Green Eggs Cafe

My in-laws came to South Philly to help around the house once again (this may become a recurring theme on the blog.) By help, I generally mean my mother-in-law and I hanging out and my father-in-law and husband painting, tiling, spackling and/or sanding.  When they come down, we usually “do work around the house” for a few hours and then head out to lunch. Last time they were here, we tried to go to Green Eggs Cafe, but didn’t want to wait and happily ended up at Stogie Joe’s instead.

Green Eggs Cafe is a relatively new bruncherie at 13th & Dickinson with a second location in Northern Liberties. My husband and I visited a few times when it first opened and always enjoyed the food but the service was just…off.  You know, we had to ask for utensils, ask for drink refills, ask for our toast, etc. And we always sat at the counter. The thing that burned me up the most was that the owner was always there, but was he working? No. He was always just sitting around, hanging out. It’s important for me, especially in neighborhood establishments, to feel welcomed. Why do I like Green Aisle and Fond and Black and Brew so much? The owners are present and friendly and accommodating. I just wish he wouldn’t rest entirely on the fact that a place like Green Eggs was sorely needed in the neighborhood. Take the extra step, dude.

Stepping off of my soapbox.

Anyway, the in-laws, husband and I headed over there for a very late lunch (around 3pm) on a recent weekend and was told there would be a brief wait. No problem. It seems as if they took ownership of the space next door which was being turned into a comfy little “waiting room” while the space where these couches previously were is now occupied by tables.

There’s still a little work to be done but Green Eggs is definitely making better use of their space by adding tables to what was previously a pretty open area–and the previous resting place for the couches.

We were seated within ten minutes and briefly perused the menu (although I had already checked it out at home, of course.) From previous visits, I knew that I was a fan of their meaty, thick-cut turkey bacon, and thought that I’d be ordering from the breakfast side of things. Instead, a special caught my eye–beef bacon reuben. I like beef, for sure, and I like everything about a reuben. That was a winner for sure. It looked awful tasty when it came out.

Look at that carrot-flecked slaw! The sandwich was as good as I expected, if not better. The beef bacon wasn’t really bacon at all. It was kind of just corned beef (or something like that) but I didn’t really care. It was awesome. The sandwich was pressed so all of the flavors were melded together and each bite was simply delightful.

My father-in-law got the BLT with sweet potato fries. I didn’t get a photo of it because the poor guy was so hungry I figured I’d just let him eat. My husband and mother-in-law both got the club with “off the bone” turkey and smoked ham. Check this bad boy out.

We’re talking Koch’s sizes here, folks! With two kinds of meat (there were special raves for the carved, non-lunchmeat turkey,) this sandwich is a bang for your buck at $8.50. My husband hadn’t eaten all day so he managed to finish off most of the sandwich and my father-in-law helped my mother-in-law with hers.

Overall, this was the best experience, and certainly the best food I’ve had at Green Eggs. I look forward to going back and hope that my expectations continue to be exceeded.

Marabella Meatball Company

Although I work in Center City, I rarely get a chance to actually eat out downtown.  I try to bring lunch most days and when I need to buy lunch, it’s usually a quick trip to Trader Joe’s, Primo’s Hoagies or Arch Gourmet, the deli across the street. On holidays, I try to meet my husband in his neck of the woods to grab a bite. Although we were prepping our stomachs for our Han Dynasty dinner that evening, we thought we’d grab an early lunch at Marabella Meatball Company, the lunch and dinner spot on 12th and Walnut that was recently opened by the Marabella family of Marabella’s fame.

I hopped on the 23 up 11th street and arrived at the front door before my husband, giving me some time to grab a photo and scope out the inside.

I walked through the door just minutes after their 11am opening and was greeted by the friendly staff. They obviously had some sort of catering delivery that was set to leave and the family members all took part in the process. As I waited for my husband, the incredibly friendly woman (the owner, I assumed) explained the vast menu to me as I pondered the possibilities. The menu is simple yet expansive offering four types of meatballs (beef, pork, chicken, veggie); four types of sauce (marinara, tomato sauce, alfredo, mushroom sauce); four types of cheese (aged provolone, fontina, piave vecchio, gorgonzola) along with a myriad of optional toppings and two types of rolls–long or round. On top of that, there were options for “slider” combos of three meatballs on mini buns, or sampler bowls of meatballs and sauce, hold the bread, please. Wow. Where would I begin? For those who could potentially become overwhelmed with all of the combinations potentials, MMCo offers a list of six “favorite” sandwich combos including the classic (beef meatballs, aged provolone, tomato sauce) and chicken ricotta (chicken meatballs, spinach, ricotta.)

I ended up walking the path of simplicity and ordered the classic with broccoli rabe (+$1.25,) even though my love for all things little had me leaning heavily towards the slider, while my husband wanted a little bit of everything and opted for the sampler bowl. We each got a San Pellegrino Limonata and the total came to $25 which was a bit more than we wanted to spend for lunch. Hopefully it would be worth it!  As we were ordering, I saw the chef (co-owner, I’m guessing?) boiling cauliflower and broccoli for the day’s veggie meatballs. It was refreshing to see that fresh ingredients being used when it is so easy to flash freeze these days.

We took a seat at one of their beautifully finished wood tables and waited a few minutes for our food. When it came, it was obvious that time and care had been put into the preparation. My sandwich was steaming with beefy deliciousness and gooey cheese.

Check out an inside view!

Look at the bright green of the broccoli rabe. Although I do generally prefer it slightly less al dente, I appreciated knowing that it was freshly made and the garlicky goodness just about made up for it. Let’s talk about the meatballs though. Oh, the meatballs. Most folks swear by the meat mix (pork, beef, veal) for meatballs but not Marabella’s. Their beef meatballs are 100% beef. They were dense yet airy and the meatball fell apart in my mouth yet maintained its integrity on the roll. My kinda ‘ball. As I’ve noticed before, however, the real winner of the dish was the cheese. As I savored the tang of the aged provolone, you know, the tang that makes your mouth water just a bit, I considered just how much it added to the dish.  Marabella’s definitely doesn’t skimp on the cheese (see picture above) but it is certainly the quality that makes the difference. What a sandwich.

The sampler bowl came out in a disposable plastic container which hurt my little green heart a bit but I quickly recovered.

I had to taste each meatball. For the blog, you know. My husband has been so nice ever since I commenced my blogging adventure. He quiets his growling stomach when I need to take a picture and he always, always lets me taste. What a guy! He started with the chicken meatball and I can barely begin to describe the morsel of velvety chicken. I barely tasted the “ground” part of the meatball and felt literally like I was biting into a moist and freshly cooked piece of chicken–but better. It was an incredible sensation. I make turkey meatballs at home quite often and have difficulty managing the dryness factor. These meatballs (well, all of them, but most notably the chicken) absolutely nailed it. The next ‘ball I tried was the veggie. First of all, I would like to give MMCo a shout out for not only offering a veggie option but actually putting some thought, time and energy into it. I was a vegetarian for a long time and am no stranger to Morning Star and Boca products but these meatballs had cauliflower, broccoli and chick peas and I COULD TASTE EVERY ONE OF THEM. What a phenomenal and honorable interpretation of a veggie meatball. I loved biting into a little hunk of cauliflower hidden among the sauce. I’m glad I didn’t find a piece of the golden raisins that are supposedly inside because I don’t like raisins. Guess I just got lucky.  I didn’t taste the beef because, well, I had beef of my own, or the pork (there’s still a little Jew left in me every once in a while.)  I did neglect to mention the two slices of bread that my husband eagerly used to sop of the meaty (or veggie) bits that melted into the sauce.

I don’t usually shill places like I’m about to (and I promise I’m not getting anything for it) but I implore you to go to Marabella Meatball Company–and let me know if you want company. I’ll be back for sure. Buon Appetito!

Han Dynasty Tasting

At my job, we have a joke about conference presentation titles, saying that the best ones always include a colon and some sort of clever saying. Well, this post’s conference session title would be something like Han Dynasty Tasting: A Dynasty of a Meal. Or maybe Han Dynasty Tasting: The Meal That Made Me Eat Tripe…and like it. I know, I know, it could be cleverer but I have other skills in life.

A few weeks ago, my friend, Ryan, tweeted out that he had scored a reservation for Han Dynasty’s Monday night tasting menu. I quickly called my best friend, Farish, to ask if she wanted to go. She had been to the restaurant before, but just recently we had discussed our interest in checking out the tasting. My husband didn’t get a call–I knew he’d be down.  I called the restaurant and was surprised to speak with the owner, Han Chiang, himself. Our conversation went as follow:

Me: I’d like to make a reservation for Monday, February 21st, please.

Han: For the tasting at 7pm?

Me: Yes.

Han: OK. (took my info) There are some rules you need to follow.

Me: I’m good at following rules.

Han: It starts at 7pm sharp. Don’t be late. You have to be willing to try everything and you have to be ok with spicy food.

Me: No problem!

I amusedly sent a quick confirmation email to Farish and my husband with an abbreviated version of our conversation. Farish has trouble getting places on time, my husband has trouble eating spicy food and I have trouble with offal. This should be interesting.

In the weeks leading up to the meal, we discussed who would be there and what drinks to take (it’s BYOB.) We learned that they suggest sweeter white wines, which makes sense because it counters the spice. Ryan set out on a mission to find some good beers and we certainly left that up to him.  Farish ended up inviting our other friend, Suzanne, in lieu of her less adventurous (yet equally lovely) husband, Tre.  Suzanne is always game for an adventurous meal and perhaps a snide comment about the, um, ample woman across the table…

On Monday evening, we left our house, eagerly anticipating the feast to come. Of course the forecast had to include snow. Why does it always snow when I have big and exciting meals? Luckily, the snow came much later and didn’t impede on our return trip, save for a few refreshing flurries.

My husband and I got to the restaurant around 6:40pm for our 7pm reservation (we didn’t want to be late!) and were told that Han would be right over to seat us. After a few minutes, Han himself led a small pack of us downstairs to a private room. When I pictured this dinner, I imagined a long communal table. In the basement, there were about four large round tables with lazy susans–the type you usually see in Chinese restaurants–on the right side and one looong communal table on the left. The table were separated by a half wall. Han asked each party how many they had and did quick calculations before directing us where to sit. We ended up at one of the round tables with two couples we didn’t know. This was going to be fun!!

The evening started off ominously when the woman across from me asked Han for sweetener for our tea. My friends and I looked at each other in alarm, after reading the expression on Han’s face. He brusquely told her to ask one of the waitstaff but a dish of sugar mysteriously appeared shortly thereafter. Meanwhile, my husband and I were sipping on our Yard’s Brawler and another one that I forgot(!!)  When Ryan opened the growler of Prism Brewery’s Love is Evol strawberry-jalapeno brown ale, all eyes were on him. LeeAnne described it well, saying that you taste the flesh of the jalapeno without the spice of the seeds. Check it out.

Extra special points go to Prism for being from North Wales, my husband’s hometown.

The first dish, like many of the ones thereafter, came out quickly. Cold sesame noodles, although first, were one of the more memorable dish for all.  The first few pictures aren’t such good quality (well, none of them are great) because I took the shots of the food on my plate rather than in the serving dish. My apologies.

The sesame noodles were a great introduction to the meal with a nice coolness and the sweet yet acidic tang of rice wine.  Although I could have eaten a bowlful of these noodles, Han warned us to “pace yourselves.”

Next up was another favorite, spicy cucumber. I had read a lot about this dish and was pumped to try it. It certainly did not fail. The cool crunch of the cucumber played beautifully against the firey spice of the chili oil. I wish I had a picture of the serving bowl because these little guys were swimming in the red oil.  As a matter of fact, my friend, google, helped me out. Check out the dish here.

The cucumbers began a series of dishes in chili oil that lit our taste buds on FIRE. It was around this time that they placed the rice on our table and many of us heaped it onto our plates in hopes of quelling the embers in our mouths.

Chicken in chili oil

Won ton in chili oil (yum)

Beef and tripe in chili oil. When he placed this dish on our table, I thought to myself–here it is. I knew I’d be eating organ meat at some point tonight. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a reformed vegetarian and I’m still a little weird about meat. However, I promised myself that I would at least try everything. By the time this dish got around to me, there was a mysteriously small amount of beef left, so I loaded up on the tripe.

It was actually really, really good, although at this point, my mouth was so deliriously on fire that I could potentially have eaten anything. The tripe was flavorful and not too chewy and, quite honestly, it was tough to identify a discernable difference between the beef and the tripe. So there you have it. I ate tripe.

Next up, dumplings in chili oil. I liked these even better than the won ton in chili oil. The sesame seeds certainly help, but the dish also had a slightly sweeter flavor to it.

The scallion pancakes were next, much to LeeAnne’s delight. I think we were all excited about this dish because we were hoping it might diminish some of the burn. Honestly, the pancakes were good but I preferred them when they were a little closer to room temperature–that did the trick.  They came to the table steaming hot and that didn’t allay the sting on my tongue.

Everyone was excited when the Dan Dan noodles were served.  Han later told us that Dan Dan noodles came from the old days when Chinese food vendors would carry street food around town. They carried the food on a stick slung over their shoulder, called a dandan. The food was often a simple noodle and sauce that the person would purchase and mix together himself.

The Dan Dan noodles were warm and peanuty with a sweet sesame flavor. Apparently they were spicy too, although I honestly wouldn’t have been able to tell either way. These noodles also received high honors from myself and my tablemates.

Mung bean noodles in black bean sauce was a refreshing dish. The mung bean noodles were cold and glutinous and felt like heaven on my tongue, even though the little buggers were hard to get with my chopsticks.

It’s hard to explain this dish so I’ll just say that it didn’t have any overpowering flavors that wowed me but it was the perfect dish for that moment and filled a very deliberate niche in the meal.

Then came Ma Po Tofu. I’ve had a lot of Ma Po Tofu in my days as it is a dish that is easily made vegetarian, although the original recipe calls for ground pork in the tofu-heavy dish.  Many iterations of this dish have been incredibly spicy. I’m not sure if this dish was less spicy or if my taste buds were a little worn in. Either way, it had a nice, rich flavor and texture. I enjoyed it so much that I was even able to ignore the weirdo across from me who hates tofu and was picking out only the tiny, tiny bits of ground pork for his plate. Of everything we ate that night, he couldn’t handle TOFU?  Don’t even get me started.

Whoops, that is one big ball of blur. You get the idea though.

It was around this time that we were able to spend some time chatting with Han for the first time. Have I mentioned that he’s adorable? After hearing all the stories of this big and quirky personality, I expected an older gentleman. On the contrary, Han is in his early thirties with hip, black rimmed glasses and a cute style (and a potty mouth, to boot.) He is the cutest! We discussed various things including his favorite restaurant in the city (Ladder 15, he loves David Ansill’s cheeseburgers) and his favorite dish on his menu (“I don’t eat this fucking shit.”) He was very funny with a dry, dry humor. He also mentioned that he wants to create the perfect cheesesteak and put it on his menu. He would bake the bread himself and sell only 10 per day. If Han says it, I believe it.

The chicken with hot chili peppers was up next. Oh, by the way, the peppers are definitely hot. So if you’re thinking of popping one in your mouth, just to try….just a word of warning.

I liked this dish a lot, even though it came to me last so I got some of the smaller, less meaty pieces. We all picked around the chili peppers and heaped this popcorn-style chicken onto our plates. It was a nice, salty, chewy crunch. I could imagine that it would be a perfect street food–I might even bring it to the movies.

Han also mentioned how particular Sichuan cooking is and said that all of his chefs must be from the Sichuan provence because they grow up cooking and eating the food. Han Dynasty puts countless hours into the details of their food, from the way they cut their peppers to preparing their own soy sauce. Talking to Han gives you a quick glimpse into the love and affection he has for his food.

Ahh, then came the Three Cup Chicken, thus named because it’s braised in a cup of soy sauce, a cup of rice wine and a cup of sesame oil. I first heard of the dish here and have been meaning to make it. Unfortunately for me, Han Dynasty’s version was so freakin’ amazing that I may never be able to replicate the sweet chicken with hunks of garlic. Swoon. Everyone at our table was reaching for more of this dish. I think it was especially popular because it tasted so unlike any other dish we had that evening.

Just looking at that glazed deliciousness makes me want to run over to Han Dynasty for another serving.

Our lucky 13th course was twice cooked fish. This was a bit of a sleeper dish as it was really, really good–great balance of crispy crunch on the outside and tender fish on the inside–but, like some other dishes, didn’t carry a huge flavor pop so it was a little easier to forget. I’m always a fan of fried foods, though, so I crunched away happily and enjoyed the subtle non-fishiness that it carried.

It was about this point that I started getting full. Very full. And we were only on course #13!

Pork and garlic sauce was up next. Whoops, guess the spicy dishes weren’t done quite yet.

Then came long hot pepper pork. Surprisingly, this was much less spicy than the previous dish. The peppers tasted more like a typical green pepper and didn’t knock me out with the spice factor. In fact, looking at the picture reminds me that this dish was pretty yummy.

Chinese cabbage was delivered to the table next. It was a warm dish of cabbage with…you guessed it, chili peppers!

Oooh, the next dish was a surprising delight. Dry fried beef was chewy and almost reminiscent of beef jerky. Loved it.

As the green beans with minced pork were placed in front of us, Han told us that it was our last course. It was a nice to finish with a simple vegetable dish.

But wait, he dropped off one final dish with the simple explanation that “I was wrong.” Our 19th and absolutely final dish of the night was beef with scallions. Some members of the table looked at the dish with despair, thinking that they had already finished the feast. Others dug in with gusto. We WOULD master this feat.

Finally, we did it! Two hours, countless glasses of water (and beer) and 19 courses later, we completed the Han Dynasty tasting menu. I’m proud of my dining companions. None of us turned our nose up at anything and we tried each dish with enthusiasm. I can honestly say that I did not dislike any dish, although there were certainly ones that I preferred, including, both noodle dishes, the cucumbers, the 3 cup chicken and the dry fried beef. With 19 courses, you’re allowed to have a lot of favorites.

At the end of the night, we filed out of the basement room, handing Han $25 cash (not including gratuity) and a handshake on the way out the door. Simple ending to a phenomenal night.

An Attempt at Chocolate

Almost a year ago,  I was preparing to attend my sister-in-law’s ocean-themed bridal shower and thought I’d make seashell shaped chocolate treats from a mold I found at AC Moore. The motivation and/or time never materialized and I found myself with a ton of 1lb. bags of melting chocolate. Much to my husband’s frustration, I tossed them in the freezer and forgot about them.

Fast forward to this month. I ran over to Target to pick up a can of black beans or some tostito chips or maybe a pair of shoes (no, I was a good girl. No new shoes for me) and happened to pass the dollar bin. Target, genius marketers that they are, has the dollar bin right at the front of the store. You can’t miss it when you wander in! I found these adorable little ice cube trays and figured I could do something with them. Hey, they were only a dollar anyway. So I bought two. Of course.

At some point along the way, I had the bright idea to make Valentine’s Day chocolate treats for the students in my advisory at school. I figured my husband would be happy that I was cleaning out the freezer and the kids would stop complaining that we never have any parties. When I got home, I took a couple bags out of the freezer and tossed them in my makeshift double boiler. I’m into gadgets but I hate to have something taking up a bunch of space unnecessarily and a double boiler is just that. Besides, my contraption works just fine.

It took a while for them to melt, them being frozen and all. I probably could have microwaved them, but there’s something cathartic about melting chocolate over the stove. No? Maybe it’s just me. Check this out though!

Yum. When it finally melted, I realized that I didn’t have a plan on how to get the chocolate into the little molds. I ended up spooning some chocolate into one of these Le Creuset silicone “pinch” bowls that is just adorable (I love little things) and then pouring it into the mold. It worked quite well.

Oh right. Please excuse my ungodly purple nails. I filled the two silicone molds, tapped them to get rid of the bubbles and then tossed them in the fridge, somewhere between the key limes and individual cottage cheeses, to chill for 15 minutes according to the directions.

At this point, I had at least half a bowl of melted chocolate sitting in front of me. As I pondered what to do with them, I considered my options. Chocolate covered fruit? Nah, don’t have the right fruit. Oooh, chocolate dipped pretzels? Nope, don’t have them either. As I scanned my cabinets, I zeroed in on the walnut halves and thought I’d make chocolate walnut clusters. How exciting!

I mixed in the walnuts and realized that this had to be much nuttier than it was. I pulled the bag of almonds from the top shelf and tossed a few handful into the chocolate. Slowly, things started to come together. I took a spoon and dished out plops of the mixture onto my silpat.

I somehow managed to find a relatively flat space to prop the baking sheet inside my fridge and pulled out the molds. As I popped each chocolate out of its individual heart, I got progressively more disappointed. These looked like crap!

If anyone can shed some light as to why they have all that weird-looking discoloration, I’d love to hear. I’m sure I can google it but it’s not really that important to me. I gazed at the chocolates, wondering how to fix them and then I remembered–I had white chocolate too! I melted some white chocolate down into the decorating tube and went to town!

Now doesn’t that look better?

I fancied up the nut clusters too–why the hell not?

The clusters came out really tasty, if I can say so myself. It was fun having two different types of nuts in there, each of which has its unique flavor and consistency. The candies, well, I didn’t taste them but my advisory sure tore them up the next day. I guess they were good!

Now that I’m a budding chocolatier now and all, I recognize two things. 1. Chocolate making isn’t as intimidating as it seems. 2. Fancy chocolate making is probably pretty hard. I’ll never know though, and that’s just fine with me.

 

Nam Phuong

I may have mentioned once or twice that my husband and I love Vietnamese food. Well, maybe I’ve mentioned it before. It’s like my love for all things Italian–it comes up often. We usually frequent Vietnam Restaurant (either the Chinatown or the West Philly location) but sometimes when we’re in the mood for a lightening quick and inexpensive meal, we go to Nam Phuong at 11th and Washington in the Wing Phat Plaza.  Parking in Wing Phat Plaza deserves a post of its own, but let’s just say it’s always interesting trying to score a spot in the parking lot packed with folks lurking for a spot to park their minivans. There are lots of minivans in Wing Phat Plaza.

The main dining room is huge and almost always packed with a primarily Asian clientele. Last weekend, there were remnants of Chinese New Year littered throughout the parking lot and leftover decorations inside the restaurant itself. We were quickly ushered to a table, as usual, and our water and tea appeared before we could even remove our coats.  We’re so familiar with the menu that we generally know what we want to order, so a quick perusal always does the trick. This time, we went with the vegetarian summer rolls ($2.95) and each got a bowl of pho. My husband doesn’t mess around. He got #152 Deluxe Pho with Eye-Round Steak, Well Done Flank, Fat Brisket, Soft Tendon, Beef Tripe, Beep Balls ($6.25.) Good boy. I’m a little safer with my meats and stuck with #162 Pho with Slices of Eye-Round Steak ($5.75.)

The summer rolls came quickly with the standard peanut sauce. I always take little tastes of the peanut sauce alone because it’s just so darn tasty. There’s nothing especially noteworthy about the rolls but, in a way, that’s why I like them so much. I always know what to expect and there’s something kind of cool about an appetizer that feeds 2 for under three bucks.  They may not be as pretty as the ones at Vietnam or Le Viet, but let me tell ya, they certainly do the trick.

Before we could even finish the rolls, our bowls of steaming hot pho were placed on the table. Before your pho is served, they give you your plate of “fixins” as I like to call them. The fixins contain basil, bean sprouts, jalapenos and lime and are mixed into your pho according to your tastes. I like a lot of lime and jalapeno, while the husband steers clear of the spicy.

Check out this big ole bowl of noodle soup. The meat is dropped into the soup immediately before it’s brought to the table, so it finishes cooking in front of you.

This broth was so rich and full that I could have poured it into a cup and drank it plain. Instead, I fully embarrassed myself, as per usual in authentic Asian establishments, with my poor yet earnest attempt at chopsticks. Folks have tried to teach me for years but I’m a lefty and I hold a pen funny so chopsticks are kind of a lost cause. That doesn’t mean I don’t give it my best effort though! Each bite contained a big scoop of noodles (or whatever size I was able to capture with the chopsticks) along with the crunchy bean sprouts and maybe a hunk of meat if I was lucky. It was divine and I almost forgot how much I probably stuck out as I happily sloshed around in my bowl o’noodles. We left that day with warm bellies and perhaps a few broth stains on our shirts (I wear a lot of black for a reason, folks.) The best part about it? The entire meal was under $20 including tip. If you are so inclined at dinner, you can even get an inexpensive glass of wine or other spirits and you will certainly not break the bank. Just be careful when you’re leaving the parking lot.

Ladies Lunch & Libations

Today was fun. A new fried of mine, LeeAnne, hosted a “Ladies Lunch & Libations” for eight wonderful women who all happen to be a little food obsessed. I first met LeeAnne in person at Supper’s Hair o’ the Dog brunch on New Year’s Day but we previously “met” on Twitter.  LeeAnne is from Canada and has met a number of local food fanatics (Phanatics?) via Twitter and, of course, her sparkling personality. While the ladies lunched and libated, my husband joined LeeAnne’s beer-o-phile husband, Ryan, on a tour of Philadelphia Brewing Company and a late lunch at Memphis Taproom (fried pickles, holla!)

Meanwhile, we got to munching. Highlights of the day included crackers topped with smoked salmon and a dill creme fraiche, olive oil and lemon poached chicken with a tzatziki dipping sauce and curried chicken salad in won ton cups.  Check out this table!

Ohh, how could I have forgotten about the dates?! The dates were stuffed with cream cheese, caramelized onions and bacon(!!) and topped with candied pecans. Love.

I brought a trio of bruschette–caramelized fennel & parmesan, lemony mushroom and roasted red pepper.

The fennel was especially popular–and a great dish for those of us who aren’t typically fans of the licorice-y vegetable.

Desserts were pretty neat. Amy made beautiful whoopie pies with chocolate stout (I think–Jill made a yummy gingerbread with beer too and I can’t remember which had the stout. Both, perhaps?)

And Christine made dirt in a Snoopy pail and all. How fun!

I even drank beer! I enjoyed a Libertine black lager from Earth Bread Brewery that Christine brought in a neat growler.

No meal is complete without a little meatball!

And Amy too!

Thanks to LeeAnne for hosting a lovely afternoon and to all the ladies for great food, drink and convo that ranged from Gilmore Girls to tattooes to Talula’s Table. What a day.

 

Chhaya Cafe

Almost a year ago, I heard about a new cafe opening on Passyunk Avenue. Since we live just a few blocks from “the Avenue,” we’re always excited to hear about a new shop, bar or restaurant. [Side note: some of my favorite spots are Green Aisle Grocery, Fond, Salt & Pepper, Izumi and Nice Things Handmade, although I could spend–and have!–hours strolling with my dog, husband and a La Colombe cafe au lait from Capogiro and chatting with locals and shop owners alike.] In October, The Food Trust hosted the first ever Night Market on the Avenue and we (along with hundreds of others) checked out local food merchants, including Chhaya, a new cafe that served a variety of food on waffles.  My friend, Farish, and I got something that was either chicken or chick pea curry on a waffle (I’m still not sure why we couldn’t figure it out–I think the guy said one thing but it tasted like the other.)  We enjoyed the little taste and made a note to check it out.

Fast forward to last weekend. My husband and I slept in and were ready for a hearty Sunday brunch. He wanted pho but was overruled–I wanted a place where I could relax with a leisurely cup of coffee and Nam Phuong isn’t quite that place (don’t worry, he got what he wanted later in the day!)  I had been eyeing up Chhaya’s reviews on Yelp for the past week or so and figured it would be a great time to check it out.  We headed over there with empty bellies and high hopes.

Chhaya is adorable. I walked in and noted immediately that it had more of a coffee shop vibe than cafe. We were greeted immediately by the friendly waiter (who also served us during the Night Market) and gave our drink orders. Chhaya has four different types of coffee that can be served three ways–siphon, pour over or french press. This is my kind of place! I’ve recently become obsessed with “pour over” or Chemex style of coffee thanks to Bodhi Coffee (love that place!) Chemex is an hourglass-shaped glass vessel in which you pour hot water over a special filter. It’s very streamlined and simple and I am absolutely in love (hint, hint, my birthday is coming up!) I went with the Honduras coffee and was very ok with the forewarning that the pour over style would take some time. As the gentleman behind the counter prepared my drink, I walked over to get a photo. He was a bit perplexed and had some difficulty understanding what I wanted but this was my drink in progress.

When it finally came to the table, I had about a cup and a half of coffee. It was a pretty light roast and notably SMOOTH.

We perused the brief but comprehensive menu and I went with one of the waffle specials–their version of Huevos rancheros with black beans, tomato salsa, avocado and chorizo topped with a fried egg and hollandaise. I remarked that the Hollandaise was an interesting addition and the server explained that some folks had complained that the dish was too dry so they figured they’d add a little sauce. Hollandaise makes everything better, right?  My husband went with the bagel sandwich with cream cheese, bacon, avocado and tomato with an optional egg. He added the egg but never received it. Oh well.  The sandwich was good but pretty straightforward.

Then came my waffle. Take a look at the picture and tell me if anything looks strange to you…

It’s a little harder to tell in this picture but the waffles are all served on plates that are just a bit larger than the waffles themselves. This caused quite a dilemma for me. Because the dish was slightly deconstructed–the beans, tomato, chorizo were all in separate areas rather than mixed together–I had a hell of a time trying to get a good bite. Besides, every time I tried to cut into the waffle, the whole thing would slide around a bit and, inevitably, something would fall onto the table. It was a messy meal. I need a little space, folks! Taste-wise, the waffle was still pretty dry, even with the addition of Hollandaise that is evident in the picture but I barely tasted it. Each of the flavors was good on its own, but the plating made it impossible to mix them.

Final verdict–great concept, implementation needs work. Give me a bigger plate and double the toppings so that each bite is not overwhelmed with dry waffle and we can talk.  I will definitely return to Chhaya for a cup of coffee and perhaps a smaller bite, but I’m not sure about this whole waffle thing anymore.

Recent Eats

Brunch at Hawthorne’s. Two eggs any style (poached) with potatoes, toast and meat. Um, the bacon was fried to a crisp. Like deep fried. Still trying to figure out if that was on purpose. And the poached eggs were just sitting on the plate. And it only came with one slice of toast. C’mon man, we all know poached eggs need one slice of toast each. They were good though…

The husband had the gyro. Nice and fresh with crispy fries. I love crispy fries.

Crockpot pulled chicken tacos.

Calamari salad from Aya’s with a gingery sweet dressing.

Entenmann’s cake with two of my lovely students who will kill me if they see this picture.

And some Super Bowl treats.Triple creme brie, marinated mushrooms and dolmas from DiBruno’s.  Yum! 

Almost didn’t have room for buffalo wings two ways…but we did the Kobayashi wiggle and it was all good.

 

DiNic’s

This is not a “real” post because there’s no way I could capture my affinity for DiNic’s in a simple blog post.  Besides, in the interest of full disclosure, they are friends of mine. Let’s be honest, though. Friends or no friends, their sandwiches are the bomb. In fact, you don’t need me to tell you. Ask this guy or this guy instead. Suffice it to say, their sandwiches are pretty awesome. My personal favorite is the brisket with cheese and greens (broccoli rabe!) but I don’t get it often enough because the brisket isn’t ready until closer to lunch time and I’m usually there early Saturday mornings. Poor me, I guess I’m stuck with the roast beef with peppers and cheese (with some added horseradish and banana peppers.)

Or maybe the sausage with peppers, onions and cheese–a recent discovery of mine.

When I was a vegetarian, Joe would even make me veggie sandwiches with peppers, cheese and greens. You can’t go wrong at this place. I promise.

Circles Thai–An Asian Feast

I like Thai food. A lot. I don’t eat it often because there are no great Thai restaurants in my neck of the woods and, well, if I’m going to grab a quick bite, I’ll usually get Vietnamese. Occasionally, though, I have a real craving for a good, hearty red curry or spicy Thai noodle dish. Until recently, I ordered from a rather expensive place on South Street–our house falls one block inside their delivery radius. A few months ago, however, I saw mention on Twitter of Circles Thai, a Thai take-out/delivery spot just a few blocks from my house. Ummm, what?!?! This was fantastic news! I ordered from them once or twice and knew that this would become a go-to delivery spot for us (especially with Los Jalapenos’ recent demise.) I’ve ordered from them a number of times and have never been disappointed.

This weekend, we decided to meet up with some friends, order takeout and just hang out. A back and forth ensued regarding our cuisine of choice and we happily settled on Thai. We were a hungry bunch and our final order consisted of summer rolls, cheesesteak spring rolls, fried tofu, chicken satay, rice soup, red curry, two Thai beef salads and Pad Kee Mow.

The food came quickly and my friend, Brian, engaged in a brief conversation with the friendly delivery guy that seemed to center around my bulldog and skateboarding. We brought the food into the kitchen to unpack and realize that we had quite a haul.

Brian’s rice soup. I didn’t taste this but he seemed to enjoy it and I think it looked simple and tasty.

The fried tofu. For someone who was a vegetarian for many years, I’ve never been able to get behind tofu. This tofu was good though. Their secret? Frying, duh. Make anything crispy enough and I’ll love it.  Although it did have a nice, crispy coating, the tofu inside still maintained its integrity. There was a syrupy dipping sauce that reminded me a bit of duck sauce.

The summer rolls were pretty straightforward.

The cheesesteak spring rolls. Oh, the cheesesteak spring rolls. When I was in college, I used to go to a Chinese store in Germantown that sold cheesesteak spring rolls and I devoured them like it was my  job. When I saw these on the menu, it brought me back to those days and I eagerly ordered them. These are nothing like the cheesesteak spring rolls of yore. They have a light and flaky wrapping with a flavorful cheesesteak filling–rich meat mingled with onions and cheese. An order gives you three and I could easily house all of them.  It comes with a side of spicy ketchup that I usually toss in the fridge and save for later (it’s actually really good) because I don’t want anything marring the flavor of the spring rolls. Wow, apparently I feel pretty strongly about this dish.

My other favorite is the chicken satay. My husband and I grill a lot and know how difficult it can be to get moist white meat chicken. Circles NAILS this dish. It comes with three huge skewers that are marinated in something unrecognizable but the meat is so, so very tender. There are two dipping sauces on the side. Two sauces?! I can never decide if I prefer the vinegary cucumber sauce or the peanut sauce so I usually alternate between the two.

Oh my gosh, oh my gosh–vegetarians!!! I just checked out the online menu and it looks like they have vegetarian versions of the spring rolls and VEGAN versions of the satay. Love it!

On to the entrees. Teresa went with a red curry. I didn’t taste it but the scent wafted into my  nostrils as I was taking a photo and if it tasted even half as good as it smelled then she was ok. Check out the trails of creamy coconut milk.

I got the Pad Kee Mow (Drunken Noodles) which is wide rice noodles with a garlic chili basil sauce. You can add your choice of proteins but I usually opt for veggie (hold the tofu, please.) By the time I got to this dish, I was pretty full already. It was so darn good, though, that it didn’t stop me from eating and eating. The sauce has just a bit of a kick and I have a serious weakness for wide rice noodles. They’re NOT easy to find on takeout menus in Philadelphia so when I get them, I’m a happy lady.

The story of the night goes to the Thai beef salad. My husband and Brian both ordered it but Brian specified spicy while my husband, Zach, prefers mild. When they started eating, Brian made a few comments about how spicy his dish was and Zach quietly munched. Towards the end of the meal, Zach made a comment along the lines of “if this is mild, I don’t want to taste the hot.” I grabbed a bit of rice and soaked up some of the juices. Holy hell, that dish was HOT!!! I then tasted Brian’s to get a comparison and his was either just as hot or hotter. My taste buds were so burned by then that I couldn’t really tell the difference. Poor Zach liked the salad so much that he finished the whole thing (with a little extra sweat and clear nasal passages of course.) Regardless of Spice-Gate 2011, the gentlemen enjoyed the salads and kept going back for more.

Did I mention we were also celebrating Chinese New Year? Teresa is Chinese-American and has quickly become my resource of all things Chinese (remember when we got Dim Sum?) When we walked in the door, I immediately gravitated to the cookie sheet perched on the counter with these delightful looking won tons.

Teresa informed me that they were nutella-stuffed won ton wrappers that she would be baking for dessert. Meanwhile, she brewed me a cup of tea (ok, this isn’t really because she’s Asian, but just because she likes tea but I couldn’t really fit it anywhere else in the post.)

While she was brewing the “Women’s Favorite Tea” that contains ingredients such as alfalfa and dandelion, she showed me a traditional Chinese tea set that her parents had bought for her boyfriend and explained the process by which the tiny little (shot) cups of tea are served. Interesting stuff.

Another intriguing item that she had was Chinese New Year’s cake. Now, earlier in the day when Teresa told me she’d be attempting this cake, I expected to see flour, sugar and eggs. How wrong I was. Chinese New Year’s cake looks more like this. Well, the sweet version does. Apparently there’s a savory version as well.

Above is the glutinous rice dish pictures before being dipped in egg and pan fried. Here’s the final product of both desserts. Honestly, the “cake” didn’t look so pretty so I strategically placed it near the back of the photo.

Teresa didn’t care for the baked won tons and mentioned that she had probably overcooked them a bit. So they were a little crispy and the nutella inside had hardened a bit. Um, it was still nutella which was ok by me! The cake was interesting and I’m not just saying that to be nice. It was only slightly sweet and heavy on the gluten. It was one of those dishes that I couldn’t tell whether I liked it or not. So I kept eating it.

After that dish, Teresa surprised us with a final dessert of sesame rice balls. Jeez! She must be trying to prepare me for my upcoming trip (20 course tasting menu) to Han Dynasty. The rice balls were glutinous as well, yet slightly less sticky and they were stuffed with a murky, sweet sesame paste. We decided together that this glutinous flavor/consistently is unique to Asian cuisine, which is why my palate was having so much difficulty with it. Really, I just couldn’t tell how I felt about these dishes because they were so unlike any sweet dessert I am accustomed to. In the end, I enjoyed each of them.

The black stuff at the bottom of the bowl is a bit of the sesame stuffing that leaked out of the rice ball. Check out the steam! Ultimately, this was an amazing Asian feast. I love that we started the night in Thailand and ended in China. I’m game to take an intra-continental dinner any time and Saturday did not disappoint thanks to Circles Thai and Teresa!