Tuesday, October 30, 2007


(My camera hates darkness. Sorry for the cruddy shots.)

Popped into Beneluxx, the new wine, beer, cheese, and chocolate-tasting restaurant located down the stairs on 3rd Street this past weekend. Remember SoMa and A Bar Named Sue? That’s where Beneluxx is located.

The gist of Beneluxx is that you can sample wine, beer, cheese, and chocolate by the ounce –fifty wines, thirty beers, thirty cheeses, and twenty chocolates. Fondue, mini pizzas, sandwiches, sausages wrapped in galette, soups, and salads are offered, too. Fun!

Skreeeeeeeech! (Needle on vinyl.)

Before I start my long rant (it's always the whiners that write long reviews), let me say that nothing we put in our mouths from Beneluxx was bad and everyone working there was amiable. I write this with the utmost love for Beneluxx, and I hope someone will tell them to read this review. (I looked for a comment card, but there wasn’t one.)

When sitting down at the tables equipped with glass-rinsing systems (fun when drunk!) lining the wall across from the bar, the first thing you notice are bottles of bleach solution attached to the wall between EVERY table. The small sign below the bottles recommends that cautious individuals use the bleach solution to spritz surfaces. This. Is. Fucking. Weird. Is the owner O.C.D.! Any germaphobe is already packing Purell and antibacterial wipes. Take these bottles down at once. Weird. Weird. Weird.

The menu! Oh, god. Where do I start? Um…if you have to warn your customers that the menu is a novel when handing it to them, you might want to rethink it. The menu is horribly organized; it took us a good fifteen minutes to decide on the first drink order. It didn’t help that not a single one of our three menus included the same pages (some missing, some in different order).

My partner actually designs how people use information, and he tells me that the “information hierarchy” is poorly designed on Beneluxx’s menu. I dig holes in the dirt for a living, and I could tell that this menu was poorly designed. We spent a lot of time flipping back and forth between pages that logically and visually didn’t relate to each other.

The pairing suggestions were unhelpful. Listing five wines (nothing specific; just Zinfandel, Merlot, Reisling…) next to each cheese is like telling me to throw a dart. Towards the back there were two more pages with pairing suggestions (redundant!) for a select few cheeses, beer, chocolate, and wine. Just an example: all but one of the cheese and wine suggestions were for goat cheese. I like goat cheese, but, if you don’t, you’re screwed.

I’m not a professional information architect, but may I suggest handing me three pages only...

Page One

  • Side One - White wine organized from light to heavy.
  • Side Two - Red wine organized from light to heavy.

Page Two

  • Side One - Cheese organized by texture.
  • Side two - Chocolate grouped into white, milk, semi-sweet, and bitter-sweet.

Page Three

  • Side One - Beer. I’m not a beer drinker, so have no suggestion for organization, but alphabetical wasn't working for the beer drinkers in my group.
  • Side Two - Other food menu items.

Can’t fit it all? Yes, you can! Pare down the descriptions to essential words. Get rid of those unhelpful suggestions, and rely on the in-house experts. Intensively train your staff, so they are also knowledgeable. The staff was nice, and I could tell the non-expert staff was making an effort to learn. I know you’ve only been open a couple of weeks, but their knowledge will come in time.

Beneluxx, please hire a professional to design your menu. If you did already, fire them. Every day you have a customer struggle with the menu like we did, is a day you lose customers.Ok, I’ll keep this short…

Go ahead and sample all of the beers at Beneluxx. At around sixty cents per ounce, it’s not expensive to sample all thirty. Yes, it's more expensive than buying a few beers, but.... One ounce of beer is about two small sips – not much – but it’s fun to sample and compare. Plus, you can depress the glass washer to your delight.

Sampling all the wines will put a dent in your pocket. Sample a few, and settle on one or two for the rest of the evening.

Sample as many cheeses as your colon can handle. One ounce of cheese (you can order more than one ounce of any item, but we stuck with one ounce for everything) is perfect for sampling, and the prices are not outrageous. I went with three goudas – goat, cow, and sheep’s milk – for comparative eating. My partners went with two different cheeses each. We all shared like good kids.

I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but one ounce of chocolate is a bit much if you’re sampling a few different kinds. Half of this plate went into my bag and was eaten for breakfast the next day. I found the chocolate sampling the most interesting. There was even a chocolate that – gasp – I didn’t like. It tasted like beer!!

Hungry, we tried a few items from the food menu. The traditional Swiss fondue came in a tiny ramekin with bread. Additional accompaniments can be ordered for a charge. We went with the apples. There was barely enough cheese for the bread and apples, so I wonder what happens if you order more than one accompaniment?

All of Beneluxx’s mini-pizzas include meat. The Iberian, with chorizo, La Peral Blue Cheese, port Dijon cream, Spanish onions and peppers was the most interesting, so all three of us vegetarians forwent the chorizo. This pizza was flavor-packed with salty, pungent blue cheese, caramelized onions, and sweet port Dijon cream. A winner!

Sampling by the ounce is always more expensive than going whole hog, but look at it as a learning experience. Food was good, sampling was fun, but getting there was painful. Hopefully, Beneluxx fixes the menu train wreck, and gets on with gettin’ on.

Beneluxx, 33 S. 3rd St., Philadelphia, PA, 19106 Tues.-Thurs., 5p.m.-midnight; Fri. and Sat., 5p.m.-2a.m.; Sun. and Mon., closed.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Balsamic-Braised Cipolline with Pomegranate

Can you believe I've never plucked and eaten a fresh cherry from a tree? I have eaten a less commonly found in backyards fruit, the pomegranate, straight from the tree. The house I grew up in had a much neglected and improperly sited pomegranate tree (large bush, really) under a towering tree in the backyard. No one cared for this fruit tree, and I remember myself being the only one excited when the tree produced a handful of fruits each year.

Cracking open this strange fruit, plucking all the ruby jewels nestled together in membrane-divided pockets, gently biting down on a handful of seeds to release the tangy, sweet juice of the flesh surrounding the seed, and then, of course, spitting the seeds from the porch in a contest with my best friend made for at least thirty minutes of fun to fill my carefree, youthful days.

Pomegranates make an appearance this time of year, and I usually indulge in at least one. Eating a pomegranate is time consuming and somewhat meditative – the opposite of how I generally eat food. The way I like to eat a pomegranate is a few seeds at a time, biting gently down to release the juices, then spit the seeds out. You can eat the seeds, but it just feels wrong to me.

These gems are appearing more and more on salads, and other foods, like the balsamic-braised cipolline onions with pomegranate recipe in the Thanksgiving issue of Bon Appètit, ever since being proclaimed a super-food. I gave Bon Appètit’s Thanksgiving menu another try, and this time it was a success. Except the pomegranate seeds.

If you enjoy crunching and swallowing pomegranate seeds, leave them in the recipe. Spitting seeds out table-side is not allowed, so for those who are pomegranate seed-spitters like me, save the pomegranate for contemplative solitude (spitting contest).

I will name him George, and I will hug him, and pet him, and squeeze him.

Cipollini must mean cute-as-a-button, because that’s what these small, flat, sweet bulbs are. How could I resist these when I spied them in the store? Actually not onions, cipollini are the edible bulbs of a grape hyacinth, Muscari comosum.

Onion or not, cipollini taste like onions, and caramelized onions are like candy to me, so I could not pass up this recipe. I ate these with this year’s Thanksgiving faux turkey (turned out well; details soon), but meat-eaters should try these braised cipolline with beef. Having eaten a grilled steak once a week until the age of 15, I do know what beef tastes like!

Balsamic-Braised Cipolline with Pomegranate
Adapted from Bon Appètit

2 pounds cipolline onions
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1/4 cup dry red wine
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds

  • Blanche cipolline in boiling water 1 minute. Drain, cool briefly, trim ends, and peel.
  • Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.Add cipolline, salt and pepper to taste, and sauté until brown, 12 minutes.
  • Add vegetable broth, wine, vinegar and brown sugar, and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer 15 minutes.
  • Increase heat, and boil until cipolline are tender and the liquid has thickened, stirring often, 5 to 15 minutes depending on amount of liquid left in pan.
  • Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds.
  • *Crème fraiche was omitted from this recipe, but, if you like, add 3 tablespoons of crème fraiche or heavy whipping cream to the cipolline right before removing from heat and transferring to serving bowl.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Twenty Manning

Twenty Manning, a stylish restaurant serving Asian-influenced fare in the Rittenhouse area, was one of the venues offering a vegetarian option during Restauraunt Week a while back, but there was no love in the reservation department. Get there early on a weekday any other week, and you have the pick of the place.

My partner and I popped in for a quick dinner at Twenty Manning straight after work, and being one of the first people there, we snagged a white linen-draped bistro table outside before the people started pouring in.

We started with the vegetarian summer rolls, one of my all-time favorite appetizers. The tofu accompanying the rice noodle and veggie filling was spiced and flavorful.

My coconut green curry stir-fry with tofu, baby bok choy, snow peas, Chinese guy lan, grape tomatoes, and Japanese eggplants was beautiful to look at. It was clearly evident from the color and flavor of the vegetables that they were the freshest of fresh – Chef Kiong Banh goes to the market daily to hand pick the produce. The curry vegetables had a smattering of curry sauce at the bottom of the bowl that was instantly soaked up by the rice. Being a sauce fiend, I wished the sauce had been more generous.

My partner loves fish, and orders this protein almost unfailingly when dining out. This means I don’t get to partake – hmm, you think it's deliberate? This gorgeous plating is of oven roasted salmon, carrot ginger puree, English peas, and white truffle coulis. Stuck my fork in the carrot ginger puree, and it was lovely.

The food at Twenty Manning is fresh, delicious, balanced, and artful without being ridiculous. Food portions are moderate – neither teeny-tiny plates, nor American supper-sized.

I’ve only heard great things about Twenty Manning’s sister restaurant, Audrey Claire, a Mediterranean BYOB right down the road. Research tells me there are a few vegetarian dishes on Audrey’s menu. Gotta go soon, if it's a good as Twenty Manning.

Twenty Manning, 261 S. 20th St., Philadelphia, PA, 19103
Sun.-Wed., 5p.m.-11p.m; Thurs.-Sat., 5p.m-1a.m.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Philly Food Blogger Meet-up

Philly Food Blogger Meet-up and Potluck
Friday November 2
Center City Philadelphia

Are you a Philly food blogger? Have you ever wanted to meet other Philly food bloggers – ya’ know, in person?

A few Philly food bloggers (Foodaphilia, Fork You, Straight from the Farm, Messy and Picky, Philafoodie, yours truly, plus others) have been cooking up a meet-up and potluck to bring this group of like-minded, voracious people together.

If you consider yourself a Philly food blogger (blog, vlog, or podcast about food, restaurants, recipes, or any victuals in the Philly area), and want to meet-up for this event and future events, please send your name, blog url, and email contact to mac.and.cheese.review (at) gmail (dot) com.

An invite will follow with event details.

White Chili

One of my favorite things to do is kill two (or more if I'm really good) birds with one stone. Whether or not this philosophy of action is time-saving or efficient, I like to think it is. A one-mile-or-so round-trip walk through the city from my Philly digs allows me to stroll past the farmer’s market at Headhouse Square, the Italian Market, and the Asian grocery stores along Washington Street to gather groceries – a very efficient grocery route if done in one outing.

I visited all of these places last week in order to gather ingredients for this recipe…but I did not follow my own philosophy of action. I went to the Asian market for seitan, limes, and cilantro, and then returned home. I then went to the farmer’s market for poblano and Anaheim chilis…and came home. Finally, I went to the Italian Market for cannellini beans. Not efficient.

With all of these ingredients back at home, along with kitchen staples, homegrown jalepenos, and home-canned yellow tomato sauce (sauce is orangish), I was ready to tackle the white chili recipe from Cooks Illustrated – a magazine that has NEVER let me down, unlike…cough cough…Bon Appètit.

But white chili doesn’t have tomato sauce in it! Nope. And neither does the recipe in Cook’s Illustrated. A few months ago I sat in the car discussing the best use of yellow tomato sauce with the friend who supplied me with the jar. Yellow tomatoes are less acidic than red tomatoes, and it didn’t seem right to waste yellow tomato sauce on a dish that called for the classic acidic red tomato sauce. The only thing we came up with was white chili. (Any other suggestions?) So, I adapted a white chili recipe in a past copy of the infallible Cook’s Illustrated to include the yellow tomato sauce.

The original recipe calls for chicken and chicken stock, but I subbed seitan, and 2/3 of the chicken stock with the yellow tomato sauce, and the remaining chicken stock with vegetable stock. Obviously, not every one is going to have yellow tomato sauce on hand, so just keep with the stock in the original recipe (3 cups), or blend some fresh yellow tomatoes in a food processor.

I never want regular chili again. Really. I’m tellin’ ya, Cook’s Illustrated does not fail - even with me futzing with the recipe! I'm happy to report that I efficiently killed two bowls in one sitting.

White Chili
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
serves 6-8

2 (10-ounce) cans seitan, drained and chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 poblano chiles, stemmed, seeded, and cut into large pieces
3 Anaheim chiles, stemmed, seeded, and cut into large pieces
2 medium onions, cut into large pieces (2 cups)
3 medium jalapeno chiles, stemmed, seeded, and minced
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons coriander
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 (15-ounce) cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups yellow tomato sauce
1 cup vegetable broth
3 tablespoons lime juice
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, minced
4 scallions, sliced thinly

  • Heat oil in a large skillet or pot over medium-high heat, and brown seitan (about 5 to 10 minutes), and remove from the skillet.
  • In a food processor, pulse 10-12 times (1 second each) half of the poblano chiles, Anaheim chiles, and onions until the consistency of chunky salsa. Transfer to a bowl, and repeat with the remaining poblano chilies, Anaheim chilies, and onions. Combine with the first batch. (Do not wash the food processor.)
  • Add the minced jalepenos (more or less depending on heat preference - I went with one), chile-onion mixture, garlic, cumin, coriander, and 1/4 teaspoon salt to the skillet, adding more vegetable oil if necessary. Cover and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Transfer 1 cup of the cooked vegetable mixture, 1 cup of beans, and 2 cups of the tomato sauce to the food processor and process until smooth.
  • Return the mixture from the food processor back to the skillet with the chile-onion mixture, and add the vegetable broth, browned seitan, rest of the beans, lime juice, and cilantro. Cook over medium heat until thickened slightly, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Serve with scallion garnish.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Weekend Field Trip

As far as outdoor weddings go, I think October is one of the best months to hold such an event – mild weather, beautiful foliage, and an abundance of decorations such as gourds, seed heads, and wild flowers straight from nature.

My weekend was spent driving to the currently Technicolor Shenandoah Valley in Virginia to witness two classmates tie the knot at an Arboretum, with a reception following in a beautiful octagonal barn. While wedding are beautiful, but sappy ordeals, this wedding topped my list of favorites thanks to the bride and groom limiting the cheesy music (James Taylor...and that's not even that bad) to the first dance. From there on out, the best cover band ever rocked the barn with songs from artists I actually wanted to dance to – The Psychedelic Furs, Debbie Harry, The Ramones, and The Cure. It was like high school prom – if I had gone and they had played good music.

A most fortuitous stop along the way at a “trading post” with a large tepee out front lead to the purchase of the elusive sorghum syrup – a dark, sweet syrup made from the canes of grass-like sorghum. Tables and stands hocking apples, apple cider, jellies, and canned produce populated the roadsides, but I passed on these as I have a bag of apples already in the fridge and a refrigerator door overflowing with jars of jellies, relishes, and condiments. (One day, I promise to document the craziness that is my fridge door.)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Gaja Gaja

Update: no longer open.

Places open and close all the time on South Street. Gaja Gaja, a Japanese/Korean restaurant, opened their doors a few weeks ago amid the bars and cheese steak purveyors along this tourist hell hole. I thought I’d give Gaja Gaja a go, since lately I can’t seem to get enough sushi.

The small interior is minimal-chic, and the open store front makes for great people watching in the warmer months. We sat by the open front, but because the tables were so close together, the only way to get to the far side of our table without asking the person at the next table to move was to step through the window.

The sushi is your standard fare, and there’s nothing exotic when it comes to their veggie sushi variety – cucumber, avocado, kampyo, and shitake mushroom. They were accommodating in letting me sub a veggie roll for the California roll that comes with the 14-piece lunch special. (Fake crab meat is not vegetarian; it’s fish. I don’t know how many people tell me I can eat California rolls because it’s not real crab.) The sushi rice was slightly undercooked, but hopefully that was just an off batch.

I could kill my self for not remembering the name of the Korean dish my partner ordered, but it’s basically a cold soba noodle dish with assorted vegetables and an egg on top with accompanying hot red pepper sauce – like bibimbap, but with noodles instead of rice. This dish of noodles and fresh vegetables was light and healthy, but I couldn’t help thinking the salad-like, fresh, unseasoned vegetables were a watered down version of what you might get at a more authentic Korean restaurant. I’m just used to getting pickled veggies on top of my big bowl of rice/noodles at Korean joints. And Gaja Gaja didn’t offer any kimchi to toss in the bowl. Isn’t kimchi almost mandatory?

Miso soup accompanied both of our lunch specials.

If you’re on South Street and are looking for lighter fare than the cheese steaks that scent the street, Gaja Gaja’s sushi and Korean-esque food might be your ticket. Get there before it changes.

Gaja Gaja, 627 South St., Philadelphia, PA 19147
Sun.-Thus., 11:30 a.m-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.; closed Mon.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Non Appètit

I don’t know what it is about first tries…or maybe it’s psyching yourself up for something extraordinary, but I seem to fall flat with both of these things. My first attempt and much deliberated ice cream recipe from The Perfect Scoop this summer was down right disgusting. While my first attempt at a recipe from my new subscription to Bon Appètit wasn’t disgusting, it was a disappointing ordeal.

I took last Friday off, not specifically to make the cranberry-chocolate tart featured in the Thanksgiving issue of Bon Appètit, but to…celebrate Columbus Day…yeah, that’s it. Figured I had the whole day, so I’d wake up, make a tart, and have the rest of the afternoon for napping.

I’m in the largest grocery store in Wilmington bright and early, before most people are at their desk jobs, and the stock boys are still in the grocery aisles, only I can’t find a plain chocolate cookie. I stood their about to cry, because I couldn’t find a non-marshmallowed-chocolate chunked-dipped-filled plain chocolate cookie. Thank goodness for those stockers still in the aisles. Turns out they hide those plain cookies in tiny, unassuming boxes two feet above my head.

Oh, the cranberry-chocolate tart calls for gelatin, which everyone knows is made of collagen from horse hooves, bones and whatnot. I try to avoid gelatin because it is the most disgusting product ever. Do this little experiment and I promise you’ll never think of gelatin the same: rehydrate an unflavored package of gelatin and smell it – smells like filed fingernail dust. Nothing you want to eat.

Thought I’d pick up agar agar, a thickener derived from seaweed that’s commonly used as a gelatin substitute. I called five health food stores closest to me to locate this stuff, and ended up driving thirty minutes out of town to the one store with agar agar. Then it turns out that after the tart was all done, I don’t think the thickening agent was necessary.

Did your elementary school teacher give you that exercise on following directions where they hand you a sheet of paper with instructions on cutting out a snowflake, and the first instruction is to read all of the instructions first, the rest are how to cut the paper with the instructions printed on it to make a pretty snowflake, and the veeeery last instruction is to disregard all of the above instructions? I did. And half way through my merry snowflake-making way, I discovered that my teacher was a bitch.

I never learned my lesson, and I’m still generally a bitter person. “Do Ahead” in bold print embedded in the middle of a recipe’s instructions is not helpful, Bon Appètit. The cranberry topping needed to be chilled at least eight hours, and I was planning on eating the tart for lunch that same day.

Beautiful, defined berries on the left, and my cranberry mush on the right.

I did follow the recipe’s directions to simmer the cranberries for five minutes! And I got mushy cranberries and an ugly topping for my tart; nothing near as pretty as theirs.

If my family served this cranberry-chocolate tart to me for Thanksgiving instead of pumpkin pie or pecan pie (Bon Appètit does have suped-up recipes for these classics in the Thanksgiving issue), I’d throw a temper tantrum. But if cheesecake-type desserts are a family tradition for you, you just might like this tart. Go get the magazine, or hit up Epicurious for the recipe. I’m not reprinting it.

The tart tasted fine (with the exception that the crust was too hard), but the end results were not worth the my effort. Maybe if you read directions thoroughly, shop ahead of time, and are organized. But, really, who is this good?

Basically, I'm upset that my first experience with my new magazine was difficult, I STILL don't read directions, and my tart was ugly.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Kreutz Creek Wine Tasting Room

Philly’s restaurant darlings are the BYOB’s. Well, West Chester just turned the tables with local PA winery Kreutz Creek’s BYOF Wine Tasting Room. That’s right, BYOF as in food!

Kreutz Creek Vineyards opened a wine tasting room a few weeks ago right in the heart of college student-saturated downtown West Chester after learning from their initial tasting room opening in Media, PA. Before you go thinking stuffy wine tasting room with snobs serving up samples and a harpist in the corner, this joint feels like a real bar ya know, people out for relaxed, good-time drunk-bonding with friends.

Sidle up to the bar and sample four of the locally made wines for free, or sample ten for $5. Then buy a glass or bottle of one of their red, white, rose, sparkling, or dessert wines when you decide which one you like. And don’t forget to bring your own food!

On a visit this weekend, high bistro tables lining the wall were filled with diners eating takeout containers of eggplant Parmesan, hoagies, sushi, and even cookies from home – all at the same table. A party in the back of the room ordered in pizza. No, really. They had it delivered to the tasting room.

No one at Kreutz Creek is going to kick you out for bringing in outside food. The tasting room does offer a cheese plate, but that’s it.

Kreutz Creek is selling wine. And good wine. But I’m afraid the wine may be lost on some of the mostly college crowd that fills the bar on the weekends.

Overheard as I sat at the bar and shared a $20.99 bottle of Kordeaux, a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot:

College Girl: This is the worst wine I’ve ever tasted. It’s horrible.
College Guy:
Yeah, I’m not a fan. I’m just chuggin’ it.

We, of course, snickered.

At Kreutz Creek’s Tasting Room you’re getting an outstanding bargain: bar ambiance ($0), quality bottle of local wine at retail price ($10.99 - $49.99), and an invite to bring in your own food ($0 - $?). There’s also free entertainment ($0) on the weekends. That’s why we were there; to see our friend sing. (Her singing head and toned strumming arm is at the end of the bar in the picture.)

Fabulous idea, even if the wine is lost on a few folks.

Kreutz Creek Vinyard's West Chester Tasting Room, 44 E. Gay St., West Chester, PA, 19380
Hours not determined as of this post writing.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Food Porn In My Mailbox

Lol-ed my cat, and I think it's hilarious. Shoot me.

When Jane magazine had the plug pulled and my subscription ended (I grew up Sassy and never strayed), Condé Nast informed me with a post card that I would be receiving Glamour in place of Jane.

Puh-leez! I’m too old for Jane, and I’m definitely too old for Glamour. I don’t need a magazine to tell me how to please a man every other page, or how to get voluminous hair. Answers: sex and pie; against the laws of physics.

So, I looked at Condé Nast’s magazine roster to see what else my $10 yearly subscription could buy. Golf World? Elegant Bride? Big NO. Bon Appétit or Gourmet? Yes. Which one, though? I’m not a religious reader. I only browse these magazines at air-blasted libraries or book stores when escaping my house in the throngs of summer heat waves.

Off to the bookstore I go to compare and contrast the two magazines. (I would like to think I'm an informed shopper.) Oh. Bon Appétit is out of stock. Seeing no point in flipping through Gourmet if there’s nothing to compare and contrast it to, I snag my favorite, and shockingly expensive (the dollar is worthless), food magazine, BBC Good Food, and retreat to an isolated corner of the book store.

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe…and I’ve ordered Bon Appétit. Of course, one issue of Glamour slides under my door before I get things straightened out. I read it, of course, after tearing out nine! perfume adds with scented tabs – I don’t have allergies, and still find this olfactorily offensive. I was shocked to discover that women like foreplay. Oh, and patent leather accessories are what’s in this season.

Today, two issues of Bon Appétit show up (I guess they felt guilty for sending me Glamour), one of which is the Thanksgiving Ultimate Guide. Four versions of turkey and gravy (not making any of those!), four kinds of stuffing, four kinds of cranberry relish (love, love, love), six ways with potatoes, eight hearty vegetable side dishes, three breads, and six pies and tarts. As usual, I think I’ll start with dessert.

I’m off to gaze at the glossy pictures of perfectly arranged, staged, and lit food. As Julia Child said, “It's so beautifully arranged on the plate – you know someone's fingers have been all over it.” She was also fond of saying saying, "Bon Appétit !"

Warning: recipes from Bon Appétit may show up on this here blog in the future.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Ambling The Shambles

Savor The Shambles was a hot mess tonight (in a good way). Loads of people waiting earlier in the evening to get to the head of the line and purchase tickets, then wait in line for grub at South Street area restaurants – all to support the Head House Conservancy.

There was plenty of food to be had from the likes of Bridget Foy's, Chick’s, Shouk, Gayle, Kildare's, Lovash, Xochitl, and Cafe Nola’s just to name a few. At $10 for five tickets (one ticket per serving, but many stops piled it on), this event was a bargain. Alcoholic beverages were included, but winos sucked that dry early in the evening.

Top Chef Catering Challenge Award (these award were presented by me in my head) goes to Bridget Foy's for presenting one quality dish well – individual, elegant cups of ancho chocolate mouse that diners could sweep in and pick up quickly, moving the line along.

Vegetarian Friend’s Award (where was the advertised Horizons?) was picked up by Shouk with an entire menu that was vegetarian – falafel; hummus; pita; some damn tasty carrot something or another; and my favorite dish of the night, sweet teriyaki-glazed cauliflower.

Fabulous food event, and I do mean it! But, of course, I have some suggestions…

Restaurants should have printed what they were serving on a sign (only a few did this). It was frustrating waiting in line for ten minutes not knowing what was being served, and then have to walk away when not interested.

The waste! Events need to hop on this greening thing – biodegradable plates, forks, cups, etc.. Plastic forks, plates, and cups were dispensed and thrown away by the thousands.

I'm sure this event took a lot of planning, and they should be happy with the turnout and success. When's the next one?

Tuesday, October 9, 2007


Remember last week when I wrote about my visit to Mantra, and I said that there were better cheesecake spring rolls out there? Well, that place is surprisingly in Wilmington at Mikimotos, a sushi restaurant and bar. I say surprisingly because even though I live in Wilmington Monday through Friday, I’m always at a loss of where to eat and what to do in “the city that closes at 5 p.m..”

Mikimotos (not to be confused with the infamous Morimoto in Philly) sits on a block in downtown Wilmington with two other restaurants right next to it: Washington Street Ale House and Presto. All three of these restaurants are owned by the same person – Darius Mansoory. It’s a little block of Mansoory-land. Besides the fact that all three of these places serve up semi-decent food, I stop into Mansoory’s places because, at a five minute’s walk distance they are the closest restaurants to my house in Wilmington.

When I first moved to Wilmington and asked around about what there is to do in the city, Mikimotos was one of the first things that popped out of people’s mouths. I think this is because Mikimotos is a popular bar and meeting place for younger professionals (khaki attack!), and it’s open after 5 (!!!). Large pictures of comic heroes and anime grace the walls as dance music pumps out of speakers. Mikimotos is not quiet dining.

I stop into Mikimotos about twice a year, mainly because it's close by. The vegetarian sushi is your standard fare – cucumber roll, avocado roll, and vegetable tempura roll. They also have a vegetarian handroll assortment, but when I ordered this in the past they filled it with the usual suspects: cucumber, avocado, and carrots. The creativity of the veggie sushi at Mikimotos has never impressed me.

This last time, I ordered the best veggie sushi from the menu – tempura vegetable roll – and asked for one of the more creative fish rolls - salmon, avocado, sweet onion, and mayonnaise – without the fish. It’s no secret that I love mayonnaise, but this is a match made in heaven. I don’t’ know why I’ve never had sushi with mayonnaise before? In the future, I’d like a little dish of mayonnaise beside my little dish of soy sauce.

Now, back to that cheesecake spring roll. Apparently every server at a restaurant that serves cheesecake spring rolls is going to highly recommend ordering them. This time, the server was right on. My partner, who normally takes just a bite or two of my desserts so I can gorge on the rest, had trouble stopping. He ate nearly half of my dessert! Thankfully, I was in a good mood, so didn’t stab him with my fork.

The oreo cheesecake spring rolls sprinkled with sugar were hot, and the oreo cheesecake insides were gooey and melty. The caramel dipping sauce was just the icing on the cheese cake. When I eat cheesecake, this is how I want to eat it.

Even though the vegetarian sushi at Mikimotos is uninspired, I’ve never had anything bad at Mikimotos. Besides the usual veggie offerings at sushi bars edamame, vegetable tempura, veggie rolls, miso soup, and various salads – Mikimoto’s has a couple of tofu dishes on the menu, and a few dishes that can be modified and have tofu added. If only they would put the tempeh dish from a few years ago back on the menu, I might brave the sea of khaki more often.

Mikimotos 1212 Washington St., Wilmington, DE, 19801 302-656-8638 Mon.-Thurs., 11a.m.-11p.m.; Fri., 11a.m.-12a.m.; Sat., 11:30a.m.-12a.m.; Sun., 4p.m.-10a.m.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Basil Ice Cream With Chocolate Chunks

Never before have I made more ice cream in my life than I did this summer. It's all because I found a steal of a deal on a Cuisinart ice cream machine at a garage sale earlier this spring. I cannot speak highly enough about this little machine. If you’re still using a machine (electric or hand crank) that requires rock salt and bags of ice, you’re either someone's grandma or insane.

I posted a handful of the yummier ice cream varieties I made, and then put a stop to the ice cream posts to spare you from boredom, and a stop to the ice cream making (for the most part) to spare me the pounds.

I have to get one last post in (no promises). How could I not? I made this ice cream four times this summer!

This ice cream is basil ice cream with dark chocolate chunks. For now, basil ice cream has surpassed green tea as my favorite ice cream flavor. That’s saying a lot. Last year I was hoarding green tea ice cream from Trader Joe’s so that no one else could have any.

The sweet cream is the blank canvas for the sublimely herbal flavor (like a bag of weed cut with basil), and the dark chocolate chips playfully distract with a bitter crunch. The first bite is the one that hits hard, as tasters unknowing of the ingredients try to figure out just what flavor the ice cream is. It’s good. You know you like it. You can’t stop. What is it? It’s the best ice cream flavor... ever!

FYI, don’t try this with yogurt. I did, and it’s not good. I’m convinced that homemade frozen yogurt’s tang can only stand up to fruit flavors.

Basil Ice Cream With Chocolate Chunks
Adapted from this recipe over at Apartment Therapy

1 pint heavy whipping cream
1 can evaporated milk (Use any percentage regular milk if you like. I just can’t use a whole carton of milk before it goes bad, so use canned milk.)
1/2 cup sugar
2 big handfuls of basil leaves, coarsely chopped
3 egg yolks
3/4 cup dark chocolate, finely chopped

  • Put cream, milk, sugar, and basil into a sauce pan, and scald over medium-high heat. Remove from heat and let sit for 20-30 minutes to cool a bit and infuse the cream with the basil.
  • Strain cream to remove the basil.
  • Beat the eggs in a separate bowl, then slowly temper half of the mixture into the eggs, stirring constantly.
  • Add the egg/cream mixture and the other half of the cream mixture together in a pan over medium heat. Stir constantly for 5 minutes. (The mixture will not thicken much, but that’s because I didn’t use 6 or 7 egg yolks. Don’t worry; the end result will be rich and creamy.)
  • Let cool, and add to the ice cream maker. Towards the end of churning add the chocolate.
  • Store in a container in the freezer overnight for the best texture before serving.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

La Michoacana Ice Cream

Ice cream has got to be one of the best food inventions – creamy, smooth, sweet, and just what you want on a hot day. Those hot days are gone, and even the pleasantly mild days are numbered. Oh, who am I kidding waxing poetic about the bygone days of ice cream eating? I eat ice cream in the winter – just not while outside.

I snuck in a visit to La Michoacana, the tiny Mexican ice cream shop in downtown Kennett Square, this past weekend while on the most convoluted route (errands love weekends) from Wilmington, DE to Radnor, PA.

I was hoping to get my new found love, the paleta, but when the cucumber and chile paleta I had my heart set on was not available, I was switched to ice cream in a cup – a scoop of avocado and a scoop of mamey. Mamey, a tropical fruit tasting like peach and apricots, was a first for me –pink and fruity!

Besides having all sorts of exotic and traditional ice cream and water ice flavors in frozen bar form or in a cup, La Michoacana’s ice cream is very reasonable. When the cashier asked for $3 for two small cups of ice cream (two scoops each), I thought for sure she had only seen the one cup I was holding. $1.50 for ice cream!! I scream!

La Michoacana Ice Cream, 231 E. State St. Kennett Square, PA 19348

Monday, October 1, 2007


She's crafty.

Update: no longer open.

Restaurant Week came and went, except, unlike the past, I actually made a reservation. I hate, hate, hate making reservations – something about commitment and lack of spontaneity. For $30 you get a three course meal, excluding gratuity and drinks (that’s where they get you) at participating restaurants.

Besides being on your toes and making a reservation in advance, vegetarians have to wade through all the menus of participating restaurants to see if there’s anything we can eat. (May I suggest a "V" next to restaurants with vegetarian options.) Sure, I could call and request something special, but I try not to be a pain in the ass, especially during what is a busy event for these restaurants. After sifting through all the menus, I came up with maybe ten restaurants that had a vegetarian appetizer and entrée.

In doing research of menus, it turns out that eating a vegetarian three course meal at restaurants participating in Restaurant Week any other week of the year will cost you about $30 anyway, and many times less than $30. After this revelation, I almost said,”Fuck it,” but in the spirit of participation, I, well, participated.

The field was further narrowed when I tried to make a reservation for Sunday at a reasonable hour (before 10 p.m., and before I turn into a starving pumpkin). Actually, the field was narrowed down to Mantra, as it was the only place from my list of ten restaurants that had an open slot.

It’s easy to miss Mantra, a restaurant that dubs itself as an Asian soul food bar, even though it’s just a block north of Rittenhouse Square. Walk in the door and you can’t miss the hypnotic, glowing orange bar. Mantra’s site describes their ambiance as “exotic and cosmopolitan” and “Japanese teahouse with upscale Rittenhouse Square.” The bar and some of the large mosaic mirrors could be described as cosmopolitan, but the glass beads glued to the windows, walls, and banister, and the electrical plates serving as candle holders screwed to the windows scream craft project – but in an endearing way. Someone does need to tell them that the stenciled Chinese characters on the chair railing (at least upstairs where I was sitting) are upside down. Stupid Americans!

My appetizer was the Long Life Green Salad with scallion dumplings. Now, I assumed this appetizer was vegetarian, since they included a very obvious vegetarian entrée (Vegetarian Bento Box), and the other appetizers were obviously not vegetarian. I’ve been assuming a lot lately, and it’s been getting me into trouble. The dumplings contained chicken, or some other gray meat. I pushed these to the side, and ate the yummy, ginger and soy sauce dressed pile of greens and vegetables. This salad was huge, and definitely would have been dragged through the mud on Top Chef for presentation.

The Vegetarian Bento Box was also huge. The lo mein was finished first on my plate, but tasted like any lo mein found at a Chinese joint, except maybe not quite as greasy. The Indian biryani tasted of curry powder from a jar (blech), but the sweet chutney-filled Indian bread on top of the rice was delicious. The fried tofu was as bland as tofu straight from the container, and the few drops of sriracha sauce it came with were not enough to assist in flavor. The sautéed greens tasted fine, but I swear mine had something gritty in it. My partner, who ordered the same thing, swore his had too much pepper. We switched plates, and neither of us agreed to the other’s findings. I guess we’re both crazy.

From the bento box, I ate the greens, the lo mein, and the Indian bread. I left the tofu and the biryani. The bento box at Mantra was like eating at a buffet – lots of choices, some good and some bad, but you’re full in the end.Poor lighting = poor pics. I've gotta start going out to eat for lunch.

For dessert, I went with the very friendly server’s suggestion of the cheesecake spring roll with strawberry sauce – or was it raspberry? I see this dessert on menus all the time at Asian restaurants, but have never ordered one. I said, “What the hey,” and went for it. If you like cheesecake and fried dough, this dessert is for you. The cheesecake was cool, perhaps due to our wait for dessert, which the server sincerely apologized for. I felt like the cheesecake was a little heavy, and maybe this was due to it being cold. After having my second cheesecake spring roll at a different restaurant almost exactly a week later, I will say that there are better cheesecake spring rolls out there than the one served at Mantra.

The service at Mantra was friendly. The wait between courses could have been perceived as long, but, for once, I was not in a hurry and appreciated not being forced with a new plate of food before finishing what was already in front of me.

The food at Mantra is nothing extraordinary, and it will not blow your mind, but there was something endearing about Mantra – maybe the inventive use of electrical plates, or the upside down Chinese characters. I walked away really not wanting to dis Mantra. She felt like a crafty sister that I don’t have trying to make it in the big city. I’d definitely go hang out in front of the glowing orange bar and have a drink and an appetizer, but not a full meal. The quality of the food at Mantra just doesn’t warrant the upscale prices.

By the way, while the Restaurant Week menu omitted this tidbit, the real menu says they’ll substitute any protein with firm tofu.

Mantra, 122 South 18th Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19103
Lunch: Tues.-Thurs., 11:30- 3; Fri. & Sat. 11:30-5

Mon.-Wed., 5-11; Thurs.5-11; Fri. & Sat. 5-1a.m.