Monday, February 28, 2011

Cupcake Wars: Penn vs. Drexel

On Saturday afternoon, Cream & Sugar (the coffeeshop, candy store and bakery on Spruce Street) hosted the Ultimate Collegiate Cupcake Decorating Competition in Houston Hall. Six teams of two squared off in a battle of frosting, candy and fondant. The teams were evenly divided between Penn and Drexel, but Penn took the top prize ($100) as well as third place ($40). There were two cheeseburger cupcakes (with cupcake fries), a chocolate cupcake patty and licorice "ketchup," an Alice in Wonderland inspired creation with a tootsie roll-pretzel stick tree and tiny stockinged feet iced at the base, and a can of Coca Cola (with gummies for ice cubes and red fondant).

Contestants had an hour to decorate three cupcakes and were allowed to enter one in the final judging. First place went to an adorable entry: it featured a purple and yellow triceratops modeled from marzipan and sitting on a bed of piped green grass. Second place went to Team Mad Hatters for their Alice in Wonderland design. Third place was won by a cupcake Amy Gutmann would love: the Love park statue in miniature, with a little UPenn squirrel gazing up adoringly at it. Cream & Sugar owner Blythe Dim plans to host the event again in the fall, with bigger prizes and more contestants. For now, though, Penn holds the title of Cupcake Wars champion. Proceeds from the competition (there was an entry fee of $25) went to the Ronald McDonald House.

Photos taken by Sara Outing.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

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

34th Street likes meatballs this week, featuring a review of Marabella Meatball Co. and recipes of meatballs from around the world

Penn Gastronomy Club recaps its Sushi making class at Pod

• Both Under the Button and The Inquirer report on the recent "temporary" closure of local restaurant La Terrasse

Food and Wine names two Philadelphia pizzerias, Tacconelli's Pizzeria and Osteria, in its list of the Top 25 Pizza Spots in the U.S.

Uwishunu pays homage Tastykake, rounding up Tastykake-inspired dishes around Philadelphia

Yelp's Philly newsletter features reviewers' tips for finding gluten-free fare in the city

• A mother from San Diego, CA is suing the makers of Nutella for misrepresenting the product as "healthy" and "nutritious" - Wall Street Journal

Bacon flavored toothpaste anyone? - Foodbeast

Blisstree rounds up several pancake recipes in honor of National Pancake Week

• Daily Dish, L.A. Times' food blog, tells us how to best store eggs

• The politics of food: Grist asks, Are Girl Scout cookies killing orangutans?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Bloggers' Bites: Reading Terminal Market

Bloggers' Bites is a series of posts chronicling the foodie adventures of Penn Appetit's blog staff. Last Saturday we visited Reading Terminal Market for lunch. Each blogger reviewed what she ate--everything from guacamole to falafel, from pancakes to cookies and apple dumplings. Read the recommendations and check out the accompanying photos of the meals.

12th Street Cantina: grilled vegetable salad

Ignoring the dismal service, I thoroughly enjoyed the Grilled Vegetable Salad from 12th Street Cantina, a Mexican restaurant that serves a variety of fare with south-of-the-border flavors. With a side of guacamole, my salad cost $10.21—fairly pricey compared to other offerings at the terminal. However, once it was handed to me—albeit, after an unreasonably long wait due to the slow pace of the work staff—I understood why. Served in a boat of a dish, the salad starts with a base of tortilla chips which is then layered with a hefty spoonful of refried beans, romaine lettuce, grilled vegetables, and corn salsa. (I opted out of the cheese and sour cream that normally come with the dish, but they weren't missed.)

After topping it off with some of the Cantina's hot sauce and my side of guac, I dug in. The tortilla chips were pretty standard as they weren’t homemade, but the refrieds were creamy and delicious. Next, the grilled vegetables, a mix of fresh zucchini, mushrooms, and yellow squash, were flavorful and had a great grilled texture. The colorful corn salsa was a chunky and had a cooler temperature that paired nicely with the warm refrieds and vegetables. For my personal tastes, the salsa lacked a little heat, but that was rectified by the added hot sauce. Lastly, the guacamole was tasty but not mind-blowing. Overall, I was satisfied with the salad and was pleased with the fresh ingredients and generous portion size. –Krystal Bonner

Dutch Eating Place: blueberry pancakes

With the countless options at Reading Terminal, it’s hard to select just one thing to eat—which is just encouragement to visit this phenomenal market countless times! This particular Saturday, I decided to try the Dutch Eating Place. Since the place is known for their breakfast/brunch fare, I selected their blueberry pancakes. Each pancake is huge—the size of a dinner plate—and generously packed with sweet blueberries. The pancakes are cooked to order and come off the griddle with a delicious golden-brown crust and fluffy texture. Slathered with a mountain of farm-fresh butter and accompanied by rich maple syrup, it is quality comfort food at its best. Even better is the refreshingly low price: a stack of two costs a mere $4.27 (including tax).

The quality of food is only matched by the quality of service; the staff is friendly and efficient, taking care to give you the best experience whether you’re eating at the counter or taking food to go. Whenever I walk past this stall, there are always huge lines for both the sit-down area and the take-out section. Needless to say, the Dutch Eating Place deserves such popularity. Make sure to stop by the Pennsylvania Dutch stalls towards the end of the week, as the merchants only open their stalls from Wednesday to Saturday. I definitely plan to return in the future (I want to try their cinnamon apple French toast!) –Nicole Woon

Hope’s Cookies: chocolate chip cookie with butterscotch chips

I may have been mistaken: 4th Street Cookie Co. may not make the very best cookies after all. I went to Reading Terminal Market with my fellow bloggers and I was raving about how delicious 4th Street Cookie Co.’s cookies are. They politely let me finish, but none of them looked very moved by my praise. Instead, they vouched for Hope’s cookies and suggested I try one to compare. I was shocked! I didn’t think anyone could top 4th Street Cookie Co. I couldn’t resist checking out Hope’s though since I am always open to finding new and delicious sweets. So I made my way through the crowds and found the place nestled across the way from Metropolitan Bakery. The cookies didn’t look that impressive to me, but like I’ve said before, I’m rarely impressed by mere cookies. So I decided to try one anyways because how could I compare if I never tasted one? I bought the chocolate chip cookie covered in butterscotch chips.
I rejoined the bloggers and tasted it. It was so indulgent! It was even denser than 4th Street Cookie Co.’s—definitely more buttery. The texture of the cookie was closer to a cookie dough consistency, moist, but not raw. The smoothness was contrasted by the chunky chocolate and butterscotch chips. And the cookie was unique. It mixed flavors of rich milk chocolate with sweet butterscotch, instead of just focusing on one. I have to say that compared to the peanut butter chocolate chip cookie I bought that day from 4th Street Cookie Co., the chocolate chip butterscotch from Hope’s was better! The dough was richer and gooier and the flavors really popped, whereas I couldn’t really taste the peanut butter in the dough of 4th Street Cookie Co’s and it was a little dry overall and crunchy on the edges. I’m not going to say that every one of Hope’s cookies is better, however, in comparison to 4th Street Cookie Co’s because I would still vouch for the chocolate covered chocolate chip cookie at 4th Street. I guess it also depends on your preferences. However, Hope’s is definitely in the running for making some of the best cookies I’ve had. –Jessica Chung

Pizza & Pasta by George: euro sandwich and Flying Monkey: macaroon

I chose the Euro sandwich from Pizza & Pasta by George. The sesame roll came loaded with fresh mozzarella, sliced portobello mushroom, eggplant, tomato, roasted peppers, basil and broccoli rabe. I added on a side of mixed olives - five or six varieties of meaty, flavorful olives lightly herbed and coated in oil. The sandwich was perfectly juicy, but the roll stood up to the challenge and remained light and crispy on the outside. At George's, they heat the pizzas and sandwiches in a brick oven, but my Euro didn't stay in long enough to be warmed through. The middle was disappointingly cold and the cheese resisted melting (though when I heated the other half up in my home oven later, it was delicious!). The flavors of the vegetables came together nicely, but I would have liked the broccoli rabe and mushrooms cooked a bit longer -- the rabe was so fresh and chewy that I couldn't bite through it, making for a messy meal. I also would have liked a little more seasoning to bring out the flavors, and more cheese; my sandwich only had a few little half-moons of mozzarella. At $7.60, I would probably buy this again, but would take it home to heat it up and add some salt and pepper.

For dessert, I chose a cup of fair-trade organic coffee and a macaroon from Flying Monkey. The outside of the macaroon was wonderful, crisp and chewy, not too sweet. The flavor inside was right on point, simple coconut deliciousness, but the texture in the middle was just a bit too greasy and soggy. Still, overall, it was a really tasty way to end my meal. –Molly O’Neill

Dutch Eating Place: apple dumpling

I’d heard about the Dutch Eating Place’s apple dumpling from a friend. She claimed they were so rich that no one could finish them by themselves. One, I love apple desserts. Two, I was determined to prove her wrong. The Dutch Eating Place’s
homemade food looked delicious, but I cut straight to dessert and ordered the ‘hot apple dumpling with heavy cream’. Shortly after ordering from the friendly teenage boy working the cash register, I was handed a warm box with a little container of cream on the side. Inside was an apple that had been sautéed with butter, sugar and cinnamon and then baked in a delicious flaky crust. The most delicious part of the sweet was that it was obviously freshly made and from all natural ingredients. –Shannon Ridge

Kamal's Middle Eastern Specialties: falafel sandwich and Bassett's Ice Cream: eggnog

I arrived at Reading Terminal with a stomach ache and left with two scoops of ice cream. If anything, this is a testament to Bassett's hold on my heart. I have early memories of sitting at the counter with a cone of peanut butter swirl in hand, utterly content. The eggnog was creamy, smooth and delicious, and I ate it happily despite the cold weather and a long walk. On the other hand, the falafel sandwich I ordered from Kamal's did not quite live up to expectations. It was mediocre at best: the pita was too dry, the lettuce slightly wilted, the sauce too heavy. It hadn't been folded into a pocket so it fell apart whenever I tried to take a bite. I wouldn't buy the sandwich again, but I will always buy an ice cream cone from Bassett's when I'm in the vicinity. No matter how intense the wind chill is or how far I have to walk. -Kiley Bense

Basset's Ice Cream: green tea

Green tea ice cream, one of the most popular ice cream flavors in Asia, can not be too sweet... which sort of goes against the American concept of ice cream. I was therefore skeptical about trying the green tea ice cream at Bassett's, an all-American ice cream maker dating back to 1861. I realized my skepticism had been for naught with after first lick. The perfectly creamy ice cream had the unmistakable taste of green tea with, lo and behold, just a hint of sweetness! The ideal pick-me-up when you want something decadent, without the typical sugar rush. -Elliott Brooks

Friday, February 25, 2011

Percy Street BBQ - A Meat Lover's Dream Come True

As a barbecue lover (if not a barbecue aficionado), I've made it a personal goal to find the best barbecue in Philadelphia. Little did I know that I wouldn't have to wait more than a few weeks after landing in this fabulous foodie town!
On one of my first strolls through South Philly, I passed by Percy Street Barbecue, located on South Street between 9th and 10th. After glancing through the menu and peeking inside to check out the extensive number of picnic tables (yes, picnic tables!), I decided I had to make it back there -- for both the food AND the ambiance. Tall windows letting in lots of light, intoxicating aromas of beef and pork wafting through, barbecue lovers hunched over ribs and cole slaw. A meat lover's dream come true.

Within the last several months, I've actually made it back here twice! And on both occasions, I not only had amazing service, but also the best barbecue in Philadelphia-- YET.

To kick off my most recent meal there (with serious eaters I met through Serious Eats), we ordered the mac 'n cheese -- a version made with sharp cheddar and homemade breadcrumbs. While I must admit that I prefer my own homemade version with three cheeses, Percy Street did a great job here -- a wonderful balance of creamy and crunchy.

To supplement our massive collection of meats, we ordered four different sides: the German potato salad, the beet salad, the cole slaw, and the collard greens. Ben and Nancy raved about the German potato salad (of which I did not choose to partake), but I thought the beet salad had just enough acid and the collard green had just enough salt. Both of those dishes were well-seasoned, and prepped our palates nicely for what was to come.

Because we were all serious eaters, we were determined to sample the bulk of the Percy Street menu -- in one sitting. That said, we went with the pork belly (which I'd thoroughly enjoyed on my first visit with my BFF Ivana), the pork spare ribs (a staple of any visit to any barbecue joint), and the brisket (Nancy's personal pick given her experience and expertise with North Carolina barbecue).

While the three of us delighted in the quaint packaging and presentation of our meats (all wrapped up in wax paper and delivered in plastic trays), the meats themselves varied somewhat in terms of flavor and texture. For example, the pork belly was well-seasoned and well-prepared. Each piece was a lovely combination of a thin crispy edge, a juicy meat layer, and a creamy fat layer.

The pork spare ribs were also fairly consistent in terms of flavor and texture, with the meat falling easily off the bone. The preparation offered a definite contrast between the crispy exterior and the moist meat, making for a very satisfying eating experience.

On the other hand, the brisket left a lot to be desired. Unlike well-prepared brisket, which melts in the mouth, what we got was dry and stringy, suggesting that the meat was overcooked. As there is very little that can be done to salvage overcooked meat, the dish may simply need to be tried again on the next visit. That said, the combination of our chosen meats and sides left us quite satiated.

And while I'm personally a fan of Texas barbecue (i.e., dry rub, no sauce), Percy Street attempts to cater to ALL barbecue lovers, by providing a range of well-named barbecue sauces: Sweet Thang, Old Faithful, Hot Mess. They're worthy trying -- if only to say you've done so.

Even with our completely full stomachs and our completely satiated appetites, how could we leave without satisfying our sweet tooth as well? We decided a slice of key lime pie and two orders of banana pudding was in order. The key lime pie offered a nice tang and a great crust, but could've been slightly creamier. The banana pudding (like the version at Baby Blues BBQ) was simply nowhere near as good as my homemade version with meringue. Like the pie, the pudding could've been creamier as well. In addition, it could've (and should've) better integrated the Nilla wafers, which seemed to be more of an afterthought (as they tend to be these days).

All in all, Percy Street still offers some of the most delicious barbecue I've yet to have in Philadelphia. The meats make a strong show, as do the sides. In addition, the menu offers a fair number of vegetarian options by way of appetizers and sides (including a vegan chili), which acknowledges AND serves diners who may not be as carnivorous as the rest of us. I'll certainly be back, and hopefully with a whole new bunch of barbecue lovers in tow.

Percy Street Barbecue
900 South Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Food Events @ Penn

Mochi Fest

What: Sample sweet and savory mochi from different parts of Asia
Who: Japan Student Association in collaboration with Chinese Student Association, Club Singapore, Hong Kong Student  Association, Korean Students Association, Penn Philippines Association,  Penn Taiwanese Society, Sangam, and Wharton Asia Exchange
Where: Harrison Sky Lounge
When: Friday February 25, 5-7pm
Cost: Free admission, 50 cents to try each sample

 Food Justice Movie Nights

What: Meet once a month to watch food-related movies, eat snacks and discuss food justice (this week's movie is Food, Inc.)
Who: Urban Nutrition Initiative
Where: The Rotunda, 4014 Walnut St
When: Monday February 28, 6pm
Cost: Free

Ultimate Collegiate Cupcake Decorating Competition

What: Decorate cupcakes and win cash prizes (1st: $150, 2nd: $75, 3rd: $50). Proceeds go to Ronald McDonald House.
Who: Cream & Sugar coffeeshop and bakery
Where: Houston Hall Main Lobby 3417 Spruce St
When: Saturday February 26, noon-2pm
Cost: Entry Fee of $25
E-mail to register individually or as a duo.

Khyber Pass Pub's One-Night Izakaya

Ever since coming to Philadelphia, one thing I’ve been on the hunt for is delicious and affordable Japanese food. Sure, there’s Pod and Morimoto, but these places can be pricey and are generally reserved for special occasions. This past Monday, however, East met West in the form of a pop-up izakaya (Japanese pub) at Khyber Pass Pub.

A pub normally known for their Southern fare, Khyber adopted a Japanese-cuisine menu for one night only. What’s interesting is that when the place was undergoing renovations last fall, it was originally planned to be an izakaya. However, response from the community drove it to take up a Southern-themed menu. Still, Khyber co-owners Stephen Simons and Dave Frank (heads of the Royal Tavern restaurant group) refused to give up on the idea of Japanese fare: a place called Royal Sushi and Izakaya is rumored to be in the works. Until then, they offered a taste of what’s to come via Monday night’s pop-up izakaya. According to Simons, the pop-up is “probably the first in a series and the only one where ramen will be the featured dish.”

Chef Todd Dae Kulper of Ro-Zu fame was at the helm of the Japanese-inspired menu that evening. The menu was expansive for being a pop-up, with options for both meat-eaters and vegetarians. From nasu miso sando (grilled eggplant buns) to kawahagi (grilled trigger fish jerky), mentaiko meshi (spicy cod roe with rice) to jaga-imo furai (french fries with wasabi kewpie mayo), there was something for everyone’s tastes. As delicious as everything sounded, there was no way I’d be able to try everything. So, I settled on tori no kara-age (fried chicken) and hakata-fu tonkotsu ramen (Hakata-style pork broth noodle soup).

A plate piled with a generous mound of Japanese-style fried chicken arrived first. Let’s just say these were no ordinary chicken nuggets! The meat was flavored with a deliciously sweet soy sauce-based marinade, then dredged with a potato-like starch and deep-fried until golden brown. The excellent coating—light and crispy—gave way to an incredibly moist interior that was tender and juicy. A dipping sauce composed of chili, grated daikon, scallions, and ponzu accompanied the appetizer; the pungent vinegary dressing perfectly offset the sweetness of the chicken. Each piece was the perfect bite-sized portion: overall, it was a wonderful start to the meal.

Up next was the featured dish of the evening: the Hakata-style ramen. The steaming bowl was filled with a large portion of ramen noodles; each strand had a complex texture with just enough resilience and a certain springiness. Atop these noodles was an array of ingredients that worked harmoniously together in terms of texture and umami (the Japanese “fifth taste” relating to savoriness, along with sweet, sour, salty, and bitter). The two contrasting cuts of pork—buta kakuni (slow-roasted pork belly) and nibuta (braised pork shoulder)—were tender and unctuous, filling my mouth with the right touch of fattiness. The acidic karashi takana (spicy pickled mustard greens) perked up the dish, while the kikuage (seasoned wood ear mushrooms), moyashi (soy bean sprouts), ajitsuke menma (bamboo shoot), and negi (scallions) added a vibrant freshness to the full-bodied nature of the ramen. Hanjuku tamago (seasoned boiled egg) also enhanced the dish’s texture with its solidified whites and barely-thickened yolk. The heart of the ramen, however, was in the tonkotsu broth. Known for its signature milky white color, the soup broth extracts its flavor from the marrow of pork bones cooked for at least 23 hours. The soup base was rich and warming, taking the various components and unifying them into one satisfying bowl of ramen.

Overall, the food was filling and expertly-prepared. Chef Kulper brought some of Japan’s rich cuisine to life in Philadelphia for this special one-night-only event. I’m looking forward to future pop-up events run by the Royal Tavern group. While it’s a great way for us as consumers to try dishes not usually offered at restaurants, it’s also the perfect opportunity for restaurants to test new menus and judge customer satisfaction. With regards to the delicious meal I had on Monday, I can only hope that Royal Sushi and Izakaya opens soon so I can get my Japanese food fix!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Picnic at 3131 Walnut Street is just beyond where I think most Penn students stray. David Rittenhouse Labs is usually the furthest east any of us get in a week, but if you walk just a little further on Walnut, you will find a great lunch place. According to their website Picnic has been in operation since 2001, but I have to admit I never noticed it was there until about a month ago. Their menu is simple and they abide by the “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” slogan so beyond the soups salads and sandwiches, which change every week, you can buy local yogurts and cheese. They have some prepared comfort foods like lasagna and meatloaf that you can buy by the pound as well.
If it is your first time there, you cannot go wrong with one of their soups and a homemade biscuit.

Besides their normal takeout menu (they have limited seating, so it’s almost always takeout for me) they also pack picnic baskets. I love that I can go to Picnic and buy a picnic!

3131 Walnut St.
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Rapini, Feta and Lemon Quiche

I'm always interested in trying new leafy greens, so I was enticed by a fairly cheap bunch of crinkly, bright emerald rapini at FroGro. After a bit of internet research I learned that rapini, also called broccoli rabe, is very popular in Italian and Chinese cuisine. It is quite bitter, but when prepared correctly it can be downright delicious. Not to mention, like most leafy greens, it is full of good-for-you vitamins and minerals! I had an old sheet of (I admit, store-bought) pie crust in my fridge, so I decided to try to incorporate my bunch of rapini into a quiche.

One sheet of pie dough
Two heaping handfuls of washed and torn rapini
2 Tbsp butter
One large lemon
Around a cup of crumbled feta cheese
Three large eggs
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
Salt and pepper

Saute the rapini for a couple of minutes in the butter, before squeezing the juice of a large lemon on top. Put a lid on top of the pan to briefly steam the rapine. Remove from heat when the rapini is bright green and soft. Be careful not to overcook the rapini, or it will turn brown.

Scatter the feta cheese on top of the pie crust until it is evenly covered, then layer the rapini on top of the feta.

Whisk together the eggs, half-and-half and salt and pepper. Pour this mixture on top of the feta and rapini, until it reaches the edge of the pie-crust.

Bake for an hour or so, until the quiche is cooked all the way through and golden on top.

The quiche was pretty good, although perhaps a little too tart from the lemon (however, I wouldn't eliminate the lemon entirely, since it balanced out the rapini's bitterness nicely). Even after making the quiche, I still have more than half of my rapini bunch left. I've been told it is delicious sauteed in soy sauce and sesame seed oil, so I'll have to try that next!

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Insatiable Journalist Part 2: Dinner with Georges

"You show me better ice cream in Philadelphia and I'll retire today!" Retirement might not be such a bad idea since Chef Georges Perrier is already in his late 60s; but it looks like he's stuck with the long hours for at least a little while longer - the ice cream truly is the best in Philly. In fact, the challenge was modest if anything - with ice cream that good he could have wagered against the whole world. The single scoop of vanilla ice cream is served alongside Le Bec-Fin's "Costa Rica" - Praline Crunch, Bailys Cremeux and Coffee Marscarpone Mousse layered together to what amounts to absolute perfection. I'm indulging despite the fact that over the past two hours I've had four other courses of incredible Le Bec-Fin food because when Chef Georges Perrier himself says "You like dessert? She'll have our Costa Rica," you have their Costa Rica.

But let me explain.

When I started to settle into the idea of writing about Le Bec-Fin during this semester, realizing that I had become too emotionally invested to not write about it, I could never have imagined it going this well. As soon as I confirmed with Patti Klein, owner of the Restaurant Collection PR firm, that I would, in fact, be meeting the one and only Georges Perrier I made reservations for my (shh! don't tell) first meal at LBF. Sitting in the vaulted dinning room that calls to mind the ballroom from Titanic, I had an amazing meal of escargot, striped bass with a french brioche encrusting, roasted wagyu beef, and a milk chocolate mousse cake with a layer of creme brulee in the middle. How was the food? "I mean, it's Le Bec-Fucking-Fin!" my date said when I asked him that same question at the end of our dinner. Translation: extremely high expectations exceptionally well met. I wholeheartedly agreed.

A week later I ventured downstairs to the swanky Le Bar Lyonnais to meet the legendary chef, tape recorder in hand. We spoke for nearly an hour about LBF's legacy and his plans for the future. Then, while I spoke with Le Bec-Fin's executive chef Nicholas Elmi, Georges schmoozed with various patrons and settled in at the bar with Patti and a friend of his. After wrapping of the interviews, I stalled for a fortuitous time looking over my notes, "'annah! 'annah! Come have a drink wit' us!" Georges called to me. And how could I refuse?

It started with wine. But eventually, as Georges implored to "'ave the chef," Chef Elmi, that is, "bring us more food - I'm starving!" and, despite Patti's maternal protests that he was only to have a plate of vegetables in compliance with his supposed diet, everyone complied and the evening turned into a showcase of the new(ish) Chef's ideas for new menu options. We ate things like artichoke cappuccinos and shrimp in duck gelee and the most amazing steak that I remember nothing about except how melt-in-your-mouth tender it was while Georges boasted loudly and made inappropriate comments that sent Patti into a frenzy about whether or not my tape recorder was off.

The thing is, it was. I have plans to spend plenty more time with both Chef Perrier and Chef Elmi on the record (and share the details here!), but the dinner at Le Bar Lyonnais was just for fun - and to forever have a story about my dinner with Georges Perrier.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

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

Kitchen at Penn continues to be noted by Philadelphia food blogs, this week showing up on Meal Ticket

• Events at Penn: Local bakery Cream and Sugar is holding an Ultimate Collegiate Cupcake Decorating Competition on Saturday, February 26th at Houston Hall to raise money for Ronald McDonald House

• Check out 34th Street's Spring Dining Guide

• Uwishunu reports on OpenTable's ten most booked restaurants in Philadelphia

Esquire names Philadelphia one of America's Best Beer Cities

Manakeesh Cafe Bakery in University City gets a favorable review in The Inquirer

• Events at Penn: Penn's 2013 Class Board is gearing up for a Sophomore Stephen Starr Restaurant Week, including a Q&A with Stephen Starr himself

Penn Vegetarian Society has begun a blog discussing various aspects of vegetarianism

Many Philadelphia nominees included in James Beard Award semifinalists for 2011 - Foobooz

• Uwishunu rounds up the best meatballs in Philadelphia

Philadelphia chef creates a Kandy Kake slider, house-ground brisket patties sandwiched between Tastykake's Peanut Butter Kandy Kakes - Foobooz

• The politics of food: With the tough economic times, more suburbanites in Pennsylvania and New Jersey are using food stamps - The Inquirer

Saturday, February 19, 2011

All-You-Can-Eat at Distrito

About a week ago I attended my first Penn Gastronomy Club adventure – an all-you-can-eat dinner at Distrito. I thought it would be an interesting change: I had only done all-you-can-eat at 1920 Commons (kind of okay), Indian restaurants (greasy) and Penn-sponsored events (ah, the chocolate fountains), but never attended one at this pretty high-profile establishment.

For those of you not familiar with chef Jose Garces, suffice it to say that in recent years, he has become the Robert Pattinson of culinary stardom – HOT HOT HOT. He won the James Beard award for Best Chef Mid-Atlantic in 2009 and destroyed his opponents in the most recent season of The Next Iron Chef. His empire spans over eight restaurants (seven in Philly and one in Chicago), all of which offer his innovative takes on traditional or fusion cuisines – Mexican, Andalusian, Chifa (Latin-Asian), Basque and American, among others.

Distrito, which Garces' bio describes as "a spirited celebration of the vibrant culture and cuisine of Mexico City," offers Mexican fare with a modern twist. To give us a taste of it, PCG had reserved half of the restaurant’s ground floor; a massive bowl of tortilla chips expected us when we arrived, accompanied by luscious guacamole and spicy salsa. Surrounded by the neon glow of pink and blue and plaid greeting cards lined along the walls, we were presented with three signature appetizers.

The cornmeal flatbread with forest mushrooms, huitlacoche sauce, mixed cheeses, black truffle and corn shoot was probably the highlight of the dinner. Earthy, juicy and creamy at the same time, it provided a comforting balm to counter the chill outside.

It was followed by the Mexico City style quesadilla with huazontle, royal trumpet mushrooms, Oaxaca cheese and salsa ranchera, topped with delicate shreds of radish. It had a pleasant grainy texture, reminiscent of corn, potatoes and cottage cheese combined, and offset nicely by the crunchy radish on top.

My boyfriend’s favorite was the carnitas taco with pulled pork, black beans and pineapple salsa (think Taco Bell upgraded beyond recognition). The melt-in-your-mouth meat huddled in the taco shell in all of its juicy, dripping glory and paired perfectly with the mellow black beans. I had never tried a taco with sweet salsa before, but the miniature pineapple cubes proved delightfully refreshing and balanced out the flavors in a way that keeps you coming back for more.

The dishes were so heady that we kept staring at the waiters with hungry eyes as they sailed back and forth with trays of goodness that disappeared around the tables sooner than you can say “Huitzilopochtli”. Although at one point it seemed they would always go to the tables across and never make it all the way around the semi-circle to where we sat, our concern melted away like mixed cheese on flatbread. I am positive that not a single guest left hungry – or unstuffed, to be more precise.

I had been used to more variety at all-you-can-eat events, but it was definitely worth it as well, considering the affordable price of $22 and the superb taste and quality. As a special bonus, the restaurant had a happy hour during our visit, with $5 margaritas, $2 tequilas and discounted beers. All in all, this dinner gave me a memorable taste of Distrito which will probably draw me back for future visits.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Sushi Lessons at Pod

Penn Gastronomy Club is hosting sushi making lessons at Pod!
When: Sunday, February 20, 1pm
What: Learn how to make sushi (and then eat your creations)
Where: Pod, 3636 Sansom St.
Cost: $22 online, $25 at the door

Pay online here.


Last week while searching for an appropriate restaurant for a friend’s birthday dinner, I came across ‘Kabul’ in a Philadelphia BYOB Guide dated back to 2007 when I was just graduating from high school. After a little digging, I discovered that the Old City Afghan restaurant was awarded Best of Philly in 1999 and 2000 and Zagat’s Survey Award 1999-2001 and 2005-2007. I was skeptical of the out-of-date awards, but, being an avid bargain-hunter, the 20% off coupon on the Kabul website convinced me that the restaurant was worth trying.

Upon entering the restaurant my friends and I noticed the clientele was older than the usual crowd we encounter at many of the BYOs we frequent. We took in the ambiance of the small, unpretentious restaurant with traditional Afghan décor and comfortable furniture. The back corner of the restaurant featured a small sitting area with pillows where large groups could eat their meals. Although we regretted missing out on the novelty of eating in this area, we were thankful when a conscientious staff member noticed we were wearing skirts and directed us to another table.

Kabul had a large menu with something for anyone who enjoys South Asian cuisine. The Norenge Palaw, featuring chicken under a heap of saffron rice with orange, almonds, pistachios, and cardamom, was a perfect slightly sweet entrée. For those looking more interested in the savory, the Bandenjan Chalaw, featuring simmered eggplant and well-seasoned lamb, was delicious. We enjoyed our meal so much that we ordered dessert: Afghan style carrot cake with raisins and nuts and ice cream with saffron syrup, pistachios, almonds, and cardamom. The saffron syrup made the dish and we were not disappointed.

Why Kabul seems to have fallen off the map in recent years is a mystery because it was a gem. The journey out to Old City was absolutely worth the ambrosial food and congenial atmosphere at Kabul.

106 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Neighborhood Eats: Chinatown

One of the greatest food neighborhoods you can visit in Philly is Chinatown. As its name suggests it is the city's mecca of Chinese food but what the name doesn't tell you is all the other Asian cuisines that Chinatown has to offer. You can also find some of the most delicious Japanese,Vietnamese, and Thai food in the city. So if you're looking for an Asian adventure just head on over to Chinatown, with so many tasty restaurants you almost can't go wrong.

Here are some of my suggestions, if you're feeling overwhelmed:

Q. T. Vietnamese Sandwich

If you've never tried a Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwich then this is definitely the place for you to go. What is Banh Mi? It's basically a Vietnamese take on a hoagie (Yes, in Philly we call them hoagies, not subs). Q. T.'s is a very small, unassuming little restaurant but it is definitely not one to ignore. Anyone who has tried one of their sandwiches will tell you that it's the place to go for some awesome banh mi. At Q. T.'s there are a variety of different choices in terms of meat or vegetarian options, you can choose anything from Vietnamese ham to lemongrass tofu. After you choose that all you have to do is wait for the delicious sandwich to come to you. The first sandwich I ever got from Q. T.'s was the BBQ pork banh mi (the second time I had the lemongrass chicken which was delicious as well), it was perfectly marinated and cooked pork on a soft yet crunchy roll topped with pickled carrots, crunchy cucumber, spicy jalapenos, and it is finished off with a sprig of refreshing cilantro. The flavors mix together perfectly in your mouth giving you a taste of Vietnam meets Philadelphia hoagie shop. You will not be disappointed and once you try one of their delicious options you will definitely want to go back and try them all, even if you aren't quite sure what "Vietnamese ham" is.

48 N 10th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Lee How Fook

Lee How Fook is good eats. Go once and you'll definitely want to go back for more. I've been going to Lee How Fook ever since I was a kid and I will keep going for years to come. The restaurant has come a long way since its earlier days when it was a "hole-in-the-wall" kind of place; today it is a flourishing business with loyal customers and newcomers flocking in for a taste. Some of the best dishes there (in my humble opinion) are the wonton soup, General Tso's chicken, ginger scallion fish, and the Peking duck. The wonton soup is different from many others you will find in Chinatown; the wonton wrappers aren't thick and doughy, they are light and tender as is the inner filling of pork and shrimp. The broth is flavorful and the perfect complement to the wontons. The General Tso's is a bit different as well; here it is served perfectly crispy and hot with a sweet and spicy sauce with an unexpected accompaniment of pineapple. If you want to go for a special occasion dish you can't go wrong with either the ginger scallion fish or the Peking duck. The ginger scallion fish is a whole fish cooked perfectly until the meat is moist and flavored with the ginger and scallions, and you can't beat the table-side filleting presentation. The Peking duck is another show stopper, you can order a half or a whole depending on the size of your party, but either way people will be wanting more. The meat is tender and cooked just right. It is served with steamed buns, scallions, and hoisin sauce. You can make a sandwich with the meat or dive right in and go for the drumstick. If you try any of these dishes, you will be hooked on Lee How Fook.

219 North 11th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Cookies to Crave

I’m not a huge cookie fan. Personally, I prefer more decadent desserts like cheesecake and red velvet cupcakes, or elaborate desserts like pumpkin whoopie pies filled with chai-infused cream cheese. Cookies to me are boring: if you’re going to have dessert, really have dessert. I have come across only one place in my life that makes cookies that make me rescind this statement. That place is called Mattheesen and Magilner’s Candy Kitchen. Each cookie costs $5, but weighs half a pound. By no means are their chocolate chip cookies just chocolate chip cookies. Believe me, they are worth every dollar and every ounce. These cookies are not only massive, but also very rich and gooey—the definition of decadent. My mom, my sister, and I bought one to share every chance we got. We even bought one each for ourselves for the plane ride home! The problem is, Mattheesen’s is in Key West. That makes it kind of hard to satisfy a craving when we live in Philly for most of the year. However, I have found a cookie place right in Philly that is pretty comparable. The cookies are not a half pound each (nor are they $5 each). But they are delicious!

They can be found at The Famous 4th Street Cookie Co. at Reading Terminal Market. I got the chocolate covered chocolate chip cookie. The cookie itself is chewy and moist. It is so rich that it does not just fall apart in your mouth, but really melts on your tongue, allowing you to savor every morsel. And the chocolate that enveloped it was very sweet, not just an ordinary milk chocolate coating, but it seemed to have a confectioner's sugar base, giving it a unique sweet and sticky taste and texture. The 4th Street Cookie Co. also sells peanut butter chocolate chip, snickerdoodle, sugar, butter almond, white chocolate macadamia nut, and oatmeal raisin. I plan to try the peanut butter chocolate chip next. My roommate has vouched for the snickerdoodle. These cookies are worth the trip even if you just get the cookies!

The Famous 4th Street Cookie Company
Reading Terminal Market
51 North 12th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Problem Solving with Molecular Gastronomy

It has been on your radar for years...Its confounding culinary spectacles have delighted you on Top Chef and Iron Chef. Its influence has reached beyond the culinary world into chemistry and engineering. Its esteem led the closure of Feran Adria's El Bulli to be met with grief vastly disproportional to the number of diners who would ever have eaten there. The ascent of molecular gastronomy within the zeitgeist is undeniable; and with it, a new curiosity of the properties of food and the transformational nature of cooking.

Luckily the the last few years have provided home chefs with new insights into creative process of the world's foremost molecular gastronomists. Last year, Harvard held a class titled Science and Cooking, which featured Feran Adria, David Chang and Wylie Dufresne. In the lectures, the chefs spoke about using new techniques to solve problems. Chang spoke of the challenges of creating broth for noodle dishes in a space-constrained restaurant in NYC. His restaurant simply did not have the space to allow a pot of broth to sit on the stove for the requisite number of hours; so he sought a solution using freeze dried ingredients to create an "instant" broth without sacrificing quality.

As a chef cooking out of a college dorm kitchen, I can relate to Chang's space issues. The challenge to produce food within the joint constraints of space and money is an issue faced by all college cooks. While molecular gastronomy may seem intimidating because it is unfamiliar, at its heart it allows us to produce dishes we love that taste better or overcome challenges of the original preparation.

One application of molecular gastronomy is chocolate mousse without eggs. I adore chocolate mousse, but the ongoing inspections of the FDA into cases of salmonella in egg farms have prevented me from making the traditional recipe for chocolate mousse. There is another recipe, created by French chemist Herve This, which does not require eggs. In fact, it only requires two ingredients: chocolate and water. Surprising how the two ingredients we are told never to mix could create a mousse so delicious that you will wonder why you ever settled for traditional recipe.

Two Ingredient Chocolate Mousse

11 oz chocolate*, chopped in small pieces
1 cup of water
Ice cubes and water

Create an ice water bath in bowl and place a slightly larger bowl on top of it.
Combine chocolate pieces and the cup of water in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir constantly until chocolate lumps are no longer visible.
Pour the mixture directly from the saucepan into the bowl resting in the ice bath. Beat with a whisk until the chocolate mixture forms peaks. Makes about 2 cups of mousse.

It is important not to over beat the mixture, as it will become grainy. If it does become grainy, return the mixture to the saucepan and reheat.

* As you might guess, the chocolate is the key determinate of the mousse's flavor. Choose a chocolate that you enjoy that does not contain too much cocoa butter or cream.

While cost and space prohibit many students from fully engaging in molecular gastronomy experiments, there are several easy ways to find inspiration and new techniques with food.

Buy it - Youtube – Mcgyver it. Armed with inspiration from chefs who broke the rules in their restaurants, take the new techniques and strip them down to what is really necessary. A chef preparing numerous sous vide entrees at the same time may need an immersion circulator costing several thousand, but you do not. Use a Ziploc and a large pot. If the thought of doing it yourself is terrifying, try one of the new immersion circulators designed for home chefs.

Or Just do it!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Fuji Mountain and Yogorino

My friend and I arrived at Fuji Mountain for an early dinner around 5 pm. The dim-lighted restaurant had a quiet and intimate atmosphere, with many booths and two-person tables. After we were given wet towels (which I appreciated) and iced water by the kimono-clad server, we dove into the menu. The extensive menu had many options to choose from, with lists of hot and cold appetizers, kitchen entrees, noodles, sushi, and donburi (rice with cooked meat, fish, or vegetables on top). My copycat companion and I ordered pork katsudon ($14), donburi with fried cutlets, which was served with salad and miso soup. The restaurant was generous with the soup, served in a regular rice-bowl-sized bowl, as most complimentary miso soup comes in cups or small bowls in other Japanese restaurants.

It was particularly welcome, as we had been walking around the cold windy streets. It was slightly milder than most other miso soup I had tasted; the miso flavour was not as strong, but it was not in any way bland. It had a sweet aftertaste, and was the perfect companion to the salad. The salad was in a similar-sized bowl, with mixed greens, lettuce, three slices of cucumber, and thinly sliced carrots, topped with ginger carrot sauce with a tinge of miso flavour. The ginger sauce was excellent and was just the right amount. Soon after we finished the crisp all-vegetable salad, the server brought out the katsudon. It had steaming rice topped with strips of lightly fried pork, softly-cooked egg, thin shreds of seaweed, and three small slices of sweet pickled radish. The onion, the pork, and the moist white rice left a bit of sweetness in my mouth, and the radish accented that. I liked the mix of sweet, tangy and crunchy radish with the rice and meat, but my friend said it would have been better if it came as a side. The price range for a dinner dish is $10 to $27. I left the restaurant feeling satisfied, and promised myself that I would try the sushi next time and take advantage of the Karaoke they have on their 3rd and 4th floors (try the bar if you are 21 or up). The one tiny complaint I have about Fuji Mountain is their chopsticks. Their edges were simply too sharp for a comfortable grip.

Fuji Mountain
2030 Chestnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19103

Next we took a 5-minute walk to Yogorino, my favourite dessert spot in Philadelphia. Voted Best Frozen Yogurt in Philly 2010 by Philadelphia Magazine, this small corner spot boasts only one flavour--tart. It is creamy, rich, and not too sweet, perfect with just one fruit topping and chocolate sauce (but since the yogurt by itself is so good, I would recommend trying it without sauce as well). Yogorino prides itself on being environmentally-friendly, including its biodegradable cups and probiotic food. It is a bit on the expensive side for froyo: $3 for a "mini," with extra charge for 2nd choice of topping and up. The cup is also deceiving; it has another curved layer floating on top of the bottom of the cup, so it looks like you got more than what you actually did. Still, when I have my taste buds set for delicious frozen yogurt, I always find myself going back to Yogorino for more.

230 S. 20th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103

Sunday, February 13, 2011

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

• Both The Daily Pennsylvanian and Meal Ticket report on a new Sweetgreen coming to University City

The Daily Pennsylvanian gets a behind-the-scenes look at Kitchen, opening on February 16

Uwishunu compiles dining guides for this Valentine's Day

Stephen Starr's Pizzeria Stella offers a special deal for college students on Monday nights - Foobooz

University City Dining Days are coming this summer - University City District

• You can now take a Junk Food Tour of Philadelphia - Uwishunu

Stephen Starr has plans to open at least four more restaurants in Philadelphia in 2011 - Uwishunu

• Local bakery Cream and Sugar is offering cupcake decorating classes - University City District

34th Street reviews Manakeesh Cafe Bakery, a new Lebanese fusion eatery in University City

Whole Foods announced it will put salad bars in over 500 schools as part of their Salad Bar Project - Eater

• The politics of food: New USDA report claims you can eat healthy for $2.50 a day - Serious Eats

Trim Your Waste. Go Low-Carbon.

With the fear of global warming rising, many people are trying to look for ways to lower their carbon footprints. Jackie Newgent addresses the threat of climate change with simple but effective cooking techniques and recipes in her latest cookbook, Big Green Cookbook. Targeting both vegetarians and meat-lovers, the book provides easy cooking methods for an eco-friendly lifestyle. However, it never pressures readers to drastically change their eating habits or give up flavorful foods. Instead, Newgent encourages cooks to incorporate small changes into their lives and to slowly adapt green practices. A comprehensive and well-organized introduction addresses greener methods of buying, cooking, serving, and storing food. It includes pollution-reducing party tips and grocery shopping guidelines as well as a kitchen appliance check-list. Newgent's kitchen philosophy promotes small-scale habits that can add up to save large amounts of energy, time, and money.

The 200 recipes in her cookbook are arranged seasonally. Further divided into sections such as "bites and snacks", "soups and salads", or "sips and sweets", the recipes are diverse and easy to incorporate into everyday meals or special occasions. All call for fresh, whole, all-natural ingredients and the use of environmentally friendly products. In the margin of each recipe, Newgent provides a little green cooking tip that is specific to the dish. For example, she suggests using edible dip bowls made out of peppers that can be filled and then eaten - no dish washing needed. When cooking meat, Newgent advises aiming for medium-rare: the cooking time saves energy but is long enough to ensure that the meat is safe for consumption. None of the recipes call for obscure or expensive ingredients. Instead, the focus is on the process. Below is one of Newgent's winter-friendly soup recipes: "Lotsa Veggie Clam Chowder."

Makes 4 Servings: 2 cups each

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
4 medium leeks, white and light green parts only, very thinly sliced
2 large Yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed, unpeeled, and diced
2 1/2 lbs farm-raised littleneck clams, well scrubbed
2 cups low-sodium vegetable or organic chicken broth
1/2 tsp ground sage
1 cup organic half-and-half or plain unsweetened soymilk
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 1/4 tsp sea salt, or to taste
1/4 tsp freshly ground black or white pepper, to taste
1 scallion, green and white parts, minced

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the leeks and saute until soft, about 5 minutes.
Increase the heat to high. Add the potatoes, clams, broth, and sage and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to medium, and cook 10 minutes or until the potatoes are nearly tender. (Discard any unopened clams after 10 minutes).
Add the half-and-half. Cook for 3 minutes. Cover and turn off the heat. Let "lid cook" (cook covered while the burner is off) until the potatoes are fully cooked, about 5 minutes.
Remove the lid and stir in the parsley. Add salt and pepper. Sprinkle with the scallion to serve.

She advises vegetarians to simply leave out the clams and use vegetable broth. And instead of tossing away the clam shells, Newgent suggests using them for crafts, decorations, or even wind chimes.

Jackie Newgent's Big Green Cookbook is available on her website.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Neighborhood Eats: Kensington

If you're looking to explore Philadelphia this spring, there's no better way to do it than through food. There are hidden gems around every corner and even native Philadelphians don't know all the secrets of the city. To help you out a little, I've compiled a list of a few places I've been to and enjoyed in the past. Some are well known institutions and others are just waiting to become the next big thing. Either way these restaurants won't disappoint. Although Kensington is far from campus these places are well worth the trip.

Taco Riendo
1301 N 5th St
Philadelphia, PA 19122

Ever since being introduced to Taco Riendo a little over a year ago I can't get their tacos out of my mind. My first time there I had chicken taquitos and they were the best taquitos I have ever had in my life. They were crispy and perfectly golden with delicious chicken inside, two kinds of salsa on top, and to finish it off, a crumble of queso fresco and refreshing radish slices. They were heaven on a plate. After that first visit I was hooked.

Tacconelli's Pizzeria
2604 E Somerset St
Philadelphia, PA 19134

This place has possibly the best pizza you will ever have in your life. The crust is thin and crispy and the toppings are fresh and delicious. When your waitress brings you the pizza the smell alone is enough to make your mouth water. Tacconelli's doesn't look like much from the outside, it sits in the middle of the block in a residential neighborhood, sandwiched by two houses, but a table at Tacconelli's is like a dream come true. Tacconelli's makes their pizza dough fresh daily and asks customers to call ahead of time and tell them how many pies you want. Insider tip: Always order more than you think you will want because if you don't reserve the pies they might not have enough dough to make you another pizza, and you will always want more of their pizza.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Alternative Valentine's Day Dining

Valentine’s day can be fraught with pressure for even the most low-key couples. You can stress over gifts, agonize over what kind of flowers and candy to send, and make a dinner reservation weeks in advance just to join the thousands of other couples being herded in and out of glitzy restaurants – leaving you with an empty wallet and a secret sense of relief that it’s over for another year.

Or, you could give yourself and your partner a break and do something different, at least for the dinner portion of the Hallmark holiday. Here’s a list of casual V-Day date spots that don’t require reservations or expensive prix-fixe menus, but will satisfy your dining needs with soul and charm.

1709 Walnut St.
Philadelphia, PA 19103
215.751.0201 ‎
Alfa is like that ridiculously attractive, well-bred, perfectly-dressed girl in your Econ class – you kind of want to hate her, but when you get to know her, she’s just too darn friendly. The long bar is mirrored by small high-top tables and backed by a room that’s more lounge than dining. Cushy banquettes and low lighting provide an appropriately swanky atmosphere for Alfa’s fantastic cocktail list (try the Juicy Couture or the Snapple). While it may not be the best place for a formal dinner, most of Alfa’s food is solid – stick with the small stuff, like tater tots, mahi-mahi tacos or a veggie BLT.

Mama Palma’s
2229 Spruce St.
Philadelphia, PA 19103
Got a picky partner? Mama’s got you covered. This little shop boasts an extensive list of appetizers, salads and pasta, but stick with the pizzas: the light, crispy crust will make you want to order an extra pie to take home. The sheer number of options is staggering – choose from nearly 30 specialty combinations, or create your own from a long list of exciting ingredients. There are even five low-fat pizza combos, and whole wheat crust is available for an extra charge. The staff is sweet-tempered and happy to guide you through an experience you’re sure to enjoy. After all, what’s more romantic than eating with your hands? The only drawback is the beer prices – enjoy your dinner and save the imbibing for another location.

801 N. 3rd St.
Philadelphia, PA 19123
215.413.3666 ‎
I love this place so much that I almost hate to share! The menu is full of comfort food favorites, from fried calamari to wings and pierogies, pork and chicken sandwiches, mac and cheese and fish and chips. The prices range from around $10 for a big, delicious sandwich to $20 for the creative, good-sized, totally-worth-it entrees (try the crispy Atlantic salmon). The cocktail list is small but smart – from blood orange margaritas to warm mulled wine – as are the beer and wine lists. The walls are covered in wacky gothic tchotchkes and the lighting is nice and dim. Finally, the waitstaff is friendly, efficient and accommodating – some of the best servers in town.

123 S. 18th St.
Philadelphia, PA 19103
1137 Spruce St.
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Tria is a brilliant concept executed perfectly. Wine, beer, and cheese – what more could you want in life, especially on a special night? The lists for all three are categorized by levels of adventurousness from “Clean” to “Racy,” “Friendly” to “Extreme,” and so on. The food is simple but interesting; try a grilled artichoke panino if you need something substantial, or share a selection of bruschettas, snacks, and of course cheeses. The truffled egg toast with fontina will change your life. Both locations are sophisticated and intimate, and the staff is expertly trained. Don’t be afraid to ask questions; these guys know their stuff. On V-Day they’ll also offer a sparkling, chocolate-infused dessert wine, and optional champagne pairings with the menu. For a late-night rendezvous or after-dinner drink, check out Biba, Tria’s little cousin at 3131 Walnut: the entire wine list is $6 per glass from 10 p.m. to midnight.

221 N 11th St.
Philadelphia, PA 19107
This Chinatown restaurant serves elevated Vietnamese cuisine in a just-posh-enough, cozy setting. If the tiki bar is open, trot on upstairs, where it’s quieter. The soups are large enough for two to share, as are some of the exotic specialty cocktails. Try the seafood noodle soup and the Flaming Volcano (“the fantastic drink for passion lovers”). The vermicelli bowls are ample and delicious, with ten different choices of meats, seafood, veggies and crispy spring rolls. BBQ lovers and herbivores alike have plenty of choices at this intimate spot.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Oyster House

You know you love something when you'll go through hell and high water for it -- and still come back for more. Like oysters, for instance! As some of you may know, one bad oyster can knock you out for 24 hours.  That said, the joy of slurping down a good oyster (or several perhaps) with just a bit of lemon juice or a dash of the perfect mignonette is really quite memorable.

Living in Center City, I'd passed by Oyster House numerous times since I moved here, and I'd been dying to go ever since I found out about their "A-Buck-A-Shuck" Oyster Hour. An oyster for a buck? While that wouldn't be surprising at all to see in a coastal town, where seafood is fresh, convenient and cheap, it's always a little questionable to see it in places that are further inland.

That said, my foodie friend extraordinaire Peter had mentioned that Oyster House was one of his favorite places, where he finds himself once a week. When my birthday rolled around, I knew I had to book this place as one of my many celebration venues. And I was far from disappointed!

While the restaurant normally doesn't take reservations, the hostess on the phone was kind enough to set aside space for me up front. In addition, the in-person service was impeccable -- attentive without being intrusive. (Because we all know how suffocating too much service can be.) Our server made sure to check on every new guest who joined the table, and even brought complimentary ice cream for those of us who lingered till the end.

Even without all the wonderful extras, we would've been perfectly happy, especially given how fresh and well-prepared everything was. The raw oysters (both the specific ones for Oyster Hour and the others on the menu) were delicious -- and with no sand! Even the freshest oysters always seem to have sand in them, but the ones offered up to us that night were most definitely sand-free. While it was mildly disconcerting that we didn't have our choice of oysters to have for "a-buck-a-shuck," the ones we did have were quite substantial in size (which is what I was personally looking for). And because I was so pleased with the $1 oysters, I even ordered a plate of other oysters to sample against them -- all of different sizes, textures, and origins. It was great to be able to taste the freshness as well as the variations in salinity.

While the snapper turtle soup left a lot to be desired, I absolutely loved my fried Ipswich clams, Peter his OH burger (with a fried oyster on top), and Noelle her roasted oyster sampler. The clams could have been slightly less greasy, but were otherwise perfect with the accompanying tartar sauce. The burger was a great contrast in flavor and texture, with the moist beef, creamy yet pungent blue cheese,  crispy fried oyster, and slightly sweet grilled onions. The sampler came with three different kinds of roasted oyster preparations, all of which highlighted the freshness of the oysters in different ways.

Ultimately, there are many other delicious dishes to try here, including the clams casino, the southern fried oysters, the lobster roll, and the crab cakes. I'm seriously hopeful that there will be more visits on the horizon--and soon!

Oyster House
1516 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Adventures in Homemade Pizza

Moving off campus came with the luxury of a full-sized oven, and to celebrate it my roommates and I tried making homemade pizza as one of our first culinary adventures. We quickly realized that making pizza is actually really easy, and enjoying our creations with some Yellowtail red wine made us feel slightly more adult in our dilapidated, but homey, apartment. This developed into a Thursday or Friday night ritual that we remained faithful to for the next year. 20 to 25 pizza attempts later, and we’ve learned a few things about how to make a good pizza.

First, a solid crust recipe is a crucial. As a base, use 1 package of dry yeast, 1 cup of warm water, 2 cups of bread flour, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1 teaspoon of sugar. Additional flourishes include giving the dough a little zest with basil, oregano, or red pepper or going whole wheat with a half regular and half whole-wheat flour mix. We learned the hard way that using all whole-wheat flour makes things a bit dense.

After a year of experimentation a few solid recipes have emerged. Obviously during our first pizza attempt we stuck to a classic cheese pizza. Its success depends highly on a good cheese selection--low-fat, pre-shredded won't work well.

As we became more adventurous with our pizzas, we tried making a pizza with some of my roommate’s homemade pesto. A basic crust layered with red sauce, pesto, feta cheese, red onions and was delicious. In another particularly ambitious pizza-making session we made our own buffalo chicken pizza by layering blue cheese, chicken, chopped red onions and celery with buffalo wing sauce.

We also expanded our taste for vegetables after realizing how much more creative and gourmet we could be by using them on our pizzas. Zucchini, for instance, is amazing on pizza. Veggies should be slightly precooked with a little olive oil, fresh basil, tomatoes, or onions before throwing them in the oven with the pizza.

Over our year of making pizzas there were many failures and agreeable arguments due to failing to let the dough rise enough and creating cracker crust, over cooking the vegetables and losing all the crunch, or picking the wrong temperature on our finicky oven and singing the pizza. But, all things considered, everything we made was eaten and we got closer in the process.
Photos by Sika Gasinu.

Photography Series: Play with your Food

Photos by Hoi Ning Ngai

"A Cat's Dream" by Nicole Woon
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