Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Philly Restaurant Week @ Home

My single experience with restaurant week was on a snowy night in January a few years ago. It was unexpected. It happened at Brasserie Perrier.

We walked in and were greeted and seated and then informed about the restaurant week 'deal'. We deliberated a moment because we were familiar with the RW drill. We decided to stay since RW would be the only game in town that night. The cooking was very good. I ordered 2 'dinners' and the Lil Lady ordered her own. We didn't mind paying for 3 meals because realistically what should you expect for $30-35 in an excellent French restaurant?

I find the notion of sampling the wares of an establishment on the cheap before going there and dropping $$$ questionable. If Craig Laban and a slew of bloggers give the nod to Amada or Zahav or The Fountain why would you feel that you need to vet it yourself?

Those who expect to gaze over Rittenhouse Park through polished windows at a candle lit, linen-clothed table and dine for $35, in 2009, won't turn out to be patrons. My friend who works in a fussy, in demand, RW participating restaurant informed me that there wasn't a single RW reservation booker to ever book a non-RW reservation at their spot. This detail, gleaned from their tenacious reservation software, referred not just to 2009 but to RWs over several years.

I'm saying all this because as I made dinner last night, the Lil Lady read out loud amusing comments posted on Philly food blogs about RW. Most were comments from diners who were surprised and disappointed by limited menus, scant portions and expensive drinks. Plenty were from advice givers suggesting booking ressies months ahead to assure a table at the most in demand spots. Both of these approaches go against the grain of enjoying a fine establishment. The truism that "you get what you pay for" is universally in play at almost all times. Is your style to snipe ressies from afar in hopes of scoring a bargain table? If so it's improbable that your focus is on superb hospitality.

We had just 2 courses last night. 1-Juicy Leidy's bone-in pork chops from WholeFoods ($7/#) with rosemary and garlic, and egggplant parm using Italian Market eggplants (
2/$1) and Polly-O mozz from SuperFresh ($2.99/#, on sale last week). 2-Plum granita with $1/# Italian Mkt plums and lemon verbena snipped from my (prize winning) deck garden. We drank Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc which was intriguing with the spicy pork but not happy with the saucy/vegetable eggplant and very nice with the granita.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Headhouse Sunday

The beautiful stuff at market banished the rainy gloom from HeadHouse this morning. Tom Culton's cauliflower was vibrant enough to illuminate half the market. It's Tom in the pic with the Rouge Vif d'Estampes (cinderella pumpkin).

Thank you to my wonderful, cheerful and supportive customers who bought every last canele (the mini's went first).

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Lil Lady & The Tamale Lady @ The Italian Mkt.

We were both ravenous around noon. We made a quick pass through the market and came upon the tamale lady. We grabbed chicken tamales 4/$5. Next some sandwiches from Georges and then we sat outside in the 19147 and chowed down. Although not the most felicitious pairing it was tasty none the less.

Dear Gaetano X...........

Dear Pennsylvania Horticultural Society thank you so much for recognizing my green thumb!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Jim's Steaks ............Worth It

This Summer, as I was on my way back from HeadHouse each Sunday, I reflected on the pitiful tourists lined up around the corner at 4th & South St. I felt called to walk among them and preach about Steve's and Sonny's and denounce Delasando's, Geno's, Pat's etc.

Maybe around mid-summer someone who I trust to know Philly sandwiches mentioned that they had a good steak at Jim's. A few weeks after that, my sister, a culinary professional, said the same thing, she's not a meat and cheese barbarian. So getting to Jim's has been on my list to check out. The first time I tried the line was way long. Tonight I was about the third person and it was quick. The staff hustle there.

I've been eating Jim's for a long, long while. I never thought they were very special. Jim's Steaks always packed a fat, salt and grease KO punch and if you wrapped a couple of slices of Lorenzo around a Jim's you were really South St. set.

Even in the 80's Jim's had the Philly vibe on the cheese steak line. It still does. The fellas are working hard in a steamy, popular tourist spot and you can plainly see that. Their teamwork looks natural and automatic. The menacing white dude who used to lord over the workers wasn't there.

Hey, the steak was really good. The touch was light and crafty. A just right dose of wiz, and an excellent soft roll complimented the hashed beef. The onions and mushrooms had genuine flavor. Beef that wasn't dry or greasy or too shredded with fairly clean flavor. I liked it a lot. The quality and attention to detail was obvious. I was impressed.

Jim's keeps it extra real with delectable Wise chips. The tiny bag is old school.

For tourists it is worthwhile. Your patience is rewarded with an authentic and tasty Philly cheese steak

Fresh Baked Canele

Just baked Canele at Pumpkin Market, La Colombe and coming very soon toWholeFoods Mkts.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Hasta Luego Ayano & Panda

After lengthy sparring with the Dept of Immigration and Naturalization our friend and sushi chef has been given the heave ho.

Panda and his wife Ayano are off to Tokyo Monday. We fixed a little festive grub to share with them before they take off.

The Sewansecott oysters were baked with chorizo and manchego. I topped them with those carmelized heirloom garlic cloves with marjoram and Murray river salt. They tasted better than they look. We also had fish tacos with excellent halibut from WholeFoods Mkt and the lil lady's salsas.

The standout of the meal though were the strawberry short cakes. There has been very tasty and inexpensive strawberries at the Italian for a few weeks. We grabbed some along with chorizo, tortillas, limes (7/$1) for margaritas, tomatillos, poblanos, cilantro, tasty Jersey plum tomatoes...all at the Italian Mkt yesterday.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Mini Canele

For Headhouse Sunday Markets, at first, I used l/o canele that I had frozen as sampling material. People ate these up with impunity. After a few experiences using these I deduced that fragments don't communicate the essence of the majestic canele. I switched over to using mini canele for sampling. This was progress because it communicated the culinary majesty of the canele and it discouragedthose samplers whose main interest was ingesting free calories. Sampling mini canele led to requests for mini canele. I finally succumbed and offered them this weekend. They did sell very well.

FYI: mini's do not express all the treasured qualities of full size canele. Although the batter is identical the scale is very different and the physics of baking are changed. Mini's are more cute I'm told but they are less custardy and they hold crispness less well. Also they don't reheat as well. Mini canele do freeze as well as full size.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Saturday at The Italian Mkt

Classic autumn day and the market was in excellent form.

A few vendors had lovely looking Peruvian asparagus.

Fiorellas is back from vacation. I'd been jonesing for a bite of their cheese sausage. Composed with a roll from Talluto, prepared broccoli rabe from WholeFoods and with a crush of cucarachas from my stash this was a superb sandwich.

Big juicy fava beans were everywhere as well.

Friday, September 18, 2009

5 Philly Food FYI's

1- The Nova at Famous 4th is very good. The guy slicing when I visited is a virtuoso. Crafty slicing technique is essential to the flavor and presentation of nova and lox, and this was perfect. I believe he once worked at Chef's Market.

2-George's on 9th seems to be stepping up their game. The tripe sandwich in the picture was outstanding. A roast pork with provo and hot peppers that was my lunch today rivaled Dinic's. It was superb, and the roll was outstanding.

3- SuperFresh is selling these air cooled 1% moisture, boneless/skinless, individually cryo'd chicken breasts. They are about 2$ less per lb. than WholeFoods. The quality is excellent. (*Today it was priced $3.99/#)

4- In Pumpkin Mkt's basement this little roaster is chugging away roasting fresh, fair trade, organic coffee beans. There are few spots doing their own roasting, and it merits attention. The coffee is priced at $13/#, an extremely fair price for extremely fresh coffee.

5- Market Day Canele is now sold at La Colombe(Rittenhouse), Pumpkin Mkt., and coming very soon to WholeFoods Markets. Find canele and coffee ever Sunday at Headhouse Farmers' Market.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

S. NJ Cooking

These figs I picked from a tree growing in my West Cape May garden. It was slim pickings as squirrels seemed to have developed an eye for just the ripe ones.

The chopped salad with candy onions, cukes and our neighbors 'celebrity' tomatoes made from delicious farm fresh veggies. On a tip from my neighbor i popped over to Ann Smiths stand on Rt.635 in West Cape May. A local farmer had just rolled up with fresh corn and Ann had a selection of crispy peppers hot and sweet.

The beef was an excellent buy from South St. Superfresh. It was a 3# roast we cooked on the grill. It was on sale there for about $5/#. It was choice, an excellent value.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Full Plate's Rib Contest

Whoa, what a privilege it was to judge the brisket category in last weekends cook off. I was the only judge to eat pretty much every morsel on every plate submitted, 9 plates total. A few of them were completely spectacular. I was transfixed by the amazing virtuosity of the BBQ chefs.

Contest Results

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Full Plate's Third Annual Rib Cook Off

This Saturday 1PM, 2nd and N.Hancock. Seems like it's going to be a very tasty event. Details here.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Brunch At Parc All Show No Go

We took a table at Parc today around noon. The restaurant was about 30% full. We sat inside.

I found the styling and the detailing in the dining room very appealing. The banded globe light fixtures along the walls and caned high chairs are brilliant. The house sparkling water was excellent. The water tumblers sparkled. The breadbasket contained the rightly renowned baguette along with cranberry walnut and sourdough slices.

My friend ordered the "spring" mushroom soup. This soup conveyed nothing of the deftness expected of french cooking. It was mushroomy enough, there were full sized fungi submerged in the crock. But it was salty, way rich for Summer and ham handed on the mushroom flavor. The onion soup was also lacking a light touch. The cheese volume was ridiculous. The broth was busy with salty vegetable flavors and the effect didn't do justice to the oignon.

The lamb sandwich (not pictured) was the liveliest and tastiest plate. A simple sandwich with sliced lamb. The hanger steak with
maître d' butter was tasty and cooked nicely but the fries were extremely dissappointing. They were way salty and limp. I didn't try the shrimp salad but i noticed my friend left it unfinished. I tasted a profiterole with vanilla ice cream and it was enjoyable except the chocolate sauce poured tableside was wimpy and far too sweet. Coffee by the cup was very good except the Vietnamese version which was flat and overly sweet.

We had an attentive, informed server. The service vibe felt more attentive than polished. Although the servers, all in black and white, add to the theatricality of the big space the hostess's snug blue jeans didn't fail to remind me that it's facade.

On this my only dining experience at Parc, I found the space charming and the cooking average. There is far better dining to be had in this same price range around town. At Parc the bistro effect is reproduced down to the last detail. What can't easily be reproduced are dishes made in season of prime local ingredients by skilled cooks with French flavored sensibilities.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Market Today

Today was a lovely day at Market. Great weather, holiday weekend spirits and excellent customers who took away every last canele made for a swell market day.

Those carrots from North Star Orchard were amazingly vibrant. I foolishly passed them by even as inspiration to make carrot macaroons, inspired by L20, was bouncing around in my head.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Headhouse Sunday

I've been polishing the Canele recipe and technique with each batch. For several weeks the feedback has been amazing. I admit my customers are way less o/c than me. I do expect to have a superb batch tomorrow and I know that Joe has been doing all his roasting on Saturday. His beans at Sunday market are absolutely fresh roasted as well as organic and fair trade. Excellent canele and coffee this Sunday.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Rocco's a Cheese Steak Surprise

I'm at the Delaware ave Home Depot often. I always think that the aroma coming from Rocco's, the sandwich spot out front, smells pretty good. I finally tested it out this week. The guys in there are super hospitable. As soon as we walked in they handed over toothpicks that speared nice hunks of tasty (salty) Italian sausage. There was plenty of hand washing and glove changing going on, and they took my order with a smile! The sandwich was a lot like Dalessandro's Steaks. The roll was the best part. They use Liscio's rolls. The beef was in the chopped up style but not as dog foody nor as greasy as Dalessandro's. The sanitation, and warm service plus an above average sandwich make Rocco's a legit spot. Not in the same league as Steve's Prince of Steaks or Sonny's (on a good day) but better than the many other hyped spots.

The lg cheesesteak with a water and complimentary chips was $8.

Heirloom Onion Dishes

The onions made their way into chicken stew. I made a fricassee with a fairly tasty WholeFoods' Bell & Evans bird.

The red onion went into a tomato, onion and avocado salad.
This salad accompanied the seared pork chop and goat cheese (Patches of Star) cannelloni with roasted peppers sauce.