Monday, July 25, 2011


University City dining days is the red headed step child to the PR machine that Center City Restaurant Week has become. There are fewer restaurants, less hype, and a lot less people out trying to be see and be seen. What UC dining days does offer though, is a chance to check out some restaurants well off the beaten path and do it at a very reasonable price.

Distrito has been on our radar for what seems like years now. It was one of the earliest Garces concepts, but always seem to bypass our consciousness when trying to decide where to eat next. That trek way out to 40th street seemed like we would need to pack emergency provisions for the arduous journey ahead. But the call of the $30 per person menu for Garces' food was enough to sway us into making the trip.

The Dining Days menu at Distrito let's you select 5 plates - 2 first course, 2 second course, and dessert. With our table of four people, we got to sample a hefty portion of the offerings. The restaurant itself is over-the-top Mexicana, done up with wrestler masks, a volkswagon beetle that you can sit in on the first floor, and splashes of bright pink everywhere you look. Servers were friendly and looked mostly from the Penn/Drexel area that surrounds you.  The drinks were creative but not consistently mixed.  My tequila, lime & cilantro was bright and refreshing, while the girls' watermelon cooler was perfect the first time but too sweet on the second round.

Tequila, lime juice & cilantro gimlet
Appetizers started with guacamole - perfectly mashed and sprinkled with grated cotija cheese on top. Served with house made tortilla chips still hot from the fryer, this should be a required plate for everyone that sits down. I could eat guacamole for every meal and die a very happy, very green man. The ceviche de pulpo with, lime, serrano chilis and cilantro was great. A cross section of octopus tenticals sliced super thin and oh so tender. The lime and chilis brought out an incredible flavor. The jicama salad was an ok dish of thinly sliced jicama, hunks of mango, and a small scoop of sorbet that seemed strangely out of place here. By far the best of the first courses, and probably the whole night, was the nachos (which were on special). Layer upon layer of house made chips, Mexican queso, roasted peppers, tomatoes, and thinly sliced onions that were something to savor and remember - and also fill your stomach so that the second course becomes an exercise in futility. These were probably the best nachos I've ever had - and that includes drunk nachos from Taco Lou at 3am.  I would go back just for this dish.


Guacamole with house made chips

Ceviche de pulpo - octopus with lime juice, serrano chilis, cilantro

Queso fundido is one of my perennial favorites. Ever since a work trip to Queretaro last year, I've been in search throughout the city for that perfect dish of melted queso. Distrito has two versions, a more traditional one made with chorizo, poblanos & cheese or a substitution of the chorizo with duck barbocoa. The slow roasted duck layered with the cheese was terrific. I only wish that I had more room after the first course nachos to enjoy it. It did make a great next day lunch though, rolled up in some extra tortillas.
Queso Fundido
The girls both got the mahi mahi tacos which were good, but I wasn't a fan of the sauce that was heavy handidly slathered on the tortilla. I thought it masked the flavor of the fish and crispy breading. Tacos de carnitas with pulled pork, black beans and pineapple salsa were a hit with ridiculously tender and tasty pork alongside the sweet salsa. My mole amarillo with sliced rabbit and rice was served with more of that pineapple salsa. We didn't even get to that dish as we were now unbuttoning to make room for the tacos. Besides the stellar nachos, the other hit of the night was the mushroom enchiladas with spinach and smoked tomatoes - the whole table agreed these were the best of the second courses.

Mahi mahi tacos

Mushroom enchilida
Desserts were limited, with your choice of either flan or a tres leches. Both were good, but it was a chore getting them down since we were already stuffed. This was a Food Baby dream meal. Dining at a Garces restaurant always means great food, but it also usually means a sizable dent in the bank account. This was an incredible deal for dinner though. This little bastard child of restaurant week might have more going for it than people realize. Here's looking forward to the next UC Dining days - I'll be wearing my Thanksgiving pants next time.


Food Baby Rating - Twins!!!

3945 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Monday, July 18, 2011

Burger Challenge Round 1: Pub & Kitchen

First up in the 2011 Philly Burger Challenge was a place I've heard so much about, it's become like that elusive unicorn of my foodie world. Pub & Kitchen is the kind of neighborhood bar that makes you want to move to that neighborhood - whether you're calling it Gray's Ferry, Graduate Hospital, G-Ho, or Rittenhouse South. They've conjured up a true gastropub that reminds me of Standard Tap when I first moved to the NoLibs 8 years ago. Nothing pretentious, no skinny jean contests, just honestly good beers, excellently mixed cocktails and some of the best food offerings this side of market street. With no visibly sign out front, you'd hardly even know it was there, but for the scattering of outdoor seating and their trademark bunny/pig logo out front - both animals being cute & delicious.

A great manhattan made with Jim Beam rye, Dubonnet rouge & housemade blood orange bitters hit the spot after a long day. This was one of a few drinks that they were aging in small batch whiskey barrels from Tuthilltown at the bar. Very nice touch. For dinner I moved onto a Bell's Oberon - can't pass that up when it's on tap. We splurged a bit and got a big cheese plate, salads, entrees and even dessert. Eating with friends that night, we got to try a nice sized portion of the menu. The cheese plate - a sampler of all 5 on offer that night hit all the right notes for our exceedingly cheese snob palette. A great buttermilk blue was creamy and tangy, and the basque seemed to linger for ages before giving way to a subtle almond flavor. I like cheese more and more each day.  For $24 though, it's getting slightly beyond gastropub prices.
Manhattan w/ Jim Beam, Dubonnet rouge & housemade bitters

Cheese plate - purple haze, hartwell, landaff, basque, & buttermilk blue, 
By the time our appetizers and dinner came, the light was fading so wasn't able to get any good shots after our cheese plate. I hate being "that guy" with the flash on taking pictures in the restaurant. I had a great summer salad with baby arugula, shaved pecorino and local veggies. Our friends had a very tasty sashimi style fish appetizer - unfortunately I can't recall what the fish but it was a special that night and very good. The wifey had a nice piece of branzino that was filleted by the kitchen and perfectly tender.

We were here for the burgers though. After all the hype that I've gotten from friends raving about this place, I have to say that I felt a little underwhelmed. The highly vaunted Churchill Burger, with dry-aged beef custom blended by Pat LaFrieda meats from NY, was cooked as requested and tasty. The optional toppings of bacon and aged cheddar ($1 each) were both very high quality. But for $20 (burger + toppings), I felt like we were paying those NY prices at a local Philly bar. The patty was good, with a complex flavor from the dry aging, but needed a better sear to caramelize the meat. The biggest disappointment was the roll - mine was over-baked and slightly bitter. It was also not nearly as large as some of the other burgers in the city. There is definitely no food baby associated with the Churchill burger. For $20, I want a burger that slaps me in the face with flavor and makes me want to eat like it's a fourth of July hot dog contest.

While the burger did not live up to all my expectations, I did really enjoy the restaurant. The bartenders were friendly and quick with the service. All our food came out promptly and prepared as as requested. The room itself is cozy and inviting. The kind of place that makes you want to hang out for a few hours sampling bar snacks and the myriad of craft beers on tap. The menu changes with the season, so there's reason to go back every few months - which we'll be doing come this fall.


Food Baby rating: One Baby - It's a girl!: decent meal, but something is missing...

Pub & Kitchen
1946 Lombard Street
Philadelphia, PA 19146-1411
(215) 545-0350

Open Daily 4pm-2am
Saturday & Sunday brunch 11-3pm

The 2011 Philly Burger Challenge

The great burger challenge of 2011 is under way! Food Baby's mission for the summer is to find the best burger in all of Philadelphia. I'm looking for that perfect piece of Americana - a soft roll, juicy burger, and melty cheese that defines everything that is simple and amazing about our most native gastronomical creation. We're ranking our burgers on the following criteria on a scale of 1-5; roll, toppings, taste, appearance, overall experience. I'll post the results once our crack team has compiled and tabulated the results at the end of the summer.

I've assembled a list of the top burger places in the city - some I've been to and am already biased towards (Good Dog) and some I've never tried but have heard amazing things (Kennett). So here's to making the most out of the warm weather and all the gluttony that these restaurants can muster up.  Do you have a suggestion for a great burger that's not on the list? Let me know! Email me or post a comment. I'll get your favorite added to the lineup.

The 2011 Philly Burger Challenge:
Pub & Kitchen
Oyster House
Good Dog
Village Whiskey
Standard Tap
Bobby's Burgers

Monday, July 11, 2011


A Friday date night brought us to Marc Vetri's wonderful Amis on 13th street, just north of Lombard. This is his third restaurant in the city, and we've been looking forward to experiencing it ever since our incredible meal at the original Vetri last summer. The space is warm and inviting, with a great sushi-bar like seating area where you can watch the line chefs work their magic on the fresh pastas and grilled meats that are the mark of the executive chef. No one does Italian like him, and Amis stays true to form.

We started off with a few drinks - I had the CheeChee, a tasty Italian take on an old fashioned with bourbon, marsala & averna; and she went with a glass of prosecco. Drinks were served with complimentary fluffy house baked foccacia. Then came the appetizers - grilled bread with bufala ricotta cheese so good that I'd snort it if I could. The crunchy olive oily bread and and the salty, rich ricotta are made to go with each other like Forest & Jenny. A trio of pecorino cheeses were each better than last one we tried. Paired with different jams and honeys, they danced on the tongue like the godfather was pulling the strings. And lastly a grilled veal tongue with pepper mostarda (the wifey did not try this one) that was borderline decadent - it's rich and tender meat reminiscent of the best bone marrow I've had at the now defunct Ansil.

Grilled bread with Bufala ricotta

Trio of Pecorino cheeses

grilled veal tongue

A caraffe of house red wine for $20 was extremely affordable and surprisingly good. We shared two family style pastas. An egglpant lasagna with incredibly tender sheets of pasta and perfect eggplant was dressed with an incredible heirloom tomato sauce and fresh basil. Not filling like the stuff your grandmom makes, this was light and airy and left room for other indulgences. The star of the party though was the spaghetti with fresh chilis and garlic. Tasting of the best pasta you've ever had, it's tossed in a simple garlic & olive oil sauce (but so much more complex than anything you've had before) and the subtle heat of good chili peppers - were those cubanelles? I could eat this every day and die a very happy man.

eggplant lasagna

spaghetti with chilis and garlic
For dessert we split the Belgian waffle with Nutella, vanilla semifreddo and toasted hazlenuts that made me do one of those little happy dances in my chair. All was right with the world. Amis was a big hit for date night. Now on to Osteria to complete the Vetri trifecta. 

Belfian waffle with vanilla semifreddo and hazlenuts

-T. Kaso

Food Baby Rating -- Gemelli!!

412 South 13th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147

Open Mon 5pm-10pm
Tue-Thur 5pm-11pm
Fri 5pm-12am
Sat 10am-2pm, 5pm-12am
Sun 10-2pm, 5pm-10pm

Thursday, July 7, 2011

1st Annual Vendy Awards

After six years in New York, the Vendy Awards are coming to Philadelphia. This Saturday, July 9th from 3pm to 7pm at the Piazza in NoLibs. General admission tickets are available for $55 a piece online, or $60 day of. Price of admission gets you food from all the finalists, plus beer & wine. Proceeds benefit The Food Trust. This is a great way to sample some of the best that the burgeoning Philly street food scene has to offer. See you there! 
From the official Vendy's website:
On July 9th, at the Piazza at Schmidt’s, we’ll determine the best street food vendor in Philadelphia while raising money for The Food Trust.  Some of the most talented street chefs in all of Philadelphia will  compete for the Vendy Cup, an honor bestowed upon the the vendor who’s food is deemed the most delicious by our team of distinguished judges. These fearless street chefs are nothing without their faithful eaters, and that is where you come in–come hungry, come with friends and come ready to have a delicious time. 
Celebrity Judges including Mayor Nutter, food writer Drew Lazor, Lindsey Lidge (wife of Brad), Brian McManus & Michael Solomonov from Zahav. 

Finalists for the throwdown:
Cucina Zapata
Gigi and Big R Caribbean/American Soul Food
Guapos Tacos
King of Falafel
La Copine
Magic Carpet Foods
Sugar Philly
Sweet Box

Saturday July 9th 3pm-7pm
Piazza at Schmidt's in Northern Liberties


Friday, July 1, 2011


I know, I know - you've been anxiously awaiting the return of FoodBaby. How are you supposed to know where to get a nap inducing lunch? Where will you turn to find your new favorite cart food? Have no fear, I am back on the interweb. After a month layoff from posting, due to a wedding and honeymoon, I return to my electronic stomping ground with a whole new list of places to go and try this summer. 

Places I can't wait to check out:
Farm & Fisherman
Mirabella Meatball Co.
Ortlieb's Jazzhouse (just announced that it's coming back)
Talula's Garden
Pub & Kitchen
Erawan Thai in Chinatown
Sahara Indian
Le Virtu
The Corner

In the meantime though, I thought I'd include some highlights from our trip to Thailand. In every aspect, the food is just incredible there. From street carts in Bangkok, to fresh seafood from the Andaman sea in Ao Nang, we ate like kings - plus it's cheap! Here's some of the best we had. Oh, there was also a little stop off in Paris for a 10 hour layover that allowed us to have lunch at a great cafe overlooking Notre Dame cathedral.  Oh the life...

Pad Kee Mao - Drunken Noodles with shrimp.  Cooked in a wok over a charcoal fire. Incredible. 

Thai Pepsi

Fried rice with huge chunks of crab

Gift from the hotel

Soft shell crabs

More Pad Kee Mao - and the Wifey! 

Singha beers in Patpong night market

Thai style chopped green salad with peanuts, spicy herbs and black sesame-lime vinaigrette

Wok seared tuna sashimi with creamy garlic polenta and roast bell pepper sauce

Garlic roast snow fish fillet on white bean and smoked bacon ragout with artichoke jus

Martini cart at Bed Supperclub

Chocolate lover's soft and chewy brownie with praline ice cream and vanilla whipped cream

Spicy tuna roll 

Salmon roll

some other roll

Crabs (they were huge) in spicy curry 

Green curry we made at cooking school!

Drinks at Rei Lei beach

Lunch appetizer at Rei Lei - the leaves were like little wraps with bits of toasted coconut, dried prawns, onion, and spicy peppers.  Drizzle it with the palm sugar in the middle and roll it up.  Yumm! 

Pad kee mao in Rei Lei

Spring rolls at Rei Lei

Glass noodles with huge prawns

That's a prawn - and it's the size of my head.  

Breakfast of champions  while waiting for the long tail boats

Cheese burger in paradise

Spicy papaya salad with crab

Fried cashews w/ peppers - these were ridiculously addictive

More huge prawns - this time in garlic, lime & wine.  So good.

Veggies, chicken and noodles - can't go wrong

Fried won-tons with shrimp filling

Spicy beef salad

Red curry with chicken

Noodle soup with prawns

Thai condiments - peppers in vinegar, granulated MSG, and ground dried peppers

Crepes in Paris

Croque madame in Paris