Salem Beer Works

One rainy day in Massachusetts, we decided to take a trip to Salem to check out the history. My husband, who has known me for over eight years, learned of my fascination with witches and the Salem Witch Trials and agreed to take the 30-minute drive from Gloucester to explore the town. Once we mentioned that we were going to Salem, everyone said that we just HAD to go to Salem Beer Works and try their fried pickles. Fried pickles?! You had me at hello.

We made our way down 128 and settled in for a morning at the Peabody-Essex Museum, which had a fantastic exhibit on ManRay and Lee Miller (seriously, check it out if you’re in town) and a fun, interactive exhibit on water. After a little culture, we headed over to the big event: the Salem Witch Museum! I was so excited.

Following a lackluster, but slightly interesting tour of the museum, we headed to the Beer Works for a late lunch.

While we knew the fried pickles were a definite, we checked out the beer menu to select our beverages. We had heard chatter of a tasty watermelon beer but I was drawn towards a few different options and ended up with a pick-your-own flight while my husband opted for a 12oz pour of the Victory White. My flight ranged from Witch City Red and Watermelon Ale to a Bunker Hill Blueberry Ale (made and garnished with Maine blueberries) and a Cask IPA.

I’m no beer expert like this guy but I enjoyed each of them, especially the light and playful watermelon ale and the blueberry ale, which had some richer flavors. The cask IPA was mellow and more drinkable than I expected. Best of all, the 4 ounce pours were only $1.50 each so I got the whole flight for $6. What a deal!

We each ended up opting for two of their many burgers, after seeing the construction workers to the left of us devouring theirs with gusto. I went with the Charlestown Burger topped with bacon and cheddar and he went all out with the Fenway topped with chili, scallions and cheddar. The Beer Works has a ton of different french fry cuts and seasonings, any of which we could pick to accompany our burgers. I went with the potato sticks while he opted for the more traditional hand cut fries.

The pickles were actually whole spears battered and fried with a ranch dipping sauce. While I expected them to be sliced, I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

The creamy ranch, hot and crispy coating and warm, sour pickle all did a little dance in my mouth together. What great beer drinking food!

The burgers followed and were top notch. Mine was cooked to a perfect medium–something I’ve had trouble finding these days.

I didn’t care for the potato sticks, however. I was expecting matchstick fries and what came out were, quite literally, potato stix (remember them?)

My husband’s burger was messy but received two chili-smudged thumbs up from him. And I got over my fry disappointment by eating most of his.

Look at all that chili!!

After finishing lunch, we picked up to six-packs to go (for under $9 each!) They also offer growlers but we were walking around and they were a little less portable. We headed over to my tarot reading and I’ll find out in 4-7 months if any of the work, health, financial and travel predictions she made are true!

Beer Works has a number of locations around Massachusetts, including one across from Fenway Park. Stop in and check out the fried pickles if you’re ever in the neighborhood!

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.

Cuba Libre: Brunch Without Borders

When I was invited to a bloggers’ lunch at to check out Cuba Libre’s new Brunch Without Borders menu, I jumped at the opportunity. I had never been to Cuba Libre and am not as familiar with Cuban food as I am with other cuisine. I dragged my very willing (all you can eat brunch!) husband along to check things out.

We walked in and the decor looked exactly like a Cuban garden cafe (or at least what I would imagine it to look like.) It was bright, lush and airy.

I skimmed the broad range of offerings and began to plot my meal. There were so many tasty looking offerings.

As we discussed our options, a bread basket was delivered to our table with a churro, muffin, banana bread and a guava cream cheese “hojaldre” pastry with mango butter and guava preserves. Oh my.

We decided to order a handful of items to start and we held onto the menu for later rounds of ordering.

First up was the cuban style shrimp cocktail. For someone who doesn’t normally love shrimp, this was one of my favorite dishes of the day. It was swimming in a tangy cocktail-style sauce slash  gazpacho that left me clamoring for more.

Continuing on our seafood tour, we had the truffle and citrus marinated grilled baby octopus over eggplant salad. This dish was surprisingly cold and refreshing but didn’t have quite enough of that charred flavor as I would have liked.

Next up was their version of Eggs Benedict. A crabmeat and potato cake topped with a poached egg, avocado and a tomato hollandaise. I love crab and I love eggs benedict, so this dish was a no-brainer to me. While it was good, the potato-crabcake had a little too much potato and not as much crab, which took away from the subtle sweet flavor I enjoy in crab.

We moved on to land with the beef, pork and pine nut meatballs. This was probably my least favorite dish of the day. Nothing quite wrong with it, the flavors just didn’t stand out like the other dishes did.

Now we’re getting to the good stuff! The meatballs came with what my husband described as the “ultimate stoner food.” Papas con chorizo are smashed potatoes with chorizo, sour cream and monterrey jack cheese. Mmmmm…extra points for an adorable serving vessel!

To accompany the stoner food, we had to try the beef, pork and chorizo burger slider. I let my husband eat most of the slider as I was completely enamored by the shoestring fries. I really dig an authentic (read: super thin) salty shoestring fry. And they put them ON the burger.

After a few heavier dishes, we lightened things up with the house-cured smoked duck with huitlacoche vinaigrette. I had to Google huitlacoche to make sure I spelled it right. I’m always a sucker for a smoky flavor and this meat did not disappoint. The vinaigrette added a nice tang to the rich smokiness of the meat.

The adobo-rubbed charred tuna was up next. This dish seemed kind of random for a Cuban restaurant, but my mouth didn’t seem to mind. I wish there was just a touch more of the avocado salsa that topped the fish.

The next dish was a disappointment, not because it wasn’t tasty but because I had REALLY high hopes for it. I expected the spinach and manchego cheese puffs to be crispier and gooier. Instead, they were more on the doughy side of things. Again, this was a solid dish but just not what I expected.

It was around that time we thought we were done. I then, as I’ve been wont to do in the 8 years we’ve been together, surprised my husband by ordering two more dishes.

I had been eyeing up the sopa levanta muerto. This coconut-based broth was “swimming” with (ooh, that’s a bad pun) crabmeat, mussels, scallops and shrimp. My husband and I did what we do best–I happily slurped the rich and tasty broth while he chomped contentedly on the seafood.

And we couldn’t leave Cuba Libre without trying the Guacamole Cubano with PINEAPPLE (!) in it, served with wavy strips of fried plantains (interesting info about me. I hate bananas with a passion and even hate regular plantains. I love me some friend plantains, though. Always have.) This dish was a light and citrusy end to our meal.

The End.

Just kidding, just kidding. Executive Chef Jasper Alivia–a very nice guy–came by to chat with us and convinced us to try the ropa vieja hash. Our friends, Ryan and LeeAnne, were sitting at a nearby table and I think they sent him over to twist our arms. My husband tried to resist but Chef Jasper said it was his favorite too and besides, it was brisket. You can never pass up brisket!

So we ordered our last and really final dish of the day–beef brisket stewed with tomatoes atop a potato hash, topped off with a fried egg. OK fine, everyone. It was delicious. The tomato brought out the sweetness in the brisket and it was my kind of dish; the one where each bite gives you a little bit of everything. What a beautiful way to end our meal.

Overall, this meal was a smashing success. While there were no real lowlight, highlights were definitely the shrimp cocktail, potatoes and ropa vieja. For $25/person, this would be a great place to bring a group to celebrate a certain occasion. Check their website as our waitress told us that they sometimes have live music or DJs to accompany brunch. Chef Guillermo Pernot travelled to Cuba and spent a great deal of time researching and rewriting the menu and that energy was certainly evident in this meal. I look forward to going back (when I’m done this silly diet, that is.)

10 Arts Happy Hour

Last Friday, a couple of friends and I planned to meet for happy hour. In our flurry of email suggestions, I threw out a few options that had good deals AND good food/drink. As I puttered around my house and did chores (read: played on the internet,) I came across this blog post from my friend, Madame Fromage. I’d been wanting to visit 10 Arts and a $5 cheese plate and wine beckoned.  It was a rainy and dreary Friday evening but I still felt extra-fancy walking past the noble white columns and through the doormen-held-open doors. 10 Arts encompasses the entire lobby with a huge, round white cooler/cellar/storage thingy? as the centerpiece. The area is comfy and welcoming but we all agreed that the hot pink uplighting just didn’t fit a regal place like the Ritz Carlton.

As we waited for our third party, my friend, Emily, and I ordered a glass of wine. I asked our server what wine specials they had and she proceeded in reciting “Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc, etc.” She was a little taken aback when I asked who made that wine. I don’t think that’s such a strange question to be asking at an upscale place such as 10 Arts, regardless of the event or clientele. I ordered a Malbec and hoped for the best.

I was actually pleasantly surprised at my $5 gem that I enjoyed with our complimentary olives as we decided what snacks to order.

We started with the cheese plate, of course.

Unfortunately, I forgot what we were eating as soon as our server presented the plate. The one on the far left, however, was a fan favorite, with a wonderfully rich and buttery flavor. I especially enjoyed the candied walnuts (yum!) and little bit of honeycomb as our accompaniments.

The amazing thing about this happy hour is that ALL appetizers are $5, not just the cheese plate. In the spirit of checking it all out, we tried the pretzel bites and a spinach, spring onion dip. The pretzel bites were the perfect carby happy hour partner, with a trio of dipping sauces–cheddar, jalapeno jam and dijon mustard.

The spinach spring onion dip was more soup or fondue-like than I would have expected. It came with papadum crisps for dipping and the flavors couldn’t have been more fresh and seasonal. This dish tasted green.

This happy hour deal runs Monday-Friday from 5-7pm. If you want to check out 10 Arts without breaking the bank, this is absolutely the way to go. In fact, I’m heading back tonight. Maybe I’ll see you there!

Pure Fare

Toward the end of the school year, I had a hankering for rotisserie chicken so my co-workers and I decided to check out Rotisseur.  Unfortunately, they’re not open for lunch. I was pretty bummed but we thought we’d make a detour to Pure Fare, the new healthy eatery on 21st Street between Sansom and Walnut.

We walked in and made our way to the wall-mounted iPads.

I thought we were supposed to order from the iPads. Instead, you could peruse the menu and view all of the nutritional information for each item (you can do the same on their website.)

The place is cute, with a smoothie and coffee bar on one side of the room and a hot foods register on the opposite side. In the middle is a large, wooden communal table.

All of the sandwiches and salads are pre-made for a quick and easy grab and go.

I opted for the goat brie and fig sandwich which had arugula, roasted pepper and a caramelized onion fig spread. It sounded like it was packed with flavor!

Unfortunately, the sandwich was a bit heavy on the arugula and light on everything else. I enjoyed the flavors that were present, yet there were not nearly enough of them. I guess that’s what I get from 361 calories.

The only other item I sampled was the tandoori chicken sandwich on raisin bread. The tandoori flavor was spot on and the raisin bread complemented it nicely.

My friend, Alexa’s, salad looked fun but I didn’t get a chance to taste it.

Pure Fare is a decent option for those of us who are trying to watch our waistlines. I’d like to go back and try some of the other items such as their soups and smoothies. Although the sandwich was a bust, I’m sure there are better options for me. I also have my Pure card that allows me to gain points and keep track of what I’m eating.

One Shot Coffee

A couple of weeks ago, I had plans to meet my friend, Farish, for a cup of coffee one weekend morning. Well, Farish had a few things to do that morning so we ended up meeting after I had already eaten breakfast. That didn’t stop me from vigorous assent when she asked if I wanted to go to her favorite new coffee shop. She and her husband, Tre, picked me up and drove up to Northern Liberties where we made lots of twists and turns before we ended up at One Shot Coffee.

What a cute little place it is! They have drink specials printed on butcher paper behind the counter and the antiqued ceiling and lighting is just stunning.

Although Farish and Tre were planning on eating, I was still pretty full from breakfast. Then I saw this.

It was all over from there. How can you refuse a cheddar bacon scone???

Farish and Tre waited at our table with an identifying number.

My scone was really, really yummy. Moist and light with a hint of porky goodness.

Farish got the bacon, egg and cheese on a brioche that she JUST LOVES.

And Tre got a chicken sandwich with house made chips.

As we were finishing up, the lunch crowd started to arrive. Even though I’m not as cool and don’t have nearly enough tattooes (I do have dark rimmed glasses though!) to really fit in, this is a homey little place putting out solid food–especially for a coffee house.

Garlic Scape Pesto

A few weeks back, I picked up some garlic scapes at the height of their season from Headhouse Square. I’d only worked minimally with garlic scapes, using them in a stir fry and grilled. I had seen a few mentions of garlic scape pesto and decided I’d give it a go. As a searched for a decent recipe online (I mean, how much of a “recipe” do you really need for a pesto?) I stumbled across this one from Dorie Greenspan. Food bloggers and other folks on the internet sang its praises so I figured I should check it out.

Dorie Greenspan’s Garlic Scape Pesto

Makes about 1 cup

10 garlic scapes, finely chopped (I used a bit more.)

1/3 to 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan (to taste and texture)

1/3 cup slivered almonds (you could toast them lightly, if you’d like)

About 1/2 cup olive oil

Sea salt

Put the scapes, 1/3 cup of the cheese, almonds and half the olive oil in the bowl of a food processor (or use a blender or a mortar and pestle).  Whir to chop and blend all the ingredients and then add the remainder of the oil and, if you want, more cheese.  If you like the texture, stop; if you’d like it a little thinner, add some more oil.  Season with salt.

I ended up adding a little more cheese, olive oil and almonds because the mixture is REALLY garlicky and I wanted to tone it down a bit (not too much though!) The final product was a creamy green and tasted great mixed with pasta or smeared on sandwiches.

 

 

 

 

Night Market II

In October, The Food Trust premiered the first ever Night Market along Passyunk Avenue in Philadelphia. The concept is neat–food trucks and area restaurants/prepared food stores, gathered in one place to offer their fare to the public. On the upside, the October event was wildly popular. On the downside, it was wildly popular. No one anticipated how many people would show up and many of the vendors ran out of food just an hour or so into the event. Simmering beneath the frustration, however, was excitement and anticipation for the Philadelphia food scene.

Fast forward to June. The Night Market made its second appearance at 39th and Market. The Market coincided with Philly Beer Week, so in addition to the food offered, the Blockley Pourhouse was setting up a beer garden.  I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew to get there early. It was one of the hottest nights of the year and, although they warned people to take Septa, I was sufficiently whiny that my husband grudgingly agreed to drive. Because of my familiarity with the area, we found a great (and free!) spot just a block away and walked the gritty Market Street path. When we got there, we noticed that the event was actually taking place in an empty parking lot. It was HUGE.

We walked in right at 6pm and noticed that the line for the “beer garden” was already at least 30 people deep. I left my husband and sister in line while I went to explore with my camera. Wow, there were some great offerings. I couldn’t resist making a beeline (unintentional pun) to Tyson Bees after the mountain of praise it has received lately. The truck, like many newer food trucks, is bright and welcoming.

There were lots of intriguing options but I went with the pork buns. Tyson Bees is set up such that you order from the center of the truck and then pick up your food from the passenger side window. My food came up quickly.

I only had a few luscious bites of this pint-sized dish but it certainly left me wanted more. The next time I passed the truck, however, the line was enormous.

I made another loop around the massive parking lot, snapping pictures along the way. Nomad Pizza was apparently a big hit but we didn’t get any because my sister didn’t want to get in line.

While there were “fancier” new trucks, it was nice to see some more old-school trucks as well.

I rolled past Dapper Dog next and knew I had to get me some doggie goodness.

Decisions, decisions…

I ended up going with the smoked kielbasa with jalapeno relish and spicy mayo. Wow, they weren’t kidding about the spice! I had to knock some of the jalapenos off but this dog was meaty, not too smoky and yum, yum, yum.

As I returned with the dog, my husband and sister were nearing the front of the verrrry slow beer line (that’s a kink that still needs to be worked out for next time, FYI.)

My bright husband made the very smart suggestion that we each get two beers so we didn’t have to wait in line again. That’s why I married the guy! I’m glad we did that, because the later lines were outrageous (and it’s not like they were giving the beer away.) I wanted a Victory Summer Love Ale but they were still pouring warm, I was advised, so I ended up with the Ithaca Apricot Wheat and a Saison. They were both kinda warm too.

While we relaxed with our beers and dog, we watched the line for Guapos Tacos grow and grow. Sigh.

Next to it was a cute looking burger truck that I’ve never heard of.

After finishing our beers, we meandered for a while, chatting with folks we knew and checking out the scene.

During our wandering, we ran into my sister’s friend with a margarita in hand. Well, we had to get a margarita too! We hit up the Cantina for tangy blood orange margaritas.

Our last stop was Plenty. Even though I live just a few blocks from them, I wanted to check out their offerings. My sister got a whiskey chicken sandwich.

This sandwich was sweet and summery. I was initially drawn to it but was concerned that there would be too strong of a celery flavor. That was definitely not the case. I tasted the sweet whiskey chicken and chewy bread. Yum. My husband and I got the ham and tallegio sandwich (house smoked ham!) Just look at it. I don’t even need to describe it.

On our way out the door, we passed by Renaissance Sausage. We weren’t planning on hitting them up because we get sandwiches from them most Sundays at Headhouse Square. I have to say that I was proud of my little sausage truck. Check out that line!

Just because I’m curious, I wanted to see what they were offering.

Quarter pound sausage burgers!!! Now, I’ve had their breakfast sausage and it is MIND blowing. I can only imagine these burgers must have been out of this world. Go Renaissance Sausage!

Overall, the event was much better organized and planned than the first Night Market. They had the foresight to bring more vendors (who brought more food,) have it in a larger space and offer more beer! On the down side, there were still extremely long lines and the beer garden was very poorly organized and slooow moving. The pros definitely outweigh the cons though, and I look forward to the next event!

 

 

Philly Beer Week on Passyunk Avenue

Although we did not get to visit as many Philly Beer Week events as we would have liked to, one of our highlights of the week was the East Passyunk Avenue Craft Beer Fest. After my husband returned from the Bike Race, we made our way west on Passyunk to our first stop–the beer garden at Le Virtu. My husband and I love everything about Le Virtu and one of our very favorite things to do is to stroll down there on a weekend evening and have dirty martinis (Belvedere for him, Tanqueray for him) with a side of arancini. We were excited to check out their outdoor garden, taste some Victory, Troegs, Innis & Gunn, Saranac and Riverhorse and have $5 tastes of their Abruzzese fare. When we got there, the place was popping. My husband hopped in line for some beer while I spotted two friends and grabbed a seat at the table with them.

I decided to check out a few of the beers.

My friends were especially excited for me to sample the Innis & Gunn Oak Aged Beer.

I tried the original and the one aged in a rum cask. You could definitely tell.

What a complex beer.

After we had a few tastes of beer, we decided to order some $5 snacks from the owner, Catherine Lee, who was acting as waitress for the day. We went with the fried olives stuffed with porchetta and sausage with polenta. Meanwhile, Chef Joe Cicala was serving up pieces of roasted pig.

The food was delicious, as usual. I hadn’t tried the olives before but my mother had them about three years ago and still raves about them. She was right.

For my olive-phobic readers, have no fear. This has only a very subtle olive flavor. You mostly taste the pork and fried goodness! The sausage was simple yet bursting with grilled flavor. I loved sopping up the polenta and getting a little bit of everything in each bite. My only complaint is that we didn’t order enough.

My friend, Heather, and my husband enjoying themselves in the sun.

After I ate, I spent some time exploring Le Virtu’s garden. Check out these zucchini blossoms!

I also fell in love with this contraption they have hanging on their wall that allows them to grow herbs in neat and organized “lanes.”

I had to run out to a graduation party for a bit and met my friends at Stogie Joe’s about 90 minutes later. Stogie Joe’s was concurrently celebrating the Craft Beer Fest and the Italian Fest on Passyunk Avenue. Thus the craft beer served inside and piss beer served outside. They were running a special of a bucket of five Riverhorse beers for $20. By the time I got there, however, they were out of Riverhorse and were allowing you to make your own bucket–they even let my husband sneak a Chimay in there! Stogie Joe’s was packed–there was a band playing right outside.

Our last stop was Salt & Pepper’s meet the brewer happy hour with Riverhorse. I was pumped to try some Riverhorse since Stogie Joe’s had run out. Unfortunately, Salt & Pepper was down to their last bottle as well. I let my husband have it and I got an Ithaca Apricot Wheat. That was yummy too.

We did get a chance to chat with one of the Riverhorse reps.

Then we ran into a friend and finished our beers with her and Robert Reilly, one of the owners.

And then, after that jam-packed day, I went home and went to bed!

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.