Philly Roundup

I’ve been terrible about blogging lately, but a recent email I drafted to a friend with some recommendations about Japan reminded me that I have so many more things to share from that trip. Which reminded me of some great places we ate in Philly last summer/fall. Which reminded me I haven’t posted any of the amazing pictures from two excellent Asian fusion type meals we also had last summer! So getting back in the saddle!

During a couple recent trips to Philly we had some excellent Italian meals. The beautifully fresh antipasti, deliciously earthy wild mushroom pizza, and the crazy decadent (but still you won’t want to share) salted caramel budino at Barbuzzo are not to be missed.

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At the more checkered table cloth style Little Nonna’s opt for classics like garlic bread, a Cesar salad (albeit made with fancy and excellent little gem lettuces and hot polenta crutons), and spaghetti with meatballs.

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And for something entirely different Serpico is an excellent and adventurous option. Peter Serpico (formerly of Momofuku Ko, which is still the best birthday dinner I’ve ever had) (https://gigglinggourmand.wordpress.com/tag/momofukuko/) turns out some deliciously creative dishes (and keeps things like excellent mushrooms simple when they need to be). Not to be missed are: some beautiful raw scallops in a buttermilk, chive, and yuzu preperation; deep fried maitaki mushrooms; and a corn ravioli with chorizo, lime, crema, and queso fresco to cut its sweetness. I only regret that we didn’t have room for some of the delicious looking spicy soup that came by and that we didn’t order the tasting menu. Next time …

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Cafe China, NYC

I ate at Cafe China twice this summer. My first visit was a solitary one but I managed to slurp down some passable, but not delicate or soup-y enough soup dumplings.

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I was disappointed that I’d wasted the space though, when presented with a luscious tea smoked duck with moist meat and perfect, shatteringly crisp skin.

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In an effort, to eat a somewhat balanced meal I ordered some bok choi which actually came out perfectly cooked – a crisp and garlicky compliment to the duck. The meal was a convincing argument for why this small Chinese restaurant earned a Michelin star.

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On a second visit, the soup dumplings were still lackluster, but the lamb dumplings in chili oil were so excellent that we asked for a second order. There were also some delicious dan dan noodles. But sadly, it was busy and I don’t think the kitchen was prepared to keep up. The duck had floppy skin which took the dish from star-worthy to disappointing. We ordered a whole fish that was nicely cooked and beautifully filleted – but served in a cloying sauce. And the waiter steered us away from the authentic ma la flavors of a chicken dish to a beef and bell pepper dish that could have come as take-out from any Chinese take-out joint in the city. I’d certainly come back, but I’d make sure to do it at a less busy hour in hopes that that crispy duck skin could be a part of my meal.

Starry Kitchen, Los Angeles

Go to this place and eat chili crab with beer beignets. I shouldn’t need to say anything else, though actually the other food is fantastic and innovative too (I just can’t stop thinking about that crab meat in addictive fiery sauce). The quirky location inside a dive bar adds tons of character too. P.S. You have to call 24 hours in advance to get a crab.  The answering machine will tell you they aren’t open.  Don’t believe it. Leave a message or call from a mobile phone so they can text you back!

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The Partisan, Washington DC

We were really excited when one of our two favorite Washington butchers got in to the restaurant game for real so we have been dying to try The Partisan since it was opened by the Red Apron team. We finally got a chance for our anniversary a couple weeks ago. Almost everything (on the food and service front both) was fabulous, only a guanchiale and english pea pasta was a little disappointing because the pasta was overcooked.

The meal started with some excellent (though not quite as light and airy as those at the Publican) pork rinds with a spicy BBQ dust and some delicious (but unnecessary IMO) BBQ sauce.

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We then moved on to the raw meats. A beef tartare with cured egg yolk was delicious, very freshly ground, and well spiceed. The cured and slightly set egg yolk served as a rich spread to layer between the beef and the (what should have been slightly crunchier) toast.

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We then moved on to the 120 day dry aged carpaccio. This was the best carpaccio I’ve ever had. Incredibly rich and the dry aging gave it an incredibly beefy flavor. It was like the best bite of meat I’ve ever eaten. I really wonder what it would taste like sliced slightly thicker with a char on one side.

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Then we ate some cooked stuff. Sweet langoustines with a nice lemony olive oil, didn't quite rival St. John, but I love these little buggers which I so rarely see in the US and was very satisfied.

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And some whisky braised lamb ribs that paired succulent slightly fatty meat with a sauce that could have been, but somehow wasn’t, too sweet. I could probably have eaten another order.

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We finished with some very nicely served whisky and walnut bourbon pie that managed to envelop my favorite nut in a lovely crumbly bacon fat crust (it didn’t taste like bacon but it tasted like some seriously buttery but more umami goodness).

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We can’t wait to go back with a bigger group to try the larger dishes like the fried chicken, aged duck (which looked delectable as they floated by to other tables), the massive rib eye,and the very adventurous whole pig head.

ABC Cocina New York

First let me say the space can’t be beat. Really. By the time you’ve strolled through ABC Carpet and Home and into this delightfully decorated spot you just can’t help but be in a good mood.

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 And the food is, more or less delightful. Particular stand outs included peekytoe crab fritters with ramp mayo:

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A plate of sizzling shrimp with chili oil and garlic packed a serious flavor punch with sweet shrimp and rich but sublimely spicy sauce.

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Sadly, some of the larger dishes were let downs. The chicken and rice, while decent, wasn’t as good as what I make at home, and even the chicken crackling topping it was less crispy and delicate than what I can make in my own kitchen. But the biggest disappointment was a fairly tasty (and beautiful) bowl of brown rice and vegetables with an herb dressing. Why’s that you ask? Well the dish was described as having asparagus, and ramps and morels.  It had one of each, otherwise, it was packed full of carrots and onions and other filler.  Perfectly good vegetables those, but no carrot is going to be satisfying when you think you’re getting ramps and morels. Plus, for the price I paid for the dish I could have afforded enough carrots to keep Peter rabbit happy for a lifetime.

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Kin Shop Redux

On a recent very quick trip to NYC my mom and I visited Kin Shop. I’ve been before, loved it, and thought it was a place she’d like. We tried some excellent (and super spicy) grilled shrimp.

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Some lovely (though maybe slightly chewy) grilled squid.

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A delicate fish curry redolent of coconut milk.

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And some goat massaman curry that had some of the most tender meat I’ve ever eaten.

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The best dish, however had to be a duck larb. I almost found it too spicy to eat, but somehow I couldn’t stop.

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So I was thrilled when I found the exact recipe on serious eats. My home made version was slightly less spicy and I fried up the duck skin into chicharones to garnish with.

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Tempura Kondo, Tokyo

I was pretty much unaware that tempura could be transcendent. Turns out it can, and it can even earn two Michelin stars.  At the twelve seat bar in Tokyo run by Chef Kondō Fumio each faultlessly fried bit of vegetable or seafood is delivered in a crunchy, lacy, little package which you either dip into tempura sauce or eat with a little lemon and salt. While he has help behind the bar to prep and batter the food, Kondō personally fries each piece to perfection, so this isn’t a super speedy meal, especially by Japanese standards.

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I have to say this had to be one of my favorite (out of a pretty nutty array of amazing) meals in Tokyo. Some people say that after you eat sushi in Japan you can never eat it again in the US.  I don’t think I’ll have that problem (though there were a few bites, like the uni at Mizutani that I don’t think will ever be replicated) but I might be ruined for American tempura.

Some of the stand outs from our meal included:

A deep fried shrimp head.  I think this was my favorite thing period.  I need to eat more shrimp heads, they were in a number of things we ate in Japan and they are seriously delicious (at least when fried).

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The shrimp bodies were pretty excellent as well. Not at all over cooked and incredibly sweet.

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Some seasonal vegetables followed including asparagus, lotus root, and some of the most amazing fiddlehead ferns I’ve ever eaten – I know what I’d be making all spring if I could replicate this batter:

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There were many other excellent courses but I thought the two most interesting were the icefish wrapped in shiso and then fried.  These little buggers are pretty bizarre, even though the flavor was pretty much like a typical white fish. It’s hard to tell from the photo but these are a bunch of individual clear noodle like fish.  While we were at Tsukiji earlier in the trip a man standing in line next to us told a story of drinking them alive in a glass of water at a sushi place where he ate.  I’m thinking that would have been a bridge too far for me.  I’m not guessing actually, I’m sure I would not have enjoyed that.

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The other was tempura sea urchin.  Another item I’d not encountered before. I liked the crunchy texture with the creamy filling but like many things the flavor was over powered by the shiso. Can I suggest wrapping the uni in squash blossoms?  For some reason I think that would be amazing.

photo 5The meal ended with pickles, soup, and rice. Followed by some fresh fruit.  Bob ordered the slightly more expensive menu which also included tempura scallops which were sweet and delicious even though I was packed to the gills (pun intended).  My one regret is that we didn’t buy his cookbook.  It was all in Japanese so I didn’t think it would be useful but now I’m realizing I’m sure I could have conned a friend into providing translation services.  Alas …

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