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!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Girls Cooking Night: Old Favorites

Feeling less creative than usual, and with comfort food weather coming, for the last Girls Cooking Night we decided to all share with each other some of our favorite go-to dishes - the kind you make so often you don't need a recipe.

As so often happens serendipitously with our group, we ended up putting a together a very balanced meal, and a colorful one at that.

We started out with Brownie's sweet potato soup (a dish that she passed on to me years ago and has become one of my favorites too). The secret to the pureed soup is peanut butter (of the Skippy or Jif variety), sriracha sauce, and a squeeze of lime.

My old favorite contribution was beet pasta (click the link for instructions), passed on to me from a German former co-worker of mine. I also made a second dish - first time making it, but hopefully soon to be an old favorite. That was Kenny Shopsin's mac and cheese pancakes. After seeing him make them with Conan O'Brien, and then tasting them in the restaurant, I had to try them at home.

We also had Melissa's kale with feta and raisins - I'm usually not a big fan of kale, but this had me going for seconds! And Marian's delicious chicken curry - I took some for leftovers and was so happy having it for lunch later that week - nothing like sitting at your desk nose all runny and mouth all tingly with the scent of garam masala and cardamom wafting from your office.

For dessert we had Debbie's famous banana mocha cake. I once watched a chubby little 12-year-old kid eat about half this cake single-handedly. It served as a birthday cake, but I won't tell you which one of us is nicknamed Chip.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Danish Lunch in Rockville

I went with my friends to the annual Danish Christmas Bazaar organized by the Danish Club of Washington D.C. this past weekend in Rockville, MD. According to my friend, during the holiday season, lunches are a big event for native Danes. He also said, that the food served for lunch in Denmark was much better than dinner food.

We went to the lunch line, and pretty much, it was an array of opened faced sandwiches. The bread used was a dense dark bread. I got the Fisk Fillet (fried fish with a remoulade sauce) and the Frikadeller (fried meatball) sandwiches.
I also got to try the Leverpostej (liver pate) sandwich- a little soggy and not very liver-y. The Derlaegens Natmad, or Vet's nite snack, consisted of beef and liver pate topped with consomme jelly.

One of the best parts of the bazaar was the Danish baker who was there. We tried danishes made by him, and they were pretty great. The danishes all had marzipan baked into the centers- which created a really nice subtle flavor. We also got Kransekage (marzipan cookies) which were delicious. My friend said they reminded him of New Year's in Denmark.

There was also Danish candy at the bazaar. They had some really good caramels. My friend got a favorite of his, Turkish Pepper, one of the most disgusting candies I've ever had. He said that it was considered spicy for Danes. I don't know what's wrong with the Danish palate, but the candy wasn't spicy- it was just gross. I discourage anyone from trying Turkish Pepper.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Macondo, NYC

Last week we ate at Macondo on the Lower East Side, the casual sister of Rayuela. Basically it's upscale Latin street food. We were starving when we got there, so we started out with shrimp guacamole which the waitress told us was the appetizer special that day. It was gone before she came back to take our order.

We tried a variety of small plates. We started with a carne empanada - really nice crisp corn wrapper and flavorful meat inside. We also got tacos con pernil (pork). These were good, but small for the price - 3 small tacos (on 4-inch diameter sope-sized tortillas) for $15!

I also really liked the flatbread we ordered. The bread itself was kinda like thin crust pizza, but we got ours topped with sweetbreads, mushrooms, caramelized onions, and goat cheese (oh yeah, and there was bacon too - more pork!)

My favorite dish was the funchi con chorizo (above) - polenta
topped with a soft-cooked egg, chorizo of course, and cheese.

The only dish I was disappointed in was the mofongo con conchinillo -- plaintain balls with pork belly. To be fair, it was the last dish to show up, after we'd already gobbled up everything else voraciously. That, and it was not what I expected - I thought it would be fried, like a Latin version of yu tou jiao (the deep-fried mashed taro balls stuff with roast pork that you get at dim sum).

I was happy with the meal, though it was overpriced, but well that's what you get in trendy Manhattan neighborhoods (sigh, I miss when the LES was still divey...)


157 East Houston Street
(212) 473-9900