Saturday, July 11, 2009

New American

There are SO many New American restaurants out there (and showing no sign of stopping). I think the success of New American has to do with it's approachability and availability of seasonal ingredients. Most people feel reassured when they can recognize (and pronounce) most things on the menu in front of them. Pan seared scallops, crispy skinned salmon, lamb chops, duck breast, whole roast chicken, etc. I'm not sure if I can remember visiting a New American restaurant recently that didn't have four out of these five items on the menu. And with good New American restaurants the menus change with the seasons and can reflect what's best and local at that time of the year. But perhaps that can be a problem. I mean, I still LOVE eating these things. And each restaurant puts it's own spin on these classics. But what they're buying in the farmer's market and what I'm buying in the farmer's market are pretty similar. Now, it has to be said that I am a farmer's market junkie. Right now in my fridge I have about 10 different types of veggies and three packages of butcher fresh meat. This will get me through the week and then I'm off again to the market to stock up with whatever looks fresh, cheap and amazing. And yes. These chefs prepare the same things in my fridge in their restaurant with more skill than I, but sometimes I feel like I'm eating the same things over and over again. Although I love these New American staple items (duck, lamb, steak, scallops, salmon, chicken, etc....fresh spring peas, seasonal corn, summer tomatoes and squash) I've found myself recently looking for a bit more variety.

I started thinking of this a few weeks ago when my husband and I were running down the Philadelphia Magazine's, Best of Philly 2009 restaurant list and visiting a BYOB called Matyson . The food was yummy. We started with the foie gras. It was delicious and unique. It was served on brioche french toast and was accompanied by caramelized figs and this delightful savory black pepper nut brittle. This, in my opinion, was a unique way to prepare a classic such as foie gras. Honestly...that brittle was genius. I was wowe'd by the starter. But then came the mains. My husband had the duck breast (see what I mean) and I had the monk fish(pic above) wrapped in bacon atop a fresh pea and corn mixture. Both of our meals were good. They were flavorful and cooked well. But I feel like the hubby and I were looking for something more exciting. So last Friday when we tried Gayle in the Queen Village area of Philly, and we found a bit more of the same, it got me thinking. The hubby had the beef special (pic with green sauce at top) - beef two ways - I think it was tenderloin and braised short ribs - and I had the skate "fish and chips"(pic below). They took pretty basic ingredients and cooked them really well. They added nice sauces (I really did like the sauces) but my fish was over fresh peas again, just like at Matyson and the hubby's steak was sitting atop a potato puree, just as his duck was at Matyson. I just felt like I was starting to see a trend here.

Now....I started writing this blog post with my mind set on saying that New American wasn't exciting enough anymore...and that I was looking for more when I go out to a nice place to dine. BUT. I can't write that blog. I had great food at both of these places. Sure it wasn't mind blowing, but it was REALLY good and so enjoyable. And it's inspiring. BECAUSE these are the same ingredients I use at home it helps open my eyes to new methods of preparation and new flavor combinations. The "fish and chips" preparation of the skate was new to me. I've had skate a lot and this preparation brought a whole new texture to the dish. And the hubby really appreciated the sauces that Gayle's staff cooked up. They really did put a new spin on traditional fare...even fare that we eat every week. And that made me realize that good food is good food and it doesn't need to be much more than that. Great execution and fresh produce (this place had some very fresh produce) can get $30/plate - as long as it's a BYOB place in my opinion - and I will leave happy. I did, in fact, leave both restaurants happy and will continue my " always looking for a bit more" relationship with New American. So when all is said and done I would, in fact, recommend either Matyson or Gayle. The service was friendly. The food was fresh and it was well prepared. And if you aren't a farmer's market junkie like me you will be shocked at how good fresh, seasonal vegetables can be and how they can really compliment a dish. I think the starters at Matyson were a bit superior to Gayle's, but I thought the sauces at Gayle's were superior to Matyson. But you don't have to choose if you don't like. They're both BYOB' grab a bottle and try both.

If you're looking for a bit of wow factor either before or after your New American dinner out there are different ways to tickle those taste buds. There is this GREAT gelato place in center city Philly called Capogiro Gelato and it's amazing! A treat for the senses and easy on the pocket book. They have flavors like Rosemary Honey Goat's Milk, Marscapone and Fig (one of my favs), and my all time favorite Burnt Sugar. It tastes like creme brulee!!!

Looking for a delightful spin on a classic beverage?? Go to Nodding Head Brewery (it's a bar/restaurant and micro-brewery) and try the Monkey Knife Fight(pic left). I'm going to turn into a 12 year old here for a second and say, OMG!!!! This beer is amazing. I describe it as noodle-bowl beer. It's a light and refreshing brew flavored with lemongrass and ginger. It's freaking delicious folks. And I think it was only $4. Yes. I'm pretty sure that was the price. You must go here and try it. Now, I warn you, the service is slow at best and the bar is down a sort of grungy back street, BUT, would you expect to get a beer called Monkey Knife Fight anywhere else?? I know I wouldn't.

Now not all different things are good. Lets talk about drinks some more. On the same street as Capogiro is a bar called Apothecary This place deserves one trip. In, out, and probably never to return. They specialize in making old fashioned tonics and elixirs and they do a great job of it. The bar tenders really get into their roles as old fashioned bar-keeps (it might even be a sort of lifestyle...I've never had the guts to ask a dude with a handlebar moustache anything so personal). It's an interesting concept with not so interesting results. The drinks are around $15 a piece expensive. And the worst part of all is...they kind of taste like they should be curing an ailment, not like a refreshing treat. They're weird folks. And I'm ok with weird. But not $15 weird. They do have a "recession proof" menu where they serve up a few elixirs and tonics for about $6 each but they don't offer them on the weekends so that's just crappy if you ask me.

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