Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Nan Zhou

Noodles! Finally the legendary hand drawn noodles from Nan Zhou in Chinatown. I've heard so much about this place that it's become something of an obsession of mine. I've been scouring the google calendar for a chance to stop in for the last few weeks. A hung-over Saturday morning seemed an appropriate opportunity - what better cure for a headache and bloodshot eyes then a bowl of noodle soup and some dumplings? 

pork dumplings

Nan Zhou lives up to all the hype. The food was spectacular - some of the best Asian I've had in Philly. Impossibly tender dumplings, made fresh that day without frozen won-ton skins, filled with a lusciously sweet and savory pork mix were irresistible. 

sliced beef noodle soup

The sliced beef noodle soup was exactly what I needed to calm a rumbling belly and sooth a pounding head. They should sell this at CVS. Similar to really good Pho, the rich beef broth warms your inner Asian soul, with a mound of delicious shaved noodles that are nearly impossible to eat without splashing some soup around. Float some super thin beef slices and a healthy portion of cilantro on top and you've got a bowl of heaven for $5.75. 

cold sesame noodles
Thanks to Han Dynasty, my love of sesame noodles has reached Single White Female stalker proportions. "I just want to be with you. We were meant to be together!" But these things are definitely good enough to take the chance of being slapped with a restraining order. Nan Zhou's are as good as Han's, if not better. The cold dressing is similar, but the simple preparation style brings the amazingly flavorful and absurdly long noodles to their rightful place as the best in the city. I haven't tasted every noodle in Chinatown, but I'm confident that these will not be bested. These are the reason Marco Polo brought pasta back to Italy. 

I have no idea how you make a noodle this long. I think this plate might just be one big noodle. Whatever they are doing back in that kitchen, it's something special. Our entire lunch cost us $26, with tax & tip. And there were leftovers, lots of them. And they got better after a few days in the fridge. I can't believe it took me this long to get here. Nan Zhou will be on the regular rotation from now on.  

Food Baby Rating: Twins! 

Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House
1022 Race Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 923-1550

Thursday, April 19, 2012


Incredibly good meal last night at the new Popolino from Peter McAndrews of Modo Mio/Paesano's/Monsu fame. How an Irish guy makes Italian food this good I'll never know. The space was formerly Lafayette Bistro. They've replaced the ugly chairs and painted the walls, but not much else. The food, however, could not be more strikingly different. Gone are bland takes on boring "mediterranean" dishes. In are flavorful plates of strong tasting ingredients done in a Roman style, executed to perfection. One of the best meals I've had this year. 

complimentary bruschetta - fresh ricotta & roasted tomato

The menu is set up in a similar fashion to Modo Mio with a menu turista for $40 where you'll get an appetizer, pasta, main and a dessert. This is definitely the best way to go to get a large sampling of the menu. When everyone at your table has four dishes, you get to taste all kinds of good things. 

the Tavola Calda 
A fairly unique feature of Popolino is the enormous table occupying about half the dining room floor, covered in all sorts of gorgeous looking bits of antipasti. You can have this as your appetizer, but sadly, it's not a serve yourself situation. Our waiter brought back a good sampling though.  Beets, broccolini, roasted eggplant, sun dried tomatoes, chickpeas, orzo salad and some lovely dark beans seasoned with cinnamon. An exotic mix of flavors and an excellent starting point. 

selections from the Tavola Calda

There's a whole pig's leg sitting on the aforementioned table just waiting to give up it's tender prosciutto. Sliced by hand by the servers, I got goose bumps thinking back to our trip in Spain and the jamon that seems to be a form of currency there. This prosciutto is close to being useful as bartering chips. 

mozzarella in carozza
Pretty sure I've seen this on the menu at Modo Mio, but I'm definitely not complaining. The mozzarella stuffed Italian bread, egg dipped, pan fried, and drizzled with anchovy caper butter is one of the best appetizers in the city. It's melting cheese, salty, buttery, rich and indulgent. But just the right size portion so you can actually eat the rest of your meal. Stellar. 

The rosemary grilled calves’ tongue on Roman gnocchi, orange horseradish and beet gremolata is one of the chef's odes to offal that litter the menu and offer something interesting to adventurous eaters. This delicately cooked tongue tastes like the best roast beef you ever had, but better. The Roman style gnocchi was fantastic. Basically one huge gnocchi, it's baked to a near golden crust on the outside, with the middle still tender with near melting cheese. Wow. 

rigatoni alla gamberi
The pastas, as expected, are near perfection. Not quite the deft touch that you would see at a Marc Vetri restaurant, but a more rustic, simple version that seems meant to be shared. The rigatoni with shrimp, smoked paprika, almonds & garlic was my favorite (and also my pick). The little slivers of shrimp, perfectly tender, and the whole thing dripping of the paprika tinged oil. It's like Spain and Italy made a baby. A very delicious baby. 

bucatini all’amatriciana
Bucatini, my favorite kind of pasta. With the little hole in the middle, it just soaks up sauce so amazingly. This sauce is a red one, with guanciale (similar to pancetta but made from the pig cheek), pecorino, & spicy tomato. Just enough heat to keep it interesting, and a lovely undertone from the pork. Mmmm. 

rigatoni squazzetto
Squazzetto is another offal dish - dubbed as an "ancient butcher’s sauce" of liver, kidney & heart, & spicy tomato. It's not dainty. It's very rich and impressively meaty. I loved the tiny sprinkling of pecorino cheese on top. Almost a tease. 

grilled mackerel, with sun dried tomatoes
One of the fish specials, along with a whole bronzino (why is that on every menu in the city?) was a terrific piece of grilled mackerel. A strong tasting fish that holds up well to the flame and pungent ingredients like the sun dried tomatoes and pesto on top. Light and tender, it's the perfect thing for a warm summer night.  

On the opposite side of light and tender is the butcher’s style oxtail, braised with celery, white wine, tomato, pine nuts, and cocoa.This should be shared with the entire table, since your're going to need help finishing after all the pasta, appetizers and house baked bread. Super tender, falling off the bone, meaty and rich. It is the kind of dish to resuscitate a famished Deadliest Catch fisherman. Or give a normal human being a proper food baby. 

mascarpone cheesecake
The desserts were good, but we hardly had room. Mascarpone cheesecake was my favorite, the chocolate hazlenut tart with fresh cream got the call from the wifey. Probably the most eye catching was a panna cotta with a neon green basil sauce. One bite was good. Two bites was one too many. That one might need some rethinking. 

chocolate hazlenut tart
Having yet another Italian restaurant from McAndrews is a burden we will happily bear in Northern Liberties. Don't forget the free shots of limoncello or sambuca after the dessert - a tradition that I'm happy to see carried over from his other restaurants. Modo Mio will always be our favorite, but I'm foreseeing quite a few nights at Popolino too. Decisions, decisions.  

Food Baby rating: Triplets! 

501 Fairmount Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19123
T: 215 928-0106

Cash Only
Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday,
Saturday & Sunday

Lunch - 11.00am - 2.30pm
Dinner - 5.00pm - 10.00pm

Thursday, April 12, 2012


What a perfect little neighborhood sandwich shop. Everyone should live around the corner from a place like this. It's almost worth moving to the Art Museum area and dealing with the parking. Ok, maybe it's not THAT good. But you get the point.

RyBread, on the 2300 block or Fairmount Ave, puts out some pretty solid creations between two slices of bread. Based on a cross-country trip by the owner Ryan (get it? Rybread?) and his girlfriend across the U.S., the sandwich names are stops along their journey. Santa Monica, Denver, Napa, Sante Fe, Tuscon & Alexandria are a sampling of the menu. Some evoke the spirit of their namesakes - the "Hollywood" consists of hummus, cucumber, red onion and shredded carrot, or the "Buffalo" panini with buffalo style chicken and gorgonzola cheese. Mostly though, they are just fun memories attached to a sandwich - not sure what roast beef, cheddar & horseradish mayo have to do with San Antonio, still tasty though.  

No frilly cappuccino or lattes here. They have coffee. With cream and sugar if you're a fancy pants. And it's very good. They also have iced tea, Sally. I think my favorite thing about this place is their chips. No, they're not handmade in-house. They are in a bag, from Route 11 in Virginia, kettle cooked, and come in awesome flavors like Dill Pickle, Chesapeake Crab and Mama Zuma's revenge. Good luck with the Mama Zuma's - they're flavored with habanero & bar-b-q and are stupid hot, and will leave your lips tingling. 

Seating can be a bit of a problem in the winter months. With only space for 8 or 10 people inside, it can get very tight. There are tables out front on the sidewalk for people watching with your lunch & coffee, and a little area out the back that doesn't offer much in the way of ambiance, but it is peaceful. 

Savannah - turkey breast, brie, whole cranberry sauce, mayo on multi-grain bread 
Rybread also has the advantage of being right next door to the BeeHive salon, where the wifey gets her hair cut. This must provide a steady stream of husbands looking to kill time with coffee and the Saturday paper. It's become my go-to spot during hair appointments.  

I have yet to make my way through the entire sandwich menu, but I'm working on it. Of the ones I can speak to, the Savannah was the best. Roasted turkey breast, hand sliced and layered with a sizable hunk of brie and smothered with cranberry sauce on multi-grain bread. The brie & turkey go so well together. Bring in the cranberry and all of a sudden it's like thanksgiving dinner in France. Très bien. 

Lake Tahoe panini - tuna fish, cheddar, on multi-grain bread, + tomato & bacon 

The Lake Tahoe panini, was ok, but definitely not my favorite. Tuna fish with cheddar and some optional tomato & bacon. It was substantial to say the least - probably weighed about a deuce, deuce and a half. There just wasn't much flavor to be had. It left me wanting something more, but I was too full to try. 

San Fran panini - prosciutto, mozzarella, roasted roma tomatoes, pesto on sourdough

Much better was the San Fran. Another panini, this one on sourdough (nice little nod to the bay area) with melty mozzarella over prosciutto, roasted tomatoes and a schmear of pesto. This thing sings California and hits all the notes. There's nothing especially inventive on the menu, and that's more than ok in my book. Rybread is not pushing the culinary frontier, but the simple elements and quality ingredients deliver the goods. 

Food Baby Rating: Twins! 

RyBread Cafe
2319 Fairmount Ave
Philadelphia, PA

Friday, April 6, 2012

Chicken Fricassee

A most simple recipe from my Mutti (mom) that is all about comfort. This is a dish that instantly brings me back to being 9 years old, coming in on a winter day after playing outside for hours and the house being filled warmth and lovely, stomach growl inducing smells. 

The original incarnation comes from a French method of stewing poultry and then thickening with butter or cream. It eventually made it's way to Louisiana where the cajun version starts with a dark roux, then adds peppers, onions, celery & garlic. This version bears some faint resemblances, but has been completely adapted for what was readily available in exotic south jersey. Chicken. Onions. Egg noodles. Mushrooms. Chicken broth. Peas. Sounds simple, but what comes out of the pot at the end is chicken fricassee for the soul. 

My mother rarely writes down her recipes, so it's only through making them yourself that you can learn her secrets. She's crafty like that. The only real seasoning in this is salt & pepper - so it's important to keep seasoning after each ingredient is added. You need to continually taste to make sure the balance is right. I took her basic recipe and added a few tweaks - wine to deglase the pot, dried porcini mushrooms, etc. One taste of the finished product reassured me that I hadn't strayed too far from center though. Hopefully she'd be proud of the result.  Thanks mutti!! 

Cook time approx 1hr - Serves 6

3 tablespoons oil 
5 or 6 chicken pieces, skin on and bone-in (season with salt & pepper)
1 large onion, sliced
3/4 cup white wine 
1 pkg fresh crimini mushrooms, sliced
1 pkg dried porcinis
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped fine
3-4 cups chicken stock
1/2 a bag of extra wide egg noodles 
1-1/2 cups frozen peas
Salt & Pepper

Steep the dried porcinis in 1 cup nearly boiling water until reconstituted. Remove the mushrooms and strain the liquid through a cheese cloth. Reserve the liquid for later. 

In a large, deep pot heat the oil over medium high till glistening. Add chicken pieces and brown 6-8 minutes on each side. It's important not to turn the pieces early. You'll know when they're done when they pull away from the pan easily. Lower heat, remove the chicken from the pot and set aside. 

Turn the heat back up and add the onion and wine. Deglase the pan, scraping up all the good bits from the bottom. Saute the onions over medium heat till translucent, then add porcinis, criminis and the garlic. Continue to saute until the criminis have given up their moisture and started to soften. Add the reserved porcini liquid and simmer down slightly. Season with salt & pepper. 

Next add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add the noodles and return the chicken to the pot. Cover and simmer till the noodles are cooked thru. Add frozen peas a few minutes before serving - they'll cook quickly and you want them to stay bright green. Taste for seasoning and adjust, if necessary. 

Serve in a shallow bowl with a piece of chicken, some noodles and plenty of the veggies. Mmmm...comfort.