Monday, September 26, 2011

A final farewell to Bindi! You'll be missed!

Since it wouldn't do anyone much good to read a full review of Bindi, considering by the time you read this, they will have closed their doors, I just wanted to write a short farewell note. I was fortunate enough to get in to Bindi before they officially closed, and given the caliber of the meal we had, it still baffles me that they couldn't make it work. I feel as though the concept may have been what failed them. Indian food, at least in Philadelphia, isn't nearly as common as Chinese, Japanese, Korean, or even Thai meaning that people have relatively limited exposure to it. The idea of creating dishes that are based on Indian staples, with a new twist, can be confusing for diners if they didn't know what the inspiring dish was. I have enjoyed many, many Indian meals in Philadelphia, across the country, and abroad (although not in India) so this concept worked for me. Personally, I don't usually like the concept of food fusion. I think your chances of success are much higher if you pick a type of food and perfect it. Marcie Blaine has made it very clear that she is capable of doing so at Barbuzzo and Lolita, but Bindi was always up against a wall (as are many Indian restaurants). I know many people that will steer clear of Indian food because they fear the strong flavors of the various curries and spices and then to go and turn those dishes on their head as she did, probably didn't help matters. I loved Bindi and am truly sad to see such a unique restaurant leave the Philly scene. I wish people would open up to Indian food, because it has become of my favorite ethnic foods, but until then, we must say goodbye! :-(

If I didn't want to travel to Portugal before, I do now!!!

I've been fortunate enough to do a fair amount of traveling around Europe, and I've hit most of the countries I've wanted to. The rest, I haven't been to because of time/monetary constraints or limited interest. Portugal has always fallen in a gray area somewhere between the two. I always told myself that if I ever visited a nearby country and had the time, I'd check it out. Otherwise, I wouldn't make much effort. While rave reviews after a recent trip to Portugal from friends Kaylyn and Ricky helped change that perspective a little, it was a recent dining experience at Koo Zee Doo, in Northern Liberties, that really piqued my interest.

Koo Zee Doo is a quaint Portugese BYOB, where everything is served family-style, meaning, it's meant to share. On this little adventure, Kay and I were joined by her mother Cheryl and Cheryl's fiance Neil (thanks, again to both of you!!). I was especially excited for this meal because as far as I could recall, I'd never had Portuguese food. Cheryl and Neil had also spent little if any time in NoLibs, so it was an eye-opening evening on many fronts.

After perusing the menu for a bit, we finally settled on the tasting menu, allowing us to enjoy as much of the menu as humanly possible. We left it up to the chef in terms of the selections, except Kay made a special request for Bife à Portuguesa (steak with a fried egg and potatoes). For the first course we were presented with:

  • Moelas (braised chicken gizzards with toast points) - Excellent!! The gravy in which these were served was rich and excellent to dip bread in to.
  • We were also served two different kinds of turnovers, similar in size and shape to an empanada. One was stuffed with zucchini and mushroom and the other with chorizo and potato. Both were fried perfectly and the insides were nice and creamy.
  • Bacalhau Cru (Salt cod sashimi, rabe puree, olives, basil) - Also very good. It was an unexpected dish and I was pleased that the salt cod was not over powered by the other ingredients. It tasted very fresh and balanced the acidic flavors of the rabe puree and olives very well.
The second course was the salads which included:
  • Salada de Cores (chopped veggies in red wine corriander vinaigrette) - LOVED this dressing on this and the vegetables not only looked fantastic, but were obviously very fresh. It was a great mix of color.
  • Salada de Marisco (Spicy seafood salad, hearts of palm, orange, watercress) - This was very good, although I thought the spices drowned out the natural flavors of some of the seafood. Again, everything tasted extremely fresh. 
  • The last salad was not on the menu. It was a mixture of tomatoes, onions, olive oil, herbs (and unfortunately, I can't remember what else). I do remember that it was Kaylyn's favorite salad. 
The third course was the seafood course that included:
  • Sardinhas na Brasa (grilled whole sardines): perfectly cooked, but I've never been a very big fan of sardines (or any "fishy" fish). I enjoyed these more than I have sardines of past.
  • Camarão com Piri Piri (shrimp in hot sauce): again, perfectly cooked and the Piri Piri wasn't as overpowering in this dish as was the hot sauce in the seafood salad.
  • Truta recheada com Bacalhau (Brandade stuffed trout, wrapped in prosciutto, legume salad): this was tied with a later dish as my favorite of the evening. The trout was tender and flaky on the inside, while the prosciutto on the outside provided some crispness.
The fourth course was the meat course that included:
  • Bife à Portuguesa (Picanha steak, presunto, fried egg, fried potatoes): As per Kay's request, the was the other dish that tied as my favorite. The steak was perfectly cooked and the combination of the fried egg and potatoes made it rich, but very earthy and a great compliment to the beer we were drinking.
  • Grilled Chicken/Spareribs: They do a daily rotational special and the night we were there, it happened to be grilled chicken and spareribs. The grill was just on the otherside of our table on the back patio, so you knew it was fresh. Both the chicken and spare ribs were rather simple, but delicious.
Finally, the dessert course included: .
  • Tarte de Côco (Coconut tart with chocolate whipped cream): This was Cheryl and my favorite dessert. It wasn't too sweet but the chocolate cream and coconut made magic together$
  • Bolo de Bolacha (coffee soaked wafers, buttercream, fruit compote): this was also very good. similar in concept to tiramisu, but using wafers instead of ladyfingers which made it a bit lighter. 

All in all, the meal was excellent! The atmosphere of the back patio, with high fences and strings of lights overhead only added to the experience.  The waitstaff was incredibly helpful and enthusiastic, which is hard to come by! I'd recommend Koo Zee Doo to anyone, and with that recommendation I would suggest the Tasting Menu, particularly for those who've never had Portuguese food before. 

If this is what Portuguese food is really like, and the people are as pretty as I've been told, I may be making a trip to Portugal sooner than I had planned :-).

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Southern Hospitality does not always accompany Southern Food...not at Catahoula anyways

Ahh New Orleans, the epicenter or Creole culture/food, Southern Hospitality, Jazz music, and copious amounts bead and alcohol-induced nudity - a mystical place for those, including myself, who have never been there. For better or worse, Hurricane Katrina exposed the entire world to a side of New Orleans that tourists rarely see. It can be a gritty and unyielding place, where the poverty and inequality run as deep as tradition. Part of that tradition, is a level of hospitality and appreciation of life that has been said to be unrivaled anywhere else in the world.

Catahoula, a Creole-inspired restaurant on South Front Street is taking a stab at bringing some of The Big Easy to Philadelphia. When the weather is cooperative, they offer both indoor and outdoor dining, the latter of which is on a patio off to the side of the restaurant. The inside doesn't offer anything terribly exciting or necessarily Southern in terms of atmosphere, but the outdoors is very pleasant. The brick patio, wrought-iron furnishings and dangling holiday lights make you feel just a little bit closer to Bourbon Street. The music, decidedly not very southern, was an excellent mixture of alternative and indie rock (nothing too heavy as to mess with the chill vibe, of course).

The menu, full of modern interpretations of Southern classics, did it's best to mix old with new. Dishes such as Duck Jambalaya, Roasted (cajun-seasoned) Shrimp flatbread, and Smoked Gouda Grits obviously have traditional Southern elements, with new twists. This time around ( it's the second time I've been here) I was with my co-worker Candice. In a few weeks, she'll be Queen Village's newest resident and I've taken it upon myself to take her to or fill her in on the neighborhood hotspots. By taking her here, I was continuing to fill that role, or so I thought.

Our menu selections included:
  •  Big Mama Kieran's Pickled Vegetables
  • Cornmeal-crusted Oysters
  • Roasted Shrimp Flatbread
That doesn't sound like much food for two people, but Candice wasn't particularly hungry and being a vegetarian, there wasn't a great deal of options for her. Before I ordered my two choices, I asked the waitress if the Oysters were a meal sized portion or an appetizer. She insisted that they were an appetizer, and despite my better judgement, I ordered them as such. They came out, and while I was certainly pleased to see that they were freshly breaded and not previously frozen, the portion was quite large and could have sufficed as a meal. With that being said, they were quite good. The menu indicated that they were served with a "spicy tomato jam" (think = ketchup + chutney) that was hardly spicy, and in fact bordered on being sweet. I still thought it was good, it just wasn't what was listed. For the vegetables, despite their relative simplicity, Candice enjoyed them right up until the point that the waitress prematurely took them from her. At this point, the entire dining experience did a nosedive. For the remainder of the meal, we had to do everything short of firing off a few rounds to get the waitresses attention. I understand that we probably weren't her highest grossing table in terms of food, but we certainly consumed enough alcohol to make up the difference. For something that wasn't that complicated to prepare, my flatbread took forever to get to the table and was lukewarm, at best, when it arrived. They had used smoked gouda on the flatbread, which was no surprise as it was listed on the menu, but they put it on the very top. Anybody that knows anything about cheese, knows that smoked gouda doesn't melt, or certainly not without a lot of effort. Because of that, the dish didn't look cooked, causing me to hesitate a bit before biting into it. Since the oysters were so filling, I didn't eat much of the flatbread. It certainly wasn't the best flatbread I'd ever had, but it was decent. Once I wrapped my head around the cheese issue, the initial layer of "creole tomato" (which probably should have been used with the oysters), was quite spicy and had good flavor. The shrimp were well cooked and added an interesting element to the dish.

Overall, based solely on the food, I enjoyed Catahoula (both times I've been there). Especially when sitting outside, you get a slightly different vibe than you do at most other places in Philadelphia. The question is, does it succeed in bringing some of NOLA culture to Philly? As I stated before, I've never been to New Orleans, so there are certainly better candidates to answer this question. Having said that, though, I would say that in some aspects "yes", and some "no". The very laid back atmosphere is something that I've long associated with South, and I liked that right up to the point when I realized that it also translated to the waitstaff - in a bad way. I hate to say it, but when trying to mimic a culture renowned for it's hospitality, you need to get it right, or you might as well not try at all. The food could be flawless (and while Catahoula's isn't, it's still good), but without services levels to match, it's not a complete picture. As a phoodie, bad service can be annoying, but that's not really why I dine at most places. Unfortunately, like most American's I have stereotypical ideas of what service should be like, depending on the type of restaurant, and if those ideas aren't reinforced upon dining there I am disappointed. If I dine at a French restaurant and the waiter is anything short of a complete prick, then I become a little upset. If I dine at a family-owned Italian restaurant, I expect to be treated like the newest member of said family. If I'm not, then it puts a bit of a damper on the whole experience. In the end, when choosing a restaurant, I feel as though the expected level/type of service influence the decision just as much as the type of food. When I go for Southern food, I expect it to be served with a smile and a sometimes uncomfortable (for a Northerner) level of socializing by the waitstaff. At that, Catahoula was a major failure. Unfortunately, Philly doesn't have many options specializing in this type of food so when I do get hankering for it, I'll need to make a decision. Should I go to Catahoula and be served by a distant and ditzy waitstaff, or find some other type of food? When that situation presents itself, I'll let you know, but for right now the jury's still out....

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The reason I take all Philadelphia Magazine Restaurant Reviews with a grain of salt....places like Kennett

As the title of this post plainly states, I ALWAYS take Philly Mag's "Best of Philly" lists (regarding food) with a grain of salt ( I mean they ranked Barbuzzo #10, c'mon!!). With that being said, I think it serves as a decent guideline when making a bucket list of Philly restaurants. Kennett Restaurant, on South 2nd Street, won "Best New Pub 2011" and being that it's right around the corner from us, it was only a matter of time before Kay and I tried it.

Upon entering, you notice that nothing really sets Kennett apart from any other gastro-pub in the city. It's a dimly lit, intimate setting - somewhere you'd want to sit and engage in conversation with a small group of friends or date. The only distinctive aspect at Kennett was the wood-fired pizza oven in the rear of the restaurant. Unfortunately, that same oven was the bane of my entire dining experience. Kay and I were seated at the very back of the restaurant in a dark corner directly next to the pizza oven. Needless to say, the temperature was just slightly uncomfortable; something I would have been more accepting of if they made up for it in the food. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

Our menu selections included:

  • Mixed Plate (2 cheeses and 2 items from charcuterie, cornichons, toast points, and whole-grain mustard)
  • Porchetta Pizza (Slow roasted pork, farmer's cheese, and honey)
  • Gnocchi Parisian (house made from organic flour and butter, farmers cheese, peas, radicchio, ramps, pistou)
For the mixed plate, we chose the Pressed Duck and Pork Belly Terrine and the Prosciutto from the Charcuterie and the Aged Cheddar and Fresh Sheep's Cheese. The terrine was above average - the duck and pork belly worked very well together to create an earthy compliment to the relatively spicy mustard. The prosciutto was very much below average. I'm not sure whether it was imported or domestic (if I had to guess, I'd say the latter given it's light coloring), but it was devoid of any discernible flavor. The cheeses were average and mixed well with the rest of the accompaniments. The toast points were literally, rock solid. I feared for my teeth! Needless to say, I've had much better cheese/charcuterie plates in Philly (Varga and Parc are just a few that come to mind). The Porchetta Pizza was the dish recommended by Philly Mag, but I didn't know that until right after I ordered it and found the review on my phone. This was, by far, the most disappointing dish of the night. If the pork was removed, leaving the farmer's cheese and honey, this could easily pass for a dessert. It was far too sweet for a main course, and the honey completely overpowered the porchetta (which was bland to begin with). I think the chef knew of this sweetness and tried to counteract it with crushed red pepper, but to no avail. It lacked overall depth. There was a sweet, a savory (tasteless as it may have been), and a spicy element to it, but nothing bitter/salty to round it out. Kay suggested I take some of the capers from her dish and try them on my pizza, so I did. While it wouldn't be the ingredient I'd choose, it certainly provided the aspect that was missing from the dish! As for the gnocchi, they certainly weren't the heavy balls of dough that I grew up with, and that wasn't a bad thing. While I adore the Southern Italian version by the same name, this was a lighter, more refreshing dish, due in equal parts to the fact that the gnocchi was sans potato and red sauce. While gnocchi isn't something I'd normally order on a hot summer evening, the mix of vegetables, fresh cheese and airy pasta made it light enough to enjoy any time of the year.

The beer list at Kennett leaves something to be desired as well. It's completely centered around domestic craft beers, which I like just as much as the next person, but a little variety wouldn't hurt. Also, they don't carry the domestic staples (Miller, Coors, Bud, PBR, etc.) for those in your company that don't enjoy craft beers.

If you had any doubts about my theory regarding Philly Mag's food reviews, I hope this changed that. Don't get me wrong, they do get things right occasionally, including only allowing 4 Stephen Starr restaurants in the Top 50 [placing 18th (Morimoto) ,19th (Butcher & Singer), 35th (Parc), and 46th (Stella) respectively]. However, more often than not, my experiences don't meet my expectations (which usually transpire from their reviews). I tend to be a forgiving person, and will probably give Kennett a second try, but the chef seems to have trouble creating cohesive dishes. I admire nothing more than someone willing to step outside the box, especially chefs, but restaurants are businesses and can only tolerate so many failed attempts. I hope they can get their shit together and make this concept work because Queen Village could certainly use more restaurants, but I'm afraid if they continue this way, that it just wasn't meant to be.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The most time consuming post to date (and probably ever)....and it's about Snockey's?!

Okay, so this post has taken me more than two weeks to finish. That may sound strange, because, after all Snockey's is just a South Philly seafood joint. I must preface this review, that prior to my first dining experience here, I knew ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about it. As a matter of fact, I was introduced to Snockey's out of desperation rather than desire. My roommate, Kaylyn, and I were searching for seafood on the Fourth of July and, for better or worse, Snockey's was the ONLY place in the entire city holding the potential to satiate our craving, that was open...and what a place it was/is!

You walk in the door, and it is immediately obvious you're in South Philly (albeit the fringe). This isn't the hipster, bike-riding, PBR-worshiping South Philly that I'm speaking of. This is the "you'z" and "how ya doin', honey" South Philly that, to the casual observer, seems to be dying out. Snockey's reminds everyone that the South Philly of yore, ain't dyin' witoutta fight. Even the newest aspects of this restaurant outdate the Reagan administration and some even hail back to the days when FDR held the post. There is a blatant avoidance of all that is modern. Paper work is strewn all over the bar as if computers haven't been invented yet. The food is plated with fake (actually real, but doesn't look it) parsley and a lemon wedge. The entire experience reeks of the earlier half of the last century.

The first time Kaylyn and I ate here, we made it an early affair, fully prepared for the sea of dentures and blue hair (no offense dear roommate, as it looks much more tasteful on you) that laid ahead. While the geriatrics (and I mean that in the kindest way possible ;-p) were present,  we didn't expect that we'd be dining during the tacky (but aptly) named, "Clammy Hour". Similar in concept to "Happy Hour", "Clammy Hour" was full of great specials, with an emphasis on food rather than drinks. Having dined here within and outside of "Clammy Hour", I would likely only recommend that others dine during. Some of specials included $.50 Clams (Raw of Steamed), $.75 Oysters (Raw or Fried), and various cheap beer specials. The specials are valid on weekdays from 4-6 p.m. and weekends from 2-4 p.m.. When dining during "Clammy Hour" our selections where as follows:

  • Myself: 10 Fried Oysters and 1 1/2 pounds steamed Alaskan Snow Crab Legs
  • Kaylyn: 10 Raw Oysters and a 2 pound steamed Maine Lobster
Let me start off by saying, 10 fried oysters is definitely a meal upon itself. I was entirely overzealous in ordering that many in addition to an entree. However, those that I was able to eat were decent...not great...merely decent. They were fried until golden brown, but the coating was a bit heavy. Kaylyn, preferring the raw oysters (of which I'm not a big fan), ordered the same quantity as I the fried, but was left with more of an appetite afterwards given that they lacked that coating. The lobster and crab legs were steamed to the point of decency, but again, nothing great. Overall, the food was adequate and served it's purpose, but I feel it's the atmosphere that brought us back for a second round.

A few weeks later, we returned to give Snockey's a second try, hoping they could break the barriers of acceptability. For many reasons, we were hoping Snockey's could be a diamond in the rough, not the least of which was because we're lazy and it's only two blocks away. Our menu selections didn't vary too much from the first time. I skipped the fried oysters all together, and Kaylyn ordered a raw oyster sampler (1 dozen). She thoroughly enjoyed it, but for $22, I personally don't see the point for slimy things you simply swallow and don't really taste. AND now that you're done turning that into a sexual reference, let's proceed to the main attraction. We decided to partake in "Snockey's Crab and Corn Feast", the details of which can be found on their site that will be provided later. The option we chose afforded us all-you-can-eat cleaned, steamed, and seasoned hardshell crabs as well as the same Alaskan Snow Crab Legs I ordered last time.  Both were good, although I fear the first batch of hardshells we were given were not fully cooked.

All in all, I like Snockey's, I really do. I've had the HARDEST time trying to define this place, and the one word that keeps resurfacing in my thought process is "comfortable". That's exactly what Snockey's is, comfortable. It's not fancy, by any means, and they certainly aren't trying to be something that they aren't. They've survived for 99 years (yes, you read that correctly), so they must be doing something right. I didn't grow up in South Philly, nor anywhere near it, but this place makes you feel as though you are part of the clan. Snockey's has reinforced what I've always believed. That is, diners are more loyal to a restaurant based on their comfort level rather than the quality of the food. If the fact that Snockey's is older than Stephen Starr and Jose Garces combined isn't evidence of that, than my friends, I don't know what is.

Snockey's Website

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Spending Friday night in Society Hill

Let me start by saying, Israel has always been somewhere that I've wanted to visit. For years I've watched Anthony Bourdain eat his way through the Middle East, and from a culinary perspective, it's one of the most captivating regions in the world. For a cuisine that is so simple, rarely exceeding 5-6 ingredients per dish, it tells such an amazing story. It tells of the region's political struggles, it's geophysical limitations, its financial hardships, and it's steadfast clutch to religion. As many of you know, the relations between Israel and the rest of it's Middle Eastern counterparts have been far from amicable.There are very few Middle Eastern countries that you can travel to after having been to Israel or vice versa (unless you have multiple passports). While this discord can be attributed to a variety of different things, Israel is a (comparative) beacon of liberalism in perhaps the most conservative part of the world and for that I have much respect!

Enough with the history lesson and on to the PHOOD! After a failed attempt to go to Barbuzzo this past Friday night with my fellow phoodie phriend Lauren, I was able to make reservations at Zahav. With Chef Michael Solomov coming off of the James Beard 2011 "Best Chef Mid-Atlantic" Award and the restaurant getting a nod from the New York Post as being worthy of any New Yorker's attention (high praise coming from such a self-absorbed city), Zahav has to do little to fill the 100-seat dining room every night. When Lauren and I were seated at the table, the very friendly waitress made it a point to tell us that Zahav was about MODERN Israeli food. Having only ever had traditional Israeli food, we weren't sure what that meant. Everything on the menu seemed to carry familiar names, so what was modern about it? 

In an effort to pinpoint the modernity of Chef Solomov's food, Lauren and I decided to get the Tay'im tasing menu. For $38 a person, you were given a first course of hummus (of which there were four varieties to choose from), laffa bread, and salatim (tower of various Middle-Eastern salads). The second course allows each diner to choose two "Mezze" which are basically small plates. Third was the larger entree sized portions of which each diner chooses one. Finally, each diner chooses a dessert. In true phoodie style, Lauren and I didn't go in to this blindly. We had both scoured the Yelp! reviews of the restaurant to see what the must-have dishes were. Since not all of the menu stays consistent, we also decided to order dishes that didn't find their way on to Yelp! yet. 

For the first course, we decided to get the Turkish Hummus, which the waitress described as the most different. It was served warm with butter, garlic and lemon. Knowing that we both love garlic, butter and hummus we thought that the combination couldn't disappoint. Damn were we right! It certainly was different from the hummus you get at the grocery store, but in a fantastic way! It was very rich, and with the lemon infusion, it bordered on a dessert more so than an appetizer. We noted this, and dually noted that we didn't care because it was so damn good! A few minutes after we received the hummus, the waitress brought out a tower of salatim. On this wrought iron tower was a selection of 8 Middle Eastern salads. They included beets with tehina, Moroccan-spiced carrots, twice-baked eggplant, israeli salad (cucumbers and tomato), tabouleh, shaved leeks with lemon and olive oil, pickeled turnips, and shaved cabbage with vinegar and spices. The consensus at the table was that the eggplant and carrots were OUTSTANDING, while the rest was slightly underwhelming. When we were seated at the table we were presented with a small dish of pickled vegetables, so placing more pickled veggies on the salatim was a bit much. Don't get me wrong, everything else was very fresh and well presented but did nothing to WOW either one of us. At this point, I was still left asking myself, where is the damn modernity that they spoke of?

For our mezze dishes, we ordered:
  • Fried Sweetbreads with a zucchini baba ganoush and corn vinagrette 
  • Fried Cauliflower and labaneh with mint, chive, dill and garlic
  • Fried Kibbe with veal, corn and hazelnuts
  • Crispy Haloumi
Wondering I was, no longer. Each of these dishes are very traditional, but their presentation was very modern. The sweetbreads were lightly battered, golden brown, and placed on a bed of liquified zucchini baba ganoush and roasted corn. The combination was excellent and they were some of best sweetbreads I've ever had. The cauliflower was nothing short amazing, possibly the favorite dish of the evening. It was golden brown and complimented the labaneh concoction perfectly. The haloumi, while not what I'd call crispy, was still delicious. It was served with mustard greens, dates and almonds, all of which provided a different and complementary texture.  The kibbe was also very good and served on top of a hazelnut puree that provided an earthy complement to the sweetness of the corn.

For the Al'Haesh course, also known as the entrees, we ordered:
  • Kofte: ground beef and lamb, cumin, peppers and carrots
  • Royal Trumpet Mushrooms: Chickpea puree, lamb belly shawarma, allspice
The kofte was presented very much like an Italian meatball, on a bed of red peppers and carrots pureed almost as to appear like a tomato sauce. The "meatballs" were moist, tender, and very flavorful. Growing up in a large Italian family, I couldn't help but get a familiar feeling from this dish. It was a pleasant surprise. When the royal trumpet mushrooms came to the table, I was slightly confused. At all of the Middle Eastern restaurants I've ever been to, shawarma is served as a sandwich, not unlike a doner kebab. This certainly wasn't a sandwich of any sort. It was thin strips of grilled lamb belly on top of sliced trumpet mushrooms and liquified chickpeas. If you aren't a fan of the taste of lamb, steer clear of this dish. The taste is VERY strong in the belly, which was fine with us because we like the flavor, but it isn't for everyone. Overall the dish was very earthy with the roasted mushrooms, lamb and chickpeas, with nothing to really complement it. The ingredients all provided the same elements to the palate which were all very good, but weren't exciting. 

Finally, dessert was upon us. Lauren and I approached this course very differently. I went with the reviews I had read online and ordered the Halvah Mousse with a chickpea praline and berries. Lauren went with ingredients that were familiar to her and ordered the Poached Rhubarb. The mousse was surprisingly good. It was a bit much after having so much food, but the combination of normally savory ingredients to make a dessert was interesting and well prepared. If you have a sweet tooth, though, look elsewhere as it wasn't a terribly sweet dish. The Poached Rhubarb was served with melon sorbet and a white chocolate nut crunch. Each ingredient was delicious, in and of itself, but when put together, they didn't quite add up. The melon sorbet was immensely flavorful, which would be good if it was served on it's own, but it completely overpowered the much subtler rhubarb and white chocolate. It was, however, much lighter and more refreshing than the mousse.

Beverages would probably be my only serious concern with Zahav. It's not that they were bad, but we had decided to share a bottle of wine and with the least expensive bottle being roughly $50, that wasn't a cheap proposition. The food is an incredible value especially when ordering the tasting menu, but when ordering wine, that value all but disappears. The bottle we ordered was $52, and while there were other options that were a few dollars cheaper, this was the cheapest of the Israeli wines and we thought for a few dollars, it was necessary to fully engulf ourselves in the culinary culture of the country. It was a fantastic bottle, but definitely not worth what it cost. 

So now I know what Modern Israeli food is. It's not so much about the food itself, but how it is presented. Based on ingredients alone, the food at Zahav could certainly be found anywhere in the country of Israel, but the modern presentations make them more unique. Prior to this dinner, Barbuzzo was my favorite restaurant in Philadelphia, and I can confidently say that hasn't changed. Zahav was a great meal, it really was, and it's definitely in the top 10 restaurants in the city, but I couldn't help but feel a bit disappointed when I left. Given the recent accolades received by both chef and restaurant, I feel like it  didn't quite meet my expectations. I would still, without hesitation, recommend this restaurant to anyone, especially because the cuisine is so different from that of the the other top restaurants in the city, but forgive me if you leave wanting something more than what you got. I know that I did.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Welcome, Bienvenue, Benveneto, Akwaaba....

Hello all! Welcome to my new blog! After some prodding, I decided to create this blog to serve a few purposes. The first being, a documentation of my adventures on the Philly food scene. Philadelphia is a city that has, until recently, been overshadowed by it's BO-WAS brethren (Boston, NYC, DC for those not familiar with the lingo) in one way, shape, or form. While those cities are great in their own right, they haven't been able to develop a food culture quite like Philadelphia has. Having been to all of those cities many times, I feel that it comes down to two things that has turned Philly in to a foodie's paradise and they, my friends, are "pretension" and "trendiness". In our case, it's a lack there of, and it's evident in the accolades that we've racked up in the last few years...."Worst Dressed City in America", "Fattest City in America", "Most Obnoxious Sports Fans", etc. Why is this? We really don't give a flying F**K! In a sense, the pioneering spirit of the Founding Fathers still runs very deep in this city. Their rejection of the pretentious and oppressive British Monarchy is much like our current rejection of a pretentious and trendy dining experience(so if you can't tell already, I think places such as Le Bec Fin and POD are ridiculous).

The first thing: pretentious and overbearing service (a la Le Bec Fin). Often times the patrons have sticks just as far up their asses as the maitre d'. There is a reason that only a few restaurants with service levels such as this remain and every day a few more of them die.

The second thing: trendiness. While Philadelphia has done a great deal to avoid this concept, it is this very concept that has built the Starr restaurant empire. Stephen Starr has become a chef that creates concoctions to feed our A.D.D. more so than our stomachs. Some of his restaurants have the culinary cajones to match the visual panache (The Dandelion and Talula's Garden), but more often than not, this is not the case.

Enough on that tangent, for now, though. The other purposes of my blog will be to share awesome new recipies/products I come across as well as letting you know about all of the great food-related happenings in Philly. I hope you enjoy this as much as I'm going to. I look forward to everyone's comments!

First restaurant review: Barbuzzo! Coming very soon!