after dinner sneeze

a lot of g says, t says

Posts Tagged ‘slate

Slate: Not Too Shabby!

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t says: dz called me up on Friday out of the blue and asked if g and I were free for dinner; we needed to catch up. Unfortunately, g was heading out for a girls’ night at k’s (which I can only imagine included girly-drinks, Dirty Dancing, pillow-fights, truth-or-dare, and lingerie), but I was available! I told dz to pick a place, as it really didn’t matter to me. So let me tell you about dz’s two very important rules when choosing a place to eat:
1) No waiting. Either the place needs to do reservations or be able to take walk-ins without a fuss.
2) Walkability. He has to be able to walk to it in a reasonable amount of time.

But the truth is that I think that he has other rules, too:
3) No pretentious crap that costs a lot of money for a microscopic amount of food (seriously, I have never seen someone “dominate” an entire large vegetable lo mein on their own in one sitting like dz).
4) No required sharing.
5) More than one vegetarian option.
6) Teva sandals must be permissible attire.

Now, none of these are outrageous requirements. If nothing else, they illustrate dz’s priorities when it comes to eating food … He wants to show up at his convenience, order the food he wants to eat, and eat that food. dz doesn’t mess around. But where’s the fun? I suspect that the real enjoyment for him when he goes out to eat is not so much the food, rather, the company with which he eats (as apparently, without company, he is known to completely forget to eat). I was honored to be part of the company!

So, dz chose to go to Slate. I was totally down. It would be great to try someplace new! Well, it’s kind of new. Slate is one of those places that I frequently walk by but have only ever seen two customers inside at any one time. Having been there for a surprisingly good brunch once with drb and g quite a while back (that’s right – three customers at once!  sorry, no past review because I forgot what I ate), I knew that they were capable of making good food, but it was hard to convince myself to go to dinner there with so many other nearby faves. This was my chance …

8/2010, 8:15pm, Party of 3. dz, his super-cool girlfriend, and I gathered at Slate for a Friday night dinner. At first, we got the, “it’ll be a while because we have no tables” excuse. This was peculiar because from where I was standing, there were plenty of open tables. Maybe some reservations were about to come in. In any case, when dz’s girlfriend suggested sitting outside, the host was happy to point us to the table and told us settings would be out momentarily. It was a great night for outdoor dining.

Initially, I was torn between the hanger steak and the duck. On one hand, it had been a while since I had eaten steak. On the other, would it stack up to my memories of the delicious steaks I’ve had at Bibou and Cochon? I felt that if not, I’d regret not getting the duck. And so it was decided. Go for the duck. But this wasn’t just “duck”. It was duck with a hoisin-Guiness sauce. I couldn’t imagine what it would taste like.

dz’s girlfriend and I also opted for an order of the vegetable lasagna eggrolls. That’s right. Two oxymorons in a row. Vegetable-lasagna (i.e. no meat). Lasagna eggrolls. Oh, and there was a dose of irony, as it included some “house slaw” as well, which I imagine was supposed to be like what the inside of an eggroll is traditionally filled with. How clever …

Enter our waitress. Now, before I go on, I want to stress she seemed like a nice, well-meaning person, which was great. But man. She was a space cadet. When she talked to you, it just didn’t seem like she was quite all there – maybe 85% there, but the last 15% was daydreaming about something. She took our drink orders (one beer, two wines) but the wine took quite a while to make it to the table, which was a little weird. We eventually found out that although she remembered that I had ordered wine, she couldn’t quite recall which one I had requested. Later, after we ordered the food (while my drink still hadn’t arrived), she then confessed to forgetting my entree as well. She said: “There must be something about you – I just can’t remember what you order.” It must have been my jedi mind trick that I’ve been perfecting over the past two decades. I’m glad I finally have some positive results; g has been completely resistant to all mind tricks, jedi or not – it’s been frustrating.

I do want to say that these small mishaps really didn’t make me angry or irritated or anything – it was just quite funny. dz’s girlfriend did point out that perhaps if she had written down our orders, all of this might have been averted. But where would we find such things like a paper and pen? We’re living in 2010! Get this girl an iPad or something!  Personally, my favorite waitress moment was when she came to check up on us after we had been served our food. We said everything was great, and she immediately said, “sweet!” and turned around to walk away. Not only that, she said it in some kind of “voice”. This was not like a normal speaking voice that one would use to say “that’s cool” or “great”. It would be like if you’re hanging out with a bunch of your friends and someone offered you a free brownie. “Sweet!”  Actually, it was a cross between Cartman from South Park and j.  In any case … it was weird. But then I remembered the perfect place for her: Snackbar.

How was the food? The eggrolls were actually pretty good. Definitely unusual, but good!  My brain was confused because my fingers were suggesting eggroll as I picked it up, but my mouth vehemently disagreed.  They were beautifully crispy on the outside with vegetables and cheese (presumably mozzarella) on the inside, with a smidge of pasta. And the tomato dipping sauce (i.e. similar to marinara) wasn’t half bad. It was like a super-crispy vegetable lasagna, which I think most people can appreciate. The weird thing was the side of slaw. It was unnecessary. If you’re going to give us some “house slaw”, you’re going to have to give it some kind of visaul appeal. And actually, I don’t even remember what it tasted like. Now I wonder if I even tasted it. Darn. Can’t remember.  Someone jedi mind tricked me.

The duck was cooked well. And that Guiness-hoisin sauce had some very nice sweetness and bitterness to it – that was a good combo. But really, I don’t have much else to say because the dish, from the meat to the sides, was well-executed and tasted exactly how it sounds. Not bad! Not blow-your-mind or to-die-for, but not bad! I think that this would be one of those things where if I replicated it at home, I’d be super-thrilled (and then post the recipe on the blog). At a restaurant, I’d be happy the first time I ordered it (which I was), but I’d move on to something new the second time (but at least this ensured that I would have no problem going a second time, which is more than I can say for others … looking at you Bistro St. Tropez).

So – Slate? Food was solid. Wine selection was ample (although not a lot of light-bodied reds – a lot of fuller-bodied, fruit-forward ones) and not super-expensive. Service was entertaining. In short, I’d go back. I wouldn’t lose sleep in anticipation of going again, but I’m nevertheless happy to know that some reasonable food is right around the corner.

P.S. Speaking of losing sleep about food … yes – our Talula’s Table reservation is right around the corner!  g’s super-pumped.  I am, too.  We have a 10-person group (meaning #11 and #12 are still open – you want in, drb?), including a, the super-wine-enthusiast, and we hope it’ll be awesome!

Written by afterdinnersneeze

29 August 2010 at 11:52pm

Cochon: Philly’s Best Pancake?

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t says: Ok, those are some big words in the title, but we have reason to believe that Cochon might serve the best brunch in the city.  Now, we’ve never been to “fancy” brunch eateries, like LaCroix or Fountain Restaurant, but we have been to some pretty good small[er] places that put some nice twists on brunch, like Sabrina’s, Carman’s, Slate, Tinto, Farmicia, Mixto, and Day by Day.  Palumbo’s Grill (may it rest in peace) did an awesome brunch – it was cheap and tasty.  Carman’s is similarly priced and delicious, with a little more innovation, but good luck getting a seat (and I sometimes wonder about that kitchen’s cleanliness)!  Sabrina’s also does a good job, especially the Art Museum location that is far easier to get into – but I haven’t been blown away every time.  As you can see, I’m very picky about what I want in a brunchery.  I want reservations, friendly service, delicious food, ample servings, and a reasonable price.  It seems that as food quality and quantity goes up, it’s harder to find it cheap (e.g. Tinto) or not packed (e.g. Carman’s, Sabrina’s).  And, while I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad brunch in Philly, there just hasn’t been a place that did everything right.  Palumbo’s was the closest.  Cochon is my new frontrunner.

The first best part about Cochon’s brunch is that it is unknown – or at least, that’s what it seems (they’re well-known for dinner – we still have not had a pork dish to rival that pork shoulder special they had when we went – it was insane).  Their brunch starts at 11 (and that’s when our reservation was for).  We arrived at 10:50.  There was no crowd.  There was no line.  Only one two-seater table had patrons in it (I guess the hostess didn’t have a problem with letting a couple people in early).  This alone was a breath of fresh air.  We took a walk around the neighborhood to kill some time – it was a beautiful day!  They seated us the moment we walked in, and we ordered some tea.  The selection wasn’t huge or exotic – there was no “French Breakfast Tea” like at Parc, but for me, any black tea (which I purposely over-steep) is fine for a nice “rustic” breakfast.  Maybe other foodies will want more of a selection.  As far as a “crowd” – we never really saw one!  Even by the time we left, there were still open tables!  How weird!

As the menu stared back at me, I was faced with a major conundrum: there was no way that I could taste everything I wanted at this one meal.  The egg dishes all sounded fantastic.  They had French toast and pancakes (the age-old battle of the breakfast breads).  Then they had pizzas (?is it a French pizza? a traditional pizza?  no idea!) including one that had brie cheese, caramelized onion, and pear.  Then they had what I could only imagine were sandwiches of smoked meats, including ribs, short ribs, etc.  It was not fair.

I ended up going for the pancakes – I needed to test their version of a classic (I’m the bad cop, remember?).  They came to the table in this round glazed earthenware dish that fit the pancakes just perfectly and were topped with caramelized bananas and walnuts in some sort of syrup.  And there was a healthy dollop of cream.  They were large and looked fantastic – but nothing looked obviously different than something you might find elsewhere.  Then I ate my first bite.  Holy … Crap … !!   The banana was soft-but-not-mushy and played beautifully with the walnuts. But the heroes of the dish were the pancakes.  They had a deep dark color – it was almost like they looked over-cooked, but trust me, they weren’t.  They had a nice “crisp-ness” to the outside, followed by the softest, fluffiest interior I have ever seen.  And they were super-thick!  It was luscious like cake, but floppy like a pancake.  Now, I hate the idea of whipping out cameras at restaurants to take pictures of food for the sake of showing everyone else what it looks like – it just feels tacky.  It’s clear that I don’t have a problem photographing my own stuff in my own house.  But, to be honest, I’d hate it if someone showed up at my workplace and started photographing what I was doing without my expressed permission (wow – they’d be bored out of their mind if they did).  Furthermore, I’d be super-weirded out if someone I invited to my dinner party starting photographing my food without asking.  But I guess some might feel entitled to do so because the food becomes theirs, as they are paying for it?  I don’t know – right or wrong, it just makes me feel awkward.  BUT … this one time … I did the unthinkable and asked g for her iPhone.  I had to take a picture of the pancakes because no one would believe just how fluffy they are without evidence …

That fork is a normal size fork!

I realize that these pancakes were technically simple – a lot of places can put together banana, walnut, and pancakes.  I’m not even a huge fan of banana-walnut things (e.g. I’ll pick blueberry muffins over banana-walnut every time).  But these were the best pancakes I’ve ever had.  It definitely had less to do with their choice of ingredients and more to do with cookery.  If I knew how to make pancakes like that, I’d never eat out for breakfast again … (I’d also open up a pancake shop).

What’d g order?  Here she goes …

g says: Apologies that there are no pretty photos of the Eggs Cochon that I ordered… I dug into my plate so quickly, the dish looked a mess and I was halfway through by the time t decided to shoot our meal. Maybe next time I’ll wait for the photo op, but don’t count on it!  My dish was an interesting take on eggs benedict – there were 2 poached eggs over a slice of toasted brioche, chunks of roasted suckling pig, and a drizzling of hollandaise sauce, alongside perfectly-spiced home fries. It was incredible, and if there weren’t so many other tempting items on the menu that I am dying to try, I would absolutely order it on every visit!  Thank you, Cochon, for another lovely time — our brunch was the perfect start to a lovely Sunday!

t says: The final best part – the entire breakfast, for two people, was under $31.  So, for less than the price of one restaurant week meal, both of us ate until completely stuffed.  As a matter of fact, I couldn’t finish my entire plate, as much as I wanted to – and I was still a little uncomfortable trying to walk home.  Even g had a little leftover (but not enough to bring home).

Conclusion: The lack of a crowd makes me suspicious – was our meal a fluke?  This, combined with how many things we still want to try on their menu means only one thing: we will be going back.  Forget just “going back” – g and I started staking out rental properties nearby to see if we could live within walking distance (seriously)!  The food was ample, the price was right (maybe $2-3 more expensive than Sabrina’s – but they don’t have the “normal” stuff that Sabrina’s has, like “2 eggs any style” … well, they do, but not without including house-made sausage and bacon), and the seating is not super-cramped; I might even consider bringing my parents there!  The way we figure it, we have 9 months or so until Philly magazine tells everyone else how great brunch is here (or maybe they already have and no one read it – but remember – you read it here first), and then it’ll be so booked you can’t get in.  Although I warn you – g and I have booked a table for every Sunday possible for a ridiculous amount of time into the future …  Let us know if you want in.

LATER …

t says: We went back to Cochon today, and I ordered the pancakes.  Yep – absolutely as delicious as I remember – and still super-thick!  Actually – it was so much that I couldn’t finish it.  So I brought some home … and measured it … right before I ate it.

The ruler and pancake are the same exact distance from the camera lens ...

That’s right – it is a bit over an inch tall!  And that’s for ONE pancake!  They serve you two!

Written by afterdinnersneeze

21 March 2010 at 10:16pm

Pasta with Wine-Marinated Short Rib Ragu

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t says: Just the other day (over a year ago), g and I received a Williams Sonoma catalog in the mail.  On the cover, there was the most beautiful piece of cookware I had ever seen.  It was the “slate” Le Creuset Dutch oven.  The color screamed chic and classic at the same time.  The thing is … I didn’t really know how to “use” a dutch oven.  Wasn’t it just a super-heavy pot – why would anyone want one of those?  Perhaps it’s just a status symbol (like All-Clad and Viking)?  Fast forward to June 2009 – my parents found out that I had perused Dutch ovens at one time and purchased for me a beautiful red Le Creuset for my bday.  Trust me, I liked the red one a lot (I love the color red in general – I used to have a bright red pair of shoes and am on the lookout for a new pair of bright red shoes), but I was let down that slate was no longer available at WS (curse them and their “limited edition” colors).  Interestingly, k and her then-fiance/now-husband, cm, showed us their recently acquired Dutch oven at that time – it was the SLATE one!  Apparently, the WS they had visited happened to be clearing them out (thus, while online availability was nil, I guess some stores still had stock – but I couldn’t find any).  Fiddlesticks – I knew that the search for slate was over (unless I wanted a tiny slate saucier, which was the only thing ever in stock) …

Because I was still a neophyte to the wonderful world of enameled cast iron, I decided to do some research (and looked for alternative colors and brands).  I ended up browsing a line of cookware from Staub – the “other” French Dutch oven company with quite a following of devout anti-Le Creuset-ists (I kinda liked that).  I was impressed with the black interior and self-basting “spikes” (although sometimes I wonder if this is a gimmick because Thomas Keller and Molly Stevens both recommend parchment paper to line the lids of their braising vessels), but when I saw that they were just releasing a new, limited edition “titanium gray” color, I knew it was made for me.  I swapped the red Le Creuset for the titanium gray Staub (6.5 qt – it isn’t as classic as the slate, but, because it reminds me of a brand new dark gray  bmw, it has more bling).  I also immediately invested in a copy of All About Braising, as what is the purpose of having a piece of cookware but not knowing how to use it?  Over the ensuing 6 months, I braised everything – chicken, beef, pork, vegetables, seafood (although the latter two required a smaller vessel – so I used our other cookware).  The following is my favorite recipe thus far (probably because I <3 short ribs) and is adapted from recipes by Molly Stevens and Giada De Laurentiis, with a fine point or two from Thomas Keller.  This dish has finally allowed me to see a short rib recipe on a restaurant menu and NOT automatically order it (I <3 short rib), as now I know I can make a respectable version at home (although definitely NOT fancy – very “rustic”).

Ingredients:

the spiced EtOH:
__ 1 bottle of tasty, inexpensive red wine (For this, I like something a little less “fruity” – not Australian Shiraz or Argentinian Malbec, rather, something a bit more rustic, like some Sangiovese-based Italian blend or dip into Spain.  I personally don’t opt for Chianti because I’ve run into a lot of bad Chiantis until I started getting up into the Chianti Classico range at $20+ … which is WAY too much $$ for a recipe like this.  In short, pick a red wine you want to drink that isn’t insanely fruity.)
__ 1 tsp black peppercorns
__ 0.5 tsp allspice berries (optional)
__ 4 whole cloves (optional)a few rosemary sprigs
__ 2 bay leaves, broken in half
__ 1 tsp kosher salt
__ Cheesecloth and kitchen string (optional)

the meat:
__ ~3.5 lbs of beef short ribs bone-in (not thinly sliced)
__ Kosher salt and pepper
__ <0.5 c olive/canola oil mix (olive oil adds nice flavor, but smokes a lot – canola oil is neutral, but has a much higher smoke point – so I go 50/50, but sane people can just use whatever oil they want!  I hear grapeseed oil is good for frying, too!)

the braise:
__ 1 large onion (for this, I prefer sweet and yellow onions > white onions > red onions), diced
__ 4 cloves garlic, minced (I prefer fresh to jarred)
__ 5 roma/plum tomatoes, cut into large dice (or 4 if they seem exceptionally large, or 6 if you REALLY like tomato)
__ 2 Tbs Dijon mustard
__ <2 c beef stock (I used Kitchen Basics “Unsalted”)

the finish:
__ 0.75 lb pasta (medium-sized shape like penne, farfalle, or, my favorite, cellentani) – if using a small shape like elbows, use 1 lb
__ 1 small bag of frozen peas (you won’t use the whole bag)
__ some Italian parsley (optional)
__ Grated Parmigiano Reggiano and/or Pecorino Romano (I probably use ~0.3333333333 c of each, but I just buy a small block of each, and grate it as needed to taste/texture – feel free to use one or the other depending on which you prefer or is available)

Methods:

-1)  To marinate or not to marinate?  If you know you’re going to make the dish well in advance, you could marinate the beef the day before.  Unfortunately, not everyone is able to do this.  I’ll pretend that you don’t and then make recommendations afterwards if you do.  So … if you are going to cook all of this in one day … Gently pour 1.5 cups of wine into a saucepan.  Slowly turn up the heat until the wine just reaches a boil.  Turn off the heat.  When the wine stops bubbling, add peppercorns, allspice, cloves, rosemary, bay leaves, and 1 tsp kosher salt.  Stir.  Proceed to step 0 as the pot cools.
Words of wisdom re: Step -1:
a)  If you have cheesecloth, you may instead bundle the herbs/spices into a satchel tied off with kitchen string, and add the satchel to the heated wine (like a tea bag).  I have no cheesecloth, so I instead will just strain the herbs/spices after I’m done.
b)  If you’re going to marinate your meat overnight, start with a larger volume of wine (~3 cups).  Then, after the wine cools to room temperature, pour it into a high quality 1 gallon plastic bag (one you would bet your fridge on).  Seal the bag with as little air as possible, place the bag into a large bowl (to prevent spills), and place the bowl into the fridge to cool for ~1 hour.  Add the short ribs to the bagged wine and seal the bag with as little air as possible.  Return the sealed bag-o-meat-and-wine to a safety bowl in the fridge.  Marinate in refrigerator for 24-36 hours, turning at least once to ensure that all of the meat is submerged in wine at one point or another.
c)  Any remaining wine will be useful to sip as you continue with the braise.

0)  Brace yourself.  Preheat oven to 315 degrees.  Slowly heat Dutch oven or some other wide, lidded, oven-proof pot (mine is 28 cm in diameter – the smallest size capable of holding all of the ingredients for this recipe is ~5 quarts) on the stovetop to medium-high heat.  Pour yourself a glass of wine and buckle up for some cooking!  N.B. If you marinated the meat, remove the ribs from the marinade (ensuring no peppercorns, cloves, etc are stuck to the meat), pat the meat dry, and reserve 1 cup of the marinade (liquid-only – no herbs, spices, etc) – do NOT accidentally drink it.

1)  Sear the meatSeason the short ribs with kosher salt and pepper.  Next, add enough oil to the heated Dutch oven to just cover the bottom.  Brown the ribs (in batches) in the Dutch oven on all sides until beautifully crusted; set aside all ribs.  When you’re on your last side of your last batch of ribs, turn the heat down to medium-low.

2)  Assemble the braising base.  Add onions to the cooking vessel and keep them moving to avoid burning; cook until translucent.  Add garlic and mix.  As the garlic becomes fragrant (~30 seconds), add half of the tomatoes and them down until the tomatoes start getting softer.  Add the rest of the tomatoes, and cook until all the tomatoes are soft.  Add 1 cup of the spiced wine (i.e. reserved marinade) – there should be NO herbs/particles in it, as they’ll be a pain to remove later.  Mix and scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden/plastic/nylon spatula to release the “brown bits”.  Cook until the new liquid (from the wine and tomatoes) reduces in half (a few minutes depending on how hot the vessel was).  Add the mustard; mix to combine and cook until simmering again.

3)  Bring on the meat.  Nestle the ribs into the Dutch oven.  Add beef broth until the total liquid in the pot reaches half-way up the ribs.  Place lid on the vessel (if your lid doesn’t have re-basting spikes or is not completely flush, put a sheet of parchment paper between the lid and the vessel).  Place into oven.

4)  Set the temperature.  Check on the vessel in 15 minutes.  If the bubbling is any more than a “very light simmer”, reduce the heat by 10 degrees and check again in 15 minutes.  Continue reducing heat in this manner until the desired bubbling is achieved.  After 1 hour of cooking, flip the short ribs.  Total cooking time will be ~3 hours or until the meat easily pulls away from the bone and is fork-tender (if you can’t poke a spoon through the meat, it’s not done yet).  Enjoy that glass of wine while you wait …

5)  Make the pasta sauce.  Remove the ribs from the cooking liquid, and set aside under a foil tent.  Let the cooking vessel sit for a few minutes, and, using a large spoon, remove any excess fat from the surface of the cooking liquid.  Alternatively, a gravy separator would also be handy.  Using a ladle, transfer the entirety of the remaining cooking liquid into the bowl of a food processor or blender.  Process/blend until the mixture is smooth sauce.  An alternative is to simply let the vessel cool, stick it in the fridge overnight, remove the congealed fat the next day with a spoon, and then sticking the vessel it straight back into the oven at a low temp just to re-heat it before proceeding to step 6.  Meats braised like the short ribs in this recipe often benefit from a night in the fridge!

6)  Make the pasta.  Cook your pasta of choice as you perform step 7.  Use a timer so you don’t accidentally overcook your pasta (step 7 is very distracting).  Reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water when done.

7)  Disassemble the meat.  Remove the meat from the bones.  Using 2 forks, shred the meat into smaller pieces.  Some may also want to remove large pieces of fat as well – do as you please.

8)  Ta-da!  In a serving bowl, combine pasta, the sauce, and the meat.  If the sauce needs to be thinned (which it hasn’t for me, ever), add some of the reserved pasta water (but be careful, because you might have salted the pasta water – and both of the cheeses could be salty).  Add frozen peas until the desire pasta:pea ratio is reached.  Add grated cheese(s) until the sauce takes on a creamy, cheesy texture and the desired taste.  Season with salt and pepper if necessary (given these cheeses, you’ll likely not need much of the former).  Add chopped parsley until desired parsley density is reached (adds a little vegetal zing to the dish … I find it unnecessary).