Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Pizza Bar

Good lunch on Sunday from a welcome addition to the neighborhood. Pizza Bar has opened it's doors and oven to the Piazza crowds. It's tucked in just behind King's Oak, facing inwards towards the square. The space is sparse - basically an oven, stand-up coolers, a counter and some stools. True, we've already got pizza in NoLibs, but you can never have too much and this is a slightly different beast. Trios & Rustica make a great pie, but it's done in a traditional style oven with just radiant heat. Pizza Bar is using a gas fired, old school Italian version that can get you closer to that perfect crust. The resulting product is closer to Zavino or Stella.


The menu boasts 11 different pies, six red and five white, and the promise of four different type available for slices. So far I've tried the pepperoni, truffle and asparago. The pepperoni is an abruzzi style, hand sliced and imported from Italy. It's slightly spicy but left the pie too oily and turned into a bit of a mess half way through the slice. Truffle was decent with a mix of roasted mushrooms, but I could barely taste the truffle oil and the fried egg was nowhere in sight. Asparago was the best of the three with shaved bits of green asparagus tips interspersed with hunks of goat cheese and just crispy speck. I didn't see a fried egg on this one either, as promised on the menu. The highlight of all the pizzas was the crust. Crispy but still with a good chew and nice blister marks, it's the sign of a solid product. I'm looking forward to trying out some of the other pies for take-out. You can't judge just on pre-made slices.


According to the manager they are currently only doing delivery to the apartments in the Piazza & Liberties Walk, but expanding with scooters/cars in the coming weeks. For now, it's a good spot for a quick slice and a beer. They've got a decent collection of craft cans/bottles to go along with the pizza.

mushroom / truffle

The big draw is that they are open till 2:30 on Fridays & Saturdays. This is sure to guarantee them some late night BroLibs fallout business from the surrounding bars. On a personal level, I'll at last be able to complete the 2nd street trifecta of Dapper Dog, Jerk Chicken & Pizza. Take that, South Street Taco. That's right - I just created a thing. Can't wait for summer.

Food Baby Rating:  Only Child

Pizza Bar
1001 N 2nd St 
Next to Kings Oak in the Piazza at Schmidts

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Kim's Korean Bar-B-Q

Beef! It's what's for dinner at Kim's Korean Bar-B-Q, that's for sure. They have other stuff on the menu like chicken and veggies, but you come here for the marinated beef cooked on a charcoal grill, by you, at your table. Having a 600° cauldron of red hot charcoal just inches from your face is incredibly unsafe , and you will undoubtedly leave with all your clothes smelling like a campfire. It's definitely worth the extra load of laundry and risk of disfigurement though.

Where is this magical land of bibimbap and bulgogi you ask? It's in Olney, of course. Where the hell is Olney you ask? It's on the other side of some extremely sketchy north Philadelphia neighborhoods. From center city you turn up 5th street, heading north, and drive about 30 minutes. Keep driving past little Puerto Rico, past the Cousin's supermarkets, past the vacant houses that Marlo Stanfield probably uses to dispose of bodies, and you come to Korea Town (K-Town, to the locals).  Although the drive there can be an education in failed urban planning, the area around Kim's is not all that bad - another few minutes and you're technically out of city limits and into suburbia. 

The restaurant is extremely well lit (fluorescent lights everywhere) and on a cold winter night it can get drafty. It can feel more like an non-insulated garage than a warm and cozy retreat. Each table has a built in well that they place the charcoal grill into which will help keep you warm. Over this well is a retractable vent hood that sucks up most of the smoke. As you're driving up 5th street, you can smell the beef grilling blocks away. Tables are meant for 6 people, but you can do more or less. On the Friday night we went we didn't have a reservation, but I've heard it can get pretty busy on warmer days. 

various banchan

The menu is a bit intimidating, with only vague English descriptions of what each item is. But don't be afraid to ask for help. Our server was super friendly and he made sure we got a good selection and didn't over order. Korean tradition is to serve a slew of little bowls called banchan consisting of marinated and pickled veggies, kimchi, etc. with the beef. These come out almost immediately as a sort of amuse bouche course. All the spicy kimchi ones were great, and we loved the green beans especially. 

The marinated beef bulgogi comes out raw, in a heaping pile on a plate with a pair of tongs and a side of sliced jalapenos and raw garlic. One of these plates is probably enough beef for four people if you're ordering sides. We got two, cause we're gluttons ballers . You also get a huge pile of crisp lettuce which you use to make wraps for the cooked beef. Dip it into some of the garlicky ginger sauce on the side and they'll make your mouth happy like Twizzlers. 

We also figured out about half way in that if you grill up the jalapeno & garlic in the beef juices, it goes great in the lettuce wrap. Very crafty people, the Koreans. The bulgogi has a wonderful flavor from the spicy marinade that is slathered all over it. It's sliced into very thin pieces that grill up in only a couple minutes. Whoever is working the grill has to keep flipping, moving and adding new chunks of meat. It looks like a huge pile to start, but it will go very fast. 

The scallion pancake with jalapenos was really nice. Chopped into 2" hunks perfect for dipping into the soy/sesame sauce. It's light and crisp, with the bite of the scallion and a little heat from the peppers. Perfect appetizer. 

scallion pancake
Second only to the bulgogi is the bibimbap bowl.  An incredibly tasty mix of all the great flavors of Korea. They throw everything but the kitchen sink into this thing. It's the Hokey Pokey of rice bowls. Julienned cucumber, carrot, daikon radish, bean sprouts and optional shredded beef. They put the rice noodles in; they take the beef in or out. They put the shredded veggies in, and put a fried egg on top. You mix in some rice and you stir it all around, that's what it's all about. Someone should make up a song about this.

bibimbap bowl
I absolutely loved Kim's Bar-B-Q. It is a really out of the way place that very few people in the city venture to. You're not going to see any restaurant week menus or artisanal cupcakes here. This place is the opposite of trendy. They've been rocking the Korean beef since the early 80's. And according to the place mat and what I've read online, they are the only ones that still use real wood charcoal. All the rest have switched to gas grills at the table.  Bonus - they have free, self service ice cream!

This was one of my favorite meals of the last few months. Such a profoundly different experience from the normal run of the mill restaurant. The food was absolutely great. We don't have kids, but I could imagine this would be a great place to take them. The sight, sounds and smells of the grill would keep them entertained the whole time. It kept four adults transfixed, chopsticks at the ready for that perfect piece of beef. Totally worth the drive through the badlands.

Food Baby Rating: Twins!

Kim's Korean Bar-B-Q
5955 North 5th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19120

Sunday, February 3, 2013


So much hype about this place the last few months. People haven't been this excited about an opening in Philadelphia since Donovan McNabb was traded. A chef with a golden pedigree. A Rittenhouse Square (almost) location. Swanky drinks. And...toasts? Seriously, toasts? Be prepared when you walk in to spend $14 on a piece of bruschetta. Truth. 

Granted, the toasts are pretty good. The kitchen staff apparently spent months searching for just the right bread and grilling method to get them perfectly crispy. And their hard work shines through on many of the samplings we tried. The mushy peas and bacon was delicious - a near on perfect rendition of the English staple. The beef tartar with freshly grated horseradish was also stellar. Superbly tender beef and the bite of that horseradish was memorable.  

Less interesting was the fromage & kumquats (doesn't that word just sound dirty?).  Maybe I'm just not a kumquat kind of guy. The cheese was nothing spectacular and not nearly strong enough to counter the sour/bitter taste of the fruit. We also like the pumpkin with brown butter and sunflower seeds. The roasted pumpkin has a great earthiness to it, but it's a stretch charging $7 for this. 

The drinks are hand crafted (read "slowly prepared") and also on the pricey side. I had a pretty solid old fashioned, but charging $11 for Old Grandad takes cajones.

A charred brussels sprout salad with green apple & smoked chili was decent, but not earth shattering. The sprouts weren't charred enough, leaving them a little chewy and without the proper crunch to balance out the greens or sweetness to counteract the radish. 

Probably the best thing we ate all night, and certainly some of the best cauliflower I've ever had. The black pepper roasted cauliflower was surprisingly good. I think I have been converted to start liking this most hated of veggies. Roasting seems to coax out an entirely different and utterly complex cast of flavors from this weirdly albino broccoli cousin. Vernick's simple preparation is deceptive. There are so many layers of flavor going on here you won't believe you're eating something that is vegan approved. This would put some of the dishes at Vedge to shame. 

Tuna poke (salad) was bright and refreshing. Good size chunks of ahi mixed with sliced onion, radish and macadamia nuts and dressed with sweet soy and sesame seed. A beautiful plate, if nothing else. This is the level of sophistication that I was expecting here. 

The second best thing we ate was certainly the house made mozzarella with mango. Kind of an odd pairing, but the sweet mango goes so well with the salty mozzarella. Drizzle some basil oil and sea salt and you've got a winner on your hands. Think about all those proscuitto & melon appetizers you've had, and you're in the same ballpark. The salty/sweet contrast is just so good. The mozzarella was crazy tender and tasted like it was pulled just minutes before. 

The grilled black sea bass was cooked crispy and yet still nicely tender. The broccoli and "fire roasted" tomato sauce was less exciting. Describing something as fire roasted is seems unnecessary. How else would you roast something? It seemed more like an accompaniment you'd see at Bertucci's.  

The blueberry pie was great. I always lean towards the savory side for dessert, and this was the perfect finish to a meal. The pie was something close to a crumble, with blueberries so luscious they tasted like they were just picked on a hot summer day. 

Overall, I think Vernick is a good restaurant. They are serving some interesting plates in a trendy, hip space. The prices they are charging though are beyond what the market should be bearing. The fact that it is so trendy let's them get away with the price tags for now, but I wonder how long they'll have a full book. For $70 per person, I want a dinner that really impresses, leaves me wondering "how did they do that?", and has me raving to everyone that "you have to try this place". Maybe the kitchen is still finding its way, but I think they have a ways to go to live up to their potential, and all the hype. 

Food Baby Rating: Only Child

Vernick Food & Drink
2031 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103