Khmer Kitchen: From Cambodia with Love

My brother is the nomad of the family. He’s lived in Salt Lake City, London, Ohio and myriad cities in the Middle East, just to name a few. Recently, he fell victim to the death of paper journalism and was hit in a round of layoffs at a newspaper in Florida. He quickly began to freelance (which was aligned with the unfortunate events of the Trayvon Martin case just a few miles from Orlando) in hopes of eventually writing longer pieces for The New Yorker and other fancy rags. Amidst a flurry of writing, he submitted an application to the Phnom Penh Post in Cambodia. A few months later he was packing up, selling his car and moving to Cambodia. Sure, why not.

When he’s abroad, conversations with my brother (thank you, Skype) often involve food. In Cairo I heard about the falafel cart by his apartment, in Jordan it was the tea. Ironically, even though he’s in Cambodia, he hasn’t eaten much Cambodian food. Because there is such a large Vietnamese population, he’s enjoyed enough pho to last a lifetime. Regardless, when I drove past Khmer Kitchen on 6th and Morris a few weeks ago, I was excited to share a gastronomical experience with my brother across the globe. I pulled over, grabbed a menu and impatiently waited for him on Skype. I then proceeded to read much of the menu to him as he could bear (while holding it up to the camera too, of course.) He pointed out lok-lak, sauteed meat over lettuce tomatoes and onions with lime sauce, as a popular Cambodian dish. Then he asked if any dishes had prah-hok in them. I scanned the menu, finding prah-hok kahteeh under the “Traditional Khmer Dish” section.

“What’s that?” I asked him.

He proceeded to describe the dish as little fish being fermented in large buckets. It sounded disgusting…but also kind of intriguing.

The following week, my husband had off from work on a weekday and we decided to check out Khmer Kitchen. We were joined by my father and his friend–Dad was delighted to go to a Cambodian restaurant as he and my mother will be visiting my brother in November.

We walked into the colorful store and sat down. There are about eight tables, two or three of which were filled. The waiter walked over to our table and immediately told us “the only appetizer we have is the meatballs.” Um, ok. Guess we won’t be getting the grilled meat skewers or spring rolls. Boo. The meatballs were priced at $1.50 so I asked if that was per meatball. He responded affirmatively so I ordered one for each of us, with the exception of my father who eschews pork. We also got the bok la-haong (papaya salad) so there was something for Dad.

The salad came out quickly.

Papaya salad is a staple in many Asian cuisines and this one wasn’t earth-shatteringly different than others I’ve had. Fresh and cool with a bit of a kick for the hot, summer day.

The meatballs arrived next. For $1.50 per skewer, we actually got four hearty pork meatballs with a mild chili dipping sauce.

The ordering of the entrees was a complicated affair. My father, husband and father’s friend planned on ordering the same thing (two with beef, one with chicken,) but the waiter convinced us that the portions were “very, very big” and another gentleman walked by to let us know that “Cambodian food is meant for sharing.” We ended up deciding on the same dish–one of chicken, one of beef; fried calamari and the pra-hok that I was just dying to try. It was a confusing interaction and I was intrigued to see what we would actually end up with.

Khmer Kitchen seems to be a family affair, with the older parents cooking in the kitchen, younger folks waiting tables and youngest children hanging out, playing games behind the counter. The dishes are all cooked to order which can mean hurry up and wait. Finally, the first dish came out.

Whoops, miscommunication. We got two of the sauteed beef with celery and peppers.

The dish was simple yet tasty. The tender beef had a bit of heat and a slight curry flavor. I don’t know that I would order two of the exact same dish next time, but it was certainly a solid option.

Next up was my pra-hok. Yes!

The waiter told me that I could pick up the veggies and spoon a little pra-hok on them all fancy “like caviar” or I could do it “like we do it” and load a bunch of veggies together with a huge dollop of the ground pork. I think I hit those two somewhere in between. When I initially ordered the pra-hok, the waiter perked up, mentioning that it was a Cambodian special. The dish did not fail to delight. It was smooth and creamy with just a hint of coconut and little heat. The vegetables were a great vehicle for the pork, letting the protein shine. My favorite veg for this purpose was probably the cabbage as it has little flavor and perfectly encapsulated the meat. This is a great dish for sharing and no need to be scared of the fermented fish. There was no fish flavor to be found. I’m not sure if I was happy or sad about that one.

Next came the fried calamari.

The calamari wasn’t heavily breaded and was surprisingly tender. It was reminiscent of salt and pepper squid that you might find at a Vietnamese restaurant.

We waited and waited some more and finally out came the chicken saute.

Nope, not the chicken saute. I think it was the Sah-Law Kah-Rhee Mohn, a curry chicken dish also listed in the “Traditional Khmer Dish” section. The waiter did, at some point, suggest that dish but none of us quite remembered ordering it. Oh wells. It was a nice change with lots of veggies, peanuts and a not-too-overwhelming curry flavor.

This feast was a whopping $55 for four people, an incredible deal given the amount of food we ate (and leftovers we went home with.) The service is slow, yet friendly and they pour bottled water to everyone. I will certainly be making a return trip or two and hope their appetizer menu expands on my next visit.

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Not Just Pork at Jake’s Sandwich Board

Since its opening two years ago, Jake’s Sandwich Board has gotten great buzz from the foodie world and Center City lunch crowd alike.  I’d been meaning to go and finally ventured there when Level Up ran a promotion where anyone using the app would get $10 to spend at Jake’s. What the hell, free lunch.

We popped in and got to know a little more about Level Up, but then we got down to business with our order. During our conversation with the friendly Level Up gentleman, he pointed out one of the specials–BBQ brisket with swiss, sauerkraut and Russian dressing. Sold. My husband went with the Barnyard–pork, ground veal, sharp provolone, spinach, roasted peppers and roasted garlic spread. I also wanted to try the fried pickles that Midtown Lunch had raved about. There was a quick moment of terror when they thought they might be out of pickles. As it turned out, they had ONE order left. It was obviously meant to be. Then I saw the farm fries. Crispy fries topped with sharp provolone, pulled pork, bacon and homemade pork gravy. STOP IT RIGHT NOW! We obviously had to get them too! With the $10 promo and $5 for signing up, we ended up paying just $10 for all that food! I took a seat and twiddled my thumbs as we awaited our bounty, which came in just a few short minutes.

The Barnyard had a nice, Italian flare. It was stuffed to the brim with meat and topped generously with sharp provolone and fresh veggies (to make you feel a tad bit healthier.)
But I was more interested in this.

The dill pickles were thinly sliced and coated with a light batter with a creamy sriracha dipping sauce. It was the perfect side dish and a complete steal at just $2. The pickles were warm and crispy and the sauce provided the perfect heat to balance out the crunch. Heaven.

My sandwich was pretty darn good too.

Just look at it! Brisket slathered in sauce and topped with gooey Russian dressing, Swiss cheese and a hearty portion of sauerkraut. This is a six-napkin sandwich, folks. There is nothing not to like about it. The BBQ sauce was sweet but not overwhelming and the tangy kraut is always a palate-pleaser.

While one might think this sandwich would distract me, I also managed to dive headfirst into these guys.

LOOK AT THAT!!! These are no Caffe Chicco “gravy fries,” my friend. You can SEE the hunks of pork and crispy bit of bacon slathered generously atop these fries. When I’m looking for a gravy fry, THIS is what I’m talkin’ ’bout.

Jake’s Sandwich Board is making some of the better sandwiches in Philadelphia these days. Not sure why it took me so long to get there but I can certainly promise I’ll be back soon. Farm fries. Swoon.

Editor’s note: If you’re not using LevelUp, you’re missing out! It’s a way to pay using your smart phone by linking it to a credit card. It’s fast and you gain rewards by using it at certain merchants. For example, for each $100 you spend at Giunta’s in The Reading Terminal, you get $10. Sign up here using my referral code (172989)  and we’ll both get $5 to spend anywhere!

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.

Guacamole Mex-Grill

Having grown up in the neighborhood, West Philly remains one of my favorite places in the city. It’s amazing to see the transformation that has taken place outside of just the Baltimore Avenue corridor. Four Worlds Bakery, for example, on 46th and Woodland, has one of the best olive rosemary loaves I’ve ever tasted and it makes people walk south of Baltimore or even, gasp, south of Chester Avenue!

I was recently at my parents’ and wanted to grab a bite to eat with my husband and sister. My parents recommended this new little place that had just opened at 46th and Woodland called “Guacamole.” 46th and Woodland?? I thought. My parents said they hadn’t been there yet but had heard good things and I figured this could turn into a little blogging adventure. I was ready to hop into the car when my sister said “why don’t we just walk?” I guess I’m turning into a South Philly suburbanite. I never would have thought to walk to 46th and Woodland, which is all of 4 blocks away from my parents.

We strolled down a sun-kissed 47th street. West Philadelphia is just so perfect sometimes. When we arrived at Guacamole, its color stood out admidst the otherwise drab homes and businesses on the block.

We stepped inside the bright and cheery looking space and stepped up to the counter. Guacamole is small, with only about 15-20 seats. You order at the counter and they bring your food to the table.

My husband and I couldn’t decide which two burritos to get so we went with carne asada (beef) and al pastor (pork.) The Row Home Eats family has high standards for burritos as we order from our beloved Los Jalapenos 3-4 times a month. Every burrito we eat is always compared to “3 Jalas” as we call it for short. I also ordered a side of tortilla soup because, well, I wanted to try as much as possible. My sister opted for the simple chips and guacamole.

The guacamole came out first and I only had a small bite. It was decent–not the best, not the worst. I prefer mine a bit chunkier with less tang to the tongue.

I love how colorful the place is, from the outside facade to the paint choices and even the brightly colored baskets that the food is served in.

The soup came up next and boy was it a disappointment.

The thing that just makes a perfect tortilla soup is the broth and this was bland and underseasoned to the point of me not wanting to finish it, EVEN with the crispy tortilla strips as accompaniments.

I had high hopes for the burritos.

The burritos were decent-sized. Probably a bit smaller than “3 Jalas” or your local burrito chain. Good new is that the flavor that was missing in the soup was evident in the meat. Both the carne asada and al pastor were flavorful and sweet. My only complaint (and I think it’s legit, don’t think I was being piggy) is that I wish there was a bit more meat, less filling. My parents went to  Guacamole recently and raved about their dishes. If I went back, I think the way to go would be to order one of their platters that highlights the meat a little more. I’m ok with paying $8.50 for a burrito but I want that burrito to be meat forward. You can’t fault for me that!

If the owners spend some time tinkering with some of the flavors and ratios, this place could be a great quick lunch option for those of you who happen to find yourselves in the neighborhood. Oh, and if you do, make sure you swing by Four Worlds Bakery on your way home for a fresh soft pretzel. That’s what we did.

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.

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.)

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.

Adsum Collab Dinner with Kevin Sbraga

There are so many things I love about Twitter. One of them is the ability to connect and communicate with people with whom you might not otherwise know. Another is that it allows one to be a voyeur, of sorts, watching others interact with one another. This brings me to my  most recent meal. A few months ago, Adsum chef, Matt Levin and Top Chef Season 7 winner, Kevin Sbraga were chatting on Twitter.  As their online (and very public) conversation unfolded, they made plans to cook a collaborative dinner at Adsum. As an Adsum and Top Chef fan, I thought that sounded neat and tucked it into the back of my mind. Soon thereafter, I caught sight of the details, once again on Twitter, and booked a reservation for four knowing nothing about the menu or pricing but banking on Chef Levin’s top notch cuisine and Chef Sbraga, well, dude won Top Chef.

The day of the dinner, my best friend called out sick from dinner. She’s a huge Top Chef fan and I knew she had to be in bad shape to miss the dinner. Nonetheless, I was sad to see her go. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find another pair to join us and we had to change our reservation at the last minute. I hate doing that.

As we prepared to leave the house, Twitter provided us with a sneak peek as my friend, Amy, had the earlier seating. From her reports, we were in for a fantastic meal. We left the house with intentions of taking the bus and ended up taking a cab whose “meter didn’t work.” Oh well, better deal for both of us.

We walked in the door of the light and airy restaurant and were seated immediately. We were even lucky enough to have my friend, Jason, as our all-star waiter for the evening.  We  browsed the menu and I was immediately a little nervous for the pig tails. For someone who doesn’t eat much pork, pig tails seemed to be just a bit, um, adventurous.

Although I didn’t realize there would be a wine pairing, we both opted for it upon Jason’s suggestion. We were almost immediately bestowed with some bubbly in champagne saucers (which my husband just adores.) My wine recollections for the night will be poor as I’m belated in my blogging, but each one paired nicely with the dish, especially the bubbly and the sparkling rose with dessert.

The first course was a variation of eggplant (crispy, charred and marmalade.) I wasn’t sure what to expect from this as eggplant isn’t exactly my favorite veg.

Much to my surprise (ok, I wasn’t actually that surprised) this dish was quite enjoyable. Although I was especially a fan of the marmalade, the three variations played off of one another nicely–and I always enjoy a nice crunch which the fried version so nicely provided. This was also one of Winston Justice’s favorite dishes, as he told me later on Twitter.

The next course was probably my favorite dish of the evening–smoked mahi with cabbage slaw and green goddess dressing.

While smoked fish can sometimes have a very strong flavor, this mahi had such a subtle smoke that it was almost undetectable. The fish was cooked perfectly and had none of that overly fishy flavor. This dish as a whole was clean, light and refreshing and was paired with a white that was just as crisp and drinkable.

Uh oh, the pig tails were up next. We received our third wine and first red of the night. It was robust and matched the strong porky flavors nicely.

Pork cheeks adobo are on the top and the crispy Korean-style pig tails on the bottom. Both of these were phenomenal and packed with flavor in their own unique way. The pig tails felt almost like chicken wings (which made me feel a little better) and the pork cheek was fork tender. I could have eaten either one of these all night, but I was especially partial to the pork cheek adobo.

We ended the night with a chocolate moelleux with a beetroot ice cream paired with a sparkling rose. The moelleux tasted like a brownie but the star of the plate was the ice cream. I literally felt like I was eating liquefied beets. The flavor was so fresh and prominent.

Chefs Levin and Sbraga were in and out of the kitchen throughout the evening, mingling with guests and quite obviously having fun with one another.  My husband and I had the opportunity to chat with Chef Sbraga for a bit and then we snapped this photo on the way out the door. Pardon the sunburn–those are the downfalls of being a softball coach. Check out these two four-eyed cuties!