Archive for the 'Philadelphia' Category

Buddakan

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June 26, 2007
Cuisine: Asian, Eclectic & International, Pan-Asian & Pacific Rim

325 Chestnut St, Philadelphia 19106
Btwn S 3rd St & S 4th St

Phone: 215-574-9440
Website: http://www.buddakan.com/

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Appetizer: Crispy Calamari Salad ($9)

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Entree I: Grilled Teriyaki Salmon – served with stir fried long beans, cream cheese and arugula sushi rolls ($25)  

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Entree II: Asian Barbeque Pork – grilled tenderloin with Chinese broccoli and giant panko crusted onion rings ($26)

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Dessert I: “Dip Sum” Doughnuts – five spice sugar doughnuts, blackberry jam, chocolate sauce, gingered cream cheese ($9)

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Dessert II: Banana Tower – rum glazed bananas, caramel cream in a cookie tower ($9)  

Philly diners either love or hate Steven Starr, but there’s no denying that he is an influential player in the city’s food scene. I have always been an enthusiast of Starr’s restaurants and believe that his venues add value and variety to the dining landscape.

I once read that Starr built his empire around booze and babes, but for a gal who hardly ever drinks and is happily smooching one Astronomer, I enjoy his joints for a simpler reason—Starr and his minions crank out some really good eats. Striped Bass, Alma de Cuba, and Morimoto are all stellar, but Buddakan remains my favorite through and through.

For my last supper in the City of Brotherly love, The Astronomer and I headed to Old City to pay the obnoxious, glowing Buddha one last visit. For a Tuesday evening, the restaurant was packed and loud. In fact, the main dining room was so noisy that we requested a different table from our original seating. We were ultimately placed upstairs in a table next to the one we sat at on New Year’s Eve (!), which made conversation easier on the pipes.

Buddakan’s entrees and desserts have always been right on point, but their appetizers tend to leave me dissatisfied. We asked our waiter for a recommendation and he suggested we try the Crispy Calamari Salad. A small order of the salad was humongous and composed of five different types of greens including Napa cabbage, bok choy, and watercress. The salad was topped with a sweet miso dressing that complemented the greens and calamari wonderfully. The salad was cool, refreshing, and a great start to our dinner.

For our entrees, The Astronomer and I ordered our two favorite dishes, the Grilled Teriyaki Salmon and Asian Barbecue Pork. I requested the salmon be prepared rare and it came out just as I asked, which kept the meat tender yet flakey. The cream cheese and arugula sushi rolls were amazing (as always) and were my favorite part of the dish. Although the combination of ingredients inside the sushi may sound a bit strange, trust me when I say that the flavors really meld nicely together.

The pork dish was also delectable, especially the gigantic panko crusted onion rings. The pork tenderloin was thinly sliced, served in a hoisin based sauce, and arranged beautifully on the platter. The meat was moist and paired well with the sautéed Chinese broccoli. The Astronomer loves eating his greens when they’re covered in a delicious glaze.

For dessert we each ordered our own delight because The Astronomer dislikes bananas and I had to have a Banana Tower. I enjoyed a Banana Tower once prior with my brother but haven’t ordered it for a long while due to The Astronomer’s aversion. While I would normally insist on splitting dessert, since it was our final dinner in the city, splurging on two was totally acceptable.

The Tower combines two of my favorite ingredients—bananas and caramel—in a thick and buttery cookie. I enjoyed demolishing the cookie Tower and coupling it with the caramel pudding and ripe bananas. It’s amazingly easy to finish a dessert solo when it’s this divine.

The Astronomer enjoyed his donuts thoroughly and had a look of utter bliss on his face as he ate them. The donuts appeared to be a lot bigger than the ones served in the past, but The Astronomer managed to finish them with ease. The blackberry and ginger cream cheese were his favorite accompaniments.

Our dinner at Buddakan was unbelievably marvelous and provided the perfect ending to our Philadelphia adventure. Peace, Philly.

Crepêrie Beau Monde

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June 24, 2007
Cuisine: French, Desserts & Bakeries, Other

624 S 6th Street, Philadelphia 19147
At Bainbridge St

Phone: 215-592-0656
Website: www.creperie-beaumonde.com

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Entree I: Smoked Salmon / Saumon Fume Buckwheat Crêpe – with roasted leeks and crème fraîche ($10)

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Entree II: Mushrooms/Champignons Buckwheat Crêpe – saute of wild & domestic mushrooms and mushroom sauce ($7)

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Dessert I: Wheat Crêpe with Bananas and Dulce de Leche ($6.75)

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Dessert II: Wheat Crêpe with Fresh Raspberries, Chocolate and Vanilla Ice Cream ($11.75)

By now, longtime readers of gas•tron•o•my probably know that The Astronomer and I simply adore Crepêrie Beau Monde. Every time we have friends or family in town or are asked for restaurant recommendations, we always insist upon Beau Monde for their wonderful crêpes and unparalleled atmosphere. I have been dining here since my college days and will not likely find crêpes better than Beau Monde’s anywhere, unless of course I’m in the Breton region of France!

For our penultimate meal in the city, The Astronomer and I headed to Beau Monde for one final feast of crêpes. Since I will not be returning to the restaurant in the near future due to my pending move, I figured it would be best to stick to my favorites rather than experiment with new ingredients. I ordered the mushroom savory crêpe and the dulce de leche with bananas sweet crêpe, both of which I’ve had on many occasions. The savory and sweet crêpes were as delightful as I remembered, but a tad drier than the ones I’ve had prior. Who knows when my next trip to Beau Monde will be, but I will request saucier crêpes when I return.   

The Astronomer’s savory crêpe, smoked salmon with roasted leeks and crème fraîche, has always been one of his old standbys. He commented that the combination of flavors from the salmon, crêpe, and leeks were very good, but overall the crêpe was too dry; additional sauce would have made for a more complete and satisfying package. The Astronomer’s sweet crepe with raspberries, chocolate sauce, and vanilla ice cream was everything he hoped it would be. The chocolate and berries went together beautifully and the cool ice cream topped off the entire creation perfectly.

Philadelphia’s vibrant restaurant scene is chalk full of good eateries, but I find myself returning to Beau Monde time after time for their immense value, unique offerings, and gorgeous space.

Rita’s Water Ice

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June 20 and 25, 2007
Cuisine: Philadelphian, Dessert

1511 Spruce Street
Philadelphia, PA

Phone: 215-545-7661
Website: http://www.ritasice.com/

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Gelati – Rita’s vanilla old-fashioned frozen custard layered with Alex’s Lemonade water ice

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Toppers – Vanilla Custard with Caramel

Back in the day when I was a frosh on the Swarthmore Cross Country team, my captains introduced me to a fantastic tradition called a Rita’s Run. These runs typically occurred twice a year; once during pre-season and again on the first day of spring. The run began at the college, went through Wallingford, and ended at the Rita’s located in Media. Upon arriving at Rita’s, we removed our sweaty money from our shoes, and ordered the frozen delight that moved us most. I usually ordered either a water ice or a Gelati. Our run back to school was always a little painful as the treats sloshed around in our tummies, but trust me, it was totally worth it.

These days the closest Rita’s is a short walk from my apartment, which makes for a lovelier stroll than run. During my final days in the city, I hit up Rita’s as often as possible because sadly, water ice has not yet spread from sea to shining sea.

While Rita’s signature water ice is refreshing, my all-time favorite offering is their Gelati. A Gelati is composed of layers of old-fashioned frozen custard and water ice and served in a cup. The Astronomer and I have tried a variety of custard and water ice combinations throughout the years, but our most beloved mishmash is vanilla custard with lemon water ice. The creamy vanilla custard coupled with the tart lemon water ice makes for a wonderful summer dessert or afternoon snack. I love the bits of lemon zest within the water ice.

On a recent visit to Rita’s, I was in the mood for something other than Gelati and ordered a Toppers. A Toppers is chocolate or vanilla custard doused with either hot fudge or caramel. I ordered a vanilla custard with caramel topping. The caramel was lip smacking-ly delightful and oh so gooey. The topper definitely satisfied my sweet tooth, but was not cool like a Gelati is.

Szechuan Hunan

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June 22, 2007
Cuisine: Chinese

274 S 20th St, Philadelphia 19103
Btwn Rittenhouse Sq & Spruce St

Phone: 215-546-8080
Website: none


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Wonton Chips with Duck Sauce (complimentary)

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Szechuan Tofu ($6.95)

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Bird’s Nest ($11.95)

The Astronomer: When I recently discovered that no less than three of my friends in the Philadelphia area have birthdays during the same week as mine, plans for a joint celebration began to materialize. It was of course essential that the gathering involve amazing food, so I began researching possible destinations. I wanted to try somewhere new, preferably a reasonably priced BYOB. After much thought, I settled on a restaurant that The Gastronomer and I had long been yearning to try: Mama Palma’s Gourmet Pizza. We had heard nothing but good things about the food, although I did read some rather alarming comments in customer reviews concerning the service. “No matter,” I thought, “We’re a carefree and considerate group, and besides, we’ll probably be drunk. It won’t matter if the waitress is a little grouchy.” How wrong I was.

Mama Palma’s does not take reservations, so The Gastronomer stopped by early in the evening to sign us up for a table at 7:30. When the hour came, several members of our party were late to arrive, and we were informed that only full groups could be seated. Fair enough. It’s a small restaurant—it makes sense that they wouldn’t want to waste space by seating incomplete parties. Finally everyone arrived. The Gastronomer went inside and informed the hosts that our party would include 9 people, rather than 8 as we originally had expected. They grudgingly marked off the 8 on the list and wrote a 9. It became clear that reserving a table early in the evening had been futile, as they were not going to actually place us in line for a table until we were all present. We asked for an expected wait time and were told 15 minutes.

Two or three times during the next hour one of us cheerfully asked how the prospects were looking for being seated. We were alternately ignored or greeted with a tone of acute annoyance. Some in their hunger wondered whether we should just screw it and head over to the Irish Pub, but in general our spirits remained high. We could tell that there was one particular table that they wanted to seat our party at, and it looked like the current occupants would be gone before long.

Finally, at almost 9:00 we were called inside. The table had been set with 8 chairs. “Oh, remember, we have 9… it’s okay, we’ll just pull up a chair.” At this point the manager stormed out of the kitchen and basically screamed at us: “You can’t pull up a chair. I won’t put up with this any more! Either one of you leaves, or you don’t eat here!” We briefly protested: “Come on, be reasonable… there’s plenty of room… we’ve been waiting so long…”, but the response was absolutely not. He seemed to genuinely think that we would send a friend home so that the rest of us could stay and enjoy the pizza. I offered to share a seat with The Gastronomer, but to no avail. We headed for the door. In the shuffle The Gastronomer left her purse hanging on a chair, and I had to awkwardly squeeze by the raging manager to get around to the far side of the table and retrieve it. I felt a legitimate fear that he might deck me with a right cross. Some of the younger employees looked uncomfortable and apologetic but obviously feared for their jobs if they should speak up.

As frequent readers of the site will have noticed, I generally come away with good impressions of most every place that I eat at, but I am truly appalled by Mama Palma’s. This is the first time I can remember having walked out of a restaurant without even being seated because the service was so bad. Seriously, don’t go eat there. Tell your friends not to eat there. The pizza is probably terrific, but it is absolutely not worth it. There are too many restaurants in Philly that offer delicious food AND great hospitality for them to be able to get away with that crap. Several members of our party thought up creative means for revenge, but we’re a classy bunch, so it’s unlikely any will be carried out.

When we had finished being rudely booted from our chosen birthday dinner destination, we were left with a dilemma. It was doubtful that any of the tasty BYOBs in the vicinity would be able to seat such a large party on a Friday night with no advanced notice, but we had little choice but to wander the streets in search of a restaurant willing to take us in. It was looking increasingly likely that we would end up celebrating at the Fox and Hound. As we passed Rittenhouse Square, someone said off-handedly, “Maybe we should just get Chinese food.” As we have already established, I LOVE Chinese food (see Susanna Foo), so of course the answer was a resounding yes. We ducked into a restaurant called Szechwan Hunan. It was practically empty, and they quickly moved several tables around so that we could all sit together. What fantastic service! I was blown away. They also provided menus, a bottle opener, glasses for both wine and water, and unlimited refills of their delicious wonton chips with duck sauce. It was almost as if they were genuinely grateful for our patronage.

As everyone began to order, the mood lightened noticeably. We were finally going to get to eat. I’m always torn when I go to Chinese restaurants between ordering one of my proven favorites (mostly chicken with sweet sauces: sesame, orange, lemon, etc.) and trying something new. This time I was feeling adventuresome, so I went with a dish called the Bird’s Nest. The “nest” turned out to be made of pan-fried noodles and contained chicken, peppers, and other vegetables. Strangely, the whole thing rested upon a bed of iceberg lettuce. The dish was satisfying, but not as flavorful as some of the better Chinese items I’ve had, and the crispy noodles were rather awkward to eat. In the end, I’d probably be happier sticking to my old standbys. To its credit, the Bird’s Nest was enormous, and I found the leftovers much easier to eat after the noodles softened up overnight.

The Gastronomer ordered a tofu dish with a variety of vegetables in a savory Szechwan sauce, which she found quite enjoyable. It was mildly spicy and came in a generous portion size. Like the Bird’s Nest, the dish tasted better the following day after the tofu softened.

The food at Szchewan Hunan is high quality, but falls short of truly outstanding. In any case, they managed to save the evening for us, and for that I am extremely grateful. If I have another opportunity to order Chinese food before leaving Philadelphia, I will certainly consider them.

Upstairs at DiBruno’s

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June 21, 2007
Cuisine: Italian, Delis

1730 Chestnut St, Philadelphia 19103
Btwn S 17th St & S 18th St

Phone: 215-665-9220
Website: www.dibruno.com

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Prosciutto Fig Pie ($8)

DiBruno Brothers is the perfect marriage between fashion and function. Not only is the store gorgeously laid-out, but it also sells some of the best artisanal products in town—including foie gras. The shop’s first floor is dedicated to specialty foods, baked goods, fresh fruits and vegetables, pastas, and cheeses. The second floor is a casual café offering a variety of gourmet sandwiches, prepared foods, and pizzas. DiBruno Brothers has been dubbed the Dean and Deluca of Philadelphia and I think that’s an accurate comparison.

While I have always loved browsing DiBruno’s aisles and tasting their many delicious samples, I didn’t try the café until recently with Wes. The Upstairs space is painted a vibrant yellow and blasts hits from the 90’s, which I really liked but made conversation difficult. Even in the midst of the lunch hour rush, Wes and I were able to locate a suitable table with ease.  

Wes picked up a sandwich from the deli counter, while I headed to the pizza section. The pie that caught my eye was the Prosciutto Fig. After placing my order, the pizza was briefly reheated in the oven, and brought to my table. A half order consisted of four generous slices, which was more than enough to satisfy my hearty appetite. In fact, I had to pack up half to-go.

The Prosciutto Fig Pie was really outstanding! The crust was slightly sweet and the ideal thickness. The cheese, a mix of ricotta and mozzarella, hit the all the right notes and didn’t over power the other ingredients. The thinly sliced prosciutto crisped up nicely in the oven, while the delicate figs caramelized beautifully. The entire pizza was drizzled with thick balsamic vinegar and sprinkled with fresh rosemary, which took an already delectable pie to a whole new level. The Prosciutto Fig Pie seriously blew my mind! If I were still in Philly, I’d definitely be eating one right now…

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