Friday, June 18, 2010

Percy Street BBQ - Some Good, Some Bad, But Luckily...Nothing Ugly

Ahhhhhh barbecue. There are few things on this earth better than slow and low cooked meat. It's a method of cooking that requires not only tender, loving care, but also a lot of smoke! I mean, I can saute, roast and boil my heart out in my own kitchen, but I'm pretty sure operating a smoker out of my 5th floor loft apartment is a fire hazard and one heck of a no-no. So when you're in the city you HAVE to go out to a restaurant for barbecue. Unfortunately Philly seems to be lacking in that department. I believe that's why Percy Street Barbecue has gained such popularity.

I realize now, unfortunately, that when Nick and I lived in Richmond we took good barbecue for granted. I guess you don't know what you have until it's gone. I know for a fact that Nick wishes he had eaten more fried chicken and drowned himself in sides from one of his favorite VA restaurants, Nanny's. I mean, this place was in the middle of nowhere but people came from far and wide for some sweet tea out of a mason jar, some fried chicken and all of the southern sides you can handle. I, on the other hand, wish that I had eaten more barbecue. So next time I visit my relatives in North Carolina, my friends in Richmond, or travel to any barbecue centric part of this great nation, I'm going to make a point to do so.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm no barbecue expert. I realize that the cooking methods, rubs, marinades and sauces vary greatly across the country. I also know what tastes good and I have a fine appreciation for lovely pink smoke ring on a piece of beef brisket, so I suppose I know enough to tell you what's what.

Percy Street's interior was cute, plain and simple. I appreciated that. All you need when eating barbecue is paper towels (check) and cold beer (check...and it was served in a little mason jar so they tried to give you that Nanny's-type-feel). The beer selection was alright, though not nearly as large as I would have expected. And the menu was rather straight forward and authentic with very few unauthentic items.

Nick ordered the beef brisket. Percy Street is Texas style bbq so it was dry rubbed and cooked. They leave you to add whatever sauce you deem fitting. He also ordered the green been casserole and the collard greens. I ordered the PST which was a smoked pork belly sandwich with coleslaw and pickled green tomato. For sides I also ordered the collards and a white bean salad.

I wish I had ordered something else. Nick's beef was pretty close to perfect. Even in my crappy picture you can make out the all important pink smoke ring on the meat, which is a sure fire way to tell it was cooked properly. It was smokey, flavorful and tender as can be. My order, on the other hand, was a catastrophe.

I love pork belly. I love bbq pork sandwiches with coleslaw. I love pickled green tomatoes. I don't, however, love ruining a perfectly cooked piece of pork belly by putting all three together on a roll with lettuce. This sandwich just didn't work. I can't imagine that the executive chef actually tasted this concoction before he put it on the menu.

The pork was amazing on it's own!!! So tender. So smokey. So, so, so delicious! And paired with the coleslaw it was good as well. But that pickled green tomato ruined everything. They should have served it on the side like they so rightly did with the pickle and onion on their meat platters. The tomato was so acidic, so tart, so powerful, that it masked every other flavor in the sandwich. After my first or second bite I quickly removed it and enjoyed it on the side, where it should have been all along. But some of that flavor remained on the bun and it's ghost still haunted the sandwich. It was a crying shame. Oh, and nix the lettuce too while you're at it chef. I get that you were going for a blt-ish thing but it just didn't work.

As for the sides....I think they were decent. The collards could have used a bit more "fat". Nick and I both agreed that what we love most about collard greens is the silky way the fat from the ham hock (or pig knuckle, foot or whatever) coats your tongue. These collards were good but missing that extra bit of delightful tongue-coating-grease.

Nick's green bean casserole was good. He said they tried to take it up a step from the traditional mushroom soup based casserole of everyone's childhood and he appreciated that.

And my white bean salad was actually really, really refreshing. It was a cold salad with well cooked beans, apples and cabbage. I would order it again.

As I finish writing this post I'm torn. Nick and I will go back because in all honesty, both of our meats were cooked to absolute perfection. Creating that lovely pink smoke ring or cooking that oh-so-sexy piece of pork belly with care is no small feat. If they can just resist the urge to add too much to something that should be a simple type of cuisine, perhaps their popularity could bring a new wave of bbq to a city that sorely needs it.

P.S. I didn't mention a lot about the sauces because I feel they're a small part of bbq. The meat, in my opinion, should be good enough to stand alone. However, the sauces were quite good. Two thumbs up in that department

Percy Street Barbecue on Urbanspoon
Read more

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Amis - A Mark Vetri joint

Happy Birthday To Me! I recently celebrated a birthday (June 1st in case anyone wants to make a note for next year) and was sad to see that for yet another year the anniversary of my birth has yet to be marked by a federal holiday. Oh well. There's always next year.

Even if the nation isn't celebrating the day of my birth, my wonderful husband is. Ever since a birthday debacle a few years ago (he thought my birthday was in a completely different month) he's been a birthday present giving, special dinner buying, happy birthday singing champ. And I have to admit, I love the attention. I also love that it's an excuse to take me out to dinner and not even look at the prices on the menu. Last year he took me to Chifa and we had the 9 course tasting menu. I was in heaven. This year he took me to Mark Vetri's newest gem, Amis, and I'm happy to announce that once again the hubby delivered a winner...oh, and Mark Vetri did a good job too.

In case you aren't familiar with his work, Mark Vetri is the proud owner of his namesake restaurant, Vetri. It is a nationally recognized Italian restaurant which many claim to be, simply, the best Italian food outside of, well, Italy. It is also, unfortunately, almost prohibitively expensive. So recently when he opened Amis, a restaurant that specializes in Roman style grub, and word got out that the prices were surprisingly fair, I couldn't wait to go.

We started our meal with cocktails (of course). The hubby had the Peroni e Lamponi and he thought it was, for lack of a better term, interesting. Basically they mixed Pimms (a favorite of his) with a Peroni beer and then threw in some muddled fruit to boot. I tasted it and deemed it refreshing and not overly sweet. I'm not sure I would order it again but I'm glad we tried it. I had the Amis Punch because I pretty much always order something if it has the restaurants name in the title. It contained aperol, vodka and lemon, and it too was refreshing, but in a more tart, lemonade sort of way. I really liked it and probably would in fact order it again.

Now for the main event...the food! We decided to share a bunch of plates and we each took turns picking out dishes.

We began with the snails alla romana. I love snails. Really, I adore them. Bibou makes an amazing snail dish that up until I had this Amis version, had been the only other outside-of-the-box preparation of snails I've ever had (you know, as opposed to the basic snails and garlic in a crock). The snails were in a less garlicky and more herb infused sauce, and I thought it worked wonderfully. I can't put my finger on the exact herbs but I remember thinking tarragon while I was eating it. Of course, I could be wrong. But whatever the ingredients, the dish hit the spot.

Next we had the sweet breads. I almost always order sweet breads when they're on the menu and most of the time I'm pleased. This time my husband actually said, "my mind has just been blown". They were the most delicious sweet breads I've ever had...EVER. They were coated in an almond dust and fried to perfection. Then they were served alongside a fennel marmalade that was such an amazing accompaniment it makes you wonder why every single restaurant is not making this dish. The sweet marmalade, the anise flavor of the fennel and the slight hint of organ meat flavor you get from the sweet breads could not have paired better. Perfection. Honestly. Perfection.

It being an Italian restaurant and all, we had to have a pasta course. This dish was the only thing we had all night that really did remind me of Rome. We had the bucatini alla matriciana with pork jowl, chili flake and pecorino. The richness of the sauce and the nutty, buttery flavor of the cheese took me right back to a sidewalk restaurant near the Vatican. The sauce was great, however...and I HATE to say this...the pasta was overcooked. Now, it must be said that it wasn't mush, but if a dish is going to take me all the way back to Italy ***picture of me at said place in Rome below*** they have to cook the pasta properly. The $14 we spent on the dish seemed a bit much as well. But honestly, I would probably give it another try. I'm sure it was just a misstep.

For the last course we decided to have the dish that we never got a chance to have when we were in a seaside town on the Mediterranean (bad time management and too many Peroni's). We ordered the mixed seafood grill. I like to think that had we gotten this dish in that small town outside of Rome it would have tasted this good. This was an example of simple flavors done right. It featured scallops, squid, shrimp, skate and swordfish. They were all grilled and then bathed in the lightest and most delicate lemon sauce, and it really did let the seafood sing. Every piece I had was delightful except for an overcooked piece of swordfish that I unfortunately saved for last. Lucky for me I had a piece of bread left and used it to sop up the last of that delightful sauce, and in doing so, ended my meal on an great note.

A lot of people have remarked about the portion size and although I did wish we had a bit more of things I have to say that it was pretty in line with the quality of food and the price. They did offer quite a wide selection of food that ran the price gambit and they also offered a house red and white in a carafe at a reasonable price (they got two points for that). I agree that they could make a few tweaks to the price or size but I don't think it's a reason to avoid the place entirely.

When all was said and done I had a lovely meal and a wonderful birthday outing. Amis was supposed to focus on Roman cuisine, and although I can't remember eating much food like that while I was actually IN Rome, I wish I had. Overall the dishes were amazing, the atmosphere was nice. The sweetbreads were nothing short of mind-blowing. And perhaps I'll have to come up with an excuse to go back. I'm pretty sure the dog's birthday is coming up.

Amis on Urbanspoon
Read more