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Posts Tagged ‘Morimoto

a and v give Morimoto a second chance

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a + v say:  We wrote the following letter after a visit to Morimoto:

Dear Managers of Morimoto and Steven Starr Events,
     Our party of six attended Morimoto this past Saturday (22nd, 2011) for a 9:15pm dinner reservation. We all frequent the top restaurants in Philadelphia but for our friend’s birthday, we chose Morimoto. First, let me praise the chef and kitchen staff for an exquisite meal. The Omakase challenged and surprised our palates with every course.
     Sadly, what we will remember is frustration, which began with a thirty minute wait for our table. Thirty minutes is objectionable at most restaurants and unacceptable at a place of Morimoto’s caliber.
     The night’s real disenchantment was the result of our server, Jacob. Although he was aware of the situation, he made no attempt to amend our wait, was impersonal, and hard to understand. More importantly, he forgot to acknowledge our friend’s birthday even though it was noted on the reservation and reiterated upon our arrival. Several other glitches throughout the meal paled to the egregiousness of receiving a bill ($1500) that was double the correct amount of our dinner.
     One of these shortcomings is forgivable but together, given the circumstances and the server’s lack of rectification, made for an extremely disappointing night. We have great respect for chef Morimoto and owner Stephen Starr, and know our experience is not representative of their expectations. We hope this letter ensures these standards remain, which is what we have come to expect from your other fine establishments.
     Sincerely,  a + v

With an experience like that who would return? We did … after the apology we received – a $400 gift certificate with a note thanking them for sharing what happened.  Now that is customer service!

On our return visit with the same group one year later (January 2012), we opted to order a la carte. We preferred this option, as it allowed us to try a variety of dishes and share with each other. The Cha-Soba Chilled Greed Tea Noodles with Chopped Scallion, Fresh Wasabi, and Dashi-Shoyu Sauce for Dipping, were great. a ordered the Duck Duck Duck (Madras Roasted Duck Breast, Confit Fried Rice, Duck Egg, Mandarin Oolong Reduction) and v ordered the Seafood ‘Toban Yaki’ (Sweet Prawns, Scallops, King Crab, Bok Choy, Manila Clams, Oyster Mushrooms, Citrus Butter). Both dishes were plentiful. While the flavors in the Seafood ‘Toban Yaki’ were delicious and the quality of the seafood and the care taken to prepare the meal stood out. a described v’s seafood dish as a Japanese Bouillabaisse. According to a, all three duck preparations were good, but the confit fried rice was “off the hinges”.  Overall, our second experience was very good. The pork belly was very well prepared. The service was better this time. Our server was attentive, professional, and friendly. The room is a bit noisy so it was hard to hear her at times, but this did not interfere with our experience. As for Jacob – he surprisingly still works there.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

16 February 2012 at 10:47pm

Lightning Round 2! (+Bonus Pic!)

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t says: We had a long time friend (drb) and his awesome girlfriend stop by in Philly a couple times during their recent visit to the area. We used this as an opportunity/excuse to show off some Philly cuisine, taking them to places that we thought were surefire bets for impressive food. Because we’ve been to all of these places before, there’s no real point to individual reviews, so here’s the quick and dirty …

drb keeps his own wordpress blog, so if you desire a non-g/t review of some of these places, check it out here.  And no, you’re not allowed to think he’s funnier than we are …

Village Whiskey:

Props: BBQ pork sandwich. Yea – it’s still ridiculously good (but I recognize that bbq is a very personal thing, so maybe some might disagree). My friends enjoyed the fries and veggie burger, but did note that perhaps this place was a bit overpriced (e.g. $8 for a glass of whiskey that could be purchased by the bottle for ~$25). My response: “welcome to Philadelphia”. While his girlfriend admitted to liking the veggie burger a lot, drb noted that it contained a lot of intact beans – he prefers a more homogeneous patty. To each their own. Slops: What is wrong with the service here? They just can’t seem to get it together! This was our second time in a row with crappy service. Although we didn’t get the juvenile attitude that our last server had, it took 40 minutes for two sandwiches to arrive despite the place being only half-occupied. And then they forgot to add the onions I had ordered on my sandwich. Very weird. VW has to have the most inconsistent service of all the Garces joints. drb noted that it seemed to him like it was staffed with a bunch of hipsters … and he hates hipsters (n.b. just to clarify, he is not one of those people who assumes that anyone with a tattoo is a hipster; he has absolutely nothing against people with tattoos … just hipsters).

Capo Giro:

Props: Dark chocolate and candied cherry gelato. Need I say more? Well I’m going to, anyways. drb’s girlfriend, who insisted that she had very high gelato standards (having spent time in Europe) and even admitted that she was quite cautious/hesitant/doubtful before tasting Capo Giro, proclaimed it to be the best gelato she has ever had. Bam!  It was so good, we went there a second time with drb and his mom a week later.  Slops: If it was just a dollar cheaper, that’d be awesome. However, I’d also be 87 lbs heavier, so maybe not …

Carman’s Country Kitchen:

Props: This place’s food was still off-the-hook. We knew that drb and his girlfriend would enjoy the “atmosphere”. We love how we can call up Carman and claim our table early. Slops: Totally forgot that if you have dietary restrictions or particular tastes (e.g. anti-fruit), this is not the easiest place to find something to eat (it’s summer – fruit’s in everything). If the chairs were just a little smaller, we might be able to smoosh in a little closer when sitting at the tables.

Morimoto:

Props: Best pork belly I’ve ever had (it was that 10-hour pork belly appetizer). Holy crap. Also – they had a “special” Japanese eel nigiri. Best eel I’ve ever had. It was the flavor of eel but the texture of pork belly and a crisp skin. Holy crap. It might have been the best piece of sushi I’ve ever had. Even drb also had a “best ever” moment with his sushi.  g enjoyed her red snapper special; it was superior to my main dish in both texture and taste (see Slops).  We also had some “burnt honey ice cream” for dessert (it was featured as a component in another dessert item, but we asked for it straight up).  The pieces of burnt honey (maybe they took a torch to it and then shoved it in the ice cream maker?) were surprisingly delicious as you encountered each little crunch – we’ve got to try this with j and k’s ice cream maker.  Also, our server was super-nice – VW should kidnap this guy and clone him.  Slops: Alaskan halibut with black bean sauce was … mediocre good. Had it been $21, then giddyup. But for near $30, definitely not. It made me wish they had the Chilean sea bass with black bean sauce on their menu, as I had heard so many good things about it from w; what a difference the swap in fish made (it was cooked fine, but kind of bland).

Kanella:

Props: Reservations on Saturday mornings is awesome – I’m over waiting in lines (although it was kind of empty in there). Cyprus breakfast was tasty – a savory breakfast for sure with egg, ham, bread, fried cheese, and some sort of vegetable. Overall, we enjoyed how the food was not only “simple”, “rustic”, and “delicious”, but well-executed (drb claimed his eggs were perfect).  Additionally, it wasn’t food-coma-inducing, which drb and g appreciated (I don’t mind a good coma every now and then). The baklava was pretty tasty – not as good as Zahav’s, but, then again, it’s like half the price. Slops: A little more bread in the Cyprus breakfast would have been great (I’m a starch man). I agree with the waiter from before – the Cyprus breakfast isn’t to-die-for – as there are probably tons of other things on the menu that are awesomer (we just don’t know which ones to choose because it’s not like we recognize any of the items on the menu).

Cochon:

Props: What do you get when you take French toast and top it with one scoop each of peanut butter, banana, and vanilla-bacon ice creams, banana-caramel sauce, and bacon? Allow me to illustrate:

The best French toast ever!!

Yea … it … was … awesome. I ate it all (minus the two bites g snuck in when I was fiddling with the iPhone camera (that’s her hand ready to pounce in the picture). Once again – I normally hate taking pictures in restaurants as it’s super-tacky, but this was one of those things where I knew that you’d need proof of its existence (plus I had to tease sr for having to bail on us for brunch at the last minute). g had the fried oyster sandwich (you see it in the background), which was good as well – but come on – what’s going to compete with the “Elvis French Toast”? Also, we saw the chef/owners of Bibou (the Calmels) enjoying brunch here, too (g has a super-power that allows her to recognize/recall important people in the Philly restaurant scene – I would have preferred a more useful super-power, personally). If they eat here, then you can rest assured that my constant praises of this place’s brunch are legit, and not just the ravings of a lunatic. Interestingly, Bibou’s website claims that they are on vacation … Slops: We can’t go anywhere else for Sunday brunch. Ever. They also peach-cobbler-ified their pancakes, so I have to go back for that, too. Maybe this time, sr and ha will come. I’d invite j, but she’s back to school; it’s ok, she wouldn’t regret missing a dish like this, right?

EDIT:  We’ve come back and I’ve experimented with putting these toppings on top of their super-awesome pancakes.  Surprisingly it was not as good as the French toast.  There’s something about the ice cream on top of their French toast that is awesome.  It’s almost like the French toast is the “savory” in this dish, whereas their pancakes are like another sweet.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

24 August 2010 at 10:00am

Raw Fish Day: Pod and Morimoto Deliver the Goods

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t says: I had the opportunity to visit both Pod and Morimoto recently. Rather than do a full-on review of each, I figure it’d be fun to compare-contrast the two.

I went to Morimoto with cm for lunch (6/2010). The inside was as swanky as I remember, but for some reason, it was quite empty! Who knew that lunchtime would be so dead? I hope this is not a sign that Morimoto is on the decline!

We sat at the sushi bar where we observed some cookery of a squid – very interesting stuff. After staring at it staring at us for a bit, we decided it was time to eat. We each ordered the chirashi sushi. On one hand, this was a little lame, ordering the same thing, but who can say no to ordering sushi when you’re sitting at the sushi bar? I had originally had my eye on the far less expensive pork belly ramen, but I figured that I ate enough pork belly at Percy Street to last me a month; in the name of health, I went for the raw fish. It came with miso soup and a salad that was quite tasty. Neither of us could really identify the components of the dressing, but it had a nice salty and sour flavor. The main dish featured layers of sea-weed, rice, and assorted raw and cooked seafood (the shrimp was cooked). What surprised me the most was the size – there was a lot of fish, and there was a lot of food! I thought I was still going to be hungry, but I was not – I even left some rice because I wanted to avoid food coma! There’s not really much I can say about the dish aside from it tasted like deconstructed sushi. The fish was spot-on, the rice was wonderful (and was studded with small bits of mushrooms). There were these delicate shreds of egg that I’m still not sure how they did. In any case, it was a satisfying meal that made me wonder if I could somehow eat there for lunch every day.

Pod was a little different. Whereas Morimoto’s interior was chic yet edgy, Pod’s was … gaudy. There were a lot of colored lights, which was somewhat distracting given that they do keep the place a little on the dark side. I will admit that the loungey red leather sofa-esque things looked intriguing (I kind of wanted to sit on them), but the rest of the place looked like a cross between Continental and Morimoto. Or maybe that’s what it’s supposed to look like? Cheesy? As we walked to our table, I was reminded of my personal mantra: “I’m never going to Pod unless someone else is paying.” But tonight was different …

The built-in seats (we were seated against a wall, so the seats were built-in like booths) were moderately comfortable. The atmosphere was … “energetic” (fortunately, g and I could lean in so we heard each other just fine). Does this sound like it’s going to be a horrible time? It sure does. But the story took a turn for the better – and there are two reasons why … The first was our server who was very nice and had a great attitude. He made multiple trips to ensure that we were happy with our food and that we didn’t need anything more – I like that. The second, more important factor was the “special” of the day: all-you-can-eat sushi for $25. There were 8 or so hand rolls, 8 or so nigiri, and 8 or so maki rolls that you could choose from; you could choose as much as you like of whichever you like. Me – I’m a big fan of nigiri – rice, fish, and wasabi – that’s all I need (and maybe a half-a-drop of soy sauce)! So that’s what I went for. I tried some salmon, some tuna, some yellow-tail, some eel, some fluke, some sea bass … thirty-eight pieces of sushi later (that’s 34 pieces of nigiri and 4 pieces of rolls that g needed some assistance with), I came to the conclusion that the quality of sushi was pretty good (obviously good enough to eat 38 pieces worth). Furthermore, it’s kind of a “deal”, if you think about it. At Pod, one order of nigiri is two pieces and costs around $6. Of nigiri alone, I consumed approximately $100. Of course, Pod is ridiculously expensive (which is why I refuse to eat there unless someone else pays for it … or if it’s all-you-can-eat night), so perhaps a more reasonable estimate of the damage is $70 (and tack on a few bucks for that roll I helped g with). Still, I think that I made it worth it.

So, what’s the conclusion? If I’m picking out a place to go to eat, I’m going to choose Morimoto nearly every time. The atmosphere is better. The food is great. And really, for $20, I had a very nice lunch – the kind of lunch you could bring home to mom … Be that as it may, even the mighty Morimoto may have trouble if faced against a Pod all-you-can-eat night. The fish at Pod, while maybe not quite as awesome as Morimoto (I had some fluke that was a little dry, but the yellowtail and salmon were great!), was still solid. The volume of fish consumption is just so much larger at Pod, and unfortunately, size matters. Consequently, Morimoto and Pod hold two special, yet different, places in my heart. One, I’ll go to when I’m looking for great-tasting food – it’s the food that I actually wouldn’t mind paying a lot of money for. The other, I’ll go to when I’m looking for the ability to eat myself into oblivion … on a budget.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

22 June 2010 at 11:14pm

An Ode to Bobby Flay

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k says: This is an ode to my culinary hero. I have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Bobby’s Burger Palace (BBP) just a few blocks away from our apartment. First, a little background on the topic that is so close to my heart —

I love Bobby Flay. Now, I know there is some controversy here. t himself has bashed Bobby on a few occasions, even in this very blog. And yet we’re still friends … t thinks that Bobby is inferior to Morimoto and that he was kind of a whiner in that classic Iron Chef episode where they first faced off, and similarly childish when they rematched in Japan. While I agree, it’s now over 10 years later and the new Bobby is not like that. The new Bobby makes shrimp and corn tamales that still make my mouth water one year after eating them. The new Bobby has humility. He is always a little embarrassed when he wins a Throwdown. The new Bobby knows how to share the stage and is always open to learning from others on Grill It. t will mention that Bobby is sometimes criticized for playing it safe in competitions, only sticking to the cuisine he knows best, relying heavily on southwestern flavors and his favorite chipotle. True, but who sticks to what he knows more than Morimoto? And nobody criticizes him…because it’s delicious! A robust statistical analysis will show that Bobby consistently wins in the “taste” category during Iron Chef competitions. Bobby has cultivated a style with bold and complex flavors, as evident by the Mesa Grill menu, that in my opinion is quite delicious.

Still, even Bobby knows that not every dining experience needs to be, or should be, a Mesa Grill type of event. BBP shows Bobby’s enjoyment of simple, every day foods. (I was going to write that he is “a man of the people,” but I’m pretty sure cm would laugh in my face, and rightly so.) But back to the burgers. In my opinion, there’s nothing more boring than greasy meat on bread. But Bobby takes burgers to the next level. There is watercress and avocado, goat cheese, bacon, and my favorite of all…pickles. All for just $7.50. (See my previous comment on Ladder 15.)
So…you can imagine my excitement when construction started on a BBP in my very own neighborhood. We have walked past it many times in the past few months, peeking in the window for signs of new development, and recently, for signs of the man himself. I have been scoping out the menu and have already decided that the L.A. Burger will be my first order (this also happens to be Bobby’s favorite.) I have also been contemplating what I will say to Bobby if I get the chance to meet him. I realized that I may have only a brief opportunity to speak to him. What is the perfect opening line to catch his attention? I’ve been brainstorming ideas. Any suggestions will be considered. Tomorrow is the big day…my stomach is a flutter.

A full restaurant review is forthcoming …

t says: If I see Bobby tomorrow, I’ll fight the urge to buy a burger from Supper (or a burrito from the nearby Chipotle) and challenge him to a throwdown …  But on a serious note, I’m totally down for a good burger – I hope he delivers the goods …

Written by afterdinnersneeze

5 April 2010 at 11:19pm

Bold Flay-vors Coming to Philly

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t says: Some people love Bobby Flay.  Some people love to hate Bobby Flay (often referencing the epic Morimoto vs. Flay battle on the original Iron Chef).  Regardless of which you are, surely you’d be interested in the spring opening of Bobby’s Burger Palace in West Philly.  As a Flay-hater, I know that I’ll definitely go and try one of these burgers in the hopes that it will single-handedly change my mind about him.  Additionally, surely my patronage will make up for all of those hurtful, sarcastic comments I’ve made about him over the years (e.g. I’m sure that “what these burgers lack in appearance, they’ll make up for in flavor”).  But, if/when the flavor doesn’t make up for it, I’ll just have to comfort myself by writing a scathing review (and visiting Capogiro that’s right around the corner … you know … the one that serves gelato and alcohol – why aren’t there more of these?) …

P.S. Yes, I do love that Tony Luke beat him in the cheesesteak throwdown and that Morimoto beat him in the recent Iron Chef America battle.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

17 February 2010 at 10:16pm

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!