Archive: February, 2009
This is what I won for making it out of The Week Without Meat alive. It was delicious. T31's house steak sauce is really something else.
|Photo | Drew Lazor|
|Photo | Drew Lazor|
And if you don’t have a trumpet, go and buy one and blare it.
That’s because, as of today at 5 p.m., Jose Garces will officially open his fourth restaurant at the spot on Chestnut formerly known as 707. (Kudos to former 707 operator/prize sommelier Ryan Margolis, who opened the doors to that address.)
The restaurant's hybrid of Cantonese and Peruvian cuisines is something Garces and his chef de cuisine Chad Williams seem to have mastered. A little casual reading (not of his menu, but of Lima’s take on Chinese foods) show that Chifa’s Lomo Saltado con Conchitas (beef tenderloin marinated in ginger and soy and stir-fried with peppers), aji gallina (chicken poached in a spicy sauce) and arroz chaufa con marisco (fried rice with Chinese ham, egg and scallion, topped with soy- and ginger-glazed shellfish) are on the right track.
At Chifa, ginger rules.
Plus, if it’s a Garces thing, you can’t forget his specialty. “Chifa has a ceviche bar, with chefs creating 10 different selections of the best ceviches in the country,” Garces told me last week. Plus, the Iron Chef winner mentioned something on the menu called Specialties for Two. “That part of the menu just happens to include one of my favorite dishes — salt-baked bronzino, which is tender and incredibly flavorful.”
I’ll have that indeed when I test Chifa this weekend.
On a design tip, there’s a 16-seat gold resin communal block that’s a little Starr-y (Jun Aizaki of Creme Design Collective) but unique in its dusky décor a la Tinto. only bolder. (Check out Drew Lazor's pics of the interior.) Plus, since I was so fond of 707’s gilded vault in the basement, Garces’ tip about that lounge for dining and late nights was a fascinating one: “We will be able to break down the tables to open up a dance floor for possible DJ nights."
Therefore, the thumping you hear at 707 might not be Danny Bonaduce training with Ryan Cassidy upstairs at Maxercise.
It’ll be Chifa beats, baby.
(P.S. Not to be outdone by himself, Garces is serving a a $100-a-head charity supper at Tinto on March 2 for Moonstone Preschool, a neighbor of mine that is moving closer still on south 11th Street this spring. Call 215-665-9150 to snag reservations for the four-course meal and wine pairing.)
Many apologies for the delay with this recap. Last week was a bear!
First things first: Jeff, who was eliminated in Episode 10, told people.com that he felt the show used him as "some kind of sex object." I love that guy!
Onto 11: As far as celeb chefs go, I've always liked Eric Ripert. The chef/owner of NYC's heralded Le Bernardin (as well as Philly's 10 Arts) is a living legend, and he's French, meaning he could probably get away with being a total wad if he really wanted to. But seems like a generally nice dude. How much of this is genuine and how much of this is expertly polished public persona? Impossible to tell. But he's doing an excellent job.
Quickfire: Three-Round Super-Fast Fish Filleting Tournament. Round 1: The remaining cheftestants had 5 minutes to clean and butterfly two sardines. The Duchess of Scallopshire Jamie and Tony Todd/Didi Pickles daughter Carla screwed up, leaving Vaguely Ethnic Debbie Downer Leah, "I've Strayed From the Church's Teachings!" Hosea, and to so-very-continental Fabio and Stefan to give a big ol' arctic char the what's for. Leah and Fabio dropped the ball, so the show's two bald dudes faced off in Round 3: skinning and breaking down a still-kinda-alive eel. "Skinning eel is like riding a bike," Stefan said enthusiastically while nailing the thing's writhing, slimy head into a cutting board and tearing it apart with ease. The uncircumcised winced. Stefan won.
(One thing I've noticed: It's easy for us schlubs at home to be like "You're a professional chef, you should be able to gut and fillet that fish with the quickness!" But I don't think everyone realizes that it's extremely difficult to do well. I've tried — and failed spectacularly — on several occasions. Then again, I'm far from a pro chef — but could you imagine if a God de Poisson like Ripert hovered over you while you struggled through a task he could probably complete blindfolded with one hand while smoking an unfiltered cigarette and discussing the waning strength of the Euro?)
Elimination: The final six are treated to classy six-course lunch at Le Bernardin, where apparently you get an extremely dapper black French man in a bespoke suit describing your food as part of the package. I'd imagine that's an extremely nervewracking position to be in, even if you work in a kitchen — sitting at a private table with a chef while his or her food is being served, putting you in the obligatory position to make insightful comments about the dishes in real time as you fork away. (Of course, I feel this way because I'm not at all eloquent when I eat, mainly because my mouth is so full.) It was funny to watch these generally cocky chefs stumble over their words when attempting to describe the heavenly texture of oil-poached escolar. Ripert acted very gracious and friendly throughout, of course.
Anyway, after dinner, chefs drew knives to see which of the six courses they would have to recreate for Eric and the Crew. Quickfire winner Stefan was given the advantage of being able to choose, so he picked baked lobster with asparagus and hollandaise sauce. The rest of the contestants groaned because they thought it was too easy. Come on y'all, there are no easy Le Bernardin recipes.
Carla drew the aforementioned escolar (seemed like one of the hardest), Hosea got za'atar-spiced monkfish, Leah picked mahi mahi in a matsutake mushroom sauce, Jamie drew a black bass plate (Ripert's pick for most difficult) and Fabio drew sourdough-encrusted red snapper (sounds so good).
The judges' tasting was one of the bigger wankfests I've in awhile. "It's like someone forging a painting," Tom Colicchio said about the chefs mimicking Ripert's dishes. Wank. Toby Young offered high praise to Ripert's menu, causing the Frenchman to blush and say, "Coming from you ... " Wank. Padma just sat there and acted transcendently beautiful. Wank. Et cetera.
Stefan won again because his plate was apparently very close to the Ripert original (back to backs here).
Bottom three: Hosea, who overdid the za'atar (how you gonna overdo the za'atar, brother?); Leah, whose stuff was too greasy for comfort; and Jamie, who screwed up the celery on her plate real bad. Toby went so far as to claim that Jamie's dish featured a "rogue element," a "metallic aftertaste" that rendered it "completely toxic." Take those comments out of context and he could very well be talking about terrorism.
Jamie got the ax. It seemed cruel on its face because Leah has been half-assedly coasting for the past few episodes, while the last bastion of Team Rainbow, for all her pouting and complaining, has consistently performed well. Was it a fair elimination? Don't ask Ripert, who seems to think both the girls should've been sent packing. From his post-show Q&A:
Bravotv.com: When Leah gave up on the arctic char, what were you thinking?
Gone baby gone …
Bravotv.com: The eliminated chef was seemingly sent home for oversalting celery — was this the worst culinary crime that day?
By far, yes. Unfortunately we just couldn’t eat it.
Next episode: Jacques Pepin, Wylie Dufresne and various other chefs attempt to outwankify each other. Fabio chops his finger/hand/arm off.
It's no secret that on the first Friday of every month, Philadelphia's artistic underbelly comes out of hiding to patronize the city's latest/greatest galleries, stores and restaurants. Among the veteran draws, however, are a handful of surrounding-area shindigs attempting to gain footing in the mayhem.
Hosted at Haverford Estates by First Friday Main Line (FFML), a local non-profit that promote and supports artists in Ardmore, Haverford and Bryn Mawr, this past Friday's inaugural Foodapalooza was one of these infant events. The evening featured seven different restaurants from the Philadelphia area, all of which provided a starving buffet line with grub that was (by the time I got to it) systemically picked clean, save for a pretty-darn-good plate of rigatoni, tomatoes and vegetables. Aside from the buffet, the event (a fundraiser for FFML) also featured wine tastings courtesy of the Chaddsford Winery and the Wine Merchant of Venice, as well as an glistening chocolate fondue fountain courtesy of Whole Foods. (I was slightly tempted to stick my hand into it since the table full of fruit and cake underneath was quickly reduced to a smattering crumbs and empty trays.) Although the wine and sweets were definitely flowing, it was clear that the restaurants just couldn't keep up with the enormous crowd, which eagerly circled tables like a flock of beady-eyed birds.
The insatiable attendees weren't the only anxious-looking people there, either, since the primary component of Foodapalooza was a competition pitting the participating eateries — Auspicious, Café San Pietro, Fuji Mountain, McCloskey's, Mediterranean Grill, JR Monaghan's and Primavera Pizza Kitchen — against each other in an appetizer cookoff. Each restaurant's plate was rated based on four components: flavor, presentation, originality and texture. The judging panel consisted of local chef/author Aliza Green, restaurant consultant Linda Lipsky, food writer Irene Rothchild and Democratic state senator Daylin Leach. According to these four, the top participants included the pork tenderloin appetizer with a horseradish cream sauce presented by McCloskey's, which received second place, and the shrimp and scallops dish whipped up by Primavera chef Tim Mellor, who took home the gold. What put his dish on top? Rothschild and Green both agreed that the sauce was perfect, noting its subtle seafood flavor and creamy texture.
But what about the event as a whole — was it successful as a first try? "It's a beginning," said Green. "The food was good, but I don't think that they were expecting as big a crowd as they got, and that's where they suffered." Green was quick to note that every fledgling event has its "birth pains," and predicted that 2010's installment would be bigger and better.
FFML chair Sherry Tillman said that the main aim of the evening was to bring people closer to the art in their community by creating a fundraiser that could collect the money to keep artists thriving. If that was the objective, then Foodapalooza was an undoubted success.
It's no secret that we here at Meal Ticket are huge fans of The Sidecar at 22nd and Christian. Me especially — I live two blocks away from Adam and Jen Ritter's beer bar and have been a loyal boozer since it opened. That's why I'm excited to report that the team has plans to convert the two apartments on the second floor of the structure into an additional floor for the small, narrow drinkery, which by all accounts can get crazy crowded at night.
The project is "still in its infancy," says Ritter, but the idea is to add around 30 seats of dining space and move the teeny-tiny kitchen up a level so chef Amos Pedersen has more room to flex his culinary muscle. (No word yet on whether or not the second floor will feature an additional bar.) But they're not stopping there — Ritter also has tentative plans for jumping onto the third floor of the building to develop a venue for private catered events and intimate concerts. "I could have a bar mitzvah up there," says Ritter. L'chaim. These floors, plus the bar's outdoor tables, could bump the overall seating capacity past 100.
Architectural plans and zoning board stuff are still in the works. If everything goes smoothly, Ritter says, he hopes to start construction in May or June and have everything done by October or November.
|Who's got my Russian River Beatification?|
|Photo l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
Beer Bitch to beer dorks, hoarders and cellarmasters: I know what you've got. Whether it's 2004 vintages of Gouden Carolus Cuvee van de Keizer or Schlitz signs from the swingin' seventies, we want to see it. And maybe purchase it from you. Leigh Maida of the Memphis Taproom and Local 44 is hosting a Philly Beer Week swap and she wants you. Well, she's married, so what she mostly wants is your stuff. Bring it out.
This is an open call for any vintage beer or breweriana collectors interested in setting up shop for the afternoon. The event will be held on Sunday, March 15, noon-3 p.m. There is no fee to join in, but space is somewhat limited, contact firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve your place. (Act fast!)
This is a chance for seasoned collectors to buy/sell/swap treasures and an opportunity for the rest of us to try to get ahold of rare or never seen beer and beer related stuff.
For details & directions: www.memphistaproom.com
Memphis Taproom, 2331 E. Cumberland St., 215-425-4460
Chifa, chef Jose Garces' latest Philly restaurant, celebrates the one-of-a-kind comingling of Peruvian and Cantonese cooking styles that originated in the South American nation. The spot officially opens for dinner tomorrow, Feb. 10, but we got a little tour of the space (707 Chestnut St., 215-925-5555, chifarestaurant.com) earlier today. Consider this the photographic companion to the droolworthy but pictureless menu preview Felicia D. posted this weekend.
Spread out over two floors, the 150-seat Chifa (chee-fah) was crafted by Jun Aizaki of Creme Design Collective, who's also responsible for Garces' Tinto, Amada and Distrito. Chifa culture is the result of Latin and Asian elements getting friendly thanks to an influx of Chinese immigrants to Peru in the 19th century. This fusion is subtly reflected in Aizaki's design choices upstairs — silky floral fabrics, beaded curtains and opium den-like hanging lamps make friends with tropical-hued tiling and panoramic murals of Macchu Picchu that warm up two shrouded booths in the back dining room. A long gold-resin communal table with high-back chairs features lazy susans whose patterns are a nod to the immense wall of blue and white porcelain vases when you first enter. The bottom floor of the space serves as a slightly sexier lounge area, with a second bar and a snug, low-to-the-ground banquette accompanied by dainty blood-red tables. There's a communal table down here, as well.
"That's where I'm going to spend most of my time," Garces told me, gesturing toward the apothecary cabinet-style ceviche bar (Set 2, Pic 3) at the north end of the main floor. While people often associate ceviche with the Caribbean nations, Peruvians are widely considered the originators of citrus-kissed raw seafood dishes. They'll be doing 10 varieties at any given time, sourcing the fresh stuff from places like Australia, Japan and Chile. Teased varieties include oyster with leche de tigre, avocado calamari and pisco; tuna with rocoto emulsion, soy, sweet potato, red onion and cilantro; and an Ecuadorian preparation with orange, tomato and avocado. (See Felicia's writeup for more on the main menu, helmed by chef de cuisine Chad Williams.)
Garces, who spent 10 days in Peru for research (and vacation!) purposes, said that this concept has been long in the making — he scrawled down the original Chifa menu about 7 years ago, but the right space and the right investors didn't fall into place until recently. We love it when a plan comes together.
Seems like no one wants to give anchovies any love, at least not in public. What do you want on your pizza? Anything but anchovies. Why don't you like anchovies? Eww, salty stinky little fish! Raise your hand if you can't stand anchovies but just adore the boquerones at Amada. Guess what they are? Some super-boutique, marinated, salty little fish, that's what.
The good news: the ever-helpful Brothers Di Bruno and Claudio King of Cheese sell neat little fillets of Spanish white anchovies; cleaned, marinated, and free of bones, guts, fishy aromas and anything else that might offend delicate sensibilities. Not that I'm sneering. I've been skeeved on foreign fish since I was old enough to say "Not anchovies!" on my pizza. Only in the last few years have anchovies and I made a nodding acquaintance. You can't write about food, and go to restaurants 300 times a year, without biting into a few things you secretly fear.
That's why gentle, marinated anchovy fillets (boquerones) are a friendly introduction to the world of small, oily and delicious for the fish fearful. True of both boquerones and the hot Spanish transfer student in your high school: an empty wallet gets you nowhere. At Di Bruno Bros., white anchovies are $49.99 a pound. You only need about ten dollars' worth to cook with to create a satisfying meal for four, or an appetizer for the gang.
Some boquerones-purist will howl over me putting the fancy fish on a pizza, but tough calamari. You eat what you like, and I'll profane my expensive ingredients any way I see fit.
|Proof dough in a warm place.|
|Photo l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
Mitch Mandell's Pizza Dough is one of the easiest and most reliable dough recipes and pizza-making methods around — he includes instructions for making a basic yeast-raised dough in a food processor, stand mixer, bread machine or by hand. As Mitch says, dough making ain't brain surgery — but there are as many ways to screw it up as there are foodies cruising the Internet. Follow the directions, measure carefully, and make sure your dough has a warm place to rise. The pilot light of a gas-fired oven will keep the oven warm enough for the dough to come alive. Lacking that, I put my covered bowl of dough a few feet away from the space heater and it perked up nicely. Adaptation is the key to dinner.
After rolling out the dough, I dressed it with some good extra-virgin olive oil, ricotta cheese, sea salt, herbs and a small school of anchovies; then into a 500-degree oven on the pizza stone for just a few minutes. It tasted amazing, and the omega-3 rich, low-mercury little swimmers are ideal "brain food" — check out this Telegraph.uk article on eating oily fish.
The Mitch Mandell recipe yields a healthy quantity of dough, perhaps five personal-sized pizzas or two bigger pies. I took a shot at rolling the dough very thinly and pinching it around individual anchovy fillets. These got a sprinkle of sea salt and just a minute in the oven, and there you have some boquerone empanadas. Some were super oily and came open in the oven. They tasted lovely anyway, and should please many a fishy foodie as an amuse bouche.
On Saturday night, the girl and I attended the grand opening gala for Union Trust at Seventh and Chestnut. It was packed to the gills. I wore a tie and drank a bunch.
|Photo | Drew Lazor|
Then we randomly met some friends here:
|Photo | Drew Lazor|
Before even more randomly ending up here:
|Photo | Drew Lazor|
On Sunday, I picked up some dinner here:
|Photo | Drew Lazor|
So what say you, Meal Ticketers? Can you name these three spots?
Also: Where did you eat/drink this weekend? Let's hear it in the comments.
On Thursday night I had my first taste of Chifa. Before you demand pictographic evidence, I went as a guest of a friend and didn't take photos to spare him the stigma of being "the guy who brought the blogger."
Jose Garces' latest baby is opening to the public on Tue., Feb. 10. The space is long and narrow, warmly lit and dressed in burnished gold and red tones, with roomy, shimmering aqua booths divided by intricately cut, dark wooden screens. The narrow runway family table dominates the center of the dining room, punctuated with by the ceviche bar. Our server helped guide us through the broad menu: ceviche, rice, noodles, dim sum, carne and specialties of the house.
- House-made sriracha sauce, served with the signature Chifa Chicken, an air-chilled organic bird from Giannone in Canada. Impossibly crisp, glassine skin over tender meat. This will be a must-have.
- The bread. A bowl of airy globes laced with manchego, pillowy and warm, sided with guava butter. Our table could have survived on this bread alone.
- The lobster noodles with parmesan cream and lima beans that finished with a spicy kick. Gorgeous, wide white Hong Kong-style noodles carried the velvety sauce and ensconced gently cooked lobster nuggets.
- Chu-toro tuna ceviche simply dressed with pickled jalapenos and coconut milk, simple, clean and marbled in pink and white fat.
- Flexible chocolate: a smooth chocolate custard with a bangin' body, topped with Cocoa Krispie-like crunchy shells, with milk chocolate ice cream and mango ice. A rainbow of textures.
- A Lima Bean Fizz cocktail struck the right balance between tart and sweet, with no icky vegetal qualities.
Though Garces said they were still working out the kinks and finishing up some interior work, Chifa — on its very first night – already displays the traits of the chef's other successful restaurants: conscientious service, a beautiful room, and creative, well-executed dishes meant for sharing.
Chifa, 707 Chestnut St., 215-925-5555, chifarestaurant.com
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