Archive: February, 2009
|Photo | Michael T. Regan|
Unless you’ve been hiding in an AA meeting for the past year, you know that absinthe is now legal — wormwood and all. Six major brands are on the shelves in the U.S., including one from Marilyn Manson (called “Mansinthe”) and another from a company right here in Philly. Located in a cozy warehouse in the Northeast, Philadelphia Distilling calls its green liquor “Vieux Carre” and sells it in 13 states. (Including here in Pennsylvania! Can you believe our liquor laws didn’t prevent that?) I caught up with Robert Cassell (pictured), the company’s master distiller.
Meal Ticket: You announced that Vieux Carre would be released before the holidays. Did people end up buying their moms and dads absinthe for Christmas?
Robert Cassell: It actually hit the shelves on the first or second week of January. And yeah, it was really popular. A few stores sold out in the first couple of days.
MT: Where in Philly can you pick it up?
RC: All the premium selection stores have it. Outside of that, they have it at the liquor store on Columbus Boulevard and on 12th and Chestnut streets.
MT: Does your absinthe include wormwood?
RC: Yes, it includes the illustrious wormwood.
MT: You know I had to ask that question.
RC: Of course. All my friends did. The one that usually comes after that is, "Duuude, am I going to trip my balls off?"
|No, this won't make you trip balls.|
MT: Well, I’m glad you asked it so I don’t have to.
RC: There's a huge folklore around absinthe. But no, unless it's laced, it’s not going to make you hallucinate. It’s like when people say "gin makes me angry" — if that’s happening, it’s because you’re an angry person, not because of the gin.
MT: What distinguishes your absinthe from others?
RC: In terms of the recipe and the proportion of ingredients, it’s very classic. We get most of our ingredients from Switzerland and the Alps, so it tastes a lot like something you’d get in Europe.
MT: You’re the only East Coast company currently making absinthe, right?
RC: We’re the first [East Coast] company to make it in over 100 years. When we heard whispers in the industry about it being legalized, we said, “Well, that’s cool. How often can you be a pioneer and make something for the first time in 100 years?”
MT: Does your absinthe taste like licorice — like Jägermeister?
RC: I try not to make it have over-the-top licorice notes like Jägermeister. It has more of an herbal flavor, and it's not thick or viscous. And it’s a much higher proof — 120.
MT: What does “Vieux Carre” mean?
RC: The name is in tribute to the only real nexus of absinthe culture in the United States. It refers to the French Quarter in New Orleans, which was the epicenter of absinthe life before it was banned.
MT: There’s one last thing that I’m curious about. You were a brewer before becoming a distiller. What’s the relationship like between the two? Is there animosity between you?
RC: No way. If anything, the brewers are the guys I can vent to about production issues. We complain about milling and mashing problems. There’s not a lot of people who can relate with that.
Chef Al Paris, who opened Mantra at 18th and Sansom in 2006, is closing the restaurant this weekend to reconceptualize it as Bar Amalfi, a casual, wine-friendly Italian neighborhood spot. "This concept is very dear to me," says Paris of the pan-Asian idea. "But there's a reconfiguring of the marketplace here in Philadelphia. If people want Asian, they're going back to their favorite Asian restaurants in Chinatown."
In other words, people like it when you stick to your roots. So that's what Paris is doing — he's Italian by heritage, and his other restaurant, Ninth Street's Pat Bombino's, is a nod to that. Amalfi, named after the city in Salerno, will carry a slightly more "delicate" feel than Bombino's, Paris says, with a definite nod toward seafood — think mussels cinzano (garlic, sweet vermouth, leek, tomatoes, parsley) and salmon capri (in a puttanesca with pignoli nuts) in addition to standbys like chicken and eggplant parm, skillet-fried homemade mozzarella and a mozzarella caprese salad. Meat choices will include pulled short rib ravioli, braised beef brasato and and a sausage and polenta dish. They'll be doing a 30-bottle wine list, with 12 by the glass, in addition to a retro cocktail list that'll feature classics like Sidecars and Gimlets.
You might remember reading about how Paris painstakingly built Mantra with his bare hands. But he's not sweating the transition too much — much of the tiling and woodwork is not Asian-specific, he points out, so they're focusing mostly on easily swappable augmentations like artwork, paint (the walls'll become an apricot color) and plateware.
Grand reopening is this coming Wednesday, Feb. 11. It'll just be dinner at first, but Paris adds that he's considering opening for lunch Thursday to Saturday in the near future.
UPDATE: Check out a draft of the menu after the jump.
Mussels Cinzano $9
Roast garlic • sweet vermouth • tomato • leeks • olive oil • parsley
Calamari Fritti $10
Cut fresh • lightly breaded• green beans • red onions • rosemary aioli
Homemade Skillet Fried Mozzarella $8
Fresh Mozzarella • tomato • Caper vinaigrette
Pulled Short rib Ravioli $11
Ricotta Ravioli • short rib • Barolo Ragu • Onion Raisin Jam
Eggplant Rollantini $8
Roast eggplant • goat cheese • Parmesan • mozzarella • marinara
Tuna Tartar Amalfitana $10
Fresh cut tuna • bruschetta toast • tomato • basil • onion cruda
Honey Balsamic Suckling Ribs $9
Slow roasted • grilled with 20yr balsamic glaze
Chicken & Tortellini en Brodo $6
Light broth • chicken • tortellini pasta • carrots • escarole
Grey Goose Shrimp Cocktail $12
Cool poached King Shrimp • vodka • lime • cocktail Sauce
Italian Green Salad $6
Arugula • Radicchio • Romaine • Escarole • tomato • white balsamic & evoo
Bar Amalfi Chopped Salad $9
Italian greens • peppers • sharp provolone • salami tomato • chick peas • red onion $9
The Caesar Salad $7
Crisp Romain Hearts • garlic croutons • classic dressing
Roast Pepper & Mozzarella Caprese Salad $9
Fresh Mozzarella • Black Olive • Onion Caper • basil • Olive Oil
Warm Chicken Cutlet Salad $10
Arugula • parmesan • tomato • onion • olive toss • honeyed balsamic
Mediterranean Seafood Salad $14
Mussels • shrimp • tuna • calamari • Crab • basil Onion • olive oil • grilled lemon
Venetian Poached Salmon Salad $10
Pickled Onion • caper • Romaine lettuce • white balsamic
Neapolitan Spaghetti and Meatballs $13
Homemade meatballs • gravy and shaved pecorino cheese
Rigatoni with Shortrib Bolognese $17
Crimini mushrooms • Chianti • tomato sauce
Tortellini a la Vodka $15
Prosciutto • sun dried tomato• red onion • Vodka • garlic cream
House made Goat Cheese Gnocchi $16
Light dumplings • red gravy • tomato cruda • mozzarella • basil
Cavatelli Sweet Sausage & Escarole $14
Smashed chic peas • pepper flakes • extra virgin olive oil
Classic Linguini & Clams $16
Chopped clams • broth • orevieto • garlic • extra virgin olive oil • herbs
Lobster Ravioli with King Shrimp $19
Green beans • little red tomatoes • basil • extra virgin olive oil
Calabrese Seafood Risotto $21
Seared shrimp • crab • mussels • calamari • Rosa sauce
Sausage & Polenta $12
Italian fennel sausage • peppers & polenta
Eggplant or Chicken Parmgiana $13
Lightly breaded • sautéed crisp • marinara • Mozzarella • Parmesan • spaghetti
Chicken Scallopine a la Marsalla $15
Sauteed Marinated Chicken • Mushrooms • rosemary • Linguini
Roman Roast Tuna Mignon $16
Seared & sliced with caper • raisins • crispy Ravioli
Herb Grilled Salmon Capri $16
Sauce Putanesca • garlic • green beans • pignoli nuts
Braised Beef Brasato $18
Tender Brisket • vinegar • peppers on polenta
Orange Honey Glazed Pork Chops $17
Fire grilled bruschetta • arugula salad
Chocolate Raisin Bread Pudding $6
Served warm with Frangelico cream
Strawberry Tiramisu Martini $6
Whipped cream • mascarpone • ladyfingers • fresh strawberries
Sophia’s Cheesecake Brulee $6
Creamy cheesecake • burnt sugar • Orange Sauce
Amalfi Homemade Cannoli $5
Crispy pastry shell with Sicilian Cream
|Lemon mousse at Kanella|
|Photo | Shirley Nicole Fonner|
In this week's What's Cooking, Nikki Volpicelli highlights some sweet Valentine's Day deals for you and yours. Here's another good option for you if you're the procrastinatory type and have yet to secure a table (hurry up, dude!) — chef Konstantinos Pitsillides' acclaimed Cypriot BYO Kanella (1001 Spruce St., 215-922-1773) is offering a four-course menu for $55. They'll be open for 5 to 11 p.m. on Feb. 14. And most importantly, they're not fully booked up yet. (That won't last long.)
Full menu after the jump.
Duo of Vegetarian Bureki served with marinated Labneh
Koupes: Bulgur wheat and spiced ground lamb croquettes with pickled vegetables and yogurt
Salt cod fritters with scordalia and Z’aatar bread
Traditional Houmous soup, with olives and scallions
Horiatiki Salad: Village salad
Elafi: Venison osso bucco with wheat berries and pearl onion, garnished with crispy baby eggplant
Hirino: Grilled pork tenderloin served with chick pea fritters and an okra and tomato stew
Psari: Pan-fried mahi mahi served with crispy pasta and baby broad beans
Pouleriko: Pan-roasted organic free range corn-fed Cornish hen with crushed cumin and coriander seeds, served with roasted root vegetables and crispy leeks
Vegetarian mousaka served with a warm green bean salad
Assortment of traditional Cypriot pastries
Mahalepi: Middle Eastern rosewater pudding garnished with pistachios
Chocolate fondant with orange ice cream
|The sweetest things.|
|© 2009 Courtney Grant Winston|
Alison Barshak has been making headlines for her self-taught culinary skills and ambitious business style for more than a decade. The red-headed chef first made a splash cooking at the original Striped Bass, then went on to open and close her own restaurant in Philadelphia before heading off to New York City. The diminutive Alison Café, opened in 2001, gave way to Alison at Blue Bell, which re-opened yesterday after three months of freshening renovations.
Her latest endeavor, Alison two, is in full swing serving Barshak's and chef Bill Lewis' take on modern, international cuisine. In addition to fusing savory global flavors, the kitchen takes time to create desserts that will leave a lasting final impression on diners. Signature boxes of cookies, packaged in a clever chest-of-drawers box, make charming gifts for Valentine's Day. These sweets aren't just empty calories, either: through February and March, $5 of the $15 price will be donated to Children's Hospital of Pennsylvania.
The assortment includes inventive cookies baked to order that day; like pistachio macaroons, cardamom orange madeleines, granola Concord grape jam bars, lemon poppyseed biscotti, raspberry almond sesame sandwich cookies and Mexican wedding cookies. Call 24 hours in advance to give the kitchen a chance to bake your cookies fresh -- boxes can be picked up at Alison at Blue Bell or Alison Two.
Call 215-591-0200 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to order cookies.
Alison at Blue Bell, 721 Skippack Pike, Blue Bell, PA, 19422; 215-641-2660; alisonatbluebell.com
Alison two, 424 S. Bethlehem Pike, Ft. Washington, PA, 19034; 215-591-0200; alisontwo.com
|Pretty and delicious.|
|© 2009 Courtney Grant Winston|
|A chalice of Heavy Seas Below Decks|
|Photo l Michael Persico|
Brewed by Baltimore's Clipper City Brewing, this malted barleywine is a super-bomb at 10 percent ABV, but the rich, mellow flavor bears no telltale burn. The warmth spreads through your belly as you sip, a 10-ounce, $5 goblet lasting longer and providing far more savor than a similarly priced, quickly downed yellow pint.
The garnet-brown ale poured with a moderate cream head that dissipated rapidly, leaving little lacing on the glass. The nose was of nutty roasted malts and sweet, yeasty baked bread. Typical to the barleywine style, the mouthfeel is full and heavy on the tongue, but initial malt sweetness gives way to a freshening dryness. The finish is quite clean and dry for such a big, strong beer.
Below Decks was brewed to celebrate Clipper City's 10th anniversary, with Pale, Crystal and Carapils malts; Magnum, Fuggles and Goldings hops contributed aroma and flavor with mild bitterness. The complex ale is the perfect partner for Prohibition's massive pub burger crowned with a bacon-wrapped, roasted Vidalia onion.
This winter warmer is pouring on draft at Prohibiton Taproom while it lasts. It's ARRR-guably the best barleywine you can get for your five gold pieces.
|Duck confit topped with a poached egg, at|
LoBianco New American Cuisine in
|MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Inquirer Staff Photographer|
Eggs are in, no yolk (rim shot!). Joyce Gemperlein, for the Inquirer, catalogs the many poached and fried eggs topping dishes around town.
The Lombardo pizza at Osteria features a yellow jewel in its sausage-and-cheese crown: a poached egg.
Chef Jim Burke at James adds richness to sole wrapped in thin-cut potatoes with a slow-poached egg.
At his restaurant LoBianco New American Cuisine in Collingswood, Nicholas LoBianco adds a runny-yolked poached egg to his duck confit hash.
Gemperlein adds in her favorite: the egg nestled in a hot bowl of Korean bibimbap, and offers instructions for getting fried eggs just right. We can't get enough of the fried-egg topped classic, burger à cheval, even if it's made of fowl.
The Pif method for poaching eggs:
In small saucepan, bring at least 2 cups of water and 3 tablespoons of white vinegar to a brisk simmer (not boiling). With a chopstick, spin the water into a fast whirlpool and crack in a single egg. Poach until whites have set, 4 to 5 minutes, and remove with a slotted spoon.
Eat with pretty much anything.
Sal Kucuk's S &H Kebab House, which Meal Ticket first mentioned on Jan. 20,will officially open to the public on Tue., Feb. 10 at 4 p.m. They'll close at 9 on that night, but will begin adhering to regular hours soon thereafter.
The restaurant (611 E. Passyunk Ave., 267-639-3214, kebabhouseonline.com), which is taking over the just-off-Fifth-and-South location that formerly housed Overtures, is welcoming customers with a complimentary grub — soup, assorted appetizers, chicken adana and doner kebab will all be available. See y'all there.
Aside from being a scary place for a wimp-ass driver such as myself, the intersection of Frankford and Cottman in Northeast Philly holds the distinction of being the epicenter of drunken World Series revelry. Now it's also the home of Wit or Witout (7352 Frankford Ave., 267-343-7667), the steak stop Mayfair native Nicole DiZio opened in January.
"We took little bits of all the best steak shops in the city, made it into one [shop] and cleaned it up a bit," says DiZio of her 18-seater. They're keeping the menu small — plain steaks, cheesesteaks (melted American, Whiz or provolone), cheesesteak hoagies, pizza steaks and fountain sodas. Connoisseurs who like gauge steak supremacy based on a shop's meat and bread sources will have to do some independent investigation if they want to ID WoW's secret suppliers — DiZio won't name her purveyors, but says her 9.5-inch rolls are not from Amoroso's.
In January, all steaks were $3. This month, they'll cost you $4. Come March, that'll jump to $5 before permanently topping out at $6 starting April 1. (Price includes sales tax.)
Hours: Sun.-Wed., 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Thu., 11 a.m.-midnight; Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-3 a.m. A word to those with whiskey munchies: On those weekend late nights, "we're pretty crowded from 1:30 on," says DiZio.
SNACK TIME: Flognarde you!, Carman's tastes will offend some and thrill others, Blogalicious begins terrible twos, most clicked ain't what you think, free beer is soo cheesy
|Warm Apple Flognarde|
Every Wednesday, we poke around the food blog world to see what's simmering.
- Warm Apple Flognarde. Sounds weird, doesn't it? Say it with Neal of Burning Pasta: flon-YARD. The multi-ethnic baby of swingin' parents custard, caramel and pie, the flognarde could knock the eternal bread pudding off the Best Warm Winter Dessert pedestal. An overage of local apples and a cup of cream inspired Neal to fire up the oven for some dessert therapy.
- E of Foodaphilia and friends go South Philly style at Carman's Country Kitchen. E grooves on the fun, unexpected combinations for pancakes and challah French toast, but finds the complicated omelet fillings a bit "busy" for her taste. Carman's choice of ingredients may be too much for some people, and her displayed collection of penis coffee mugs should really shock those with plain breakfast tastes!
- Happy second birthday to Blogalicious, who celebrated with a fruit-frosted cake from Mayflower Bakery in Chinatown. I wonder if Blogalicious wished for lots of Diggs when it blew out the candles.
- The MenuPages blog reveals its five most-clicked restaurant pages for all Philly neighborhoods. They're not what you might expect.
-Phoodie.info reveals that not only did the entire Philebrity crew feast on the all mac-n-cheese menu at Swallow for just $44 including tip, but Swallow is now enticing diners with free beer (with purchase of mac). That's right, free beer. Shameless and brillian. That's what it takes to stay alive in this economy.
Yesterday, I broke my weeklong meat fast in dramatic fashion.
First, it behooves me to point out that on my drive to work, this is what I got stuck behind on Bainbridge for about eight blocks:
|Photo | Drew Lazor|
Follow the white rabbit.
More meat porn after the jump.
First, Felicia D. and I got some lunch at Amada.
I ate ham and white bean soup:
|Photo | Drew Lazor|
And some assorted charcuterie:
|Photo | Drew Lazor|
And a skirt steak sandwich:
|Photo | Drew Lazor|
Then I felt really great for awhile.
I started to get hungry again around 8 p.m., so I went to one of my all-time favorite places, one that I hadn't been to in a long, long time — Popeye's, y'all. Four-piece dinner, spicy, with a biscuit and a side of rice and beans. (You know they have a Twitter?):
|Photo | Drew Lazor|
God I love Popeye's.
I know what you're thinking — how could I possibly follow up a lunch at a low-brow hole in the wall like Amada with a meal at the temple of haute cuisine that is the Popeye's at Broad and Catharine?
Tomorrow, I'm cashing in on my Week Without Meat prize — a big-ass steak! — with a dinner at Table 31. I'm thinking 24-ounce Porterhouse. Stay tuned.
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