Cheu Noodle Bar

I love noodles. Give me pasta in any iteration from any cuisine and you have a happy camper. Vegetable lo mein? Yup. Spaghetti carbonara? Absolutely. Pho? Sure. Macaroni and cheese? I love you.

Philadelphia is a great noodle town. From my favorite red gravy restaurants in deep South Philly to the pho spots on Washington Avenue–and hand drawn noodles in Chinatown, of course–it’s easy to get a big bowl of carbs. Until a year or so ago, however, one noodle niche that we were sorely lacking was ramen. Much to the delight of many, ramen has recently become the next big thing. From Terakawa Ramen to Nom Nom Ramen to Hiro Ramen, there are growing opportunities to get a large bowl of chewy noodles with pork belly, soft-boiled egg and other accoutrements in a rich and steamy broth. When Cheu Noodle Bar first opened, as a series of pop-up dinners at Matyson Restaurant where Chef Ben Puchowitz works, they wowed diners with a ramen-centric Asian menu with a modern flair. Their pop-ups were all the rage, people (myself included) dialing endlessly to snag a seat at one of their popular events. I still remember the sweet Vietnamese sausage and broccoli that is now on the menu at Cheu. Almost as notable as the food was the neat and diverse play list which was much appreciated by our DJ dining companions.

Fast forward to Spring 2013 when Puchowitz and friend, Shawn Darragh (who has experience on the retail side of things) finally opened their store front. The space is small, with just a few tables and a long bar where you can watch the food being prepared. In my opinion, the bar is a prime spot as it affords you the opportunity to take in the show.

Because they do not take reservations, my husband and I stopped by for an early dinner one Sunday. The place was packed and we were lucky enough to snag two seats at the end of the bar. Note: they will take down your name and number and call you when your table is ready if you so desire.

Rather than bread, we were greeted with a snack of the dry ramen noodles that we are all familiar with.
IMG_3837It was a kitschy yet cute move that would only work for these guys.

We checked out the menu and had our usual conversations about what apps to split and what entrees we wanted to claim. You can’t order the same thing, of course.  We could have ordered every appetizer but stopped at three. It would be great to go with a group so you can get a little taste of everything.

We started with the black garlic wings with shishito peppers and herbs. We got them literally right out of the fryer and they piping hot but not spicy and the definition of finger licking good.
IMG_3838Following that, we tried the buns. This is the perfect example of their spin on traditional classics.

IMG_3839Buns are a staple at ramen houses and Cheu does steer slightly towards the traditional with their pork belly, but the cheeseburger option (you can select two. The other choice was mung bean) infuses the most traditional American food with this Asian standby. These are not the most “splittable” items on the app menu and I quickly found out why. As I carefully took my bite of half of the cheesesteak bun, I accidentally ate the entire pickle. Whoops! Even without the pickle, my husband confirmed that these were a tasty little snack to start the meal.

Our final app were the BBQ rice cakes. I really had no idea what to expect but had read that they were a can’t miss so we obviously had to order them.

IMG_3840

While my husband and I didn’t agree on these, I was ok with that–more for me! I had expected the rice cakes to be crispy but they were chewy, glutinous delights. When we had them, they were dressed with a sweet tatsoi, black bean sauce and sesame combination, although they’ve changed it up a bit since. While the rice cakes themselves could be considered an acquired taste, we both agreed that the dressing was worthy of licking the bowl.

Next up was the main attraction! While the cold sesame noodles are usually a weakness of mine, I was pretty set on getting one of the soups. I ended up going traditional (well, as traditional as you get get at Cheu) with the pork belly ramen and my husband got the duck pho.

IMG_3842While I love ramen, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m certainly no aficionado. I’ll just say that this soup was pretty damn good. The broth was smooth with a little funk and the noodles had just the right amount of bite. Oh, and the pork belly was pretty freakin’ tender.

I only had a bite or two of the duck pho but my husband declared the foie gras meatballs (foie gras meatballs?!) to be the best thing he ate all night. Delicate and fluffy, they melded perfectly with the slightly more refined pho broth than the ones that we are accustomed to.

IMG_3841Meanwhile, the soundtrack to the dinner had me tapping my foot all night long.

While I don’t usually take bathroom photos, I just couldn’t resist this adorable one. Glad to see they’re concerned with the environment.

IMG_3844Overall, I was beyond pleased. After the pop up at Matyson, I knew I’d like it. Didn’t know just how much I’d love it from the vibe to the friendliness of our waitress to, obviously, the food itself. While I came for the noodles, everything on the menu was top-notch and eating there just made me feel good.

Forest and Main

My in-laws live about 45 minutes outside Philadelphia and often come into the city to meet up with us and try new restaurants. However, we thought we’d give them a break from 76 and come closer to them last time we met up. After conferencing with my friend, Dorrie, we decided to meet at Forest and Main Brewing Company in Ambler, PA. Dorrie said they had a great beer list and we were looking forward to checking it out. In fact, unbeknownst to us, Forest and Main won Philly Mag’s coveted “Best of Philly” award in the brew pub catergory.

Forest and Main is just off the Main Street in “downtown” Ambler in an adorable old Victorian house. It was a gorgeous evening and we were able to dine at one of the few tables on the front porch, giving it an incredible homey feeling. Our visit happened to be during Ambler Restaurant Week. I’m not usually a big fan of restaurant weeks, due to overcrowding, sub-par food and service and the fact that you’re not always getting a deal (paying $35 for 3 courses when you would normally only order two for $25, for example.) Forest and Main’s Restaurant Week menu had two things going for it: you could choose any three dishes, none of which had to be a dessert AND the price tag of $25 included a beer. What a great deal!

My husband and I both opted for the Restaurant Week menu while his parents chose to order a la carte. Before the food order, we had a more important decision to make–beer. Forest and Main’s beer list is split into two sections: of British Inspiration and of Belgian Inspiration and you can get 16 or 20 oz. pours ranging from a reasonable $4.50-$7. For the indecisive, or those who like to taste a little bit of everything, flights of four are also available.

I am of the “like to taste a little bit of everything” mindset and got the flight of all four “of Belgian Inspiration” beers.

Of the four, my favorite was the tripel-style Ablution. Big and fruity, it was a favorite to everyone at the table, even my non-beer drinking mother-in-law.

For my three food choices, I selected summer corn soup, pierogies and the F&M sliders. My husband chose the same, but swapped the sliders for the fish and chips. We had a discussion at the table about whether we wanted to order bacon popcorn. My father-in-law was mysteriously quiet until we asked his opinion.

“You can get what you want, but I’m getting one for myself,” said the bacon lover.

The popcorn came out with the soup. It was adorable in the tin, Ikea buckets.

The popcorn received mixed reviews at the table. The in-laws loved it, but I found it to be a bit greasy for my taste. There was a definite smoky flavor from the bacon, so be forewarned if you’re not a fan of smoke!

The corn soup was a hit.

It was thick and chunky with just the right kick of jalapeno and creamy sweet corn. Besides, it’s the height of corn season. It would be hard for this dish not to taste good. I did sneak a few pieces of the popcorn into the soup which is highly recommended! This was probably my favorite dish of the night.

Next was a generous serving of pierogies. They looked beautiful.

I was surprised to receive such a large serving and ended up taking two home. These pierogies had potential to be good–I loved the sauteed leeks on top–but they were absolutely swimming in butter. And I do love butter.

I was looking forward to the sliders. Sliders are so cute. And they came with aged cheddar and bacon mayonnaise. Sold!

The sliders turned out to be a bit overdone with a bread to meat ratio that leaned heavily on the side of bread. Perhaps the full-sized version would be better. The house made chips were a great side, though.

The fish and chips were decent and came with a bottle of malt vinegar for that extra sour tang and a solid side of fries.

We decided to forgo dessert and took a stroll around “downtown” Ambler. Before heading back, we stopped at Toto’s Gelateria and Caffe for some gelato made in house.

I chose a decadent mix of dark chocolate fudge and nocciola (hazelnut.)

What a perfect combo. After chatting with the friendly owner, we sat at an outdoor table and enjoyed our dessert.

Overall, Ambler is a cute little town. While I wouldn’t go out of my way to hit Forest and Main, I think it would be a great stop for a beer and some apps. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt since I did go during restaurant week, but I’d like to see some more consistency in the food because this place really has potential.

Cosmi’s Deli

Cosmi’s is one of the neighborhood stalwarts. Sitting on the corner of 8th and Dickinson since 1932, Cosmi’s is both a go-to lunch spot for South Philly regulars and a destination for others. With hoagies named after Rick Nichols, Questlove, Howard Eskin and someone named “Big Ant,” this place does meat right.

On a lazy Friday evening, we were looking for a new place to deliver dinner. In the mood for sandwiches, we discovered that Cosmi’s did, in fact, deliver and was open for dinner, unlike some of the other local delis. I took my husband’s order, made my selection and then, well, something caught my eye.

Our food came quickly with a friendly delivery guy.

The husband, who often veers for the Italian, had the “Vespe” with prosciutto, sopressata, hot coppa, mortadella, sharp provolone, roasted peppers, along with a few of his own, personalized add-ons. Extra special bonus to Cosmi’s for slicing their onions paper thin on the meat slicer which is obviously the best way for hoagie onions. He enjoyed the Italian trimmings, especially sharp provolone like you can only get in South Philly.

Preferring a softer, simpler roll, he got a plain roll while I went with seeded for my “award winning” cheesesteak hoagie.
Meaty, cheesy and a great balance of filling to the chewy, seeded roll. I can certainly see why these are “award winning.”

And just in case I didn’t have enough cheesesteak, I figured I’d check out their cheesesteak fries. Yep, cheesesteak fries.

I opened the container to this glorious concoction staring me in the face. We know I love cheese fries but cheese fries with meat AND fried onions? Oh yeah.

This is what was hiding under that delightful layer of whiz.

OK, I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t need the cheesesteak hoagie AND the cheesesteak fries. But they were both oh so good. A word to the wise: eat the fries first as they won’t keep well. My husband and I split the fries (most of them, at least,) and by the time we were halfway through, I was already too full for my sandwich. Well, I suppose I did eat some of it…

Cosmi’s is a neighborhood institution that has remained true to itself throughout all of the neighborhood’s changes. I look forward to going back to try some of the other hoagies and chicken cutlet sandwiches. But really, ya gotta try those fries.

l’Angolo

l’Angolo is one of those places akin to Mr. Martino’s that we have been going to for years. Before I even knew the charm of the neighborhood, my family and I celebrated special occasions at these two places. Since moving to the neighborhood, it has become a special place for my husband and me. In fact, we often give it top honors as our “favorite” restaurant in Philadelphia. Why? The food is simple and authentic with rich flavors and no pretension in service. Besides, it’s BYO so we can bring a bottle or two of our favorite wine.

When we got married a few years back, some of our favorite gifts were restaurants gift certificates, of which we received many. We used our l’Angolo one quickly but had $18 remaining and decided to tuck it away for later use. Fast forward three years and it was still hanging out in our gift card file. As we decided where to celebrate the end of my school year, we figured it had been too long since we’d eaten at l’Angolo, despite our proximity. We called on a steamy Tuesday afternoon and were able to get a reservation for that evening (don’t try that on the weekend, folks.)

We walked the eight blocks to the tiny restaurant on the corner of Porter and Rosewood (between Broad and 15th.) As we stepped in, we were greeted by the friendly staff, but both us were drawn to the open kitchen where they were sliding a pan of pappardelle onto a plate. Mmm… Although we were early for our reservation, they were more than able to accommodate us.

Something to be said about l’Angolo is that it is a place where anyone can feel at home. As we sat down, two burly, older men to our left were having a conversation about cell phones (“I don’t really check my text messages,” said the man who later discovered he had 59 unread messages.) In the back was a large party celebrating a birthday next to a very tattooed table of four. As we got ready to leave, a younger couple arrived who appeared to be on a first date. Most interesting, however, was the Italian couple next to us. Our waiter obviously knew them and the three babbled away in a thick regional accent–or so I say, I could barely translate a word or two of their conversation.

Onto the food. Why is it that it always takes me so long to get to the food?

l’Angolo starts each meal with a simple bread basket with a sun-dried tomato pesto. I could, of course, eat it by the spoonful and I may or may not have eaten about 3 slices of bread loaded with this tasty topping.

Some time ago, I heard ago l’Angolo’s grilled baby artichoke hearts (carciofi.) They’re not on the menu but if you ask, they’re happy to make them for you. Ever since, I’ve been ordering them. They have a fantastic char and are swimming in garlicky olive oil.

Since we’re both suckers for grilled food, we also got an order of the lemony calamari grigliati (grilled calamari.) Simple, fresh flavors with a great grill flavor.

Be sure to rescue some bread from that killer sun dried tomato so you’ll have a couple pieces left to sop up the juices from both of these dishes.

When the waiter shared the specials with us, two dishes jumped out. One was a homemade pappardelle with cinghiale (wild boar) ragu. This was what we saw the chef preparing when we walked in. My husband had his eyes on a veal chop that someone at the table behind us had ordered. However, I had a strange hankering for something simple and the spaghetti al pomodoro con ricotta salata jumped out at me. When we learned that we could do pastas in half orders, I cheered with delight! We opted for a half order of the pappardelle special, he got the veal chop special and I went with my gut.

The papparedelle came out and boy were we pleased.

The homemade noodles were chewy ribbons that corralled the ragu perfectly. The ragu, on the other hand, was rich and tender with a mellow tomatoey sauce. We quickly licked our bowl clean.

At this point, I was full. Yup, didn’t even get my entree yet and I was full. Of course our entrees arrived.

The spaghetti was tossed with oven roasted tomatoes and lots and lots of garlic, topped with a healthy shaving of ricotta salata.

You can’t see it in the picture but HELLO GARLIC. There must have been one full head of garlic in the spaghetti. MY KIND OF DISH, although I’m glad I wasn’t on a first date. OK, maybe I wasn’t completely full. Maybe I had just a lil room left.

Meanwhile, my husband was attacking this monster.

The chop was from Esposito’s and topped with an umami mixture of wild mushrooms in a sumptuous gravy, perched atop a mountain of extra buttery mashed potatoes. You pretty much can’t get any better than that. Oh yeah, add a side of broccoli rabe. The meat was a perfect medium rare and the best bite involved a little bit of everything. Ohh, that gravy…

We decided to forgo dessert (being as how I was full before we even hit the entrees,) although I kicked myself for not bringing one of the many bottles of homemade ‘cello in our freezer. Instead, we packed up our leftovers and walked off our lavish Italian meal (which came to under $100, including tip.) We both had our leftovers for breakfast the next day. They were just as good.

Square Peg

The first thing we noticed when we walked into Square Peg was the young woman standing awkwardly close to the door.

“Welcome,” she greeted us. As I prepared to tell her our name, she directed us to a counter over her left shoulder.

“You can check in with the hostess over there.” A little baffled as to what exactly her job was (greeter?) we made our way to the hostess counter to let them know that we had arrived a bit early for our 7pm reservation. We were prepared to grab a drink at the bar but there were plenty of tables and they walked us over to a small 2-top by the kitchen. Prime spot for watching all the food pass by!

Our waitress delivered our menus, took our water order (seems a bit ritzy for a place like this, no?) and returned a few minutes later with our ice water and an adorable glass bottle of water for the table. I love when restaurants do this. I’m a thirsty gal and hate to have an empty water glass, almost more than I hate to have an empty wine glass. As I admired the bottle, we perused the drink menu. Square Peg has adopted the “drink local” agenda with an impressive list of local to the U.S. spirits. Combined with an exciting cocktail menu–Frisky Whiskey!!–we had more than enough options. I was in a whiskey kind of mood and went with the Whiskey Cocktail (Jim Beam Rye, maraschino, combier liquer and an orange twist) while my husband opted for an Old Fashioned (Wild Turkey bourbon, agave nectar syrup, bitters, muddled cherries and orange.) We told our accommodating waitress that we wanted to enjoy our cocktails prior to ordering, as if we were grabbing a drink at the bar before dinner. She happily agreed and checked in on us occasionally but not too annoyingly.

The drinks were tangy and well-mixed.
I did notice that there was a slightly older crowd when we came in, and I assume it was the theater crowd. As the night progressed, however, the crowd grew noticeably younger. It will be interesting to see how this food-forward place caters to the sometimes tame pre-theater crowd while maintaining its integrity and mission.

As we enjoyed our drinks, we spent some time perusing the menu. Who am I kidding. I already knew what looked good to me thanks to the good old internet, but I still hadn’t made any final decisions. Although 2012 has marked the beginning of a quite successful healthy lifestyle kick, the weekends are our cheat times and we certainly made it count at Square Peg!

We ended up choosing the mac and cheese “grilled cheese” with drunken tomato soup and the tacos in a bag to start. My fabulous husband knows how difficult it is for me to leave a restaurant without ordering their version of mac and cheese and Square Peg’s certainly didn’t disappoint.

The buttery bread perfectly contained the cheesy mac such that it didn’t fall apart when you dipped it into the tangy tomato soup. Cheese, butter, carb, tomato–there’s pretty much no better combination.

The tacos in the bag were interesting. It came to the table and we looked at the dish.

We rotated it and looked again.

“What are we supposed to do?” we whispered to one another. I tugged gently at the top, wondering if they had made a slit that would allow us to open it. No dice. What the hell, I thought. And dumped it out.
I must note that Square Peg had the most perfectly shredded lettuce which is one of my most favorite fixins’ in the whole wide world. Shout out to the lowest man on the totem pole who probably shreds many, many heads of lettuce each night. The meat was tender and flavorful, each bite containing a little meat, a Frito and, of course, some shredded lettuce, provided the perfect mouthful. This is a big app, though, and maybe slightly heavy on the Fritos (not that anyone’s complaining.)

OK, by that time I was full. Too bad the entrees were on their way and I was EVEN MORE EXCITED for them. Ever since the moment I laid eyes on the menu, my eyes gravitated to one thing and one thing only: cheesesteak pot pie. For someone who didn’t eat meat for as long as I did, mention the word cheesesteak and I just swoon. Cheesesteak spring rolls? Yes, please. Cheesesteak pizza? Check. Cheesesteak pierogies? Well, you get the idea. Had ‘em all, love ‘em all. Not to mention, friends had been there a few days earlier and the pot pie came highly recommended.

How cute is that little spicy ketchup bottle alongside the dish? I also ordered a side of collards which were my best attempt at getting something healthy. The pot pie, as expected, was phenomenal. While I enjoyed the flaky topping, the real winner was under the crust. The meaty, rich, creamy, cheesy pot pie filling was just plain delightful. In fact, I couldn’t finish it and had the second half for lunch the next day. Score!

My husband got the other highly recommended dish on the menu, the BBQ brisket with brown butter gnocchi. When he ordered, the waitress told him that it was being served with pappardelle that night, which was fine with him. However, our friends said theirs was served with pappardelle as well. Is this a menu change that hasn’t been updated on the printed menu? A friend who went to the friends and family opening had that dish and thought it to be quite heavy. I wonder if they recognized that and subbed the gnocchi out.

While the menu said nothing about the roasted broccoli and marcona almonds, they were both pleasant additions to the dish. I’m a pasta girl and I thought this was buttery and salty without being overly done. My husband thought it was a touch heavy, although I didn’t get that–granted you’re talking to someone who just ate a cheesesteak pot pie so maybe my sense of “heaviness” is a bit skewed.

While we were finishing up our entrees, the General Manager, Michael Spector, came over to chat with us. What a nice guy. Michael owned the recently-closed Delicatessen on 7th and Chestnut and stepped in to manage Square Peg during its opening. Throughout our meal, I noticed Michael wandering the dining room, greeting people, asking about their meals and checking on every detail, down to the light dimmer. After the theater crowed (read: old) people left, the room got noticeably darker. His attention to detail and his concern for the restaurant’s patrons was evident in not just him but all the staff from the aforementioned greeter to all of the servers. It made us want to be there.

So we stayed.

It’s times like these in my relationship that remind me just why I married my husband. We were getting ready to leave when he asked if I wanted to split one of the “adult milkshakes.” I love this guy. We ended up with the “Root Beer Float” with White Tail Caramel Whiskey, Root liquer, vanilla vodka and chocolate.
I can’t remember the last time I had a milkshake but this certainly made up for it. It tasted exactly like a root beer float in milkshake form! All we needed was two straws.
I’m probably going to get in trouble for posting that.

We were a fan of Chef Matt Levin’s at Adsum and were excited for the opportunity to try his cooking again. While Levin absolutely proved his culinary skill during his time at Lacroix (hello, four bells!) Adsum and now Square Peg seem to be a divergence from that. He is cooking food that he wants to make and having fun with it. While it could be defined as stoner food, could be written off as kitsch, I challenge anyone who criticizes the concept to come on in and taste the food. While I wouldn’t mind a few lighter options, I think Square Peg has inched its way into the world of fun, creative and–most of all–damn tasty food. Although there wasn’t much of a bar scene while we were there, I think the great drinks list and unique menu offerings could make this a great Center City location for a beer (or a whiskey) and a bite.

Stateside

Green Eggs Cafe and I had a love/hate relationship from the start. I’ve discussed it elsewhere so I’ll leave it to that but let’s just say I was tentative upon hearing of the owner’s new venture, Stateside, just a few blocks from our house. All I knew was that Stateside’s aim was to focus on local ingredients in their small whiskey and small-plates bar overlooking the Passyunk Avenue fountain. I was interested in checking it out but only cautiously optimistic about this new addition to the “Avenue.”

A few weeks after they opened, I had heard some positive buzz about their food on Twitter and decided to finally check it out. It was a chilly Saturday night and I had just put duck legs in the oven. We planned on grabbing a martini and possibly a bite or two while the duck braised.

From the time we stepped through the door, we were treated to nothing but smiles and friendly staff members going above and beyond in order to please. As we settled into two recently vacated bar seats and ordered our martinis, our bartender informed us that all of their alcohol was local to the United States as well. What a novel concept. However, have no fear! The bartender, Jen, asked us what brand of booze we usually take in our martinis and patiently offered up other options. It was obvious then and at many repeat visits that she has a strong knowledge and command of her bar. Jen has also created their custom cocktail menu which contains unique (and seasonal) offering such as the recently added “hot buttered rye.”

Zach and I both opted for Death’s Door in our martinis–gin for him and vodka for me, of course. We perused the menu and chatted with Jen as she mixed our drinks. I, not unusually, wanted pretty much everything on their menu which is divided into meats, pickles, cheeses, small plates and large plates. We decided on a cheese and a small plate. We were immediately drawn to the Bayley Hazen Blue cheese with SMOKED BACON CARAMEL. I mean, I love blue cheese but add bacon AND caramel. I was sold. It was a little tougher to pick just one small plate but we ended up agreeing on the beer braised beef cheeks with cauliflower puree, radish and pickled mustard seeds.

Our cheese arrived first.

Look closely and you will see a little chunk of smoky bacon swimming in the caramel atop the cheese. Smoky, sweet, tangy, creamy…what a fantastic flavor collaboration. This is a great nibble for just $4 and bacon + caramel + blue cheese is really a winning combination. I may or may not have been tempted to lick my plate…

Next came the beef cheeks.

Don’t you just love their menu font, by the way? These beef cheeks are perhaps the favorite thing I’ve eaten at Stateside thus far. While the meat was good (and it was damn good and buttery soft,) it was the accompaniments that shone. The cauliflower puree was rich and creamy and I could only imagine what it was doing to my arteries while the pickled mustard seeds popped at just the right moments. The best bite was a piece of meat and a dollop of puree swirled in the braising liquid. This was a memorable dish.

Unfortunately, our braise beckoned and we begrudgingly walked home, happy to have found our perfect neighborhood gem for that night when we just want a well-mixed drink and tasty bite at the bar.

We went back the next weekend, of course. When we stepped through the door, the general manager, Anthony, greeted us with “good to see you again.” This was the neighbor-friendly service that was always lacking for me at Green Eggs. That visit and future ones gave us gems like the crunchy house made goat cheese.

We have also enjoyed charred broccolini (great sleeper dish) and duck sausage with sweet potato, sour cherry mustard and frisee.

Our friend, who wasn’t sure about the duck sausage, was an immediate convert. This dish even turned my husband into a sweet potato aficionado (for the moment, at least.)

More recently, we finally got a chance to try the crispy maple glazed pork belly over fried nora nora grits, gala apples and spiced cider jus.

Everything about this dish was phenomenal. Duh. I don’t have to tell you that though–just look at it. The pork belly followed the beef cheeks in highlighting and focusing on not just the main protein but every component of the dish.

As a special treat, Anthony brought out the rabbitt rillettes with pear preserves. This is something I never would have ordered but that’s what made it especially neat to taste.
This dish was subtle, yet robust. While the flavor was not overwhelming, it had an easy “eatability” to it. Another perfect bar snack to share with some of your favorite people. Besides, the jar they serve it in is just so darn cute.

Executive Chef, George Sabatino, is obviously having a blast pushing out fun and unique dishes comprised of all local ingredients. If you’re on twitter, check him out. He tweets out specials and other fun kitchen pics. Most recently, the bartender told us about their new seafood purveyor who offers only line caught fish. In fact, customers will soon be able to receive a code that will allow them to track the fisherman and boat that caught the dish they’re eating in this food-forward little restaurant in South Philadelphia. Talk about Stateside…

I cannot say enough good things about this place. From the front of the house to the back of the house, this restaurant aims to please and achieves on so, so many levels. I just hope, for our sake, that it doesn’t get too popular and will be able remain our neighborhood gem where we can always snag two seats at the bar. I won’t hold my breath though. If you haven’t eaten at Stateside, get there now. Seriously.

Fuel on East Passyunk

It’s tough for a food blogger to eat healthy. We’re always checking out the hottest dishes at the latest restaurants and dining (and boozing) out with friends. We try to make up for our fat and carb laden weekend splurges by eating relatively healthily on weeknights. A general summer dinner consists of a grilled protein and two veggie sides.  On Friday nights, we usually order out and spend the evenings watching movies or playing with our new Apple TV.  Our go-to is Los Jalapenos, which stills delivers to us despite their move, but we also love Circles Thai, many of the local pizza/cheesesteak spots and New Noodle Heaven, the Chinese store on 12th and Snyder. Some nights, however, we get a little too comfortable with our routine and are itching for another cuisine. Recently, we didn’t quite know what we wanted, but we know it needed to be healthy. A former student of mine, who loves food just as much as I do, had raved about Fuel, the healthy dine-in/take-out spot who advertises all of their dishes under 500 calories.

Fuel has two locations–Center City and Passyunk Avenue in South Philly. Their menu is a little odd as it has a salad section but you also have the option to order any of the sandwiches without bread, thus making them a salad. I decided to go with a traditional chicken caesar salad, while my husband ordered a grilled chicken sandwich (hold the bread, please) with artichoke, mixed greens, provolone, sun dried tomato and balsamic reduction. I was a little hungry so I added the sweet pea dip as an appetizer. Fuel has the nutritional information along with Weight Watchers points on their menus so you can have a clear snapshot of what you are eating.

Our food arrived promptly. The green pea dip was phenomenal. My parents used to make mashed peas for us when I was growing up and this sweet vegetable was certainly reminiscent of the past with nice, chewy bites of sun-dried tomatoes to add some texture.

I’ve ordered this salad again since this meal and still don’t quite understand why they don’t cut up their lettuce. The salad is simple, yet tasty but it can be difficult to eat.

Also, if you’re a “light on the dressing” kind of guy or gal, you might want to ask for it on the side. I thought it was just dandy.

My husband’s salad sure was pretty.

That’s all I know, though. Between the pea dip (I must have “forgotten” he didn’t like peas when I ordered it) and my whopping salad, I was too full to check it out. He gave it two thumbs up, though, so that’s good enough for me.

Fuel is a great option if you want to eat out (or in) without letting the calories pile up. They have a dessert and smoothie selection as well that I have yet to check it out. Let me know what you think.

La Rosa Pizza: Potato Pie!

I kept hearing about La Rosa’s. Not from just anyone but from people who knewwhattheyweretalkingabout. You know, Dennis from the Saturday morning Reading Terminal coffee crew or Philly Phoodie. What intrigued me was not their supposed simplicity, square pies or local charm. Instead, I was drawn towards their potato pie. Potato pie?! I live steps from La Rosa and folks were SHOCKED upon hearing that I had never tried their pizza–in particular the potato pie. POTATO? On a PIZZA? I had to check this out. My husband, on the other hand, was a bit skeptical. He’s never been a carb fanatic and the concept of potato on dough had him leery.

I waited patiently until he left for a weekend visit to his grandparents’ place in South Carolina. Three nights of eating for one. I obviously had to plot accordingly. On the second night, I decided that I would finally go in for the kill. I googled “La Rosa menu” to no avail and wondered how I would decide what to order. I saw somewhere that they would do halves and the question arose–what do get on the second half? I ended up asking the friendly man who took my order for a half potato (duh) and half sausage pie. One size.

After a brief wait, my pie appeared. The simplicity of the place is evident in my order and contact info scratched quickly onto the bare box before it is filled with my cheesy, doughy bounty. The weird photoshop smudge on the upper left is my erasure of my phone number lest I get overwhelmed by my myriad fans.

I opened the box to a thing of beauty.

Wait, hold on. Let’s get a little closer here.

Look at that rosemary, eeeeh!!!

I started with a piece of each (actually, I finished with a piece of each too. Two pieces was more than enough for me.) The pizza, despite the speedy delivery, was a little cooler than I’m accustomed to. Regardless, the sausage was phenomenal. It had an excellent ratio of dough: cheese: topping and the crumbled sausage was just. so. flavorful. The slight fennel flavor subtly imposed on each bite. The potato on the other hand was, well, different. The flavor was absolutely spot on–the traditional marriage of rosemary and salty potatoes was managed perfectly. The pizza suffered from the temperature, however. I did not realize until the next day (when I had a slice reheated in the oven) that the best way to enjoy the potato half of this pie is hot and crispy, right from the oven. So, if your order takes a little longer or (ahem) someone insists on having a photo shoot before eating, stick it in the over for a few minutes. You’ll thank me. Despite the minor temperature woes, I dare you to try the potato pie. I know you’ll like it.

Izumi

As I’ve mentioned before, one of my  favorite things about living just off Passyunk Avenue is the ability to step out of our house for a stroll, a bite to eat and/or a drink or three. During the warmer (but not too hot) months, we love taking our bulldog, Jewels, along on our jaunts. She loves it too for two reasons. First, we almost always stop at Doggie Style (it’s a pet store, folks) where she is doted upon and receives numerous treats. Second, she usually receives people food (and more attention) when we’re out to eat. Gee, this dog likes to eat. She’s obviously part of the family.  One of our favorite places to visit is Izumi Restaurant on the corner of 11th and Passyunk. We love lingering over their maki and a glass of wine.

A few weeks ago, we set out to do just that and our plan was thwarted. We waited at the front door. Then we waited some more. Then we flagged down a waitress who told us she’d be right with us. It was around that point that my husband thought he saw Darren Daulton walking into the restaurant. Who knows. Then we waited some more. And some more. I was not pleased. My husband knew what was coming. The waitress finally came over and told us there would be a 20-30 minute wait (after asking if we wanted an inside or outside table. Duh, lady, we have our dog with us.) I let her know how I felt about that and walked away frustrated. My husband tried to put things into perspective on our walk back down the Avenue saying things like “maybe someone else was supposed to come in tonight but they died.” Who knows. Either way, it wasn’t about the wait for an outdoor table, it was about the wait to even be acknowledged.  I may have mentioned this before, but I put some weight on being a neighborhood place. You have to put yourself out just a little bit more. Be a little friendlier.

Anyway. We went home and ordered some delicious take out from Tres Jalapenos and my trials were forgotten.

Last weekend, we decided to give it another try. We headed up 11th street on the later side–close to 9pm–and were treated to a number of empty outdoor seats. We were seated quickly and our speedy waitress whipped open our bottle of wine and poured two glasses before we could even tell her that we wanted to start with this.

(See the glass of wine in the background.) No biggie though. We sipped our beers and took in the specials while perusing the menu. A number of the specials stood out to us and we opted with two of them, two maki, the sashimi sampler and a heavier dish.

Our kumamoto oysters came out first. These were a refreshing and oceany start to our meal.

The oysters were followed by an interesting-sounding dish–grilled octopus in sesame oil. My husband bit into one before I did and exclaimed “it’s cold!” Although we expected a hot dish, this octopus was chewy without being rubbery and the sesame imparted a great flavor throughout. The sesame seeds sprinkled on top added a nice crunch to balance the chewiness of the octopus.

The sashimi sample was up next. The sampler consisted of two small bites of the following: tuna with tofu vinaigrette, fluke with tataki sauce, salmon carpaccio, squid with smoked sea salt and lemon oil and surf clam with spicy miso.

Surprisingly (to me,) I think my favorite was the salmon which had a perfect texture and the most subtle of flavors while leaving a buttery finish on my tongue.

Our food just kept coming. I swear it was flying out of the kitchen. Our maki and pork belly came at about the same time, but we ate the pork belly first because it was warm.

The braised pork belly over congee is definitely more of a cold weather dish, but we had had it before and liked it. Besides, all of our other dishes were very light so it was nice to have something to balance that out. This dish is phenomenal, by the way. The pork belly is, well, pork belly. It slips apart under the gentle touch of a fork and the flavors just fill your mouth with comfort and happiness. The congee is a tricky little devil. It has the porky flavor of the meat along with sweet soy sauce. As you eat it, you’re likely to happen upon a mushroom or edamame pea nestled in the porridge. This is a soulful dish.

We finished with the maki–shrimp tempura and a softshell crab. The shrimp tempura was great, while the softshell crab left a bit to be desired. I was hoping for more meat and less veggie. Let’s just say we emptied our plates anyway.

As we slowly finished up our meal, I started to make my way to the bathroom before noticing that the entire staff was busy cleaning the inside of the restaurant and the floor was being mopped. Oops, guess I’ll hold it. It was before the 11pm closing time so I guess they were just trying to get a jump on their evening.

Izumi is just the kind of restaurant Passyunk Avenue needs. While they may have some missteps here and there, they fill the perfect niche and I’ll keep coming back for more.

Gnocchi

I made gnocchi, y’all! Let’s go for a pictorial on this post…

I tossed them in flour and laid them on a cookie sheet lined with a dish towel for a quick freeze. Once that was complete, I tossed them in a ziplock bag. A week or so later, all I needed was the following:

And I ended up with this!