Monday, April 26, 2010

"Don't make me choose!!!" - Paesano's - A slew of choices...delicious, delicious choices

"Don't make me choose! You have to choose for me.", I say to my husband after sitting down for lunch at Paesano's. I'm looking up at the chalkboard menu filled with colorful row after row of completely original sounding (not to mention delicious) sandwich creations, and my stomach only has room for one today. "Well, what are you craving?" says my husband, "A sandwich" I reply. Hmmmm, now I'm starting to realize why I'm having such a hard time deciding. I love ALL sandwiches...breakfast sandwiches, Vietnamese sandwiches, double stuffed deli sandwiches, heck, even ice-cream sandwiches. This will not be easy.

Ok, you might be thinking to yourself, "What's with you and sandwiches?". That's a fair question with a silly answer, which is, "They're freaking awesome!". Let me explain. I'm such a fan of sandwiches because they're like little works of art. In theory they're nothing more than a pile of food that you can eat with your hands, but in my mind it's all about layering flavors and textures, which, is what makes even the most hoity toity high-end cuisine delicious. Sandwiches just take that idea and make it accessible to the masses. A great sandwich, much like a great plate of food, should start with good quality ingredients, have different textures, a nice mix of acid, salt and creamy-ness, a stand out ingredient and just the right amount of moisture. As I think back on my Paesano sandwich and currently, as I re-read the menu, I see they agree with me 100%.

Look at this menu...A roasted lamb sausage sandwich with gorgonzola, roasted arugula and fennel! A sandwich made with meat from a whole roasted suckling pig and topped with broccoli rabe, italian long hots and sharp provolone. Oh, and the piece de resistance! The freakin' Liveracce!!! A sandwich with crispy chicken liver, salami and all the fixins! **note: this is the one I'm getting when I go back...which might be after I finish writing this post**
After much deliberation I decided on their namesake sandwich, the Paesano. The hubby decided on the Arista. **Please forgive these pictures. When a sandwich junkie is in sandwich heaven, the quality of the pictures tend to suffer just a bit**

The Paesano was a beef brisket sandwich with horseradish mayo (of course!), roasted tomatoes, pepperoncino, sharp provolone and topped with a fried egg. Yes. It was amazing. You can't go wrong with beef and horseradish, but then add the sharp tang of provolone, the acid from the tomatoes and pepperoncino and the creamy texture of the fried egg and you've got a sandwich to write home about. Usually when I see a fried egg on top of a sandwich I think that the chef has stock in Lipitor. Basically, sometimes the egg gets lost in the mix and is there primarily to add 100 calories and raise your cholesterol a point. But this time the egg served a vital purpose and I was happy that it was there.

The hubby chose the Arista because once his eyes send a signal to his brain that "suckling-pig-anything" is on the menu, the brain stops receiving any more signals until they are of the suckling-pig-in-the-mouth variety. His had AMAZING texture. The tender pork mixed with the bite from the broccoli rabe was a match made in mouth-feel heaven. And the flavor was a winner as well. I mean, you can't go wrong with whole roast pig.

So there we were. Wiping our faces down with the little wet-naps they provide (because you need them), rubbing our full bellies...and STILL wondering what the other sandwiches might taste like. When you can leave your customers wanting more, even when their bellies are as full as can be, you've got a winner.

Paesano's on Urbanspoon

Paesano's Philly Style
901 Christian Street

P.S. **There is actually plenty of seating inside. Another plus! Most good sandwich joints in Philly are sorely lacking in seating**

P.P.S. ***They also had some soups, salads, specials and even dessert***

P.P.P.S. ****Go ahead and stroll through the Italian Market while you're there. Looking for fresh English Peas? Perhaps some wild boar? Live crabs or even some boot-leg cd's? You can find it all...and more there.****
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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Shrimp & Grits...With an Italian Twist

When Nick and I lived in Richmond we only saw my folks a few times a year. They would pack up their Winnebago, drive down to VA and set up camp next to our house for a few days (actually, about a week after we bought the house my Dad photo-shopped his camper into a picture of our house and sent it to us...this is exactly what a visit to our house looked like when they were there).

Prior to their visit I would always ask the same question, "What can I make y'all to eat?!", and my mother always had the same answer, "Shrimp and grits!". It makes me sad to say that I never once made my Mama shrimp and grits for dinner. I suppose it's because Nick never thought it was "substantial" enough and I sort of get his point. Not everyone can get excited about what is basically seafood on top of breakfast cereal. We did, however, make it for ourselves when we were jonsin' for it, and even now, living up north, I still get a hankerin' for a big 'ol bowl of buttery shrimp over cheesy grits. So the other day when the craving hit me I decided to put a bit of a twist on it, and as much as I hate to admit it, I just might like this version more (my "southern girl" membership card might have just been revoked).

Grits is corn meal, plain and simple. It's a staple in so many cuisines...think masa in Mexican, polenta in Italian, etc. So I thought, why not make one of my FAVORITE corn meal dishes, creamy polenta, and top it with sauteed shrimp, throw in a side of braised kale to replace the predictable collard green and voila! You have got to give this dish a try. If you don't think you like grits. If you don't think you like "greens". If you don't think you like shrimp. This dish will change your mind.

Creamy Polenta & Shrimp

For the polenta:
1/2 cup yellow corn meal
1 cup milk
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup cream
1/2 cup grated parmesan
Salt & pepper to taste

For the shrimp:
1 (ish) pound good, raw shrimp
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tbs fresh parsley
1 tsp minced fresh garlic
1/8 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tbs white wine vinegar
Salt & pepper to taste
(I had a few cuquillo olives leftover so I diced them up and threw them in, but I would leave them out next time)

2 tbs. toasted pine nuts

Peel and de-vein your shrimp, then combine all ingredients for the shrimp in a bowl, whisk, add the shrimp and let marinate in the refrigerator for 15 to 20 mins.

In a saucepan slowly warm the milk, chicken stock and cream until just before a simmer. Now add the polenta and cook, while whisking, for 2 to 3 mins or until the polenta begins to thicken. Remove from heat and add the cheese and perhaps a bit of olive oil or butter if it looks dry.

While the polenta sits, heat a saute' pan to medium-high heat and add the shrimp and most of the marinade (eyeball it...if it looks too dry, add more want enough liquid for a sort of "sauce"). Cook the shrimp until just pink (don't overcook!!).

I like to serve this in a large, shallow bowl. Place the polenta in the bottom of the bowl then spoon the shrimp and sauce on top. Sprinkle with the toasted pine nuts and serve!

**For the side of kale simply::::: Thoroughly wash a bunch of kale. Saute' a half onion (chopped) and one clove of garlic (minced) in some olive oil. Now simply add the kale, about 1/8 cup of chicken stock, a little salt and a pinch of crushed red pepper. Cook on medium until the kale has wilted (about 8 mins). It's SO easy and SO good!!!**

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Full Plate Cafe - Come for the vegetarian grub...and just the vegetarian grub

Although I'm far from becoming a vegetarian anytime soon I welcome, nay, get downright excited about the cuisine. As I've mentioned before, I grew up on a lot of healthy meat-free foods. I've always said, "If you can make bulgar wheat taste good, you can make ANYTHING taste good". Now, you won't find me admitting this very often, but apparently, in this case, I might be wrong. You see, the hubby and I went to a little place called A Full Plate Cafe last week where the vegetarian fare was to die for, and the chicken was downright murdered. It seems, they have disproved my theory.

"Taste, taste, taste". Gordon Ramsey rams this saying down the throat of every chef he critiques. If I were to adopt a way of life based on a saying, perhaps this would be the saying I would choose. Of course he's talking about tasting food as you cook it and most certainly before you serve it to paying customers (if I molded my life after this saying it would be more like "eat everything, eat everything, eat everything" but you get the idea). Personally, I taste my food during it's cooking process often (ok, very often). It might not be the best way to maintain your weight (damn you summer clothes!) but it IS the best way to maintain the quality of the food you're cooking. So where am I going with this you ask? Well, I had some of the worst cooked chicken at A Full Plate Cafe last week and I can't imagine that the chef tasted it before it went out...or for that matter...has tasted chicken in a long time.
A Full Plate Cafe's website contains a lot of info. In between paragraphs about why they chose to paint the walls "concord grape purple" and a little bio about the owner's past, they mention that the restaurant was designed to be a place where vegetarians and meat eaters alike could enjoy a meal. I applaud that idea since I, myself, have a vegan brother. What a good concept! However, there might be a problem with execution. The co-owner says she's a vegetarian. I have no idea whether the chefs are or are not vegetarian, but I would be willing to bet they are. Again. I have no problems with vegetarians EXCEPT that they can't taste the meat they're cooking, and in turn, might serve sub-par meat fare. **please note...I'm not sure if any of this is the case...I AM, however, sure that both my chicken and my husband's chicken were overcooked into oblivion...and am simply assuming that this is the problem**

The vegetarian aspects of this meal were wonderful! We shared the fried green tomatoes to start (as pictured above). They were crispy, packed with flavor and served with some good quality mozzarella and a bed of greens. We practically licked the plate clean.

For my main I chose the Greek platter with chicken and falafel and the hubby ordered the chicken and waffles. We shared a side of braised cabbage and white beans.

Ok. I hate writing bad reviews. Honestly. I almost didn't write this review because I didn't know how to describe our chicken, but the other aspects of the meal were so good I felt the critisizm was constructive. My platter was filled with fresh veggies, a lovely warm piece of flatbread (of the whole wheat variety), good quality feta, some PERFECTLY cooked quinoa (a grain), a few balls of decent falafel...and what looked like chicken jerky. Being a long time member of the clean plate club I hated leaving the chicken behind as I ate the rest of my meal but it had to be done. It was practically inedible.

Nick's chicken on his chicken and waffles plate unfortunately followed suit. His waffle was fine and the sweet bbq/maple syrup was delicious, however his chicken was fried to within' an inch of it's life. He said he couldn't imagine how one could overcook fried chicken THAT much, unless they had dropped it in the fryer prior to us sitting down at our table.

Now this is why writing a poor review abut the chicken hurts...the side of braised cabbage was sublime! It was smokey and creamy and perfectly seasoned. It had some bite but was tender to the tooth. It was one of the best cabbage dished I've ever had (including the million sides of cabbage I had in Germany). Whoever made this dish has talent. Honestly. **I wish I took a better picture, but trust me, it was delightful**

So where do we go from here? Do we return and only eat the vegetarian fare? I might do just that. Do we go back and give them one more chance at cooking the proteins and hope that our chicken debacle was a fluke? Probably not. It it were my restaurant I think I might throw caution to the wind and remove meat from the menu entirely. There aren't a lot of good vegetarian restaurants around these days that meat eaters would be happy visiting, but I'm telling you right now, even a crazy carnivore like my husband would have been happy with a full plate of that cabbage and white beans for supper.

When all is said and done I hope that the Full Plate Cafe sticks with what it does best, and starts doling out full plates of amazing vegetarian fare. I promise...the meat will not be missed.

A Full Plate Cafe
1009 N. Bodine St.
Philadelphia PA 19123
A Full Plate Cafe on Urbanspoon
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Monday, April 12, 2010

Blackberry Bourbon Sweet Tea - A MUST try Drink of the Month

We had an unseasonably warm spell in Philly last week. It seemed we had gone straight from scarves and mittens to shorts and flip flops, practically overnight. We also went from waiting in line to get a table at a restaurant with a fireplace, to waiting in line for a table on the sidewalk.

It seems that warmer weather brings out different food cravings. Although personally, I could eat beef stew on a 100 degree day or slurp up a steaming bowl of Pho while bathing suit clad on the beach (although I'd have to be extra careful while slurping...don't want any hot Pho related burns while in my bikini), I find that most people would find those food/dining choices a little off-putting.

Now, I understand the change in food cravings, but what I don't understand is the change in cocktails. Ok sure, you won't find me chugging eggnog or a hot toddy in July, but what's wrong with enjoying a bourbon on the rocks or a nice Irish whiskey in your Bermuda Shorts? Why do some feel the need to put away the brown liquor for the whole summer season?

The hubby was on the phone with a friend last week on one of those unseasonably warm nights and he ended the conversation with, "Well, I'm going to go pour myself a bourbon". His friend scoffed and replied that it was too warm for bourbon. The hubby giggled, glanced at his now 7 bottle bourbon collection and said, "It is NEVER too warm for bourbon". I happen to agree whole heartily.

Here's a mixed drink that is sure to change your mind about drinking brown liquor after Memorial Day.

Blackberry Bourbon Sweet Tea

-1 part bourbon
-3 parts fresh brewed iced tea (unsweetened) (I use black tea like an Earl Grey...brew it then chill it)
-1/2 part fresh blackberry simple syrup (recipe below)

Fill a shaker with ice and all ingredients...shake...pour into a highball...perhaps garnish with a fresh blackberry... Enjoy! (P.S. Omit the bourbon and you've got a great non-alcoholic drink that would be a hit at any backyard bbq)

Blackberry Simple Syrup

2 parts sugar
1 part water
2 parts fresh blackberries

Pour everything into a small saucepan, stir slightly and slowly bring to a simmer. Once the mixture begins to simmer remove it from the heat and with the back of a wooden spoon, mash the blackberries until they have released all of their juices. Now pour the mixture through a mesh strainer to remove all of the blackberry seeds, then chill the strained mixture. This will keep for a few weeks in a covered container in your fridge. You can sweeten SO many cocktails with this syrup (I bet it might even be good on ice cream!).
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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Spring is here. Start filling that pic-a-nic basket!

Spring is here. The flowers are blooming. The weather is warm. The tourists are out in full force and the parks in Philly are packed with pasty skinned sunbathers, tanning themselves in preparation for summer clothes.
Although you won't find me bikini-clad in the middle of Rittenhouse Square any time soon, you might find the hubby and I enjoying a picnic there.

Looking for some new grub to put in that pic-a-nic basket? Here are a few of my newest favorites. I bought all of these at the new specialty food store, Garces Trading Company (1111 Locust), but I'm sure you can find some of these in your area if you try.

Seeking a good Salami??? Try this: Saucisson Petit Jesu It's a coarse grind salami with a very rustic flavor. I loved it for the fat. Unlike some salami that can have tough, chewy hunks of fat this Petit Jesu had specks of the most creamy, melt on your tongue goodness.

Looking for the perfect cheese to spread on that baguette? Try this: Cana De Oveja It's a sheep's milk cheese from Southeast Spain. It's mild yet very flavorful. It has a bloomy rind, a gooey consistency close to the rind and a firmer consistency towards the center (as a result of the rind ripening the cheese from the outside in). Delicious!

Where's the beef? Try this: Bresaola Bresaola is an air dried, salted beef. You can find this pretty much anywhere. It's rather strong and can hold up well to things like arugula or a sharp cheese.

What about the side? Serve these with your meat and cheese: Cuquillo olives Cuquillo olives are small, Spanish olives with an amazing fruity quality and tender mouth feel. The ones at Garces Trading company were marinated with orange rinds which highlights the fruitiness of these olives even more. They would go well with pretty much any meat and cheese selection.

And of course you would expect me to pair these meaty, cheesy delights with a wine, but not this time. A few days ago I stumbled across a type of Yuengling beer that, until recently, I had no idea existed. It's the Yuengling Bock and they just rolled it out in celebration of their 180th year anniversary. 180 years! In case you're not aware, the Yuengling brewery is recognized as the oldest brewery in the country and a Pennsylvania point of pride. In fact, when ordering a Yuengling Lager in a bar in Philly all you have to ask for is "a lager". So when I came across this "late winter" brew I though it would pair wonderfully with my picnic picks. It's got a dark amber color and a mild malt taste. It's a very "drinkable" beer, perfect for a balmy spring day. Plus, it's got a super cute label. How could a goat drinking beer NOT make you want to buy a six pack!? The website said it might only be around for 10 or 12 weeks so stock up while you can!
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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

New happenings at some old favorites: Han Dynasty & Bibou

There are some new happenings at some of my old Philly favorites!

1.) Bibou has been nominated for the James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant.

2.) Han Dynasty in my lovely Old City neighborhood has started offering the new best deal in town on the first Monday of each month. It's the hottest ( face numbing hot) restaurant around and the cuisine is not to be missed. Han Dynasty is offering a not-on-the-menu tasting that is sure to leave your belly and your wallet stuffed. $25 bucks a piece for pretty much all you can eat...and then some.

1.) The restaurant my husband calls "the best in Philly", Bibou, has been nominated for a James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant. For those of you who aren't familiar with said award it's a BIG deal in the culinary world. Nick and I re-visited Bibou last week (here is my original blog post) and I can tell you in all honesty that their nomination is much deserved. (**note: Philly is representing this year in the Best New Restaurant category. Also up for the award are Chifa and Koo Zee Doo,both are also great on names to read my past reviews**)

This time at Bibou we shared the house made pate' to start. I'm a pate' junkie (the threat of gout is probably the only thing that keeps me from eating it in mass quantities on a regular basis) and this pate' didn't disappoint. Rich, creamy with classic flavors like pistachio. Yes please.

For our main courses the hubby had what I would call Bibou's "signature" dish...the foie gras stuffed pigs foot with french lentils (Nick says he wakes up in the middle of the night thinking about it) and I had the bone marrow. Nick's pig's foot was as perfect as the last time he had it and I have a feeling that we will return again in a few months and Nick will order it once more.

My bone marrow was superb! I'm the type of girl who would happily suck marrow out of a bone through a straw given the opportunity (as unattractive as that sounds). Luckily, this dish made the marrow a bit more accessible. It was mixed with black trumpet mushrooms and bread crumbs then served in the hollowed out bone. The result was a dish so rich, so meaty, so earthy, that I couldn't help but ooh and ahh over it. Home run chef!

We finished with a lovely cheese plate (and an AMAZING sweet tomato jelly...I need to know how to make this) and a smile on our face. If you have not yet visited Bibou I highly recommend a trip. And be sure to congratulate them on their nomination while you're there!

**I recommend reservations**
1009 S. 8th Street
Philadelphia PA 19147

2.) Han Dynasty in Old City has just started offering what felt like a bazillion course dinner on the first Monday of each month. It's family style, $25 bucks a head, BYOB so bring all the beer you think you'll need (and then some...thanks folk sitting across from me for giving me another beer when I ran out!) and freaking delicious. ***Note: I didn't want to keep anyone waiting while I selfishly snapped pictures of the food last night (it being family style and all), so this pic below is stock footage from our last trip to last post***

Nick and I were lucky enough to snag a seat last night for what I will call a "Fiery-First-Monday-Feast". Yah. Cute right? A little after 7 they started bringing out the bowls of food. At first glance I thought that there wouldn't be enough to go around. I have never been more wrong in my life. Bowl after bowl after bowl of delicious morsels came streaming out of the kitchen. And just like at your family Thanksgiving dinner they were passed around the table to the diners' delight.

Cucumber in chili oil, tripe with chili sauce (I think this was my favorite actually), pork, three kinds of noodles, fish with vegetables in a mild (very welcome at that point) sauce, rabbit dry pot, frog's legs with really yummy spices...the list goes on folks. I couldn't take pictures...I could hardly keep up with the names of the dishes as they passed. Everything was delicious. Everything was unique and certainly different than your typical Chinese take-out. Everything was approachable...nothing was "10" hot...he kept it at a very delicious "7". Everything was CHEAP ($25!!!!). Everything was plentiful! And probably best of all...everything was shared. You get to chat with the folks across the table from you and giggle about who is sweating most. You share bottle openers, beers and say "please pass the rice" because it's the only thing that really cools your mouth. And you get to try new things right along side these folks. Trying new things alone can be boring. Trying them surrounded by food-loving-folks is downright fun.

If I were you I would clear your dinner plans for Monday, May 3rd. Break out your cooler, pack some beers, wear a shirt that you don't mind getting dirty (anyone know how to get chili oil out of my husband's favorite shirt?) and get ready to try something new.

Han Dynasty
108 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia PA 19106
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