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Center City Restaurant Week

From the website:

Enjoy a three-course dinner for $35 and a three-course lunch for $20† at these restaurants, January 17-22 and 24-29, 2010. Those also offering lunch are marked with an *. Most participating Restaurant Week restaurants offer online reservations through OpenTable.com.

And I’m going to limit my choices this year to places with OpenTable because my mother is accumulating points through them.

Here’s my short list:
Bella Cena 1506 Spruce St (has cannelloni! Open until 10 M-Th, 11 on Fri) ETA: 5:30pm Thurs 1/28
Bridget Foy’s 200 South St (lunch looks even better than dinner, open 11am-11pm)
Chifa 707 Chestnut Street (until 10 M-Th, until midnight Fri-Sat)
Estia 1405 Locust St (until 10 M-Th, until 11:30 Fri)
Joe Pesce 1113 Walnut Street (until 10:30 M-Th, until 11 F)
Meritage 500 South 20th Street (until 10 T-Th, until 11 F)
Noble American Cookery 2025 Sansom St (until 10 T-Th, until 11 F)
Palace at the Ben 834 Chestnut Street (until 10 M-Th, until 11 F)
Square 1682 121 S 17th St (until 10:30 daily)
Time 1315 Sansom Street (M-Sun until 1:30am \o/!)
Valanni 1229 Spruce Street (until 10:30 M-Th, until11 F)
Zahav 237 Saint James Pl (until 10 M-Th, until 11 F)

I haven’t tried any of these places yet, so they’d all be an adventure for me.

Food all around

Whee! There are so many fun food things coming up.

The Chinese Cultural Center got its act together this year and is having a New Year Banquet (Jan 26 – April 30). They have brought chefs from the Expo Garden Hotel in the Yunnan Province. It’s the standard 9-course meal, but they have raised the prices quite a bit. It’s $48 (before tip) for weekends! I wonder if they have also acquired more comfortable chairs.

Meanwhile, it is almost Center City Restaurant Weekagain – January 25-30, with some continuing on through February 1-6. If I’m going to do Chinese New Year, then I’ll not be able to go out for more than one night. Well, here’s my short list of places I want to try:

  • Alfa – 1709 Walnut Street – Jan only (special menu)
  • Bridget Foy’s – 200 South Street – Jan & Feb (special menu)
  • Cuba Libre – 10 South 2nd Street – Jan & Feb (special menu)
  • Downey’s Restaurant – 526 South Front Street – Jan only (special menu)
  • LaCroix – 210 Rittenhouse Square – Jan only (special menu)
  • Mantra – 122 South 18th Street – Jan only (special menu)
  • Seafood Unlimited – 270 South 20th Street – Jan only (special menu)
  • Time – 1315 Sansom Street – Jan only (special menu)

And I am discussing with a friend cooking up a dinner party for charity.


I swanned into my old college library, flamboyantly (and possibly unnecessarily) saved the day, and then I absconded with [redacted]. We went back to my place and talked about sundries and nothings.

But the reason we were getting together was for Center City Restaurant Week and our reservations at Tinto – OMG! We ended up not talking too much at the restaurant because we were having way too much fun eating. And since we shared everything, including the cocktail but not the desserts, I’ll just list everything we had (it’s a Basque tapas restaurant).


Mairritze: Leblon Cachaca, muddled mint, lime, blood orange

First Course

Le Moulis: served with thinly sliced tart green apple, a square of quince jelly, a dab of artisanal honey, and a small spot of powdered hot red pepper.

Jamon Serrano: Just prosciutto. Well, okay, not just – we had thin flatbreads and baguette slices, and it came with a delicious egg salad. But it was really an excuse to indulge in prosciutto. Also, it was good with the apples that came with the cheese.

Montaditos de Panceta: pork belly, honey laquer, shaved apples. It was pork. It was fat. It was salty and sweet and greasy and I was so glad it was on a thin slice of baguette because otherwise its sexy juices would have been lost, and I’d have had to lick the plate. We thought this was going to be the best thing all night.

Montaditos de Pato: duck confit, black cherry, bleu de basque spread – Guh! We were wrong – the food just keeps getting better. Crispy skin, sexy duck meat – and the cherry! Okay, so I went first, and since the cherry was out to the side, I ate that off first – and it was shockingly juicy and tart. My dining companion, however, smooshed her duck a bit and then split the cherry so that she could spread it over the duck… the flavors were delightfully complimentary. But really – the duck! I love duck! I have eaten more than my fair share of the duck of the world (and shall continue to do so), and this was right up there.

Brochetas de Pollo: chicken, garbanzo puree, truffle jus, thyme marinade. They don’t mention the grapes, and they really should. Each little skewer alternated chicken, grape, chicken grape – and they were all seasoned and grilled together. Grilled grapes (when seasoned and all juicy from the chicken) are amazing. The garbanzo puree (thinner than your average hummus, so I’ll forgive them their fancipants) gave it a smoother, more filling, mouth feel and the truffle jus… well, this was the first time I have been impressed by anything truffle. It was like the essence of outdoor grilling, but there in a pool on the plate.

Second Course

Moules Basquaise: mussels & chorizo in sauce basquaise. This little bit of mussel stew had us sending for two more mini dishes of bread so that we could properly appreciate the tomato-based sauce. Lovely, tender (naked) mussels, but I would expect nothing less. It nurtured all of my fond childhood memories of mussels and it made my mouth all tingly with just a nice warmth of spicy hot.

Pulpo: spanish octopus, confit potato, piquillo pepper paint, lemon powder. I totally nabbed the slightly burny tentacle on top. I have gotten so used to fancy restaurants doing elaborate presentations to undo the chewiness of octopus that I was surprised to find this one still a bit chewy… and yet also surprisingly, that didn’t get in the way of my enjoyment at all. The pepper paint really was just a schmear across the plate as if it had been spread with a paintbrush, but MMmmm tasty. And the lemon powder straight was a bit like a pixie stick, and you wouldn’t think it would work, but it really perked up the dish and complimented the squishy seafood nicely. Also, mollusk pride!

Brochetas de Gambas: shrimp, chorizo, grape tomato, espelette chile. Whole shrimps – seasoned, on a skewer so that they wrapped around and has a tomato and tiny pieve of chorizo nestled between the head and tail on the skewer. I couldn’t figure out how to eat it together at all, though, so I had a tomato/chorizo skewer and then a gnawed into the shrimp separately. And I got my dining companion’s shrimp head as well. It had very tasty brains. I did my best to eat the exoskeleton in yummy, crunchy bites right along with the rest of the shrimp – it make me happy, so I figure it was the right thing to do. This was the dish that finally ended up with me having a greasy spot on my shirt… but I had been doing really well up until then.

Merluza en Salsa Verde: sea bass, cockles, salsa verde. So this was the only sad note of the evening. Since we had a 10:30pm reservation (since I didn’t know I’d be sneaking out sick, and because I only made the reservation one or two days ahead on restaurant week), they brought out all of our second course at once (whereas the first course had trickled in as prepared)… or it was because it was all seafood and took about the same amount of time to prepare. Either way, by the time we got to this plate, it was no longer piping hot. Only the cockles really suffered, but while I had popped one in at the beginning and it was a buttery little morsel I had to dig out with my tongue will all appropriate sexual metaphors, but the time we really devoted our attention to it, they were just little chilled seafood bits. The sea bass, however, did not suffer. It was tasty and flaky and had a lovely brown seasoned crust on top. We used up the last of our flatbreads on this.


Gateaux Basque: traditional basque cake, pastry cream, black cherries. This was my dining companion’s dessert. She seemed to like it. And even though the cherries looked like exactly the same ones as were on the duck, she said they tasted completely different (not tart, but very sweet), so I guess they had two separate marinades.

Bananas y Azafran: chocolate cake, caramelized bananas, saffron crema. It was more like chocolate fudge. Smooth, silky, and devastatingly dense. And they didn’t spare the saffron in making the crema, you could clearly tasty the iodine, and that helped clear the palate a bit. And the bananas… my only complaint was that there were only three slices, but it all blended together and added the sweetness, which the cake alone hadn’t needed.

Vegetarian Foods – Sauteed Tofu with Bitter Greens, Muhammara

I think I am excited about Autumn, since I was cooking a lot last week… but I’m still loving to cook with the available Summer produce. *shrug* who knows. It was tasty.

I cracked open the 1 pound (*cough* 14 ounces *cough*) package of tofu. Two of the blocks went in to marinate for my standard spicy tofu recipe (and are still marinating, so that should be exciting…), and the other half went to marinate for this Martha Stewart recipe for Sauteed Tofu with Bitter Greens.

So I did up the marinade according to the recipe (only cut for less tofu and longer time):

  • 1 teaspoon real soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon sambal oelek
  • 1/2 lime, freshly squeezed
  • a chunk of ginger, finely minced

And then I was on the phone with Meghan to help me pick out which of the prepped dinners I had available I should eat. And when I was describing this meal, it was a honey and soy sauce kinda thing. And then it wasn’t. But we both agreed that it really ought to have honey.

And she suggested corn starch because she says it fries up crispier and colors better with corn starch. Not having a comparison, I don’t know – but it sure was both gorgeous and tasty with the addition (because I trust the women completely when it comes to food).

So – I dropped 1 tsp of this lovely buckwheat honey I have into the marinade and shook it all up. And let me tell you – I’d been wondering what to do with such a dark, strongly-flavored honey, but one smell and this marinade and this honey were meant to have lots of hot sex together. I restrained myself to only one spoonful of it all raw.

And then I poured off the marinade and added more honey directly because it wasn’t sticky at all.

And then I put 2 teaspoons of cornstarch into the sticky tofu and shook it up. (We’d discussed the merits of dredging the tofu in cornstarch, but in the end I decided I was too lazy to wash an extra dish.)

Lay out a single layer of tofu in a pan with a teaspoon of oil… decide that really two teaspoons is a minimum for the oil here. And let brown. Flip. Let more brown. Guh. Because this is gorgeous – did I mention? So set them aside on a plate.

And I had some baby bok choi (well, more like teenage bok choi – 5-6″ and green all the way from tip to base) so I just washed them, shook them out, and then cut across into very rough strips about 1″ thick (and kept the very bottoms for my bag of bits for stock). That went into the same pan I’d cooked the tofu in.

And then I poured over the rest of the marinade.

I plated it up with the tofu, the greens, and a bit of short-grain white rice.

It was very very tasty, but I think the ginger ended up a little too strong – perhaps because it had longer to marinate that the recipe suggested.


And I finally made Muhammara, but I might have been led astray my westernized recipes.

So, right after reading the Vegetarian 100, I searched for a recipe and found a really tasty looking one.

So I printed it out and I took it home to put into my binder of recipes. And I did a bit of trimming of things (admitting that I will never be a great baker) and reorganizing of things (soups. then salads. then things that might be salads or might be side vegetables. side vegetables. vegetarian meals. vegetarian meals whose main bulk is beans. meals whose main bulk is tofu. meat. and then somehow I have a miscellaneous pasta dish (some vegetarians, some not) after the meats… you get the idea) I found that I already had a recipe for Muhammara (no, I can not find the link now without the paper right in front of me).

And I also had a recipe for a pomegranate & walnut spread.

Clearly, this is something I have been wanting to make for a while.

So I bought 6 large, juicy red peppers and roasted them. (and then realized that the recipe didn’t call for that many, but now I have a fridge full of tasty roast peppers) I also bought a tube of 5 heads of garlic and decided to roast them all, too, while I had the oven on anyway.

I pulled my bag of walnuts (from back when I was stuffing them in dates at the drop of a hat… no, the kind of dates that are a fried fruit/berry) out of the freezer and thawed a cup and 2/3rds.

So. my refrigerator is now its own country of abundance right there. It is so stuffed, that I had to give my new neighbor a half gallon of homemade hard cider so that I could get the door to close.

But I get ahead of myself.

In batches, toast walnuts on the stove. (I once tried to toast pecans in the oven… at 4am, just for the record… and there was no watching and hovering over them, so I swear that two second later there was a smoke alarm going off. Yeah, that was a good morning. So now I always toast nuts on the stovetop even though I secretly suspect that the innards get warmer and sexier when you do them in the oven. But no matter – because this way they get toasted only to a point where I can actually eat them.)

And then, because one of the recipes suggested it would be a good idea, I pounded the toasted walnuts in a mortar. Yes, I do have a wee tiny food processor, but I had not yet seen this Muhammara video to show me the perfect consistency and I am not used to having one available. Also, again with the liking to watch over the food.

I’ve been having a houseguest, and she asked, “So is there anything I can do to be helpful?” So I promptly told her to take over the toasting and pounding processes.

The same recipe (not the toomuchgarlic.com one) had suggested then grinding the roasted red peppers in the mortar – I, however, (because there was company) was wearing clothes. So I put the nuts into a separate bowl and then sliced three or so roasted red peppers (I find it hard to piece together whole peppers to know how many your are using when you are pulling them out of the container the next day) thinly against the grain and dumped them into the bowl, too.

Dump 1/3c. breadcrumbs into the bowl.

Add 1/4 c. Pomegranate molasses. Or you can make your own by boiling down 3 parts pomegranate juice to 1 part sugar. Me, I had bought some pomegranate concentrate from the halal down the street some months ago, and I was going to use that… with glee! Because concentrated pomegranate! I’d been looking for a use for that for months.

And then (possibly because I had decided my primary recipe source was going to be toomuchgarlic.com), I was supposed to add 12-16 cloves of garlic. The other recipe didn’t call for any. So I said to myself, “Wasn’t it clever of you to have roasted all that lovely garlic?” So I added 2 heads worth of roasted garlic (let’s call that 20 cloves). Plus 1 clove of raw garlic. And I kept her additional 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder.

As I stirred it all together, I tried to mash between the tines of my fork the red pepper and the garlic cloves to make a more even paste.

Add pinch of salt, 1 tsp cumin, and the juice of 1/2 lemon.

And then I started playing.

Because the other recipe had included some birds eye peppers, I added a wee tiny pinch of chipotle pepper (I wasn’t too experimental with this because I was going to be trying to pass off some of this on my friends, and they have different standards of spiciness than I do).

Because my pomegranate concentrate didn’t have any sugar added at all, I gave it a pinch of sugar and then tasted it. And then I added a spoonful of buckwheat honey. I think this would have been just as good without sugar if we hadn’t added the lemon juice, either. So I went back and looked at the other recipes – no lemon juice in any of the others. Buggery.

So I think that, while tasty, this isn’t the conclusive version of Muhammara.

Oh, and then for my friends I also added the recipe’s amount of olive oil.

Too Much Garlic’s Muhammara Recipe

I think I should have done more research (since I found so much more while looking for that other recipe I printed out some time in the distant past). For other recipes, see:
The Washington Post, using tomato paste and suggesting that Aleppo peppers would make it more authentic.
The Perfect Pantry also believes in Aleppo pepper – and they have the order from Penzey’s to prove it
Unrequited Thai uses nuts other than walnuts to make this dip for a vegan passover.
Pikelet and Pie makes an (unorthdox) muhammara that swaps out balsamic vinegar for the pomegranate
Actually, I think I’m liking the simplicity of this recipe at Closet Cooking the best. Next time I try this dip, I’ll start here.


Also, I have reservations at Tinto, a tapas bar owned by the same people as my favorite tapas joint, for Center City Restaurant Week.

Week of Indulgences

So last Sunday was Dim Sum and a movie, and tonight I went out for Restaurant Week, but I figure I can lump those together into a single post.

Joy Tsin Lau is the most well known Dim Sum place in philly’s chinatown, but after the third visit with mostly the same food options, it might be time to try somewhere new. Especially since we have vegetarians in the group, and the last time we went there was mostly pork and this time there was a predominance of shrimp.

I did try some new dishes:

  • Chicken feet – I’d seen some reviews online raving about the chicken feet here, so they’d been on my list since the last time we went. Sadly, the taste wasn’t all that exciting and the texture… I’m guessing it could have been crispier. The little bones weren’t too much of a problem, if I had wanted to be all day about eating one foot. All in all, not exciting.
  • Jellyfish – there was a big mound of tentacles, and they were tasty but didn’t quite suit the dim sum nibbly mood. They were sort of a cross between seaweed salad and cellophane noodles. They were served on a bed of half-round of red stuff rimmed with white. GeeksDoItBetter tried that part and declared it not unlike lunchmeat with unevenly distributed fatty bits. I trusted her on that.
  • Chicken buns – tasty. Very bready, but tasty.
  • pork and peanut dumplings – these were so good and tasty, but sadly they only came by after we were mostly already stuffed.
  • eggplant stuffed with shrimp – good but could have been hotter. I need to take [redacted], who also loved them (if I remember correctly) to my current favorite asian restaurant, Sang Kee Bistro, to have an even more amazing version of this dish, only made with pork
  • fried shrimp – as in whole shrimps breaded and fried – these would have been better hotter, but inexplicably they set the tray out while they were steaming and tempting, but they only put them on the cart after they were cooler. On the other hand, they were tasty and it was rather fun munching straight through the shells and eating the wiggly legs and heads (though we did keep trying to avoid the eyeballs)

Huh – that’s a lot of new dishes. Maybe the selection wasn’t as repetitive as I thought. Anyway, the plan for next time is to try Kingdom of Vegetarians.


Movie: Juno was everything people promised it would be: a wacky and crazy feel-good romp through unwanted teen pregnancy. I was a doubter, but that was some amazing script writing. And I think I want the soundtrack. YAY! I loved it so much. Vern Schillinger makes the best dad ever. It should win all the Oscars.


Amada for Restaurant Week was wonderful.

Amada is a lovely tapas place that I went to once before when I was killing time before a movie and was starving – that time I had wonderful food and amazing service from the bartender (who made me one of the best cocktails I have ever had, but which sadly doesn’t seem to still be offered there).

First course (choice of two) – I had

  • Melon con Jamon (Serrano Ham & Melon) – OMG! This was amazing. The honeydew melon (juicy even in the middle of winter) had a sugar crust on it like a creme brulee and the ham was like prosciutto. The waitress recommended this one from among the four I was waffling over, and I am so glad she did.
  • Pulpo Gallego (Spanish Octopus) – there was weird cognitive dissonance here because they had rounds of fingerling potatoes cooked in with the octopus, and you couldn’t tell the difference by sight (well, the octopus tended to have a smaller diameter and a more irregular edge, but that wasn’t reliable) so it was all a matter of how it melted on your tongue. The spicy seasoning was oddly familiar and quite tasty.
  • honorable mention goes to the garlic shrimp, which smelled amazing and I totally should have lobbied to swap out one of the second course options so that I could get three from the first course. Unfortunately, the really luscious garlicky smell was less exciting while I was eating my dessert.

Second course (choice of two)

  • Costillas de Ternera Coca (Beef Shortrib Flatbread with Horseradish, Parmesan and Bacon) – Amazing. All of the flavours were perfectly balanced, the dish was slightly gooey and sinful, but still able to be eaten with danty, dignified fingers. Even the tiny portion size was perfect because I was just able to savour every bite in the duration it was abl to hold its heat.
  • Chorizo Grilled a la Plancha – the only off note of the night. The sausage was a bit chewy, and it ended up tasting as though it had been finished off with a light buffalo wing sauce. Yes, some of that was a limitation of chorizo, but usually they are brilliant.

Third course

  • Manchego Mousse (Sheep Cheese Mousse, Pistachio Shortdough, Apple Crumb, Apple Cider Sorbet) – So good. The sorbet was tart and went with the crumb, and the mouse was a bit like a cheesecake, only much much lighter. You could definitely taste the sheep’s milk, but it was mellow and well balanced with the rest of the dish

Again, I had wonderful service, and it was really a wonderful night. If I were rich, I would eat here every month.