Monday, February 25, 2013

Cucumbers, Dumplings and Beef Noodle Soup c/o Nan Zhou Noodle House

Dart nights are Tuesday. Generally I practice a bit at home before heading to wherever the night's match may be (half are home bar games, the other half away) but a few weeks back LW and I decided that before our respective matches that it might be nice to grab a bite. In this instance we decided on Nan Zhou Noodle House. I'd been to their original location with Mr. Ass when I first moved to Philly and while I saw its charms, whatever particular dish I ordered that day had me feeling a little funny for the next two, so I never returned. But I am aware that those who like cheap good eats in town definitely sing the praises of Nan Zhou, so I was up for trying it out again. We had their cucumber appetizer, which was nice and refreshing ... reminiscent of the spicy cucumbers at Han Dynasty but not as drenched in hot chili oil. Instead it was more of a rice vinegar/garlic thing going on. We did not let a single cucumber morsel go to waste.

Then we had an order of the steamed chicken curry dumplings. Definitely a different flavor combo, but to me they had a little too much of just 'curry powder' taste to them as opposed to a true amalgamation of individual/fresher spices. Good, but I think I'd try a different variety next time.
For the main event I chose the sliced beef noodle soup. This was pretty darn good. The noodles really are special. They have far more of a bite to them and stand up to the heat of the broth quite nicely. And the broth was also nice and hearty with a depth of flavor I appreciated. It's not pho, but you can't not see the similarities. On the whole my true wish would be the noodles from Nan Zhou with the broth from my favorite pho place. Oh man. Now that would be something.
Obligatory noodle shot.
Yep held up quite well.

Disappointing Dim Sum c/o Ocean Harbor

Earlier this month I sent out the call for interested dim sum participants, of which there were a few. You can't really do dim sum without a critical mass of at least two, but really an ideal number is closer to four or six. With the help of BC's more extended social Philly network we got to four. Leave it to me to plan a dim sum outing on the Chinese Lunar New Year. Lines are always an issue with dim sum if you go much past 11, but on a holiday? Pissssssh, the worst. Of course I didn't actually understand it was a holiday until I was walking to Chinatown from Market Street and firecrackers were being lit all over the place. But thwarted I was not going to be. BC had arrived just a bit before I had, and already had a number in hand. Thus began the epic standing in the crushingly full lobby/stairs area waiting for our number to be called. We were joined by BC's friends S. and A. Eventually we got to the top of the stairs and our number was called. I'm not going to lie that I was pretty much entirely non-plussed and totally annoyed that we were then seated at the table immediately at the top of the stairs where a good 50+ people were all waiting for their numbers to be called. This crowd of humanity spilled up to the stairs and into the aisle between our table and another set of tables. Not only did this mean that people were constantly bumping my chair and generally breathing down my neck, but it also resulted in a complete barricade between the carts and our table. None of the cart ladies bothered to push through and we were simply sitting there sipping tea and craning to see what was going on. I get it, it's a holiday, space is at capacity. But seriously, why even have a table if the patrons are going to struggle and grump to get any service? Sigh. Between an arched eyebrow to the manager on C.'s part and my literally getting up and going to carts to get additional snacks and point out our unserviced table, we did ok, but I didn't see a number of my favorite treats. No shrimp dumplings. No sesame balls.
Not as large a variety of dumplings on display. My suspicion is that they were grabbed by folks seated right by the kitchen in the slightly less densely populated areas of the space. If I had been in such a spot I would certainly be pleased with myself.
Chinese broccoli was decent.
I know that this crowded madness was a result of the holiday, but this is the third time I abandoned my generally favored Joy Tsin Lau to give Ocean Harbor a shot and I was simply not impressed. Dim sum is always a pretty cutthroat process - you really gotta work to get those dumplings, or more tea, or a glass of water - and generally that's part of its charm. But this was not charming, holiday or no. That said, I was glad to get a little taste of dim sum after quite a lull. And it was good to see BC and meet some of her buds.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Night Out Featuring Wine and Snacks c/o Tria Wine Room

CPM had a slight break in her graduate studies, or at least a little more time in Philly, earlier this month and we capitalized on that free time/her hubby's being out of town for a bachelor party to meet up and catch up. At some time prior to this meeting I purchased a Groupon (or it could have been a Social Living) discount for cheese and snacks at Tria Wine Room. I had tried, previously, to cash the coupon in, but hadn't read the fine print that stipulated it could only be redeemed at the West Philly Tria location. In the end that early mistake was a blessing, as it was far more fun to explore the menu with a fellow food lover. I believe we went on a Saturday evening, braving the cold, a bus, and a walk past streaming UPenn students going east to Center City to arrive at our destination. I had realized that our choice of evenings could potentially lead to a wait/the fact that we might be the only two people in the establishment not on a date ... and at least one of those expectations was pretty much met; we were seated immediately at the bar but all around us were couples. The bartender was friendly and handsome and we quickly had glasses of wine in our hands. Well, in my case, a Spanish cava/prosecco (Cava Brut, Castellroig, NV). When it came down to choosing what to eat we ultimately chose Tria Sliced Meat Plate with Sweet Red Pepper, Pickled Onion Mostarda and Spicy Garlic Oil. The variations of the sliced cured meats was lovely, as were the accompanying slices of bread and garnishes. The garlic oil was particularly delightful.
We also split the Claudio Mozzarella Sandwich with Crispy Prosciutto, Piquillo Pepper, Pesto and Garlic Vinaigrette, which was above average for a fanci-fied mozzarella panini. I was especially fond of the pesto element.
We additionally enjoyed the Housemade Lamb Sausage with White Beans, Piquillo Peppers and Mint-Feta Sauce. CPM enjoyed the white beans a whole heck of a lot while I became enamored of the lamb sausage, which was savory and hearty and magic.
We also enjoyed a chunk of Crémeux de Bourgogne cheese with its accompanying preserved cherries, but the photograph of the cheese just didn't come out well enough to bother showing you. We each ordered a second glass of wine to round out our treats. The Tria industrial complex (heh) is not fooling around with its curated wine list or attention to interesting flavor combinations and I was glad to finally check out the third of its locations. Afterwards we were going to try and have fancy cocktails at Franklin Mortgage and Trust, but it was cold and there was already a line of a good 10 people and that would have translated to a good 30-who knows minute wait, which we were having none of. Instead we went in a markedly less high-brow direction to The Bards, where we ran into LW. LW was playing darts but with folks who really know how to shoot...and CPM would not have had much fun if playing against them, so we set up shop at the lower board and played a game or two with two dudes. We topped the night off with one round of beers at McCrossens, which is generally a good way to end a night and lived up to that description admirably on this occasion.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Curds, Cocktail and Cookie c/o Lemon Hill

At some point in the month of February LW and I met up at Lemon Hill after work. I arrived a bit before her and ordered the discounted happy hour cocktail, which was the dacquiri. I think I may have also not waited for LW to appear to put in my order for cheese curds, as they arrived roughly about the same time that she grabbed a seat next to me at the bar. Let me tell you a few things about these fried cheese curds:

1. They were fresh and hot.
2. They were so delicately crisp and fried on the outside, but molten liquid-y wonderful on the inside. You know how sometimes you'll order a more standard mozzarella stick appetizer and they're a bit too breaded and already solidifying by the time they come to your table? Neither was the case in the instance of Lemon Hill's snack.
3. The long hot dipping sauce/vinaigrette that accompanied them was equally interesting and above average.
In addition to LW's arrival coinciding with the curds, it also coincided with my need for a second cocktail. So here you'll see the curds fresh-on-delivery and the equally freshly prepared cocktail being poured with gusto into my new and waiting glass.
I also had a third beverage, this time a stout of some kind. I can't recall which because this was about two or three weeks ago and their taps change. We were also gifted a fairly delightful maple pot de creme and chocolate hazelnut cookie. This was an absolutely pleasant and welcome surprise. I dug the creme a bit more than the cookie, but combining the two was also a smart move.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

NYC Salmon and Bagel; Icy Woods Walk

The next morning those of us without gluten allergies enjoyed toasted everything bagels (from NYC of course) along with the salmon pastrami that I asked L. to pick up from Shelsky's, as well as some of their horseradish cream cheese. Honestly the cream cheese could have been more horse radishy and the salmon wasn't quite as delicious as I remembered it from the crazy bagel I had a while back. Though perhaps they didn't entirely live up to my expectations, I won't say that I was actually unhappy. I was very happy.
After breakfast and laying about for a bit, we took another walk adventure in the now snow covered woods.

We had an especially good time breaking ice, of which there were a few different sets. Here you'll see Fatty holding on to a tree while investigating this particular ice pool.
Here you will see me truly thinking that I was about to be eaten by the ice (it was hard to sense how deep it would be once we broke through, so it was a little scary for a second). Poor L. didn't have very warm shoes/socks and even though she was wearing galoshes they weren't 100% water proof.
Ice. Ice. Baby.
Stop. Collaborate and listen. This ice is going to glisten.
My hat in a new configuration.
A lovely morning and afternoon. I was very sad to see the two of them leave shortly after our walk but I was very glad that they had been able to make it at all.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Cheesestravaganza, Country Walk, Sweet Potato Soup, Salmon and Snow

L. has not been having the easiest of times as of late, so I thought it would be nice if she and Fatty could come out to the country for a little respite. Additionally, she's in the process of trying out a new diet, which would pretty much put an end to her cheese consumption. This is, of course, a travesty. I figured if she had to bid adieu to cheese in all its glory, she should go out with a bang. So before going out to the country, I stopped at DiBruno Brothers to pick up a few stellar cheeses for us to all enjoy in a sort of final stand (for her...I simply cannot imagine my life without cheese). Mad props to the cheesemongers for being so good natured and chatty with me. They were equally sympathetic to L.'s cheese-less future and had good recommendations that further strengthened the list of cheeses already on my list. And just what was that list?
Well, some I chose based on previous McCrossen's cheese and wine events. Other cheeses made the cut due to a longer standing love of them. And then there were a few new ones I tasted at the suggestion of the mongers, and enjoyed heartily. So. Starting in the top left corner (the cutting board was a present from cousin's a map of France with different cheese regions notated): Cabot clothbound cheddar; Hudson Red; Comte Essex; Fougerus; Ossau Iraty; Chatham Hearts; Truffle Tremor...with a Roquefort in the center.
Oh boy a good plate it was. I might could have gotten a bigger slab of the fougerus, and the Chatham goat was good but not as interesting as the goat's cheese I had wanted (which had peppercorns in it/it wasn't in stock). The Ossau Iraty was a definite nutty delicious success. And the cheddar remains some of the best that I've had.
I was very pleased with the plate. While L. and Fatty were driving to meet me, I began preparing some of the elements of the dinner we would eventually eat. Once they arrived, the cheese plate went out so all the cheeses could warm up and live up to their potential.
While the cheeses were warming up we went on a woodsy walk.

At some point during that walk, it started to snow. Also, we did a photo shoot of silliness.

This is me practicing to be a goal post in the Super Bowl.
While this is Fatty running.
And this is me out of chronological order.
His return.
So in addition to the cheeses, which we enjoyed with baguette and red wine (gluten free crackers for Fatty), I made a sweet potato chorizo soup with a little walnut/arugula pesto accompaniment. Turned out pretty well.
I also poached a salmon in white wine. The salmon was laid upon a bed of leeks and topped with shallots. Turned out nice, though I think I used a slightly too sweet white wine. It wasn't moscat sweet, but something a bit dryer would have made me slightly happier. Additionally, I made a brie/mushroom/pea risotto, but by that point in the evening I totally forgot to take any photographs of it.
Once we were properly stuffed we went back outside, where the snow had really begun to fall and stick. At some point we went back out to the field, feeling the snow fall on our eyelashes and seeking the stars from the crowds.
These two are always great company and I delight in being able to feed them from time to time.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Oysters and Restaurant Week Dinner c/o Sansom Street Oyster House

My father was up in Virginia for a funeral a few weeks back and let me know he wanted to keep coming north to meet up with me for a meal. He was gung-ho for oysters, so oysters are what we had. I met him at Oyster House on the early side - he was the only customer and already had a dozen oysters in front of him and an open bottle of Sancerre. The 'buck a shuck' oysters of the night were Delaware Bay oysters I believe. They're fleshier oysters with a generally mild overall flavor, not too briny, not very sweet. I had a few of those, but I also ordered half a dozen kumomoto oysters, which are far more delicate little morsels that I always think tend to be sweet and creamy.

These kumomotos were exactly that: sweet and creamy.
It turned out that restaurant week was still going on, so we removed ourselves from the oyster bar to a proper table to avail ourselves of slightly weightier sustenance. We also enjoyed a bottle of sparkling riesling, which I enjoyed. We both started with the chowder, which was solid in its creaminess and temperature.
For my second course I chose the calamari, despite this recent This American Life episode. It was hot and crispy but not overly delicate or memorable. I didn't make much of a dent in my plate, but that may have been partially because of all the oysters and sparkling wine taking away the edge of my hunger.
Then Dad and I split the lobster roll and crab cake. We were both quite skeptical about the crab cake, but the server and menu really highlighted the lack of filler and whole lump element of the meat. Gotta say, it didn't live up to the hype and I couldn't get a good picture, so just, like, know this: if you are a crab cake Marylander snob, not even this crab cake will impress you. The lobster roll, on the other hand, was quite generous in its chunks of lobster goodness, and while the roll was definitely buttery, the lobster wasn't too slick with mayo. I also liked the pickles.
It was a whirlwind visit. Just dinner and drinks and then Dad got on a train to go back down to DC, where he was staying with the T.s after the funeral.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Roasted Arugula Butter Chicken

I think I've been watching the C. dogs for about three or four  years now. It's kind of a recurring annual gig ... usually in a fall or winter month, and somehow it very often involves chicken. The first time was in November 2009, and I came up the night before their departure to get the lay of the land and the dogs' overall routine. D. made the most delectable chicken for dinner and I was enthralled - enthralled I tell you! - with its juiciness and the overall power packing flavor it had going on, which led me to finally understanding just how awesome brining can be. Since that meal I have become a complete brining convert, which in turn has changed my approach to dressing the bird. Back in the day I'd make a cilantro butter and liberally insert it between the chicken's skin and flesh. This led to a solid tasting chicken, but it was a lot of butter. Now that I brine, I hold the butter and generally do a slightly simpler preparation. It's good to evolve and change your cooking habits, especially if the results don't impact taste at all but may be slightly better for your heart or arteries. That said, when D. noted that she had left a chicken in the fridge if I was interested, I was very much ready to turn that chicken into dinner. This involved a brine of salt/sugar/lemon/garlic/thyme and about four-ish hours of brining. Then, because I had a huge bag of arugula, I figured that I might see how a brined chicken with arugula/garlic butter might work out. I'll tell you what, it worked out pretty good.
I also threw a few potatoes into the mix, which soaked up a lot of the juices of the pan. I did a better job than I sometimes do of patting the chicken dry after its time in the brine, which allowed for slightly more crispy skin than I sometimes manage. The house began smelling so tasty it was difficult to wait til the chicken was actually cooked to dig in. But of course I managed to hold out; salmonella and I aren't friends. We've never really met and I'd definitely like to keep it that way. The remainder of the Chateauneuf du Pape went quite nicely with the heartiness of this chicken dish. I was grateful for the ready ingredients and glad it turned out well. Thanks to the C.'s for the well stocked pantry and relaxing and quiet weekend away!

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Wine, Dogs, Snow and Crazy

A few weekends back it snowed just a little bit. Well, more than a little, but nothing major; nothing like what has been going on up north over the last day. I was scheduled to take care of the C.'s dogs out in Bucks County, so driving up 95 without wiping out or going blind, and choosing a route that would help me avoid still snowy/slippy hills were incredibly important. D. texted me at one point to see if I had arrived safely...I had not, but it did give me the opportunity to ask her the best way to omit an especially spooky hill and for her to give me a great alternative path. When I arrived I took care of the dogs, letting them out, giving them treats and pills, that kind of thing. Meanwhile D. texted me, saying I should get a bottle of wine from their cellar to enjoy and relax with. They have quite a selection and I don't know enough about wine to know which are incredibly good or bad, which made picking a wine at first very difficult...I didn't want to pick a bottle not knowing it was an incredibly rare vintage or came with a hefty hefty hefty price tag...but honestly at the same time, I didn't want to try a Yellowtail bottle that would not widen my knowledge or palate in any meaningful way. So then I saw this Chateauneuf du Pape...which I know is kind of fancy. And then I agonized over whether it was too fancy for a dog sitter to avail herself of just because she was given a bit of a 'carte blanche.' So I texted Mr. Ass, as it was his parents' house/dogs that I was looking after. My first text was basically 'is it gauche to open this nice bottle of wine?' and then was followed by a second text that basically realized that if I had to ask the question, I probably didn't want to open the bottle. So then I took another look around and decided on another bottle, which I noted they had more than one bottle of...but then Mr. Ass texted back giving the go I went ahead. Two things about this story:

1. The wine was delicious. I savored it. I drank about two glasses that first night while enjoying a few episodes of television with the dogs on either side of me.

2. I shouldn't have opened it. It's one of those things where just because someone says it's okay, doesn't mean that you're not going a bit beyond standard procedure. I'm still getting pangs of guilt about it two weeks later. But then those pangs alternate with the fact that I really enjoyed the wine and appreciated it. It was especially nice with the chicken I roasted the next night (spoiler alert).
The next morning I awoke with the dogs and got quite an early start to my day, which mainly involved hanging out with the dogs, brining a chicken, watching television and eating cheese.

By the end of the weekend the snow was almost entirely gone from the back yard.
The dogs on their respective perches. The C. house is delightful in many a way, just one of which is the fact that you can take a photograph of almost anything and it'll turn out looking decent because of their interior decor. Another of which is just how many comfy spots there are to read a book or watch a show. I would get confused about where I wanted to set myself up, so one part of my day was trying to give each sofa a bit of attention. The dogs obliged as well.