Wednesday, May 18, 2011


The newly minted cousin to Modo Mio, Monsu is on the opposite side of the city in the heart of the Italian Market, but right up there with it's predecessor in terms of food. You get a familiar feel when walking thru the doors at Monsu - the fresh baked bread being sliced by the servers (some of whom also work at Modo Mio), the olive oil served with a dallop of sweet cream butter for dipping, and the low din of a dinner crowd anxiously awaiting what the chef has in store for them.

The rustic elegance of a menu that is huge on flavor and simple ingredients but lacking nearly any pretension is a welcome respite from the trendy center city spots charging $17 for seared scallop(s). Peter McAndrews knows how to run a restaurant that keeps people coming back. You always feel like you got more than your money's worth. Monsu is an ode to the intensely flavored cooking of Sicily. They feature seafood liberally - grilled octopus, mahi, whole shrimp, cured tuna, swordfish, anchovy & muscles litter the menu. A deft hand in the kitchen knows how to get the most out of these without overcooking or ruining their fresh from the sea flavor. The grilled octopus appetizer was some of the best I've had in Philly (the original Dmitri's not withstanding). It's served with slices of fennel, green olives, walnuts and sundried tomato that redefines seafood salad. The piquant flavors of the various ingredients are like a window into what Sicily is all about.
Polpo - grilled octopus

The pastas, like those at Modo Mio, are all house made with care and love, and make you understand why Italy is one of the great food cultures in the world. Spaghetti carbomare with shrimp, crispy pancetta and a barely cooked egg that leaks the runny yolk to mix with the sauce makes your mouth sing. Gnocchi made with ricotta instead of potato makes for an incredibly soft and complexly flavored pasta that is elevated by the hunks of lump crab and tomato cream with pistachio.
Spaghetti Carbomare

There are also the meats - short rib ragu, rib eye, braised pork shanks, crispy duck leg and lamb that would make the Godfather weep. The bistecca siciliana, breaded rib eye, served with thin sliced sporessetta, provolone, lemon capers and a fried egg (why the hell not?) was earthy and intense. The caballo finto - lamb served "in the style of the horse" (apparently horse is a big thing in Sicily) with oregano, olive, lemon was almost a Greek dish and illustrates the many rulers that have influenced Sicilian cooking.
Bistecca Siciliana

Other highlights were the grilled mozzarella with watercress & prickly pear puree that should be required eating for anyone sitting down at the restaurant; the seared sea scallops with spinach and almonds, and surprisingly the battered cauliflower with anchovy and pecorino. Readers of this blog might recall that cauliflower is one of my few dislikes, but if you mask it with enough other good flavors (and deep frying always helps) even Food Baby can learn to like it.
Scamorza Grigliata - grilled mozzarella...mmmmm

We dined at a huge table for a friend's birthday, and got special menus with some additions not normally served. I will definitely be back to see what else the standard menu has to offer and am looking forward to more of that Sicilian ambiance. Did I mention they continue the tradition of Sambucca shots after the meal An offer I can't refuse. Salute!
Free Sambuca!

Food Baby Rating: Twins!

  • BYO - Cash Only
  • 901 Christian St 
  • Philadelphia, PA 19147
  • (215) 440-0495

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Restaurant: Impossible @ La Stanza

The Food Network will be in Philly shooting today and tomorrow for their show Restaurant: Impossible.

They will be filming at La Stanza restaurant in South Philadelphia on May 4th & 5th as chef Robert Irvine has two days and $10,000 to revamp the Restaurant.

La Stanza is taking reservations (215-271-0801) for the reopening night, May 5, which will be filmed.

La Stanza Restaurant & Catering 
2001 Oregon Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19145(215) 271-0801 

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Dandelion

Aren't there already British pubs in Philadelphia? Last I checked we had the Artful Dodger, Elephant & Castle, The Dark Horse, etc. There's a hand pulled beer or two at almost any good gastropub these days.  And how many places have fish & chips on the menu? Seems like the British never really left us after occupying our fair city for a few years there back in the 1770's.  

So what makes The Dandelion any different? Everything. Before you even walk in, you notice the meticulously crafted exterior, reminiscent of Victorian town houses that make it feel like you're walking the rainy streets of London. Upon entry, you are greeted by a tightly packed bar offering draughts of Wells & Young's Bombardier and Fuller's London Porter, excellently mixed drinks like gin & bitter lemon and Pimm's deluxe, and legitimate casks of warm, barely carbonated tasty English bitter (beer for you non anglophiles). 

Pimm's Deluxe - with Beefeater gin, lemon and muddled cucumber 
The menu is an impressive array of excellently interpreted British classics - yes they actually exist. Perfect deviled eggs (so happy these are making a comeback on Philly menus), Welsh rarebit (basically cheesy toast),  and the cheese board are all standouts on the appetizer list. Even the salad of butter lettuce, apples, walnuts, stilton cheese and honey vinaigrette was memorable. I don't say that about salad too often.
Cheese plate with blue, red leicester, white cheddar 

The Sunday roast - available only on Sundays and Bank Holiday (of which there seems to be one every other week) was substantial. A huge hunk of sirloin, served alongside a watercress salad, roasted root veggies, horseradish sauce and a huge yorkshire pudding hit the spot for me. The gravy was tasty without being heavy - perfect for sopping up with that pudding. 
Sunday roast of beef sirloin w/ yorkshire pudding and horseradish sauce.  
Fish and chips done right is something to marvel at. A super flaky crust, using beer batter keeps the fresh caught cod moist and flaky inside. A squeeze of lemon and dipped into fresh made tartar sauce brings about a complex medley of flavors that makes you feel good inside; like when you used to climb the rope in gym class. Crisp chips, hand cut, triple fried and served hot are the Garth to this Wayne of a meal.
Fish & Chips
The lamb shepherds pie was also a winner. A molten vat of tender chunks of lamb in it's own gravy with winter vegetables, hiding beneath a layer of mashed potatoes. Desserts were decent, but nothing that would bring me back again. The menu hits it's highlights on the savoury side, not the sweet.

The real draw of Dandelion is the incredible atmosphere that Steven Staar has created. With what feels like 25 different rooms, there's nooks and crannies that rival an English muffin - it might be the ultimate place to play hide and seek. On our first visit the server was excellent, filling water glasses, offering recommendations and walking us thru the menu. The second go-round left something to be desired with an inattentive girl that seemed to have better things to do. Tables are tough to come by lately, but you can always try to get a seat at the bar or stop in for afternoon tea and biscuits (I'm not kidding). We saw outdoor picnic tables on our last visit, which promises a few extra seats now that the weather is here. Tally ho!

Food Baby rating: It's a Boy!

The Dandelion
124 South 18th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 558-2500

Lunch: M-F 11:30 - 3pm
Brunch: Sat & Sun 11:30 - 3pm
Dinner: M-Tr 5pm - 11pm
            Friday & Sat 5pm - 12pm
            Sunday 5pm - 10pm
Afternoon Tea: 3pm - 5pm