Friday, December 30, 2011

Apologies and Promises

Apologies for the long delays between posts, dear five people who read my blog :) Work has been very go-go-go these days, and then there were the holidays. I plan on trying to make a dent in my backlogged meals soon. Don't give up on me. No matter where I go. You will find me. What? I just bastardized a movie quote - can you guess which movie?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Best of 2011: Meal Edition

Another year is wrapping itself up and I've been meaning to cobble together a look back on some of the meals I enjoyed most throughout the year. I finally sat down to do so was struck by what seemed to be a lack of new places to choose from this year, as it seems I relied more on a few old standbys. There are, of course, some notable exceptions to that general trend. I also found that the meals I enjoyed most that weren't out on the town usually were not created in my own Philadelphia kitchen, but in the country kitchen of M. and S. , which makes a fair amount of sense; I feel more connected to my own cooking abilities when I'm in a kitchen with enough counter space and outlets that I don't feel like I'm bumping into myself every ten seconds. As I looked back I remembered all sorts of activities that, while not being the best meals I enjoyed, were certainly memorable and meaningful moments. Perhaps one year I'll create a list of those top events ... but perhaps not. In either case, happy holidays to one and all and happy new year to boot!

The jerk chicken I so enjoyed in Jamaica last year was succulent, juicy and made all the more special by being consumed on a lounge chair right by the sea in 80 degree weather. You could count on me to be queuing up for my fair share each lunch time day.
Pho usually makes the list, but this year ushered in the era of Ha Saigon as king of the Philly pho joints, as far as I'm concerned. A little bit more of a trek than the Washington Ave. locations, its staff and pork rolls just added value to its already sumptuously beefy broth.
Hanging out with my erstwhile friend G. introduced me to at least two veggie-friendly restaurants, but I particularly enjoyed the extremely intimate experience of Hardena (maybe six tables total in a very cramped, non-descript space) - as well as its obscenely bountiful buffet plates. I keep meaning to go back to try their satay.
While I wasn't 100% wowed by their generous portion of scallops, D'Mitri's grilled octopus appetizer was some of the most tender and flavorful that I've had in my lifetime.
Another annual favorite that pops up is softshell crabs, and this year was no exception. I very much enjoyed frying a gaggle of these guys up in order to introduce them to L. and Fatty during our early Spring country soujourn.
The country made another appearance when I went up there solo for the July 4th holiday times. Did I cook skewers for six when I was just one? Yes I did. But were the two different kinds - Chipotle/Coca Cola and Soy Sauce/Garlic/Ginger/Lime/ - a revelation to me, even though I was the one who made them up to begin with? Yes.
My father's and my omakase experience at Morimoto may have been a challenge to my camera adjusting abilities and stretched my ability to appreciate neon and white leather, but the food itself was no joke. I particularly enjoyed this salmon morsel - as well as the sushi, of course.
I wasn't sure exactly what to expect when L. and I made our way to Manhattan for my first-ever ramen experience at Ippudo...but this meal surpassed whatever expectations I might have had. The rich, fatty pork broth and tender pork and spring noodles. Oh man. Just thinking about it makes me want it.
While my summer adventure with M. featured copious meals worth of a nod, I think the one that stood out the most was our extremely early-bird dinner at Au Pied de Cochon, especially our foie gras dish served simply with balsamic and bread. Though her steak tartar was not anything to turn your nose up at either.
Though one of my two early birthday beach adventures was derailed by Hurricane Irene, I can say that the one b-day dinner that I was able to enjoy at Fin's was quite something. The rockfish was a revelation and the company fantastic....I was also quite glad to try my first (and so far only) pickle martini.
While sometimes the lighting of restaurants prevents me and my limited skills from really taking the best of photographs, the food is still worth applauding. In this case, it was Cochon's charcoute garni - with its nicely grilled and slightly smoked pork ribs, backed up with sausage, pork belly and sauerkraut - that suffered the wrath of my camera ineptitude. It may not look like much, but it was good stuff indeed.
I log enough time and spend enough money at McCrossen's that it would be a damn shame if I wasn't recognizing and appreciating the place. I especially enjoyed the monthly cheese/wine/food pairings that T., L. and R. concoct for their guests. But it was this Rabbit "Porchetta" with speck, swiss chard, PX and lavender dish that really just blew my brains - and palate - away. The man knows his way around the kitchen, the woman knows her way around a cellar, and the other man knows his way around a cheese cave. Or something. Kudos.

Brunch at Bolete was another country meal I enjoyed quite a lot. The fried oysters had flavor and crispiness, the eggs perfectly cooked but still runny, the sauce delightful and not too heavy. There's something comforting about a restaurant of this caliber seemingly capable of thriving outside of a heavily urban environment.
I went to Modo Mio a lot this year, more than I really realized until I paged through the blog. And once I went through it all I was confused about which meal I wanted to highlight the most. There was that especially splendiferous raviolo, bursting with yolky goodness but there was also the greatness of a simple amatriciana with tomato and pancetta. In the end, however, I decided to go with what was freshest in my mind and most delectable on my tongue: the complimentary special beef cheek ravioli from my meal there just last month. Or earlier this month, maybe.
And that's the list for this year. Thanks to all who contributed to each one of the dining experiences that so tickled my tongue, warmed my heard and soothed my belly. I already have a few ideas of places I'd like to try in the new year, and hope that I will be just as amazed in the next 365 days as I did over the last ones.

You can see past years' wrap ups here: 2010, 2009, 2008.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Korean-Style Cheese Steak c/o Koja Grill

The days after Tuesday night darts are often a struggle due to the large amount of beer I consume, as well as the fact that I usually stay up at least two hours later than I usually might. To counteract that rough feeling I often get a sausage egg and cheese bagel in the morning. After this last darts night I went a different route and chose this Korean marinated beef cheese steak concoction. Authentic it may not be, but fully delicious and capable of improving my brain capacity? Indeed it is.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Playoffs and Wings

Hmmmm. Tuesday before last the darts team played in the play offs. There were wings.
And beer.
And fake prom shots.
And darts, of course.

In the end we came up just a little short and didn't make it to the finals, but as far as I'm concerned it was a good season. In that, I had fun and really, what's more important than that?

Friday, December 16, 2011

An Exceptional Evening c/o Modo Mio

Months ago, M., C., LW and I made a plan. That plan was to baptize M. into the wonders that are a Modo Mio meal. Our first proposed date for such an introduction was foiled by L.'s sudden 30th birthday. Or, put another way, I canceled and the ladies were nice enough not to go without me. So we rescheduled for early December...but then C. couldn't make it, but somehow we weren't collectively willing to wait C. just had to miss out, which is sad. So a few Fridays ago I met up with LW and M. for dinner, and oh what a dinner it was. At my suggestion M. brought a prosecco, which we promptly opened to celebrate our very presence in the restaurant while debating the relative merits of different menu combinations. The specials that evening were particularly compelling and I really need to remember to write that sort of thing down. While I thought up until the last second that I wanted to go with the regular menu item chicken liver bruschetta, at the last moment I decided the shrimp with marsella (sp?) sauce, dried cherries and a piece of soaked up with sweet goodness was a better option. This was surprising; sweeter than expected. The bread had a bit of a French toast feel to it, so saturated with the shrimpy, mapley, cherry-ness of the whole thing. The shrimp were nice and plump. Succulent even.
I agonized over going with the amatriciana pasta or the special (beef cheek ravioli with reduction sauce) but in the end I decided to go with the classic and hold off on a heavy meat until my main course. And this pasta, as always, did not disappoint. Just so good. I feel like I should be capable of making at least a close approximation of this dish at home, the flavors and ingredients are pretty simple - but the execution. I don't know. I'd screw it up. I was very happy.
You know what made me even happier? I will tell you. What made me even happier was when the Manager, Steve (though maybe it was Mike and too much time has passed for me to remember...I am a jerk), came over and formally introduced himself to us - noting that he had seen that I come in a fair amount. We shook hands. I told him my name too. It was a nice moment followed by his bringing out the special pasta of the night for us to try gratis. And that special. Oh my. I'm so glad he gave us the opportunity to try it, because I now know that we were missing out by choosing anything other than it. It was decadent. Rich. The mouth-feel was something not to be messed with. I soaked up some of the sauce with my leftover bread it was so delectable. I think I could have made it through all three raviolis by myself and then moved on to a heavier entree (originally my concern was that it would have been too rich and heavy to precede my steak choice), but it was nice just to have the one and still have the body space for what came next.

LW brought a really nice Chianti that we all enjoyed thoroughly.
Before our main courses came out, we were given yet another complimentary dish - grilled asparagus with a soft fried egg on top. This, too, was a marvelous little dish. I won't lie, I really appreciated the extras. It made me feel special and appreciated in a way that is hard to come by at most restaurants, mainly because you really do have to come to a place a whole heck of a lot to get that kind of little thank you and I just don't have the time or money to develop that kind of familiarity/closeness with multiple establishments. But Modo Mio definitely is a place I've frequented a fair amount since moving to Philly, and the entire front-end staff is exceptionally good at remembering faces and making you feel welcomed back. What is my point? That I was grateful for these little add-0ns and the attention that comes with the whole Modo Mio experience. Also, as usual it was someone's birthday and we all got to sing to them. I love that.
I went with the skirt steak with a number of yummy things, one of which was a sort of sweet and sour pumpkin. Man. I don't usually think of skirt steak as being a meat you can really dress up or make special, but Modo Mio has twice proved me wrong on that front. The meat was medium rare, had plenty of flavor and character and the sauce and pumpkin additions just made this whole thing waaaaay too good. I wish I could tell you about some of the finer points of the dish, but I didn't write down its description and their website menu is woefully out of date/not even working from the look of it. Of course at this point in the meal I was getting full, so I was able to keep myself from devouring the whole thing in one sitting.
After our entrees, the manager came out again and offered us fresh-made limoncello, which was very exciting to me, as my fresh-made limoncello connection is no more and I still like to get a fix from time to time. This was a nice one, more citrusy and not as sweet as those I used to enjoy. Do you see the glee in my eyes from the food, the wine, the company and the extra treats? If you don't see the glee, you are probably dead inside.
And finally dessert. LW decided to go with tirimisu and it was also decided that M. would take a photograph L. holding her dish up close to her face, kind of like she was modeling it - or wooing it. But what ended up happening was that as she was posing the tirimisu began to precariously slide off her plate due to the angle at which she was holding it. This went from being just kind of funny to very funny when the tirimisu entirely slid off the plate and onto the glasses LW had taken off specifically for the photo. Oh the hilarity. I really just couldn't not laugh and laugh. LW was a good sport about it and I think her glasses recovered.
I went with the saffron semi-freddo. Mmmm.
This was a particularly successful meal at Modo Mio. I really enjoyed each dish choice I made and didn't feel stabs of envy when I tried what M. and LW had on their plates, which is something that happens fairly often to me. The service, the company, the food. Oh my. My oh my. Just. Yum.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Salad and Breaking Bad

Sometimes I eat at home. Most times, if I'm at home, I'm watching something on my computer. In this instance the thing I ate was a Romaine salad with the left over pickled tomatoes from Village Whiskey, smoked salmon, hearty black olives and a truffle lemon vinaigrette. I enjoyed this salad while watching Breaking Bad, which I resisted enjoying for quite some time and yet continue to watch because it is pretty compelling stuff. It's just that sometimes I can't deal with watching such total misery, and that show is chock full of just that.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Little of Everything and Darts

Last week we had our last regular game of the season for darts. It was away at a bar in a neighborhood I never go to. LW and I begged a ride from fellow teammate AJ and waited to meet him and P. at McCrossen's. They were having a fancy dinner that night and T. was kind enough to give us a little taste of one of the dishes. Oysters with a cucumber something kind of something - I wasn't there when they were delivered so I didn't hear the full description. It was a nice little lagniappe.
Our competitors were a group of dudes very comfortable with themselves and their bar. The bar itself I liked, all Christmassed up and with a whole back room for darts. I liked that they wrapped their air conditioner.
Their food offering was a little sad. But maybe I would have liked it better had J. not told me that it was a bag of industrially frozen meat balls with a few jars of Ragu warmed up in a crock pot.

It was a close match but in the end we lost by one game. That, however, didn't matter all that much as LW this series of photographs her 'sources' are telling her who won what in our division. Meanwhile K. and T. are bro-ing it out in the background.

Right here is the moment when LW learns that the team has made the playoffs.
It was a funny night. Our opposite team wasn't overly friendly and seemed bent on misunderstanding many of us. I ended up in a conversation with one guy in which he insisted I was judging him and his bar and his neighborhood and thinking them all 'dive-y.' When, in fact, I was thinking that the bar had a nice feel to it. It was kind of weird. And by that I mean, it was weird.
We then returned to McCrossen's for a few rounds of late night darts.
And cake.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Manapus Adventure and Darts c/o the Bards

Our next destination was in the platypus beak area of our route and took a few moments of confusion to find. I'm telling you, Philadelphia really is quite a bit bigger than one (I) would think. So the next stop was Bulls Eye Dart Supplies. After two or three months of playing darts once a week, I started thinking (against my apathetic nature and way of being) that perhaps having my own set of darts wouldn't be a bad idea. Actually, part of the idea was inspired by my time at Buffalo Billiards. Their bar darts were so terrible I began to realize how nice LW's darts really are, and while I wasn't quite willing to plunk down the kind of cheddar she lays out for her supplies, I did think that perhaps an upgrade from 'no darts' to 'some darts' wasn't the worst idea. So, we went. We talked with the knowledgeable dart man. I threw two different weighted darts in my price range, made a decision and chose a few sets of flights. Here I am taking stock of my purchase.
LW and I had a third stop on our trip: Target. But it was the Pt. Richmond Target, a whole new shopping experience. Well, the layout was certainly different. Then we made it back to our neck of Philadelphia to go on with our respective lives. Later in the evening, however, we met back up and went to the Bards. There my darts had their 'debut.' Owning one's own darts doesn't necessarily make one any better of a player.
Behold. My darts.
Behold my darts again. You can't see it but I'm wearing quite a cute dress and yellow tights along with my boots. No one else really saw it either, but it was an outfit worth a passing glance if you ask me.