Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Pagoda Noodle Cafe

Dinner and a movie on a Wednesday night! I am such a good husband. Granted, dinner consisted of cheap dumplings and noodles and we had free passes for a screening of Haywire, but it's the thought that counts. Tucked away under a parking garage off second street in old city and right next door to the Ritz East theater is the Pagoda Noodle Cafe. Offering movie goers a cup of hot tea and a taste of dumplings, noodles and other southeast Asian dishes before a film, it's the perfect spot for a quick meal before the show. 

The menu covers a fairly broad range of food. Dumplings and buns, noodles and stir fry, Chinese, Thai & Vietnamese all make appearances. This is not the restaurant for that one amazing dish or THE place for pho. It's the restaurant for a mish mosh of familiar flavors, cheap prices, and a bowl of warm noodles and broth on a cold January night.

Steamed juicy buns - Shanghai style $8
Loyal readers will know my affinity for soup dumplings. Those perfectly wrapped little parcels, encasing a piping hot portion of pork broth just waiting to see the light of day and then the bottom of my stomach. Pagoda's version also had a little ground pork meatball inside along with the broth. What a thoughtful surprise! They are not the best I've had in the city - that distinction goes to Sakura Mandarin - but these were certainly not bad. In fact, I don't know that I've met a soup dumpling I didn't like. The trick with these is to use your chop stick to poke a little hole in the side, drain the broth into your spoon, allow to cool from its near molten state, and then slurp that back. The dumpling comes next, soaked thru from the inside out with all that pork goodness. Mmmm. For a dollar a piece, you can't beat these for value. 

pat tai  w chicken- $10
The wifey chose the Pat Tai (pad thai noodles) for dinner. They are listed on the menu as being hot and spicy. These were anything but. They tasted just like regular pad thai noodles, which is perfectly fine with me. Not sure why they get the chili pepper flag on the menu. No earth shattering revolution in the preparation - nicely flavored rice noodles, chunks of chicken and tofu, and enough left over for lunch the next day (they always taste better the next day). 

roasted pork and shrimp dumpling noodle soup $7.50
I picked what is becoming my usual at Pagoda Cafe - the roast pork and shrimp dumpling noodle soup. If it sounds like a lot to put into soup, it is. Thick slices of pork, roasted in the oven, cut on the bias, and ringed with an almost pink seasoned outer edge. For the life of me I have no idea what they're using on that pork. I do know that it's tasty though. The shrimp dumplings are full pieces of medium sized shrimp, wrapped in a won-ton skin and quickly steamed. They may even be cooked thru just from the steaming hot broth. Bits of scallion and onion float around and huge pile of rice noodles is the buried treasure at the bottom of the bowl. This is ridiculously substantial for $7.50. 

Pagoda Noodle Cafe is not fine dining. It is not an authentic taste Shanghai, Bangkok or Beijing. It IS a very affordable meal in an otherwise expensive neighborhood.  It IS super convenient for a quick meal before a move at the Ritz. It IS one of our favorite rituals in the gloomy winter months. Dinner and a movie, on a Wednesday! 


Food Baby Rating: Only Child 

Pagoda Noodle Cafe
125 Samson Walkway (next to the Ritz East)
Philadelphia, PA 19106

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Bistrot La Minette

The monthly gathering of our Sunday Supper Club in January met at Bistro La Minette for their Sunday prix fixe dinner. $29 gets you a four course meal that would cost nearly twice that on a normal night. This is such a great deal for a restaurant of this caliber. If you bring a sizable group, you can also get seated in the private room just off the main dining area, lending a really intimate family feel to the evening. 

I never knew how much I loved, and how little I knew about, French cuisine until coming to Bistro La Minette a few years ago. At first look a French menu is intimidating - fancy preparations, lots of descriptions in French, and the occasional escargot (snail) on the menu. Bistro La Minette makes all this accessible to us non-Francophiles by offering less of the fine dining dishes and more bistro items like steak frites, cassoulet and coq-au-vin. This is what the masses eat and can afford in France. Simple preparations of good ingredients. 

We've eaten here a few times, once even for valentine's day, and it's always been great. This meal was one of the best meals we've had. Mainly because of such a good group of friends to share it with, the attentive and knowledgeable servers, and the range of foods that you get to try at a dinner like this. 

table for 15 please?
Pre-appetizers. Little bowls of fresh baked, still warm bread with crocks of salted butter stop the belly from rumbling too loudly for the anticipated meal to come. Pichets de Vin of red & white wine for $20 a piece kept everyone's glasses full. We had the entire side dining room to ourselves, which was probably a good thing for the rest of the dinner patrons after a few pitchets of wine. These pichets are a great deal - their house wine is nothing to snub your nose at and it's definitely more fun drinking it from a pitcher. 

Potage Parmentier - winter root vegetable soup; roasted chestnuts, sauteed chantrelle mushrooms

The soup course was a "potage parmentier" which is a puree of winter vegetables with some roasted chestnuts and sauteed chantrelle mushrooms floating on top. The menu mentions a drizzle of black truffle oil, but I didn't taste it. Didn't matter, the soup was still great even without it. The earthy chantrelles were perfect contrasting with the slightly sweet, creamy soup. Maybe some parsnips pureed in there?  Hard to tell exactly, but there was definitely a little bite underneath that cream base. Would love to try that truffle oil in there next time. 

Escargots de Bourgogne - Burgandy snails, herbed butter, crouton
A few or the more squeamish types got a salad for their appetizer, while the adventurous eaters at the table opted for the Escargots de Bourgogne that were offered on the prix fixe menu. Cleverly served in tiny little granite ramekins, one for each snail, with some rich herbed butter and an itsy bitsy crouton on top. If you can get over the texture, escargots are an intense burst of flavor in a very small package. Tasting earthy, dark, and like a concentrated portobello mushroom, they are such a quintessential French menu item. The little crunch of the crouton and the luscious butter sauce make these such a treat. This is why you go out to eat. No one is making these at home. 

Sardines Grillees - fresh filleted and grilled sardines, roasted red peppers, lemon vinaigrette
I've recently fallen in love with sardines. Not the oily, fishy tasting ones we usually think of that have been on the shelf at the Acme for 3 years. I'm talking about fresh from the ocean and either grilled or quickly deep fried. We had fantastic ones at a tapas bar in Sevilla - soooo good with a cold cervesa. Bistro La Minette offers theirs as a side dish - filleted and deboned (heads off), grilled, served with some roasted and peeled red peppers and a simple, bright lemon vinaigrette. Absolutely great. The slightly salty, oily fish grills up so nicely with a perfectly charred skin. They are crunchy and rich all at the same time. It's a shame they get such a bad rap. Give these a shot and see if you're not a convert. 

Pave de Saumon au Raifort - pan seared salmon, lentils cooked with onions & bacon, brussels spouts,  creme fraiche horseradish
The main course was salmon, pan seared with a creme fraiche and horseradish sauce (who knew it went so well with salmon?) on top of a bed of lentils that were cooked with bacon & onions and a couple brussels sprouts that had clearly seen some pork fat and/or butter. I don't necessarily associate salmon with French cuisine, but they have to eat something other than duck and beef right? This piece was seared nicely, not drying out the fish, and the horseradish sauce was perfect with it. Definitely have never seen it served over salmon but this was a great pairing - would love to try this one at home sometime. Even the lentils were good - not too starchy and with that glaze of bacon fat and chunks of onion, it was great with the fish. 

Gateau l’Opéra Multi-layered almond sponge cake, chocolate ganache, coffee butter cream, crème Chantilly  8

Dessert was prototypical French. The Gateau l' Opera - an almond sponge cake with alternating layers of chocolate ganache and coffee butter cream. This is the kind of thing that has made Paula Dean the spokeswoman for diabetes medication. So light yet so decadent. On the side was a scoop of the best vanilla ice cream I've ever tasted. The indulgently rich flavors of very fresh vanilla beans and high fat ice cream. Just a taste is all you get, but that is all you need. This is roll your eyes in the back of your head good. 

empty glasses and full bellies...

The weekly menu for the prix fixe is posted on the Friends of Bistro La Minette Facebook page which can be found here. It's usually up by Saturday afternoon  for the Sunday evening dinner. Doesn't give you much time to plan, but that's not really what it's about. This is about putting your trust in the chef, opening your mind and palette to some tastes and foods you've possibly never tried, and enjoying a meal with friends & family. Bon appétit! 


Food Baby Rating - Twins! 

Bistro La Minette
623 South 6th Street (at Bainbridge)
Philadelphia, PA

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Royal Thai Orchid

Lunch in the suburban sprawl that is the Malvern/West Chester/Paoli string of endless office parks and strip malls. Fast food abounds out here, with some nicer places tucked away along Lancaster Ave and in downtown West Chester. Over the past few years of working in the 'burbs I've managed to find a few gems that offer more than just french fries and burgers. For sushi there is Kooma on Gay Street in West Chester, decent Pho at the Green Parrot in Exton, and very good falafel at Cedars in Malvern.

My latest find is right next to the aforementioned Cedars restaurant, in a strip mall of course, called the Royal Thai Orchid and offering a very authentic taste of Thailand. Service is quick and somewhat friendly, and their $9 lunch special is a deal for food this good.

Thai dumplings
An appetizer of Thai dumplings was excellent.  Pan fried and filled with ground pork, bamboo shoots & trumpet mushrooms. They were crispy and perfectly golden brown. Served with a savory soy & sesame sauce for dipping, you could clearly taste the earthiness of the mushrooms and the sweetness of the pork, with some nice texture added by the bamboo shoots. No fillers, no soggy dumplings. These are the real deal. I will order these every time we come back. 

Drunken noodles / Pad Kee Mao
The star of the show for me though was the Drunken Noodles. If you read my post on Thailand in July you'll know that I am bordering on obsession with this dish, called Pad Kee Mao in Thai. Broad rice noodles, hunks of chicken or pork, some sauteed greens (usually bok choy), tomatoes, scallions, sauteed quickly with a spicy sauce, it is the quintessential taste of Thailand for me. And Royal Thai Orchid's version hit a homerun with theirs. The noodles had just the right texture - not soggy or limp, a little bite to them - tender chicken, hints of cilantro and fresh lime and just the right amount of heat. I could eat this for lunch every day and never get tired of it. 

I'm always happy to discover some great Thai food. I long for those unique tastes and bright flavors, especially in the middle of winter. What better way to fill your belly and warm your soul?  Finding some this good just a 10 minute drive from the office makes working in the burbs bearable. 


Food Baby Rating: It's a Boy! 

Royal Thai Orchid
309 Lancaster Ave
MalvernPA 19355
(610) 240-9930
Lunch Monday thru Friday 11:30-2pm
Dinner 5-9:30

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Farmers Cabinet

Just drinks. No food this visit. This was just a quick stop in for a drink after some shopping on the other side of Broad street. Although after reading some other reviews on Farmers Cabinet, not sure I really want to spend money on a meal here. Lauded for it's cocktails and beer list though, the Cabinet has brought prohibition style drinking to an otherwise bleak section of Walnut street. 

Late afternoon on a Saturday and we were the only ones in the place, which was fun getting the servers full attention and watching the bartender slowly chip away at a huge block of ice produced specially for the bar. It apparently is denser than store bought or ice machine ice, with less oxygen dissolved in it. The idea is that it melts slower and therefore doesn't water down your drink as much. Science! 

We also got a seat at one of the full size wine barrels at the front - perfect for people-watching on a nice day. Farmers Cabinet is known for their extensive beer list, boasting the "most diverse collection of European craft beer in Philly". A great alternative to Monk's when people are spilling out the door there for a Leffe and frites. The cocktails list consists of Foundations, Original Creations, Punches and Beer Inspired. This all sounds eerily similar to the menu at Franklin Mortgage. 

The Punches are old school concoctions based on recipes dating back to the 1800's - such as the Powder Horn with dark rum, cinnamon tea, fresh lime, maple syrup & nutmg.  No jungle juice here kids. A rotating list of themed drinks, the Original Creations are currently inspired by different Shakespeare quotes. 

Beer Inspired drinks do not contain any actual beer, but are supposed to reflect the flavor profile of a particular style of brew. The Cockaigne is their riff on a belgian sour lambic consisting of cognac, strawberries, cider vinegar, orange bitters sugar and sparkling wine. I'm not sure how well these are selling, but at least it's novel. 

The Foundations are just that, the most basic recipes that all variations of drinks are based on. It's a clever concept that lets you choose from Collins, Sour, Fizz, Cocktail, Daisy, Toddy or Crusta. Each is a simple blend of good ingredients like citrus, soda, or housemade bitters along with the booze of your choice. 

I chose my old standby - the Cocktail. Essentially a basic Old Fashioned with rye whiskey, sugar, angostura bitters, orange and lemon twist served on the rock. No, I didn't forget an "s" on that. The drink is served with a baseball size orb of ice bobbing around in your whiskey. Again, the thought is that since there is less surface area than traditional cubed ice, it melts slower and doesn't dilute the spirits. That definitely seems to be the case, as barely any of the ice ball melted and my glass was kept frosty the whole time. However, the ice takes up so much room that there isn't much room left for the whiskey! For $10, I want a a little more than a shot and some bitters. The bit I did get to drink was very good. One of the better Old Fashioned's in the city at least. 

There's few other places in the city that can rival The Farmers Cabinet for their beer list and quality of cocktails. Value does not seem to be high on their priority list though. If you're trying to look cool and impress a first date, this would be a primo spot. Anybody who is anybody in out little metropolis is drinking here. If you're looking to get your hangover on and put away some serious booze without dropping Franklins though, this is not your port of call. 


The Farmers Cabinet
1123 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 
Open Daily 11:30 - 2am
Food served until midnight (1am on Fridays & Saturdays)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Shame Burger!

The mighty Shame Burger at the Wishing Well Tavern. Ten ounces of beef, two slices of american cheese, a slab of house made scrapple, a fried egg, a buttered and grilled brioche roll - it's nothing less than patriotism on a plate. If you plan on waving the red white and blue and slapping communism in the face by downing this beast of a burger you better wear your eatin' pants. And don't plan on doing much else for the rest of the day. 

It's such an overload of protein that you might trick your body into thinking it's training for a 12 rounder with Apollo Creed. And while I wouldn't enter this into our ongoing burger challenge, it certainly deserves street cred just for originality and sheer gluttony. The burger patty was good, not great. Seared nicely, but cooked just shy of well done when I had asked for medium. The housemade scrapple tasted like it was straight from Lancaster County with good spicing and the perfect texture. Would loved for it to have been fried crispier though, to give some contrast the beef. It kind of all mushes together when you bite through it. Basically the same story with the fried egg too - the yolk should be left runny, to mix in with the burger & scrapple for that extra layer of indulgence. 

The best thing on the plate were the onion rings. One inch thick rings of perfectly fried onion, soft and tender inside and divinely crispy and golden brown on the outside. The onion inside is so tender, in fact, that when you bite in you can taste a little caramelization and it doesn't pull out the whole ring from within the batter. Don't you just hate when that happens? These rivaled, if not bested, the rings at PYT. They are that good.

beef +cheese + scrapple + egg + bun = SHAME
Today was not the day for the Shame Burger Challenge. And that day might never come. To win the challenge, you need to down two double Shame Burgers - thats four patties, four pieces of scrapple, 8 slices of cheese, four fried eggs, two buns, two orders of fries and two beers - in under 45 minutes. Thirteen people have done it, with the current record being just under 5 minutes - good god. Although getting my picture on the wall would be pretty sweet, it's not worth the damage this would do to my insides. Even I draw the line somewhere. I'm content to gaze at that Wall of Shame with a little envy, pay regular price for my single Shame Burger and not start planning my triple bypass surgery. 

The Shame Burger was close to being great. Give it a try and let me know what you think. And if you can actually finish it. 

Food Baby Rating - Octomom!


The Wishing Well
767 South 9th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 238-6555

Sunday, January 8, 2012

St. John

A week in beautiful St. John can cure just about any hangup that might be afflicting you. Just a 4 hour flight from Philadelphia, stepping off the plane onto an old school set of boarding stairs you are instantly transported to a slower pace of life, swaying palm trees and the warm tropical air of the Caribbean. Located just to the east of St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, St. John is the quieter, cleaner and more relaxed version of it's close counterpart. There are much better beaches and way fewer people here. There's no airport and no cruise ship dock here so everything comes over on the ferry. 

Three quarters of the island is a national park (donated by John Rockefeller) so building is very restricted and wildlife abounds. We saw wild donkeys, deer, iguanas and birds aplenty. It's also more expensive on St. John, so most locals live on St. Thomas and commute across on the ferry each day if they work here. All this remoteness lends such a cool, sleepy vibe to the island. No one is in a hurry. For anything. What a perfect place to escape the frigid northeast for a week. 

We stayed with friends at a house overlooking Cinnamon Bay. The house was beautiful and afforded us the opportunity to drive to one of the many stunning beaches nearby, hike the various trails criss-crossing the island, or just lounge in the hot tub or by the pool with a good book. We also got to eat out quite a bit and sample the flavors of the local restaurants. We ate at some pretty fancy places for dinner, but also some great dive joints for lunch and of course a roadside chicken shack was not going to be passed by. Eating in St. John is not cheap. Be prepared for some sticker shock when you get the menu. Just remember that you're on vacation in one of the most beautiful places in the world, and you can always make more money. At least the drinks are cheap! Well, mostly. 

Carib - the beer of the carribean 
The standard of beer in the Virgin Islands, Carib is brewed in Trinidad and close in taste to a Corona but just a little sweeter - sugar is actually listed as one of the ingredients on the label. You don't see it too often at beer distributors up here, but it's great on a hot summer day if you can score a case. We drank quite a few of these, along with Presidente & a few Coronas to appease the Jimmy Buffet gods. 

The other standard of drinking in the Caribbean is rum. Lots of it. Mostly in mixed drinks like pina coladas and daquiris, but also on the rocks if it's a good one just like you would with scotch or bourbon. The rums you normally see in the states are pretty awful - captain morgan and bacardi are mass produced and taste like it. Cruzan was the most common at the bars and bodega liquor stores. It's not exactly small batch distilling, but the flavor profile is so much more complex than those other ones. 

Bars in the Virgin Islands also make a slew of unique blended drinks with that Cruzan rum. Ever had a Painkiller? How about a Bushwacker? No? Perhaps a Lime-n-d-Coconut?  Or a BBC? I don't know why these never caught on like the pina colada, but they are worth a shot making at home if you've got a good blender (read: VitaMix) or just get on a plane and try one at Woody's in Cruz bay. Don't mind the smell of the place - get a table outside and order your drinks thru the window, it's worth it.

Lunch at Ship Wreck Landing:
After a morning of hiking to the petroglyphs and swimming at Lamshur bay beach we trucked around the island to Ship Wreck Landing, a little bay with a no-name restaurant and a shop or two next door. That no-name restaurant serves some great food. Most everyone got grilled fish sandwiches. Lot's of mahi, some jerked tuna and even grouper with choice of fries or home made slaw. The service was a little slow, but she kept the drinks coming, so no complaints. 

there's no real sign for this place....or doors
The only side outside the place just says "Ship Wreck Landing". Guess you don't really need a name for the restaurant when it's the only one there. It's completely open air, with no doors or windows to block the perfect breeze off the ocean.

a lemongrass mojito - that's the lemon grass stalk over the wife's face
This place had good pain killers, but their lime-n-d-coconut's were the best we had all week. No bottled lime juice here. They blended a whole lime wedge into each drink, so you got tiny green bits of lime floating thru your drink. The lemongrass mojito was the special for the day, substituting a fresh lemongrass stalk for some of the mint. It wasn't as strong tasting as you'd think, just a subtle hint of the flavor in the background. Mixed with some good rum, these could easily sneak up on you.

Coconut battered shrimp
Appetizers for the table - conch fritters & coconut battered shrimp. The fritters were ok. Too much filler and not enough conch made them more of a hush puppie than a real fritter. The shrimp were terrific though. Huge butterflied pieces, battered in a very freshly shredded coconut mix and fried golden brown. Served with a lemon wedge and house made cocktail sauce these were tropical perfection. Mmmm...I can close my eyes and still taste them.

Blackened Mahi-Mahi sandwich
Both our fish sandwiches were good. Mahi-mahi is a staple of the island diet, as you'll see throughout the rest of this post. Simply seasoned with blackening spice, grilled, and served on a very soft roll with lettuce tomato and onion, it's such a quintessential Caribbean lunch. The "jerked" tuna sandwich was done similar to the mahi, but with the addition of their jerk sauce right before plating. Now the jerk sauce was good, but to really be considered jerk, doesn't it need to be marinated and grilled in that sauce from the start? I thought they were phoning it in on this. I was also disappointed in the tomatoes. More pink than red, they reminded me of the hot house ones we get in winter back home. I was expecting the deep red type you get in the middle of a hot Jersey summer. The house made cole slaw was great though. Cabbage seems to be on a lot of menus here. I assume because it's cheap and easy to grow. This had crisp strips of cabbage & carrots, and just enough mayo. Yumm.

Grilled jerked tuna with homemade coleslaw

Key Lime Pie
The desserts didn't last long enough for me to get good pictures. I suppose that's a compliment. The key lime pie was best, with a soft graham cracker crust and a tangy, rich filling. The cheese cake had a similar texture but without the lime tang and plus a chocolate ganache topping. 

Cheese cake with chocolate 

Sugar Mill - Caneel Bay Resort:

Caneel Bay resort is one of the swankiest places in the Caribbean. Private cottages nestled in the palm trees along a perfect white sand beach attract celebrities and the very well to do. The rest of us can still use the beaches ($20 for parking though, unless you buy something at the resort) and can eat at one of the many restaurants on the grounds. We had lunch at the cafe here on our first day, and I had a killer veggie burger. Their rum drinks were also tasty and very strong. If you're paying $60 for lunch, at least you get your money's worth. 

We went to the Sugar Mill restaurant for dinner on the third or fourth night there (we were on island time by that point, days blur together). The dining room is situated on the second floor of - you guessed it - the remnants of an old sugar refinery from the 1700's. It's a huge round structure, slightly sloping towards the ocean and open on all sides to let the breezes and mosquitoes in. Wear bug spray. 

grilled shrimp over crisp red cabbage
Dinner was great. Lot's of fish and other seafood dishes. They had steaks on the menu, lamb chops and some other land lubbers, but it only seem right to eat what came out of the ocean down here. An appetizer of fresh large shrimp, grilled and served over bright red cabbage was delicious. The best dish of the night was the tuna ceviche. Marinated in citrus and coconut milk, with hunks of fresh avocado mixed in, it was savory and bright and rich all at the same time. 

tuna ceviche with coconut and avocado
seared scallops
The entrees were decent, but not as good as the appetizers. Seared scallops were good, but not particularly memorable. The grilled mahi was impressive just for it's size. But it was served with a funny pink sauce and a gaggle of little sea scallops that tasted like that had been froze shortly before. 

grilled mahi-mahi with sea scallops

One of the highlights of the entrees was the tuna "roll" with a beautifully seared piece of tuna wrapped in nori and served over some grilled squash. Tuna was excellent, and the presentation was so creative.

lightly seared tuna "rolls"

Waterfront Bistro - Cruz Bay: 

Wharfside Village
Cruz Bay, St. John

Our final dinner in St. John, on an absolutely perfect evening at Waterfront Bistro in Cruz Bay. A table right next to the beach, with the sun setting across the Caribbean. This is one of the more expensive restaurants on the island, but for good reason. The food was great, and the views are worth the upcharge.

crab, roasted poblano & ricotta crepes
After an extremely overindulgent week, we decided to split an appetizer that sounded too good to pass up. Crab, roasted poblano & ricotta crepes were outstanding. The slightly spicy, smokey pepper goes so well with the luscious crab and rich ricotta. Quickly cooked, super thin crepes gave way to the side of a fork. One of the best things we ate all week.

seared scallops with coconut shrimp risotto
More scallops and mahi for entrees. Seems repetitive, but they are both so good down here that it's hard to pass them up. These were the best scallops I had in St. John and they were served over a bed of coconut shrimp risotto, which only made the dish better. That sounds like a strange mix up, but the results were surprisingly good. The rich coconut milk coated the starchy risotto, and hunks of tender shrimp tasted like they were poached just from the heat of the risotto. Not something that would probably translate well to a restaurant in the city, but works so well here. The mahi at Waterfront Bistro was good, mostly because of the citrus herb vinaigrette that it was dressed with. The arugula and orange slice offered a nice peppery and sweet counterpoint to the fish.

mahi mahi served over crab smashed potatoes with citrus segments, arugula and  citrus herb vinaigrette

Probably the most interesting dish of the night, and the week, was the tamarind glazed tofu. They cut concentric rings out of the tofu block, glaze it in tamarind and then fry it till crispy. Some sauteed haricot vert & rich curry quinoa made this a vegetarian dish that could satisfy even Food Baby. I might be giving the tamarind glaze trick a try on some tofu at home. I'll be sure to post the results.

tamarind glazed tofu with haricot vert & curry quinoa

Margarita Phils:
Located just off the main road in Cruz Bay, Margarita Phils apparently does a decent lunch, but their claim to fame is the enormous margaritas. $15 for the large, it will definitely get you in the tropical mood. I was disappointed when they pulled out the gallon jug of pre-mixed margarita though. They tasted of sour mix and artificial sweetener - much like the ones you get on south street or old city meat market bars. I was hoping for fresh squeezed lime juice, cointreau, good tequila. It was not my night though. The margaritas did, however, have ample tequila in them and set up the rest of a very memorable and forgettable night in town.
$15 for pre-mixed uber sour margaritas. At least they get you tipsy.

Street vendor chicken:
I do love me some street food. This is probably the best part of traveling to a non first-world country. Cheap eats that are made with heart and soul, and speak to the real culture of the place. The islands are filled with great chicken and fried fish stands where locals line up and wait very patiently for their lunch. We found a good one right by the ferry dock serving bar-b-q chicken. There wasn't really a name outside, but if you're there you can't miss it. 

BYO! - A sixer of Carib from the local store
One of the beauties of St. John is the complete lack of open container laws, or at least the lack of enforcement. You can buy beers in one store, then wander the streets and into another bar down the block. We did just this with a six pack of Carib to go with our lunch. Only five of the beers made it though, as one was offered up to a local for knowledge on where to get the best chicken in town. Well worth the investment.

View of "downtown" Cruz bay
Cruz Bay is not even close to a city. There's not a single stop light - just one roundabout that doesn't see much traffic. The streets are very pedestrian friendly with cars rarely making it above 15 miles an hour. A great place to spend a Saturday afternoon strolling from shop to shop, bar to bar, in the warm Caribbean sun. 

The bar-b-q chicken we got was great. Slow grilled over a low flame for what must have been all morning, it was near falling off the bone. Right before serving they slather it in a sweet bar-b-q sauce that gets all over you while you eat. Bring a Tide-to-Go stick if you stop here, it gets messy. And don't even try using the silverware, this is a hands meal all the way. The corn I could have done without, but the slaw was good (like most places on St. John). Add a couple Carib's and some new friends made while waiting and what you've got is a great lunch. 

bar-b-q chicken with corn on the cob and slaw

An absolutely great vacation in St. John. Lots of great food, fantastic beaches and some good friends. Only wish it could have lasted longer.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Burger Challenge Round 4 - Good Dog

I was excited for this one. Good Dog bar has held claim to my favorite burger in the city/planet for some time now. A thick patty, stuffed with roquefort cheese on soft brioche bun, a side of crispy sweet potato fries and a cold beer? Yes, sir. That is some seriously good eatin. And Good Dog has been doing this consistently for years now. Any challenger for the burger crown is going to have to go through here. 

Arcadia London Porter.
Good Dog has always been a favorite of ours. It couldn't be more centrally located in the city - literally in the middle of everything. It's always an easy place to meet up with friends for happy hour. The first of three floors is a dark and cozy bar area, with booths lining the opposite wall. There's usually a Phillies or Flyers game on, and always good, seasonal beers on tap. I have a particularly good memory of watching game 7 of the Flyers dramatic win over the Bruins in the eastern conference semifinals in 2010 in the front corner booth. There should probably be a plaque there to mark the occasion.

Tonight I was drinking the Arcadia London Porter - a great ale from this Michigan based brewery. An almost smokey beer with hints of coffee and little bitter at the finish. This one goes great with red meat. Why does it seem like every brewery in this unemployment leading state is stellar? I guess if you live in Michigan you need something to be happy about.

The second floor has another, smaller bar and additional seating. It's a good spillover spot from the normally crowded first floor. I've never been able to figure out why they have carpet up there though. Carpet in bars is gross. Rip it out and put some hardwood or tile down. Sheesh. The third floor has the same grody carpet, plus a billiards table but minus a bar. So, if you want to shoot pool you have to run downstairs every time you want a beer. I'm willing to overlook all this for the good beers on tap and that burger. Oh man, that thing is good.

the Burger with mixed yukon & sweet potato fries
The famous Good Dog burger is a perfectly cooked 1/2 lb. slab of tasty ground beef, and stuffed inside is a deliciously rich hunk of roquefort cheese that oozes out when you bite into the burger. Roquefort is a French cheese that is in the blue family. Strong tasting with lines of green mold running all through it.
some good looking roquefort
The pungent tangy cheese is such a great contrast to the slightly sweet beef, each heightening the flavor of the other. I think it helps if you like roquefort to begin with, but even if you're not a huge fan, you'll still love this burger. The allowable additions are applewood smoked bacon, gourmet cheese or caramelized onions. They don't mess with frilly toppings to hide a sub-par burger. Get the bacon & onions, you'll thank me. Skip the cheese on top, since the roquefort inside is more than enough.

sauteed onions and crispy bacon make this even more awesome
The burger is just as good as I remember it. One of the best in the city. The fries were tasty too, but they were cut thicker than in the past. I was really fond of the shoestring fries they used to have - the current version are a little soggy and could maybe use a hotter fry temperature. The service is not overly friendly, but they are attentive and got all the orders prepared correctly and quickly. Simply put, Good Dog is one of the best bars in the city with that burger upping the ante to any possible competitors. They do have a full menu of other offerings, but I have yet to get past the burger section.  Why bother?? 


Food Baby rating - Twins!! 

Good Dog Bar
224 S. 15th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102