Sunday, December 28, 2008

Vetri, Philadelphia

A group of us went out for the tasting menu at Vetri in Philadelphia, a favorite of Mario Batali's and deemed by Bon Appetit as probably the best Italian restaurant in the U.S. Because we had 6 people, we were able to sample a multitude of dishes as the chef sent out different plates to different diners. It's hard to do it all justice other than to say just about everything was fabulous and it was one of my most enjoyable dining experiences.

Here's what we had:
First they sent out five different amuse bouche -- goat cheese and caramelized onion on a crispy parmesan wafer, venison terrine with beets, beignets wrapped with lardo, saffron arancini (fried risotto balls), and something (I can't remember now) wrapped with bacon. Whatever it was, I remember that one as my favorite of the amuse. They also brought each of us a glass of prosecco which was generously refilled until we killed the bottle.

First course: 3 of us got a Sweet Onion Crepe, and 3 of us got Crispy Sweetbreads with White Bean Crema. Sweetbreads were spectacular.

Second course: half of us got the Nantucket Scallop Crudo, and half got Bagna Cauda "Scompoto," a warm dip with toasted bread and vegetables. I started with the Bagna Cauda which was wonderful and comforting, but ended up preferring and gobbling up a lot of the grapefruit-dressed scallops as our dishes got passed around -- they had such a wonderful taste of the sea.

Next were two pasta courses: We all got the spinach gnocchi (top), one of their signature dishes - the brown butter on this was amazing - I had to just stick my nose in and smell it for a while before digging in. And the gnocchi themselves just melted in your mouth.

Then 3 of us got Mustard Green Ravioli with Shank Ragu, and the rest of us got Corzetti with Cauliflower Crema and Toasted Breadcrumbs, which was a flat round pasta. Both excellent - I liked the texture of the corzetti, but I think the ravioli won out on flavor and comfort food factor.
Then the meat dishes: half of us got Elk Chop with Braised Dry Fruits, and the other half got Baby Goat. The flavor of the fruit sauce with the elk was superb, but I preferred the baby goat, which was wonderfully crispy on the outside and falling apart on the inside, served on a bed of polenta.
I failed to mention that the four non-designated drivers in the party chose to partake of the wine pairings that went with the meal. A different wine was paired to each dish, so again, different diners had different wines, so the guys got to taste a wide variety. 1000yregg was positively giddy by the end of the meal.

Finally dessert: First they gave us all a palate cleansing coconut gelato. Then they brought out 3 different desserts. The ladies got Chocolate Polenta Souffle, which was like a molten chocolate cake with the texture of polenta. The other two desserts were Whole Wheat Sbrisolona Cranberry Tart with Rosemary Gelato, and Anise Crepes with Apple Marmalade and Zabaione. My chocolate souffle was my favorite. The whole wheat tart has a great crunchy texture and flavor, but I felt the rosemary gelato was a little overpowering. And for the crepes, I could barely taste the anise, though the apples were delicious.

Finally, there was a plate of petit fours that we were all too stuffed for. And they sent us home with eco-friendly reusable goodie bags with copies of our food and wine menus and a cranberry muffin for next day's breakfast.

1312 Spruce St.
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 732-3478

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Girls Cooking Night: Vitamin C

Since we've all been recovering from colds since the Thanksgiving holidays, for our last girls cooking night, we opted for a Vitamin C theme.

My contribution was an orange chocolate bread (inspired by the rolls served at the Silver Moon Bakery in NYC). I squeezed fresh oranges (well tangerines, actually), grated the rinds, and because I was still a tad bit short on juice, threw in some blood orange juice (which I think helped up the orange color). I also didn't have orange extract at home, so I substituted Grand Marnier.

The kicker of course was the addition of Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips. I think I may have overdid the chocolate (if that's possible), but fresh from the oven, the bread was a gooey chocolatey delight.

Debbie contributed a Vitamin C packed soup - with tomatoes and sweet potatoes, loads of garlic, ginger and even peanut butter. She also made a citrus acorn squash. Melissa brought lamb with a kiwi, Asian pear salsa, which I was eating with a spoon, it was so yummy.

Birthday girl Marian was treated to a lemonade cake with buttercream frosting.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Lisa's Radial Cafe, Omaha, Nebraska

For breakfast one morning, Redneckhunter's friend Andy (a Nebraska runt at 6 foot 5) took us to Lisa's Radial Cafe, located on the Radial Highway, near Omaha's cathedral.

Apparently it's one of Omaha's longest-continually running restaurants, over 100 years old.

It's just what you'd want from a MidWestern breakfast - biscuits drowning in sausage cream gravy, hash browns, buttery egg sandwiches.

Lisa's Radial Cafe
817 N 40th St
Omaha, NE 68131
(402) 551-2176

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Howard's, Omaha, Nebraska

Redneckhunter also insisted we go to Howard's in West Omaha, a traditional Mexican joint where his uncle Miguel would often play with his mariachi band. No mariachis this evening, but still good food, even though apparently we were seated in the "gringo" section.

I got chicken mole - while the sauce was not the best I've had, I did appreciate that the chicken was on the bone. Redneckhunter got huevos con chorizo, which came with papas fritas and a beans. He also ordered a side of fideos (thick noodle soup). I don't know if his eating technique is traditional, but it involves wrapping everything - eggs, chorizo, beans, rice, fideos - up in tortillas.

His brother got a collection of a la carte items - papas fritas, fideos, torta con carne - I think the entire plate totalled only $4!

Then for dessert, we had sopapillas and Kahlua flan.

Howard's Charro Cafe
4443 South 13th St
Omaha, Nebraska 68107
+1 402 731 3776

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Brother Sebastian's, Omaha, Nebraska

Being in the land of corn-fed beef, we had to go to a steakhouse while we were in Omaha. Opting between cheesy vs. traditional ambience, we made a choice that was somewhere in the middle. At Brother Sebastian's you are greeted by Gregorian chants playing on loudspeakers in the parking lot. The decor inside is Epcot Center medieval monastery, and the wait staff are dressed in Franciscan robes.

Redneckhunter's brother opted for the Sirloin Sebastian (above), cooked a perfect medium rare (as evidenced by the blood on the plate), and smothered in mushrooms and Hollandaise sauce. Redneckhunter and I shared a sirloin for two - that's only my half below, along with all the sides and trimmings.

Brother Sebastian's Restaurant
1350 South 119th Street
Omaha, NE 68144

Phone: 1.402.330.0300

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Nebraska Favorites: Amigo's and Runza's

We went back to redneckhunter's home town of Omaha, Nebraska over Thanksgiving. There were 2 things redneckhunter wanted the second he stepped off the plane: crispy meat burritos from local Mexican fast food chain Amigo's -- seen above with dipping sauces and Mexifries (tater tots with seasoning salt); and a Runza, another local chain specializing in sandwiches of ground beef, cabbage, and cheese, stuffed into bread.

We also got shakes from Goodrich dairy - check out the size of the large shake!