Archive: January, 2009
Center City Restaurant Week takes off this coming Sun., Jan. 25, and runs till Fri., Jan. 30. While there's never any shortage of dealage during the annual event, it's worth your while to look for opportunities to eat your way through some new developments in the kitchen. Case in point: This year's RW will feature a preview of what George Anni and R. Evan Turney (Mercato, Valanni) plan on doing with Azul Cantina, which they took over early this month. (They say VargaBar will be the new name.) Turney's prix-fixe menu features four courses for $35 a head.
Check out your choices after the jump.
avocado, cilantro, lime, red onion, jalapeno
watercress & tomato salad
oaxaca cheese, grilled corn, avocado, shaved red onion, chilli dusted croutons, cilantro-lime vinaigrette
spicy pulled chicken & crispy tortilla soup
pazole, avocado, shredded lettuce, cilantro
oven roasted free range half chicken
pommegranate molasses, garlic mash, asparagus
grilled 8oz. flank steak
yucca fries, cilantro chimichurri, truffled garlic aioli, garlic spinach
saffron poblano rice, lump crab and jicama salad, lemon herb butter sauce
macerated fresh fruit, guava anglaise
chocolate pot de crème
fresh strawberries, whipped cream, toasted almonds
coconut tres leches
toasted coconut, caramelized bananas, shaved bittersweet chocolate
Meal Ticketers Drew and Felicia have been accused more than once of having a carnivorous bias. It's not that we don't like vegetables — it's just, well, why waste the valuable stomach real estate on salad when there is so much lovely meat to be consumed? Sorry. The good news is, not only do know vegetarians, we count a few among our very best friends. Joining us for our SUPPER feature today is Janina Larenas: vegetarian since she was in the womb, gelato-master at Capogiro Gelato Artisans and creator of Little Isobel all-natural fruit preserves and herb jellies.
Janina developed her recipe for a long-cooked, hearty vegetarian stew by combining several beef stew recipes, making substitutions and adjustments. Seitan (wheat gluten meat substitute) is layered with a variety of vegetables and aromatics in a slow cooker; just a cup of red wine and a splash of apple cider vinegar extract maximum flavor. Janina picked up a $12, 4-quart Crock-Pot at the thrift shop at Eighth and Wolf; prowl your local second-hand shop for a good deal. The stew can also be made in a covered pot or deep, lidded baking dish and placed in the oven for 4 hours at 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
A few recommendations on slow-cooking: Choose a fuller-bodied wine with some residual sugar for cooking, like Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon, over lighter wines like Pinot Noir and Côtes du Rhône that have less sugar and more acid. No matter how horribly tempted, do not lift the lid of your slow-cooker. Dramatic temperature drops from lifting the lid add cooking time and subtract moisture.
Layer your way to a stick-to-your-ribs veggie dinner with Janina Larenas' Slow-Cooked Seitan & Veggie Stew, after the jump.
|Janina peels broccoli stems for her stew.|
|All Photos l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
Janina Larenas' Slow-Cooked Seitan & Veggie Stew
Go Get This:
One 12 oz. package braised seitan (wheat meat, wheat gluten), crumbled
2 tbsp. flour
1 tsp. salt
1 sprig fresh rosemary
3 sprigs fresh thyme
Favorite vegetables, peeled if necessary, cut in finger-size pieces
Like: peas, potatoes, carrots, one apple, onion, parsnips, celery root, sweet potatoes, squash, garlic, peeled broccoli stems
1 cup full-bodied red wine
1 cup water or veg stock
1/4 cup apple-cider vinegar
Now Do This:
Layer all ingredients, beginning with seitan, into slow-cooker or pot. No need to chop or strip herbs, just pick out stems as you serve the stew later. Cook on low setting for at least 4 hours, or in a 200 degree F oven. Serve by itself, or over noodles if desired.
|Kristin pulls espresso shots as Marshall looks on.|
Ask Marshall Green how he feels about being the public face of the restaurant he owns with his fiancé/partner Kristin Mulvenna, and the self-effacing chef, 27, virtually cringes. "I am not comfortable with the 'chef as celebrity' idea," he says, looking very serious. "I think it's ridiculous. I try to be as humble as I can be. I don't like the spotlight, and that's why I cook. I wish Kristin got more publicity — I seem to overshadow her. She is so important to the existence of this place. It literally would not exist without her."
Ask Mulvenna the same question, and the response is, shall we say, more vehement. "It really pisses me off," says the curly-haired, energetic 28-year-old, with real force. "I put in just as many, if not more, hours. Though Marshall is so talented, if I didn't do all the things I do, it wouldn't work at all. The thing that bothers me the most is that no one thinks I'm an owner — just Marshall's little wife!" She mimes a person putting an arm around her; in a mocking voice: "Oh, you're Mrs. Marshall! We loooooove his food!" She softens a little. "I understand why people are interested in him — the chef draws people to the restaurant. But we do it all together."
Café Estelle has only been open 15 months, but in that time, it's earned rave reviews — from CP's Trey Popp to a two-bell rating from the Inquirer's Craig LaBan — and hordes of devoted diners. The out-of-the way location at 444 N. Fourth Street (between Spring Garden and Callowhill) was an initial challenge — little pedestrian traffic meant the café had to work harder to gain notice. But Green's philosophy of making everything in-house — bread, pastry, jam, bacon, mozzarella, brisket and root beer, among others — helped differentiate Estelle from other local bruncheries. Sourcing fair-trade, locally roasted coffee, recycled and biodegradable takeout packaging, and paying staff a fair and livable wage are all Kristin's department (she will list the rest for you if you ask). Both owners are a constant presence in the restaurant; Marshall behind the line or kneading dough in the bakery, Kristin always on the floor, smiling and serving right alongside her staff.
Green spent time in the kitchen of Django under original owners Bryan Sikora and Aimee Olexy, the husband-and-wife team who now run the acclaimed Talula's Table. Like Sikora and Olexy, Green and Mulvenna have had to learn to balance home life with work life. "We spend 24 hours a day together," says Kristin. "It's hard to figure out where business stops and life begins. If I'm pissed at him at work, it carries over. Marshall is better at separating the two. He grew up in a family business, [so] it's second nature." She pauses, and breaks into one of her signature mischievous grins. "He does go out back and throw things, though. There's broken dishes by the dumpster occasionally."
Both owners give credit to their team, emphasizing that great restaurants are always the product of a dynamic relationship between the front and back of the house. "I wouldn't do this if I wasn't on the line, cooking," Marshall says. "I'm not the type to step back, even though I have a very capable staff. I need to be involved every step of the way." Kristin is well-aware of the friction between kitchen and servers that can doom a restaurant, even one where the food is excellent. "The front of house is the face of your food," she says. "And you will fall to pieces without your dishwasher."
Credit where credit is due belongs to both of these ambitious young restaurateurs, who wrote the menu and built their own place, together.
Café Estelle, 444 N. Fourth St., 215-925-5080, cafeestelle.com
Apple has decided on a location for its first Apple Store in Philadelphia, claims a MacNN source connected to the planning of the project. The company has allegedly signed a lease to take over the location of the former Brasserie Perrier restaurant, situated at 1619 Walnut Street. The surrounding portion of Walnut is said to be a high-end shopping and eating district, ideally suited to Apple's strict aesthetics.
The writeup adds that the architectural firm rumored to be helming the project is Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, which is responsible for some of the biggest Apple Stores in the world, including the locations in SoHo and Tokyo. MacNN takes this to mean that this Philly location could very well be a multi-story behemoth.
UPDATE [3:45 p.m.]: Left a message with the property's landlord; will report back as details become available.
|Photos | Drew Lazor|
The candy aisle at Hung Vuong Supermarket (11th and Washington) is one of my favorite stomping grounds. You can often find me there on weekday evenings, feebly "reading" foreign-language labels and pretending I give a rip about the nutritional value of lychee chews. It is great fun, and it is just one of those things.
The other day, I came across Men's Pocky, a rendition of the popular Japanese snack stick ostensibly designed for those who possess both an XY chromosome and a sweet tooth. This version replaces the traditional cracker-like base with what they claim to be a pretzel, and swaps out the milk chocolate dip with a dark bittersweet counterpart. As a man, I found them quite satisfying. But my girlfriend also really enjoyed them. Since I don't think there's any sort of latent chemical compound in the batter that damages lady parts exclusively (yes, we've heard about the melamine thing), I would encourage any and all females to skewer the patriarchy by throwing down a box of these. It's not like they are not being served on a sterling silver platter at Mahogany alongside a $650 snifter of Louis XIII.
"The combination of crispy pretzel and smooth dark chocolate brings a whole new flavor to fun," reads the box. That is so sexist.
Men's Pocky, $1.99, available at Hung Vuong Supermarket, Wing Phat Plaza, 11th Street and Washington Avenue, 215-336-280
|At least the lemons are in focus.|
|Fuzzy Photo l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
Dmitri's, the diminutive Greek BYO on the corner of Third and Catherine streets, glows like a jar full of fireflies and hums like a bee drunk on a fine vintage of honey. The octopus swims in olive oil seas and corks are popped in bouncy bubble-wrap rhythm by waitresses who squeeze through the narrow alleys between two-tops with utter aplomb.
The menu, like the cooking, is simple. Baba ghanouj and triangles of pita warm from the fire. Grilled octopus, grilled whole fish, all dressed with lemon wedges. Cioppino or seafood fettuccine in lively broth. Mussels, steamed or sautéed. Wait, sautéed mussels, you say? I'd eaten a whole ocean's worth of those tiny mollusks before ever having them served up crispy.
Each plump little mussel is freed from its shell by a quick steam, then shucked out and tossed lightly in some seasoned flour. Dmitri's calls theirs sautéed, but what you're really doing is shallow frying those suckers to get a bit of a crust on, then serving them as hot as possible with lots of lemon wedges for squeezing over.
Recipe for Dmitri's Sautéed Mussels after the jump.
Dmitri's Sautéed Mussels
Go Get This:
3 lbs. mussels (or cheat and buy 2 cans shelled mussels)
Flour seasoned with salt, pepper, cayenne or whatever you like for dredging
About 3 tbsp. canola/peanut/vegetable oil, enough to coat the bottom of your frying pan
Now Do This:
Rinse and de-beard your mussels. The beard is a little ugly stringy teenage-facial hair-looking thing hanging off the mussel. Grab it and yank it off. Discard any cracked, broken or open mussels. They're dead already and no good for eating.
Pour about half an inch of water in a large pot. Add mussels and cover pot. Over high heat, steam mussels just until they open. Remove from heat and transfer mussels to a large colander.
Remove mussel meat from shells by using one shell as tongs to grab out other mussels and reserve them to a smaller bowl. Don't puncture their sweet plumpness with a fork or angry tearing gestures.
Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a large, shallow frying pan until hot and shimmering.
Dredge mussels in seasoned flour and remove, shaking off excess. Drop one test mussel into pan. If it sizzles, add the rest.
Shake the pan around and turn mussels over with tongs to brown and crisp evenly. Once they develop a crisp, brown crust, remove with tongs to drain on paper towels.
Serve hot with lots of lemon wedges. Eat with lots of white wine.
|Beer-battered green beans at Prohibition Taproom|
|Photo | Michael T. Regan|
- David Snyder spends some time at Prohibition Taproom, uncovering a great beer and grub selection along the way. The gastropubby spot from the owners of nearby Café Lift are doing a stellar job of drawing people into the not-quite Chinatown, not-quite NoLibs "Loft District" area of the city.
- On Tuesday, James Saul teased his piece about the sale of Kingdom of Vegetarians and the upgrades at New Harmony. Here's his full report. Party-hardy vegans should mark New Harmony's Jan. 26 Chinese New Year Celebration on their calendars.
|Photo | Isaiah Thompson|
- Usually-newsy City Paper staff writer Isaiah Thompson makes his first appearance in the food section with his mindblowing lineup of five Chinatown bakery delicacies — all of which can be yours for less than one dollar. Pictured above is number three on the list, the fried taro dumplings at Bread Top House.
- Some newsy bits of note in this week's Feeding Frenzy — 943, BREW, Chipotle, the new-look White Dog, etc.
- Nikki Volpicelli is something like an unflappable robotized database of excellent food and drink events, the only caveat being that, unlike a robot, she is very nice and capable of displaying emotion. And good taste: This week's What's Cooking fills you in on all the out-and-about goodness, from tonight's Philadelphia Brewing Co./Earth Bread + Brewery collab to a fab-sounding beer and wine dinner at Caribou Café.
With the exception of a very welcome appearance by my favorite Top Chef, Season 3 winner Hung, this was the suckiest episode in recent memory. The number one reason: The spiritless "farm to table" theme haphazardly driven home by the cheftestants' visit to Dan Barber's Blue Hill at Stone Barns in upstate New York.
< illadvisedrant >
No disrespect to Chef Barber and Co., but their inclusion in this episode caused me to stew over my biggest (admittedly tangential) pet peeve about the excruciating "locavore" trend. Are local/sustainable/organic ingredients great? Absolutely — they taste excellent. I'm just sick of A) people who go out of their way to pat themselves on the back because they think it's impressive that they've come to this utterly obvious realization ("Hey everyone, I rule because I use fresh ingredients! Look how amazing and socially conscious and green I am!"); and B) smug diners/home cooks who look down on people who buy lettuce from Shop-Rite instead of exclusively sourcing from a central Vermont-based microgreen farmer who fertilizes his crops with fossilized pterodactyl droppings that he spreads across his fields in the pattern of a Tibetan sand mandala.
Please don't get me wrong — I'm all about locally sourced, farm-fresh ingredients. I think you should use them whenever possible. But just know that I'm going to give you shit the second you start behaving like the epicurean equivalent of those self-important douches who think they're singlehandedly preserving humanity by driving their kids to riding lessons in a Toyota Prius. It's food. If it tastes good, eat it and stop looking for a medal of valor. (This is not the first time I've said my piece about this — 13th down.)
< /illadvisedrant >
Quickfire: This challenge, which Hung oversaw, gave the chefs 15 minutes to create a delicious morsel — using only canned, pre-fab ingredients (THE HORROR! NEED ... ORGANIC ... BUTTERNUT SQUASH ... TO SURVIVE). I personally loved this task because it featured copious amounts of Spam, the Filipino household staple that people like to hate on even though they've never tried it. Trust me, it's a godlike product — as evidenced by Hosea making the top three for his Spam 'n' sweet pea soup, as well as Stefan's immunity win for his Spam-ified baked bean soup and Velveeta grilled cheese. Hung knows the deal.
Elimination: After being split up into three separate groups — pork, lamb and chicken — the chefs traveled to the afoermentioned Blue Hills to cook a family-style lunch, for a crunchy local/sustainable crew, using products fresh off the farmstead. "This is totally the food I do," Jamie said. Scallop fields on yonder! After some uninspired moaning and groaning from Tom, Padma, Toby and a few people who looked like they'd just gotten back from watching The Wizard of Oz on mute with Dark Side of the Moon playing the background, Team Chicken — The Duchess of Scallopshire, Stefan and dessert master Carla (who's really grown on me) — earned a three-fer win for their simple pollo menu. (Did anyone else notice that Stefan seemed to establish a deep spiritual connection with the live chicken he was cradling during their farm tour?)
Though Team Pork (our dude Jeff got a lot of face time) was tsk-tsked for a few misgivings, Team Lamb — Ariane, Hosea and the increasingly irritating Leah — ended up in the bottom three. As expected, the Gross Couple, BOTH OF WHOM HAVE SIGNIFICANT OTHERS, turned their gross backs on Ariane at judges' table, which seemed to contribute to the sweetheart Jersey mom's dismissal.
True, Ariane didn't know how to properly butcher the lamb or tie it up so the meat roasted evenly in the oven — but she openly admitted her lack of expertise in that particular area, while Leah and Hosea openly admitted that they possessed such experience. Instead of working as a team to try and stay off the chopping block, Gross Couple let her fuck things up, with every intention of placing the blame squarely on her if it came down to it. Yeah yeah, I know you often have to play dirty on reality TV. It was just especially noxious this week, namely because Ariane is so likable and Gross Couple is so not.
Oh well. I'm confident Ariane has a future in TV. Like Gail, she's got a nice balance of expertise and approachability. Catch you on Food Network, girl.
NEXT WEEK: Restaurant Wars!
|Yes we can (be an adorable goat)!|
Di Bruno Bros. has been heavily invested in the electoral process this year — remember the Barack Bratwurst vs. Hillary Clinton Big City Sandwich taste-off we did back in April '08? Now comes word of yet another excellent queso-fied deal that's running throughout the month of January. To honor Barack Obama's impending inauguration, they're offering customers at both locations 20 percent off their entire selection of domestically produced cheeses. This includes Shellbark Sharp, the West Chester-produced goat cheese that the President-elect purchased during a campaign stop in Philly. (Felicia D. wrote about Shellbark back in September.)
OK now watch a clip of Neil Diamond performing "America" after the jump.
|Photos | Drew Lazor|
If you've been here, this one's a gimme.
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