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Posts from the ‘Pennsylvania’ Category

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Summer of Cheese

Nitehawk cinema queso tots

Nitehawk Cinema A lot of melted cheese was consumed
in a one-week period. I ordered the queso tots thinking this was some new unexplored
treat then remembered I’d ordered the exact same thing on my last visit to the
theater. Menu memory lapse happens far more often that I'd like to admit. So, how about that Frances Ha?

Taco chulo eggs benedict

Taco Chulo I also eat at Taco Chulo more than I'd
like to admit. It's never my idea, but it's a block from my apartment and seems
to appeal to picky eaters. If you love processed cheese like I do and can deal
with brunch on occasion, the queso benedict an underdog surprise. Velveeta
instead of hollandaise, sweet toasted cornbread in lieu of English muffins, and
enough spinach and slaw to give the dish a health halo. Save one half and eat it for
dinner once you emerge from your afternoon Bloody Maria stupor.

Artichoke racino pizza

Artichoke Basille's The fabled artichoke cheese dip slice has
certainly garnered a lot of attention since it appeared in 2008. Yet it was
only when I noticed an outpost at the Aquaduct casino that I felt compelled to
try it. It's heavy, for sure, and best consumed in a temperature controlled
environment like a casino food court, otherwise all that warm fat and starch
loses its appeal in 90-degree heat.

Waterman's crab house crab pretzel

Waterman's Crab House Sweat and melted cheese not mixing was
the lesson I learned while tearing into a crab pretzel (crab dip baked onto a
pretzel roll is very much a relative of the Artichoke pizza) on a dock
overlooking the Chesapeake Bay while being blasted with the sun's ray, despite
the table umbrellas. I'd still order the massive appetizer again, though. I
prefer the more demure Phillip's version that you can get a rest stops on the
drive to Baltimore.

Pat's cheesesteak

Pat's and Geno's A pit stop was made on the way back from
Maryland for more unnaturally colored liquid cheese. This was the greasiest
cheesesteak I've ever experienced (and I've experienced quite a few in my time)
and not really in an endearing way. I've always been partial to Pat's, though,
because it's less flashy. Geno's version was consumed for breakfast the
following day and not photographed. The only reason why Pat's was eaten on the
spot and Geno's was saved for later is because Geno's gives bags and Pat's does
not.

Help. I just bought a 12-pack of Kraft Deluxe
American slices at C-Town when there are perfectly nice real cheese shops
within walking distance.

Seasons 52

Seasons 52, Darden’s upscale, ostensibly healthy chain would be an ideal candidate for The Post-Millennium Chain Restaurants of Middlesex County, New Jersey treatment…but that will have to wait until 2013 when the state of New Jersey receives its first branch in Edison.  Instead, I visited the closest location to NYC, at the King of Prussia mall just three miles from the Valley Forge Radisson with a 15th floor dedicated to fantasy suites, of which one, The Star Gazer, was a setting in Blue Valentine.

Seasons 52 exterior

If you stripped away the burgundy arch and oversized lanterns near the entrance, and swapped some wood for metal, Seasons 52's facade isn't radically different in style from Elements, the foodie destination restaurant in Princeton. (Also,  I think that I could be one-half of that couple, if I were ten years older and took a very slightly different path in life–one that involved marrying a man who wears light denim.)

Elements

Not a chain restaurant.

 A Saturday at 7pm demanded a one-and-half-hour wait, though the first-come seat-yourself lounge had a spacious booth wide open up for grabs. And it took a few seconds to register that, not only was that not the Sade version of “Smooth Operator,” filling the packed room, but that it was being belted out just a few feet away by a young-yet-mature blonde woman sitting at a piano inside of the ovoid bar.

Ok, live music, a roaring fire, chunky mid-century stone, and metal cocktail shakers placed in front of a good number of patrons? Classy.

And on-trend with a seasonal menu with specials that change weekly (hence the name, duh) and no dish with more than 475 calories. Playing up the mainstreaming interest in food-sourcing  with a nod to portion control is not a common combination in the chain food world. And clearly, it's striking a chord with suburbanites based on the crowds.

Seasons 52 martini
The cocktails (yes, wine is their focus, not spirits) still read very middle-American, i.e. a list of typically fruity and sweet "martinis." Of course, that shouldn't stop anyone from just ordering a simple stiff drink if that's what they want. I did.

Seasons 52 flatbread

Flatbreads are like crackery pizzas; taking out the chew and the squish is one way to slash calories. This was a special with goat cheese, artichoke hearts, and caramelized onions, an ok enough snack. I would've liked some Kalamata olives on this, but with the cheese that would certainly break the 475-calorie-limit. Frankly, I wasn't hungry after an afternoon of cheesesteak and Italian sandiwch sampling–I just wanted a drink and something light.

Seasons 52 columbia river steelhead trout wtih couscous

The Columbia River steelhead trout atop arugula, chopped vegetables, shrimp, and couscous isn't the type of thing I normally order at restaurants, well, because it read as very healthy, but completely pleasant. The fish was still moist (yes, I know everyone hates that word), the cilantro-spiked yogurt sauce was a fine addition, and the grilled lemon added a little visual interest as well as more acid.

I was told by our server that this dish "doesn't taste like trout," despite showing no skepticism of that poor fish. “It tastes more like salmon,” I was further reassured. Clearly, people in King of Prussia hate trout, though I probably wouldn't bring up my trout defense with a group of diners unless prompted.  It almost made me want to complain about the trout being too fishy after ordering it, just to get a reaction.

Seasons 52 cedar plank roasted salmon
Of course you could just order salmon.

The food had a familiar quality to me, and James pegged it: "It's like Cooking Light recipes." Sure enough, the petite lean proteins bulked up with vegetables, yogurt mimicking cream sauces, juices adding flavor instead of fats, did resemble our not terribly exciting (though not bad tasting) weeknight dinners.

And there's the rub. I do tend to make lighter food during the week to balance out more decadent meals out, maybe one weeknight and over the weekend (I wish I was one of those bloggers who eats out every night of the week, but my health can't afford it even if my finances could) and when I do go out to restaurants I don't necessarily want to continue my dietary austerity. But I do love the novelty in this franchised form and it makes sense for these higher-income pockets of the suburbs. It wouldn't as well in a bigger city where eating healthy is less of a struggle, heirloom vegetables and heritage meat are in abundance, and plates rarely come piled with enough food for multiple meals. It's not as if Seasons 52 could compete with ABC Kitchen.

Maggiano's looks like a mansion

There's also a Maggiano's (on my to-try list–it's a fancier Olive Garden, right?) that looks like a mansion in the parking lot. Also, why is Maggiano’s always near a Crate & Barrel?

Seasons 52 * King of Prussia Mall, 160 N Gulph Rd., King of Prussia, PA

Zahav

Back on Good Friday, it wouldn’t have surprised me to learn that we were the only ones in the restaurant not celebrating Passover. And even though I didn’t technically have the day off like everyone else seemed to, I still took the opportunity to cut out of work early and head out of town for 24 hours.

Zahav got skipped on my last Philadelphia visit, so this oversight needed to be rectified. I don’t speak passionately about Middle Eastern food much (I mean, I have practically every Asian cuisine separated out as a category but lump everyone except Turkey under the Middle Eastern umbrella) and though I certainly love grilled meats and rice as much as the next person, what I’m crazy for is mezze. I could eat little dishes of pickled things, roasted vegetables, dips, salads, along with unleavened bread every day.

But Zahav is more of what I’d call modern Israeli, which is to say you can drink fun cocktails like the Marble Rye (pumpernickel and caraway-infused rye topped with celery soda) which yes, tastes like rye bread, or even Israeli, Lebanese, and Moroccan wines, and mezze isn’t tabouli or muhammara, but dishes involving grilled duck hearts, veal tongue vinaigrette, and during this time of year, those ubiquitous ramps.

Zahav hummus & laffa

The $38 per person tasting, the tayim, is a crazy good deal. You’ll get a selection of salatim, hummus and laffa, two mezze, one al ha’esh, the main, and one dessert.  And no single dish is over $12 if you want a la carte, which is why it pays to get out of NYC every now and then.

Zahav salatim

The salatim, which I didn’t do a great job of showing in its colorful entirety, included a garden’s worth of eggplant, okra, cucumber, cauliflower, cabbage, beets, and carrots, some sweet, some vinegary. There was also a trio of condiments: sumac-and-sesame-heavy za’tar, harissa, and shug, the spicier green chile paste.

Zahav crispy haloumi, walnuts, apples, dates, squash

On my visit, the crispy haloumi was accompanied by still-wintery squash cubes, shredded apples, walnuts and sweet date puree. Just two weekends later, I see the mild cheese has been transformed with green peas, pine nuts, and ramps, so there’s definitely a hyper-seasonal approach.

Zahav fried cauliflower, labaneh with chive, dill, mint, garlic

Everyone knows that fried cauliflower is the best cauliflower (next to roasted cauliflower). The tender-crisp florets could be swiped through the labeneh flavored with mint, dill, and garlic.

Zahav sweetbread schnitzel, carob, cauliflower, tehina

I still don’t fully understand the Israeli schnitzel connection (see, Holy Schnitzel for more evidence) but couldn’t pass up schnitzel-fied sweetbreads.  This time the cauliflower was pickled, presumably red from beet juice, and served with a carob syrup, and tahnini. I’m not sure that I tasted the carob, but then, I haven’t had any since the ’70s when it was de rigueur at my aunt’s house instead of chocolate.

Zahav house smoked sable, challah, fried egg, poppy

Zahav sable, challah, egg interior

Never say no to anything containing a fried egg, especially a hidden yolk waiting to burst. This thick slice of challah, almost akin to what you might see drizzled with condensed milk at a Taiwanese cafe, was topped with house-cured sable, and a scattering of poppy seeds. Perfect for anyone who likes eating breakfast for dinner.

Zahav beef cheeks, potatoes, caramelized onions, paprika, celery

Thankfully, the mains were small plates, because I’d ruined my stomach’s capacity by eating snacks earlier at The Dandelion.  The beef cheeks came in compact crispy-edged squares like kibbeh, and were accented with celery, tiny onions, and paprika.

Zahav duck kebab, pistachios, saffron

The ground duck kebabs actually tasted like the rich poultry they were (I recently had a ground duck slider that just tasted like mushy generic meat) and paired well with the not untraditional combination of saffron rice with pistachios and pomegranate molasses sauce. Both mains were good, but the mezze felt more exciting.

Zahav apricot rugelach, almonds, turkish coffee ice cream

A dessert each seemed excessive  but that was a part of the bargain, so there was apricot rugulach with Turkish coffee ice cream.

Zahav halva, pomegranate, chocolate, pistachios

And halva with chocolate ice cream, pistachios, and a pomegranate sauce.

The biggest question I was left with was why do we not have a restaurant, not only along these lines, but of this caliber, in NYC? With that said, I haven’t yet been to Balaboosta, probably the most similar in ethos to Zahav. I mentioned this to who I assumed was a manager checking in with each table (and threw us off my asking our names–if this was a Jewish-gauging test, I don’t think I passed) and he said there was a possibility of a branch opening here, but that it would be Kosher. I guess there is more demand for that dietary requirement in NYC than Philadelphia? I’m not 100% sure what that would mean for the menu–I’m guessing the haloumi would get the boot–but I would be excited, nonetheless.

Zahav * 237 St. James Pl., Philadelphia, PA

Eaten, Barely Blogged: 24 Hours in Philadelphia

The dandelion logoI go to Philadelphia about once a year, just to keep myself in check and explore the world just slightly beyond NYC's borders–it's the second-largest city on the East Coast, after all. And it's a good food city. My only disappointment this time around was the shuttering of Mako's, a kind of dingy bar on South Street that was only notable because it served a Surfer on Acid, which I absorbed as second-hand nostalgia from James, who knew the drink as Surfing on Acid from his Baltimore days in the early '90s. Trashy as it may be (Malibu rum, canned pineapple juice and Jagermeister) the sweet and herbal brown cocktail has become a staple at our annual Super Bowl party, and it is surprisingly good. R.I.P. Mako's.

Because it's Philly, we started off at a Stephen Starr vehicle, faux British pub, The Dandelion, which I chose partially because it was only one block from our hotel (I'm still baffled how the Sofitel charges the exact same room price that I paid on my first visit to the city of brotherly love back in 2000–thank you, crappy economy) and also because I was wooed by their  '70s children's book lion illustration-style logo (I'm a leo, I can't help my fondness for anthropomorphic felines).

The dandelion cocktails

The intention was to merely sip cocktails and have a few bar snacks to hold us over till our 9:30pm dinner reservations at Zahav. Even though it was only 5pm, we may have ordered too much.Well, there were fun cocktails: a Bourbon Ginger Fizz (Bulliet bourbon, ginger, lemon, bitters, egg white) that looked like a little pint of beer, and the gin and bitter lemon (Beefeater gin, lemon, bitters, tonic) not unlike a gin and tonic, just a touch dryer. A more unusual, Scotch Honeysuckle (Dewar’s scotch, dry vermouth, honey, lemon, rose water) was also enjoyed, and wouldn't have been totally out of place at Zahav either, though not pictured.

The dandelion dressed crab
I wouldn't have chosen the dressed crab, two dishes were plenty, but it was more exciting than expected and not just because it was presented in an adorably farm-to-table glass jar, atop a bed of ice strewn with seaweed. The presentation transformed the crab-heavy salad, only cut with lemon-chervil mayonnaise and finely chopped hard-boiled egg, from a lady-like meal on a lettuce leaf into a heartier snack. It didn't really need the cocktail sauce.

The dandelion devilled eggs

The dandelion berkshire pork pate

There were also curried devilled eggs and a chunky pork pate, good alone, but complemented by the celery root remoulade and pear and raisin chutney.

Paesano's liveracce sandwich

I did have a nice, gross-sounding sandwich, the Liveracci, at Paesano's in the Italian Market. Who would ever think to combine fried chicken livers, Gorgonzola, orange marmalade, onions, and salami? What the hell?! This beast essentially crams my favorite strong flavors, salty and sweet, in  into one package. It could only be topped by adding more spice or fishy funk (the liver accomplishes that angle nearly) but that might be going too far.

Paesano's paesano sandwich

I did not try the namesake Paesano with its oozing fried egg, beef brisket, horseradish mayonnaise, provolone, and roasted tomatoes that apparently beat Bobby Flay in a throwdown.

Geno's cheesesteak

There was also Geno's for old time's sake. I always say I prefer Pat's, but are the two kitty-corner competitors really that different on sandwich alone? I did enjoy (cringed/ducked) witnessing the poor Filipino family who had the misfortune to ask the counter lady at, "What's good here?"

Chink's exterior

I also finally made it to Chink's, the old-school cheesesteakery with the most wholesome atmosphere and the most questionable name. In a way, it's more Philadelphia than either Geno's or Pat's could ever be at this point. Sit at the diner-style booths and play with the stuck-in-time personal jukebox filled with bands like Savage Garden and Marcy Playground.

Chink's cheesesteak

A large, with Cheez Whiz, of course. I know provolone is perfectly acceptable; it just melts down too much and isn't salty or gooey enough.

Chink's frame

Chink's frame!

Wrong-way parking philadelphia

Possibly the best non-food part of going to Philadelphia is frazzling James with willy-nilly parking. In Portland, I always parked any which way on streets, as they do in Philly, too (and also park in medians, which is a little odd) but it freaks the hell out of James. I got him to park the wrong way by convincing him it was a one-way street even though it wasn't.

Federal Donuts is exactly the type of place I avoid like the plague in Brooklyn. Foodie-approved, crazy crowds, kooky ordering procedures, painfully long waits, and daily selling-out of provisions. If you show up at 11:45am when they start selling fried chicken, you'll miss out on 80% of the donuts they start selling at 7am. I wake up at 9am on a weekday, so there's no way in hell I'm getting up two hours earlier on a weekend, let alone while on a mini-vacation. The only "fancy" donuts left on our arrival were oatmeal raisin, for a reason (gross) and mandarin orange coffee, which was ok, but like coffee grounds had accidentally affixed themselves to a citrusy glazed cake donut. No pistachio halvah, banana chocolate, s'mores, or blueberry lemon pie, all still listed on the chalkboard.

The procedure is convoluted for a first-timer. You need to get a number, though no one tells you that for a while, there are just a bunch of people crowded around the counter, and you get a number for each half, so two wholes would equal four separate hand-written numbers on cards. After maybe half-an-hour your number is called and you pay, give your name, and specify your flavor: za'taar, chile-garlic, coconut curry, harissa, honey ginger, or buttermilk ranch, and then you wait another 10 minutes or so before your name is called and your chicken is ready. Phew. Yeah, the chicken is pretty good, though there's no need to ever do it again and it's doubtful I  would partake if I lived in the area. I'm just not a liner-upper and have no patience in life, probably because I'm about to become middle-aged and every second is increasingly precious.

Federal donuts chicken

Half chicken. If I knew the chicken was going to take 40 minutes, I would've ordered a whole instead. I went on a za'taar binge, having experienced the spice blend the night before at Zahav, chef Mike Solomonov, more formal, modern Middle Eastern restaurant. Earthy is a cop-out, but it is, and not a distraction from the simple charms of crispy fried skin. You also get a little plastic container of Japanese pickles and a mini honey glazed doughnut.

That I didn't take a single photo of the donuts (there was also an Appolonia, a granulated sugar and cocoa power-covered number, and a vanilla-lavender, two standards that are always in-stock) further proves my indifference to fried, sugared dough. No knock on Federal Donuts, I'm just not donut-crazed.

Chink's * 6030 Torresdale Ave., Philadelphia, PA

The Dandelion * 124 S. 18th St.,  Philadelphia, PA

Federal Donuts * 1219 S. Second. St., Philadelphia, PA

Geno's * 1219 S. Ninth St., Philadelphia, PA

Iron Hill Brewery

After a grueling afternoon of outlet shopping in what felt like the middle of nowhere, Limerick, Pennsylvania, an early dinner was in order. The on site Ruby Tuesday wasn't calling to me so we checked to see what the GPS might come up with nearby. There appeared to be a cluster of restaurants in two towns: Royersford and Phoenixville. I wanted to avoid already-known-to-me chains and was wooed by Texas Roadhouse and Iron Hill Brewery. The latter sounded classier so off to Phoenixville.

Along the Schuylkill River, Phoenixville was quainter than expected with a cutesy main street inhabited by outdoorsy types. I was willing to be swayed by any restaurant along the strip. The thing is, independent doesn't necessarily mean good cooking. The little hamlet was rife with tapas abuse.

One restaurant, 101 Bridge, with colored strobe lights and a disco ball beaming from the second floor of the historic Victorian house, was advertising $16 "tapas" of chicken marsala and rigatoni. Ok.

Just down the way was The Fenix, "Phoenixville's only martini and whisky bar" offered tapas that included, California rolls, lobster nachos and a peculiarity called shrimp lejon, which you'll soon see is a favorite of the area.

Iron hill brewery exterior

I also wasn't sold on New Orleans pizza whatever that might be. So, we ultimately ended up right where our car's oracle suggested in the first place: Iron Hill Brewery, a bright clean suburban-style restaurant with vague upscale tendencies (lots of $20+ entrees and steak) and an almost comical seriousness about their beers. It really wasn't terrible in the least, though unprompted you will get a lengthy description with lots of flowery tasting notes if you ask about a beer. To their credit, they'll also give you juice glass-sized tastes if you show interest in a particular brew. We ended up with full servings of the Abbey Dubbel, Pig Iron Porter and Extra Special Bitter.

Iron hill brewery cheddar plate

Always a sucker for a cheese plate, we had a cheddar sampler and honestly I don't remember which each wedge was. The crumbly aged variety in the middle was a favorite. Extras included grainy mustard, pear compote, dried cranberries and cinnamon-sugared walnuts.

Iron hill brewery lejon pizza

Ok, here's that shrimp lejon again. I pronounced it lehon like it was Spanish and was corrected to lezhan. Apparently lejon is the combination of shrimp, bacon and horseradish, here in the form of a pizza. I ordered it because it was so foreign. I've never heard of this creation in my life. I'm assuming it's regional, much like that frightening Goeslin coiff, which I did see on a woman in the dining room. I'll concede that the flavors combine well, the creamy mildly hot horseradish sauce instead of tomato helping balance the double richness of bacon and shrimp. I still think it's weird, though.

Iron hill brewery fish & chips

Fish and chips in a beer batter, of course, their Vienna Lager.

Iron Hill Brewery * 130 E. Bridge St., Phoenixville, PA

Amada

1/2 I don’t really eat at places like Amada in New York. There's something Meatpacking District about the popular Philadelphia Spanish restaurant and its environs, which also includes sceney mega-eateries like Buddakan and Morimoto (both now with NYC outposts). I wouldn't go so far as to say Amada is style over substance; the food was solid but I don't think the bulk of their clientele is serious about what on their plate.

The small collection of kitchen-side counter seats a few steps higher than the rest of the room seemed to be the foodie section, and tellingly occupied by diners a good decade or two older than the rest of the couples and groups of men dressed in mirror image uniforms of untucked patterned oxfords and jeans like the sales guys in my office. I didn't even notice the women.

I also had my eye on Cochon, a pork-centric French BYOB, but settled on Amada because I like Spanish food. (Though it might’ve been folly since we were just in Madrid—do you really want to compare a cuisine on its on turf to a second or even first tier American city's version? I did.) Plus, Ecuadorian chef Jose Garces, who's developed a mini empire based on the cuisines of  Spain, Mexico and Peru (with a dash of China), had just won a James Beard best chef award for the Mid-Atlantic region. That must say something? I haven't even eaten at The Modern and Gabriel Kreuther was our winner.

I hate to say no when asked, "Have you dined with us before?" because it's not likely I'm going to be enlightened by whatever is coming my way. In this circumstance, I acquiesced and we were prodded to order three-four dishes per person. That initially seemed a bit excessive. Then next thing I knew we were picking wildly from the menu, trouble that stemmed from a 9:45pm reservation without a proper lunch to cushion the two pre-meal gin and tonics at a dive down the street (perhaps I should've compromised with a single $12 violet tequila martini called Talk To Her—yes, the cocktails are all Almodovar inspired). "Small plates" can wreak havoc when ordering on an empty stomach. In the end we definitely picked too many—seven items in total—and easily could've done with one less dish, probably two, and should’ve asked for our cheese at the end.

Amada tuna dip No dainty amuses here, this was a tuna-based dip, akin to something you might see stuffed into a pequillo pepper, with crackly flatbread triangles. It got ignored because within minutes everything non-cooked came out in overwhelmingly successive waves. There was too much going on.

Amada jamon serrano

Serrano ham was fine but nothing special. We didn't really need this. The accompanying cornichons, mustard and caper berries were totally Gallic and a little off-kilter even though they suit cured fatty meat.

Amada cheese

Caña de cabra with fig-cherry marmalade, Manchego with lavender honey and Roncal with black olive caramel. I guess we didn't have to order three cheeses but I like sampling a variety. I expected to be drawn to the olive caramel (which I can't even remember and blurred with the fruity jam) but was surprised at how amazing the Manchego with honey was. Normally, I’m kind of creeped out by the gooey cloying sweetness of honey and I never would eat it straight (I felt doubly vindicated after recently reading Ruth Reichl doesn't like the bee product either, doubly because I had read that sentiment before) and I hate eating flowers too, but something about their pairing created a magical savory reaction. We ended up using it for all the cheeses and futilely looked for a jar among the many Amish stands at Reading Terminal Market selling honey (and separately, lavender flowers) but clearly it's not a specialty of the region.

Amada patatas bravas

Deconstructed patatas bravas were reminiscent of the tiny filled cylinders we just had at Sergi Arola Gastro in Madrid. These were fatter and rougher, a lot more potato per aioli dollop, though not mealy like the traditional version can be.

Amada pato con datiles coca

I will never not order a sweet-meat combo even topped with cheese so the coca with duck and dates was impossible to ignore. It was certainly classier than a ham and pineapple pizza but the concept isn't all that different.

Amada pulpo a la gallega

The paprika-dusted rounds of octopus and potato were tender and zapped with flavorful char around the edges. We could've eaten twice the amount. I do need to look into why squid is always cheap but octopus is often pricey.

Amada habas a la catalana

Ok, we had to squeeze some vegetables in. Warm limas and favas in a vinaigrette were substantial and had great texture. Who knows why lima beans have such a bad reputation.

Amada cordero relleno

The breaded lamb chops stuffed with goat cheese and sitting atop blobs of romesco came late in the game so I didn't have the appetite to appreciate them. One of the most expensive dishes at $19, these weren't a necessity. Now I know.

Amada sweet

Way too full for dessert (but not for a midnight run to both Geno's and Pat's) we were sent off with a simple thin almond cookie.

Amada * 217-219 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA

Geno’s & Dalessandro’s

1/2 Some Americana I love (cheeseburgers), some I could live without (hot dogs). Cheesesteaks are definitely in the love category. Lots of goo and grease, less tame than a burger. Even though I haven't detailed it extensively, I've tried quite a few Philadelphia specimens over the years. Of course, Geno's and Pat's numerous times, Tony Luke's, Chubby's (second choice after a no go at classily named Chink's) and now, Dalessandro's.

Geno's neon

On my most recent visit, I did a taste comparison between South Philly drunk-magnet impossible-to-miss Geno's and the cramped Roxborough no frills lunch counter, Dalessandro's (which is across the street from Chubby's). (We also picked up a cheesesteak at Pat's, but James ate it before I could get a photo or even a bite.) At the latter, it felt like everyone was known by the staff, but that might've just been because they ask for your name when you place an order. There is a few minute's wait because everything is cooked on demand.

Geno's window

Geno's is more of an assembly line with their gruff schtick and pre-made subs that are instantly slid across the counter toward you. Geno's doesn't sell alcohol while Dalessandro's has refrigerated bottles of beer—I spied Yuengling and Labatt. Beer makes sense with cheesesteaks.

Geno's cheesesteak

Dalessandro's just feels better (unfortunately, I didn't take any photos inside or outside) which is why my conclusion pains me. I actually prefer the "touristy" sandwiches like Geno's above (cherry peppers not my doing). It's the style more than quality. Both are good in their own ways, but they are different breeds. I will give them both two-and-a-half shovels because three just seems weird for either (though looking from my 2001-02 perspective I deemed Pat's worth of three shovels—it was a younger, gentler time).

D'alessandro's cheesesteak

Dalessandro's chops the meat fine where Geno's uses Steak-umm-like thin strips. I prefer the solid pieces of beef to the crumbles. Of course, you can ask for Cheez Whiz, American or provolone pretty much everywhere but Geno's screams whiz, just look at that orange façade. I didn't specify what cheese I wanted at D'Alessandro's and was given provolone by default. Sure, provolone is classier but it melts away to nothing and is subtle amongst so much beef . Provolone is perfect on a roast pork sandwich (which I'll get to later) but for me a cheesesteak needs the sharp, unmistakable tang of viscous processed cheese.

Dalessandro's is definitely a better value, the sandwich is nearly twice as big, a giant hoagie completely stuffed to the bun’s limits and costs $5.94. Geno's is petite on a cut roll and a little skimpy for $6.75. My ideal would be a massive sandwich with steak slices and plenty of whiz. Onions too. And while you can find a bottle of now all-American sriracha (my cheesesteak condiment of choice at home) at Dalessandro's, it's worth trying a few small spoonfuls of the chunky hot chile sauce at Geno’s. It burns like crazy, so much so your mouth numbs and everything starts tasting like dirt. I never said it was a positive experience.

Geno's vs d'alessandro's wrapped

How they are wrapped to go. Paper-lined foil and logo-covered paper. The foil keeps the heat in better for immediate eating.

Geno's vs d'alessandro's open

Pardon the unappetizing display of these halves. I'm a leftover freak. What I learned the hard way was that the foil isn't a good idea if you’re saving the sandwich for the next day. Dalessandro's uses a softer bread and the sandwich had steamed, sogged and adhered to the wrapper. After re-warming both, I had to rip off the formerly crusty exterior of the roll to get the paper off. Eat Dalessandro's sub immediately. Geno's, maybe due to all the processed ingredients, held up just fine.

Geno's * 1219 S. 9th St., Philadelphia, PA

Dalessandro's * 600 Wendover St., Philadelphia, PA

Monk’s

First off, I'm not a beer person. Not that I dislike it or anything, but I'm
certainly not an expert. I'm not sure if this Belgian place is more
restaurant or bar. Size-wise you'd think restaurant, but they're pretty
obsessive about their Trappist brews. During the 30 minute wait for a table
(which would lead you to believe food is the emphasis), I was able to pour
over one of their pamphlets, complete with glossary, categorization by
styles, and price list by country. It was all a bit overwhelming if you ask
me.

When all was said and done, I tried a Rodenbach Flemish Sour Ale and
Boon Kreik, a bright red, sour cherry brew. I guess I must like tangy, red
beers since they were both in that vein. But I was there for the mussels and
fries, which were good even though there were a few duds in the bucket. A
smoked salmon appetizer with Boursin and a tart cucumber dill salad was
refreshing. It's a fun night spot, and one of the few places I found in town
to serve real food till 2am. (5/12//01)

This is the place for beer, mussels and fries. But apparently not the
place for brunch. I only say that because I'm not a terribly critical eater,
I don't love everything, but I rarely dislike anything either. With that
said, their eggs Benedictine totally disturbed me. They came on heel ends of
very hearty, crusty, peasanty bread that were impossible to cut through, so
logistically they're impossible to eat (I did see someone eating them out of
hand like a sandwich-the correct procedure?) and then the hollandaise was so
sour (vinegar? Lemon juice?) it was unpleasantly tangy. The spinach was
doing that grainy thing on the teeth it often does, but coupled with the
awkward presentation and too-tart sauce, I had no desire to finish my food.
And in a food city like Philly, there's no reason to fill-up on mediocrity.
(3/23/03)


Monk's Cafe * 264 S. 16th
St., Philadelphia, PA

Morimoto

With these name brand restaurants, I hem and haw over what to say, as if
seriousness of mission is ever reflected in my recounting. Whatever.
Morimoto was a spur of the moment birthday dinner choice. All I knew was
that New York City was not the place to be for James's 33rd birthday. Not
after the past few years of fiascos. I randomly made out of town
reservations. Perhaps not the brightest financial move, but hey, what's a
whole week's wages for a meal ($12/hour part time doesn't get you far when
it comes to high end dining)? That's right, the world is this library
clerk's oyster.

We ended up taking the middle ground, trying the $100 omakase (the
others being $80 or $120) and probably ordered a bad wine, the waiter seemed
curt and unimpressed with me. But that could've had more to do with how
every time we go to a restaurant that serves a Willamette Valley wine James
makes a big point of asking how to pronounce it because invariably they'll
say Willa Met as he also incorrectly says it. It's Wil
LAM ette
, the correct way, my way. I'm from the Willamette Valley, for
crying out loud. Anyway, the ruse always alienates staff and pisses me off.

It's definitely a thrill to see the plates coming out, not knowing what
you'll get. The trouble is not having a menu to refer to, and only the
verbal descriptions. I tend to forget subtle ingredients, nuances and feel
self-conscious about scribbling in a notebook like an foodie who needs to be
put in his place. The first course was toro tartare with caviar wasabi and
what they called a Japanese peach (more like a pitted berry), then a palate
cleanser of wasabi-yuzu sorbet with a beignet (not a pillowy New Orleans
goodie, but a miniature, sweet breadstick), third was hamachi with
microgreens and a yuzu vinaigrette, fourth halibut steamed with sake in a
banana leaf, fifth Kobe beef with Japanese potatoes (sweet), and a final
sushi course served on a board (I don't remember the individual varieties,
there were about six in the style I think is called Nigiri-sushi). Dessert
was a long thin strip of yam cake with a postage stamp-size square of lime
gelatin, drizzles of balsamic vinegar and a thimble dollop of ice cream, the
flavor I can't recall.

Morimoto wasn't in the house, but I'm not one of those folks who goes to
celebrity-chef type restaurants looking for snapshots. I do fall for
over-the-top dcor, however. Sure, all that Stephen Starr plastic, glowing,
color-changing, space-age crap is gimmicky. But it works on me.


Morimoto* 723
Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA

Tony Luke’s

1/2

Pork, provolone, broccoli rabe. This sandwich is the shit. An Italian
sandwich, in their words. I've also enjoyed the version at Tommy DeNic's,
but there's something to be said for the ambience of the take out window and
picnic table style dining, a la Geno's and Pat's. Such a phenomenon. I've
never lived anywhere with this whole tradition of brusque, window service
sandwiches. (I've also never lived or visited anywhere where people can just
park in the middle of the street-it's totally bizarre to see cars sitting in
medians, facing all different directions.) The rabe has the tendency to make
the sandwich soggy and most un-dainty (but good) so I often refrain, but I
noticed what they call a "green sandwich," which I'm thinking must be
provolone and rabe. That even sounds good, and probably the only thing a
vegetarian could eat in this damn town of fatty fast food delights.


Tony Luke's * 39 E. Oregon
Ave., Philadelphia, PA