One Great Meal Deserves Another!

December 5, 2010

Dishes 182-186: Grilled Pizza at Chloe, 2nd and Arch

Mozzarella in pastella at La Famiglia Ristorante, Front St. between Market and Chestnut

Square sushi and seafood udon at Zento, 2nd and Chestnut

Crudo at Positano Coast, Walnut between 2nd and 3rd

Thanks to all the donors, attendees, restaurant owners, and the wonderful ladies at Philabundance—the night was a fantastic success, and we are already planning another!

The party began with nametags, bumper stickers, and grilled pizza at Chloe, courtesy of the magnificent owner Mary Ann Ferrie—who may have smacked me when I admitted I had never visited before despite spending a lot of time in Old City. One bite of pizza loaded up with bacon and dried figs—sweet, smoky, savory, chewy, crisp—it was perfectly clear why this dish deserves a spot at the top of the list.

Then we strolled to La Famiglia while Shira, our guest-host from Philabundance, walked backwards and described Philabundance’s programs and how the money from each ticket would be put to use. At a cost of about $0.30 a meal, each $25 ticket delivered more than 75 meals to the hungry, in the form of senior food-assistance programs, food pantries, and making fresh fruits and veggies available to those who need it most.

Gino and Giuseppe, the lovely gents of La Famiglia, had a table reminiscent of the Last Supper set up for us. Knowing the limited time we had for each stop, they quickly passed around generous individual servings of the smoky fried mozzarella in pastella, drizzled with a zigzag of pesto.

No, seriously, Last Supper.

Then it was off to Zento, where our group took up half of the tiny restaurant. We shuffled around, rearranging seats to ensure that everyone sat next to different new friends at each location. As we noshed on square sushi, with ribbons of sweet running through the core, and slurped on udon noodles, one guest described her mother’s perpetual quest to set her daughter up with a nice man from the neighborhood. “You know Linda Richman from Coffee Talk. That’s her. –runs her fingers along the knuckles of each hand—Rings. Rings. –pulls on both ears—Earrings. – holds her hands in a large halo around her head—HAIR. And she keeps my high school yearbook picture on her desk, to show men that come into the office. Oh, my God. Sometimes I look at her, and I’m like, Oh my God, that’s me in 25 years.” Haha.

Group nosh!

 One more short walk, and our last stop was Positano Coast for crudo and late happy hour specials. Guests clustered around the bar in twos and threes—new twos and threes from the pairs they arrived in—and tasted spoons heavy with raw tuna and diced onions. When the crowd loosened up and began to put on their jackets, I looked at my watch. Almost 9:30. Not too bad for a Wednesday night.

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fishies!

November 30, 2010

Dish 181: Wet roast beef sandwich at Nick’s Old Original, several locations

I never dreaded going to the doctor when I was little. Getting shots, maybe, but the waiting room was worth it. Heaps of HIGHLIGHTS magazines taller than a toddler. Brightly colored toys that my parents refused to buy. That giant wire structure with the beads you can push back and forth along the vibrant wiggles. And best of all, an epic six-foot-wide fish tank. There were tiny electric blue tetras, orange and white clownfish like Nemo, yellow and blue angelfish, mean-looking catfish,  indigo purple tangs with neon yellow tails, snails, crabs- I could go on for days!

Obviously people don’t run around advertising how much they enjoyed the fish tank at their pediatrician’s office, so I was a little surprised when, upon mention of Nick’s Roast Beef, Tim said, “Oh, you’ll like it. They have a fish tank.” (Am I that predictable? A bar does something incurably weird, and he knows I’ll love it?) Sigh, indeed, the Nick’s fish tank was awesome. Somewhat understocked in comparison to Dr. Miguel’s kickass setup, but what can you do? We’re in a recession.

While we’re on the subject of roast beef, it was hearty, piled high and served au jus, or, as they call it in these parts, “wet”. The regulars are laid back and know how to treat a lady right, by showing her where they hide the handbag hooks under the counter and occasionally expanding their conversation to include the two good natured young folks sitting nearby. Even the paper cutouts representing donations to XYZ charity had a sense of humor, and spelled out rude phrases and names like “Ben Dover” over several pieces of paper.

One of my uncles evicted the heifers from his barn and turned it into a bar—it’s quite nice, actually, has a pool table now, satellite TV, and a couple of taps—and I couldn’t help thinking that what he really needs is a fish tank, for that finishing touch.

DOUBLE FEATURE: Unruly forms of ground meat

November 29, 2010

Dishes 178-180: Brisket Hash and Smoked wagyu Panini at Café Estelle, 444 N. 4th St

Pork Dumplings at Meritage, 20th and Lombard

So THIS is Scrapple!

Having heard many scary stories about Scrapple’s gruesome ingredients and harboring an inexplicable compulsion to “do” all things Philly, I have for a long time felt Scrapple calling me, but been too tentative to try it. I had just worked up the nerve to order it at Estelle the other day when Tim beat me to it.

And you know what, not half scary! It was spicy and meaty, deep fried, all excellent qualities, a nice crispy exterior and a gooey meaty interior. What’s not to like? It wasn’t grisly in the least. I’m a fan.

A notable matter of business—I have called Estelle on multiple occasions, weekday and weekend, and now this was my second visit—and the dishes on the list have not been available any of those occasions. So we decided to sample some other goodies and call it a day.

I opted for the autumn scramble, a messy conglomerate of swiss chard, eggs, potatoes, and cheddar cheese—the sophisticated interpretation of my usual, two eggs, scrambled. Tim chose the apple cinnamon pancakes, aromatic manhole-sized fluffy confections doused in syrup. Oh. Glorious.

But the highlight of this event was the Scrapple, a dish that asks as many questions as it answers. Meat? Yes. Beef? Maybe? Pork? Possibly? Delicious? Clearly! 

 ***

And on the subject of PORK DUMPLINGS…

There are no pictures of this one cause I ate it. Sorry. I feel like one of those guilty-faced lolz cats.

courtesy of icanhascheezeburger.com

Good news: this is an excellent reason to go back and glom them down a second time. Tender, crispy, chewy little bits of fried heaven, in manageable three-dumpling portions. Dumplings for all the masses!

The Leftovers… They Speak to Me!!

November 28, 2010

Dishes 176-177: Salt-baked Shrimp at Lee How Fook, 11th and Race

Steamed Shrimp at Tai Lake, 10th and Race

It was the night after Bomb Bomb BBQ, and every time I opened the fridge, a carton full of mussels, two tupperwares of shrimp (from Tai Lake and Lee How Fook, takeout), and a small carton of rice stared me in the face. EAT US. COOK US. The torment—do leftovers speak to you? Do they ask you to make jambalaya? Geez, sometimes I think I’m losing it. In any case, I got back from work the next night, threw my handbag aside, and got to work.

Here you go, leftover seafood stew:

3 T. Butter + Splash of canola

1 med onion

4 pieces bacon or prosciutto, diced

1 small head broccoli, cut up

Small container of white rice

Leftover mussels in red sauce, additional cup or so of water

Whatever else is in the fridge

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan, and splash in the canola oil. Butter burns at a lower temperature than oil, but it has that amazing flavor, so the combo gives you the best of both worlds.

Dice the onion and toss it in the butter with the bacon or prosciutto. Cook until the onion is clear and it all smells ridiculously good. Throw in the broccoli and rice and get it all covered in that tasty fat.

Add the seafood. Once its coated in onions and bacon, pour in the leftover red sauce. Add water gradually, taste as you go. Heat it through, and—it’s ready!

How Lauren Got Her Snark Back, pt. 1

November 19, 2010

Dish 175: Mussels in Red Sauce at Bomb Bomb BBQ, 1026 Wolf Street

It is painfully clear that things have been going too well lately. When it’s cold and November rainy, I soak in the contrast of the foliage against the sky. When I miss the bus, I wait patiently for the next one. When we run out of cereal, I turn to oatmeal without complaint.

I’ve lost my snark. It’s gone.

 Listen to this: Gustav went blonde recently, opening himself to a cornucopia of jabs ranging from “oh, hey Guy Fieri, I didn’t realize you were guest starring on this playdate”‘ to (cue raspy British accent) “I’m Billy Idol”. And in the face of that toothsome array of options, what did I tell him? That it looked cute. It was cute.

Because, to be honest, it was.

There are no warm fuzzies in food blogging! Ahh! So in a proactive effort to get my snark back, I recruited the help of one particularly mysterious man, who has the added benefit of a cavernous stomach.

We ventured to Bomb Bomb BBQ, south of the Italian market. If you don’t know already, the South Philly restaurants have thus far been some of my favorites because they remind me of home; the women wearing gold hoops and Phillies tees (though at home, they rep the Yankees– don’t hate, it’s just a matter of geography), the grandma in her coordinating nautical-themed sweatsuit, the well-muscled young men of Italian descent. Home.

As we opened our menus, as if on cue, strains of Frank Sinatra began to filter through the restaurant.  MM and I looked at each other and laughed, skimming the mouthwatering options, debating whether ordering mozzarella sticks would be too much. (Of course not.)

MM opted for a full rack of ribs, and they arrived draped over the platter like a teenage boy on a helpless couch. Bottomless stomach or not, I hoped he would need some help. I soaked some bread in the spicy mussels broth and ate it slowly, lying in wait. Soon. Soon he will call in reinforcements. A mussel, two mussels; flavorful and tender but too often sandy. Chew slowly, Lauren. Be patient. Here it comes! Mystery Man licked a rib clean and looked at me. HERE IT COMES! I could hear the words, Would you like some? I’m never going to finish this:

 “Lauren, do you think maybe I’m not so mysterious anymore? That I don’t have to be Mystery Man?”

What? Then what would I call you?

“Well. Some call me Tim.”

Tim. I like that. Tim, may I try one of your ribs?

“Oh, definitely. By all means.” He licked his fingers while I reached, as nonchalantly as possible, across the table and gingerly chose a moderately meaty one. Didn’t want to look too piggy. I had already decimated half an order of mozzarella sticks and far more mussels than I had intended to. The rib was juicy and flaky while still firm; the sauce was sweetish and not very spicy. It crossed my mind to be embarrassed about the barbecue sauce slathered haphazardly across my face, but I suspected that MM- sorry, Tim– might consider another date in the future, and I continued to gnaw excitedly on the rib at hand. I also suspect that tomorrow will be a good day, even if I miss the bus and have to walk to the R5—after all, the foliage is beautiful this time of year, and especially so on rainy days.

(Philly is hip?) Yes, Philly is hip.

November 16, 2010

Dish 174: Pappardelle with Portobello mushrooms at Audrey Claire, 276 S. 20th St.

Thanks to Philly Homegrown for sponsoring this dish! Philly Homegrown is a fantastic initiative of the Greater Philadelphia Tourism and 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”.

Eating locally reduces carbon emissions by reducing the distance that food travels from farm to plate, stimulates the local economy, and fosters regional pride. Eating locally is also a fun way to learn about your area! For example, the juicy, fragrant Portobello mushrooms in Audrey Claire’s famous pappardelle are grown in Kennett Square. Did you know that Kennett Square is the mushroom capital of the world, in addition to being the epicenter of the Greater Philadelphian polo scene? Now you do. Mushrooms, fancy hats, and acres upon acres of agrarian beauty.

Audrey Claire is a balanced dichotomy of urban style and local pride. Like an outfit worthy of the Olsen twins, each dish combines worldly sophistication with local, salt of the earth ingredients and effortless composition. And like the Olsens themselves, the restaurant is primarily composed of young women with perfectly tousled auburn hair, smudged cocoa-colored eyeliner, and a certain je ne sais quoi that torments the young men that write songs about them.

Mystery Man and I sat in the back, at a table near the open, familial kitchen; savory aromas wafted into the dining room, as did the pleasant sounds of hustle and bustle. There was the sensation of sitting in a friend’s kitchen while she prepared a special dinner from her well-worn, semi-top secret collection of recipes.  The small wooden tables touched one another, suggesting that maybe Mystery Man and I were having dinner with the curly haired couple adjacent, as well as with one another. And weren’t we?  Isn’t that the thread that stitches Philadelphia together—brotherly love?

goat cheese, stewed pumpkin, and salted beets

halibut special with BACON and heavenly sweet potato puree

the pappardelle, with heavy flakes of locatelli and crunchy sunflower seeds

Think about how often the pair at the next table over becomes the second half of a spontaneous double date. It happens to me on a weekly basis. Philadelphians just love to get in each other’s business, and it’s great. It’s like being one member of an enormous, boisterous family. Audrey Claire takes this quintessentially New York concept, the upscale SoHo kitchen, and with several small changes—cozy tables, down-to-earth waiters, unforgettable, locally sourced dishes, and, of course, the clientele—transforms it into a truly Philadelphian reality.

THIS JUST IN: The hipster diet, revealed!

November 7, 2010

Seafood and potatoes, and more seafood, and more potatoes! And you thought they survived on booze and nicotine.

Dishes 165-173: Octopus  at Johnny Brenda’s, Frankford and Girard
Patatas Bravas at Bar Ferdinand, 1030 N. 2nd St
Tater tots at North Bowl, 2nd and Poplar
Octopus and Shrimp Pil Pil at Dmitri’s, 927 N. 2nd St.
Barbara (forfeited, truck has closed for the season) at Tex’s BBQ Truck
Chicken Dumplings at Charles Plaza, 10th and Vine
Chicken Tacos at Taqueria la Veracruzana, 9th and Washington
Yad sai mak-keur at Café du Laos, 11th and Washington

Page 2 of the original list, complete!

Northern Liberties, complete!

Atlantic City, scheduled. Old City, scheduled. Rittenhouse Square, nearly complete.

With less than 8 weeks left and 59 dishes remaining, my focus is intensifying. The end is in sight, and the victory palpable. The rate has accelerated but I am keeping pace. Like the final two miles in a satisfying long run, the edge and anxiety are long since forgotten, and only the ecstasy of running remains.

Envy, obsession, morbid fascination—call my hipster fixation what you will; by Wednesday it was apparent that I could no longer procrastinate the dishes in Northern Liberties, and with a final, silent outcry of “No excuses, play like a champion!” I suggested to Mystery Man that perhaps we throw caution to the wind and venture bravely, ironically, and somewhat apathetically into hipster territory.

The highlights of that mission and others like it:

Crispy, creamy, rich, but so intimidating!

Love Bar Ferdy! I do not feel out of place here!Spicy, hot, playful-- some of the best shrimp I've had.Bonus points for shredding the octopus so it doesn't look like octopus. Stroke of brilliance.Tots.

Also, the last luncheon with the Merry Mavens. I have enjoyed working with you so much! We had a fabulous and lengthy semi-vegetarian lunch at Charles Plaza, and here was our attempt at a group pic in front of the arch in Chinatown:

The Merry Mavens!

Then, compared notes with Gustav in South Philly– first matter of business, do blondes have more fun? Survey says: authentic style chicken tacos at Taqueria la Veracruzana, eggplant stuffed with catfish at the unexpectedly breathtaking Cafe du Laos, and chocolate cream filled Hello Panda biscuits– so, yes, we do. Obviously.

Gustav and Mexican tasties.

Can't wait to come back!

What’s on the menu for today? Recovering from the first black tie of the season and possibly some tiramisu later. The work, it never ends.

One Great Meal Deserves Another!

November 4, 2010

“Hi Lauren– So happy that your gluttony will be doing good for people!” –[anonymous Philebrity]

BIG NEWS!

^^Click on this guy to see it a little bigger^^

In response to popular demand, I’ve put together a “dish crawl” through Old City. We’ll taste five of the dishes on the list of 239 Best Dishes in Philly, at four different restaurants, with appropriate wine pairings at Chloe and Zento. The restaurants have generously agreed to donate the dishes, so all proceeds will go right to Philabundance! The details:
 
 
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
6pm – 8pm
Tickets are $25- purchase, through PayPal or email me at laurenlovestoeat@gmail.com
 
The crawl itself:
1: Chloe BYOB for Grilled Pizza + wine sampling
2: La Famiglia for Mozzarella in Pastella
3: Zento BYOB for Square Sushi and Seafood Udon + wine sampling
4. Positano Coast for Crudo
 

Check out the flyer and please spread the word!
Best,
Lauren

Philly, the Small-Town Big City

November 3, 2010

Dishes 160-164: Mussels in red sauce at Ralph’s, 760 S. 9th St.

Fried asparagus at Villa di Roma, 936 S. 9th St.

Escargots and Pied de porc at Bibou, 8th between Washington and Carpenter

Gachot & Gachot ribeye at Barclay Prime, 237 S. 18th St

 

Tuesday evening encapsulated my Philadelphia experience in an exchange that took less than a minute. Gustav and I ventured down to the Italian Market for mussels and asparagus, and on our walk back through the twilight, we passed a girl who looked very familiar- Erin! I sold her my bike two days ago! I turn around to say hello at the same moment that she does, and as we explained the connection to our respective companions, her friend looked at me and said, “We met at the polo match, wearing hats! I’m friends with Beth!” And then she turned to Gustav and mentioned that she had spotted him in several of Beth’s hat pictures from the horse show. A moment ago, we were strangers passing on the street; now, we are friends, planning to have dinner soon.

Takeout and Glee? Yes, please!

The next night was equally pleasant, a trip to France with Aunt Kath through a miraculous, tiny restaurant in South Philly. Brian took one for the team and tasted the pied de porc, stuffed with foie gras. He described it as “rich, oily, and ooey-gooey”. I braved only the beans surrounding the dish; they tasted like Sunday mornings, the smoky flavor of bacon conjuring up stacks of The New York Times spread across the kitchen table, a brown bag stuffed with hot bagels, the scent seeping out and waking up sleepy taste buds, a bowl of cantaloupe, Mom in a fuzzy bathrobe and Dad in a flannel shirt.

The following evening, I was headed back to New Jersey to join Tracy and her sister Lauren for a road trip to Wisconsin; her brother Danny generously picked me up at work so we could get on the road right away, so the ribeye was for him. I stole just a little bite, for journalistic integrity—and that nibble nearly convinced me to buy a second steak for myself. However, given the time constraints, I opted for plan B: Send a seductive picture message to Mystery Man with the suggestion that we might visit Barclay sometime.

The sexiest text a foodie has ever sent.

I have a little something planned for the near future; without spoiling the surprise, let’s just say that November and December are going to bring many wonderful things, among them, a lot of change. And maybe a party or two.

Previously, on “love to eat”

October 25, 2010

Previously, on “love to eat”…

Dishes 154-159: Gorgonzola gnocchi at Hostaria da Elio, 3rd and South

Steamed dumplings at Mustard Green, 2nd and South

Breakfast Taco at Honest Tom’s, 33rd and Arch most of the time

Breakfast Foccacia Sandwich at Morning Glory, 10th and South-ish

Thai Chicken Taco at Coup de Taco, 40th and Locust

Spicy Tofu Chow Fun Noodles at Koja, 38th and Chestnut

Lauren and Claudia met again after a long absence and many missed opportunities, to sample the gnocchi at Hostaria da Elio, much to the chagrin of their gravelly voiced waitress, who would much rather be waiting on the other tables in the miniature restaurant, because they were all empty. Her favorite kind.

Later, Lauren and her fellow Mavens, Sarah and Molly feasted on the scrumptious steamed dumplings of the fine Mustard Green as they plotted to overtake the ghoulish terrors of the Eastern State Penitentiary.

Tasty and portable!

They vanquished the insane prisoners with the Maven sense of humor and their new comrades, engineers from the land of Chalfont of the province Pennsylvania. The following day Lauren voyaged to the Main Line, stopping in University City upon return for nourishment and rest. The kindly king of Drexel offered servants to bathe her feet and rub them in oils, but she declined in favor of a breakfast taco at Honest Tom’s. She wondered wistfully if she made the wise decision, but it was too late to change her mind.

Dishes may be much smaller than they appear.

Our heroine rested her well-traveled stomach for a day before joining her mysterious male companion on a trek to Morning Glory, to evaluate their renowned sandwich of foccacia and breakfast. Both travelers found it quite satisfactory; after the meal, they took particular glee in a bumper sticker that appropriately read, “OINC”.

OINC.

Fall festivities were to be had; MM prepared potables while a new friend assembled cupcakes to resemble spiders. (Recipes upon request.)

 

Today Lauren ventured again to University City to eradicate the last straggling U-City grease trucks on her hunt: Coup de Taco, which translates to “Stroke of Taco” in English, and Koja, which may mean something in French. She enjoyed these tidbits in the glow of sunshine and high SAT scores before re-mounting her subterranean steel steed, to spirit her back to the beating heart of the City of Brotherly Love.

Look! There, in the distance, those of the League of Ivy!

Spicy Tofu Chow Fun Noodles