Locavore Paradise at Caffe Galleria

February 20, 2011

Philly Homegrown was sweet enough to sponsor me when I visited Caffe Galleria back in December. Philly Homegrown is a fantastic initiative of the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation that seeks to inspire Philadelphians to shop from within out 100-mile foodshed, broaden the market for local food, and amplify the work of the local food movement of Greater Philadelphia. As a softie for Whole Foods, farmers, fresh cheese, and all things good and tasty, this mission speaks to me.

Caffe Galleria is a favorite nook among the locals of Lambertville, with a seating area smaller than my childhood bedroom and even more coziness. We met Sandy, a friend of Gustav’s and born-and-raised Lambertvillain, for lunch and consignment shopping. “Galleria is just fabulous. They also own City Market, down the street, I stop in there all the time. You’re going to love it! Great choice,” Sandy squealed as we sat down at a sundrenched table in the center of the room. Tracy, Sandy, and Gustav agonized over the endless menu while I bathed in the sunny vibes of our fellow patrons.

The Tofu Aphrodite arrived, resplendent.

Could this be anything other than the soul mate of my inner vegetarian? And it caters to my wannabe locavore tendencies? Of course it does. Look at it. Look at those vegetables. There was the perfect garlic to salt ratio to bring every flavorful broccoli molecule to the forefront of one’s tastebuds. The tofu was light and crispy, the potatoes were nicely seasoned, the mixed vegetables were savory and hearty, HOWEVER, I am going to die with the perfect memory of the euphoric clarity I experienced upon the first nibble of that broccoli.

There’s a reason for that broccoli-induced ecstasy. Caffe Galleria, owned by Dawn Raia, sources as many of their ingredients locally as possible; when winter and whatnot put a monkey wrench in the plans, Dawn opts for organic ingredients and works from there. The Tofu Aphrodite features fresh tofu, greens from Blue Moon Acres, veggies and herbs from Farmer Bob, and rice from Organic Lundberg. As a point of interest for those on the hunt for cute date ideas, Farmer Bob features allows you to pick your own strawberries in the summer. Which is especially welcome to those whose green thumbs are still in the rebellious adolescent phase, and those whose yards face bunny overpopulation.

Organic Lundberg products are available at most Whole Foods locations in Greater Philadelphia. Farmer Bob’s Sugartown strawberries are available directly from the farm in Malvern– and if you are interested in Blue Moon Acres’s fine array of microgreens, you’re just going to have to visit Galleria yourself, because they only sell to restauranteurs and caterers.

the best of everything, THE LIST!

January 24, 2011

JUST KIDDING!

I haven’t finished yet.

In the meantime, enjoy a fat slice of education.

Philly Homegrown is an initiative of the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation, GPTMC, to “inspire customers to shop within the 100-mile foodshed, to broaden the market for local food, and to amplify the work of the local food movement of Greater Philadelphia”. Wawa is within the 100-FOOT foodshed, does that count? Unfortunately not. But it does allow for late night trips to Whole Foods.

Aside from the economic and environmental reasons for eating local, like reducing carbon emissions, stimulating the local economy, and fostering regional pride, the meats and produce that you eat are frequently more tasty. Mac, head chef of Amada, elaborates:

“During the summer, we source as much locally as possible. I go to the farmers markets at Headhouse Square and the Piazza for our bell peppers and Spanish onions, and the chicken comes from an Amish farm in Lancaster. And it does taste better. The produce is fresher because it hasn’t had to travel as far, and the meat has a lighter, fresher taste as well.”

The chicken in Amada’s valenciana paella is from D’Artagnan, which sources their chickens from small Amish and Mennonite farms all over PA Dutch country. The chickens are raised in a low-volume, truly free range environment, where each is guaranteed to receive lots of sunshine, freedom, and only organic feed. And it’s true, happy chickens are tasty chickens. See for yourself.

The chickens are then processed by Bell & Evans. What makes Bell & Evans chickens juicier than the average grocery store chicken is the three-step chilling process, which uses cold air rather than cold water to chill the chicken.

The traditional method of chilling chickens is to soak them in cold water, causing the meat to absorb 7-8% of its weight in water, which later will “weep” out. If you ever wondered why there is an absorbent pad inside the package of chicken meat at the grocery store- it is there to catch this water.

The method that Bell & Evans uses is to chill the chickens with air, in a massive refrigerator. You can easily see the benefits to this method- the chicken juices are not diluted with water, so the chicken tastes better. The diaper is no longer necessary, which requires less packaging, which allows Bell & Evans to use recyclable and reusable shipping containers. And, of course, there is an enormous savings in water, because the air chill method does not use any.

All in all, Tim and I found the D’Artagnan chicken to be succulent, well complemented by the savory sausage, and with a strong undertone of… happiness? We couldn’t quite place it.

The Last Supper

January 17, 2011

Dishes 236-8: Escargots at Cochon, 801 E. Passyunk Ave
Tuna Mixed Grill at Hamilton’s Grill Room, Lambertville
Black tea glazed spareribs with ginger spice ice cream at Honey, Doylestown

One year ago, a newly minted intern overheard her co-workers flipping through the pages of the local city magazine. Curious and eager to make friends, she popped her head over the cubicle wall, and what lay before her set in motion a chain of events that would change her forever.

Several hours later, she emerged from the fluorescent lit office onto midday Arch Street, shaded by the stature of the Comcast Tower. Her mind twisting around what she had seen on the pages of the magazine, a SEPTA bus whizzed by just inches from her face. She stepped back abruptly and shook free the thought. “I have to get to class.”

Later that night the nagging returned, the pulling on the base of her brain. She ignored it. “Stop it.” She finished her homework, brushed her teeth, went to sleep, woke up, and got dressed for work. And the thought re-emerged. She stifled it with a quick swig of coffee and a handful of cereal.

After work, she emerged again from the fluorescent office and the thought burst into the open air. She considered it for a moment, shook her head, and proceeded to class. That night, she made an otherwise routine phone call.

Hey Mom. Yeah, classes are good. –pause–
 Derivatives, portfolio management, corporate finance, real estate development, business law.
Yeah. I like derivatives and development the best. –pause–
You know, Mom, I had this idea.  –pause–
It’s a little crazy, hear me out. –pause–
Okay, so there was this article in Philly Mag the other day, with the 239 best dishes in Philadelphia. –pause–
Yeah. And I was kind of thinking that I haven’t tried any of them.  Right. And so. I was sort of thinking. That. Iwouldtrythemall. In a year. And write a blog about it. Laughs nervously.
Yeah, pretty crazy. The name? I hadn’t thought about that. What about—uh—spreads arms grandiosely across empty apartment—LOVE TO EAT AND EAT TO LOVE: A GASTRO TOUR DE PHORCE, GETTING TO KNOW PHILLY THE TASTY WAY. –pause–
Yeah, maybe it is a little nuts. Alright. Night. Love you. Bye. –click–

The next day she went to Jones for an innocent grilled cheese sandwich and a tomato soup splashed with olive oil, and it was the best meal she had eaten in months. She typed hesitantly at first, unsure whether she was wasting her time, whether anyone but her mom, best friend, and omnipotent Aunt Kath were reading her posts. Turns out “anyone” was more people than she thought it would be.

The fourth day, she received an email from the woman who had written the article, asking for an interview. The fourth week, she received an email from 6ABC for the same purpose. The fourth month, when she discovered that the giant rock oysters at Morimoto were actually never on the menu, the manager special ordered them and asked the chef to concoct a recipe so that she could meet her goal. It was barely midyear and our intern was riding high on the euphoria of unexpected success, new friends, and newfound confidence. Graduation found her an infatuated woman on the verge of adulthood.

The ecstasy of her final collegiate gasps was choked instantly upon her postgraduate collapse to reality. College friends fled the area to their hometowns. Work was not the same as sunning poolside.  There were no classes to register for, no books to buy. Left no other choice, she went shopping at Brooks Brothers. She made new friends. She jogged for relaxation and exercise. And she ate.

Every day was identical to the day before and the day after; wake, jog, shower, dress, oatmeal, walk to work, work, eat a fabulous meal, go home and fall asleep immediately, spent. There was barely time to document what she had eaten, and her writing deteriorated along with her interest.

It was August 18th, exactly 7 months after commencing her blog, when she caved. In the lamest, most weaksauce move she has made in the past 12 months, Lauren wrote to her long suffering readers that she had found work-life balance and blah blah blah. I’m not even elaborating because it isn’t worth saying.

Thankfully, she got over herself in time to get back on the horse and finish the race. At this point in the story, September 27th,  it was a sprint to the finish. Mike Klein emerged in the plot like a deus ex machina, turning the cogs and pushing her along when she lost momentum.

And thank god that that Mysterious Man/Tim fellow showed up on the scene somewhere at about this point in time, because, in retrospect, he definitely abused her blog as a reason to take her on a number of dinner dates that the average American would probably find excessive. But she didn’t mind. He was pretty cute.

And thank god for her parents, who weren’t upset when she spent the checks intended for groceries and books on what seemed like a bizarre and sometimes pointless endeavor, who encouraged her with thoughtful emails and even patted her affectionately on the shoulder sometimes. And for Professors Arvanites, JMK, JP, and Jim V. Her brother, Brian. Her AK and Uncle Doug, and all of her aunts and uncles. Loretta. The Merry Mavens—Jessica, Rebecca, Megan, Sarah, Molly, and Kate. The Main Line Mama. Her friends— Dani, Biscuit, Tracy, Gustav, Leanne, Amy, Colleen, Aly, Gaby, Jeffers, Greg, Caitlin, Simone, Hess, Linsey, Pete, Jonas, Bradfordley, Tina, Megan M., Olivia, Jess, Steph, Katie O, Megan J., her cousin Meg, Lauren K., Danny K., Piercetopher, Heather and Todd, and everyone that she met along the way and partook in her adventure.

To the restaurant owners and managers, especially at L’Angolo, Morimoto, Blue Fin, Standard Tap, Amada, Osteria, Vetri, Zahav, Chloe, La Famiglia, Zento, Positano Coast, Caffe Galleria, Audrey Claire, the Clam Tavern, and Marsha Brown, to the servers and cooks and short-order cooks, to her fellow patrons and to the PR folks who worked a miracle or two. To her patient bosses. To the ladies of Philabundance.

And of course, to Philly Mag and their sister, 6ABC, for making it all possible.

The final bites—a perfect petite casserole of garlicky escargots from Cochon on Thursday, a tender tidbit of tuna from Hamilton’s on Friday, a transcendent sparerib smeared with gingersnap ice cream on Saturday—were bittersweet; lightened by the loves she had found and goal accomplished, weighted by the ending of something truly sweet. She looked across the lacquered table at Tim, his smile warm and familiar, yet only months old; how strange this journey had been, how friends had appeared to help accomplish this seemingly insurmountable and frequently absurd goal, sharing the weight until it seemed like a joy rather than a goal. How lucky she was. To have met who she met, tasted what she tasted, and realized that it really wasn’t what she ate at all, but who sat across the table. How lucky she felt, knowing that she had selfishly stashed away one final restaurant, the very last dish, to be all her own. To share with someone she loves, outside the bounds of an impulsive gamble, at the own pace, whenever and for however long, without ever having to report the details to anyone.

This One Isn’t So Eventful

January 3, 2011

Just a couple days left!

Dish 233: Squid Ink Pasta at Tre Scalini, 1915 E. Passyunk Ave

With high hopes and grumbling stomachs, Tim and I ventured to Tre Scalini last night in search of the elusive black pasta, to no avail. The restaurant was closed, presumably for the holiday. In the interest of time, we called it even and made some bolognese, but we’ll be back later in the year, when eating out is a scrumptious novelty again.

Dishes 234-236: Meatballs at Angelo’s Fairmount Tavern
Tuna Tartare at SeaBlue
Grilled Artichoke at Cafe 2825
all in Atlantic City

Sorry, no great “what happens in AC, stays in AC” style stories here– no ghostriding with Neil Diamond, skinny dipping with Cris Angel, no tigers found in the hotel room, no broken teeth, no food poisoning-roofies-mysterious tattoo scares. I simply discovered that Zagat’s recognizes AC and Philly in separate categories. So I’m going to let these dishes slide and try them later in the year, when there is a reason to visit more mouthwatering than “Kozak the Magician” and “Big Al’s Murder Mystery”.

Heaven- Exit 332 off the Schuykill

December 30, 2010

Dish 232: Surf and turf at Blackfish, Conshohocken

Okie-dokie, business first: I’m extending “game time” by a week due to wintry conditions. Yes, Mom, I had a whole year to do this and I procrastinated anyway. Also, the surf and turf was not available last night, so we had to make do and order some other dishes. Le sigh. Life is so hard.

So, Blackfish, you really nailed it last night! Nice job!

It certainly seemed like Blackfish was cursed. First, I went with friends and it was closed. The next time, the maitre d’ canceled my reservation (wtf). Then I went with Colleen and the bouillabaisse was “eh”. Tim and I made approximately three attempts to visit, foiled by fate on each occasion, and FINALLY, last night, we actually made it there, and I have to say, it could not have been better. It was just. Fabulous.

Where to begin? The place is gorgeous, dove gray walls with high white wainscoting, and a tiled ceiling the color of the sky before a summer storm. The clientele is so happy- their stories, smiles and laughs spill from each tableclothed table. The waitstaff is unnaturally good looking. (I’m not kidding.) The montepulciano we brought turned out to have rich blackberry undertones. Oh, and the food- indescribable.

It began with shot glasses filled with savory-smooth celery puree; followed by its butternut cousin, which we attempted to consume as slowly as possible, to do right by its sweet-hearty-buttery self. The sashimi-style hiramasa is served with cilantro and yuzu kosho, which is like an Asian orange; it is crisp and light and just beautiful. Tim had the salmon, served with half-spheres of beets and circles of beet puree like an abstract painting. As if I could eat any more—it seemed an insult to the first course to dilute the meal with another round—the carnaroli risotto with syrupy beef jus rose above every thin, watery jus I have thus far tasted.

Bravo.

Let the Neverending Food Coma Commence!

December 29, 2010

Dishes 220-231: Pork Paprikash and spaetzle at the Yardley Inn, Yardley
Deluxe Pig-Out at Sweet Lucy’s Smokehouse, 7500 State Road, Palmyra
Thai Curry Mussels at Grey Lodge Pub, 6235 Frankford Ave
Hot wings at Curran’s Irish Inn, 6900 State Road, Palmyra
Provence baguette sandwich at Café Lutecia, 23rd and Lombard
Miso Soup at Izumi, 1601 E. Passyunk Ave
Calamari and arugala at Paradiso, 1627 E. Passyunk Ave
Lemon tart at Mr. Martino’s. 1646 E. Passyunk Ave
Baked clams at the Clam Tavern, Clifton Heights
Dosas at Rajbhog, Cherry Hill
Gnocchi at Blackbird, Collingswood
Unagi Tobiko Roll at Sagami, Collingswood

 PT. 1- THE MAD MEN PARTY

On the route home from New Hope, we made several stops for takeout to cater the Mad Men party. Pork paprikash at the cozy Yardley Inn, nestled in scenic Yardley… “did we just drive into an [expletive deleted] Norman Rockwell painting? What is this?” commented Gustav as we trolled into the Christmas light-frosted town center. Then we traced 95 down the back zipper of Pennsylvania and New Jersey to Sweet Lucy’s in Palmyra—where I grossly underestimated the gluttony of a Deluxe Pig-Out. The girl taking my order asked, “for 4 or 6?” “Four or six people?!” “Yes.” “Four?” “Okay. You’re aware that you get a full rack of ribs, half a chicken, and a pound of meat? What kind of meat would you like?” “Geez. Pulled pork?” “Alright. Four sides?” “Four sides?! What’s popular?” “The mashed potatoes are good, you want those. The mac and cheese, and probably a vegetable, the cucumber tomato salad is great.” “That sounds good. And maybe cornbread?” “Oh, that’s included. How about the baked beans instead?”

And there were still two stops left to go! Curran’s and Grey Lodge were populated primarily by the type of large, intimidating men that I imagine to be lifelong fans of regular Bud in cans. So that was good. We typically get along well. I do try to keep abreast of sweeping trends in professional football, the failproof topic of conversation.

By the time we reached the city, Gustav’s car, Sylvia, smelt deliciously of barbecued, buffalo’ed, and paprikash’ed meat. A scent made only more delicious by the social insensitivity of stuffing a vegetarian’s car (and then apartment) chock full of meat. Mmmmm.

Not period, but much tastier than a jello mold. Tracy in the background.

In the foreground left, pork paprikash and spaetzle. Behind it, the tomato and cucumber salad (white bowl) and ribs and half a chicken (green bowl). Behind that, the hot wings from Curran’s, some indescript side dishes, and the mussels from Grey Lodge. All spectacular and fully worth the voyage to the Northeast!

PT. 2- LUNCH at LUTECIA and DINNER on EAST PASSYUNK

Café Lutecia was all out of provencal sandwiches, so I had to substitute.

Okay, that was a lie. But provencal sammies are the most repellent dish I can think of, save for meat jellies, which are inarguably offensive.

So pretty!

 Hence the scrumptious goat cheese and roasted red pepper sandwich at Café Lutecia, located in my new favorite neighborhood, Graduate Hospital. The floor is linoleum, the chairs are mismatched, and the atmosphere is cluttered and charming. The pace of the meal was perfect, lingering but not slow, time to catch up with MM before braving the crowds for last-minute Christmas shopping, and a marathon dinner plan.

MM and I reconvened several hours later with Heather and Todd, a lovely pair who attended the restaurant crawl several weeks ago. We sat down at Izumi with an ambitious agenda: 1. Miso soup at Izumi. 2. Calamari and arugala at Paradiso. 3. Lemon tart at Mr. Martino’s. (We must be crazy.)

Have to say, this setup would make a great first date! Heather and Todd’s awesomeness and easygoing natures aside, it was fun to change scenery every 45 minutes or so. There was always something to talk about- whether the great value that Izumi provides on sushi platters, the impossible-to-decide-upon menu at Paradiso (though you must sample the chestnut pasta with wild boar ragu), or the alluring creepiness of Mr. Martino’s.

**GREATEST HITS ALERT**

Mr. Martino’s was the runaway favorite of the evening and my favorite experience so far. Heather and Todd live in the neighborhood, and “I’ve walked past this place dozens of times, and I swear I’ve never seen it before,” said Todd. At one point, I scootched in to allow the owner to pass behind me, and when I looked up, he had disappeared under the stairs. The place is decorated with old photos, eerie tchotkes, and smells vaguely of a haunted attic. Oh, and the lemon tart is unbelievable: rich, tart, and sweet but not consciously so. Make reservations, the restaurant is only open for dinner Friday, Saturday, and Sunday- the rest of the time it sinks silently into the brownstone that houses it, a la Grimwauld Place.

PT. 3- BAKED CLAMS + COLD BEER inspires POETRY

“There once was a tavern for clams
The ‘hood was sleepy & far from sand
The scent was mouthwatering
Encouraging loitering
By the man who’d put the clams in your hands.” 

Sorry about the poem.

The Clam Tavern sits on a quiet, residential street lined with neat square homes outlined in colored Christmas lights. The church down the block waits patiently, lawn manicured, nativity scene lit, for its parishioners to wake up and come to mass. Less than one car passes each minute as I stride towards the neon lights of the Clam Tavern. The door is heavy and the bar sleepy on this Monday night, though the minute I enter, I can picture what it’s like on a Thursday night. The regulars sit at the bar, glued to the Eagles game, with clumps of friends clustered around the tall tables, chowing down on the savory baked clams whose addictive aroma fills the air; the garlicky fragrance and buttery broth begs to be eaten and refuses to be ignored, even when competing with Vick for attention. Pair them with a cold draft, and you may never want to leave.

PT. 4- I LOSE ALL HOPE IN EVER MAINTAINING MY GIRLISH FIGURE

Guys- I’m stuffed. For the second day in a row, it’s midmorning and I’m still in a food coma from last night. Thank God this is finishing in a week. God bless foodies, I give them credit for appreciating every last detail of a dish—but I think water is good for now. And then maybe a salad and some dry toast.

If you or someone you know has the contact info for Simone's boss, alert me immediately.

Simone and I went out two nights ago under the innocent guise of introducing him to Indian food via the dosas at Rajbhog. Which are unreal, by the way. It’s a two foot wide crunchy crepe stuffed with potatoes laced with masala spice and served with a spicy soup/dip and a coconut-y chutney. Naively, we ordered two. I’m going to pass out just thinking about this.

And this was our nosh in the car...

We planned to dine at Blackbird and get takeout from Sagami to finish up the remaining South Jersey establishments, until… “Lauren! There’s this place I have to take you to! What is it called? Starts with an A. We’ll take out from Blackbird; we absolutely have to go to this place.” When have I ever turned down the promise of an fabulous meal? After several misadventures trying to find the two restaurants on the list, we were off to Caffe by Aldo Lamberti.

And this was our nosh in the parking lot...

Reminder: we’ve already had dosas, which are two foot wide pancakes filled with potatoes. We just got takeout from Blackbird and Sagami, and we’ve been sneaking bites. And now we’re off to Caffe. Just making sure we’re all on the same page. Good.

Caffe is a classy be-carpeted, potted palm-tree studded, white tableclothed affair with the necessary South Jerz touches, like the truck-driver accent on the adorably tiny hostess and the exquisite glass façade that overlooks the adjacent strip mall. The staff is refined and the other patrons wear fur.

“The pizza bread- oh, just wait.” Simone glances at me excitedly. It arrives, wide slices, thick like Sicilian but with less cheese. And the crust—just like Mario’s Sicilian at home.

And this was actually dinner.

We opt for the gnocchi, he the sweet potato and me the Sorrento. The sauce is fresh and light, loaded up with basil and sweet, fresh mozzarella; a kiss of summer from a heap of doughy morsels.  He raises a glass. “To… to…” “To Everything!” “Cheers!” 

Nine dishes, eight days left!

December 23, 2010

Nine dishes left and eight days to go! I can hardly believe it’s drawing to completion. If you would like to join me for one of them, just holler!

Three in Atlantic City:
1. Tuna Tartare at SeaBlue
2. Meatballs at Angelo’s Fairmount Tavern
3. Cafe 2825

One in Bucks County:
4. Butterscotch Cake at Birchrunville Store Cafe

Two in South Philly:
5. Squid Ink Pasta at Tre Scalini
6. Escargots at Cochon BYOB

One in Lambertville:
7. Tuna mixed grill at Hamilton’s Grill Room

One in Doylestown:
8. Black tea glazed spareribs at Honey

One in Conshy:
9. Surf and Turf at Blackfish

…these are a few of my favorite things!

December 23, 2010

Dishes 215-218: Sea bass at Fish, 17th and Lombard

Chicken Vindaloo at New Delhi, 40th and Chestnut

Tofu Aphrodite at Caffe Galleria, Lamberville

Sweet Potato Casserole at Marsha Brown, New Hope

The best part about black tie season is the perpetual sensation of being in a James Bond movie. (And better yet if you are sitting opposite Bond, no?) There is such excess and romance of going to a local BYO for a bite before an event in full attire. So there we are, sitting across from one another in sumptuous burgundy velvet seats, abstract kitchen images lit from behind by spotlights in the background, and perfect slivers of fish sitting center stage. I can’t imagine anything better…

sexy lighting

…until two nights later, standing in the kitchen around a white Styrofoam takeout container loaded with chana masala, dal, and naan. “The trick I found,” I said, mouth full, “to getting the most of the takeout buffet, is to put down a moderate layer of rice, to keep the liquids from spilling. Then load up on the dal and chana masala. Then stuff as much naan as you can in the upper section of the container.” Tim laughed. “Molly and I are still trying to find out if Olive Garden will let us do take out of the never ending soup, salad, and breadsticks. I’d bring a garbage bag and fill it up with lettuce.”…

…Lettuce was hardly the only item available on the vegan-friendly menu at Caffe Galleria, “where the unapologetic carnivore and the dedicated vegan dine together, happily”. I had the Tofu Aphrodite, three thick slabs of breaded tofu baked until crisp and smothered in garlicky vegetables. The tofu was prepared with care and expertise—however, I stuffed myself to the brim with the rich, flavorful veggies on the side. Oops.

Gustav’s friend Sandy showed him, me, and Tracy through the best vintage shops in Lambertville, where we found a delicious Tiffany blue v-neck dress to wear for our Mad Men party the same evening. After working up a bit of a lather, we walked the bridge to New Hope and to Marsha Brown.

Caleb Lentchner of Marsha Brown treated us to the sweet potato casserole, a side dish that could comfortably make a home on the dessert menu- but why? It’s such a scrumptious surprise where it is. Afterwards, we enjoyed a tour of the premises, dominated –of course—by the massive mural in the dining room, an arched painting of several lions and men in combat. My favorite painting has to be the inside of the elevator shaft, which depicts—you guessed it—heaven, on the upper floors, and the descent into hell, with cherubs guiding you all the while.

Christmasy surprises, one after another

December 14, 2010

Dishes 207-8: Fish and Chips at the Whip Tavern, 1383 N. Chatham Road, Coatesville

Cheese and Potato Tart at the Marshalton Inn, 1300 West Strasburg Rd, West Chester

Whip Tavern fish and chips = minor food coma

Full-bellied, we drove into the town of Marshalton at dusk, after a full afternoon of puttering around Bucks County in search of horses, goats, grain silos, and the Whip Tavern. (Check, check, check, and check!) The Marshalton Inn was our last stop before heading back to Philly for an action packed Saturday night.

A block from the Inn, there was a park centering on the ruins of a historical stone building iced in white Christmas lights. Parents milled around the crumbling fireplaces, where fresh crackling fires had been lit; boys and girls played tag, cutting off white-haired revelers stopping by the sweets table for cookies and a Styrofoam cup of hot chocolate. Tim parked behind a silver pickup which had evidently been holding, until recently, a very large Christmas tree—and directly ahead, we saw its precious cargo: the town tree. We climbed out of the car and up the embankment where we were absorbed into the small crowd. A tall woman with glasses smiled warmly. “Are you two new in town? I haven’t seen you before.” We explained that we were just passing through, and she nodded, “Wonderful! Well, you’re just in time, we’re about to light the tree. The carolers will start any second now, go get some hot chocolate before they begin!” We wandered towards the fold up table loaded down with three by eight feet worth of cookies—sugar, chocolate chip, fudgy, store bought and homemade, rum-soaked—and were nearly overwhelmed by the choices. The tree flickered on for a second, reminding us to hurry up, and we each picked a cookie and a cup of hot chocolate before heading back towards the excitement. The choir finished God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, and then everyone counted down together… four… three… two… ONE… and cheers erupted from the crowd as the tree lit up, beautiful against the night sky.

*  *  *

Dishes 209-11: Beer Battered Dill Pickles at Memphis Taproom, 2331 East Cumberland St

Sausage Pizza at Tacconelli’s, 2604 East Somerset St

Fried Shrimp at Sid Booker’s, 4600 North Broad

In light of the recent and escalating violence in Kensington, I have decided to forfeit the two dishes located in this neighborhood, at Memphis Taproom and at Tacconelli’s. For the same reason of safety I am also going to forfeit Sid Booker’s famous shrimp by Temple.

*  *  *

Dishes 212-4: Asian Eggplant at Thai Basil, 653 Haddon Ave, Collingswood

Short Ribs at Nunzio’s, 706 Haddon Ave, Collingswood

Gnocchi at Sapori, 601 Haddon Ave, Collingswood

I recently walked into a seminar several minutes late, as the instructor was in the midst of a rant about how North Jersey is so different from South Jersey and it should really just secede, because South Jersey doesn’t want to associate itself with North Jersey anyway. I had no idea the feeling was mutual. GOOD. Make fun all you like, at least we have all our teeth and don’t wear elastic waist jeans to the bar.

Tim is from a faraway place where the North/South Jersey divide doesn’t even register on the radar. So while I didn’t want to look petty by talking trash, I’d honestly rather eat a can of Crisco than cross the BFB. Thankfully he is insistent and goal-oriented and managed to drag my ambitions to the surface through a heavy quagmire of ingrained regional pride. “These three restaurants [Thai Basil, Nunzio’s, and Sapori] are all close together, what do you think about hitting those tonight?” I hesitated. He started again. “Or not, we don’t have to. But you only have two weeks left for all these, we should get a couple tonight.” I squirmed like a first grader who had been hoarding crayons in her desk. Not Collingswood… the South Jersey restaurants have been delicious, but they’re so farrrrr, out in the burbs- whyyyyyyy…  “Okayyyyyy. Okay. Ok. No really, it’s fine.”

White lights wrapped around the lollipop trees lining Haddon Ave and lit the driving rain to almost cheerful levels. Lights arched across the street, spelling out “Season’s Greetings!” welcomed us to the quiet downtown of BYO’s. Thai Basil was hushed, jarred occasionally by the ringing laughter of a small group. Nunzio’s no longer offers short ribs on the menu—“Would you like something else?” “Maybe, what’s good?” “Oh, we have a great rack of lamb.” “I don’t think so, thank you.” “The veal chop, perhaps?” “Um, no thanks.”

 Two blocks down, Sapori hosted an intimate Christmas party of stylish women with highlighted black hair in different age-appropriate styles; two men, willing captives, looked on with amused smiles. The stone walls encircling the restaurant lent an unexpected coziness; feeling a strange glow from someplace within my chest, I looked at Tim. “I think—you know, this place is nice.” He agreed enthusiastically. The carrot and butternut squash purees served with the bread were so light and seasonal, and the atmosphere so friendly. “And—it isn’t that far from the city, after all.” No, no it isn’t, he agreed. “I kind of—wouldn’t mind coming back.”

Mega-Post to tie up loose ends

December 8, 2010
Sorry this entry is so long, but I have a lot of loose ends to tie up! I had some wonderful weeknight dinners and procrastinated the posts until we were left with this MEGA POST. MEGA.

Dishes 187-206:

Peking Duck at Sang Kee, multiple locations

Sang Kee’s Peking Duck dinner for two has to be the perfect weeknight dinner! Tim and I gobbled down tender wontons floating in hearty broth, assembled countless pancakes with duck meat, hoisin sauce, and shredded onions, and glommed downfried rice and  more duck, shredded and fried with green beans. And there was this impossibly cute little girl at the next table over, loved her chubby cheeks.

#1

Round 2Round 3

 

Green Curry Summer Rolls from Blue Sage Vegetarian Grille, Southhampton

Mike Klein and my awesome brother Brian conducted a highly sophisticated maneuver that Jason Bourne might call a “drop”. Every girl should have such great friends! And the summer rolls are smoky, rich, and really stick to your ribs—hard to believe they’re meatless, I can’t wait to pay Blue Sage a visit.

Blackened Green Beans at Grace Tavern, 23rd and Gray’s Ferry Ave

Fried Chicken at Resurrection Ale House, 24th and Gray’s Ferry Ave

Grilled Cheese at Royal Tavern, Passyunk between Montrose and Carpenter

Yes, these tastings occurred on two separate nights. Resurrection is the bar for people who aren’t into lurking in bars. It’s well lit, the music isn’t too loud, there’s only one television, and everyone inside the bar appears to have showered within the past 24 hours. The prices are reasonable and the food is refined. It’s rather pleasant. Oh, and they don’t serve the fried chicken any more. It was wildly popular and drew lots of customers, so the management drew a SWOT chart and concluded that the chef’s ennui far outweighed profit. Wait, what?

Around the block from Resurrection, you have Grace, and all the way across town, you have it’s brother from another mother, Royal Tavern. Am I missing something? Are these the same owners? Grace and Royal are dead ringers for one another, both narrow, one-floor arenas of brew, slightly raised in the back section; tin ceilings and red votive holders lend ambiance to the conversations held by edgy people with legit occupations. And the food, MWAH! (Picture me kissing my fingertips and gesturing emphatically.) Those blackened green beans are inspired. They could get little kids excited about veggies, they’re that good. And the grilled cheese is nothing to sneeze at.

Schmitter at McNally’s Tavern, Chestnut Hill

Just as Philly Mag promised, this sandwich is loaded up with a truly unholy blend of luncheon meats, cheeses, and fried onions, and yet, it is lighter than an Olsen twin before a runway show. Defies explanation.

Hanger Steak at Alba, Malvern

As a teenager might say, “idk, I was kinda eh”. The hanger steak is no longer on the menu, and the skirt steak that has replaced it—just doesn’t feel like it’s worth eating. Brian and Tim both liked it, but I thought the cinnamon rub on the meat tried too hard, and that the cabbage was bitter. Perhaps it was simply the bitterness of my cold heart, grumpy that it had to trek to The Outer Main Line (Perish the thought!) for a mediocre steak. Alba itself looks supercute, though, and I’m sure I’d love it if I lived in that town.

Tiramisu at Caffe Valentino, 3rd and Titan

Polla Torta at Taco Loco, 4th and Washington

… and maybe a slice of Pumpple Cake for dessert, from Flying Monkey in Reading Terminal Market. I was expecting to have to forfeit Taco Loco, because it didn’t seem possible to coordinate visiting a food truck on the other side of town, while I commute out to the Main Line for work. And yet, en route to Caffe Valentino, TL rose from the dusk, glowing like a jalapeno waiting for an unsuspecting Irishman. Wonderful, wonderful surprise, and unforgettable torta.

If you are good at math, you are probably wondering why I’m not sweating  profusely at the thought of fitting all of these dishes into the remaining three weeks. That is because we have SEVEN remaining morally objectionable dishes! And here they go:

Stuffed Veal Chop at Catelli, Voorhees

Robatayaki at Izakaya, Atlantic City

Veal sweetbreads at Modo Mio, Hancock and Girard

Lamb Chops at Salt and Pepper, 6th and Fitzwater

Foie gras pastrami at Vetri, 13th and Spruce

Sweetbreads at Majolica, Phoenixville

Gustaio Sandwich at Paesano’s Philly Style, multiple locations

Yes, not trying these dishes means that I have not literally sampled every dish on the official list, but let’s be honest, this is a blog, not a white paper for the UN. So no reason to toss my morals to the wind on this occasion.

House made brats at Brauhaus Schmitz, Christmas Village location

Sorry sorry sorry for going without you, but it was right there, and I was so hungry, and it was crispy on the outside and just a little spicy. The bun was fluffy, the kraut was plentiful—I’m sorry, we’ll go again. Ugh, I’m such a bad friend.

Chicken parm at Scannicchio’s, 2500 South Broad

They definitely do NOT make this with chicken, or at least no chicken I have ever seen. The slab of meat consumed most of the takeout container, the size of a dinner plate. You had to have been talking a 30 or 40 pound chicken to get a piece of meat like that. I don’t want to know, don’t tell me; just like back in North Jersey. Plus I ran into Snooki and her mom on my way out, and they had adorable matching fur vests, love it.

Molletes at Café Con Chocolate, 22nd and Snyder

Unfortunately, CCC changed their hours to Thursday through Sunday from their website, which reads Tuesday through Sunday—so yes, I trekked six blocks solidly into the hood just to find the metal cage pulled down. In any case, molletes are delicious, and rather than endanger my life a second time, I’ll just give you Hess’s fantastic recipe. Envision garlic bread slathered with refried beans and cheddar:

1 loaf baguette

Butter

Garlic powder

1 can refried beans

Cheddar

Turn oven to 375. Cut loaf in half horizontally. Butter it, and sprinkle on garlic powder. Spread on a thick layer of beans, and sprinkle with cheese. Heat until cheese is bubbly and it all smells good.

Fried Calamari at Novita Bistro, 16th and South 

In the vein of the chicken parm at Scannicchio’s, the calamari from Novita is gigantic! It’s only the suckers, and they are about the size of a silver dollar, dipped in batter and fried until chestnut brown. Beautiful, sweet, and an unexpected but welcome change of pace from the regular calamari.

33 DISHES REMAIN. 23 DAYS AND COUNTING.


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