Thursday, December 14, 2006

Memories of Food Past

French Fries is on the interview trail for residency programs in Emergency Medicine and the food she has been eating has been pretty uniformly grim. At the pre-interview dinners with the residents it is usually great company but greasy undercooked bar grub to accompany it. At the interview day itself they do their best to keep the interviewee blood sugar up through the grueling process but sticky neon danishes and steam tray lunches of questionable provenance do not a gastronomic adventure make. With that and with the many Xmas shows on television referencing Ghosts of Christmas past, FrenchFries raided both her and Farofa's photo collections for some memorable meals of the past year.

New Year's 05: Sushi From Philly's Maki House and a HUGE fruity/cheesy salad with pear, Gorgonzola, dried cranberry and grapes

Valentine's Day: A giant box of Godiva Truffles with awesome flavors like candied apple, peanut butter & jelly, passion fruit and Mexican Hot Chocolate ("a little picante" remembers Farofa fondly).

Summertime Visit to Philly Faves
: Off to Valanni for Brunch ("Steak n' Eggs" and a flatbread with spicy hummus) and La Creperie for Linner - meals at odd times to coincide with endless sunshine hours.

French Fries' Birthday: To a Pittsburgh's home of tapas at Ibiza where Farofa gorged on Osso Buco with Lentils but made the meat-fest up to French Fries with a home-cooked meal a few days later.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Hello Cafe (12/10/06)

After a nice evening at the movie theatre, Farofa and French Fries were not really hungry but knew they should eat or they would wake up starving the following morning. Driving home, they spotted the small shopping centre on Washington Avenue, which they often talk about stopping but never do.

There are several Chinese/Vietnamese little restaurants in that strip, but Hello Cafe looked like the most appealing to Farofa, who decided to be adventurous and order something with an ingredient she has never tried before, the Beef with Bitter Melon ($9.95).

Hello Cafe's atmosphere was not the most inviting by Farofa's standards, but seemed like a good enough place to eat - the late hour and decreasing temperature called for take-out, however.

At home, French Fries savoured but was not overwhelmed by her Chinese Baby Broccoli with Garlic (Market Price). It was tasty but a little too oily for FF's taste (one that often finds Chinese food oily for that matter). Meanwhile, Farofa got used to the idea of this unexpected-looking (but delicious-smelling) vegetable among her beef strips, having expected something that looked more like a melon, but getting a cacti-looking mix instead. Both dishes had a lot of garlic, but not enough to mask the bitterness of either vegetable.

The sauce was very tasty, and later both figured it was made with Douchi (fermented and salted soybeans). Lesson learned: Bitter Mellon is one of the most bitter vegetables known. And bitter it was. Farofa was happy to have ordered this to learn this lesson.

French Fries prepared some Japanese green tea (Genmai Cha) made of rice to go along with the meal, which proved a perfect combo, soothing the bitterness and pleasing the palate. Overall, F&FF are not sure they will go back to Hello Cafe when there are so many Chinese/Vietnamese options to explore in Philadelphia, but they now know what to expect when a dish with "Bitter" in the title.

Farofa: *** out of 5
French Fries: **1/2 out of 5

Forks Down Verdict: Fast service and good serving size for late weekend munchies.

Hello Cafe
600 Washington Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19147

(215) 467-7008
Everyday, 11:00am - Midnight

Raw Sushi And Sake Lounge (12/9/06)

French Fries was in the mood for a fancier Philly outing and was craving protein, so we decided to go to Raw Sushi and Sake Lounge (about as pedantic a name as you can pick for a sushi bar). Having been there before, Farofa knew a reservation was in order and made a same-night one for 9:45pm.

Despite that, F&FF arrived at Raw to find several other people waiting around for the hostess, who was nowhere to be found. Eventually, she emerged to announce they were behind schedule and the reservations would actually result in a table about 20 minutes later, which irritated the very hungry French Fries to no end.

Once seated, though, French Fries' eyes shone with happiness when she saw the extensive menu with a plethora of fish and vegetarian options, which made up for the wait and even the absolutely horrible music that the DJ chose to play through the night (but it didn't prevent some eye rolling as the music varied between 70's Hustle, Motown and Red Hot Chili Peppers with the occasional dropped record squeak to liven things up).

The restaurant is oddly designed with tables crammed close together, and the noise volume of the aforementioned questionable soundtrack such that shouting was needed for your table partner to hear you, adding to the chaos of the crowded space. Farofa felt a submarine was the best metaphor to explain the feeling of being in a narrow and long enclosure where merely looking to the side makes you uncomfortable about invading other people's personal space.

Still, Farofa's enthusiasm grew when French Fries' choice of beer, a Hitachino Ginger Ale ($7.00), was served in a lovely tulip glass at a cold enough temperature that met her strict Brazilian standards for coldness (not a standard in Philadelphia). The sake list was quite impressive and the descriptions made it accessible for the newbie to sake, but neither Farofa or French Fries were in the mood for the hard stuff.

After much debate over what to order, with every option sounding better than the next, (and Farofa trying to restrain French Fries due to her previous experience with Raw's large rolls), F&FF settled on the White Tiger Special ($16.00), the Sweet Potato Tempura Maki ($6.00), the Umeshiso Maki ($4.50) and the Tai Sushi ($3.00).


The White Tiger roll (in the center in the upper picture and lower right in the lower) was composed of juicy white tuna with flying fish roe on the inside of the roll, topped with more white tuna that had been run quickly under a blowtorch to caramelize and slightly cook it. It was garnished with 3 (!) sauces, eel sauce, spicy sauce and a creamy (sesame and mayo?) sauce, as well as scallions, and even more roe. A roll this big is rarely without some structural integrity issues, and this one was no exception, falling apart under the chopsticks a little bit but the flavor more than made up for it. The sauces were the good kind of overwhelming, and the white tuna (FF's favorite fish) was perfectly fresh and sweet. The run under the blowtorch made the tuna topping the roll near enough to sushi perfection as FF wants to get.

The Sweet Potato Tempura roll (back row in upper picture and upper left in lower) was just that - warm and crunchy sweet potato tempura wrapped in a roll. The tempura coating was crispy and the sweet potato not overcooked nor soggy - but next time both F & FF agreed, they'd get the tempura on its own and save rolls for focusing on the very high quality fish and vegetables.

Roll Close-up

The third and last roll was the Umeshiso roll (Lower left in upper picture and upper right in lower) which while appearing very unprepossessing on the plate was the surprise of the night. Farofa was pretty suspicious of it, thinking that it was another boring cucumber roll. French Fries had trouble not laughing when after her first bight, Farofa had changed her tune, singing the praises of the minty shiso and sweet plum sauce, which balanced out the crisp cucumber in almost 'zen-like' harmony. French Fries stole most of them, though, to pay Farofa back for being so doubtful about the order. Farofa took the Tai (red snapper) which was nothing special to her palate but tasty nonetheless - if it had been in a crowd of sushi she doubts that she'd remember it.

Miso soup ($2.50) usually goes unnoticed in Japanese restaurants, but Raw's deserves mention because it was not only unusually good but unusually generous with the seaweed, much to Farofa's delight.

At the end of the meal, Farofa, who rarely orders dessert, could not resist the Mochi Ice Cream ($8.00). Having appreciated mochi (cake made of glutinous rice) with red bean paste for most of her life in São Paulo, Farofa often seeks for a substitute or any Japanese desert that may resemble the traditional sweets from the streets of Liberdade. She was not let down.

Raw definitely lived up to it with an impressive assortment of mochi filled with strawberry sorbet, green tea and red bean ice cream (Above, L-R: red bean, green tea, strawberry, red bean again). For reasons that continue to puzzle Farofa and French Fries, the waiter brought - in addition to the mochi - two scoops of ice cream (ginger and green tea) and a small but unnecessary bowl of cinnamon whipped cream, while professing "just in case...". Both wondered what that case might have been, but other than the case of there being a plague that would force all to live off their body fats for the following three weeks, it was still WAY more dessert than any two people could have possibly eaten.

Raw serves really great food and is certainly a place Farofa and French Fries will return to, in the hopes that the restaurant and its logistics will catch up to the quality of the fish. Enjoying really great food, weird ambiance notwithstanding, is always a joy.

Farofa: **** out of 5
French Fries: **** out of 5
Forks Chopsticks Down Verdict: Any of the daily roll specials are a certain good call, but come hungry.

Raw Sushi & Sake Lounge
1225 Sansom St
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 238-1903

Saturday, December 9, 2006

Morning Glory (12/2/06)

Farofa and French Fries have wanted to do a foodblog for ages. The Gastronomer, Messy and Picky, PhilaFoodie, even Farofa's mom, all have been food blogging and inspiring us. So when, for a change, we woke up before 11 AM on a weekend, we realized it was the perfect day not only to start the food blog, but also to go to the brunch spot that we've been lusting after for ages, but haven't been to due to fears of the wait (and usually waking up on weekends with growling wait-prohibitive tummies).... the inimitable Morning Glory.

We arrived on a sunny but cold Saturday at 11:40 or so and expected a major wait - it seems that the pleasant note on the menu that suggests that diners be mindful of the people waiting and leave promptly actually works, as our wait was a mere half hour despite the significant number of people ahead of us. The patio has two gas-burning pole-heaters that helped keep it actually pretty cozy despite the below-freezing temp. We had decided before going that we wanted both sweet and savory munchies this morning, and Farofa wanted to try her favorite morning beverage, a big mug of hot chocolate, whereas FrenchFries wanted tea (having already decaffeinated herself with a Coke Zero before leaving the house).

After looking through the menu, there were actually two sweet things we wanted to try - the chocolate cherry bread and the 'Monkey French Toast'. The latter had been recommended multiple times by everyone FrenchFries had talked to about Morning Glory. As for the savory, the Frittata special with feta, kalamata olives, and artichoke hearts caught both our eyes, olive freaks that we are. The waiters were pretty busy but took our order promptly, and much to FrenchFries' joy, the restaurant was actually warm (FrenchFries loves Philly's many BYOBs but hates how COLD most of them are).

Our Chocolate Cherry Bread ($3.50) arrived first, and unfortunately there is no picture of it, primarily because we got outside of the three pieces of it with an embarrassing amount of speed. The chocolate cherry bread had a nice crust and big soft pieces of real cherries and semi-sweet chocolate throughout. The table was pretty crowded with Farofa's hot chocolate, FrenchFries' tea, pots of jam and butter, sweetener/sugar, salt/pepper, milk and our water glasses, but when the food arrived we were more than happy to make room.

Farofa took on the challenge of the Monkey French Toast ($7.50) - it was thick pieces of challah french toast drenched in caramel sauce with chunks of mango and banana between each slice and a huge dollop of fresh whipped cream beside it, all sprinkled with powdered sugar. It was very sweet, but the mango was not as prominent as Farofa had hoped, as the dish was more banana heavy. Still, Farofa is hard to satisfy on the mango front, coming from Brazil, where delicious mangoes as big as your head are common. She did note that the caramel sauce was perfect, not cloying at all, and you could still taste the other flavors. Farofa neglected the whipped cream because she doesn't like it, but on the bites FrenchFries stole, it was also perfectly balanced on the sweet-but-not-cloying precipice.

FrenchFries is generally hesitant of egg dishes for breakfast - like Gail Simmons, she loves eggs, and can't stand to eat them when they are cooked to a rubbery mess as they often are at busy breakfast places (Marathon on the Square, I'm looking at you). But the frittatas trotting past looked fluffy and lovely, and it is always hard to resist the lure of the purple & juicy kalamata. That was the wisest choice FrenchFries has made in a while, because the Frittata Special ($8.50) was PERFECT. The kalamata/artichoke heart/feta combo was the ideal combo of salty/savory greek flavor and there were also some soft greens mixed in (which the menu said were arugula but tasted more like baby spinach to us). The egg around each whole olive was stained a faint lavender and tasted heavenly, and the artichoke hearts were a far cry from the greasy oil-packed ones that plague our local grocery store. It came with a hearty serving of tasty, not-too-dry roasted red rosemary potatoes and a small cup of cinnamon baked apples as well as rye toast. FrenchFries had asked for the rye toast instead of the standard biscuit so that she could slather on the strawberry-rhubarb jam from the pot on the table, which was one of the tastiest jams she can remember ever tasting.

Everything was so good that FrenchFries didn't even need hot sauce and ketchup like she sometimes does to get outside a dry potato/rubbery egg combo, but if she had needed some, the Cholula hot sauce and homemade vinegar-ey ketchup would have made it no hardship.

Some diners around us seemed less blissfully happy with their choices - it may end up being the kind of restaurant where your happy tummy factor depends a lot on your order. Farofa and FrenchFries both think they are pretty happy with the idea of having to go back a bunch more times to test this hypothesis.

Farofa: ***1/2 out of 5 - FrenchFries: **** out of 5

Forks Down Verdict: Worth the hype and the wait for a tasty food-coma brunch.

Morning Glory
735 S. 10th St @ Fitzwater St
Philadelphia, PA 19147-2741

(215) 413-3999
Tue-Fri: 7:00-4:00pm and 6:00-10:00pm
Sat-Sun: 8:00am-3:00pm