Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Twisted Tail

Good dinner at the newly minted Twisted Tail on Headhouse square the other night. Nice list of bottled beers, and a good sampling of drafts from Yards & Stoudt's to Rogue & Left Hand brewery. The drafts are available in normal sized pints, along with 1/2 and full gallons, if you're really feeling thirsty. I had a few Left Hand Sawtooth ESB's that were tasty, but a bit flat.

What you should really be coming here for is live blues music & the bourbon. I have never seen a collection of whiskey and bourbon like the one that The Tail has assembled here. It's as extensive as Village Whiskey and definitely cheaper. They also make a decent old fashioned, which always scores points in my book, but their mint julep is what really defined the experience here. Just enough fresh mint so you know it's there, but not so heavy a hand with it that it masks the good bourbon lying underneath. This is an OLD drink that your grandparents used to drink on Derby Day, and for good reason. It tastes like spring and gets you well on the path to inebriation, quickly. Muddled mint leaves, a tsp. of sugar + bourbon = delicious. Try one - it'll change the way you think about brown liquor.

a proper mint julep
Onto the food!  We had a small dinner - split a salad, then an entree each - so as not to be sporting the proverbial food baby before heading out to meet friends later on. The bibb & bacon salad was great, and large enough for two. Boston lettuce, blue cheese crumbles from Point Reyes creamery in California, ripe red tomatoes and warm, delicious bacon for a salty, creamy, crunchy salad. A great place to start dinner.

We ordered the St. Louis ribs & cedar plank salmon for entrees. The ribs were tender and nearly falling off the bone, with just a hint of sauce brushed on at the end of the cooking to give them a nice crust. Served with "wicked greens" that seemed to be either collard or mustard greens braised southern style with a ham hock and dressed with some good vinegar. The tang of the greens, with the hint of smokey ham, cutting through the sweetness of the ribs offering a perfect foil to the pork. There's good reason these have been paired on the same plate for decades.

The fish was tender but a bit mild. I tend to think salmon should taste like, well, salmon. The best is always fresh, snatched out of the hands of a hungry bear trolling class II rapids in Alaska. This version was likely of the frozen variety, snatched out of the back of a food service truck that was scoping a salmon farm in New Jersey. I did really enjoy the braised broccolini though; the skinny, somewhat bitter cousin to standard broccoli was the most distinct flavor on the plate. All served alongside some pickled kale that was curiously good. Tasting like it had just a light pickling, maybe 2-3 days, it was a clever take on a tough to like vegetable with a bad rep.

My only knock on the menu at Twisted Tail would be the pricing. With appetizers ranging from $5 to $12 [$7 for fries, really?!?] and entrees hovering around $20, it's not cheap eats. With two drinks each, we dropped about $90 for dinner. Not that there's anything wrong that ("they've got a good team over there") but based on the setup of this place as bourbon bar and blues joint it seemed pretty expensive. There's nothing particularly fancy about the menu: ribs, a burger, chicken, salmon, blue fish, shepherd's pie, lamb shoulder and a "cowboy" steak make up the entrees. Southern style cooking involves making the best out of cheap ingredients - necessity breeds innovation. The cooking and presentation here are good, but basic and simple. This is not fine dining, so don't try to charge for it.

Is this a bar that serves food? Or a restaurant that has a bar? I think that question has yet to be answered. While the management figures that out, I would stick to the upstairs bar for bourbon, live blues and the killer old school shuffle board table. Twisted Tail is a great place for drinks and live music on a Saturday night - something Philly seems to be lacking lately. On these points alone, it's worth a trip and even the $5 cover for the band. Hold off on the dinner plans for now though.

Food Baby rating - It's a girl!

The Twisted Tail
509 South 2nd Street
Philadelphia PA 19147
Phone: 215-558-2471

Hours: Mon-Sat: 11am-2am
Sun: 10am-2am

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Groupon - Los Taquitos de Puebla!

Today's Groupon is for the best taco's in Philly!  These are the same ones you get Sunday morning's at the Headhouse Farmers market.  Soooo goood.  $15 for dinner on the weekday, or $14 just for the tacos on a weekend.  From the Groupon site:

  • For $15, you get a taco meal for two (up to a $38 total value), valid Monday–Friday. The taco meal includes:
    • Two tacos (up to a $28 value)
    • One side (up to a $6 value)
    • Two sodas (up to a $4 value)
  • For $14, you get tacos for two (up to a $28 value), valid Saturday and Sunday.

Click here to get the deal.  The year of Groupon eating continues!  Viva Mexico!


Monday, October 17, 2011

Talula's Garden

A little past due with this review, but I'm rarely on time for anything - so why start being prompt now? For the wifey's (still kind of weird saying that) birthday in August we did dinner at the latest and greatest creation from the Steven Starr empire, Talula's Garden. Talula's is actually a collaboration between Starr and Amy Olexy of Django fame (does anyone else remember how great Django was 10 years ago?!?) and the one-year reservation required Talula's Table in Chadds Ford. Yes, you read that right - you need to call one year out to get a seat at the Table for a menu you don't get to choose and pay $100 a head for. It's apparently that good. Hopefully I'll get the chance to let you know someday. Luckily for us, you don't need to make a reservation one year out at the Garden - three or four weeks is advisable though. 

Located in the former space* occupied by Washington Square, on the park of the same name, it is a beautiful restaurant. Half of it is outdoor garden covered by a wisteria covered trellis and living walls growing herbs for the restaurant. The inside half is warm and inviting with just the right amount of shabby chic, "like you're eating at Anthropologie" as a friend put it. 

*Side note here - it occurs to me that I find myself using that phrase "located in the former space" a lot on this blog. Everything is housed in another restaurants former home. I think it makes places that have staying power such as Dmitri's or FriSatSun that much more impressive to have stayed in the same spot for 20 years, they're obviously doing something right. 

the Cook 
Rich Bourbon, Angostura, and Brown Sugar

The specialty drinks menu is impressive. Decently priced cocktails with names like the Gardner, the Artist or the Beekeeper feature simple ingredients of really high quality that shine thru from the first sip. The Cook, their take on the old fashioned with good bourbon, angostura and brown sugar was excellent. One of the best Old Fashioned's I've had in the city to date. I'd come back just for another one of these and a cheese plate. 

Let's talk about those cheese plates. Olexy has a reputation for knowing her cheese better than just about anyone in Philly. There are guys at DiBruno's that can't pair as well as she can. Talula's is very cheese centric, with an incredible selection of pre-determined plates from different regions or featuring a particular style, all of which are meant to be eaten in a specific sequence so that you appreciate the subtle nuances of each. We did the Locavore, with six cheeses all from the local region. WOW. Each cheese was incredible on it's own, but the sum of the whole was even more amazing. I think my favorite was the Birchrun Hills "Fat Cat". A rich and creamy, aged cow's milk, it melted on your palette and lingered for what seemed like hours. If you come here and don't get a cheese plate, you should be escorted directly to Applebees. 

The Locavore - Six cheeses from the region
From bottom to top: 
Bailey’s Dairy Ricotta (Cow, PA)
Pipedreams Fromage Ash Log (Goat, PA)
Birchrun Hills Creamery “Fat Cat” (Cow, PA)
Calkins Creamery “Cowtipper” (Cow, PA)
Firefly Farm “Cabra la Mancha” (Goat, MD)
Sprout Creek Farm “Eden” (Cow, NY)

Tempura fried squash blossoms stuffed with goat cheese.  Holy schneikes. 

As a complimentary starter from the kitchen, they brought us a plate of squash blossoms, stuffed with goat cheese and then lightly tempura battered and fried, with a side of lavender honey for drizzling. This is one of the best things I've eaten all year, at any restaurant. Encompassing everything that is great about summer, the delicate squash blossom encasing amazing goat cheese and the lightest of deep fries. Absolutely incredible. They could have stopped there and I would have been happy (but not very full). 

Crudo of Rhode Island Fluke, Chilled Melons, Hot Pepper, and Smoked Sea Salt  

The rest of the meal consisted of one amazing dish after another. A crudo (basically the European version of sashimi) of fluke (it's a fish) with chilled balls of melon, some hot peppers and smoked sea salt hit just about every one your taste buds. The rich and tasty fish enhanced by the smoked salt, the peppers and melon giving a really unique hot/cold contrast in the same bite. Kind of like jalapeno ice cream. Nice.

Pan Sauté of Veal Sweetbreads
I rarely pass up the chance for sweetbreads (that's a thymus glad if you're curious - and yes it is delicious), and these were some of the best I've had, rivaling Modo Mio. A great crisp saute revealing unimaginable tender insides. Would absolutely get this again. 

Marinated Pacific Halibut, Oxtail Stuffed Artichokes, Sea Beans, Dill, and Saffron
For mains we both went for seafood, while our dining companions stuck to the land. I had a great piece of halibut served alongside artichokes stuffed with braised oxtail meat. The fish was cooked perfectly - flaky and tender - and topped with some saffron foam (didn't really taste the saffron though). Generally, I discount anything with "foam" in it. Foam is for parties on spring break, not for topping on food. The artichoke with oxtail was great though. The tender meat and soft, salty artichoke make such a good pair. I think it was better than the fish, and actually overpowers it a bit. I'd be happy ordering these on their own, sans halibut.

Fricassee of Chicken, Bulgar Wheat Risotto, Hazelnuts, Heirloom Carrots, and King Trumpets

When's the last time you saw chicken fricassee on a menu? When's the last time you even had fricassee? Do you even know what fricassee is? My mom actually used to make this all the time, and it's one of my favorite things she cooks. Basically browning pieces of chicken in a dutch oven with some butter or olive oil, then adding in liquid to make kind of a stew and cook until the meat is nearly falling off the bone. The Talula's version has super juicy pieces of free range chicken, local heirloom carrots and big meaty trumpet mushrooms. I only got to try a small piece, but it's clear why this is a staple of the menu. Chicken has to be done in a very special way to be worthy of ordering at a restaurant. This fits the bill.

Caramelized Maine Sea Scallops, Kohlrabi Puree & Watercress

Seared Maine scallops, each the size of a yo-yo, had a great char on the outside and perfectly tender inside. Scallops are easy to overcook, but when done right they can be incredible. These were of the latter style. Served over a puree of kohlrabi (in the cabbage family) and some watercress, this was one of the top dishes in an overall stellar meal. Probably the best new restaurant in Philly this year. Go there, now. And don't forget the cheese plate.


Food Baby Rating: Twins!

210 W. Washington Square
Philadelphia, PA 19106
215 592 7787
Sunday - Thursday: 5pm - 10pm
Friday - Saturday: 5pm - 11pm

Friday, October 7, 2011

Sunday Meze at Kanella

One of our favorite new traditions is Sunday Supper Club. Basically an excuse to eat ridiculous amounts of food and drink a little too much wine on Sunday nights, it's a rotating group of fellow foodies that love a great meal on the cheap. Lot's of restaurants around the city are offering prix fixe menus on Sunday evenings for a flat fee. Modo Mio has been doing this since they opened, but a few others have joined the team. With a down economy hurting restaurant receipts, it's a great way to get diners in the door on an off night.  

Sunday Supper club
After two weeks away in Greece being inspired by the local traditions and dishes, chef Konstantinos has reopened Kanella and introduced the Sunday Meze meal.  For $35 a person (or $30 vegetarian) they will bring dish after dish of Greek & Cypriot specialties. Add in the fact that they are BYO and you have one of the most lavish meals imaginable for a very reasonable price. We are big fans of Kanella anyway, but the Meze meal features almost nothing on the normal menu. Such a great way to try something new and challenge your foodie mettle. Be prepared for some offal dishes that highlight the chef's passion to use every bit of the animal. Sauteed duck hearts & roasted tripe were two of the more conversational dishes to come out of the kitchen. 

Don't be too put off by the chance of getting some inner organs on the table though. There are plenty of excellent dishes to satisfy even the most squeamish eaters. The lamb meatballs were my personal favorite of the night. The wild boar sausage was also a bit hit, along with the monk fish in tomato sauce. Always pushing the L&I boundaries, Konstantinos sets up his own spit roast on the sidewalk for the Mezze meal, and the roasted pork that came off said spit was incredible. Juicy, tender, and tasting like slices of piggy heaven; I'm thinking of investing in my own such contraption to waft those smells all over northern liberties. I'd come back just for this dish. 

The meal is served almost tapas style, with lots of little plates for everyone to share.  Want more falafel or another helping of that cuddle fish? Just ask! The servers were super nice about bringing out more if someone didn't get a taste. With too many dishes to review each one, I thought it just easier to include pics of each. You should get yourself there some Sunday in the very near future. Opah!

wild boar sausage
Flat bread with mushrooms

puff pastry stuffed w/ cheese
egg salad

spit roasted pork
the sidewalk spit in action

greek salad
lamb meatballs w/ tzatziki sauce...yumm

roasted eggplant

zucchini w/ ratatouille

tripe with barley
monk fish with tomatoes 

seared duck hearts

TEL: 215.922.1773