t says: It’s been a while since we’ve dined at a Jose Garces joint. Sure, Amada will always hold a special place in our hearts, it’s a bit too pricey for “normal” weekend dinners (as is Tinto). JG Domestic has pretty much fizzled out in our eyes. Distrito’s a bit of a hike. Village Whiskey is fun, but I can’t put away those shortrib-smothered-fries like I used to. Garces Trading Co is pretty much dead to us now, after deciding to charge corkage, the disbanding of the market, and a previous bad experience. So now what? Enter the new Cuban Diner inspired Rosa Blanca. The crew met up a week or so ago and put it through its paces …
March 2014, Weekend Dinner, Party of 4. The atmosphere’s cute. Garces is trying to walk the line between a take-out business and a sit-down business, so the front of house has this come-and-go feel, while the main dining room is more “formal” … but don’t let that word scare you – this is not a formal place by any stretch of the imagination. To be honest, it’s probably the most casual Garces restaurant I’ve been to. I was happy to see children around – it really added to the diner-esque atmosphere!
In all, the gang was really happy with Rosa Blanca. It’s definitely not fussy, not fancy, not pretentious Cuban-inspired cuisine. v felt that there was a lot of faithful representations in there, with some notable exceptions (e.g. that curry lamb, and apparently there was one dish that was Puerto Rican, not Cuban, which for some diehards could be a point of contention). The service was still working out the kinks and trying to hit the right balance of pace, smiles, and confidence in what they were doing. Certainly the kitchen is doing a fabulous job. I only hope that the uniqueness of Cuban cuisine is enough to keep us coming back for more. It’s tough because the style of food is almost weeknight-ish, but done up a little (and priced up enough for) a weekend dinner … where there’ll be a lot of competition from the likes of Kanella, Mercato, and company. I guess time will tell … but trust us – the food is good!
t says: a was down for a quick trip to a food truck today and noted that Kung Fu Hoagie had set up shop on 38th and Chestnut-ish. We tracked them down and had them whip up a couple of their banh mi sandwiches. Personally, I went for the tofu “meatball”, figuring that they weren’t trying to imitate real meat, rather, just moosh together some tofu and seasoning and go from there. a was bold and went for the “beef”. I don’t know how his was, but check out mine:
a says: My unpictured tofu “beef” had great flavor and freshness, but the only issue was slightly soggy bun and chili paste was less hot than usual.
t says: vendors take note: no one likes a soggy bun. Boy am I glad I ate mine right away and didn’t wait ’til later – it’s the only way to avoid bun sog.
t says: I just had to share it:
t says: I was flipping through some of my previous photos on my phone, only to find that there were a few dynamite breakfasty items I’ve had recently. While no one particular visit is entirely substantive for a single post, I decided it might be fun to smoosh together some highlights. And here we go ….
t says: I had some pictures in my phone from a lunch that a and and I had at the Fat Ham, just waiting to be unleashed onto adsz. But of course, I had been procrastinating … and procrastinating … and procrastinating … until now! LaBan’s review just came out, reminding me of just how much we liked it! No time like the present! While we may not have had the emotional crisis that LaBan went through (he got absurdly bent out of shape over the sauce of the hot chicken), it was a damn good meal. Check it out:
While this is “only” a lunch, if it is any indication of what dinner may promise, then the Fat Ham has destination dining written all over it. I say “destination dining” because let’s face it – who’s going to venture out to that weird little void between Penn and CC? Certainly JG Domestic isn’t drawing any crowds, but maybe the Fat Ham will? I hope so!
t says: Newly opened Laurel has received a ridiculous amount of hype. Now declared the winner of Top Chef, Nicholas Elmi is definitely reaping the rewards; his E-Passy eatery is booked through June. I’m happy he’s doing well, although I heard that some felt “the other guy” was supposed to win Top Chef. Whatever. I didn’t watch any of the season, so I have no idea who “should” have won. I’m happy for Nick Elmi … but with my happiness comes high expectations … after all, Sbraga is kickin’ ass there on Broad Street, so Elmi should do just as good, right? After all, he is the former Le Bec-Fin dude. Having made a reservation before Elmi was announced the winner, g and I rode out to East Passyunk with a bottle in hand for g’s bday.
February 2014, Friday Dinner, Party of 2. I have to write it here just to make sure he gets the message: a, I’m very sorry we didn’t invite you and v. While I do try to include you two in all the fine dining we do, sometimes there’s just gotta be a good-’ol-fashioned g + t date night. You know how it is: wives before guys.
As far as atmosphere is concerned, I have to say that the vibe is definitely fancier than Fond used to have. There are white tableclothes, plush chairs, and slightly more table space. As a result, it feels like the place seats less people than Fond – which is quite impressive, as Fond was small enough as it was. The result was a very pleasant, un-BYO-esque experience in a good way – there was ample elbow room, and we weren’t sitting on top of eachother.
And now … the food:
I started with the foie gras terrine appetizer, which looked like an interesting slab of marble when it came out, due to the cocoa that was pressed in there with the foie. The citrus from the blood orange was a nice touch, but ultimately, I felt like the foie didn’t really shine through. Don’t get me wrong, chocolate + citrus is delicious, but if I’m being charged for foie, I want to be able to taste it. (It would have been real killer had one side been torched or bruleed or something for a little bit of that roasted foie flavor).
g did the tuna + asian pear + horse radish. This was a peculiar dish in that the raw fish was coupled with frozen-then-shaved horseradish. While this was texturally interesting (it was fun to have frozen horseradish melt in your mouth and slowly pick up in spice level), it was odd with the fish because the cold temperature muted the beautiful fish flavors. Similar to how you’d never want sashimi to be served too cold, this crudo should also not be too cold. A fun effect, but overall, it probably hurt the dish.
We followed up with the charred Spanish mackeral, which was nicely cooked and without complaint, as well as the gnocchi, which featured pancetta and garlic, resulting in a bowl of warmth we wished would never end. Bravo for course #2.
Third course featured a roasted “sheep’s head” fish, with … foam. g liked the foam, as it brought an airiness to the cider-y flavors within. Personally, I found it to be gimicky and unnecessary. Instead, I preferred my seared fish instead (?trout?), which had a beautiful skin on it and nicely sized, nicely cooked snails. It was pretty heavy-handed with the salt, but I’m down with that..
In all, I have to say that it was a “nice” meal. It’s a step up in “fanciness” from Fond, which I’d have to say is Laurel’s competition in the area for this kind of food. Whether or not “fancy” is a desirable direction for Laurel to go is debatable. For instance, the set-up is more “grown-up date” than “let’s just go out on Friday” … which is good if you want a romantic evening (or at least want to give the impression that you’re mature). The food is fussier as well, with more elegant plating and incorporation of techniques that are a little more new … which is fine … but I felt like some of these flourishes were superfluous, if not letdowns (e.g. frozen horseradish, foam). Along these lines, I felt that there was only one actually “soulful” dish (the gnocchi) out of the whole evening. Similar to the atmosphere and cookery, the service was quite professional, but lacking the warmth of something like a Talula’s Garden or Fond. I guess what I’m trying to say is if you want to impress someone, go to Laurel – it won’t let you down and it’s sure to leave an overall good impression. But, if you want to a meal to remember, one that will make you go ga-ga for the food, go to Fond … and thank me later.
t says: I love this idea – thanks for the heads up, a!