Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Vancouver Foodie Adventures

For my very first Thanksgiving outside of the United States since age one, I decided to schlep across multiple time zones to visit one of my dearest friends in Vancouver, British Columbia.

As a foodie, Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite holiday of the year, and I'm generally wont to cook (or at least contribute to) a lavish meal of epic proportions. That said, it's a *big deal* to be visiting a country that doesn't even celebrate Thanksgiving when I do -- and with no plans even to be cooking or baking! (I have to admit though that prepping a lavish meal of epic proportions is quite exhausting, so perhaps this trip was more of a blessing than a curse.)

DAY 1:

Upon arriving in downtown Vancouver via the super speedy SkyTrain, I decided that I was starving. After having nothing more than some dark chocolate peanut butter cups care of Justin's (OMG - DELICIOUS!) and several ChocoPods care of Chuao (perfect packages of chocolate goodness) from a chi-chi food vendor at the Seattle airport, I was in need of some serious eats.

My first stop was Jugo Juice, a Canadian juice and smoothie chain (reminiscent of my beloved Jamba Juice), where I picked up a refreshing Wacky Watermelon Snackin' Smoothie. With so many delicious foodie adventures awaiting me, I couldn't necessarily jump the gun on calories, so at 14 oz. and only 150 calories, this was the perfect way to kick off the afternoon.

A good strategy, especially since I proceeded to bump into the most amazing food truck outside the Vancouver Art Gallery -- Mom's Grilled Cheese. One of the few exceptions to my no-bread lifestyle is grilled cheese sandwiches, especially ones with BACON. For my order, I chose multi-grain bread, havarti cheese, and double-smoked bacon. After buttering and toasting my bread, letting my cheese melt, and crisping up my bacon, Cindy (the proprietor) handed me my sandwich, cut in half, and placed in a paper cone.

Despite my pangs of hunger, I tried to savor every bite, allowing my teeth to enjoy the multiple layers of texture and flavor -- the buttery crunch of the bread, the mild ooze of the havarti, and the salty crisp of the bacon. Before I knew it, the sandwich was gone, and to my surprise, I still had a bunch of homemade chips waiting for me at the bottom of the cone. And while I generally avoid anything associated with the white potato, I thought I'd indulge this once. The whole experience was phenomenal -- I only wish I'd had enough room in my stomach to try the rest of the menu.

As I wandered from downtown to Gastown, I came across the Juice Truck. Seeing as how I was still so full, I really didn't want to stop. Unfortunately, I simply can't resist sweet things, so I ended up picking up a cacao coconut bar to go. The staff made sure to let me know that the bar was raw, and that it could be left at room temperature for a few hours, but that it should probably be refrigerated for any time thereafter. I decided to take one bite, and then another, and then of course a few more. In a matter of minutes, the bar had vanished -- and my sweet tooth had been sated, by a fairly healthy-tasting bar no less. Are we surprised that I had no room for dinner?

DAY 2:

Allowing myself to sleep in a few hours the first night, I was more than ready for another day's worth of roaming. After some serious and focused putzing, I finally made my way out into the cold and windy drizzle that characterizes Vancouver in November. Upon my friend's recommendation, I decided to check out JapaDog, a hot dog-focused chain of carts and restaurants.

After making sure I had enough cash (the restaurant doesn't accept credit cards or large bills) and checking out their extensive hot dog menu, I decided to try the Okinomi, a hot dog made of Kurobuta pork, covered in bonito flakes, and drizzled in Japanese mayonnaise. As a pig lover, I couldn't resist ordering the pork. That said, it was really the bonito flakes and the Japanese mayonnaise that made the experience. The whole combination was like a party on the palate.

While I would've loved to try the dessert dogs with ice cream (like match green tea), I'd done a bit of Yelp research online, and I was dead set on trying the best ice cream in my friend's neighborhood of Yaletown. All reviews pointed to Yaletown Gelato, so despite the freezing rain, I decided I had to find the shop. Tucked away inside a smaller and quieter mall, I quickly made my way in to sample a variety of flavors.

Being a s'mores fan, I decided on the toasted marshmallow, a flavor akin to Capogiro's burnt sugar. For contrast, I went with the traditional panna, which tasted like a milder vanilla. The combination was perfect, as the toasted marshmallow seemed sweeter and richer in comparison to the panna. I certainly didn't need two scoops, but yet again, I couldn't really help myself. Overall, the gelato seemed denser than I've had elsewhere, and I might've preferred more air to lighten things up a bit.

After three hours at the local pool hall, an hour in the gym, and a hot shower, it was just about time for...Thanksgiving dinner! Because my friend had to work late, and because I was in no mood to cook while on vacation, we decided to have one of her favorites for dinner -- Phnom Penh, a Cambodian restaurant tucked away in Chinatown.

On a quiet street with no other lighted storefronts, the restaurant looked like a beacon of sorts. I'm thankful that we arrived before 9PM, because we were quickly ushered in and told that it was last call. Talk about providence. While the staff worked to find us a table, we had the chance to peruse some very thick menus. After debating how starving we were, how full we wanted to be, and how many dishes we wanted to try, we decided on: the deep fried chicken wings with lemon pepper dipping sauce, the lu lac (beef dish) with fried egg, and the lemongrass chicken. (My friend wanted to find a vegetable dish, but failed miserably.)

Seeing as how it was indeed Thanksgiving, some sort of poultry had to be part of the meal. And happily for us, we had two different version of chicken to enjoy that night. The chicken wings were hot, crispy, *and* juicy, with my friend falling head over heels for the dipping sauce. The lemongrass chicken though was by far my favorite, serving as a kicked-up version of teriyaki chicken -- less saucy, more seasoned. Beyond the chicken, the beef was well-seasoned, though a bit more saucy for me personally.

DAY 3:

Of all things to be thankful for, I was especially thankful that my friend had a day off on a gorgeous sunny day to explore Vancouver together. Seeing as how the weather report had predicted rain for the entire trip, we were keen on spending as many hours outside as possible.

We trekked through Yaletown and downtown, and skimmed the edge of Gastown, to check out the waterfront of the Burrard Inlet. The skyline on this side of town is particularly futuristic, as if pulled out of a science fiction movie set in some other time on some other planet. As we moved up toward Coal Harbour, we found the waterfront peppered with luxury yachts, modern houseboats, and seaplanes, bringing us back to our time if not our own lives.

Armed with our Starbucks drinks (with 18% coffee cream -- why doesn't the US have this?) and this season's Cranberry Bliss Bar, we made our way around the edge of Stanley Park, a piece of land with about eight kilometers of waterfront trail. We decided to trek out to Brockton Point and back (about four kilometers round-trip), and we got some great views of the skyline, alongside other walkers, runners, bikers, and rollerbladers. After checking out a military gun, a disappointing lighthouse, and some totem poles, we were ready for lunch.

From the park, my friend led us to the West End for Korean food at Jang Mo Jib. Between the two of us, we ordered a kim chi hot pot that arrived on a mobile burner. As my friend ladled out the hot soup, we realized that we got out fair share of kim chi, but not our fair share of beef. And at $25+, we were definitely disappointed at the lack of meat represented. In addition, the banchan (spread of complimentary small dishes) was quite limited.

Happily, this left room for delicious gelato from Gelarmony. (Who could resist stopping at a place with a name like that?) For a lighter option, I went with the lychee and passion fruit sorbetto. More so than the ones at Capogiro have ever been able to do, these sorbetto conveyed true fruit flavor -- as if I was biting straight into cold lychee and passion fruit. Mmmm....

After strolling further along the water from English Bay to False Creek, we decided to take an impromptu trip over to Granville Island via Aquabus. At $5.50 for a round-trip ticket, the price is rather steep. For a tourist, the trip is worth it, especially with the holiday season upon us. In addition to jewelry, glass, and clothes, we found shops that sold brooms (yes, brooms!) and totem poles (a bit of a check-in challenge).

Not surprisingly, my favorite stop was the Granville Island Public Market, a market akin to Reading Terminal, with lots of gourmet goodness -- fresh seafood, fresh produce, gourmet chocolates, and delicious pastries. Before we headed back across the water, my friend made sure we stopped by the Granville Island Tea Company, which supposedly has the best chai in Vancouver. My friend took hers with fresh grated ginger and cayenne pepper, while I took mine with ginger alone. An intense blend of tea, milk, and spices, and a lovely bit of ginger to chew in between sips.

To close out our night of feasting, we picked up my friend's husband and headed straight for Carolina style barbecue at Peckinpah in Gastown. Having passed by the restaurant earlier on in the week, I was dead set on coming back for the fried Mars bar noted on the list of dessert specials. And as a barbecue lover, I was ecstatic to try barbecue on this side of the border.

Of the various platters available, we went with the "Divorce" -- a half order of everything (beef brisket, beef short rib, pork ribs, pulled pork, jalapeno pork sausage), four sides (we decided on the Southern greens, creamed corn, baked beans, and coleslaw), and jalapeno cornbread. Thankfully, we didn't order more than that, because we were barely able to finish the voluminous amount of food that showed up at our table.

The beef short rib was by far the favorite of the night -- perfectly seasoned with dry rub, moist and tender, falling off the bone. While the beef brisket and pork sausage were both dry and grainy, the pork ribs and pulled pork were easily salvageable with a bit of Carolina style barbecue sauce and chili vinegar. On the other hand, all of the sides were delicious -- the Southern greens not too salty, the creamed corn not too sweet, the baked beans not too mushy, and the coleslaw not too creamy.

With the last bit of room in our stomachs, we ordered the fried Mars bar, which came warm and melting. While I'm a fan of any fried candy bar, I have to admit that nothing compares to the fried Twix bar from A Salt & Battery in New York. There's something about the crunch of the cookie that balances out the ooze of the chocolate. So while the fried Mars bar was delicious in terms of flavor, it came up short in terms of texture.

DAY 4:

After sleeping in a few extra hours, and getting in an intense Crossfit workout, I picked up a bit of caffeine at JJ Bean in the form of a delicate 6 oz. fresca medici -- a cool drink made with cream, honey, vanilla, ice, and two shots of espresso. Not only was it refreshing and not too sweet, but also perfectly sized, especially since American drinks are often larger than necessary. I also picked up a day-old pumpkin scone, which looked much better than it tasted. The coffee was deep and intense, but perhaps the baked goods should be left to the professionals.

For my final meal of the trip, I was treated to a lovely birthday dinner at Le Crocodile. With French being my favorite cuisine, I was absolutely ecstatic -- and even more after I'd tasted the food. As an amuse-bouche, we were presented with little tarts made with porcini mushrooms and goat cheese -- just enough crust, just enough egg, plenty of earthy mushroom flavor.

As my appetizer, I chose one of the appetizer specials -- a plate of foie gras that could've been seared a bit longer. For my entree, I went with the veal sweetbreads with black truffled foie gras cream sauce. The sweetbreads came perfectly browned, along with thin and crispy potato galettes. The cream sauce brought all of the textural elements together seamlessly.

As we prepped ourselves for dessert, we received a little scoop of pear sorbet to cleanse our palates. This set us up nicely for our passion fruit creme brulee (with passion fruit sorbet) and our lemon tart (with raspberry sorbet). The gooseberries that accompanied our dishes were absolutely bland and pointless, but the citrus in both dishes were lovely ways to end one of the best vacations to date.

Oh, Vancouver, you'll certainly be missed! What a splendid and scrumptious way to kick off another amazing year!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Penn Appétit's Issue Launch THIS WEDNESDAY!

Pre-Prohibition Cocktail Class with Jason Wilson

On Friday, November 18, Jason Wilson, the spirits columnist from the Washington Post, lead a class on Pre-Prohibition Cocktails at the Wine School of Philadelphia. Originally supposed to discuss and sample wine cocktails, the name of the class was changed by the Wine School a week before it was given to attract more people.
Arriving on Friday evening, every seat was full and people were eagerly anticipating both the drinks and Jason Wilson's impressive knowledge of liquors, cocktails, and their histories. Over the course of the night we had seven flights of drinks and were allowed to sample some of the ingredients in the cocktails. As we drank, Jason asked us what we thought about each cocktail, including any tastes or pairings (food or weather). We started off the evening with Light Guard Punch, which was a hot-weather punch. As we drank the punch, Jason gave us a background of the punch: since drink history is generally nebulous and passed down orally, it is hard to be certain about the origins of drinks; for instance punch was the first mixed drink and dates back to the 16th century. It was possibly first made by British sailors.
He noted that punch (and any good cocktail) should have the following five elements: strong, sweet, sour, bitter, and weak.

We then tried a drink containing sherry, sweet vermouth and bitters called the Duke of Marlborough, a version of which can be found in most early-20th century guides. Variations of the ingredients in the drink can lead to different names. Both sherry and vermouth are fortified wines, although Jason added that the latter was much disdained in the United States, leading to the creation of the dry martini. To Jason, bitters (which are 90 proof and can be bought in grocery stores) are used like salt and pepper - it brings the flavors of the drink together, and you use only a dash or two.

In the picture to the left, the Light Guard Punch is on the left and the Duke of Marlborough is on the right. These two are light cocktails, consumed early in the meal. Delving for a short time into the history of vermouth in the United States, Jason speculated that as vermouth became popular around the Civil War, which was about when martinis originated, ordering a martini was ordering the Martini-Rossi sweet vermouth with gin, as there was a limited variety of alcohol in bars at the time.

We then had two variations of the Manhattan, which generally contains whiskey (rye, bourbon, or Canadian), vermouth, sherry, and bitters. The Manhattan bianco consisted of bourbon, a lemon peel twist garnish, and Bianca vermouth, which Jason said was the most popular spirit in Italy, where it is drunk on the rocks with lemon. We then had the Red Hook, a more complex drink, of which the ingredients were rye whiskey with Punt e Mes and Maraschino liqueur and a Maraschino cherry for garnish.

The other drinks we had were Thieves' Punch, (which consisted of cachaca, a distilled sugar cane liquor that is the most popular alcohol in Brazil, port, lime juice, syrup, and bitters and tasted a bit like tequila due to the lime but did not induce a gag reflex as tequila often does for me), Nouveau Sangaree (which was red wine, applejack, sloe gin, maple syrup, and bitters), and the Dunaway (made from sherry, Cynar, maraschino liqueur and bitters).

Though I omitted ice when listing ingredients, it was used in the making of every cocktail except for the Nouveau Sangaree. Towards the end of the class, Jason fielded some questions about a variety of topics. When asked how old bars operated (contrasting them a bit with the new speakeasy style bars), he said like today, they did use measure out the quantities (and proportions) of alcohols using jiggers. A bourbon fan then asked a question that I thought was fairly relevant to college students: should he use his high quality bourbon for drinking on the rocks (on ice in a tumbler) and use cheap low quality bourbon for mixed drinks? Jason thought about this one for a little and then remarked that if the man liked his bourbon, he recommended not using total garbage in mixed drinks, as you want the real thing. He added that you also don't want a low proof whiskey when mixing cocktails, because with a high alcohol whiskey the flavors can compete, then commenting that an act of Congress regulates the content of bourbon (and then someone said "at least they got something right!"). We also learned that the charred oak bottle that bourbon must spend time in determines the color of the whiskey, as distilled whiskey comes out white. I came away from the class with a fantastic buzz, some fun recipes, a broadened alcoholic pallet, and a greater appreciation for early 20th century cocktails.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Bloggers' Bites: Buy Bai?

Last week, the Penn Appetit blog staff had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner together. We feasted on a homemade roast chicken (masquerading as chicken), an elegant homemade gluten-free chocolate cake, black and white cookies, and homemade pumpkin chocolate chip cookie cakes. We also purchased our sides, macaroni and cheese and broccoli with peppers and onions, from Picnic, located a little past David Rittenhouse Labs. It was a great way to enjoy each other's company and indulge in some delicious seasonal fare. Plus, we learned how to carve a chicken (thank heavens for Youtube videos)!

We also had the pleasure of sampling Bai. An "antioxidant infusion" beverage, we were able to sample 4 different flavors: Costa Rica Clementine, Jamaica Blueberry, Panama Peach, and Sumatra Dragonfruit. Here's what we had to say about the drinks:

Nicole Woon: Every day, it seems like we're assaulted by ads for the latest electrolyte drink or newest vitamin water. As a result, I'm never keen on trying it each time something new is launched. Yet here I found myself sipping Bai. Marketed as a "100% Natural, antioxidant-infused beverage, powered by the coffee fruit," I wasn't sure what to expect. The taste resembles water with fruity undertones. I was surprised by both the large dosage of "coffee fruit" (caffeine?) and the serving size of only 5 calories. While this isn't my usual drink of choice, I'd be fine drinking it every once in a while.

Abigail Koffler: I sampled the Costa Rica Clementine flavor and enjoyed the more delicate citrus taste. The flavor selection was good, as clementine is an uncommon drink flavor. However, I am skeptical of the antioxidant benefits that Bai provides and wary of the sweeteners used in their low calorie flavors. I would probably not pay money for Bai but I'd be happy to enjoy some at friend's house or event.

Laura Sluyter: I don't see myself ever buying Bai. To be fair, I'm probably not their target audience as for taste and health reasons I'm rather skeptical of anything sweetened with unrecognizable ingredients. The taste wasn't as pure or natural as I would like, but I do appreciate Bai's efforts to make a healthier drink. Given a choice between Bai or soda, I would definitely choose Bai.

Elliott Brooks:
I'm not a huge fan of low-calorie energy drinks, and Bai was no different. The Costa Rica Clementine that I sampled tasted vaguely orange-like, but was overpowered with the cloying chemical taste of artificial sweeteners. I hoped the non-sugar free flavor, Jamaica Blueberry, would be different. However, it was just as chemical tasting, not reminiscent of a blueberry at all. I ended up trying to pass off my free bottles to my friends, but they quickly warned each other off saying, "It's a trick! Don't accept any of the drinks from her, they're nasty!"

Brittney Joyce: I enjoyed the Bai more than I expected to. I don't usually like flavored-water type drinks but the Bai was surprisingly tasty without being too watery or too much like juice. My favorite was probably the dragonfruit. Although I have never eaten a real dragonfruit, the dragonfruit-flavored Bai was pleasantly thirst quenching and subtly sweet.

Maggie Buff:
I liked the Bai drinks as a low-calorie, low-sugar, cold, caffeine-containing alternative to coffee and tea. As someone who has been wary of experimenting with anything as “unnatural” as Red Bull for an energy boost, I liked the idea of using “coffee’s superfruit” as an energy source, plus the flavors were all very interesting-sounding (Costa Rica Clementine and Panama Peach, for example). As far as taste goes, the Jamaican Blueberry flavor was definitely my favorite of the three I tried. I found it more natural tasting, which I suspected might be due to its higher fruit concentration (it contained 10% fruit juice, while the other two flavors contained just 4%). Overall, while I like tea and coffee too much to consider switching to another energy supplement, I will keep Bai in mind if I ever want a cold caffeinated drink.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Bloggers' Bites: Thanksgiving Edition

Bloggers' Bites is a series of posts chronicling the foodie adventures of Penn Appetit's blog staff. We bring you a Thanksgiving-themed post in honor of the truly-foodie holiday.

The question: What dish do you look forward to the most on Turkey Day and why?

Laura Sluyter: Mmmhhh... stuffing. Given my general love of all things starchy, it should come as no surprise that stuffing tops my Thanksgiving food list. Each year, we go to my aunt’s house for Thanksgiving and her stuffing, with a little extra sweetness from dried cranberries, is worth getting fat over. Being a vegetarian, my aunt cooks some of the stuffing inside the turkey but also reserves some to cook separately in the oven. Despite my omnivorous nature, I much prefer the out-of-the-bird version, which, unlike the mushy in-the-bird version, develops a crisp crust that complements the softer layer below. Daydreaming about it makes me wonder why I don’t ask for the recipe and make it all year round, but I suppose waiting for Thanksgiving makes the stuffing all the more special.

Samantha Field: My favorite Thanksgiving dish without a doubt is mashed sweet potatoes. I look forward to the sweet taste and smooth texture each year. My aunt has the best recipe and I refuse to try anyone else’s. On the morning of Thanksgiving, my mouth begins to water in anticipation of what is to come. Mashed sweet potatoes are the perfect compliment to any Thanksgiving meal.

Abigail Koffler: I'll be honest: I don't like Thanksgiving foods. I think turkey is dry, stuffing is usually bland and the desserts don't really excite me. My favorite thanksgiving memory involves two rather unexpected foods: a bagel and a chocolate chip cookie. My childhood thanksgiving tradition involved waking up early to watch the parade. However, I didn't watch on tv. Family friends graciously invited us to their apartment, which conveniently sits along the parade route (ah the joys of growing up in New York). The apartment is classic New York with tall windows. My childhood strategy involved staking out a spot near the window and pressing my nose against the glass. As the less exciting parade attractions (marching bands and clowns) passed, I rushed to get a mini bagel with lox and cream cheese and a chocolate chip cookie (my family's annual contribution to the event). At my most adorable/lazy I could sometimes get an adult to deliver a bagel to me, so as not to not miss a single event. I scurried back to my nook, ready to see the next float, whether it was an old favorite or a new entry. After a morning like that, turkey was really just an afterthought. Happy Thanksgiving.

Carissa Gilbert: I look forward to sweet potato crunch the most! Sweet potatoes are my favorite vegetable and when they are mixed with candied walnuts and syrup, they taste even better. Thanksgiving wouldn't be the same without my family's tradition of sweet potato crunch on our plates.

Hoi Ning Ngai: One of my favorite things to have on a brisk cold day is a bowl of piping hot soup. With the leaves outside turning bright yellow, orange, and red, I love sitting in my pajamas and drinking seasonal soups, like butternut squash, chestnut, apple, and sweet potato. My soul is already warmed and heartened by the delicious purees, but a touch of cream adds just the right amount of richness. As a result, anything called a bisque naturally grabs my attention and leaves me asking for more.

Jessica Chung: Stuffing! Because it's absolutely delicious! It's unlike any other dish with its mix of sweet and savory flavors, as well as soft and crunchy textures. There is also a recipe for stuffing that has been passed down through my family that makes it personally special too.

Monica Purmalek: My Thanksgiving is a little different from most in that it combines the most savory foods from two cultures. I guess I like to think of it as more of a “Persian Thanksgiving”, especially because my mother’s turkey is decorated with a saffron rub and a side of “Baghali Polo” (a dill rice dish with lima beans). My favorite American dish is stuffing with a Persian twist that includes the subtle yet brilliant flavors of saffron laced throughout and the bold essence of an assortment of herbs. I hope it is clear that Persians use saffron in literally everything from desserts to soups to rice to meats to breads. This is no exception on even the most American of holidays. My favorite Persian dish on Thanksgiving is called Fesenjoon and is the perfect addition to a table of hearty and savory dishes. Fesenjoon is a pomegranate and walnut stew made with butternut squash and served with chicken over rice. This sweet yet tart dish is an absolutely delicious crowd-pleaser and I can’t wait to enjoy it with friends and family! Happy Thanksgiving!

Brittney Joyce: This may not be the most unique food to look forward to, but what I am most excited to eat on Thanksgiving is turkey. Turkey seems to be the food that brings all the other dishes together and gives them relevance. When I was a vegetarian, I experienced four turkey-free Thanksgivings and found them to be rather lacking. Eating extra mashed potatoes and mac and cheese can only do so much when compared with devouring succulent roasted turkey. This year, I'm hoping to help actually cook the turkey, which should make eating the final product all the more satisfying!

Elliott Brooks:
A leftover open-face sandwich. Let me explain: in my opinion, turkey is dry and bland and only good with copious amounts of gravy poured on top of it. Which seems to be an easy fix, the only problem is that when served on a plate, gravy manages to slide off the turkey and cover everything it wasn't supposed to. Consequently, I have found a solution for this problem that makes eating leftovers much more enjoyable. A piece of toast, spread with cranberry sauce, topped with turkey, with gravy poured all over. The gravy soaks into the toast, making each bite so flavorful you forget the dry turkey is there at all.

Nicole Woon:
There's nothing more American than apple pie, so what could be a better dessert on the most American of holidays? I look forward to not just the apple pie (although my favorite is the apple pie my uncle brings each year, courtesy of The Filling Station), but all the pies on display during Thanksgiving. From silky chocolate satin to caramelized pecan to classic pumpkin, the co-mingling of crisp, buttery crust with sweet, decadent fillings makes my taste buds water just thinking about it. What truly puts these slices of deliciousness over the top is pie a la mode; the best ice cream to grace the top of your pie is Fosselman's rich homemade ice cream.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Photo courtesy of Monica Purmalek


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Taste Around the World: Philly Phood Phest

The Wharton Cohort Directors planned a delicious global food tour for this year's Wharton freshmen. Each cohort station served fare that was representative of their currency's country. From baklava at Cohort Dinar's table to Cohort Shekel's pitas, it was a quick and tasty way to explore the world's cuisine all in one place.

A variety of seafood- and vegetable-based sushi was distributed by Cohort Yen.
Cohort Rand handed out authentic South African fare, including plaintains, yams and raisins, and beef jerky.
There were crispy samosas aplenty at Cohort Rupee's table.
Mediterranean cuisine, from dolma to baba ghanoush, delighted attendees courtesy of Cohort Shekel.
Cohort Euro came prepared with garlic cheese bread and potato-stuffed pierogi.
Cohort Dollar embraced one of America's classics: fried chicken.
Pork and chicken tacos, as well as tortilla chips and salsa, were on hand at Cohort Peso's stand.
Cohort Yuan doled out yummy chow... chow mein, that is!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen: Southeast Asian Food Right From its Roots

Have you heard about the new Asian-themed Chipotle spinoff? Unfortunately the only one stateside is in Dupont Circle in Washington DC. From what I have gathered, it may be worth taking the train down south just for one meal. ShopHouse just recently opened in mid-September and I am crossing my fingers hoping that one opens soon in Philadelphia. The idea behind this restaurant is to follow the distinct Chipotle model with fast, customizable, and fresh food options, but this time with an Asian flare. A shophouse is a traditional, architectural design located in the older quarters of cities in Southeast Asia. Industrious families tend to work upstairs while simultaneously managing a restaurant on the ground level. McDonalds in America is the equivalent to shophouses in Asia.

The typical food items arising from these long-established kitchens include rice and noodle bowls combined with various sauces, meats, and vegetables. With numerous mixings, it is a food staple that can be eaten on a daily basis. Like Chipotle, ShopHouse distinguishes itself with its organic meats and fresh vegetables. The menu begins with the choice of jasmine rice, brown rice, or chilled rice noodles. The next step down the line is to choose a protein: grilled chicken satay, grilled steak, pork and chicken meatballs, or tofu. Then come the vegetables. The options include Chinese broccoli, wok-fried with chili vinegar, spicy charred corn, eggplant with Thai basil (my cousin in DC said this was absolutely delicious), and long beans with caramelized onions. As hard as it is to believe, we are not finished yet. Next comes the choice of a sauce: either green curry, spicy red curry, or Tamarind vinaigrette. If your bowl is not filled to its brim at this point, they offer garnishes and crispy toppings as well. The garnishes include pickles mixed with radishes, carrots, and cucumbers, a green papaya slaw, or an herb salad. Lastly, one can choose from crispy garlic, crushed peanuts, or toasted rice to top it all off. In addition, for those who fancy a more substantial and Americanized version of the traditional Southeast Asian meal, Shophouse offers a Banh Mi. This option includes a freshly baked piece of bread (looks like the bread in a meatball sub) with a choice of meat or tofu and the various garnishes listed above.

One last thing. For those who are over 21, they even carry authentic beers like Singha from Thailand and BeerLao from Laos.

Now if this does not leave your mouth watering, I do not know what will.

Picture courtesy of ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Dining at Distrito

When I arrived at Distrito after a busy weekend of writing papers, my mood brightened. The colorful restaurant on 40th and Chestnut, owned by Iron Chef Jose Garces (he won “The Next Iron Chef), is large and cheerful. The Mexican wrestling masks lining the staircase and whimsical booths with swings as seats assure you this is no ordinary Mexican restaurant. Distrito, short for Distrito Federal, the official name for Mexico City, focuses on modern Mexican food popular in the capital city. Fusion is common and creativity abounds. The menu offers a small section of “tradicionales,” traditional dishes that we barely sampled. I’m sure they’re very good, but there’s no reason to venture in to that section with such unusual offerings. I ate there with a friend and her parents so we had slightly more budgetary flexibility than the average college student. Distrito is reasonable but you must get multiple dishes (most are under $10) and it’s best to share. They also offer promotions on tacos and drinks during football season and a happy hour.

Now it’s time for the food. We were greeted with a plate of spicy peanuts to nibble on as we mulled over the menu. Our helpful waitress, Casey, recommended her favorite dishes and did not steer us wrong. Her two recommendations were some of our favorite dishes of the night.

Our only disappointment, unfortunately, was our very first course (and one of my favorite foods): the guacamole. I know you must be horrified to hear of a Mexican restaurant with dismal guacamole, and I was wary as well. The guacamole, while presented nicely, was overly salty and not tasty. We sent it back to the kitchen and our apologetic waitress returned with an even saltier batch. She claimed that today’s guacamole was not up to par and removed it from our bill. I believe her assertion that the guacamole is usually better, especially after sampling the other food and hope to exonerate it on future visits.

Our next dish was one of the best (and Casey’s first recommendation): a gluten free mushroom huaraches (flatbread) with cheese. It was delicious and flavorful, highlighting the richness of the mushrooms. I plan on ordering it on subsequent trips.

We next ordered savory carnitas tacos with a radish salad on top and a squirt of lime. The taco orders usually contain three but we were able to add a fourth without issue to accommodate our group.

We ordered a corn dish on our waitress' advice (that I forgot to photograph) called esquites with queso fresco, chipotle and lime from the tradicionales section. It was presented in a tall glass where every bite yielded a new level of flavor.

We moved on to mahi mahi tacos which were a master of textures. The crunchy fish, creamy avocado, tart red cabbage salad and chipotle sauce provided several exciting bites. This is another dish I would order over and over again.

Our final savory dish, and Casey’s final recommendation, was another huarache with duck confit, dried cherries and tequila sauce. The huarache tasted luxurious and was very decadent, making me happy that I had people to share with.

Although we were full, our meal needed a sweet finale. We chose to share Los Frios (Casey’s favorite dessert), a dessert composed of vanilla flan, almond cake, compressed mango and dulce de leche. The vanilla flan was the only flan I’ve ever enjoyed in my life. It was creamy and tasty with a smooth texture and lacked the weird aftertaste I associate with flan. The almond cake was more like an almond crouton; it was crunchy and provided the perfect contrast to the flan. The mango added a touch of freshness, and I must confess that we all scraped the last bits of dulce de leche, a caramel made from condensed milk, off of our plates.

Distrito is a great place for a celebratory dinner with its playful ambiance, great service and memorable food. You don’t even need a SEPTA token to visit modern Mexico City.


Friday, November 18, 2011

Froyo at T Bowl

I love frozen yogurt; it's never too sweet or sticky, and I like that I can choose toppings to accompany this already tasty treat. So when I heard that T Bowl has recently begun serving froyo, I was anxious to try it out. How I let several weeks go by, I don't know, but I finally got the chance to taste it this Wednesday. There are two sizes available: Medium and Large. When I asked for a Medium, the cashier said that they only had the pumpkin flavor that day. I did not realize that T Bowl had any other flavors other than the original, and because I usually like the original, I hesitated before I said I'll take the pumpkin. T Bowl did not offer too many toppings that day: a variety of fruit purées, strawberries, and chocolate and caramel sauce. T Bowl also charges 50 cents for a 2nd topping, so I just asked for the chocolate sauce.

When I had my first spoon, though, I was immediately satisfied. I could taste the pumpkin--a flavor that I had been a bit wary of--but the tangy, tart flavor of the yogurt that I love was still there. The texture was perfectly creamy and rich, not too watery or icy, and the chocolate sauce was a good complement. The portion size was what one would expect from a "Medium" at any froyo bar. The only complaint I have is that with the Medium costing $4, the restaurant could be more generous with their toppings. Granted, there weren't that many options to choose from, but offering only one topping is a bit stingy, especially since Kiwi has a sizable selection of toppings that customers can freely get, and Sweetgreen offers three toppings for no extra cost (and with Sweetgreen's Small froyo, which is pretty much the same size as T Bowl's Medium, costing the same $4, Sweetgreen's seems like a better deal in the quantitative sense).

But then, many people don't need piles of various toppings, and it is true that truly good froyo can afford to stand by itself. Even though I am not one of those "purists" and like at least two toppings with my froyo, I still do consider the texture and taste of T Bowl's froyo quite excellent. I will be going back to try the original froyo in the very near future.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Food Events @ Penn

Route 6 Opening
What: Yet another brainchild of Stephen Starr is opening this week: Executive Chef Anthony DiRienzo, previously Executive Sous Chef at Morimoto and Executive Chef of Buddakan in Atlantic City, is serving dishes inspired by the coastal towns spanning Maine to Maryland. Dishes include a raw bar, clam chowder, lobster rolls, crab cakes and Johnny cakes, as well as daily lobster and whole fish selections. Non-seafood dishes will include grilled steaks and fried chicken, while the dessert menu will feature a selection of freshly baked seasonal pies and cobblers. Reserve your table at their website.
Where: 600 N. Broad Street
When: Opening later this week.

Pre-Prohibition Cocktail Class
What: The Wine School of Philadelphia's first ever cocktail tasting class will feature the wine-based cocktail, the classic pre-prohibition drink. This tasting class will take you back to the golden era of the cocktail, before the Volstead Act... and long before vodka destroyed the martini.
Where: The Wine School of Philadelphia. 127 S. 22nd Street
When: Friday, November 18, 7:30-9:30 pm

2nd Annual Stout & Chowder Festival
What: Come out for the fantastic beer list (including brews from Triumph, Yards, Dock Street, Weyerbacher and Troegs) and home-style soups courtesy of Brulée Catering, the latest culinary endeavor of famed Philadelphia chef Jean-Marie Lacroix. A special “savor session,” sponsored by Franklin Fountain and Betty's Speakeasy, will be dedicated to local desserts made (and paired) with local beers. For our male readers, the festival will also be offering the opportunity for men to sport their best beards in the Burly Beard Competition in honor of No-Shave November. Bonus: free admission to museum exhibits, a glass keepsake beer mug, and more delicious brews at the after-party at Triumph Brewing Company. More info here.
Where: Independence Seaport Museum, 211 S. Columbus Boulevard
When: Saturday, November 19, 5-8 p.m.
Cost: $60 per person, $5 off each ticket for groups of 6 or more

Penn Gastronomy Sugar High Showdown
What: Penn Gastronomy's 2nd annual dessert-making contest, co-sponsored by Sugar Philly! The event is open to both seasoned bakers and those who love dessert. Contestant prizes include your dessert featured on Sugar Philly's menu and a delicious, free dessert outing. Everyone who attends the event will 1) receive an exclusive Sugar Philly coupon and 2) get to taste some truly fantastic desserts!
Where: JMHH 240, University of Pennsylvania
When: Saturday, November 19, at 5 pm (contestants must arrive at 3:30 pm)
RSVP: Please fill out this form by Thursday, Nov. 17, at 11:59 PM, regardless if you are entering the contest or simply excited to sample a variety of desserts.

Photo courtesy of Nicole Woon.


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