Thursday, February 24, 2011

Roadtrip Batali

The fiancée took me up to New York for my birthday weekend to dine on all things Batali - as in Mario the chef of Food Network and orange clogs fame. I've been whining for nearly a year and a half now about eating at Babbo. This was his first restaurant in NY, and the subject of the novel Heat which is one of the best books I've read in years (also a present from the fiancée - she's good like that). It documents one man's adventures working at Babbo for Chef Batali and learning the restaurant industry from the ground up - first as prep chef, then line cook and eventually learning to make pasta in Italy. It's funny as hell and kind of a must read for any self proclaimed foodie (yours truly).

Map of Eataly from the NY Times

Before dinner at Babbo though, we headed over for lunch at Eataly, at 23rd Street & 5th Avenue. This is the newest creation from Batali along with partners Joe & Lidia Bastianich and is basically half a city block devoted to all things Italian. There is an espresso bar, gelateria, desert counter/cafe, cheese monger, salumi station, pizza bar, produce section, fresh mozzarella being made on premise, wine store, butcher, fish monger, and of course all the fresh pasta you can imagine. It's billed as market with restaurants, but it's so much more than that. One section called La Piazza features high-top tables with no chairs where you elbow your way in, then have cheese & meat platters served along side a glass of wine while you make friends. The place is packed - but what isn't in Manhattan? As long as you're ok with crowds, you'll love the amazing selection of artisan foods available here. Free samples are everywhere, but you're hard pressed not to come out of there without buying something.

Babbo was incredible. We weren't able to land a reservation, but you always have the option of eating at the bar or waiting for one of a half-dozen tables at the front of the restaurant. The servers, bar tenders & maitre'd were on their game and all made you feel special. We waited just over an hour for a table with a few glasses of good Planeta Nero D'Avola to keep us entertained.  Fresh sardines and a winter vegetable salad with goat cheese for appetizers were both fantastic. Never tried sardines before and I always like to try something weird on the menu - they were great.  Salty like the sea and melted in your mouth. For entrees I got the buccatini all' amatriciana - bucatini is the big spaghetti noodles with the hole in the center. The sauce was a spicy tomato with pecorino. Best pasta I've had outside of Italy. She got the goat cheese tortelloni with fennel pollen.  I don't know how, but hers was actually better. Hand made pasta wrapped up an amazing hunk of fresh goat cheese that made you feel good all over. For desert she got the chocolate and pistachio semifreddo and I went with the maple & mascarpone cheesecake. Somehow I ordered the better desert, which never happens.

Batali has a few other restaurants in NY that I'd like to check out, including Del Posto and the Spotted Pig, but all I could think about that night was planning a vacation to Italy and tasting what inspired the chef to do all these great things.


Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany
Written by Bill Buford
Available on Amazon, B&, etc. 

110 Waverly Place (at Washington Square)
New York, NY 10011-9102
(212) 777-0303

Open Mon-Sat 5:30pm-11:30pm; Sun 5pm-11pm

200 5th Avenue (across from the Flat Iron building)
NY 10010
(212) 229-2560

Open Daily 9am-11pm

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Paesano's South Philly

Finally made it down to the Italian Market location of Paesano's.  Readers of this blog know that I've got a soft spot for anything that Chef Peter McAndrews puts on a seeded italian roll.  The south philly location of Paesano's, which has moved down 9th street to make way for Monsu, has a large kitchen and more extensive menu.  I've been dying to try the Bolognese - served only at this location.  It consists of that perfect italian seeded roll, a large serving of fried lasagna with meat sauce, sweet peppers, smoked mozzarella, red sauce, sharp provolone, AND a fried egg.  You didn't think someone could get that many ingredients on a roll, huh? 

This is right in line with the food baby concept.  A dish/meal/sandwich so good you can't stop eating so that afterwards you feel ready to give birth.  While I did really like this sandwich - the runny egg yolk and melty provolone & mozzarella being the best part - it actually wasn't my favorite creation from Paesano's.  The sheer over-indulgence factor of friend lasagna on a roll is worth trying and writing about, but the end result is lacking somehow on the big flavor contrasts that their other offerings provide.  I'd easily prefer the Paesano with the brisket, horseradish mayo, and pepperincino or my new favorite the Gustaio with lamb sausage, gorgonzola, and cherry mustarda.  

I love to stroll the italian market on weekends, looking for inspiration & something good for dinner that night.  I will certainly stop back in to try the Liveracce & Meatloaf Parm sandwiches, which are also offered only at this other outpost of Paesano's.  Both sound enticing, and not something you're going to see at another sandwich shop in Philly.

*Bonus - for watchers of Food Network - Paesano's is featured tonight, Feb 23rd at 8:30 pm, on Throwdown with Bobby Flay.  Peter McAndrews pits his Paesano sandwich against the best that Chef Flay can come up with.  I don't envy him trying to beat that one. Good one for the DVR.


Paesano's - Italian Market
1017 S. 9th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147

Food Baby rating for the Bolognese at Paesano's:

It's a Boy!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

J.G. Domestic

Incredible meal at J.G. Domestic last week.  This latest creation from Jose Garces has landed in the former space occupied by Rae in the Cira Center.  If you're not sure where that is (like most Philadelphians) it's the big futuristic office building located directly north of 30th Street Station.  Putting it into context, it's very accessible from the Market Frankford line subway stop, or the regional rail lines if you're coming from outside of the city.  However, I don't think they're going to get much walk-in traffic given it's island-like location on the west side of the Schuykill. The interior is a tough place to feel intimate for a restaurant.  It's more glass & steel atrium then cozy dining spot.  Garces does a good job to define his space though, and plenty of reclaimed, rough hewn lumber and green ferns add some warmth.

So, onto the food!  Like most of Garces' ventures this is a small plates lineup.  Instead of going for Spanish or Mexican flavors though, this is exclusively American and draws on inspiration from areas around the country.  There's also some great American craft brews and a well put together wine list - I was drinking Allagash White most of the night.  The meal starts off with fresh baked rolls, sprinkled with good kosher salt and served alongside an incredibly rich and creamy butter spread that was nearer to creme fraiche than Keller's unsalted.  We ordered the popcorn with cheddar & horseradish and slim jg as snacks. The pop corn had a great kick from the horseradish but there were too many un-popped kernels that I kept biting into.  The slim jg was their take on beef jerkey, and blows away anything you'll find at Wawa.  It's house cured and served alongside some spicy ass mustard.  Mmmm.

Next up was a round of appetizers - the charcuterie plate, wood oven flatbread and fondue pot.  Along with our dining mates, we agreed that these were some of the best things we ate that night. The charcuterie was a great mix of meats, fresh bread, and the same spicy mustard served with the slim jg. The flatbread was incredible - fresh baked and topped with mushrooms, shaved black truffle, cheddar cheese and a rich dark egg yolk. This is everything good about America.  The fondue pot was even better, Keswick Creamery cheese with house made breadsticks and sliced apples for dipping.  We needed a second round of breadsticks to scrape the last little bits from the bottom.


The Hawaiian Opah (tuna) ceviche served with a side of passion fruit sorbet was perfectly done - as you'd expect from Garces at this point - and a node to his recent win on Iron Chef.  Pumpkin croquettes were nicely fried and sweet and rich inside.  The potato cassoulet is served with andouille, cabbage & grafton cheddar and an excellent take on the French countryside staple.  The andouille gave it some nice smokiness and real depth of flavor.  The Texas wild boar chop was surprisingly tasty - even the girls liked it.  Grilled and served with a mustard glaze over maple grits, it was tender and a great alternative to steak.  Lastly, the Jidori chicken roasted with baby carrots and fingerling potatoes put us over the top.  Meticulously cared for and prepared, Jidori is the Kobe beef of the chicken world.  Succulent and juicy with tons of flavor in this bird.



Dessert was fresh made beignets with bourbon vanilla mousseline, and Maker’s Mark butterscotch that was better than anything I'd had even in New Orleans.  Does Maker's Mark just make everything better?

Make the trek across the river and check out J.G. Domestic soon.

-T. Kaso

Food Baby Rating:  Twins!!! 

J.G. Domestic
Cira Centre, Ground Floor
2929 Arch Street, Philadelphia
Phone: 215-222-2363

Monday-Friday 11:30-3:00pm
Monday-Saturday 5:00-10:00pm
Happy Hour:
Monday-Friday 3:00-7:00pm
Closed Sundays

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Marigold Kitchen

No formal review for Marigold, as it was Valentine's day and I took the night off from snapping pictures and being "that guy" at dinner.  The meal was outstanding though, and can't say enough good things about this cozy little neighborhood BYO in West Philly. The service was attentive and informed. The 10 course prix fixe menu was executed without a miss and each little dish was inventive and delicious. I had the escargot & squab for appetizer and main, and she chose the beet/goat cheese salad and seared scallops. Profiteroles & cayenne creme brulee for desert. Everything was beautiful. Actually a shame there are no pics to share.  Maybe next time when it's not a special occasion. Do yourself, and your date, the favor and trek out to this great BYO. Easily accessable from the route 13 & 34 trolleys - just get off at 45th street and walk the block or two up to Larchwood.


Marigold Kitchen BYOB
501 S. 45th St.
Philadelphia, PA 19104-3913
(215) 222-3699

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Perch Pub

After a few drinks at Las Vegas Lounge on Friday night, we decided to try out the new Perch Pub for some late night grub.  Located in the former space occupied by Upstares at Varalli, at Broad & Locust, the owners have  completely changed the interior and turned it into a want-to-be gastro pub with craft beers, an extensive bar snacks menu, juke box, pool table and flat screens to boot. Exposed brick and chalkboard painted plaster give the walls a been-there-forever feel and highlight the specials of the day for both food and drink.   Plenty of faux mahogany panels add some warmth to the room that is the best spot in the city to watch the throngs of theatre goers dodge speeding cabs as they make their way back to $24 parking garages.

The beer list was pretty well assembled,  offering a good selection of local brews on tap and international bottles from Belgium, Germany and craft beers from the states.  They are charging $6.50 for a pint of guinness, which I generally use as a yardstick for a bar, but most other draughts are at a more reasonable $5.  Stick to the local ales and leave the guinness for your next trip to The Bards or Irish Times.  I'd say that the beers are probably the highlight of Perch - I think its a great happy hour spot after work for some nice ales and people watching on Broad.  The food, while filling, left something to be desired.

We started off with a couple appetizers, which all came out incredible quick. Pickled tomatoes were a good tangy start and most of the people at the table couldn't keep their hands off.  Five slices for $2 is a deal. They were out of the soft pretzels with fontina fondue that sounded to me like the most intriguing item on the menu. Apparently everyone else thought the same thing.

A trio of deviled eggs that the menu says are served with siracha lacked the signature hot sauce, but did have an unexpected asian seasoning in the filling - is that five-spice, or prickly ash perhaps?  Some of the siracha would have been a great addition to an otherwise boring deviled egg.

Next up was a round of fried mozzarella and the nearly mandatory cheesesteak eggrolls. Neither were anything to really get worked up over. The eggrolls were serviceable, but nothing close to the perfectly crisped little rolls of delicousness that used to be served up at Deuce on second street (miss that place), and there are certainly better versions at other bars/pubs around the city currently.  The fried mozzarella was just that - fried mozzarella with a little prego spooned over top on a plate that was 3 sizes too big.  

The  burger was probably the best of the bunch.  Served on a nice brioche bun with a side of well seasoned fries and a long hot, it was cooked just as requested.  I got the Franklin, with apple smoked bacon jam and cheddar.  The cheese was fine, but the jam was strangely sweet and not nearly bacon-y enough. Not a bad burger - our friends had better luck building their own with real bacon - but not one that you're going to get on public transit for. I'd skip the food next time and just stick to drinks after work - maybe some muchies after a few beers.  


Food Baby Rating Scale - Just bloated

Perch Pub 
1345 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107 
Northeast corner of Broad and Locust Streets

Monday, February 14, 2011

2011 - A Miso Odyssey

Living within walking distance of the Spring Garden Market at 4th & Spring means that we have access to an unbelievable selection of Asian groceries and ingredients.  Not only does this grocery store have 12 kinds of bok choy and all the daikon radishes you could ever want, but the prices are well below what you would pay for similar quality meats, veg, and other groceries at the big chain grocery stores.  There is a distinct smell that hits you when you walk in thru the front doors, but after a few minutes you don't even notice it.  Hard to put your finger on, but I've smelled that same waft walking thru china town on many a summer day.  Suck it up - it's worth it for the stuff you'll find at this place.

An entire aisle of frozen dumplings - from veggie, to shrimp, even soup dumplings (although not as good as you'll get at Dim Sum Palace)!  Another aisle devoted just to noodles like real buckwheat soba where all the packaging is in Japanese and you have to do some google research to figure out how to make them.  The selection can be overwhelming at times, and don't bother asking for help.  Their English is as good as my Mandarin, so you're going to have to do your own leg work.  But it's always been worth the effort for the quality and range of items we come back with.  

On our most recent shopping trip we decided to try our hand at cooking with Miso paste. As you can guess, this is the base for miso soup, but miso is used in lots of different Japanese dishes and is extremely versatile.  It's made from soy beans and a mixture of rice, barley and/or buckwheat depending on the region and type.  This mixture is fermented with salt and a specific fungus to produce the miso paste which is then classified as red, white or mixed.  

The smallest container we could find was 1 kg, which is quite a lot more than needed for a batch of miso soup. Thus begins our odyssey to use a kilo of miso over the next few weeks before it goes south towards Shanghai. First up - Miso glazed salmon that I got from Alton Brown's miso episode he aired in 2010.  
The salmon came out terrific. I had to up the cooking time a bit since the filets the fishmonger cut me were so thick.  Alton's original recipe called for black cod or halibut, but the miso glaze was just as good on the salmon. Super simple and definitely a repeat dinner that will go in the recipe box.  

We served the fish alongside some roasted acorn squash and steamed broccoli that I sauteed with sesame oil, crushed red pepper and toasted sesame seeds.    Mmmm.


Miso Honey Glazed Fish


  • 2 tablespoons light or white miso
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 4 (6-ounce) black cod or halibut fillets, 3/4 to 1-inch thick


Heat the oven to 475 degrees F.
Whisk together the miso and honey in a small bowl. Lay the fish fillets in a 6 by 10-inch glass baking dish and brush with the glaze. Put the dish in the oven on the middle rack and bake until the fish reaches an internal temperature of 135 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest in the dish for 5 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Sloppy Jose's

Superbowl Sunday means friends, beers and tons of food.  This year we were at our friend Kate's place by the art museum.  Her kitchen sucks, so I volunteered to take care of the food.  After watching the Mexican Made Easy girl on Food Network Saturday morning, I decided to go with the south of the border theme - guacamole from scratch, queso fundito, and mexican sloppy joe's - henceforth known as Sloppy Jose's! 

Up to this point, I've only ever had sloppy joe's made from the can of Manwich (or the knockoff Shop-Rite brand when mom & dad were short on funds that week) but they are one of my favorite comfort food meals. The recipe for Joe's border jumping cousin has you make the sauce from scratch, and substitute ground turkey for the beef.  I found it easier to make the sauce in one pot while browning the turkey in a saute pan.  The recipe calls for just adding the raw ground turkey to the sauce pot, but I think you get more flavor browning it first and then adding it back in.  Probably good either way though. 

As for the sauce, I loved the freshness of making it from scratch.  The addition of the corn, jalapeno's, oregano and thyme (plus some habanero hot sauce at the end) gave it a great Mexican kick.  With the quantities listed below, you can make enough for about 4-6 servings.  I tripled the recipe for the party, but we had plenty left over - and it got better after a day or two with time for the flavors to meld in the pot.  Sloppy Jose's for lunch?  Si!  


  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup finely diced white onion
  • 1/4 cup finely diced celery
  • 1/4 cup finely diced carrot
  • 1 ear corn, shucked and kernels removed or 1 cup frozen corn, thawed
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 jalapenos, stemmed and deveined
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 1 1/2 cups tomato puree
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed and chopped
  • 2 springs fresh oregano, leaves removed and chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 hamburger buns
  • Serving suggestion: Avocado slices & hot sauce on the side


In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and celery and cook until translucent. Add the carrot, corn kernels, garlic, and jalapeno. Cook for 5 minutes. Add ground turkey and saute until cooked through. Stir in the tomato puree, bay leaf, thyme, oregano and salt and pepper, to taste. Reduce the heat to medium, cover the pan and cook for 10-15 minutes. Discard the bay leaf.
Put about 1/4 cup of the sloppy jose meat into each hamburger bun. Serve warm with  avocado slices.