Archive: July, 2009
I'm looking at last night's Top Chef Masters episode ï¿½ and next week's ï¿½ like I look at the last two tortuous days of work before you bolt for a long-overdue vacation. Conventional wisdom suggests these days are dull, but rat racers know that the exact opposite is often true ï¿½ the final 48 hours before escaping via train/plane/automobile somehow always end up bogged down with more stupid tasks and useless information and vexing revelations than an entire month's worth of ass-busting. It makes me furious just thinking about it. Thank God no one will really care if I direct my hostility at a benign target like TCM.
Yes, Episode 5 had every cylinder of my ambivalence engine firing, but it also featured perhaps the most gracious star cheftestants yet ï¿½ Michael Chiarello (former Food Network host and chef at Napa's Bottega; described by one friend ï¿½ not me ï¿½ as "rapey"), the charmingly ADHD Rick Moonen (Vegas' RM Seafood), coolcalmcollected Swede Nils Noren (formerly of Aquavit, now a bigwig at the French Culinary Institute ... and apparently Earth's only Scandanavian reggae fan) and the slightly wild-eyed Lachlan M. Patterson (Boulder's Frasca Food and Wine). These guys displayed loads of class in the heat of competition, helping and congratulating each other the whole way through. It was lovely. Almost ... too lovely.
Quickfire: In a rehash from Season 1, the foursome is tasked with creating an upscale plate based on a well-loved junk food. Though Top Chef popped off just three years ago (doesn't it seem longer than that?), it's funny how dated this challenge seems already ï¿½ plenty of chefs are fond of the whole spin-on-empty-calories idea these days ("curly Fries ... three ways"), mainly because it's fertile ground to do really fun stuff. Chiarello selects fish sticks as his inspiration. Patterson goes for hot dogs, which prompts Moonen to select corn dogs (smart man!). Since Noren's Swedish, he decides to play his plate off fried shrimp.
The judges are the crew from Bravo's Flipping Out, which I believe is about how hard and/or awesome it is to flip real estate while being irresistibly sassy and suffering from immense OCD. I've never watched this show, but I'm fond of that in-The Soup-perpetuity clip of star Jeff Lewis ordering a drink that's 70 percent lemonade, 20 percent punch and 10 percent Sprite, so I looked forward to him tearing the competitors' dishes apart for no substantive reason.
Rick, in a heartbreaking oversight, fails to plate his dish in time, DQing him. Though Noren and Patterson both crank out lovely-looking offerings (poached shrimp with creamed corn, pickled tomatoes and a lobster sauce; a prosciutto stufado with pork sausage), Chiarello wins the QF with a 4.5-star-earning swordfish meatball dish. No hyper-specific beverage requests from Jeff, which is bullshit.
Elimination: Each chef has to prepare three bite-size mini courses ï¿½ starter, entrï¿½e, dessert ï¿½ for a 100-person cocktail party that's attended by both real-life Top Chef fans and random-ass cast-offs from Project Runway. Noren does a seafood-centric menu featuring a diced scallop starter, slow-cooked salmon and a ganache topped with smoked tea whipped cream that freaks everyone out. Noonen kills it with an exotic fish ceviche, a well-received scallop/shrimp brandade and a simple lemon panna cotta. Patterson, the northern Italian chef, fries pineapple wrapped in speck, serves grilled short ribs with an anchovy/parmesan vin and a frangine with strawberries in lieu of the traditional pear.
Chiarello, meanwhile, is shown working the females in the crowd like a perverted carnival barker. "If I had a smile like yours, I wouldn't have to cook for a living"? Perhaps "rapey" is too strong of a fake adjective, but I see where my friend is going with this. His menu: shaved brussels sprout salad with roasted marcona almonds, "pissed-off" prawns cooked in chili and garlic oil and a marinated strawberry dessert with basil gelato that Green likens to the taste of "lawn clippings."
Next week: The last of the six finalist slots will be finally, finally be filled. Then ... vacation!
Lots of people have been asking us what they should expect when Erin O'Shea hands the Marigold Kitchen keys over to Robert Halpern starting September 1. Meal Ticket touched base with the well-traveled chef to get the details on his plans for the 46-seat rowhome restaurant (501 S. 45th St.).
Halpern, a native of Philly, has worked everywhere ï¿½ upstate New York, New Mexico, Maine, Vermont. His most intriguing CV bulletpoints, though, are his experience behind the lines of Alinea of Chicago, Binkley's of Cave Creek, Arizona, and Hugo's of Portland, Maine ï¿½ all of which are known for cutting-edge cheffing. (Don't worry, we won't say "molecular gastronomy.") That means he'll showcase plenty of new-fangled preparations on his menu, which'll consist of around seven starters and seven entrï¿½es.
As we've written about in the past, some Philadelphia diners aren't exactly itching to embrace this style of cookery. Halpern stresses that the techniques are just that ï¿½ techniques ï¿½ and do not define his or any other chef's personality. "With chefs that are doing modern food these days, it's not like we have a problem with traditional food," says Halpern, who's getting ready to move into a residence above the restaurant in a few weeks. "It's just another tool. I think what a lot of us are doing is just keeping up with the times." (He doesn't foresee any problems in putting out this style of cuisine in a BYOB, either.) The menu, which will change on a (roughly) monthly basis based on what's freshest, will also feature the option of a five-course tasting or a multi-courser (no set number of plates) based on the chef's whim.
"It's more of a global approach, really, but I don't like the word 'fusion,'" adds Halpern of his food. "If I'm going to do something from France, it's going to be authentic from France with a modern twist, not a bunch of flavors from different cultures in a big mosh pit of confusion." Here are the food details that've been released so far:
Menu highlights include a late summer Cobb salad with bacon toffee and ice wine vinaigrette; sardines with apple salad and saffron-nutmeg vinaigrette; red grouper with butternut squash/short rib hash, brussel sprouts and aerated mustard; and a rib eye with herbed chimmichurri, feijoida beans, collard greens and garlic chips.
Many have asked if any traces of Marigold's previous incarnations ï¿½ modern American with opening chef Steven Cook and modern Israeli with Michael Solomonov, now at Zahav, and refined Southern with O'Shea, who'll run the team's forthcoming Percy Street Barbecue ï¿½ will find their way onto Halpern's menu as homage to those who came before him. The answer's yes and no. "I'm just trying to keep the strong tradition going of a great little BYO in West Philly," says Halpern. "In terms of specific nods ... if there's a dish that may have a Southern slant, it could be perceived as a nod to Erin. And if I want to try something Middle Eastern, the first person I'm going to call is Michael."
|Photo l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
Flying Fish brewer Casey Hughes doesn't like wheat beers. The hazy yellow liquids are as popular as a prom queen and almost as insipid, largely owing to their lamentable lack of hops. "I wanted to make a wheat beer that I liked," said Hughes.
So Hughes, with Flying Fish owner Gene Muller, put enough Columbias, Cascades and Amarillos in their brand new Exit 11, the second offering in their Exit Series of big bottles, to combat the sweetness of wheat and produce a brew to satisfy hopheads. A grain bill split 50/50 between Belgian pale malt and American white wheat is magicked by the multiple hop additions into a light-bodied, citrusy and superdry summer ale.
With only 1,000 cases of the 25-ounce bottles and 40 kegs in the run, Exit 11 will likely sell through just as quickly as the debut beer in the series, the golden Belgian-style Exit 4. Speeding sales is the mini-controversy the Exit Series has sparked ï¿½ in the wake of a AP video piece, Mothers Against Drunk Driving interpreted the turnpike-themed labeling as promoting drinking and driving. Muller responded to M.A.D.D. in this Courier-Post article:
Gene Muller, who owns the state's largest craft brewery located in Cherry Hill, said the Exit Series beer was never intended to associate drinking with driving as suggested by an MADD official."Our families ride on the same roads as everybody else, so we're all very strongly against drinking and driving," said Gene Muller.
Visit Flying Fish's Web site to contribute photos, videos, ideas and testimonials for more Exit Series beers, an interactive brew-development process that Muller is quite excited about. "The ideas that have come through the site are amazing, innovative, and stamped front to back with New Jersey pride. They encompass everything we're trying to honor with these special beers."
Look for Exit 11 at local Philadelphia bars, or pick up a bottle at both Foodery locations; 837 N. Second St., 215-238-6077 and 324 S. 10th St., 215-928-1111
|Photo | Drew Lazor
Django's September '08 closing sent some shocks out, as the restaurant, whether under the guidance of Bryan Sikora and Aimee Olexy or chefs Ross Essner and Greg Salisbury, was arguably the most recognizable name in our BYOB scene. Here's word of a new eatery taking over the long-vacant space (526 S. Fourth St.) ï¿½ Tastee D's, an African sit-down headed up by Delaware-based caterer Adedotun Adepoju.
Adepoju, who also runs a mortgage and credit restoration business in Cherry Hill, says the plan is to "stick to what I know" ï¿½ food from West Africa, specifically his native Nigeria. Dishes will be based around jolof rice (a staple flavored with tomato, onion, peppers and exotic spices), beans or yams, with diners adding their choice of meat to the mix. He'll also do specialties like asaro (yam porridge), moin moin (a bean/black-eyed pea/pepper dish best served with boiled eggs or corned beef), "designer rice" (white rice topped with a green pepper-based stew) and whole tilapia. Full menu forthcoming.
The name Tastee D's ï¿½ the chef's nickname is "Dot" ï¿½ was coined by Adepoju's pastor. Since he's a devout Christian, Adepoju adds that he doesn't really have any interest in running the place as a BYOB, similar to the alcohol-free approach taken by the recently opened Leila Cafï¿½.
The spot should be ready by the end of the month.
|Photo | Drew Lazor|
SquareBurger, the Franklin Square sandwich/shake shack Stephen Starr rolled out on Monday, will do just fine without any more publicity from us. But Meal Ticket just couldn't resist dropping by the grand opening event earlier this morning. At the end of the day, it came down to a promised appearance by Benjamin Franklin impersonator Bill Robling.* Our most cherished Founding Father getting down on a cheeseburger and fries with our most cherished restaurateur? AMERICA!
We snapped this pic of that storied pair, along with Historic Philadelphia Inc. prez/CEO Amy Needle, chowing down on SquareBurger fare, but it looks so lonely with no caption. Here's where you come in ï¿½ leave your best summation of what's going on in this photo in the comments. Keep it clean, jerks.
* This post originally credited the Franklin impersonator incorrectly. Apologies for the error.
It all starts with asparagus. The long winter gives way to a trickling spring thaw, and before you know it, the spears of asparagus are emerging from the ground so quickly you could lay in the rows and watch them reach for the sun, no time lapse necessary.
Before you know it, summer has come and the sweet profusion we dreamt of in dark January is exploding all around. Strawberries are already gone, but blueberries, melons, blackberries, raspberries (black and red), cherries, plums, nectarines and peaches are all awaiting their turn on your table.
Get outside and bring home some local produce at one of Eastern PA's many pick-your-own farms. PickYourOwn.org has a PA harvest schedule so you can plan ahead, as well as a comprehensive listing of pick-your-own farms sorted by county.
I grew up excitedly anticpating pumpkin-patch season at Linvilla Orchards in Delaware County. In the summer Linvilla offers a dizzying A to Z of pick-your-own fruits, as well as Saturday festivals dedicated to peaches, blackberries, tomatoes, pears and sweet corn. Pack up the kids, the car and the sunscreen for a day of satisfying picking, before it's pumpkin time and the berries are just a sweet memory.
Just received word from Ben Yu, who owns the Tampopos at 21st and Chestnut and Seventh and Sansom, that his third location, at 269 S. 44th Street (44th and Spruce), will open tomorrow. We first noted this project way back in December. More soon.
Last night, Meal Ticket was invited to check out a preview of Azie on Main, Win and Sutida Somboonsong's latest suburban Philly restaurant. (The power couple's also got ï¿½ deep breath ï¿½ the original Azie in Media, Newtown Square's Teikoku and Mikado, Wayne's Flavor and Ardmore's Thai Pepper.) It opens to the public Friday.
The 206-seater (789 E. Lancaster Ave., Villanova, 610-527-5700), taking over what was the upper-level fine-dining portion of Maia, features swank talking points like framed booths, a 20-foot-long birch communal table and an onyx sushi bar. There's also a 46-seat outdoor patio, which provides a nice view of all the cars that are way nicer than yours. (Just us?)
The menu, conceived by exec chef/partner Takao Iinuma (Morimoto) and executed by chef de cuisine Kaz Matsui (don't think it's this Kaz Matsui) is similar to the spread at the original Azie in Media ï¿½ sushi/specialty rolls, hot and cold apps, fishy and meaty entrï¿½es. Pics above ï¿½ New Zealand mussels cooked in sake (things are huge); the Red Dragon Roll (jumbo lump crab, tuna, scallion, avocado, spicy mayo, eel sauce); pan-roasted Chilean sea bass in a brown butter teriyaki sauce; steamed veg; green tea tiramisu.
Opening hours of operation: lunch Mon.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; dinner Mon.-Thu., 5-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 5-11 p.m.; Sun., 5-9 p.m.; Sunday brunch 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.
While Philly-based star chefs like Jose Garces and Marc Vetri have bandied about the local culinary landscape in the past year opening/planning to open all sorts of awesome spots for us, Daniel Stern has maintained a relatively low profile. This might have something to do with the fact that the former Le Bec-Fin exec chef, who opened Gayle to smashing success four years ago, hit a snag with Rae in the Cira Centre and ended up closing the place in early '09. Also possible: He's been too busy sketching out the two projects detailed below to show his face. Details are still scarce on both restaurants, but here's what Meal Ticket knows.
The first, MidAtlantic, planned for the Science Center at 3711 Market, is being referred to as a "modern taproom" that'll celebrate the culinary styles of the geographical region that gives the restaurant its name. This means it'll highlight Pennsylvania Dutch cooking (eager to see what kind of spin Stern might put on something like ... shoofly pie), and our guess is it'll offer plenty of local beers. Stern's peeps are saying "early fall" for this opening.
The second project ï¿½ originally billed as Rae in a new location, but now called R2L ï¿½ is up for a "late fall" debut, 500 feet above street level atop Two Liberty Place at 16th and Chestnut. (Shot of a in-the-thick-of-construction Stern above.) This spot's menu has been characterized as "a modern tribute to classic cocktail cuisine, with elevated twists on American food," and will feature 360-degree views of the city.
Meal Ticket will have more with Stern soon.
Tomorrow night from 6 to 9, South Philly Review is hosting the triumphantly named Pizzalympics at Galdo's (2oth and Moyamensing). Close to 20 parlors ï¿½ Celebre's, Francoluigi's, Napoli, Cacia's and Rustica among them ï¿½ will duke it out in categories like "Most Delicious Crust," "Most Creative Topping" and "Finger Licking Sauce." (Disappointed there is no shot put-esque doughball heaving competition down the Moyamensing sidewalk.)
Judges will include Geno Vento, Joey's son, and longtime SPR restaurant reviewer Phyllis Stein-Novack, a critic who, from what we understand, has never cared about maintaining any semblance of anonymity. So give her a shout. Tix are $10.
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