisfy our need for chips and dip, we went with the Mariquitas Cubanas--a trio of dips (black bean hummus, smoked marlin salad, and eggplant spread) and a trio of chips (plantain, malanga, and yuca). The chips came with a matte finish, betraying none of the oil that was most likely used to get them to their perfect crispness. While the dips were well-seasoned, they arrived in extremely small amounts, which left us wanting after just a few chips.

Thankfully, our meal came with delicious toasted bread and mango butter. When we ran out of dip, we simply covered the chips in mango butter, which truly tasted like mangoes. In no uncertain terms, the best condiment of the night!

For our protein selection, we went with the Guava BBQ Ribs. And as a BBQ connoisseur, I really enjoyed the fact that the meat didn't fall off the bone. My thought is: If the meat is going to fall off the bone, then why give me the bone at all? I like to work a little for it! That said, the meat was still very tender and well-seasoned. And while I'm not a big fan of BBQ sauce, the ribs had just enough glaze that the acid from the guava cut through the richness of the meat.

Even without the entrees, we were very much sated by our selections for the night. Better yet, the bill came out to no more than $35 for the two of us. Considering that it costs more than that for one person to eat at Alma de Cuba (of which I'm not a fan), that I felt like I was eating in the tropics (without the mosquitoes), and that I was more than full by the end of the meal, I'd say Cuba Libre will definitely be seeing more of me in months to come.

Cuba Libre
10 South 2nd Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Blog Bites: A Round-Up of the Week's Top Food Stories

The Daily Pennsylvanian checks in with the progress of new campus restaurants Sweetgreen, TBowl and Kitchen at Penn

...and 34th Street offers its first impressions on Sweetgreen, as well as The Farmers' Cabinet, a new rustic-American style restaurant at 1113 Walnut Street

Bobby's Burger Palace may offer a veggie burger option in the future, as the man himself has admitted he's finally been broken down by customer demand - Happy. Healthy. Life.

The Daily News dishes on coconut's latest attention from health nuts

Penn student and food blogger Hannah Bender reviews Barbuzzo

• Philly's much-loved Yogorino is now offering pints of its yummy fro-yo

• Whoops: Vegan magazine VegNews was exposed for trying to pass off stock pictures of meat as vegan foods - Slashfood

• The politics of food: Study shows nearly half of supermarket meat and poultry is contaminated by Staph, yikes! - Food Politics

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Talula's Garden - A secret garden that shouldn't stay secret

While I'll admit that I'm partial to the Jose Garces empire, I found my recent Stephen Starr experience at The Dandelion quite engaging and delicious. As such, I was particularly excited to get a solo reservation at Talula's Garden--a joint venture between Stephen Starr and Aimee Olexy (of the famed Talula's Table in Kennett Square--an impossible reservation, by the way, from everything I've read on the blogs).

Whenever I tell people I like to eat alone, they often seem surprised or confused. Especially when most people can't stand the thought of eating out without some sort of company. At the end of a long day or week though, all I want is some "me" time, where I can sit with my own thoughts, relish the food in front of me, and enjoy the space I'm in.

Upon arriving in Washington Square, I had to loop around a few times, call 411, and even ask a tour guide for assistance before I found the restaurant tucked away on St. James Street. Although I could easily have been frustrated (given that my stomach was calling out to me by that point), I appreciated the possible Burnett reference--as if only those "in the know" would be able to find their way to the restaurant's "secret garden."

I was glad to find my way though, because the space is absolutely breathtaking--a wonderful combination of Stephen Starr's drama and flair with Aimee Olexy's farm-table aesthetic. High ceilings, lots of light, beautiful prints, and whimsical details. The main dining room is a bi-level open space that looks out onto a lush garden (which will be perfect for al fresco dining--that is, as soon as spring decides to settle in). In contrast, a few smaller nooks afford some patrons a bit more privacy in their dining experience.

As a solo diner, I was asked if I'd like to sit at the communal table, which was situated right by the cheesemonger and her array of cheeses. Considering that my friend Erich had just mentioned the restaurant's cheese focus, I would've been foolish if I'd chosen to sit anywhere else. Furthermore, the communal table was not only gorgeous with its tea lights in mason jars, but also with its view of the lighted garden.

My server Josh produced a series of menus for me to scan through, including a drinks menu, a cheese menu, and the dinner menu. As he was highlighting items on the drinks list, I had to stop and inform him that I was allergic to alcohol, at which point I started to inquire whether..."any of these are salvageable?" I had to laugh because that was precisely what I was thinking. I mean, who wants to simply substitute seltzer or tonic water in a drink? It makes sense. At this point, Josh bowed out gracefully to speak with the bartender, and then promptly brought me back a non-alcoholic version of the house sangria. The gesture was very thoughtful, and I actually found the drink quite good, though it could probably have been a bit sweeter.

Having scanned through the menu online, I was very aware that: 1) the main courses were all fairly heavy and 2) the desserts needed to be ordered. Consequently, I advised Josh that I'd be choosing several of their smaller dishes to try, just so I could save room for sweets at the end. He quickly and easily obliged, offering to bring out each of my dishes as individual courses. Definitely the kind of dinner service worth paying for.
I started with a cheese plate of "Rare & Ridiculous Cheeses," which consisted of four cheeses, ranging from mild to blue. The cheeses came out on a piece of shale, with several accouterments, including dried fruit, stripes of jam, and thin crisps. Given the company in which I was in (namely, Kate the cheese-monger), I couldn't help but try a few more cheeses throughout my meal, including the Strathdon Blue, the Von Trapp Oma (which I seriously ordered because of the name), and a triple creme brie. All of the cheeses were cut into just the right size for a few bites, giving me the chance to try more than my fair share. A definite indulgence, no two ways about it.

My first small plate was the veloute of sweet peas, which was literally finished at the table. The server brought over a soup bowl with a few pieces of squid, a few pieces of crouton, and a thick stripe of squid ink on the bottom. Upon arriving at the table, he proceeded to pour the bright green veloute over the other components. As I mixed the bright pea soup with the dark squid ink, the soup turned into a lovely deep green. The squid pieces were perfectly cooked--tender without being chewy--and the crouton pieces added a nice textural contrast to the soup. I think the soup needed a bit of salt, but otherwise, it was a nice start to the meal.

My second small plate was the flourless ricotta gnudi, which was described by Josh as a much lighter version of gnocchi. With the torpedo shallot jus on the bottom of the bowl, I interpreted this dish as a wonderfully light and modern version of French onion soup (minus the soggy bread). The jus gave the dish a rich heartiness, but the limited amount prevented it from being overwhelming. The pillows of ricotta were perfectly sized, with each puff encapsulating the essence of ricotta. They were also perfectly decorated, with each puff being covered in just the right amount of seasoning and decorated with a single flower blossom. Talk about meticulous! Being the detail-oriented perfectionist that I am, this was definitely my favorite of the three small plates.

My last small plate was the mushroom pate en croute, which came with a chicken wing and a quail egg. I fully expected this dish to be my favorite of the night, but ironically it turned out to be my least favorite. (This kind of thing happens all the time--with me especially.) The mushroom pate was arranged to look like a piece of toast--whimsical, but the pate wasn't particularly good, and definitely didn't capture the essence of the mushroom. On the other hand, the two pieces of chicken (which in no way looked like they formed a chicken wing) were perfectly cooked--crispy on the outside, moist and juicy on the inside. The quail egg offered great color, but didn't add much to the dish. Plus, the brunoised onion or shallot (though I really couldn't tell) seemed to overpower the dish, as if the bitterness had yet to be burned off. All in all, I was pretty disappointed.

To close out the meal, I selected the chocolate cremeaux. While I normally go for something lighter and more citrus-ey for dessert, I decided to choose something richer given that all three small plates had been fairly light. As I had no preconceived notions of the dish, I was delighted when I tasted what looked like the chocolate mousse--and it turned out to be cold! Like a cross between chocolate mousse and a really rich, dense, and dark chocolate ice cream, the cremeaux slowly melted away on the tongue and left the faintest notes of chocolate on the palate. The best contrast was offered by the toasted marshmallow cubes (which could only have been made cuter by having them skewered on a branch) which were warm and melting on the inside. The chocolate cookie crumbles, the crushed bacon (mmm.... salt!), and the rich caramel served as amazing taste and textural contrasts, especially when one spoonful encapsulated all elements of the dish. This was definitely the best dish of the entire night.

While I could've stopped there, I decided that my sweet tooth could handle more, so I asked for the house-made cookies to go. The box came with: a carrot cake cookie (which resembled a more substantial whoopie pie), a crescent shortbread cookie, a salted caramel cookie (which was pure decadence), and a chewy bar of some sort. All of them were delicious, and none of them made it home. What can I say? Eating and walking are my strong suits--especially in combination.

Although it was lovely to treat myself to a special meal, I'd definitely have to say that Talula's Garden is more of a place to indulge your senses than to pop in regularly for dinner. The price point is definitely on Starr's higher end, and the ambiance is a bit too upscale to feel comfortable strolling around in jeans. That said, brunch may be a little more relaxed, and outdoor seating may be as well. At the very least, I'd certainly be willing to go back for drinks and cheese. I mean, I did get complimented by Aimee herself on my cheese appetite....

Talula's Garden
210 W. Washington Square (at St. James Street)
Philadelphia PA 19106

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Sweetgreen Opening

Sweetgreen’s opening on April 12th was marked with widespread excitement. I had been looking forward to the opening since Sweetgreen’s Facebook photo contest several months ago. I was asked to "like" a picture of my friend in front of the Sweetgreen’s window. Whoever’s picture received the most "likes" received a free bike. With widespread publicity like this and its prominent location, I wasn’t surprised to arrive at Sweetgreen to find a line winding around the small restaurant and ending in a crowd of people pressed against the front windows.

The Sweetgreen menu included salads, wraps, soups, and frozen yogurt. It showed similarity to the Gia Pronto menu. However, there was the added bonus of a selection of pre-formulated salads and wraps. I ordered the Curry Gold salad with baby spinach, roasted chicken, cucumbers, beets, dried cranberries, and toasted almonds. I was intrigued by its curry pineapple yogurt dressing. Meanwhile, my friend munched on her Santorini salad of romaine, roasted shrimp, feta, grapes, fresh mint, and chick peas, topped with cucumber basil yogurt dressing and fresh lemon squeeze.

While unique salads and wrap options like these are an exciting addition to Penn’s on-campus food selection, the eatery’s frozen yogurt is its biggest perk. Sweetgreen’s simple, tart frozen yogurt is fat free and made from natural ingredients and can be topped with a variety of fruits and garnishes, such blackberries, strawberries, chocolate, and even mint.

3925 Walnut St
Philadelphia PA 19104

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Kitchen At Penn

While there are probably plenty Penn Alums who have gone onto culinary adventures, this may be the first time a current student as embarked on one. Kitchen at Penn

started as a senior research project by Nate Adler and has become a reality. Adler found a chef on Craigslist, rented out kitchen space in West Philly and recruited some friends to work the kitchen with him. Now, you can order a home-cooked meal from Kitchen at Penn Sunday through Thursday 6-10pm.

The inspiration for the menu is from the trend in the culinary world of simple, good food, at the same time trying to emulate the feeling of a home-cooked meal. The menu reflects this, with few dishes having more than five ingredients and simple well balanced flavors and seasonal sides. The most popular dishes are the baked chicken and the West Philly Banh Mi sandwich. The Banh Mi sandwich has a Vietnamese flair with meatballs, pickled vegetables and Sriracha Aioli. I tried the baked chicken, and while it was not the best chicken I have ever had, I have to say I would order it over Chipotle any night of the week.

The menu will change as we move more into spring, Adler says, he is planning on incorporating more fresh vegetables and is developing some salads to add to the menu. There may also be daily specials which you can find on the Kitchen at Penn website, which is adorable and completely and drawn! The Kitchen also has a blog where you can follow, almost daily, the goings on in the Kitchen.

While this is a senior project, Adler says that continuing Kitchen at Penn is a real possibility next year, maybe expanding the space, branding it and adding locations at other colleges.

Kitchen at Penn
4529 Springfield Ave
Philadelphia PA 19143

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

New Issue of Penn Appetit!

The Spring 2011 issue of Penn Appetit comes out today, (our longest ever, and with a newly redesigned logo) featuring interviews with Marc Vetri and Marcie Turney, gorgeous photo spreads, exclusive recipes, restaurant reviews (Carman's Country Kitchen, Franklin Fountain) and features on the Italian Market, urban farming and where to find the best pork belly, water ice, chai, Korean tacos and crepes in Philadelphia. Check out our Facebook page for a sneak peek at the pictures our photographers took while shooting for the magazine, and pick one up on the walk and in the Pubco racks this week!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Food Events @ Penn

What: Penn Gastronomy Club Interest Meeting, Get information about PGC's available leadership positions for next year, and learn about the work that PGC does in order to throw the great food events you've experienced this past year.
Where: JMHH 270
When: Wednesday, April 20, 6:30-7:30pm

What: A Taste of Penn Dining. This event will showcase a variety of foods and products from Bon Appétit at Penn Dining's partners, from retail items including soups and lip balm to delicious food items like veggie burgers and Asian entrees.
Where: Bodek Lounge, Houston Hall
When: Wednesday April 20, 11:30am- 2:30pm

Penn's Taste of Food Branding

Penn Appetit and Penn Gastronomy are no doubt at the helm of the food movement at Penn. However, other groups on campus are jumping on the bandwagon, exploring the magical allure of food. During the month of April, organizations specifically looked at the concept of food branding.

The food branding marathon started off during Penn Fashion Week, during which Penn Gastronomy Club hosted a Food Retail and Branding Panel. The featured panelists were Marc Vetri (James Beard Award-winning chef and owner of Vetri, Osteria, and Amis); Ellen Yin (owner of Fork and author of Forklore); Michelle Lehmann (founder of Michelle Lehmann Communications and the former Director of Marketing for Union Square Hospitality Group); Jon Myerow (partner of Tria Cafe and Biba Wine Bar); and Ashley Primis (Director of Special Projects for Starr Restaurants). While the audience snacked on refreshments compliments of Biba, the speakers gave their takes on food branding and public relations in the restaurant industry. All agreed that branding was about “narrowing in on an idea and carrying it through”; aspiring restaurateurs can go far if they “build a place out of passion—not market research—and stick with a vision.” Once the foundation is established, however, it’s important to “constantly reinvent” to intrigue customers and keep them coming back. They also stressed the importance of using social media responsibly and to exercise caution with discount sites like Groupon, which “cheapen a restaurant’s brand.” Instead, Lehmann and Yin emphasized the importance of “adding value” to your restaurant, whether it’s offering the customer a complementary amuse bouche or providing exceptional customer service that goes above and beyond the call of duty. Other online forms of expression, like Twitter and Facebook, are effective ways to “strengthen your brand” and “give customers information instantly in the food industry’s word-of-mouth business.” They also answered a variety of audience questions; for instance, Vetri advised a student with aspirations of becoming a pastry chef to “simply work and learn—don’t worry about the hours or how much you make initially. Take every moment as a learning experience.”

Following Penn Fashion Week’s successful partnership with food, MUSE took the reins and launched Foodie Week. The four-day-long event hosted speakers from different areas of the food industry to explore food and its relation to marketing. It started on Monday with a bang Spring-Fling-Carnival-style, as Pat’s King of Steaks came towing crates of cheesesteaks in Whiz and provolone varieties. Frank Olivieri, Jr., the current owner of Pat’s, derives much of the business’ success from advertising. From personally creating quirky ads (as displayed on Olivieri’s Powerpoint during the talk) to actively advertising throughout the country, Olivieri hopes he has branded his product so well that “every Philly transplant who comes into the city knows about Pat’s.” Indeed, his method is working—Pat’s experienced a 23% increase in the number of cheesesteaks sold this year compared to last year.

Tuesday ushered in Penn’s newest resident: Sweetgreen, a sustainable salad and yogurt bar. Nicolas Jammet and Nathaniel Ru, two of Sweetgreen’s owners, spoke about the restaurant’s rise as “a solution to a problem.” Their goal was to fill a void: they created a place that was not chef-driven, but ingredient- and source-driven, serving meals that were both healthy and supported the local economy. Jammet explored Sweetgreen’s ways of engaging the customer, an “intersection of digital—social media and visual components—and experiential—grass roots and word of mouth—marketing.” Their goal is to plant a “wow message” in their minds. For them, Sweetgreen is about creating a “way you can you live your life: the sweet life.” A pre-opening at their new location near the Radian followed the presentation, giving guests the opportunity to sample Sweetgreen’s tart yogurt and assorted tortilla chip dips (featuring ingredients like quinoa, black beans, and corn).

Adsum’s executive chef, Matt Levin, came on Wednesday to discuss his journey as a chef and restaurateur. During his childhood, experiences as a regular in restaurant kitchens inspired him to enter the food world. After training at the Culinary Institute of America and learning from chefs at various restaurants, he developed his own style of cooking and soon discovered molecular gastronomy. His work with such progressive cooking was a way to take risks and “prove to himself that [he] could do the cooking.” Whether he’s emulsifying duck fat so that it appears as powdery snow on the plate or sous-viding pig tails in ranch dressing before deep-frying for a more succulent product, Levin aims to highlight textures and flavors and create an unforgettable experience for the consumer. As an added bonus, he gave attendees a taste of his unique cuisine with his infamous “Kandy Kake Sliders,” a dish created to raise awareness of the Tastykake’s impending bankruptcy. These burgers of ground brisket are topped with white cheddar cheese and a mixture of Sriracha hot sauce and sour-cherry jam, all sandwiched between two chocolate peanut butter Kandy Kakes. For Levin, the idea was simply Adsum as “a small Philadelphia business helping a brother out.”

Foodie Week ended on a sweet note with John Suh and Franklin Shen from Sugar Philly, who brought Granny Smith apple-topped cheesecake and chocolate Earl Grey tea macaroons to satisfy taste buds. The duo explained how their gourmet dessert food truck evolved as a complement to current Penn food trucks. As a Penn graduate, Shen wanted to pioneer a whole new market that wasn’t in competition with the veteran food trucks he had come to know and love during his college years. After focusing on their menu by pulling chef Dan Tang on board to elevate “the caliber of their desserts extremely high,” they zoned in on the added usage of social media. Having both a physical storefront and online storefront was a way to “establish the identity of their product” and extend their reach outside Philadelphia. Suh described how Sugar Philly’s social media allows for “a intimate, more personal conversation between the business and customer,” a process he dubs as “co-innovation.”

This “constant exchange of feedback and inspiration for new products” is a tactic that all future restaurants seem to be adopting, as evidenced by the various restaurateurs and chefs that visited Penn to share their knowledge about the food industry. Social media is this generation’s newest, most used form of communication and is ultimately rooted in how you represent yourself to the rest of the world.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Blog Bites: A Round-Up of the Week's Top Food Stories

Sweetgreen opened on Tuesday, the DP has the inside scoop here

Daily Pennsylvanian columnist professes her love of Potbelly Sandwich Shop

• Speaking of sandwiches, Penn Prof Arthur Caplan had a letter to the editor published over at drawing attention to Saveur magazine's ranking of Philadelphia as the number one sandwich city

34th Street dishes on Spring Fling's best fried eats and gives a recipe if you dare to try deep frying yourself

The Daily Pennsylvanian recaps the Japanese Student Association's Iron Chef-inspired cooking challenge

Owner of Desi Chaat House in West Philly plans to open Mood Café at a corner space at 46th and Baltimore in mid-May - Meal Ticket

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Foodzie Tasting Box - A Gift to Self!

For those of you who love trying new foods, who love supporting small food producers, and who can spare $19.99 a month (which includes shipping!), one of the best things you can do is gift yourself a monthly Tasting Box from Foodzie.

I stumbled across Foodzie some time ago, and I thought it was a great online marketplace -- with a very attractive interface, nice search options (particularly by category and region -- with a map!), and a large variety of small food producers.

When I recommended one of my favorite food items, Marilyn's Nut Butters, as a possible addition to their long and inviting list of deliciousness, I received a speedy reply back with a lovely thank you and a gift of a Tasting Box! Not only did this reflect great customer service, but also really smart marketing. When I received my box, I was thrilled to find lime green tissue paper. Packaging is key, and a simple color choice brightened up my day -- and I hadn't even gotten to the food yet!

As soon as I made it past the paper, I was delighted to find a slew of small packages, ranging from mini-cupcakes (from Kyotofu in New York -- which I know and love), to smoky nuts and dried fruit, to granola bars and organic tea. My favorite item was actually a little jar of caramel, which I tried to save for ice cream, but proceeded to consume all of in a matter of minutes.

The best thing about the Tasting Box is really the surprise element. You never know what you're going to get, so it's pretty much like opening a gift to self every month! Nevertheless, you're inevitably going to get a nice variety of sweet and savory. And because everything comes in small sample sizes, it's easy to try a bit of everything without overindulging!

For anything that you might want more of, every Tasting Box comes with a little card spelling out what each item is and where it's from, so that you can purchase larger sizes through Foodzie.

While you can choose to purchase a single box or a monthly subscription, I think everyone deserves a little surprise once a month. (Don't you?) Better yet, you can gift the subscription to someone you love!
Check out Foodzie at -- you won't regret it!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Spring Produce

With spring upon us, look out for these seasonal vegetables and fruits at grocery stores:

  • Artichoke
  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli
  • Lettuce
  • Mangoes
  • Pineapple
  • Rhubarb
  • Spring peas
  • Zucchini
  • Apricot
  • Artichoke
  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli
  • Cherries
  • Lettuce
  • Okra
  • Pineapple
  • Rhubarb
  • Spring peas
  • Tomato
  • Zucchini

And for those who prefer to stick to local produce, check out farmers' markets for these upcoming seasonal foods in Pennsylvania:
  • Asparagus
  • Collards
  • Fiddlehead Ferns
  • Leaf Lettuce
  • Mesclun Lettuce
  • Mushrooms
  • Radishes
  • Ramps
  • Rhubarb
  • Peas
  • Spinach

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Bloggers' Bites: Italian Market

Bloggers' Bites is a series of posts chronicling the foodie adventures of Penn Appetit's blog staff. Last Saturday we visited the Italian Market for lunch, dessert and shopping at Paesano's Philly Style sandwiches, DiBruno Brothers, and Isgro Pastries (open since 1904 and home to "Philly's Best Cannoli). 

This was my first time having sandwich from Paesano's, and while I wasn't blown away by my choice, I was surely impressed. I got the Liveracce, which, according to their website, contains"Crispy Chicken Livers with Salami, Sauteed Onions, Iceberg, Roasted Tomatoes, Garlic mayo, Sweet Orange Marmalade, Gorgonzola Spread & Hot Sauce. The blackboard at the restaurant had omitted the salami from the description, so I was very surprised to see the deep-fried livers enveloped in another layer of crispy meat -- the salami had been grilled or roasted for an extra crunch. Then again, there were no roasted tomatoes in sight, and comparatively little iceberg in comparison to the other ingredients, so on the whole the sandwich was very heavy. The dominant flavor seemed to be that of the garlic mayo, but I thought the orange marmalade provided a very pleasant, refreshing sweetness to offset the rest. Next time, I think I will get the pulled pork with broccoli rabe, because it looked simply delicious.

For dessert, we all went to Isgro on Christian St., where I got another "first ever" -- a mascarpone cannolo, both ends of which had been dipped in chocolate. For $4.75, I was a bit underwhelmed -- it was pretty tasty at first, but it becomes very heavy after a few bites, and I probably wouldn't get it again. But I am definitely coming back to Isgro to try some of their other creations -- if I had not decided I would get a cannolo, I would have spent a huge amount of time trying to decide on a treat, because everything looks equally decadent there -- from the biscotti to the creme brulee with fruit on top.

I would also like to share my astonishment at the sinfully cheap produce at the Italian Market -- I got six blood oranges for a dollar, and 1.5 pounds of tomatoes for $2.25! If I'd had more cash (and room), maybe some blueberries, iceberg lettuce and a box of mangoes would've followed. But next time -- for sure. --Zhana Sandeva

Entering the Italian Market for the first time is sensory overload. Whether you’re observing whole pig heads hanging in the butcher’s windows, hearing the cries of vendors highlighting various vegetables for sale, or smelling the delicious amalgam of scents that permeates the entire area, you know you’re in a whole new world. Our first stop was at Paesano’s, where I was impressed by the throngs of post-lunch-rush people that filed in when we were there. I split their namesake sandwich with fellow blogger Jessica. Any respectable sandwich starts with good bread, and Paesano’s roll was excellent: chewy in consistency and perfect for mopping up any dripping juices. I easily could have eaten just the bread! The various flavors and textures from the moist beef brisket, roasted tomatoes, pepperincino, and sharp provolone played off one another just right, with a fried egg acting as the ideal binding agent (who knew an egg could have such a magical effect?). Overall, this was one extremely well-balanced and absolutely delicious sandwich.

Of course, no trip to the Italian Market would be complete without trying dolces. While I’ve never been a big cannoli lover, Isgro Pastries made a fan out of me. After deep consideration on which one to select (there were at least five different varieties), I tried one of their mascarpone cannoli. The shell had a delightful crunch and reminded me of a fresh waffle cone. The rich, thick filling was complemented by generous drizzles of chocolate; I particularly liked the filling’s sweeter nature, a welcome change from the usual ricotta-filled version. I also enjoyed some of Isgro’s other pastries, including a napoleon (the flaky layers of crisp puff pastry contrasted well with the tiers of sweet cream filling, although I wish it had strawberries or other type of fruit inside), the “Chocolate Volcano” (a chocolate brownie piled with velvety chocolate mousse, all enrobed in chocolate ganache; while certainly chocolatey, I found the “mousse to brownie” ratio too heavy on the mousse side), and signature Italian cookies.

With all its delicious food options, the Italian Market is simply beckoning me to come back. While it takes some time to get there via SEPTA from campus, it is well worth the trip! --Nicole Woon

Paesano's has a friendly, no-fuss atmosphere. The menu is written on chalkboards hung above the counter; the walls lined with hangings depicting the culinary regions of Italy. There are families and children, some tourists and mostly locals. Though they've bested Bobby Flay in a beef brisket throwdown, there's no hint of the pretentious here: the only mention of it is a scrawled message on one of the blackboards: "Watch us on the Food Network!" I split the Arista sandwich: provolone, suckling pig, and broccoli rabe on a sesame roll. Of course, the bread was amazing ( I overheard one woman explaining to her out-of-town friend that this bread wasn't like those down south; it was much, much better), but biting into this sandwich is best described in terms of the meat. It was possibly the juiciest pork I've ever had, cooked without losing any of its natural moisture. The melted provolone was sharp enough to contrast with the savory flavors of the broccoli rabe and the hot peppers. This is a messy, greasy sandwich, and I ended up eating part of it with a fork because so much spilled onto the napkin. Next time, I want to try the roasted potatoes side (according to one customer, the best way to spend $2 in Philadelphia).

But I was particularly excited to try the cannoli at Isgro, cannoli being one of my favorite desserts. I was eager to compare it to the hazelnut cannoli I'd had at Mike's Pastry in Boston's North End. On the way in, a woman walking by remarked, "Ah, it smells like icing," which is true: the place seems enveloped in a cloud of sugar. It's a small shop, and it was very crowded when we got there. There aren't any prices listed, which is something of a problem if you only have cash and you're forced to order quickly. I ordered the chocolate chip cannoli, and though it was good, I was disappointed. The filling wasn't sweet or thick enough, and the shell was crumbly. --Kiley Bense

Photos taken by Nicole Woon.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Best Spaghetti I Ever Ate

I have a habit of going to the gym and heading straight for the machines right in front of whatever TV is set to the Food Network Channel. I frantically memorize everything I learn and try (and sometimes fail) to piece things together as soon as I’m back to my computer. Some days I even take things so far that I stop at the grocery store on my way home for ingredients so I can try my new recipe as soon as I’m back in the kitchen.
On one of these days, after catching a part of “The Best Thing I Ever Ate!” I raced from the gym to Fresh Grocer to purchase six simple ingredients and try out the spaghetti recipe I had just learned.

Having never made spaghetti from scratch, I was thrilled to start with such a delicious recipe. My friends and I became obsessed with this spaghetti over the next few weeks and repeated the recipe over and over again. We appreciated the basic ingredients and the simple, fresh-tasting entrée they produced. 


Fresh Basil
Clove of Garlic
Olive Oil
Stewed or fresh tomatoes
Spaghetti Pasta
Grated Parmesan Cheese


Drain the stewed tomatoes of excess juice and blend in a food processor or blender. If using fresh tomatoes, remove the skin, chopped roughly and drain before processing.
Combine chopped basil and olive oil in a large saucepan. Roughly chop the garlic clove into a few pieces and add it to the mixture. Heat on low long enough that the basil wilts, but not long enough that the garlic burns. Remove the cloves of garlic with a fork and add the blended tomatoes. Stir until well mixed.
Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a rolling boil and begin to cook the spaghetti pasta. When the pasta is almost cooked, remove from heat and drain. Add the partially cooked spaghetti to the mixture in the saucepan. Keep this mixture simmering until the pasta is fully cooked. This helps the sauce stick to the pasta.
If desired, add grated Parmesan cheese to thicken the sauce and alter the flavor and texture of the spaghetti.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Take Me Out To The Ball Game

It's springtime, which in 2011 means the Fightin' Phils and their fans are out in full force in South Philadelphia at Citizens Bank Park. Ever since Citizens Bank Park replaced Veterans' Stadium, Phillies fans have enjoyed some of the best ballpark food in the country as well as some of the best baseball.

Though Philadelphia is known primarily as a meat-loving city, its ballpark has plenty of options for everyone, leading PETA to vote CBP the #1 baseball stadium, and I will review some of these places in a series, including the details of when to get food (depending on what type of fan you are) and how long the lines are. I'll also eventually go into good places to pick up food before the game - even if you don't have a car.

The stadium has one main area for specialized foods called Ashburn Alley, (named after the late Hall of Fame player and announcer Richie Ashburn) which sits behind the outfield and bullpen and has a beer garden on its rooftop. The more generic Philadelphia foods are spread around the rest of the park with a couple of unique stands scattered here and there, such as in the Left Field Plaza/behind Section 139, which holds the Alley Grill, a Brewerytown, and the Schmitter.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Insatiable Journalist Part 5: Glamorous Beyond Anything

Number 61 on my Life List is "go to a gala." Tucked between "hike in a rain forest" and "sing karaoke," it represents the modern day lingering of any Disney Princess fantasy I might have indulged as a child and a desire to have some sort of standard for knowing when I'd really "made it."

Well, consider it "made." On Thursday I attended the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts opening night gala at the Kimmel Center. It was the second time in the past week that I got all dressed up to air-kiss and make small talk with Philly's high society.

It started on Tuesday night. Chef Georges Perrier was the guest of honor at the Flavors of Philadelphia dinner benefiting the American Liver Foundation. Since Georges was going to be there, so was I. The event started, naturally, with a cocktail hour that was much more about schmoozing than it was about eating. Sponsors like It's a Cupcake served up bite-sized savory options such as cornbread topped with pulled pork and the like. Chef Perrier arrived surprisingly early, inspiring Patti to ditch our conversation and chase after him calling "Chef! Chef!"

I presume she eventually tracked him down but by then dinner was being served up inside the Loews Hotel Millennium Ballroom. A series of tables formed about a dozen semi-circles around the room. At the break in each circle a cooking show style mini prep station was manned by head chefs from respectable restaurants around the city. I was at the Le Castagne table where Chef Brian Wilson served up asparagus topped with a poached egg, mushroom risotto and seared Ahi Tuna. Everything was delicious - the mushroom risotto in particular made the whole event worthwhile - and paired with a selection of wines that even my unsophisticated palate appreciated.

Chef Perrier made a brief speech thanking the organization for the honor and recognizing the participating his own unique way ("I hate chu! Chu zteal all my buziness!" he said of the French chef in attendance).

Two days later, I joined Georges, Patti, Mayor Nutter, and 850 of the best-dressed Philadelphians at the Kimmel Center to celebrate the first ever PIFA. This year is Parisian themed which means first, that Le Bec-Fin and Chef Perrier are the center of the epicurean component and second, that there was a crepe cart and an overwhelmingly decadent display of French pastries set out during the cocktail hour.

The event was glamorous beyond anything I've ever witnessed in real life. I sipped champagne and wondered about the relevance of jugglers and stilt-walkers while a quartet serenaded the black-tie attendees. In due time, we filed into the vaulted Verizon Hall to witness Chef Perrier receive the festival’s first annual Cculinary Visionary Award and settled in for a joint performance by the Philadelphia Orchestra and Pennsylvania Ballet.

The only drawback was that at $750 a pop for tickets, my press pass didn't cover the Wolfgang Puck catered dinner. Fortunately, a press lounge and the light show featured on the replica Eiffel Tower kept me sufficiently entertained long enough to witness the aerial acrobatics (performers suspended from the ceiling scaled the Kimmel Center walls and danced at a gravity-defying impossible angle) over dessert.

I'll be heading back to the Kimmel Center on Monday for the press welcoming of the eleven chefs from France paired with French chefs around Philly for the duration of the PIFA celebration. And even though I missed out on dinner on Thursday, I've heard a rumor that Wolfgang Puck will be catering this press event as well.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Blog Bites: A Round-Up of the Week's Top Food Stories

34th Street takes on the Reading Terminal Market, picking its favorite eats, reviewing the Dutch Eating Place, and listing the top five mac and cheeses

Under the Button reports that Sweetgreen will open on Tuesday, April 12

• Both The Daily Pennsylvanian and The Feast blog go behind the scenes with the Boba Bros of TBowl

• Check out Penn student Hannah Bender's food blog, Live to Eat - Philadelphia

Kitchen at Penn is this week's CrowdQuest deal - buy yours before the deal expires on Monday!

Penn Gastronomy Club muses on ice cream sundaes and Pamcakes Cupcakery (check out a Penn Appétit blogger's thoughts on Pamcakes here)

Midtown Lunch reviews campus establishment Copabanana's many burger options

Meal Ticket reports on Sweetbox, a new cupcake truck coming to University City

Uwishunu rounds up their favorite Philly food trucks

• The politics of food: famed food journalist Mark Bittman recognizes Philadelphia as a progressive food city - The New York Times

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Maple Oat Scones

In need of a delicious, homemade and portable breakfast, I decided that I needed to make a batch of scones. Since maple is one of my favorite flavors (and aromas), I settled on adapting a recipe from Smitten Kitchen, combining the sweetness of maple syrup with the texture of rolled oats. It's a straightforward recipe (if you bake at all you probably have most of the ingredients in your pantry already). If you don't think you'll be able to finish one batch before they go stale, you can also freeze them and they'll keep for weeks.


2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon table salt
3/4 cups butter
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup milk


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine flour, oats, baking powder, sugar and salt. Cut butter into pieces and use a pastry blender to to work the butter into the flour until it resembles pea-sized crumbs. Add milk and maple syrup to the flour and use your hands to make the dough. You can add additional milk if it feels too dry. Roll the dough into a ball and flatten it into a circle, and then use a knife to cut it into wedges. Lay the scones on a greased baking pan, brush with milk (or egg) and sprinkle with sugar.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Paesano's Philly Style

W­hen my friend invited me on a random Tuesday afternoon trip to an off-campus sandwich place, I jumped at the opportunity. While I love Penn, I’m always happy to take a short break from this microcosm of very stressed-out kids. We headed to ‘Paesano’s Philly Style’ to try the sandwiches that Philadelphia Magazine suggested, “just may be the best sandwiches in the city.”

After arriving in Northern Liberties, we wandered up a lonely, unpopulated W Girard Avenue in search of Paesano’s. Luckily we noticed a little, yellow row house with "Paesano’s" etched in the window. We walked into what almost literally a hole in the wall. The tiny sandwich shop featured a narrow kitchen area adjacent to a countertop with 6 bar wobbly bar stools on the other side. The two cooks chopped meat and vegetables on the smooth stove top and pleasantly bantered with the men, who I assumed to be regulars, sitting at the counter.

A blackboard with the menu hung over the kitchen. My mouth watered as I read the sandwich selection: the Arista with whole roasted suckling pig, Italian long hots, broccoli rabe, and sharp provolone, the Gustario with house-made lamb sausage, sun-dried cherry mustarda, gorgonzola spread, roasted fennel, and would I choose? The menu’s list of side orders manifested the restaurant’s Italian roots. It featured potato arrosto, which appeared to be french fries, and crispelle, a crepe with nutella and marmalade.

My friend ordered the Zawzeech sandwich with sweet Italian sausage, caramelized peppers and onions, sharp provolone, and pepperoncino. I decided to go with the restaurant’s namesake and opted for the Paesano. We fidgeted at the counter as we waited, watching impatiently as the friendly cook added layer after layer of ingredients to our sandwiches. Finally, he added the finishing touch fried egg to my sandwich and set it in front of me on a thin piece of wax paper.

My sandwich featured beef brisket, horseradish mayo, roasted tomatoes, pepperoncino, sharp provolone, and fried egg. As I bit into it, the horseradish, egg yolk, and oil blended everything together into a succulent mess. While I ate my savory sandwich my friend enjoyed his sweeter sandwich. I started to guess how many calories I was consuming in one meal, but changed my mind and tallied things in terms of how many calories I was consuming for a small $8 price. This sandwich was a lot of bang for a buck, and it was phenomenal!

After leaving a generous tip, we turned to go and noticed the far wall of the restaurant for the first time. On it hung various photographs: pictures of a large, pink pig lovingly snuggled against people and, much to my horror, a picture of piglets, that would have otherwise been adorable, covered in seasoning and placed in a pan. I quietly said thanks that I hadn’t noticed the pictures before eating.

Nevertheless, I vowed to return again to try more sandwiches and maybe even investigate the story behind the pictures. The small eatery certainly had character and I had just enjoyed one of the best sandwiches of my life.

152 W Girard Ave
Philadelphia PA 19123

Thursday, April 7, 2011

TBowl: New Eatery on the Block

When I saw that Taglio's would be shutting down, I was pretty sad--I actually liked their rectangularly-sliced, oven-baked pizza. It was pretty inexpensive, too; the prices had been continuously going down throughout its existence. However, I was also quite excited about the emergence of a new restaurant. TBowl was supposed to serve rice bowls and offer bubble tea as well.

It took a surprisingly short time (perhaps 2-3 weeks) for TBowl to open after Taglio's closed down. I went on its opening day around 4:45 p.m. to try the bubble tea. The only flavor offered was the regular milk tea, which was not outstanding, but not bad, either. I went back with a friend two days after to try the rice bowl. First, you can choose between long-grained white rice and brown rice. Second, you choose from the wide variety of veggies. Then, you pick the "protein"--chicken or tofu (I got both). Finally, the you choose the sauce. I chose the ginger sauce, but the server there told us that the most popular once is lemon goddess, which my friend got. The bowl is taken into the kitchen to be stir-fried. The bowl itself is $3.95, the vegetable add-in $0.95/scoop, and the protein $1.95; my bowl ended up being a little over $8. I saw that the restaurant was offering coffee with bubbles now, so my friend and I ordered that as well. Our tab was around $13 each.

My friend and I sat at the table waiting for out bowls to come out, drinking out coffee with bubbles. After finishing half of it, my stomach started to turn--it was way too sweet. Way, way too sweet. My friend felt the same, and when our bowls came out, we were already feeling a little sick. Still, we thought the bowls themselves were pretty good. The ingredients were fresh and the sauce was a great addition (even though initially I thought adding what looked like salad dressing to rice was a little odd). I liked my friend's lemon goddess sauce; it added zest to the dish. I felt that I would have enjoyed the meal better if my tastes had not been partially numbed by the deluge of sugar I had consumed. One of the servers came over to ask how we thought about the coffee, and we told him that it had too much sugar for our liking. He thanked us, said that he is taking various opinions, and that the restaurant will eventually have more flavors for bubble tea.

The portion was very generous--neither I nor my guy friend could finish it, but it could be because our stomachs were not functioning normally at the time after such a strong drink. Then maybe the restaurant took our opinion and made it less sweet. I will be sure to go back again.

3716 Spruce St
Philadelphia PA 19104

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Kiwi Froyo Preceptorial- A Sweet Talk and Sweet Treat

There is nothing like a delicious cup of frozen yogurt to brighten up my day. It is the perfect treat for any time of day in any type of weather (yes, I LOVE ice cream/froyo in cold weather!). I particularly enjoy the freedom to choose my own flavors and toppings and make a different creation every time I get a cup. I come from the West Coast where the craze originated, so I’m definitely a froyo connoisseur. I was surprised to find out that the dining halls didn’t have soft-serve ice cream machines (rather, the hard “scoopable” kind), so I was even happier to discover Kiwi while exploring campus one day. My usual cup is filled with their creamy cookies n’ cream, milk chocolate, and peanut butter froyo, topped with pleasantly chewy mochi and refreshing fruit. When I first found out about the Kiwi Frozen Yogurt preceptorial, I jumped at the chance to sign up. In addition to hearing the story behind Kiwi, the talk would conclude with discounted froyo at the Kiwi on 36th and Chestnut. The sweet talk and sweet treat made this preceptorial a sweet deal—I couldn’t wait!

For Ryan and Matt Mealey, the sister-and-brother duo that own Kiwi, entrepreneurship has always been in the family. Their grandfather started a retail furniture company in northeast Philadelphia more than 40 years ago, wanting to offer customers a wide selection of affordable furnishings with the novel concept of same-day delivery. Today, Mealey’s Furniture has five locations in Philadelphia and New Jersey and runs their business with customers as their number one priority. Working at the store helped Ryan and Matt understand how to become successful: “constantly evolve your business model; have steadfast determination, drive, and faith; and ultimately be happy at the end of the day.”

Nowadays, their lives revolve around frozen yogurt. They first realized the opportunities of a frozen yogurt shop when they visited their uncle in California in December 2008, a time when the ice cream alternative was becoming wildly popular. While they initially considered opening a franchise, they wanted a greater challenge; as Matt explained, they “wanted to start from scratch and have the chance to compete with national brands.” Whether they were choosing the location of their first store or negotiating prices for frozen yogurt ingredients, Ryan and Matt experienced many triumphs and hardships in the process. The hardest part? “Choosing the name!” Matt said, “At one point, there were at least fifty potential names.” Ryan later explained that they settled on Kiwi because it was “catchy and short.” Additionally, kiwis are one of the most nutrient-dense fruits, a fact that aligns with the business’ promotion of healthy eating and froyo as a nutritious dessert choice and alternative to ice cream.

It was a long road, but Ryan and Matt finally opened their first store on June 19, 2009, at their Cherry Hill location. Business boomed after their grand opening; Kiwi now operates five locations and plans to open two more in the next year. What constantly drives them is their goal of “creating a unique experience that is fresh, flavorful, and fun for guests while always maintaining a high level of quality customer service.” They are dedicated to making an experience at Kiwi the highlight of the customer’s day; this devotion to their public certainly has customers constantly coming back for more. Ryan fondly recalls overhearing a child at Kiwi’s Collegeville location say, “Mommy, can we please live at Kiwi?”

Kiwi is not just a job to Ryan and Matt—it is a lifestyle. “I go to sleep thinking about Kiwi and wake up thinking about Kiwi,” Matt commented. While they inevitably have to make sacrifices, both Ryan and Matt agree that the experience has been completely rewarding and worth it every step of the way. Matt sums it up the best: “When you open your own business, it’s a greater feeling than anything else. I never imagined that I would one day see people walking around my college campus [at Penn State] carrying cups with the logo of our business. It is absolutely invigorating to start from nothing and create something that countless people enjoy.”

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

On Casual Dining: Beginning

I didn’t grow up going out to eat often. I am the oldest of four, and not of a family wealthy by American standards. We went out to Olive Garden, Bertucci’s, and Chili’s for special occasions, and loved the bottomless breadsticks, salads, and chips. I don’t recall having been to a restaurant that wasn’t a chain before high school. This year, as a Penn freshman, eating out most weekends has been a new and strange experience. I haven’t spent over $15 on food for one yet, and I’m not sure when I’ll be able to brace myself to do so.

From Wawa hoagies to White Dog is a big leap. I haven’t much experience to draw on when discussing food, and I’m not qualified to write a restaurant review. I’m tempted to rag on fine dining sometimes. Rather than doing so, though, I want to argue the virtues of littler, humbler experiences which I think are undervalued and often underrepresented. I want to find the people, restaurants, and places that are using food to facilitate conversation, community, and real life.

Those are the ways in which I first saw food, through my mother’s cooking for my family and for our friends. She does well. She has been known on our block for her desserts since our first summer here, and I’ve always been proud of that. It’s an accomplishment, I think, to surprise and amaze people with average foods. She does chocolate-chip oatmeal cookies like nobody’s business.

Last weekend I took a friend home for a short visit. “I like your house,” she said. “People live here!” It’s true. There are books, shoes, and keys everywhere. “It’s not,” my friend explained, “like Better Homes and Gardens, but it’s not messy. It’s homey.” The books are on shelves, the shoes in a heap, and the keys are never lost. My home, like our food, isn’t careless and it’s not pretentious. It’s unassuming and doesn’t need to be. It’s humble, but it’s nothing ordinary. I want to make, eat, and argue for food like that.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Fathom Seafood House

Fathom Seafood House, the latest venture from Fish and Little Fish chef/owner Mike Stollenwerk, sits on the unlikely corner of Girard and Shackamaxon in Fishtown. It is, of course, totally appropriate to have a seafood restaurant in a neighborhood with so much fishy history, but Fishtown isn’t generally known for upscale dining. Fathom strikes a perfect balance with unique twists on quality ingredients.

Fathom is tiny, containing just a few tables surrounding the sleek and simple bar. The open kitchen lends a sense of continuity and homeiness, and the service corresponds. We arrived during happy hour and our bartender, Amy, worked with the cooks to whip up a couple of $4 oyster shooters spiked with hot sauce. I’ll be the first to admit that oysters make me a little nervous, but I want to like them, so I dove right in – and they were delicious. The other happy hour special is $2 PBR, and Fathom boasts a nice little draft list, including a line dedicated to Harpoon’s rare 100 Barrel series. Fathom’s cocktail list is small but smart, and includes a fantastic Lemon Basil drink, Mint Iced Tea, and a gin-and-grapefruit concoction called the Salty Dog.

Fathom offers several raw oyster selections from both coasts, accompanied by a trio of sauces. We started with Misty Point oysters from Virginia, which were large, plump, and deliciously briny. The New England Tomahawk oysters were slightly smaller and a little chewier, with a clean, bright finish. I ordered a few littleneck clams to follow the oysters; the first one was unusually small and slightly suspicious in flavor, but the others were beautifully, aggressively salty and slid right down with a touch of mignonette on top. We were enjoying our bivalves so much that we added a few of the fantastic salt-poached shrimp onto our order. They were gorgeous, large, tender and perfectly cleaned, with a mild flavor that was neither too briny nor too fishy.

We continued our odyssey through the menu with the lobster grilled cheese, a buttery sandwich of fresh, meaty lobster layered with melted Fontina. Seafood and cheese together can be tricky, but this was sheer heaven. The crispy sourdough did an admirable job holding and complementing the rich, gooey insides. I’ve been dreaming about this sandwich ever since our visit. We followed it with the slightly less memorable smoked marlin tacos; the flavor of the shredded fish was spot on, but the texture was just a little too creamy. I was hoping for more heat from the pickled jalapeños, but then again, I’m always wishing for more spice in my food.

Next came the Crab Louie: large hunks of incredibly fresh, chewy crab, tempura-battered and fried, served with a spicy aioli. The batter was light and crispy, not too greasy, and the flavor of the crab managed to shine right through. Amazing. The kitchen sent us some cod pierogies to round out the meal, a nice touch fit for the neighborhood’s Polish background. The dough was just a little on the dry side, but the cod was lovely, and the little half-moons were accented with sweet onions and bacon. Like so many of Fathom’s dishes, it was a smart, cheeky way to make Stollenwerk’s beautiful seafood a little more accessible.

Fishtown is a bit of a hike, but Stollenwerk and chef Rob Holloway have created a space worthy of a sketchy subway ride. I can’t wait to go back and try the rest of the menu.

Fathom Seafood House
200 E Girard Ave
Philadelphia PA 19125

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Blog Bites: A Round-Up of the Week's Top Food Stories

The Daily Pennsylvanian covers the opening of TBowl at 3716 Spruce

34th Street lists a few eateries that could aptly supply a spring picnic outing

...and photographs some favorite Philly eats

PGC muses about the easiest way to prepare eggs for a college student

Philly Homegrown profiles the cupcake lady behind the Buttercream cupcake truck, which often frequents UCity

Some area restaurant owners are not fans of Groupon - Philadelphia Magazine

The Inquirer's Craig Laban reviews Dandelion, the newest Stephen Starr restaurant

Uwishunu rounds up their top Philly waffle picks in celebration of International Waffle Day

• The politics of food: The New York Times investigates the poor eating habits of Philadelphia children

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Food Events @ Penn

What: MUSE Foodie Week
Who: Marketing Undergraduate Students Establishment (MUSE) and Penn Gastronomy Club (PGC)
Where: Huntsman Hall
When: Monday, April 4 - Thursday, April 7
Cost: Free

MUSE proudly presents an entire week of food events in relation to marketing! Meet locally renowned restaurants including Pat's King of Steaks, Sweetgreen, Adsum, and Sugar Philly Truck throughout the week! Come out and stimulate your taste buds while hearing from some of the most accomplished restaurant owners and chefs in Philadelphia!

Pat's King of Steaks
Monday, April 4, 6 pm, JMHH 250
Start MUSE’s Foodie week with Pat’s Cheesesteaks! Come grab a FREE PAT’S CHEESESTEAK and listen to Frank Olivieri, Pat’s current owner, speak about Pat's overall brand management and marketing campaigns. Don’t miss out on this once in a lifetime opportunity!

Tuesday, April 5, 6 pm, JMHH 260
Ever wonder where your food comes from? Come meet Sweetgreen, the newest addition to the Penn eatery scene, and hear about their sustainable ingredient sourcing. Exclusive pre-opening FREE DINNER at Sweetgreen following the presentation.

Wednesday, April 6, 6 pm, JMHH F90
Ever wondered what Molecular Gastronomy is? Continue MUSE’s Foodie Week with Matt Levin, who is the executive chef of Adsum. He will discuss his journey from chef to restaurateur and the fascinating world of molecular gastronomy.

Sugar Philly Truck
Thursday, April 7, 6 pm, JMHH 255
HAVE A SWEET TOOTH FOR MARKETING AND DESSERTS? Wrap up MUSE Foodie Week with Sugar Philly Truck's co-founder, John Suh. John will talk about how he has utilized social media to exemplify marketing in the 21st century. You will have a special taste-testing of many of Sugar Philly Truck's delectable desserts!

What: Come and listen to the inspiring stories of the founders of Gia Pronto & TBowl, Kiwi Frozen Yogurt, and Boba Bros as they discuss their startups in the food business
Who: Phi Gamma Nu
Where: Huntsman Hall 85
When: Wednesday, April 6, 5:30-730pm
Cost: Free food samples and bubble tea will be provided

What: a 12 hour event to increase cancer awareness and raise money for research, featuring performances from Penn Masala and Off the Beat and with free food from
Maggianos, Qdoba, Cosi, New Style Pizza, Allegros, Powelton Pizza, and Wildflower Bakery
Who: Penn Relay for Life
Where: Franklin Field
When: April 8-9, 8pm-8am
Go to for more information.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Insatiable Journalist Part 4: Time to Start From the Beginning

I didn't have any crazy adventures with Chef Perrier or Chef Elmi or even Patti the PR woman since the last time I've posted. Don't get me wrong, it's not like I haven't been working on "LBF: the Life and Times" - my faux working title until I get a better idea of the story's arc. Quite the contrary. There have been interviews to transcribe and logistics to maneuver for the remaining visits and, oh yeah, a 7000 word story to consider.

Some of the best experiences are (I hope!) yet to come. But as excited as I am, I'm trying to go against character here and not indulge my giddiness by spilling all the details before they're worked out. Instead, I figured it's about time that I gave this crazy guy who flirts uncontrollably and smokes in the kitchen some context, the sort of context that explains why, in spite of those idiosyncrasies, he is one of the most well-respected men in the city.

Local legend remembers him as the man responsible for Philadelphia’s Restaurant Renaissance in the 1970s and since then for maintaining a standard that refuses to let Philly’s food scene be reduced to cheesesteaks and tastykakes. Recent years have seen Le Bec-Fin falter under the weight of economic realities and critics who don’t think people should have to spend a fortune or put on a jacket and tie just to eat out. The young crowd with new money doesn’t want to celebrate the hallmark moments of their lives at the same old restaurant on Walnut with the overbearing chandeliers and gilding that recalls the ballroom on the Titanic, where their parents and grandparents dined out in their best pearls and cufflinks. With the ethos that newer is better sweeping the nation and hot celebrity chefs opening “concept” restaurants it seemed that the short French chef with the even shorter temper might be reduced to a relic, or worse, a joke.

Eventually, despite lightening the dress code and holding promotions to defray the costs of dinning there, even the notoriously stubborn and self-assured Georges Perrier couldn’t ignore that with big names like Stephen Starr, Jose Garces, and Marc Vetri offering patrons a dinning experience that is hipper, younger, and sexier that the once-classic Le Bec-Fin was becoming obsolete. Last July, Georges Perrier announced that after forty years, Le Bec-Fin would be closing the upcoming May. That is, until he changed his mind.

In perfect Perrier style, he announced the non-closing on New Year's Eve to so much fanfare that it doesn’t take much of a cynic to infer why the line cooks rolled their eyes at any mention of the potentially tragic closing. Maybe they knew something the rest of us didn’t and had reason to retrospectively not take the would-have-been loss of a job seriously. But just because the foodies of Philly let out a sigh of relief on January 1st and tsk tsked the rest of the city to respect their elders doesn’t mean the scene is changing. Le Bec-Fin is just as out of place amid the unpretentious BYOs and monthly new Starr creation as it was this time last year. Maybe the threat of closing and the slowly stabilizing economy is the wake-up call the city needs to reclaim her epicurean icon. But if LBF is to last another half a century--as Chef Perrier assures me it will--something’s got to change.

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