after dinner sneeze

a lot of g says, t says

rice vs. calories

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t says:  Check it out – people think that adding coconut oil will make rice a bit healthier via chemistry.  Pretty cool – but will it still have the same texture and taste?

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2015/03/25/scientists-have-figured-out-a-simple-way-to-cook-rice-that-dramatically-cuts-the-calories/

Written by afterdinnersneeze

25 March 2015 at 7:08pm

Posted in Happenings

How does your Garden grow [more delicious]?

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t says:  You know, there are some restaurants in the city that have been open for some time and have fallen out of the limelight.  Maybe the chef isn’t using the fanciest gastronomic techniques.  Maybe the decor isn’t minimalist-chic.  Maybe the menu doesn’t have enough hipster-ironic items.  But they still do a damn fine job.  Take Talula’s Garden.  Now I have to confess that it’s hard for g and me to be unbiased when it comes to all things Talula, so I won’t do a course-by-course breakdown … but I’ll leave the punchlines here:

1)  TG gives first-class service – prompt and frequent clearing and resetting of tables, cheery smiles from happy servers.  No one’s “cool”, no one’s stuck-up or snotty (i.e. no long tirades over the conception of the idea of a dish and sourcing for every single ingredient).  This is a lesson in old-school serving, where people appear genuinely concerned about whether you are having a great meal.

2)  Their food still brings the thunder …

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“pumpkin gnocchi” … how could “pumpkin gnocchi” turn heads (actually, i don’t think pumpkin is in the gnocchi)?  I don’t know how – but it did.  I dare not try to dissect this dish because this is one of those times when knowing the components is irrelevant, because really, it’s about having the most perfectly cooked gnocchi on your fork, driving it through the sauce and ?cheese? and nuts, and sticking it in your mouth and realizing that you just had the second-best gnocchi you’ve ever had (sorry, first best goes to Vetri … still … although I’m not sure if those spinach gnocchi count because they aren’t the same type of gnocchi – they’re some kind of volatile ricotta gnocchi).  Maybe it would have been different had I been sitting in Mercato or Melograno or something, and I was expecting pasta greatness – but this just came out of nowhere and surprised the hell out of us with its mix of rustic attitude (like “so what?  i’m gnocchi! no big deal”), burst of fresh flavors (despite “pumpkin”, I was feeling spring more than fall), and perfect harmony.  I don’t know if it’ll ever taste the same again, now that I have such expectations (and now you, the reader, does, too!).

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pork belly.  So pork belly is “bait”, right?  You can’t mess it up.  Hell – I can make pork belly taste good.  But, can you elevate it to something otherworldly – and how do you do it?  It’s widely known that this blog LOVES the pork belly at Fond.  It has that sweet crisped crust on top of a delightfully soft pork belly.  It’s our undisputed champion, beating out competitors due to its shear hedonism (fat + salt + sugar).  TG’s strategy was to walk a completely different way.  On the surface, it looks like someone “put too much sh*t on their pork belly”: black garlic, fruit, pomegranate sauce, ginger, sweet potatoes …  It looks crazy.  It almost looks like a mystery basket on Chopped …  Shut up and eat it.  A. MAZ. ING.  It all worked.  I could not believe it.  Believe it!  Unlike the pork belly champions of yesteryear, this one seeks balance.  Acidity to keep the mouth watering.  Savory and sweet flavors to go with those from the pork.  Textural contrasts with the fruit and pomengranate.  A bit of starch so you’re not just eating fat on fat on fat.  This the pork belly you take home to mom – the one that’s tastefully dressed, delicate, and could keep your attention for a lifetime.

Sure there were other dishes we had that were also fantastic (other pasta, shortrib, crudo, vegetables), but I think what’s important is that TG still has “it”.  I know there have been chef changes, and I know that farm-to-table isn’t sexy anymore – but these weren’t the reasons to go.  The reason to go is because I cannot think of a place that expresses its ingredients as well as TG, no matter how far-fetched or familiar they are.  No fancy foams, mists, or meat glue – just a plate of ingredients prepared in such a way that honors and elevates the raw product.  When you’re done eating, the first question you ask isn’t “Holy crap – how did the chef do that?”, it’s “holy crap – where can I get me some ramps?”.  It’s a shame, because I think that this recipe will not yield chef stardom in the way other, more “unique” places will (i.e. those places with cutting edge techniques, or fusion of disparate cultures, who are in it for the “show” of it al), but for us, TG will always remain as one of our “special occasion” restaurants.

3)  Oh – and did I mention that their desserts are fantastic?  Have your cheese and eat your sweets, too!

Ok … so g and I love TG.  Nothing new there …

Written by afterdinnersneeze

17 March 2015 at 1:07pm

Meat Abundace: Fat Ham Hot Chicken and Zahav Lamb Shack

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t says:  Before heading off to Florida (g and I were sick of the cold), we hit up a few awesome eateries:

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February 2015, Wednesday Dinner, Party of 4.  Oh yes, we rocked out at the Lamb Shack (that’s where it’s at).  And it was awesome.  Take a look at that menu and just start drooling.  Mmmmmmm.  And one of the best parts was that it was BYO!!  Super-awesome (we brought a few rieslings and a trusty OR pinot noir)!  How’d it taste?  You’ll see:

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In traditional Zahav manner, there was a lot of delicious pickled starters.  And hummus.  I know this picture kinda-sorta-sucks, but it’s just a placeholder to remind me that Zahav has more than just their mains (as if we could ever forget).

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And the main course: lamb shoulder!  It was HUGE.  Shared with the rest of the table, this sizable hunk was delicious..  Tons of luxurious, unctuous crisped fat.  Delightful chickpeas.  We (g, t, sz) devoured as much as we could and had to take some home.  I wish there were a few pickled items left to reset the palate between each cholesterol-raising bite.  Meanwhile, our one vegetarian (dz) who was served the eggplant (which, while tasty was of meager size).  I think we won …

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February 2015, Thursday Lunch, Party of 2.  I also hit up The Fat Ham with a for lunch (yay!  it’s back!).  While I understand why lunch at the Fat Ham will never be permanent (not enough foot traffic!!), boy am I grateful for the few chances we are able to go; I get to taste things like this: boiled peanut hummus.  After having Zahav the night before, how could I dare eat someone else’s hummus?  Well, this, in my mind, is a completely different kind of hummus – not meant to be olivey and spiced, rather, accented with herbs and crunch peanuts.  Quite good!  (Although quite small).

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Shrimp and grits was one our mains.  It was delicious, although had a lot of subtlety to it – not quite what we were expecting.  Not a lot of whiz-pow-bang, rather, perfectly done shrimp, a well-spiced hummus, good accompaniments.  Nothing smacked you in the face … but it did make you wish you could do this at home.

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And the main event: the hot chicken!  Enter the whiz-pow-bang!  A scrumptiously crunchy crust, with a hot sauce that I actually thought was just-right spicy (it was a good kind of spicy – not excessive, diarrhea-causing spicey!).  The chicken was also good (as was the dressing and bread), but the real star is the fried goodness.  I almost wonder if chicken fingers would be a better presentation to delivery more crust.  Oh, and something about this dish reminds me of another dish I had as a youngster, but I couldn’t put my finger on it – one day I’ll remember …

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For dessert, we ventured the mud pie.  Which came in a jar.  BOOOOOOO.  It should have been a slice of pie.  There needed to be crust – there was no crust!  It was brownie pieces, choco pudding, and whipped cream … but no crust!  AGH!  Sure, it tasted delicious – but it was no mud pie.  Giving them a D- for this one.  Sorry Sbraga.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

11 March 2015 at 9:17am

Posted in Happenings

greetings from spring

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t says:  In December, g had a feeling that Philly was going to get two March snowfalls back-to-back on the week of her birthday, so she preemptively decided that we should visit her grandparents in Florida.  (Ok, that’s not how it really went, but just go with it.)  So we did visit Florida, and it was a great trip!  Good time with family, good food, good weather:

p.s. we did leave by the time it rained on the Friday forecast

Most of our trip was in Vero Beach (which is close to Wabasso Beach, as Apple is trying to tell me).  Here’s a sampling of the weather.  And yes, we did leave by the time it rained on the Friday forecast.

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This is what 80 degrees looks like in Florida.  We awoke each morning to warmth and greenery.  There was a pool involved, too.

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g and I did visit Key West while we were in Florida as well, and most of our pictures are from that part of the vacation (g likes to plant vacations within vacations – it makes them seem longer).  Here is a blurry shot of 5 Brothers Grocery.  It’s like a corner store … except it has a kitchen that makes some AWESOME cuban sandwiches and delicious cafe con leche (although not “the best” like we had read).

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Like any good Key West tourist, we visited the butterfly conservatory.  We expected this thing to be quite a letdown – I mean how many butterflies would they actually let you frolick through?  Answer: a helluvalot!  There were tons!  But a lot were sneaky, because they’d look like this when they were perched among the vegetation (they put out some plates of fruit to make them more recognizable) …

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but then they open their wings and you’re greeted with the most brilliant, shimmering colors that no iPhone could do justice to.  Oh well – I guess you’ll have to take my word for it.  And there were so many that I was genuinely worried I’d step on one.  g had a butterfly stalker, as did g’s grandmother.  I snapped their pix, but have to omit them here to preserve anonymity.

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Oh yea – and there were two flamingoes in the conservatory, too!  Crazy!

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We decided that if we were going to be less than 100 miles to Cuba, we should probably eat some Cuban food, right?  And the one restaurant that pops up in every search for “Cuban food Key West” is this one: El Siboney.  They don’t do reservations, but we figured we’d hop on in with the early birds, as we were starving from our car ride.

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So … if you went to a Cuban restaurant, what would you get?  PORK of course!

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g started us off with some tostones, which were done fabulously.  MAN I wish I cooked with more plantains …

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I went for the roast pork + yuca + tamale and it, despite looking like a boreing plate of brown, knocked my socks off.  I had to stop myself from finishing the dish (I’m not sure if eating THAT much yuca is that wise).  It had the “home-cooked” quality to it reminiscent of when v cooks up her pork.  I actually contemplated canceling our other reservations for dinner in Key West to come back here …

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g also had the roast pork, but hers came with rice and sweet plantains (that’s right – g double-fisted plantains: savory and sweet).  Those plantains were so frickin’ good.  g forced me to eat her remainders because “it’d be a crime to leave any”.  I happily obliged.

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any why not have some creamy delicious flan to finish off the meal?  it perfectly slid into the empty spaces of my stomach to push me to an almost-uncomfortable level of fullness.  Thank goodness we ate so early – it’d take me until bedtime just to digest it all!

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g’s grandparents knew a guy who owned a fudge shop – so we dropped on by after dinner …

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HUGE MISTAKE!!  I was oh-so-tempted when surrounded by all that delicious fudge.  My mouth said, “Bring it on”, while my stomach said, “why do you hate me so?”.  A battle of wills ensued.  In the end, I forewent the fudge … as I later found out that they ship anywhere!!!  Woohoo!

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I had recuperated by the next morning … where, in honor of g’s birthday, we started the day off going to a donut cafe.  Why did we choose this one … ?

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BOOM!  That’s why.  I was so giddy that I forgot how to operate my iPhone and left my finger in the picture (ugh – I HATE it when that happens).  We left with a half-dozen donuts for 4 people.  It was totally worth it.  Strawberry and cream was the best, closely followed by Key Lime Pie.  But in the end, when you’re talking donuts, are there any real “losers”?

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We did try out the Cuban Coffee Queen, and let’s say that THAT con leche put some spring in our step.  Tasted wonderful.  We didn’t have a chance to sample the other cuisine, though (our hands were full of donuts).

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We went to Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Cafe for a quick bite for lunch … and while things like shrimp quesadilla were “just fine” …

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… the REAL winner was the Key Lime Pie.  Hell-yea, it’s gimicky (you roll up in there and they have the pie pre-sliced and ready to sell), but when the pie tastes this good, who cares?  The secret is in the crust: a perfect crumb crust is necessary, which Kermit’s delivered.  Follow that up with a creamy-creamy filling that has a tart limey finish, and you have a winner.  I’m not sure it’s the best I’ve ever had, but it was pretty gosh darn legit.

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And our last meal in Key West was at Nine One Five (i.e. 915 Duvall).  In general this restaurant was like every other Contemporary American restaurant we’ve ever been to.  And yes, they were trying very hard to out-contemporary other places (i.e. Brussels sprouts, pork belly, random grains were in abundance), I decided to see what they’d do to a whole fish.  Holy crap this yellowtail was delightful.  They presented me with the whole fish, gave me a strategy session on how best to conquer it, and off I went.  All my dinnermates ventured a nicely done scallops dish … but I suspect it probably wasn’t quite the caliber of Talula’s Garden, so it wasn’t something worth writing home about …

As usual, there were lots of food pictures – but we did do other things in Key West, too!  We saw 6-fingered cats at Hemingway House.  We visited the outside of Truman’s Little White House (we didn’t bother going inside).  We also did one of those hop-on-hop-off things (I mean, why not?  It’s like sight-seeing AND transportation all in one!).  Duvall street offered quite a few sights (although Spring Break was just starting up the weekend we went).  In the end, we quite enjoyed the cute little island.  Sure it’s a little over-priced, but similar in our minds to a visit of New Orleans (just a whole lot smaller).

As for the rest of our Florida vacay – it involved so much rest and relaxation that I accomplished only 50% of the work I set out to do (and by “work”, I mean things like this blog).  That’s a sign of an excellent vacation.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

7 March 2015 at 1:55pm

Posted in Happenings

this is going to be a problem …

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t says:  As if I didn’t have enough vices already.

http://www.phillymag.com/foobooz/2015/03/05/yes-really-budino-donuts/

Written by afterdinnersneeze

5 March 2015 at 2:02pm

Posted in Happenings

Trifecta from Heaven

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t says:  So … let’s say you just finished a dental appointment and were looking for a congratulatory treat (still no cavities!) – something to rub in the face of those smug hygienists (“yea … I floss 17 times a day and brush before and after every meal …”) – something that’d give you a real reason to floss …  What’d you eat first?  I was on the prowl near Rittenhouse … and wandered into the Bakeshop on 20th … which gave me several options … like this one with which I left the store:

strawberry + hazelnut = money chocolate + hazelnut = money strawberry + chocolate = money So basically, we're left with mo' money and absolutely no problems as far as I'm concerned.  Trust me - it tasted every bit as good as it sounded and looked.

strawberry + hazelnut = money
chocolate + hazelnut = money
strawberry + chocolate = money
So basically, we’re left with mo’ money and absolutely no problems as far as I’m concerned. Trust me – it tasted every bit as good as it sounded and looked.

Guess I should move up my next 6-month cleaning …

Written by afterdinnersneeze

25 February 2015 at 1:02pm

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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t says:  Ah, yes.  Valentine’s Day.  g and I love celebrating it, but we just hate eating out at restaurants during it.  Determined to stay at home for yet another Valentine’s Day, this year we enlisted the help of a and v to make it a truly special day …

… but first: we have to play some catch-up.

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what the hell is this?  “rice crunchins?”  this is what they now serve instead of Rice Krispies at my workplace.  wwhhaatt?  but it’s just like Rice Krispies, right? …

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… WRONG.  The shapes are these square-ish things that, when exposed to milk, have a crunch that is completely inferior to the original Rice Krispies.  Who thought this was a good idea?  I don’t even like Rice Krispies that much to begin with, and even I can tell that this is horrible!

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February 2015, Thursday Lunch, Party of 2.  I had a chance to catch up with k at Barbuzzo and let’s just say that it continues to rock my world, even after all these years.  Yes, the budino is wonderful.  Yes the pizza was delish.  But come on: this frickin’ burrata gets me every time.  That creaminess, and that baslsamic, and that oil, and that perfect bread.  It just doesn’t get better than that!  If I could do this at home, I’d eat it every day for breakfast.

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February 2015, Friday Diner, Party of 3.  Ok.  Buried within today’s post will be this one picture.  This will be our little secret.  Hidden in West Philly, there is a restaurant called Szechuan Chili.  I was directed there by a coworker, and his one recommendation has changed my life forever.  This restaurant serves “Americanized” Chinese food as well as their more traditional dishes … where are exactly like Han Dynasty’s.  What you see above you is the aftermath of some Dan Dan noodles that were just as good as Han’s (less pork, better spice, less gummy noodle), a huge pot of pickled vegetable fish soup (better balance of sour and spice, more fish, and noodles!), and their Chinese broccoli (perfectly cooked!).  We also sampled a chicken dish and their cumin lamb, both of which were awesome.  AND it’s BYO.  AND it’s staffed by real Asians.  AND they’re really nice.  AND there are no undergrads, d-bags, or main-liners.  While it’d be foolish of me to say that “I’d never go to Han again”, I guess what I will say is, “I’ll go to Han … but I’ll know deep down inside that Szechuan Chili is just as tasty, $1 per entree cheaper, with larger portions, and lets me feel like I’m truly supporting a family business” (whether or not that last bit is true is completely unknown to me).  Next time you’re in West Philly, check it out.  Just make sure you bring your wine from home, because the local PLCB (50th and Baltimore) absolutely blows. (They do have Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling in the refrigerated case, tho – a good standby for spicy foods).

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Which brings us back to V-Day.  The four of us cooked (cheese, charcuterie, salad, pork belly, pork chop, risotto, Fednuts, chocolates), drank (see below), talked, and laughed.  While an at-home double-date is unconventional for a “Valentine’s Day” date, it’s everything we could have wanted on a made-up holiday like this …

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Even though it’s a Hallmark holiday, we took it very seriously in the wine department.  Our grape graveyard of the night featured a 2013 Illumination (personally flown back from CA by yours truly, as it’s hard to find on the east coast), a 2010 M. Etain (sold out in 48 hours to its mailing list customers upon offering in 2012 and now only available at a handful of retailers for a ridiculous up-charge), NV Pol Roger (wine of the Royal Wedding), and a NV Perrier Jouet (i.e. why-drink-Moet-if-you-drink-Jouet).  While I know that none of these will make a master sommelier swoon, for non-bawlers like us, they were an excellent reminder that although we love our usual “weekday-warriors” and “cellar-defenders”, sometimes it’s nice to “treat yo’-self”.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

15 February 2015 at 12:54am

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