Archive for the 'New American' Category



Audrey Claire

May 25, 2007
Cuisine: American (New), Tapas

276 S 20th Street, Philadelphia 19103
Between Rittenhouse Square & Spruce Street

Phone: 215-731-1222
Website: http://www.audreyclaire.com

Course I: Spicy Hummus, House Cured Salmon and Mesclun with Herb Vinaigrette Flatbread ($9.50)

Course II: Buffalo Mozzarella, Plum Tomatoes, and Israeli Basil Flatbread ($9)

Course III: Grilled Octopus with Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Lemon and Fresh Herbs Over Greens ($8)

Course IV: Grilled Shrimp with Saffron Rice, Spring Peas, Chorizo and Paprika Vinaigrette ($11)

Course V: Spiced Lamb Meatball with Chickpea-Carrot Salad ($10)

Course VI: Sauteed Softshell Crabs with Black Bean and Roasted Corn Salsa ($23)

After four years of arduous seminars, tough problem sets, and way too much stress, the madness that is Swarthmore College finally ended for The Astronomer late last week. To properly commemorate this red letter day, champagne, good food, and great friends were in order. The Astronomer and I, along with his BFF Matt and teammate Connor, headed over to Audrey Claire for a celebratory feast with a bottle of bubbly in hand (and a lot of beers too).

Due to the extensive wait for a table outside, we opted to sit indoors. Luckily our group was large enough to merit our own table rather than a communal one because I hate hearing other diners’ conversations, which is oftentimes unavoidable in this compact space.

I always have a blast eating at Audrey Claire because the menu encourages mixing and matching flavors and sharing food family-style. My dining partners were refreshingly open-minded eaters so it was a breeze choosing which dishes to order.

We started off with two of Audrey Claire’s signature flatbreads. The spicy hummus with house cured salmon did not disappoint. I’ve tried this dish once prior and it was just as good as I remembered. Truly a perfect summertime delight. The Buffalo mozzarella, plum tomatoes, and Israeli basil flatbread was excellent as well, but perhaps too closely resembled a pizza. High quality ingredients and simple flavors are what makes these flatbreads sensational.

The Astronomer insisted that we order the grilled octopus because he is mildly obsessed with the tentacled creature. When the dish arrived, we were all let down by the ratio of octopus to greens; from the menu’s description we thought the octopus would be the star. Expectations aside, the dish was pleasantly light and the octopus was decent in spite of being chopped up into bits.

Our fourth course was chosen by Matt—Grilled Shrimp with Saffron Rice, Spring Peas, Chorizo and Paprika Vinaigrette. The one shrimp I had was suitable, but not as jumbo or juicy as I would have liked. The vinaigrette added a lovely tang to the shrimp. We all agreed that the saffron rice was more or less blah. I’m always surprised by how mild saffron tastes because its dying properties are indeed phenomenal.

Our fifth course—Spiced Lamb Meatball with Chickpea-Carrot Salad—was the highlight of the evening and perhaps the best dish I’ve ever eaten at Audrey Claire. The meatballs were intensely savory and impressively retained a deep lamb flavor. The chickpea-carrot salad was sweet, cinnamon-y, and amazingly delicious. The Astronomer usually shuns chickpeas, but loved the salad a great deal. A subtle mint sauce brought the dish to a whole new level.

Our final course was one of the evening’s specials—softshell crabs. Two good-sized crabs were fried up nicely, drizzled with spicy mayonnaise, and paired with a black bean and roasted corn salsa. The individual elements of the dish were tasty, but the entree overall lacked a certain something to tie it all together. I’m always a sucker for ordering specials and unfortunately they always seem to be a let down; I need to stick to the tried and true menu items.

FYI: this post marks the 100th restaurant review on gas•tron•o•my!

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Bridget Foy’s

May 20, 2007
Cuisine: American (New), Bistro

200 South St, Philadelphia 19147
At S 2nd St

Phone: 215-922-1813
Website: http://bridgetfoys.com/

Pear and Goat Cheese Salad / spiced pecans / roasted pear vinaigrette ($9)

Blueberry Ricotta Pancakes / lemon zest / sausage links ($9)

Stuffed French Toast / apples / bananas / dried cherries / orange butter ($9)

I adore lazy Sunday brunches with all of my heart. Leisurely rolling out of bed, slipping on some comfy clothes, heading to an easy-going joint—relaxation at its finest.

As much as I enjoy this in between meal, I hardly ever go because my dining partner of choice is always pounding the lush pavement at Valley Green on Sunday mornings. However, now that The Astronomer has temporarily hung up his well-worn racing flats, we will hopefully be brunching more often.

Last Sunday, we moseyed over to Bridget Foy’s for our inaugural post-track star brunch. The weather was perfect for outdoor dining on the restaurant’s front porch.

The Astronomer ordered a salad to start. The Pear and Goat Cheese Salad with spiced pecans and roasted pear vinaigrette was top-notch and the highlight of the meal for The Astronomer. The greens were fresh and the vinaigrette was delightful. The sliced Red Bartlett Pears were crisp and mild. The spiced pecans were my favorite part of the salad and were indeed deliciously spicy.

For his main entree, The Astronomer ordered the Blueberry Ricotta Pancakes with lemon zest and sausage links. The pancakes were a bit on the wimpy side—thin, flat, light—and not at all lemony. A proper drenching of Grade A maple syrup upon the pancakes made them better, but that’s not saying much because maple syrup makes everything tastier. The sausage was average breakfast sausage, only slightly plumper.

My Stuffed French Toast was a knock-out once the kitchen stopped charring the edges to a bloody crisp. The first one that arrived was toxically black along the crust so I had to send it back. The second one was still burnt, but a vast improvement upon the first. Unlike traditional French toast, Bridget’s are covered with a crumble of sorts, which adds sweetness and texture, but sadly gets scorched in the frying pan. The bread is fluffy, but not nearly as pillow-y as Sabrina’s Challah. The stuffing was the best part; I love how the dried cherries became nicely juicy! The orange butter was pretty awesome as well.

Bridget Foy’s offers a tasty South Philly brunch, without the laborious South Philly wait.

Rae

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May 12, 2007
Cuisine: American (New)

2929 Arch St, Philadelphia 19104
At N 30th St

Phone: 215-922-3839
Website: www.raerestaurant.com



Multi-Grain Bread with Three Butters – Escarole and White Bean, Herb, Salted (complimentary)

Tuna Pizza ($15)

Rabbit Nachos ($10)

Venison Cheesesteak with Fries ($18)

Onion Rings ($6)

The Astronomer: In search of a quiet and romantic dinner on a recent Saturday night, the Gastronomer and I decided to try Rae—the highly praised new restaurant in the Cira Center behind 30th Street Station. Our first impression upon arriving was that the ambiance was, well, strange. Rae is essentially located in the lobby of the building, underneath the escalator and scarcely cut off from the main entrance. The restaurant has several sections, with those in the rear boasting more of the secluded feeling typical of a nice restaurant. We were originally given a table in the center of the front room, but with most of the tables around us vacant and the ceiling several stories above, it didn’t feel right, so we asked to be moved closer to the open kitchen. I can appreciate the desire of Rae’s creators to do something unique and daring with the space, but the end result left me yearning for the cozy confines of Center City’s BYOBs.

Fortunately, the food was another matter. Rae has a unique menu offering an interesting range of items, from creative takes on classic pub food to beef tenderloin and dry aged rib chop. Eager to try a number of different offerings, the Gastronomer and I decided to forgo a traditional main course in favor of several smaller dishes. We had heard that the smoked rabbit nachos were not to be missed, and the Gastronomer was also looking forward to the onion rings. After asking some clarifying questions about the minimalist menu, we chose the seared tuna pizza and venison cheesesteak to round out the meal.

Two tasty multi-grain rolls were brought to our table, along with a tray featuring three special whipped butters. Although the white bean and escarole butter looked cool, it tasted indistinguishable from the standard salted butter. The herb butter, on the other hand, was incredible. I’m usually not a butter guy, but the Rae’s herb butter prompted me to slather extra saturated fats on my bread like never before.

At the advice of our waitress, we ordered the nachos and pizza brought out together and then paired the cheesesteak with the onion rings for our second course. Having missed the memo that the “nachos” were actually empanadas, I was surprised and delighted by what arrived at our table: flaky pockets stuffed with deliciously salty rabbit meat, a touch of cheese, and other goodness. The nachos came with a mild jalapeño dipping sauce that added a soothing coolness, but could have been ignored without lessening my enjoyment. It was apparently a favorite of the chef, because the exact same sauce was drizzled across our tuna pizza. The pizza complemented the nachos’ saltiness beautifully: it featured a thin crust topped with layers of tuna carpaccio and larger pieces of seared tuna, along with pickled onions and cilantro that reminded me of bánh mì. Sprinkled among the toppings were occasional pieces of popcorn. I’m not sure why—rumor has it they were citrus-dusted, but they didn’t really taste like anything or add much to the appearance of the pizza.

By the time the rest of our food arrived, I was already a fan of Rae, and the venison cheesesteak only increased my admiration. The venison exploded with an intense, deep flavor that could never be achieved by chopped beef, and the cheese, onions, and toasted bread were uniformly delicious. I think it’s safe to say that among all of the “cheesesteaks” I have tasted in Philly, this one was the best (take that, Pat’s and Geno’s!). The cheesesteak came with our choice of either French fries or a green salad. Regrettably, I chose the fries; among the two options, I thought they had the better chance to be spectacular, but in fact they tasted somewhat burnt and were not seasoned with much creativity. Maybe we could have used a salad after all the greasy food we consumed. By the time I got halfway through the cheesesteak, I was feeling quite full, so I put the fries aside and concentrated on the more dazzling components of the meal. The onion rings were excellent, proving once again that Rae knows how to make ordinary stadium food into something amazing. I’ll have to sample Buddakan’s onion rings again before bestowing the title of “best in Philly” upon one or the other.

All in all, I found our dinner at Rae to be unique and quite satisfying. So far the restaurant’s popularity has not grown enough to fill its 220 seats on a Saturday night, and the feeling of emptiness only enhanced the strange vibe I got from the unusual layout. This was unfortunate, because the food was extremely well-executed, and the service was excellent. Hopefully, locals and travelers through 30th Street Station will look past the misplaced modernism of the building and give the food a chance—they definitely won’t be disappointed.

Cottonwood Grille

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May 10, 2007
Cuisine: New American

913 W River St Ste 913
Boise, ID 83702

Phone: 208-333-9800
Website: www.cottonwoodgrille.com/

Bread and butter (complimentary)

Appetizer: Mixed Greens with Cottonwood Grille Vinaigrette

Entree: Salmon in a Cage – Fresh farm raised salmon filet wrapped in crispy Idaho potato and finished with a lemon beurre blanc ($17.95)

Dessert I: Crème Brûlée – Creamy fresh vanilla bean custard with a thin caramelized sugar crust ($6.95)

Dessert II: Raspberry Brûlée – Ripe raspberries mixed in a creamy fresh vanilla bean custard, topped with a thin caramelized sugar crust ($7.95)

Just three days in Boise and I’m totally infatuated with the place. It turns out I’m a sucker for cities with great running terrain, dry heat, and friendly people.

For my final meal in The City of Trees, my colleagues and I dined at The Cottonwood Grille—a local restaurant serving up “Contemporary Northwest Cuisine.” The bill of fare includes pastas, vegetarian options, prime beef, chicken, pork, and fish, but due to our large group (30+), we were limited to a smaller menu.

For appetizers, we had a choice between a Caesar salad and mixed greens; I went with the mixed greens. The salad was composed mainly of Romain lettuce with a few spinach leaves, julienned carrots, cucumbers, and tomatoes. The vegetables were fresh and the vinaigrette achieved a perfect balance of acidity and oily, which is more difficult than it sounds.

Our main course choices were steak, seafood linguine, salmon, chicken, and a vegetarian stir fry with tofu and seitan. After many days on the road, palette fatigue set in and none of the options sounded particularly appetizing. I was initially leaning toward the stir fry because faux meats are fabulous, but was suspicious of the singular Asian-esque dish in a sea of American fare. What is most bothersome about Cottonwood’s menu is their lack of mentioning side dishes. Oftentimes when I’m deciding between different entrees, I take accompaniments into account. I eventually settled on the salmon after much internal debate.

The salmon was better than I expected due to the buttery hash browns seared into its flesh. The tastiest bites included potatoes and lemon beurre blanc, while the bites of plain fish were bland. The salmon was served with green beans, rice pilaf, and butternut squash. The green beans were sauteed in garlic and shallots and were delicious. The rice was unadorned and good. My favorite side dish was the cinnamon-y butternut squash; its sweetness contrasted well with the other elements on my plate.

For dessert, we had a choice between raspberry brûlée and hazelnut cheesecake. I ordered the raspberry brûlée, but was brought a regular brûlée by mistake. I did not realize the error until I could not find any raspberries in my dessert. The regular crème brûlée was excellent. The sugary crust was evenly golden and the crème was luxuriously smooth and contained tiny flecks of vanilla bean. The raspberry brûlée was stellar as well. Wonderfully ripe raspberries were placed into the custard post-baking, but pre-torching. The berries paired amazingly with the crème brûlée.

The Milky Way

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May 8, 2007
Cuisine: American

205 N 10th St # 101,
Boise, ID 83702

Phone: 208-343-4334
Website: www.milkywayboise.com/

Squaw bread with butter (complimentary)

Entree I: Grilled Black Forest Ham and Swiss Cheese with Dijon mayo on whole wheat bread served with House Salad – tomatoes and cucumbers tossed in a Sherry vinaigrette ($7.25)

Dessert: Lemongrass Cardomom Crème Brûlée ($5)

Conjuring up Idaho in my head, I pictured an agricultural landscape with countless miles of potato fields and farmers tending to their crops in denim overalls and straw hats. Imagining the food scene in this unfamiliar state, I saw myself eating spuds at every meal prepared in a plethora of ways—au gratin, mashed, fried, baked, stuffed, and scalloped.

Although Idaho and potatoes will always be synonymous with one another in my mind, the offerings in Boise are much more interesting than I anticipated. Downtown Boise contains a fair number of chains, but also boasts Thai restaurants, a few sushi joints, and even a handful of Basque eateries. I haven’t been able to sample much of the fare due to work, but am thoroughly impressed by the variety and quality of eats available in this town. Maybe we are the United States of Arugula after all.

I read rave reviews about The Milky Way prior to arriving in Boise and headed there for a casual lunch on my first day in the city. With temperatures in the mid-80’s, I could not resist dining alfresco on their front patio. The menu consists mostly of classic American comfort foods like meatloaf and macaroni and cheese with a few twists thrown in such as braised beef cheeks and shrimp and scallop potstickers. In an uncharacteristically unadventurous mood, I chose the Grilled Black Forest Ham and Swiss Cheese sandwich.

I was brought a small loaf of squaw bread to munch on while waiting for my entree. The bread was freshly baked, subtly sweet, and tasted like a cross between rye and whole wheat. I liked it quite a bit. My sandwich arrived not too long after.

The sandwich and side salad were both simple and delicious. The whole wheat bread had a tinge of sour and was toasty without being greasy. The cheese and ham were good, but nothing out of the ordinary. The Dijon mustard added some zing; I’ll have to start adding mustard to my homemade grilled sandwiches. The salad was fresh and evenly dressed.

For dessert, my waitress recommended the Lemongrass Cardomom Crème Brûlée, which sounded fabulous. I find crème brûlée irresistible even though it has become commonplace—there’s just something about tapping through the sugary shell and reaching the creamy custard that gets me every time. There were definite notes of cardomom within the crème, but the lemongrass was unfortunately not strong. The candied sugar crust was beautifully golden and thick. The crème brûlée was satisfying, but I would have enjoyed it more had the custard’s temperature been even and the shell uniformly scorched.