Friday, December 23, 2011

Meal of the Year

Hands down, my favorite meal of 2011 was at Marea. In this prime location on Central Park South, Michael White creates a menu giving a nod to Italian seafood. White has developed a mouth-watering menu of crudo, oysters, fresh pastas, and whole fish. You know you have a good meal when you think about the dishes you ate and you plan on returning for the same exact experience.

I arrived before Dan and Suzanne so after checking in with the maitre d' I walked two steps to the left to grab a drink. I was thinking of starting with a cocktail but nothing seemed to grab me, so I started with a glass of fiano. Unfortunately, the bar seats were all accounted for so I stood in the background a bit uncomfortable. If you're not sitting at the bar, you really have nowhere to go. To make matters more uncomfortable, my party was almost a half hour late--I felt the maitre d's anger. Fortunately, they didn't pressure me. As soon as Dan arrived, we sat at our table in some very comfortable chairs. The decor of Marea needed some help; but the food more than made up for it. The service was good, although I might expect better in comparison to the product. Our server didn't seem like much of a people person. He was decently knowledgeable, but seemed to be more suited as an "order taker" than a server. We had one of the captains or managers come over to the table to try and ready our decision for food. Being a half hour late, they needed to turn that table!

We started with a bottle of Prosecco in celebration: to achievements and to life. We continued to look over the menu and were rushed into a decision. Shortly after placing our order, we were greeted with an amuse bouche of sunchoke panna cotta-- an interesting, but tasty palate energizer. A man walking around with a box full of bread offered a choice of 3 different kinds. The hardest part was over, now all we had to do was sit back and enjoy our meal--and that we did.

For starters, Suzanne and I got the ASTICE: Nova Scotia lobster with cooked down eggplant and burrata topped with basil. I was going to get something different, but Suzanne told me she might cut off my hand if I come close to her dish. I'm glad I listened because having only a bite of this antipasti would have been so sad. All components of the dish were delicious alone, but the combination of all ingredients in one fork-full was just magical. Dan's scallop antipasti also proved to be an excellent starter. I was a bit worried that the pancetta would overpower the scallop, but it only added depth of flavor to the dish.

Our next course was Primi also known as the pasta course. While Suzy's Ferratini (manila clams/calamari/hot chilies) and Dan's Spaghetti (crab/santa barbara sea urchin/basil) were awesome, my fusilli shined. The fusilli is a pasta they are known for and now I know why. Red wine braised octopus and bone marrow made this a dish to remember...and crave! Few times do I have a dish and say, I need to go back to eat that. This pasta dish has had me thinking of when my next visit to Marea will be. The other pastas were banging as well and proved that Marea can turn out some extraordinary pastas.

Our final savory course was the entree course or the secondi. Sue and Dan split the salted baked branzino while I got the BRODETTO DI PESCE: a seafood soup of clams langoustine, scallops, prawns, and bass. I was a bit iffy on getting the Brodetto because I don't always love seafood soups. The server told me it was a popular item and that all the seafood is cooked separately. This all made sense when the food runner poured in a delicious broth table-side. Dan and Suzanne's branzino could have been a bit larger, but it did come with two side items. The fish itself was delicate, fresh, and delicious.

For dessert, I think Suzanne had the best choice with her affogato; zabaglione gelato, espresso, and a float of myers dark rum. Dan went with the nocciola pralinato which was a ground up hazelnut and dark chocolate with lemon and mint. Dan loved it, but me and Sue weren't the biggest fans. I got the fried donuts, which were a little too dense to be my favorite dessert; but were still pretty good! We finished our wine and moved on to a variety of amaro. Try an amaro on the rocks with a twist (lemon or orange) after a big meal.

The food is what Marea; but the staff and ambiance could use some work. That captain or manager that kept coming to the table was the biggest turn off. Not only did he rush us, but he didn't seem to knowledgeable. He gave short answers and didn't disclose much detail on his answers. How do these Verdicchios differ. Well of course he pointed to the most expensive one and said "this one has more complexity". He also told Suzanne that Kale is out of season when she asked about a side dish that her friend recommended. Last time I checked, kale was a winter green. But the food saved the experience. I would go back there and order the same exact menu, although my adventurous side might not agree. The food was incredible. Marea is a bit pricey, so I'd suggest saving it for a special night unless you got some good friends who treat ya! Thanks Dan and Sue!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


The Great Truffle Debate

Often referred to as "white diamonds", white truffles rank high among luxury food items right up next to caviar, champagne, and foie gras. More rare and expensive than black truffles, white truffles only grow in Italy and keep people waiting all year till mid-October to the end of December. Their seasonality is is only part of the reason these fungi are so expensive. Others reasons could be their heavenly aroma and use to elevate a dish whether a bowl of pasta or a plate of eggs. Truffles are hard to find and cannot be cultivated, which adds to their exclusiveness. Weather also effects truffles, so one might think of truffles like they think of wine--there's some good years and some bad years. So what's the debate you ask? Are truffles worth the extra $55-$75? Its all a matter of preference. I've had many people say that truffles are the biggest waste of money while others swear by them. I had to taste for myself!

I tried the Raviolo at Maialino which is a large format raviolo filled with fresh ricotta, chopped spinach, and an egg yolk. The raviolo is tossed in a sage-brown-butter sauce and topped with shaved white truffles. The truffles melted into the raviolo and gave off that intoxicating aroma. The raviolo was delightful and paired well with a Carema--an earthy nebbiolo from Piemonte. The dish was pretty amazing, but worth $70? I don't know, I think I might have to give it a second go-around!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Minetta Tavern: Black Label Burger

Minetta Tavern has been on my list of places to go for quite
some time. The hype around the Black Label Burger being NYC's "best burger" was my only reason for wanting to go. Its kind of crazy how long it took to get there as I consider myself a burger aficionado. Maybe it took me so long because its nearly impossible to get a reservation. Or maybe because they only recently started serving lunch. Maybe I was waiting for a fellow burger lover to enjoy it with? Either way, I finally made it and thats all that matters.
It was a bit of a business meeting; but the only business we talked was regarding this week's festivities and how pumped we were to eat this burger. Our waitress was a total nutcase. She brought so much energy, it was a bit overwhelming. She bounced back and forth from the cramped tables reciting the same spiel for every table. I think she must have been an actress because she definitely put herself on a stage. I admire her liveliness, but I'm not quite sure if it was genuine. Another waitress came over at one point to try to upsell us on another appetizer, but we saw right
through the act. Besides the service, the vibe was bustling. The place packed out and it got to be pretty loud and chaotic--reminded me of a steakhouse. The decor struck me as an old time saloon dressed up for the holidays.

We started off with roasted bone marrow which was incredible. Not only did I use up all the crispy baguettes that accompanied the marrow, but I also used the hard bread that they gave us to start our meal. Not only was the bone marrow delicious, but it was a unique dish that you can't find at too many places. For our entree we got the Black Label Burger, a mix of dry-aged Creekstone beef cuts, topped with caramelized onions. The burger also came with fries, which were among the best I've ever had. Our crazy waitress told us the secret behind the fries was double-frying them in peanut oil. I was surprised there was no exclaimer about peanut oil considering there are so many peanut allergies out there. Anyway, the fries were awesome! The burger was pretty damn good too. Worth $26?...I think so. It was probably the juiciest, most tender burger I ever ate. The flavor was great too-- you tasted the quality of the beef and not all the crazy special sauces that burgers get lost in. Its like when you go out for sushi and your friend dunks a perfectly fresh piece of tuna in soy sauce and adds a huge chunk of wasabi--you've lost the flavor of the fish.

After leaving Minetta it occurred to me that its kind of a steakhouse. The menu reflects more options than a steakhouse; but the menu also revolves around their awesome meat program. Although the Black Label Burger gets a lot of attention, the steaks are suppose to rival any steakhouse in NYC. The Cote De Beouf for 2 ($124) is debated to be the best steak in NYC. They also have the NY Strip which garners much attention in the world of carnivores. Too full for dessert, they nudged us along and had our table reset before I put on my jacket.

Overall, Minetta Tavern was pretty delicious and now I see why its so hard to come across a prime-time reservation. The service was a bit pushy with their upselling and turn-the-tables mentality, but I guess thats expected. You go for the food. Keith McNally shows why he's one of NYC prominent restauranteurs.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


I started the week with lunch at Parm , the spinoff of Torrissi Italian Specialities. The chicken and meatball parm proved nameworthy. The calamari we started with was also really good. They fried it with some peppers to give the dish a nice kick. The space is a bit small although it seems big compared to Torrissi. The service was good and the vibe was fun although it kind of reminded me of an old ice cream parlor. I stopped by Flatiron Lounge for my Monday night cocktail then headed over to another bar; but forget the name (Jack's? Maybe...?) Made friends with popular (but somewhat under the radar) sushi spot: Jewel Bako and got reacquainted with an old friend, Gramercy Tavern. Also stopped by Failte, an irish bar on 29th and 2nd for trivia night with the crew. Dollar beers and trivia with karaoke afterwards always proves to be a group favorite. Went to Sapphire Lounge (LES) on Saturday for my friend Kristen's birthday. Good music blasted out of the speakers while we danced the night away. Bit of a weird crowd; but the birthday girl and all her friends took over for a night tequila and dancing. We wanted to go to Artichoke for pizza, but ended up settling for Led Zeppole. Nothing like funnel cake and deep fried oreos at 4am. The next morning I had a bomb brunch at Maialino.

New Friend and Old Friend

New Friend: Jewel Bako

Jewel Bako, an East Village sushi favorite, was the first restaurant of Jack Lamb's empire. Now Jack has Degustation next door and Jack's Luxury Oyster around the corner on Second Ave. One proclaimed the "Danny Meyer of the East Village", Jack's reputation for quality food is unquestioned. Comparing himself to Danny Meyer might be stretching it, but we'll let him get away with it and get right down to our experience--and by our experience I mean myself and my friend Andrew.

Andrew picked Jewel Bako as its right down the street from him apartment. Not only has he heard good things, but he often peaks through the little glass window on the door whenever he walks by. I was pretty excited about this place--not only because the rave reviews but because I was in the mood for sushi.

We sat at the sushi bar, which in my opinion is the best place to enjoy sushi. Not only do you get to see the chef make you're food with his intricate knife-skills but you get to have a dialogue with him (if you could understand him that is). The bar is small and supposedly its pretty hard to get a spot, but we walked right in. The place wasn't as packed as I was expecting, but maybe because it was a Tuesday night. We ordered the Omakase ($50) which is the chef's tasting menu. The definition of "Omakase"** comes from the verb "makasu" which means to trust, to let someone else take the initiative. In general, "Omakase" expresses the idea of having the courage to place your life in the hands of someone else. Or, in the case of your dining experience in the hands of the chef. We started off with some Miso soup and then got down to business with some sushi. We enjoyed a nice bottle of Sauvignon Blanc while prepared our food. The quality of the sushi was among the best I've ever had. Delicate flavors of raw fish were enhanced with yuzu and tiny bits of wasabi to create amazing little bites. I was also pretty pumped because the chef prepared fish that you don't always get like sable fish and sea urchin. Sure, we had some old time favorites like yellowtail and tuna; but its always fun to taste new things. We also ordered the scallop roll that was a combination of scallop, yuzu zest, scallions, and chive oil. The best part of the Omakase is that it was a progression of awesome. Each bite that chef placed in front of us was better than the

Not only was the food top notch, but the whole experience was pretty awesome. The service was good and the staff was friendly. Now i could see why this place is a neighborhood favorite. This is a great spot for a sushi date!

Gramercy Tavern: Old Friend

Gramercy Tavern

People often ask me, "what's your favorite restaurant" and although I can never give a straightforward answer --Gramercy Tavern always comes to mind. But then I think to myself, why Gramercy Tavern? Although the food is really good, I've never rushed back for that mind-blowing dish. I think Frank Bruni's New York Times review on Gramercy Tavern describes it best--Gramercy Tavern embodies the comfort of an old friend with its unstrained graciousness and unlabored sophistication. The food is complex, but simple at the same time and that gives it broad appeal. GT also has one of the best cocktail programs I've ever seen. Deliciously balanced cocktails change seasonally while the wine/beer list will put you in awe with its extensive selections. The service is impeccable, not only because of the attentiveness and knowledge; but because of the warmth. Whether you're at the bar or at a table, you get the idea of this being a serious restaurant; but its comfortable.

On my last visit to Gramercy Tavern, I sat at one of the bar tables in the Tavern. I sipped on GT's Fall Classic (Bulliet Bourbon, Green Market cider, Calvados, thyme, and lemon) while I waited on Colette. While I waited, I took in the space and looked over the menu. After much conversation, we started out meal. We started with a bottle of Tocai Sec from Hungary that our server had recommended. I asked him to recommend something off the beaten path that was dry and had nice minerality and acidity. He went on to give a brief description on why he liked this wine and why it was different, so I decided to try it. Colette proclaimed "I only like Pino Grigio" as she was hesitant on agreeing with my decision. She liked it! We both liked it and I think it complemented our meal very well. We started off with grilled ruby red shrimp with buckwheat cavatelli, apples, chestnuts, and brussel sprouts. The kitchen sent us out a complimentary appetizer- Sweatbreads with hen of the wood mushrooms, boy choy, and almonds. Both appetizers were awesome although I might have to give a nod to the shrimp dish. For an entree, Colette ordered the flounder with spaghetti squash, walnuts, and sherry sauce. I got the smoked pork shoulder that came in a bacon broth with salsify and cornbread. The cornbread was amazing! The pork itself was well cooked, but I would have liked a little more flavor. I think the flavors were very subtle and complex; but I would have loved just a little more love. The flounder on the hand was packed with flavor. The sherry sauce that covered the flounder was delicious. Our server joked around saying he could spread this sauce on a phonebook and eat it. The flounder itself was cooked beautifully and it only got better with the walnuts and spaghetti squash that graced the plate.

Pretty full, Colette didn't want to get dessert; but I ordered anyway. The dessert menu was full of mouth-watering options, but I decided on the chocolate pudding after our server described it as chocolate covered pretzels. The chocolate pudding was made with salted caramel and brioche croutons. They also sent out the pear crisp with spiced pistachios and pistachio ice cream. I'm not the biggest fan of pears, but this dessert was pretty damn good especially the top.

Overall, it was another great experience at Gramercy Tavern. I especially love GT in the fall and winter; because the restaurant gives off a warmth. Stop by and check it out. Its not cheap; but Its of great value!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Named for a dessert of the Old South, Tipsy Parson is a Chelsea restaurant serving up Southern "belly-filling goodness." The bar reminds me of book case in an old southern mansion with booze and little trinkets sitting on the shelves. Kristen and I grabbed a table in the bar area right next to the hostess stand. It was a bit weird to be so close to the hostess. but it actually worked out as if she was our second server. The cocktails at Tipsy Parson looked good, but I stuck to the local draught beer selection while Kristen got wine.


Mushroom Spoonbread {14}
herb ricotta, wild mushrooms, caramelized salsify,
pumpkin seeds, pumpkin oil

Shrimp & Grits {16}
broiled spiced shrimp, Rockland Plantation stone-ground grits,
fried green tomato, spicy tomato vinaigrette

Short Rib {26}
cheerwine-braised all-natural short rib,
parsnip puree, parsnip chips

The appetizers were alright, but our entree short rib was awesome. Big enough for us to split, the short rib was not only a generous portion, but packed with flavor. The parsnip puree combined with the sweet braised meat was an delightful combination. We were too full for dessert! Probably won't go back, but was a cool spot to check out. I actually hear they do a great brunch--maybe thats worth checking out!

Five Leaves

Call me a snob, but I don't usually travel to Brooklyn for food. Manhattan has plenty of great food options, why would I? Then again, Brooklyn restaurants have created a lot of buzz; so maybe it is worth the trip? Five Leaves is one BK restaurant that has garnered a lot of attention but is it all hype? Five Leaves is a small cafe/bar across the street from McCarren Park in Green Point where Nassau, Bedford, and Lorimer meet. This hipster spot is no reservations, so you will most likely have to wait over an hour. Walk over to Manhattan Inn for a cocktail while you wait and check back.

The Manhattan Inn--restaurant and piano bar serves up great drinks from new inventive cocktails to the classics. I got their Hot Toddy which was awesome, especially considering the crisp November air. The combination of spices and whiskey could have kept me their all night; but we had to check if our name moved up the list at Five Leaves. Luckily, our table was close to ready, so we only really waited an hour --not the hour and a half we were told. The restaurant was extremely cramped. It was awkward waiting for our table while people tried to get by. We finally sat down into the sunken chairs and got real excited for our meal.

Service was good--not great. Our food got to our tables before our drinks; but it didn't make or break the meal. Our server was actually quite friendly and pretty knowledgeable. But we didn't come for the service so on to the food! The food was all good. We started with oysters and devils on horseback (dates wrapped in bacon). For our main course, Christy got the burger which looked good, but I didn't try. She seemed to enjoy it. Jackie got the artic char which she absolutely loved. The skin-on artic char came with sunchokes, creamy leeks, manilla clams, and trout roe. Shakes got the seared scallops with black lentils, grain mustard, and maple braised bacon and one of the appetizer specials. I got the bar steak: marinated hanger steak with carrots, cipollini onions, and fries. The steak was good, but it wasn't anything that I couldn't make at home. I was going to get the Short Rib, but I had a short rib the night before so I wanted to switch it up.

For dessert, we got the milk chocolate pot de creme and the Rosewater Pavlova. The chocolate pot de creme was good while the Rosewater Pavlova might have been the weirdest dessert I've ever tasted. It was OK in flavor, but just weird.

In conclusion, Five Leaves is a solid neighborhood restaurant. If I were Jackie and Christy I would probably frequent this place quite often, but as far as being a destination restaurant--Five Leaves falls short. Sure the food was delicious, but there are plenty of closer food options. Part of me liked the cozy charm of Five Leaves, but being knocked in the head while eating isn't an ideal situation. Overall, good friends and food proved to be an awesome night. Thank you for a great meal Jackie and Christy!

Definitely worth stopping by and making your own decision.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Food Frenzy

Started the week off at my favorite pizza spot--sorry NY; my favorite pizza spot is in Neptune, NJ. Maybe because its close to the beach, maybe its because it had delicious thin-crust pizza; but either way Pete and Elda's is my favorite pizza spot. I grew up loving this place, but my love affair only grew stronger when I was able to enjoy adult beverages while dominating and XL pizza. Pete and Elda's also does a "pie eating contest" in which guest who eat a XXL pizza gets a free t-shirt. I didn't try for a t-shirt; but I do have a couple tees at home. If you are in the Asbury Park/Belmar area you should definitely stop by for a pie!

Also went to the Buttered Biscuit while I was down the shore. The Buttered Biscuit is a cozy cafe on Main Street in Bradley Beach. My friend Nadine brought me here as its one of her favorite spots. It was a solid breakfast spot if in the neighborhood. Skip on the crab cake sandwich and get breakfast--especially a biscuit (duh!)

While in NJ I stopped by Sushi Palace (in Edison) with some friends for all-you-could-eat sushi. A group of my buddies from home go every week, so I decided to join them while I was in the area. I'm always nervous about all you could eat places, but Sushi Palace was good. Granted the first round of appetizers weren't too impressive; but the sushi was awesome. We started with salads, which were tastey and then appetizers followed shortly after. Teriyaki red snappers, fried calamari, egg rolls, dumplings, and pork chops were OK, but not worth the calories in my option. Our next round consisted of fresh fish which took form in hand rolls, sushi, and sashimi. And the best part is that this place is BYO, so we took full advantage and brought both wine and beer. Great sushi spot, especially if you have a large appetite. End the meal with some ice cream! $25 a person includes tip! ---WHAAAAAAT!!!!!! Sign me up!

Back in NYC, I stopped by Schnippers-- a burger concept that just expanded its operations to 23rd street right outside Madison Square Park. The place was pretty big and kind of reminded my of an indoor Shack Shake. I smell competition! Shake Shack might be winning because Schnippers was empty! But maybe because its new? Maybe more people will dine at Schnippers when the weather is too cold to wait on line at Shake Shack. Schnippers is worth checking out though. I got the Crispy Chicken Sandwich which was crispy chicken, caramelized onions, BBQ sauce, white cheddar, lettuce, tomatoes, and Schnippers sauce on ciabatta bread. I thought this sandwich was quite good and would probably go back. I would like to try a burger and shake at Schnippers to see if they are any real competition to Shake Shack.

Also stopped at Big Daddy's diner on Park Ave for a milkshake. The milkshake was OK, but the lady behind the counter was very nice. I want to try one of Schnippers shakes!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Repeat Offender

I took advantage of the warm weather and enjoyed a Shack Stack in Madison Sq Park with some friends. The Shack Stack is a cheeseburger topped with the Shroom Burger for one ridiculous burger. It was only right to enjoy this burger with an Abita while cheersing to a good day's work. Shake Shack Tip: Go on the B line and grab beers while waiting for your burger--time goes by faster when enjoying an ice cold one.

I also went to the Tap Room, which is around the corner from work. Not only is this spot convenient, but the beer selection is awesome. They also do beer flights if you're into tasting some cool brews.

Emma's dilemma is my deli spot for when I'm craving a bacon/egg/cheese before work; but I visit this deli solely based on convenience.

13th Step is another place I go based on convenience. We always have a good time at this "bro bar", but I think we go because its right near my buddy's apt. They usually have good deals on Sunday for the games. Top 40 music + classics = dance party 101.

A new spot I visited this week was Made Fresh Daily, a tiny cafe hidden on the cobblestone streets of Front Street around the corner from the seaport. In an area full on tourist traps and bad food options, Made Fresh Daily brings homemade cooking with lots of soul. The place itself is small, but its homey and feels right. Made Fresh Daily serves comfort foods that are light and healthy. They pride themselves on creating food that taste good without making you think. They also pride themselves on sourcing local, organic, and sustainable products. The buttermilk biscuit with scrambled eggs and ham proved to be a delightful breakfast sandwich. Great flavor! It was a bit expensive for breakfast considering a bacon/egg/cheese cost $2.99; but it was worth it. The side of bacon wasn't that food, so I will pass on that next time. I hear they do some pretty good sandwiches for lunch--I'll have to go check it out!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Week Review

Not having a cheesesteak when in Philadelphia always seemed to be sacreligious; but the city has so much more to offer when you open your eyes. The Reading Terminal Market is insane and is a must-see when in Philadelphia. The market is a food lovers paradise whether grabbing a quick lunch or buying some produce. DiNic's Italian pulled pork sandwich is ridiculous while Delilah's mac n' cheese might have been overrated.

Amada and Village Whiskey prove that Iron Chef Jose Garces isn't just about TV appearances. Your taste buds will explode at Amada where Spanish tapas grace the menu. The energy of the restaurant is contagious. If you're craving a burger or something a bit more bar-like--village whiskey is the spot for you. Burgers reign supreme, but the menu is filled with favorites such as pulled pork, duck fat-fries, pickles, and oysters. The Whiskey King is a luxurious take on the traditional burger if you're feeling groovy. Their great selection of whiskey could keep you there sampling all day.

The Franklin Fountain is an old-school ice cream shop serving delicious homemade ice cream while giving off that true authentic retro feel.

Back in NYC, I visited the Birreria at Eataly after stopping by Old Town Bar and Madison Square Eats. Old Town Bar is a cool neighborhood dive bar --exactly what you get from the name. Madison Square Eats is a monthlong food fair right outside Madison Square Park in Worth Square. While there was tons of great options, I got a pizza from Robertas. The pizza was a traditional pizza base with soppressata, chili aoili, and honey. The $9 personal pan pizza was delicious and saved me a trip to BK although I still want to go there anyway. The honey provided a nice sweetness to offset the spiciness of the chili aoili and soppressata. It was kind of cold, but the food and booze were keeping people warm!

After enjoying my pizza, I headed up to Eataly's beer garden: Birreria. The place was jamming, but we managed to get a table after promising the hostess that we were not only drinking but eating as well. Our server started off cool, but then got a bit pushy. I understand you want to turn your tables, but show a little hospitality. He sold us on a pretzel bread that we thought was complimentary, but turned out to be $5. The over-salted pretzel bread wasn't too good, but I wouldn't have been as upset if he didn't make it sound like it was for free. I tried one of their cask-conditioned beers that were pretty good. We also got a cheese plate and meat board to snack on. The fast paced beer garden was a fun place to check out especially if you want to try out some great artisanal Italian beers; but I doubt I'll go back.

We then met up with some friends for a beer at Crocodile Lounge--that spot that gives you a pizza with every beer you buy. It could get pretty crowded in here, but its a good spot for a quick beer and a pizza for cheap. The Scratcher was the next spot we stopped. We had a table at this place so it was a comfortable spot to kick it with friends; but nothing really made me want to go back. Just when I thought it was time to go home, I walked around the corner to Bowery Electric to meet up with my roommates and get my dance on. The DJ downstairs played some great old-school jams that kept the dance party going.

Good Eats in the City of Brotherly Love

When I think of the culinary landscape in Philadelphia, two restauranteurs come to mind: Stephen Starr and Jose Garces. Starr is known for heavy hitters such as Buddakan and Morimoto, which started in Philadelphia and eventually made it to NYC. Starr has over a dozen Philadelphia restaurants including The Continental, Parc, El Rey, and Barclay Prime to name a few. Although Starr has more restaurants, the people of Philadelphia love Jose Garces. Iron Chef Garces, unlike Starr, is a chef-restauranteur that has gained a favorable reputation do to his culinary expertise. Jose Garces started Amada in 2005 and won a James Beard award in 2009 for "Best Chef-Mid Atlantic" which only helped his already popular reputation. Garces went on to open other restaurants around Philly including Tinto, Distrito, Chifa, JG Domestic, and Village Whiskey. When visiting Philadelphia last week, I was fortunate enough to go to Amada and Village Whiskey.


Amada had energy, even at the earlier part of service. We were shooting for a later dinner, but our impromptu visit only allowed us for a six o'clock reservation. W were brought to the back dining room, a room that seemed to be a bit more intimate than the dining room that we passed by. The front dining room probably plays off the energy of the bar and is therefore a bit more lively. Although the back room wasn't as loud, it still possessed this great energy. The decor of Amada was great--it added to the casual yet refined atmosphere. Polished wood tables and dark fixtures gave the room a sexy feel. We started with a pitcher of white sangria-- a light mixture of crisp white wine, apple, pear, and orange.

The service at Amada was on point and only added to the experience. Our lady server knew when to be attentive and when to disappear and allow us to enjoy our food. The food was all good--there was nothing I didn't like. Sure we had some dishes that weren't good as others, but every dish was full of great flavor and cooked beautifully. The menu was a bit confusing to look at. Garces built Amada around the idea of Tapas, which seemed to be a popular trend a few years ago. Though the trend has died down, Amada has earned its spot as one of Philly's top spots. I like the idea of small plates, because this allows me to try many dishes. After reading the menu a few times, we finally decided to pick three plates each. Among my favorite were the oysters with the strawberry escabeche and cava granita, the short rib flatbread, and the octopus special that they had that evening. I don't remember the components to the dish; but the charred octopus was delightful. Lamb meatballs with shaved manchego and the wagyu sirloin with a prune-bacon stew & sheep's cheese espuma were also packed with great flavor. Goat cheese, basil, and almonds were the main components of another dish that everyone at the table seemed to enjoy. We also enjoyed crab stuffed peppers, The garlic shrimp that we had were good, but I think its a dish that is easily replicated so I wasn't too impressed. Our server recommended the Revuelto, a combination of shrimp and wild mushrooms stirred eggs, which seemed to be everyone least favorite dish. Overall, the food was good--there wasn't a dish that we didn't finish.

Another plus about Amada is how you get your food. The kitchen brings out plates as they're ready so dishes that are ready fast aren't held up by other food. I felt like we got our first plates just minutes after we ordered. I also loved the fact that they gave us a little break halfway through our meal. At this time, they cleared our plates and replaced them with clean settings. This was a little gesture that went a long way with my sisters and I. We definitely appreciated the couple minutes and were please to have fresh silverware and plates. All in all, Amada was a hit. Now I now why a handful of people recommended this place when I asked for good restaurants in Philadelphia. So pick up your glass of sangria and cheers to Iron Chef Garces on a job well done.

Village Whiskey

whiskey village indoor 2 300x206 Village Whiskey: A Downtown Philadelphia Takeover

I was kind of surprised on how small the space was. A hostess standing at a whiskey barrel greeted us upon Garces' first non-latin endeavor. She took us to a bar table that seemed squished in between two other tables. We decided to sit at the bar where a ninja-looking fella was stirring an old fashioned. After bouncing around between helping a guest and making a drink for the service bar, he greeted us with two menus: a tall skinny menu was for their whiskey selections while the other menu was for food. The whiskey menu was pretty impressive, but I guess you have to expect over 80+ whiskeys when your name is Village Whiskey. The food menu was filled of mouth-watering options; but village whiskey is known best for the burger. I got the Whiskey King burger, an 8oz angus patty topped with maple-bourbon glazed cipollini, applewood bacon, rogue bleu cheese, and foie gras. I opted to switch the rogue bleu cheese for their Jasper Hill Cheddar. This burger was massive and messy at that. Good thing I was with my sisters because I must have had burger juices all over my face while eating this thing. It was such a massive burger that it was hard to get a bite with everything; but when you did it was glorious. The ingredients on this burger all sang in harmony especially after being washed down with a delicious brown ale draught. If not in the mood for beer, the car bomb milkshake was awesome. It was a little thick for my liking but the flavors were on point.

Kim and Jen split the veggie burger, which they seemed to enjoy. We also got an order of the duck fat fries; which were good; but definitely over-hyped. The cheddar sauce that accompanied the fries could have been more cheesy and less watery. Jose Garces hits another home run with Village Whiskey, showing Philly that he has more to offer than Latin flare. Village Whiskey combines some of my favorite things (beer/whiskey/burgers) so its a safe bet to say I will be back there next time I visit my sister.

Other must-go to destinations in Philadelphia are Reading Terminal Market where you will find DiNic's and Delilah's. Skip a cheesesteak and head to DiNic's for an Italian pulled pork sandwich. I topped my sandwich with hot peppers which gave the mouth-watering sandwich a bit of a kick. DiNic's is a must have! Delilah's on the other hand was a bit of a let-down. Kim told me Delilah's was on a "Throw Down" with Bobby Flay for their mac n' cheese. Even Oprah declared Delilah's the best mac n' cheese in the country, so I was thinking it had to be good. Everyone in my family loves mac n' cheese, so we usually always try it if its on the menu. Unfortunately, I was impressed by Delilah's mac n' cheese. Maybe it was an old batch, but it lacked creaminess. I wouldn't even consider that to be in my top 20.

For dessert, head to Franklin Fountain on Market Street for homemade ice cream. This retro ice cream shop immediately transports you back in time; but not in a gimmicky way. The decor was authentic opposed to hokey and the staff played their part not only with their uniform, but with their attitude. One scoop maple-walnut and one scoop vanilla was topped with a homemade peanut butter sauce and salted pretzel pieces for one awesome sundae. Franklin Fountain is another must if visiting Philly.