February 25, 2013

Roundup of Philly Eats

#1 Green Eggs Cafe

The "new" Sabrina's. Enormous portions, decadent dishes and serving up brunch 7 days a week. We went on a Monday at 2:30pm so managed to avoid the 2 hour lines. Still need to go back to try the famous red velvet pancakes.

The Kitchen Sink: Potatoes, Sausage, Biscuit, Swiss Cheese, Hollandaise Sauce
French Toast Tiramisu: Brioche Bread, Espresso Mascarpone, Mocha Maple Syrup, Lady Fingers, Chantilly Cream

#2 Chifa

Jose Garces' Peruvian & Latin inspired restaurant. Heard mixed reviews about this place but the food is quite good; especially the happy hour which has $3 dim sum specials.

+ Duck Confit Tacos
+ Pork Belly Buns
+ Curry over Rice
+ Short Ribs
+ Fried Wontons

#3 Monk's Cafe

Belgian beer cafe with limited seating but great beer selection. Don't know how I feel about the ridiculous wait for the bucket of $10 mussels although they are tasty.

+ Bucket of Mussles
+ Belgian Fries
+ Duck Sandwich

#4 Zahav

Our new favorite restaurant in Philadelphia! This place is always super packed but even outside of Restaurant Week, they have a five-course $39 tasting menu which is an amazing deal. The Israeli inspired dishes are full of flavor and so delicious. The owner, Mike Solomonov, also owns my other new favorite place in Philadelphia: Federal Donuts.

+ Salmon over Cous Cous
+ Lamb Meat Balls
+ Salatim (daily selection of salads)
+ Pumpkin Cake with Custard
+ Apple Tart & Ice Cream

#5 Prix Fixe Brunch @ Tinto

Tinto is actually my favorite restaurant by Jose Garces although I've never done a proper blog post on it. They also offer a 3 course + side brunch on weekends for only $35. This was from a while ago and they've changed their menu significantly so I don't remember everything we had but it was one luxurious brunch.

+ Not sure what this was...
+ Asparagus with Hollandaise
+ Duck Salad with Poached Egg
+ Some sort of Egg Sandwich
+ Grapefruit Brulee with Foam
+ Fritter, Ice Cream, Caramel

February 18, 2013

NYC in February

Back to NYC for Valentine's Weekend. Discovered some amazing new eats and returned to some old favorites.

Xiao Long Bao from Joe's Shanghai.

$5 for an entire basket of plump and delicious XLB? Yes Please. Each dumpling is big and juicy and filled with meat. Yums. Ignore the rest of the menu. Sesame chicken and lo mein? Might as well just go to Panda Express.

Chicken & Rice from the Halal Guys

Ah finally I have eaten the "official" chicken & rice from "The Halal Guys". That spicy sauce sure packs a punch. I have finally met my match which was a feat even Han Dynasty failed to accomplish.

Our selection: panna cota & french toast

Last week, we were watching Hitch and suddenly, a restaurant name flashed across the screen: Rice to Riches. Considering the movie is almost 10 years old, I was rather skeptical that the place still existed. But I was so fortunately wrong. The place was packed when we finally trekked our way over to Prince Street. The entire restaurant is devoted to rice pudding and it is delicious. I don't think I've ever eaten rice pudding before, but I am officially in love. Guess what's coming up next on my cooking list?  

February 17, 2013

Meals at Coquinarius

The text above says it all.
One food group that I have not been giving Florence enough credit for are its desserts. Apple cakes and cheesecakes galore. I'm generally not a big cheesecake fan, but Italian cheesecakes are on a whole other level. I'm not sure what cheese they use (probably ricotta?), but its definitely not Philadelphia Cream Cheese (no offense Philly). The unassuming cheesecake above was hands down, the best cheesecake I've ever had and totally worth the 5 euros we paid for it.

Coquinarious is another well-known Florence establishment. Less homey and rustic than some of the other popular spots for the locales, Coquinarious still served up traditional dishes in a beautiful open, high ceiling dining room. The portions were also quite generous. Having stepped in for lunch one day, we also decided to return for our final dinner.

The meat dishes (we finally branched away from pasta!) we ordered were hearty and filling, and as was to be expected a little on the heavy side. Kind of reminded me of all of the duck and red cabbage we ate in Prague. Now, what we really went crazy over was the green cauliflower they served up with the rabbit. It was amazing and I have no idea what it was exactly...going to need to do some digging on this one.

Lemon Drop

I've always wanted to take bartending classes; yet, never found the right time to do it. Now that I have quite a bit of free time on my hand, I decided it was time to start experimenting with cocktails. What with all of the speakeasys popping up in Philly, I had enough inspiration to push me in the right direction.

Bar Set, here
The Ultimate Bar Book, here
Cointreau liquor, description here

First step was to get a really legit bar set (which I happened to acquire for V's birthday) and an equally legit bar book (all courtesy of amazon).

Next step was to start stocking up the bar with some respectable liquor (who knew liqueurs would put such a dent in your wallet). Fortunately, we managed to follow (some rather straightforward) instructions and voila. Who needs a speakeasy when you can whip up cocktails right at home?

The (Straightforward) Instructions:

February 14, 2013

Valentine's Day Dinner

A beautiful dozen of roses
A long day of foody and cocktail (drink post forthcoming) adventures. Although we've been cooking steak almost every week since last semester, I just never bothered to blog about it. Valentine's Day seemed like an appropriate time to finally gave the steak the spotlight.

Federal Donuts

Federal Donuts has slowly found itself in the Penn lexicon of must eats of downtown Philly. Fortunately for us, the recent opening of the Sansom street location has made it a whole lot easier to savor the goodness of fried chicken and fried dough. Even more fortunate is that you also don't have to journey down at 8am (as I was previously told) to get your hands on some fried delicacies. But if you do want the best selection, you probably have to go earlier than noon which was when we finally managed to arrive.

They were out of the "fancy donuts" (think Maple Bacon, French Toast, and Cherry Almond flavors) by the time we got there, so we opted to for the "hot fresh donuts". Probably didn't need to get one of each flavor as we also ordered a massive amount of fried chicken but hey, it is Valentine's Day...

The fried chicken selection comes with the choice of dry seasonings or glazed and breast, wings, drumsticks or any sort of combination. We opted for the fried chicken wings. The chili garlic glaze was not very spicy (in my opinion) but still very delicious in an Asian-fusiony kind of way. The Shabazzi seasoning had middle eastern accents and was fried to perfection. Juicy chicken on the inside and just the right amount of seasoning on the outside. Oh yea, you also got a honey donut with every order of fried chicken...

We capped off the adventure with some serious jenga playing and bubble tea at TeaDo in Chinatown.

+ Milk Bubble Tea
+ Hot Japanese Green Milk Tea

February 13, 2013

Homemade Ravioli

A picture perfect dinner
Naturally, we weren't going to let V's pasta-making classes and all of our pasta eating in Italy be for naught. The moment, we had that pear and cheese ravioli, V went ahead and ordered a pasta-making machine. For the past week, we've spent a good portion of our days making ravioli. I am happy to say that we've finally reached the point, where the ravioli are respectable to blog about. We made some rather impressive pear and cheese ravioli over the weekend but scrambling to finish on time for our potluck meant no time to take pictures. Tonight, however, I was free to snap away as much as I wanted.

All stacked up and ready to go.

We also decided to branch out tonight and try a new filling (another one we tasted at Zeb): potatoes and sausage. Step by step instructions below.

Making the Filling:

This one yummy and easy to make. Just have to cook the potatoes long enough to mash them with a fork. For the sausage, we bought Italian sausage links and removed the skin around it so we could break up the meat.

Mashed potatoes on left with seasoning
Italian sausage on right

Dough Making and Rolling:

Pasta dough is a lot easier to make than I had originally thought. All that's needed are eggs and semolina (aka pasta) flour. The key to use the right ratios (which for a few days, we weren't): 3 eggs for every 2 cups of flour.  The pasta rolling machine makes it pretty easy to get the dough to the right thickness. For ravioli, you have to roll it through 9 times to get to level 9 which is the thinnest option. We also, (quite wisely I may add because it made the process a lot easier), bought a ravioli making contraption which allowed us to fill and make 12 perfectly sized raviolis. 

Rolling out the dough (...9 times)
Putting the dough into the ravioli pouches

Putting 1 + 2 Together:

Technically, you need a rolling pin to roll the second layer of pasta dough over the filled pouches but a full jar of pasta sauce worked quite well as an impromptu rolling pin. I'll have to make sure to pick one up this weekend.

Filled the pouches with filling
Covered the filling with another layer of dough.

Cooking the Ravioli:

Make sure not to overcrowd the ravioli when cooking it. For al dente perfection, cook for 2 minutes, move to sauce pan and cook for another minute. For pasta that's a little softer, leave the ravioli in the sauce for up to 3 minutes. I added the left over potatoes and sausage meat to the tomato sauce which made the sauce heartier (and more delicious).

Boiling Ravioli
Simmering Sauce

Plating Ravioli

Tradition demands that ravioli be plated in odd numbers. So make sure to always have an odd number on your plate! Sprinkle with pecorino cheese for extra saltiness and enjoy.

A plate of 13 raviolis. Bon Appetit!
The plan is to move on to spaghetti with truffle sauce and mushrooms next. And there are of course lots of Italian posts left and some other new eating adventures of Philly. Stay tuned :)

Meals at Zeb

We discovered our favorite pasta combination of all time while in Florence, from a little pasta shop that was literally a 5 minute walk from our apartment. And ever since we discovered that pasta combination and V took his cooking classes, we have been making pasta with said combination almost everyday (post forthcoming). And who knew that this combination would contradict all of my previous notions about fruit in savory dishes?

So what is it?? Pear and Cheese. Ricotta cheese to be specific. At least the first time we had it. The second time, it might have been pecorino. And the third time, I wasn't exactly sure...

Dinner(s) (and lunches) at Zeb. Of all the restaurants we visited on our 3 week sojourn into Italy, there were only two restaurants we visited more than once. One, we went to twice - mostly by default; another, we went to more than twice - and that was by choice. How many times you say? We went 4 (or was it 5?) times in the span of 10 days.

Above: Mini Meat Tortellinis with meat sauce.
Below: Large Raviolis with Pear and Ricotta Cheese

Both of the above dishes, we ordered at least twice. The pear and ricotta ravioli literally blew our minds away. The tortellini dish had one the most perfect meat sauces I have ever eaten - it was seasoned soooo perfectly and I have been dreaming about it ever since.

Above: Spaghetti with Truffle
Below: Mini Cheese Ravioli in Apple and Leek Sauce

Zeb, is a tiny although modern looking bistro restaurant. Its located South of the Arno right before one climbs the steps to the Piazza de Michaelangelo, a magical square above the city that offers breathtaking panoramic views. Zeb is family owned and all of the pasta is handmade with the menu changing day to day. Of course my pictures don't do the meals justice. After a lot of decent pasta and some rather underwhelming pasta, this restaurant finally made me realize just how good pasta in Italy can get.

Firenze Revisited

The last time I was in Florence, I was not impressed. The city felt underwhelming and the food was fine, but nothing that made me want to instantly return.Fortunately for me and for Florence, my second time to the city was a very different culinary experience than the first.

Plate of Tuscan cured meats, lard, bread and bottle of Chianti Classico
With all of the amazing meat, cheese, bread, and wine that Florence has to offer, I don't understand how I didn't fall in love with the city last spring. While in Florence, (which I have to had was for 10 whole days), we got to go on a gastronomical food tour with one of the chefs V had during his sojourn into Italian cooking. During the tour, we got to sample the meat platter (shown above) and learned about all the nuances of Tuscan cured meats and cheeses.

A typical afternoon of house wine and reading at the corner wine bar.
Tuscan Salami, Tuscan Prosciutto and Soft Pecorino cheese