after dinner sneeze

a lot of g says, t says

Oh the places we’ve gone …

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We were trying to become foodies long before deciding to start a blog.  We kept track of our experiences at a lot of restaurants through the reservation-making website opentable.com.  Unfortunately, they impose a very low character limit (which actually was one of the primary reasons we started this blog – limitless space!).  We’ve copy-pasted these reviews (actually, they’re mostly t’s impressions) below so both we and readers will be able to remember and know the places we went in the pre-blog era.

Some of the more recent visits will migrate into actual posts.  We’ll also try to add on several other reviews of restaurants we’ve visited for which we did not provide an opentable review – our memories will likely be fuzzy, which is most definitely a shame, as we kind of wished we had recorded those experiences to revisit.  It’s funny how sometimes we even forget the things we swore we’d never forget …

29 Jan 2010.  Tinto. Fri, 8:30pm, Party of 4, Restaurant week. I find that Jose Garces restaurants are among the only ones that perform very well during restaurant week in Philadelphia; go with a group ready to share and you’re guaranteed a fun time.  There were too many dishes for me to evaluate – highlights included sea bass (cooked perfectly), mussels, and the cheeses.  Meats were done well – nothing extraordinary, but good.  While not every dish was mind-blowing, everything was consistent; I still prefer Amada (guess I’m a sucker for flat bread and bolder flavors).  Also, the red sangria was better than usual!

20 Nov 2009.  Supper. Fri, Dinner, Party of 2.  We were searching specifically for an excellent burger, especially after visiting Devil’s Alley the weekend before.  The hostess, waitress, and support staff were all excellent: prompt and pleasant.  We started off with the deviled eggs of the day, a sampler including one each of truffled, sriracha, tandoori, and bacon.  While all were unique, well-executed, and tasty, the siracha one was AMAZING.  The charcuterie plate wasn’t to-die-for like at Vetri, but respectable.  We each had the Supper Burger (which ended up being a mistake – we only needed one to satiate us).  For only $14 we got perhaps the best burger I had ever had!  It was fancy, but not too fancy; it still had soul.  It’s our new standard by which to measure all other burgers.  Now if only their charcuterie plate was better and they started being BYO …

13 Sep 2009.  Chifa. Sun, Dinner, Party of 4, Restaurant Week.  Unfortunately, for me, this is the weakest of the Garces restaurants that I’ve visited (Amada, Tinto, Distrito, Chifa).  If Asian flavors are new to you, then this place may pack enough novelty to warrant a visit.  It’s tough to do soups and curries as sharable food items, which is supposed to be the theme of this small plates restaurant.  That said, Chifa does a dynamite ceviche – perhaps the best I’ve had in the city – somehow the super-bright citrus comes out just enough to balance, and not overtake the fish – amazing.  My second favorite dish was the fabled pork buns – I think they’re a little overhyped (I’m sure Momofuku will blow these out of the water – I’ll let you know if/when I ever get to go), but they are at least “very tasty”, with a good amount of salt and sweet and savory, in a package you hold in your hands.

01 Aug 2009.  Zahav. Sat, Dinner, Party of 3.  We opted for the tasting menu x 3.  The multiple course “salads” (a variety of pickled and lightly sauced vegetables) and choice of hummus were an excellent way to start the meal – a multitude of unfamiliar but delicious tastes.  The rest of the dishes were all very good, but nothing was really mind-blowing with either big/unexpected flavors (which is surprising given how unfamiliar I am with this cuisine), rather, a lot of subtle flavors.  The raw ground lamb was only “ok”, while the standouts were the lamb kibbe and some sort of melted cheese concoction (sorry, I forgot which meat was featured).  My dessert which featured baklava and panne cotta was dynamite – I wish the whole meal went like that one dessert.  The service was adequate, but our waiter wasn’t personable and didn’t look me in the eyes once, almost exuding arrogance.  The wine list was ok, but I’d like it more if it were BYO or offered more Israeli wines by the glass.  Because it’s not, and the food by itself wasn’t consistently mind-blowing, I’d really only go back with good company.  (N.B.  I did go back for lunch in January 2010 and the food and service were much improved.)

28 Jul 2009.  Distrito. Tue, Dinner, Party of 4, Restaurant Week. This was my second visit to Distrito, and it was even better than I remember.  However, I advise that you order a nice mix of super-tasty dishes with others that will provide more ‘filling’. For instance, we ordered ceviches and scallops (which were executed perfectly), but foiled it with orders of guacomole and short rib flatbread (which were also delicious but had larger portions).  The rosemary orange margarita was delicious.  (I apparently forgot what I had for dessert, but I’m sure it was as good as the rest of the meal.)

09 Jul 2009.  Fig & Olive – Meatpacking.  NYC. Thu, Dinner, Party of 2.  They have a great selection of olive oils (they offer three when you first sit down).  The wine list was not huge, but the wines they did offer were VERY good.  The charcuterie plate was delicious and worked well with the included fig-olive tapenade (I find some tapenades a little too strong).  For dinner, we had filet and lamb (with sides of spinach and olive oil mash) – they were good, but definitely did NOT shine through as the best ever entrees we’ve had – the seasoning was a little off (some too salty, others bland).  Service was excellent.  I would say that this would be an EXCELLENT place to go if you made a meal of the wine, appetizers, and smaller plates – pass on the entrees.  From where we sat, it seemed like they have a great bar scene (and a nice open space) given the location and excellent snack-esque offerings.

21 Jun 2009.  Little Fish. Sun, Dinner, Party of 3 (FTC), $28 5-course meal.  Food was tasty – everything was superbly executed – the chef knows how to cook seafood.  However, I would have appreciated it had they pushed the creative boundaries a little more, which I’m not sure is the goal of Little Fish.  For them, it’s more ’safe’, (although is cooking seafood really “safe” given the slim margin of error?)  g thinks that I’m being too harsh and that every dish she had was superb.  Service was top-notch. As critical as I was, I must admit that a 5-course, $28 meal is a superb value!

24 May 2009.  The Melting Pot.  Atlantic City. Sat, Lunch, Party of 2.  We went during memorial day weekend – it was empty.  Service was very good – it has to be given that the format of the restaurant.  I feel that the price of the food was a bit higher than warranted – however, the price of the food is in line with the polished interior design and well-stocked wine list (including half-bottles).  So, either the food needs to be better, or everything else needs to come down.  Keep in mind that the food wasn’t bad.  We had the swiss cheese fondu which was tasty, however, the vegetable assortment was a little bare, and adding some fruits as well as toasting the bread (for a little more flavor than plain bread) would have been nice.  The ‘French quarter’ entree fondu was ok – but the spices overpowered the meat.  I guess for a gimicky chain, it was “not bad”.

25 Apr 2009.  Cochon. Sat, Dinner, Party of 3 (FTC).  We went to Cochon before it joined opentable.com, thus I have no written review.  I’m trying to piece together what we had from emails in order to capture why it was SUCH a great meal. Cochon is small and cozy.  We were seated close to the “kitchen” and were intrigued by the aromas that came forth.  The appetizer I remember the most is the escargots – they were tender and full of flavor; the sauce was the most delicious garlic-based sauce I have ever had.  We ordered three different pork dishes, 2 of which came from the menu (one was a tenderloin), and one of which was a special (24-hour Berkshire Pork Shoulder with a Mushroom Madeira Sauce).  I actually remember asking the waitress if she preferred the pork shoulder or some lamb special – she recommended the pork without hesitation.  This pork was the best pork I had ever had.  The tender texture of the meat and silky texture of the sauce was a one-two punch that completely overshadowed the two other dishes.  Part of the reason why I can’t remember what else we ate is likely due to how strong a memory I have of just that pork shoulder.  (N.B. Even by the time we started afterdinnersneeze, it’s STILL the best pork I’ve ever had).

17 Apr 2009.  Chifa. Fri, Dinner, Party of 4.  For anyone who is already familiar with Asian-fusion dishes, the cuisine at Chifa will not blow you away with uniqueness.  So, while the dishes were all “good”, nothing really made me sit up and take note.  Service and ambiance were as they should be for a Garces restaurant.  Unfortunately, of the four that I’ve been to (Amada, Tinto, Distrito), this one is my least favorite (but it’s not “bad”).  Interestingly, the noise level was low, but that might have been because the restaurant was surprisingly empty!  Maybe it’ll be louder for you!  (N.B.  I revisited Chifa in September 2009 and, while the food was better, it still can’t outdo the other three small plate Garces joints.)

21 Mar 2009.  Ruth’s Chris Steak House – Philly.  Sat, Dinner, Party of 2.  This Ruth’s Chris is rather stuffy (vs the one in AC) with the diners being either older or families.  The food was tasty – nothing special or earth-shattering (I still stand by the lamb as their best dish) – very nearly on par with Morton’s in taste/texture (although inferior in presentation and service).  Although the waiter was intially far too eager to ‘help’ with our drink order – he stopped after we demonstrated our wine knowledge (all you have to do is pimp them on Bordeaux vintages).  All in all, the food is good for a steak-house chain, but maybe not worth the price, as I’d probably choose an inventive Philly BYOB to it any day.  But if you want a no-frills steak (or lamb!), I have no beef with Ruth’s Chris.

13 Feb 2009.  Bistro St. Tropez. Fri, Dinner, Party of 2.  We were hoping that this restaurant would be a hidden gem among Philadelphia restaurants.  It was not.  The menu mentioned reasonably priced entrees that sounded very good, however, when the food arrived at the table, I was completely underwhelmed.  Technically, the dishes included all of the ingredients listed in the menu, and everything seemed like it was cooked ok, but there was no soul in the food.  For instance, meat can taste like meat or it can taste like meat.  When I eat out, every dish MUST be better than what I can make at home if given access to those ingredients.  This expectation was not met.  I do want to mention that its location is both weird (it’s in a building of showrooms) and cool (the views of the river at night are phenomenal).  The decor was ridiculous (in a bad way).  Why can’t a good restaurant (preferably BYO) move in here?

Ancient History:

Morimoto. Great food, although pricey for what it was.  The fish was superb.  The atmosphere is unique and definitely is a place to go at least once (or more if someone else is paying).

Morton’s. I’ve been here a number of times throughout high school and college, and it’ll stand in my mind as having the best “classic” steak.  Nowadays, I’m more into “unique” foods, so I don’t know when the next time I’ll go will be.  Their flourless Godiva chocolate lava cake still stands as the best lava cake I have ever had.

Django. When I first came to Philadelphia, this BYO was tauted as “the best” in the city, having received four bells from Craig LaBan.  By the time I got there, it was supposedly “on its way out” as the owners Sikora and Olexy had moved on (I had just missed them!).  Nevertheless, those meals we had at Django in 2005 and early 2006 were some of the best we had ever had in Philadelphia (on par with the best dishes we’ve had at Bibou and Cochon).  That said, Django did slowly decline over time, eventually closing its doors in either late 2008 or early 2009.  May it rest in peace.

The Helmand. Having spent some time in Baltimore (early 2000’s), I had the great fortunate of visiting some of the best restaurants (with the exception of the Charleston – the one that got away).  In the end, the Helmand is the one that I remember the most fondly.  Completely unpretentious (no fancy plating, no weird cuts of meat, no bizarre techniques), it served the best food in Baltimore.  It’s been several years since I left, but I hope it’s still going strong.

Towson Best and Sushi Hana. In Towson, MD are these two Asian restaurants.  One is a chinese takeout joint that also does sushi, while the other specializes primarily in sushi.  Towson Best has some of the best fake Chinese food you’ll ever have (this is not being sarcastic at all – it really does taste delicious!).  Go for the “Veal Mimosas with Orange Lest” (a funny typo on their menu) or any of the fried chickens (e.g. General Tso’s, Orange, or Sesame), and I’d like to see you try and stop yourself from eating yourself into a food coma.  Couple this with some nice rolls (Dragon Roll, Red Phoenix Roll, Birthday Roll), and what you have is a very satisfying meal.  I mention Sushi Hana only because some might criticize Towson Best as maybe not having enough turnover to consistently have the freshest sushi (although I’ve never had a problem).  For these critics, I suggest Sushi Hana around the corner – but you won’t get the awesome fake Chinese food!

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