Saturday, February 26, 2011

Philadelphia ! The Oyster House !

Greeshma and I grabbed a late lunch at Oyster House on Saturday.  I had originally discovered the restaurant in the context of Philadelphia's Restaurant Week, as it was noted for having a keen RW menu, and found out it was ranked as one of the top 50 best restaurants in Philadelphia.  Supposedly they also have a mean Happy Hour nightly with $1 oysters that is not to be missed!

It was a cold, miserable day, so the warm, bright interior was a welcome refuge.  The floors are worn hardwoods, and the walls are white and decorated with a colorful collection of oyster plates (plates designed to hold oysters).  

The restaurant seems an ideal date spot as our table was flanked by the strangest couples with the worst rapport.  Take a look at the guy in the bottom right.  He can't even bear to look at his date.  Do only unhappy couples go out to eat?  So. Strange.

Greeshma is so cute!  As are the giant glass goblets filled with gourmet oyster crackers.

A closeup of the huge golden knuckles of oyster cracker goodness.  These would taste superb in a chowdery soup!
We nibbled on the pretty loaf of crusty bread with butter while waiting for our meal of shared dishes.  I've discovered lately that I especially like the combination of an inch of butter on the crusts of bread.  Brings a whole new meaning to buttercrunch!
The waitress saw Greeshma and my iPhones and informed us that if we checked in via Foursquare, we would receive complimentary oysters!  Uhm.  Favorite words in the whole world.  Greeshma and I promptly downloaded Foursquare and checked ourselves in.  Unfortunately, the oysters did not taste particularly fresh or delightfully briny as other oysters we have had.  I would pass on this altogether, complimentary or not.
Southern fried oysters.  These oysters were an improvement over the raw ones, plump on the inside, crispy on the outside.  The only downside is the quantity that we received.  The plate cost $10, making each fried oyster $2 each!  I could eat a few dozen of these easy. Sometimes I think about dieting, but then I look at fried oysters and say, "More please!"
Mussels with sweet garlic cream, kale and linguiça sausage.  Linguica sausage is a Portuguese pork-cured sausage typically used in soups or bases like this one!  This was Greeshma's favorite dish, although she has been craving mussels like a madwoman!  Regardless, the mussels were nice and plump.  The cooked kale was still bright and green with plenty of bite, and the sausage brought a nice earthiness to round out the otherwise light dish.  I let Greeshma eat all the kale since I am nice like that!
We split the lobster roll, which the kitchen completed for us, to prevent us fighting over any juicy lobster chunks.  The homemade chips and pickles were also plated on each of our plates.  Perfect!

The lobster roll was solid.  A smudge heavier on the mayo than Luke's Lobster, but still fresh and naturally flavorful.  I have to say it, I still prefer Luke's to this (the toasted, buttered roll from Luke's is tough to beat!), and Greeshma said she preferred Red Hook Lobster Pound over this version, but at the end of the day, it's still a delicious lobster roll, and we will eat what we can get in dear ol' Philly.  The homemade chips were very good too (even Greesh ate some!).  Thin, crispy and not too greasy!

I would love to come here sometime for happy hour and just gorge on dozens of $1 oysters (if they are not the same as the Foursquare bunch!) but until I make my next visit, maybe I can enlist ol' Greeshie to check it out for me ! :)

1516 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102-2811
(215) 567-7683

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Brunch at Locanda Verde

Items long overdue on my list of things to do:
1. Try brunch at Locanda Verde.
2. Meet with our dear friend Traci to catchup on life.

Solution: Saturday brunch with Traci and Geoff @ Locanda Verde!  (Note: I would recommend making reservations; we finagled a slot for 3 for 10:15,* and the place was already bustling when we arrived!)

Locanda Verde is tucked among tall, aged buildings in TriBeca.  It's a part of town I rarely venture in, but there are plenty of restaurants in the charming area--reminscent of the Meatpacking District with brick, cobblestones and trendy eateries on many corners.

THE appetizer dish to try is the sheepsmilk ricotta cheese.  A plate of ricotta cheese as an appetizer doesn't sound amazing, but top it with truffle honey, and you've piqued my interest:

Sheepsmilk ricotta with truffle honey + freshly cracked black pepper + burnt orange toast
Last year, I didn't like ricotta cheese because I was dumb and thought it was the same thing as cottage cheese, however, after being forced to eat it at Vinegar Hill House, I must say - ricotta cheese is pretty good!  And Locanda Verde's was top notch.  We smothered our toasts thick with the amazingly creamy cheese, diving our knives into the honey drizzle to stack even more cheese onto our crispy crostinesque toast.  The orange flavor was a nice subtlety but  the pepper was my favorite, of course, which elevated the combination of sweet, smooth and faint citrus to a whole other level.  The only downfall to this dish is that there was not enough pieces of toast!  (We remedied that by just eating the excess cheese by the spoonfuls.)

And as if I did not have enough ricotta yet, I went all out to try one of their most popular brunch dishes: lemon and blueberry ricotta pancakes.

Soft, fluffy pancakes needing no syrup at all - the bright, slightly sweet but not too tart lemon curd was enough!  I usually have a hard time finishing a whole plate of pancakes, but the bright citrus flavor and the light pancakes made it easy!  It was satisfying without being decadent.
Traci's zucchini frittata with a dollop of goat cheese and small mounds of roasted tomato which she loved.  She had no problem polishing it off.
Uovo Modenese with cotechino hash (a sausagey hash), spinach and tomato hollandaise 
Geoff super loved this dish although the bulbous shape of the eggs had to be commented upon.  Seriously.  Egg balls.  That he could not wait to pop.  The dish was ultra simple looking, but he loved the flavors of it all.  Traci tried one bite of the hash and said "that is awesome."  That's the kind of stuff you like to hear.
We all loved the space and our food.  Granted, the meal is a touch more expensive than other brunch spots, it is not terribly moreso.  I am interested in trying out their porchetta sandwich on another occasion (mmmfattypork) and other hearty fare, so I will have to make a return visit.  I'm a sucker for a restaurant with a nice ambience! 

All in all, I'd probably take out of town guests here, if given the chance.  (I mean.  After I take them to Clinton St, Shopsins and Egg.  Haha.  The Han breakfast hierarchy!) 

377 Greenwich St
(corner of N.Moore and Greenwich)
New York, NY 10013
ph: (212) 925-3797
Locanda Verde on Urbanspoon

*10:15 is an ungodly early hour in NYC brunch times - usually deadville and guaranteed entry to any restaurant, including Shopsins!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Dessert for Breakfast @ Bongo Room

A few months ago, before the weather turned ugly in Chicago and while this Texan was still able to endure the outside, I met up with law school lovelies Julie and Jordan for brunch. Julie suggested Bongo Room, and thank goodness she did!

I would describe the decor as office-cafeteria-chic. Ha.

But there's no time to focus on the decor when there are decadent pancake options on the menu for you to study. We decided to split one pumpkin spice pancake with browned butter & dark brown sugar cream mousse topped with sweet glazed toasted pecans. Not sure that description could be any more enticing.

It was all very delicious. The pancake was of the denser variety and had a nice pumpkin flavor, and when eaten with the mousse/butter thing on top... wowza.

For our entrees, Julie and Jordan went the adult route and each got the croissant sandwich: grilled croissant with melted muenster & bacon, with one egg any style and hash browns.

I tried the sandwich, and it almost made me sad I didn't order it. The croissant was warm and crisp, the egg was fluffy, and omg muenster! Genius. I wasn't a huge fan of the hash browns, but that's because there's a good bit of dill in them, and I just can't get behind dill, no matter how hard I try.

I, like a small child, ordered more sweets for an entree: one white chocolate & caramel covered pretzel crusted pancake. Swoon.

Now I haven't been to Han's beloved Clinton St yet, but man oh man, this pretzel pancake is my number one pancake of life right now. I think about it during the day, and I dream about it at night. The gooey-sugary mess on top was absolutely perfect with the slightly salty pretzel crusted pancake. Excuse me if I drool while I type...

One of the things I love about Bongo Room is that they let you order however many pancakes you want. None of that 'only comes in a stack' business. Next time I'll just go and order one of each of all their glorious pancakes!

Bongo Room
(multiple locations)
1152 S. Wabash Ave
Chicago, IL 60605
(312) 291-0100
Bongo Room on Urbanspoon

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Samurai Mama's Udon Noodle & Gyoza Dinner

This post will mark a new foodtography era for me, as these photos represent the inaugural run of my new compact camera, the Canon S95!  The camera is highly acclaimed for its lowlight capabilities, which is essential these days since eateries can be so dadgum dark.  I eagerly decided to test it first in a dimly lit scene and take all photos using no flash (!!).

Presenting Samurai Mama's, a newish restaurant to the Williamsburg scene, from the great minds of Bozu (that charmed Greeshma and me last year with their sushi bombs).

The restaurant's doors flap in the wind and in your face as you try to find the real door handle.  Cute!

The restaurant is rather large, with seating in the front via a large, communal wooden table, a couple of booths along the side, and additional seating in the back via the bar seats and the garden area.  I sat immediately at the end of the table.  My legs felt enormous as they kept brushing against the top of the table, so hopefully that was just my seat ( coulda been my thighs! gah!)
Their homemade gyoza came recommended; it comes in both pork or vegetable flavors, so I opted for the pork (naturally).  I love when food does not come out the way you imagined it!  In a gyoza pancake!

A very thin crispy batter united the six pieces of pork gyoza.
The gyoza themselves were standard, wrapper was the right thickness and the pork tasted fine.  I woulda preferred it with a touch more chives, but I am a chive maniac.  They tasted as bout as good as my favorites at Lan Zhou except this plate of gyoza came with...
Pickled seaweed!  I usually shy away from anything pickled, Diana can attest to that, but this pickled wonder was delicious!  It was more savory, slightly sweet, dense and spicy...perfect atop each meaty bite.  I want to find this in a jar and eat it all the time!
Nikujil Kake Udon - hot soup + pork betty slices + scallions (I also found a couple of thin slices of eggplant too...score!).  When I saw the pork betty mentioned, I just had to order this since the days Greesh and I ate a whole plate of pork fat together (a memorable event!).
The soup tasted immediately a tad fishy which is strange, but it also tasted sweet with each bite of the pork betty.  The further I dug into the bowl, the less fishy it became, and the more I began to like it.  The broth was thin and not too salty (though I was pretty thirsty after I ate all of it).  They also offer a vegetable based broth option, and one Yelp reviewer claims that the mushroom udon comes with a different, most delicious broth altogether, so maybe there's a chance you won't experience the strange fishiness I did (or just get used to it all the same).  Nice ample bowl of noodles though!  

I'd visit Samurai Mama's again because it's nice to have a udon noodle place in the neighborhood, and the the comfortable, communal vibe is fun, and the food is fairly priced.  Total win for Williamsburg!

205 Grand St
Brooklyn, NY 11211
Samurai Mama on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Peking Duck @ JS Chen's

In Chinese cuisine, there is seldom anything more magnificent than a spectacular peking duck. Though I wouldn't call JS Chen's version spectacular, it still made my stomach very happy.

I went with my parents, so we had to get something palatable for my Indiana-raised dad... which is how we ended up ordering kung pao chicken.

My dad always requires white meat, and thankfully JS was able to oblige. I tasted it, and it was pretty standard kung pao chicken. No more, no less.

My mom and I were enticed by the mayi shangshu (螞蟻上樹) because it's a dish my grandmother has just about perfected. It's glass noodles stir fried with ground pork, spicy bean paste, and scallions. Mayi shangshu, which literally means "ants up a tree," is cleverly named. The ants = ground pork, and the tree = glass noodles. Gotta love the mental pic!

JS's version is, of course, not as good as my grandmother's, but it wasn't half bad. The pork could have used some marinating, and the sauce could have used more sugar, but all in all, this dish was enjoyable.

With our order of peking duck, we also got a free soy sauce chicken. It came with this amazing ginger sauce on the side.

I really liked this - the meat was super tender and drenched in the flavor (but not the salt) of soy sauce. Yumm-o.

And then our peking duck! Peking duck is usually served in three courses: the skin, the meat, and the soup. JS combined the first two. Not a problem, because they didn't skimp on the skin or meat at all! There was plenty to handle.

Look at that spread! Crispy skin, copious duck meat, plum sauce, green onion, and hot steamed buns... what else do you need in life??

The skin was really good.

Hot, crispy, fatty, and plentiful. Just the way I like my duck skin. Han is drooling right now.

Then I made my little peking duck sandwiches.

The steamed buns were awesome - freshly warm, wonderfully fluffy, and slightly sweet. The green onions, though very pretty, should have been cut in thinner slices, because they were difficult to chew. The meat itself was pretty good, but you could tell that the duck must have been sitting dead in the kitchen for a while. It wasn't as fresh as other duck I've had. And as you can tell from the pic, the duck meat was a tad dry. Don't you love the thick layer of fat between the skin and meat, though? I sure do.

My mom's favorite part of peking duck at JS was the soup, and with good reason.

The broth was very flavorful, not too salty or oily, and the additions of cabbage, mushrooms, and glass noodles also gave it a good crunch and texture. Plus, they give you sooo much soup. Wonderful. Great way to end a meal, and to begin another meal when you take the leftovers home!

JS Chen's
3948 Legacy Dr.
Plano, TX 75023
J.S. Chen's on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Shake Shack: The Peanut Butter Bacon Burger + Thin Mint Custard

Shake Shack announced that they were bringing back the peanut butter bacon burger this weekend: their signature salt crusted burger patty was to be topped with Usinger's cajun bacon and peanut butter sauce.  I know.  Your reaction is probably the same as my reaction: guhhhross.

And as I walked in the single file line to order this burger, I continued to think guhhhross.

And as I gazed deep into its thick cut bacony eyes, the wafts of peanut butter lifted into my flat little nose, and I started giving in, mmm, I love peanut butter..

You know you're intrigued.
The bacon was surprisingly really thick and very salty.  Almost too salty.  I almost wished it was slightly sweetened (a la sugar cured bacon from Clinton St).  But the main star was that peanut butter sauce which complemented the Shake Shack burger patty perfectly.  You bite into the soft potatoesque bun, through the thick salt cut of bacon, and then through the signature Shake Shack patty which after moments of chewing in your mouth, you taste the subtle peanut flavor that is saying, "Hey, I'm here, and I think you should like me hanging out for awhile."  And I did.  I think it's totally worth trying to even the most serious doubters.
After tackling that badboy, I remembered I had ordered a single dip custard of their February - Saturday flavor of the day: Thin Mint!

Thin mint custard flavor of the day

I had kind of hoped for Girl Scout cookie pieces inside the custard, but that is sooo Ben & Jerry's and not Shake Shack.   Their rendition ends up being a really nice, smooth mint flavor, which is subtle, hanging out casually in the backdrop of the rich chocolate stage.  It's a nice way to round out the meal (since mint helps with digestion and all that).
Keep the disgusting burger combos coming, Shake Shack!

Shake Shack (multiple locations)
366 Columbus Ave
New York, NY
Shake Shack on Urbanspoon