Archive: February, 2009
"We're having a little issue with the owner of the restaurant and the owner of the building," said Xochitl chef/owner Dionicio Jimenez, who co-owns Paxia with his brother-in-law Ismael Torrez. "The lawyers are starting to figure it out. I hope nothing happens." Though there has been some speculation that February would be the restaurant's last month, he added that they would definitely be open for the rest of this week.
CP critic Trey Popp had nice things to say about Paxia's food back in August.
|Just fifteen minutes under the broiler produces a dish worthy of linen tablecloths.|
|Photo l Michael Persico|
A quickly roasted (under the broiler) leg of lamb is a frequent dinner at my boyfriend's parents house. His mom is Lebanese, and she uses a variety of spices and flavor combinations in her cooking that are unfamiliar but wonderfully satisfying. Here, a boneless leg of lamb is rubbed with salt, garlic and Syrian brown pepper blend called da'a, which can be found at Bitar's Market. Da'a is a blend of allspice, black and white pepper, nutmeg, cloves and ginger; it plays nicely with the gamey flavor of lamb.
Once the sinew and fat is cut away from this inexpensive piece of meat, it rests in a marinade of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic and seasoning. A fast broil six inches from the heat source produces meat that is nicely crisped on the outside and a melting medium-rare inside. Serve with simply roasted potatoes and eggplant and a green salad. The roasting pan will collect natural jus from the lamb, you can reduce this into a thicker sauce if you're feeling fancy. Otherwise, just use a spoon to apply some jus to your dish, and dinner is served.
Look for Syrian Pepper (da'a) at Bitar's Market, 947 Federal St., 215-755-1121
Quick-Roasted Leg of Lamb with Syrian Pepper
Go Get This:
5 lb. boneless leg of lamb
7-10 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced thin
1/3 cup Extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup Balsamic vinegar
Now Do This:
Unroll the leg of lamb. Assemble a sharp chef's knife and paring knife near to hand. Using both knives, cut away all of the fat and sinew from the leg. Be patient; this takes a little while. Leave enough of the fascia that holds the muscles together so the roast does not fall apart.
With the paring knife, cut about ten small slits in one side of the roast. Insert the sliced garlic into each slit. Season the leg generously with salt and da'a. Pour over extra-virgin olive oil to coat, then a smaller amount of balsamic vinegar. Rub the seasonings and liquids all over the leg. Turn the leg over and repeat on the other side with just garlic, salt and da'a. Rub marinade in thoroughly.
Cover with foil or plastic wrap and rest in refrigerator for two hours, then turn the leg over, rubbing marinade in again. Rest at least one more hour in the fridge, or overnight.
Preheat oven to Broil. Place flattened, uncovered leg of lamb in broiler, no less than six inches from the heat source, for fifteen minutes, flipping over halfway through, until thickest section of leg is medium-rare. Serve hot or room temperature with jus spooned over.
Preheat a gas grill to low. Spread the leg out to make it as flat as possible, and grill until medium-rare, turning once. Thicker sections can be butterflied to make the leg approximately the same thickness throughout.
|Grubb: brewer, supermodel|
|Photo l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
Nodding Head co-owner Curt Decker is a quick wit, as anyone who has been barbed by him will attest (5 minutes later, when they figure out they've been zinged). His contrarian Beer Week event Don't Meet the Brewer will feature Nodding Head brewer Gordon Grubb and Ric Hoffman from Delaware's Stewart's Brewing Company. It's scheduled for Tue., March 10. Decker's wry tendencies must be contagious at the brewpub. "We're hoping no one will want to talk to us," says Grubb. "We don't want to answer their dorky questions, anyway." Joking? Who knows.
Grubb will debut his first-ever barrel-aged beer at the event, Da Phunk. The original beer, called The Phunk, was an amber ale fermented with multiple yeast strains, including the souring brettanomyces. After fermentation, it was transferred to a Chaddsford Winery red wine barrel and aged there for seven months. So what's Da Phunk taste like?
"It's sour, complex, lots of brett, a little oak and red wine," says Grubb. "It's dry and, well, FUNKY!" He added that the beer is less like a lambic and closer to an oude brune, but amber-red colored. The beer will be sold, along with some Stewart's brews, by the glass at Don't Meet the Brewer.
Don't Meet the Brewer, Tue., March 10, 6 p.m., Nodding Head Brewery, 1516 Sansom St., 2nd Fl., 215-569-9525.
NBC enters the foodie reality show fray with The Chopping Block, which premieres Wed., March 11 at 9 p.m. Host Marco Pierre White, who's operated multiple Michelin-starred restaurants in the U.K., was a culinary celeb when Gordon Ramsay was still just a foul-mouthed line cook. (He has previously hosted the Brit version of Hell's Kitchen.)
The Chopping Block is structured similarly to another U.K. reality contest, Last Restaurant Standing — eight couples run two neighboring restaurants in Manhattan, competing for the same customers while being judged by pithy food critics and surprise guests. The ultimate winner takes home $250,000.
Philly represents with mother/daughter duo Angie Brown and Samantha Johnson, who own Soul in Chestnut Hill. Johnson is a former Miss Pennsylvania, and from the look of their bio clip, these are ladies coming with some serious television charisma and more than a little interpersonal sass/drama.
|grickily on Flickr|
The cinematic version of the lauded graphic novel drops two weeks from today, Friday, March 6.
Check out all the foodie Watchmen on Goodsell's Flickr page.
Moments before last night's penultimate Top Chef started, I posted my Final Four rankings. How close did I come to being stupendously wrong? Soooo close.
Quickfire: In the most welcome "twist" of this season, Padma, Goddess of Cephalopod-Themed T&A, and Tom C., the Patron Saint of Dissatisfied Grimaces, met up with notably sedate Emeril Lagasse in the front yard of what looked like a setpiece from Double Jeopardy. I could shoot you in the middle of Mardi Gras, and they can't touch me!
Twist, right: The Final Four learned that they would not be cooking. Rather, three exiled cheftestants would be battling for a spot in the second-to-last challenge. In the running? Surly Sue Jamie, more formally known, in all her regal mollusktisity, as the Duchess of Scallopshire; my Dr. Robert Chase-ian dude Jeff, who recently came out saying that he felt producers exploited him for his boyish, narrow-hipped appeal (well-played); and ... Leah, who made awkward middle school flirty faces at Hosea. Nonono evilevilevil. Emeril told them to get busy on a crawfish dish.
Jeff ended up impressing the most with a crawfish/grits/andouille combo, earning him a chance to cook alongside the Final Four in the Elimination. (He would have to win the challenge, not just sneak through in the middle, to make the finale.) "Jeff's mind has a couple people talking in it," explained Jeff about himself in third person. I wonder what kind of people?
Elimination: Stefan, Carla, Fabio and Hosea, with their little Jeff +1, were given six hours to prepare two dishes (at least one Creole) and one cocktail for a 100-person masquerade ball organized by Mardi Gras parade brigade Krewe of Orpheus. (Go to their Web site — you'll be pleased to learn that the closeted Italian dude Salvatore from Mad Men is one of their special celebrity guests this year.)
Carla fun facts! She does not drink and cannot shuck oysters. (She also used to be a model!) She still managed, though, to complete an oyster stew and a shrimp/sausage beignet, and made the strange-at-the-time decision to offer a teetotaler's cranberry/lime spritzer as her cocktail. Stefan, who made it a point to taunt Hosea repeatedly with phallic andouille portions (above), came out with a duck/rabbit gumbo over grits, an apple beignet and some cherry/cran/rum drink. Jeff offered a fried oyster with from-scratch sausage (impressive), a crawfish pot de creme and a smash-hit cucumber mojito. Hosea did a pecan-crusted catfish, a Hurricane and stirred his roux for 20 years like an old scoliosis-stricken Cajun lady to make his centerpiece gumbo. Fabreezy, who likened the masquerade ball to an "old porno movie" (borrow please? thx), went slightly Medi with it, cooking crawfish/crab caserecci pasta with his a sausage/rabbit maque choux and a macerated red bell pepper tipple.
Despite her inexperience popping shells (girl coulda just steamed them, said Tom C.), Carla took home the win (and a Toyota) by impressing Emeril with her refined plates and shockingly successful non-booze beverage. (That's truly a testament if she came out on top lubricating the judges with cups of juice.) Jeff (oh, Jeff) was so very close to winning, but came up just short — all the textures/flavors were there for the panel (now featuring Gail!), but he didn't bring it home quite as strong as the last lady standing. Hosea, OF COURSE, snuck by in the middle, but to his credit, Emeril gave him daps for doing that gumbo the right way. Right now, he is probably wearing a stupid three-quarter-sleeve baseball T-shirt with a picture of the "Chocolate Rain" guy on it.
Bottom two: Fabio and Stefan. Oh, the foreign-born humanity. Judges had some nit-picky stuff for Stefan, but they were mostly sour on his attitude. (Why now? He's been acting like this the entire season.) Gail also felt that his food "didn't have soul," which is a preposterous and amazing thing to hear Gail say. For Fab, the pasta sauce needed more heat and the bell pepper cocktail was too sweet, and that was enough to send him on his way. What do you think? Did the right Euro go home? I'm inclined to say yes, but that's mostly because I dubbed Stefan the champ before the fact.
Next week: Finale Part 2. I've always admired the format of the Top Chef season ender — no flaming hoops, Diet Dr. Pepper desserts or wriggling invertebrates. Just cook us the best meal you've ever cooked. As impressive as Carla was in E13, I'm sticking to my swami guns: Stefan will just barely edge out Carla to take the title, and Hosea will present something perfectly good, but not life-altering. How are y'all seeing it?
Yesterday was dreary and drizzly, the perfect sort of day to curl up on the couch with a hearty dish. For those lucky classic rock fans who scored invites to the Second Annual Comfort Food Fest, put on by WMGK personality John DeBella, it was at least as satisfying to show up at Northern Liberties' Cescaphe Ballroom, where nine area chefs served up slightly more chi-chi variations on indulgent grub.
The food veered from exotic to home-style humble, with the simplest offerings being mac 'n' cheese with Italian sausage from chef Terrance Clarke of Lucky Strike Lanes and grilled meatloaf sandwiches presented by Kildare's chef Brian Duffy. I would be plenty satisfied to scarf down either of these at home, but there wasn't anything extremely noteworthy about them. Same deal with the vegan meatloaf from Belgian Café's Evan Seplow, although I heartily approved of the texture of his tempeh-shiitake-walnut creation, which was appropriately rich and smooth.
The seafood eggplant rollatine, prepared by Michele Mazza of Atlantic City's Il Mulino, was the most innately comforting dish. Consisting of shrimp and scallops rolled in a grilled eggplant slice and drowned in melted cheese, it was dense in a way that vaguely recalled school cafeteria food, though the seafood was far too delectable to be mistaken for that mushy homogeneity. The most satisfying part of the dish for me was the pile of dark leafy greens that came on the side. Cescaphe's own Julio Rivera tried for a regional twist with his "crispy cheesesteak tortilla." A promising concept, though with all the fixins, it ended up more or less indistinguishable from a standard beef taco — albeit an extremely tasty one.
A couple of chefs showed considerable creativity with their doctoring of junk-food staples. In particular, Mark McKinney of Cantina
Dos Segundos impressed with his perverted tacos al pastor, filled
with canned pineapple and succulent cubes of Spam. Todd Fuller of Tangerine made a
meatless Mediterranean/Asian noodle salad using Thai Kitchen-brand Pad
Thai, adding arugula, mint, cilantro and a zippy lime yogurt to the
packaged noodles and seasonings.
My favorite plate, which had me going back for seconds despite the generous portion size, was the "mountain lasagna" created by Modo Mio's Peter McAndrews, a pasta dish containing sausage, potatoes, savoy cabbage and taleggio. "It's what they'd give you when you get off the slopes after a long day of skiing," said McAndrews, who presented his dish with raisins, nutmeg, shaved pecorino and a fried egg. It was an entirely sumptuous affair, rich and indulgent in a gratifying (but not overwhelming) way.
The night's official judges, however, seemed to value inventiveness over warmth and familiarity, rewarding sensory excess with their unanimous selection of Cuba Libre's Robert Legget as this year's winner of the Golden Spoon. Legget's creation was certainly attention-getting and more than a little delicious: tiny squid-ink cones filled with a hickory-smoked tuna ceviche (in jalapeño and coconut vinaigrette) and a scoop of semi-sweet avocado ice cream, topped with wasabi-colored tobiko (flying fish roe), a sprinkle of sesame seeds and a dribble of sweet soy sauce. It's exactly the kind of playful experimentation that gets me excited, but though the flavors danced across the palate, there was way too much to think about for me to really luxuriate.
But what about DeBella himself, the big-moustached, bigger-mouthed morning man who serves as the event's namesake? He certainly seemed to be having a good time, chatting with everybody in the room, but he declared himself far too partial to serve as a judge himself. We discussed the difficulty of conserving stomach space with all the good stuff on offer. He'd been trying, but admitted, "once I got to the meatloaf, I was pretty much in pain."
I thought I was doing a pretty good job of pacing myself, but by the time I got home, I was definitely feeling it. Not pain, exactly, but ... what's the word? Ah yes: discomfort.
Times = tough. Let's get them a little more tender through the power of pizza.
Have you recently been laid off? Bring a notice from your former employer into La Fourno (636 South St., 215-627-9000, lafourno.com) and they'll give you a $25 gift certificate. And for those collecting unemployment while hunting for a new job — bring in documentation that you're receiving the benefits, and the trattoria will knock somewhere in the range of 20 to 30 percent off your bill. (They're still tinkering with the final number.)
"Anybody that's hurting, we're here for them," says owner Al Grafstrom, whom A.D. Amorosi quoted in this week's Naked City piece on the revival of South Street. "People are experiencing enough angst and anxiety and trauma with the economy. But that doesn't mean they can't take their family out for a nice dinner without feeling a sharp pain in their wallet."
Larry Bell's Two-Hearted Ale is the most kick-ass American beer. You know, since Bud is now owned by some goddamn Euros.
Philadelphians got their first taste of Two Hearted in early 2008, and the pale ale was a smash from the first sip. Though the golden beer packs a hop wallop, is is more than simply bitter. According to the Bell's Web site, "American malts and enormous hop additions give this beer a crisp finish and incredible floral aroma."
Not only is the brew clean, crisp and floral, it weighs in at 7 percent ABV for serious bang-for-the-buck. It has the bright complexity of the best Belgian goldens, combined with an thoroughly American hoppy bite that registers on every part of your tongue. Though unlikely to convert Miller/Bud drinkers into micro aficionados, it is simultaneously the most approachable and precisely crafted pale ale ever.
I'll be telling Larry Bell himself when he rolls into town for Philly Beer Week. The eccentric brewer gets straight to work with a meet and greet on opening night, Friday, March 6 at The Bishop's Collar at 7 p.m., then streaks down Fairmount Ave. to shake hands at St. Stephen's Green by 9:30 p.m.
The Bell's for Boobs event at Devil's Den is Saturday, March 7; Devil's Den will be donating $1 from every Bell's beer sold to breast cancer research -- choose from the standards, the almost-legendary HopSlam and a secret rare firkin. Rounding out the exhaustively paced weekend, the man returns to the scene of last year's debauchery with a dinner at Jose Pistola's on Sunday, March 8, adding a little grub to the mingle.
Ask the dudes at The Foodery on 2nd and Poplar when they are getting the Two-Hearted mini-kegs back, and we'll have a mini-keg party, with mini-keg stands.
Video by Neal Santos for Philadelphia City Paper
The phrase "dinner party" conjures up shiny, idealized images of couples laughingly emerging from the elevator into pre-war apartments decked in flickering candles, to doff furs and hats, basking in the sparkle of freshly polished stemware filled with champagne.
The reality of the dinner party, however, is less Bonfire of the Vanities and more How to Lose Friends and Alienate People. Food allergies and dietary requirements, keeping grudge holders from forking each other over cocktails and lack of space can cow even the most assured hostess.
The key to a dinner gathering with both style and substance lies in the planning. Most people have a nexus of different groups of friends; for balance and lively conversation, invite a few from each group and introduce them to each other. Ask guests to contribute wine to the dinner and send them around pouring for others. Make detailed lists and do everything you can ahead of time — then, as people start to arrive, delegate. Shy attendees will feel safer when their hands are occupied with some critical task, be it arranging hors d'oeuvres or choosing the playlist.
A dinner party for a large group need not be expensive, especially considering Philly's plethora of butchers, bakers and produce vendors. Buy vegetables the day before the event, in quantity, at the Italian or Reading Terminal Markets. Visit your local butcher for good deals on inexpensive cuts of meat and braise them all day to perfume the house. Employ the co-host technique: Join forces with a friend, choose the better-adapted house to stage the party in, and split costs, cooking and shopping. The result will be a livelier, more diverse group and half the work and expense.
My friend Kelly Anura and I have been co-hosting dinner parties for a few years, with surprising success. Her kitchen is spacious enough to accommodate 12, and she has the biggest Le Creuset cocotte I've ever seen, which makes creating a huge slow-cooked meal much simpler — even though it takes both of us to wrestle it out of the oven. We prepared a winter dinner, with a menu of roasted bone marrow with parsley salad, braised short ribs over cauliflower purée and sautéed greens with apple-cider gastrique for just about $11 per person. Friends brought copious amounts of wine, and the conversation veered from polite early in the evening to raucous post-meal. Even though the smoke alarms went off twice, the hearty meal was well-received — and the men even did the dishes.
Recipes for the $11-a-head Winter Dinner Party after the jump.
Roasted Bone Marrow with Parsley Salad & Croûtes
Adapted from Fergus Henderson's method at St. John (serves 12 as a hearty appetizer)
Go Get This:
3-4 lbs. beef or veal bones, cut into two-inch lengths (ask the butcher to do this on the saw)
One loaf crusty bread, sliced and toasted or grilled (that's croûtes)
2 bunches flat-leaf parsley, washed and picked off stems
2 shallots, sliced thinly
Small handful of capers
Juice of one lemon
1 and 1/2 tbsp. evoo (extra-virgin olive oil)
Now Do This:
If you choose, and have 24 hours to prepare, soak the cut marrow bones in several changes of very salty water. The salt draws out most of the blood and the roasted marrow will be a pretty cream color. If you don't have time to soak or just don't care so much, Fergus Henderson's widely-used recipe from his famous nose-to-tail London restaurant, St. John, does not call for any soaking. The blood will pool on top of the roasted marrow and the color will be browner, but it tastes just as good.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
Toss the parsley with the sliced shallots and capers. Shake the lemon juice and olive oil in a jar until blended, add pinch of salt and pepper. Dress parsley salad to just coat leaves, when bones come out of the oven.
Place bones in a foil-linen ovenproof skillet or casserole. Roast for 15-20 minutes, until marrow is soft and wobbly -- don't let it go too long or all of the marrow will melt and drizzle out -- very sad, as Fergus says.
Remove bones from pan with tongs. Spread marrow on toasted crusty bread, sprinkle with a touch of salt and top with parsley salad. Mmmm, meat butter.
Cauliflower Purée with Mascarpone & Truffle Oil
(serves 12, as starch under main course)
Go Get This:
3 heads cauliflower
Half-gallon milk, whole or 2%
One 12-oz. container mascarpone cheese
3 tbsp. cold butter, cut into small cubes
Small splash truffle oil
Salt to taste
Now Do This:
Slice the florets off the cauliflower heads by cutting a cone shape from the large, central stem. Break cauliflower florets into one-inch pieces.
Place all cauliflower in large stockpot, pour in milk. Bring to a simmer over medium heat.
Cook cauliflower until tender but not mushy, about fifteen minutes.
With a slotted spoon, remove cauliflower to large food processor. Add just one ladelful of milk to food processor; more can be added as needed for blending.
Blend until cauliflower forms a silky purée; add milk as needed to keep processing smooth.
Salt to taste; add container of mascarpone cheese and cold cubed butter. Blend.
Taste and adjust seasoning; add small splash of truffle oil and blend again.
Taste and add more truffle oil if desired.
Reserve until ready to serve: heat in a large, shallow pan over low heat until warm all the way through.
Wine-braised Short Ribs with Leeks and Peppercorns
(serves 12 people as a main course)
Go Get This:
9 lbs. beef short ribs (regular-cut, not flanken-cut); most surface fat trimmed off
2 tbsp. bacon fat or butter
3 bunches leeks, sliced thin & thoroughly rinsed to remove sandy grit
1 large onion, diced
2 tbsp. peppercorns
1/2 tbsp. salt (or to taste)
1 bottle full-bodied, low-acid red wine (merlot, cabernet sauvignon, syrah)
Additional chicken stock and white wine to partially cover ribs
4-5 sprigs mixed fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, sage, bay leaf, chervil)
Now Do This:
Place a cast-iron 9-quart dutch oven over medium-high heat and sear ribs, two at a time, to develop a brown crust on all sides. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Melt bacon fat or butter in dutch oven and sweat onions down, 3 minutes. Add leeks, season with salt, and sweat down for at least 15 minutes. Add peppercorns and fresh herbs and stir to combine. Turn the heat up to high.
Pour in half the bottle of red wine to deglaze: scrape all browned bits off bottom of dutch oven as they are loosened by the liquid.
Add short ribs back to dutch oven, stacking. Pour in rest of red wine, add white wine and stock until ribs are just covered. The top ribs may stick out a little; that is okay. Bring to a boil. Cover dutch oven.
Place entire dutch oven in preheated 350 degree oven. Every hour, rotate ribs so all get time fully submerged in cooking liquid. Skim fat off surface if necessary. Cook for at least four hours, until meat is tender to point of falling off the bone.
Serve each person one shortrib, over cauliflower purée and with some cooking liquid ladled over.
Skillet Greens with Cider Gastrique and Crispy Shallots
Kelly and I cribbed this recipe straight from Epicurious, which has millions of useful recipes and techniques. Check it out here. Gastrique is delicious and very fun to make. Just don't inhale the gas that is released when you pour the vinegar into the sugar mixture, it won't feel very nice on the old sinuses. Tastes great, though, and provides a sharp contrast and obligatory vegetables to an otherwise decadent meal.
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