BYO Battle (Philly Restaurant Week Round Up, Part 2)

For the next round of Philadelphia Restaurant Week, I’ve decided to pair up two of my favorites—Pumpkin and Russet. What do these two have in common? They’re both proponents of the farm-to-table movement and locally-sourced ingredients. So let the battle commence!

Photo Jan 17, 9 09 53 PMPumpkin
1713 South Street
Philadelphia, PA 19146

This is such a cute place! The first thing that struck me when I walked through the door was the size. Pumpkin is definitely cozy with about 24-26, but the mirrors on the wall allow for the illusion of more space. With about about 26 seats in the dining room, which has a rustic farmhouse meets contemporary chic feel with the rich wood tones, marble style tabletops and dim lighting—this would definitely be a good date place.

Photo Jan 17, 9 10 48 PMPumpkin opened in 2004 with a seasonally changing menu in the early days of the farm-to-table movement’s resurgence in American cuisine. In addition, they are also a BYOB restaurant, which is a wonderful feature of many eateries in the Philadelphia food scene. Both the waiter and runner here were extremely knowledgeable about the restaurant week menu and food in general. I was surprised, but probably should not have been.

The crusty bread a had a nice crispy chew, and the garlic infused oil was fruity and savory to really whet the appetite. With such good bread, I was very tempted to order the burrata appetizer. Plus, it sounded delicious: soft, creamy cheese, la Quercia ham—described as American prosciutto—treviso radicchio in place of escarole—lots of textures. Decisions, decisions…

Photo Jan 17, 9 26 22 PMPhoto Jan 17, 9 26 27 PMI stuck with my gut and went with the Garganelle Pasta appetizer. The garganelle was almost like penne but wider with a slight curve, and was just over the edge of al dente with a nice bite. The braised pork shoulder also had a good chew and wonderful umami falvor. The hearty and starchy white beans weren’t too buttery, and instead gave the dish some extra thickness. The kale was slightly crispy, but cooked down so it became more of a background note that was lost in the shuffle. The sauce—or broth really—was subtle and absorbed flavor from light dusting of pungent parmesan, and the acidic lemon zest helped cut through the richness of the pork and heaviness of the pasta. It was a great appetizer portion, and a wonderful way to start the meal.

20160120_222305Up next was the main event—the Long Island Duck. The duck was served over some dirty farro. To make a grain “dirty,” I learned, means to cook it with chicken livers!!—Yum! I am totally #TeamLiver or is it #TeamDirty? Anyway, the chicken liver makes the farro slightly sweet and lends it an unctuous meaty flavor. The sherry, caramelized pearl onions blended complimented the sweetness of the faro and had a slightly acidic, almost pickled flavor to them. They weren’t cooked to death as, unfortunately, many caramelized onion garnishes are, and the choice of pearl onions over traditional slices helped them stay together and provide a nice textural contrast with the slight chew of the farro. The star of the dish was the Long Island duck breast—cooked to a perfect medium rare temperature. It was super moist with crispy skin—though it would have been even crispier if the breast had not been sliced—texture vs. presentation? Either way, it was delicious. As I ate my way through this very luxurious course, there was a building heat that was perhaps form some cayenne in the faro or the braised collard greens underneath the duck, which was smart plating to have the greens absorb the running duck juices. The greens themselves, cooked down with the classic combination of bacon and hot sauce, made for a perfect bite with the duck—slight smoky, salty, sweet and spicy all at the same time. This dish was a wonderful blend of modern creativity and classic Americana, and as the chef is originally from North Carolina, he knows how to cook Southern!

Photo Jan 17, 9 54 09 PMFor dessert, I got the Pot de Creme, which is really just a fancy, French term for a thick pudding. Pumpkin’s version is pretty solid. The creme had a subtle malted milk flavor and took on flavors well, from the very rich chocolate caramel crumble .to the delicious and crunch praline crunch, which was necessary to add some change of texture to an otherwise soft bowl of dessert. The somewhat hidden caramel core in the middle of the cream was a nice secret discovery. #SweetTreat! Surprisingly, the pot de creme was refreshing, and a good way to end a heavy meal.

Photo Jan 17, 10 08 57 PMOverall, this menu seemed very well thought out, and a good winter meal. A hearty, hot appetizer, a play on a meat-and-grain stick to your ribs entree, and a sweet caramel and chocolate dessert. The to-go packet of pumpkin seeds was a nice touch. Pumpkin should definitely be on your list of places to eat at in Philly, especially for special occasions or for their Sunday night pre-fixe supper—though don’t forget to bring cash as it’s a cash only establishment. Totally worth a trip to the ATM on the way over!

Russet
1521 Spruce Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102

Photo Jan 19, 7 47 20 PMThe first thing I did when me and my friend were seated at our table was to ask why the restaurant was named “Russet,” which I had imagined referred to the humble potato and would fit the theme of the farm-to-table and local food movement that the chef favors. I was wrong. The restaurant is actually named for the “Russet” apple…how quaint lol. I still appreciate that the name refers to a natural food, and who doesn’t love a good apple?

Russet is also a BYOB establishment—we should’ve brought some wine, but oh well. It is a small place, but while Pumpkin seemed to know how to utilize their space very well, here it looked very “cozy”—usually codeword for on top of each other, though it didn’t feel too crowded once we were sitting down. In the dining room, there are some great architectural touches such as an arch with columns, crown moulding, and a very eclectic feel. The house-baked semolina bread was tasty and the flavor was similar to rye bread. The sea salt bowl on the table was another eclectic touch, and helped highlight the flavor of the butter.

Photo Jan 19, 8 04 46 PMOne of the benefits of having fellow foodie friends is that they’ll come to a last minute dinner reservation to scope out a Restaurant Week menu. Plus, I get to try double the dishes as I would have been if I dined alone. Yay! I’m a big fan of pasta in any form, which should have already been obvious to you, so for our first appetizer, we got the Gorgonzola Dolce Ravioli. This was a very cerebral plate of pasta, with nuanced flavors that you wouldn’t necessary associate together, but they went very well in this dish. The ravioli were sitting in a delicate broth flavored from the garlic confit—cooked down slowly into a soft texture—and the garlic got sweet and aromatic. The gorgonzola cheese was not too sweet and also not super tangy—the gorgonzola dolce variety was the right choice with he sweet beets and salty parmesan garnish to complement the cheese. The sweet, soft chioggia beets almost “bled into” the pasta and gave some dark pink color to the (otherwise) beige plate, and the walnuts added a crunchy texture and bite to the dish. The pasta itself was cooked al dente, which was a nice touch as many places make ravioli too soft.

Photo Jan 19, 8 04 51 PMOur second first course dish was a Green Meadow Farm Duck and Pork Rillette. Lots of thought went into the presentation of this dish. There was lots of negative space on the plate, which I know is a thing, but I’m not always a fan. The frisee lettuce was lightly dressed, and provided some needed crunch and bitter notes to a very rich dish. The rillette was super smooth and lovely, while at the same time allowing the distinct tastes of the duck and pork to be tasted separately. The homemade cracker was a good vehicle for eating, and the mostarda really helped bring the gamy flavors to the forefront.

Photo Jan 19, 8 19 12 PMWe decided on two very different entrees for the main course. The Happy Valley Beef Shoulder and the Seared Branzino. The beef shoulder was expremely tender, but still maintained a level of chew so you still knew it was beef. The tomato fondue garnish acted almost as a chutney and coated the beef with an acidic sweetness. It was very rich, and almost certainly had copious amounts of butter—I approve! The charred cabbage made for nice plating. It was braised as well, but held together. The polenta underneath was very creamy, but also a little too salty. Otherwise, this was a delicious and super creative dish—it screamed to me as an elevated play on cabbage and beef.

Photo Jan 19, 8 18 52 PMThe Seared Branzino was also a very composed dish. One of the ingredients listed on the menu, “bintje potatoes” was a mystery to me, but they were really just normal potatoes in the end. The potatoes were cooked well—as they usually do—and tasted even better when eaten with the salsa verde that not only gave the dish some freshness, but also served as a seasoning. I especially loved all of the fresh herbs in the salsa! The skin on the fish was super crisp—perfectly executed!—and was a substantial portion size. The onions, though, were sort of lost in the shuffle. Although the dish was pretty simple, it was very delicious.

Photo Jan 19, 8 49 24 PMWe decided to forego the sorbet option, and ordered the Local Ginger Cake and the Preserved Apricot Tart. The cake was very petite, and surprisingly moist—many ginger or honey cakes are often dry and crumbly. The pastry chef here is certainly up to par, and the cider sabayon cream was a nice edition. While the sabayon was technically perfect, it didn’t have enough of a citrus flavor. The cider, especially, helped highlight the ginger flavor of the cake. The tuile was meh in taste, but good textural contrast and added some height for a classy presentation. The caramel apples provided some much needed sweetness and slight tartness, though I wish it had a stronger caramel flavor.

Photo Jan 19, 8 49 05 PMPhoto Jan 19, 8 49 01 PMThe Preserved Apricot Tart was our favorite dessert, hands down, though that’s not to say that the ginger cake wasn’t tasty as well. The tart’s crust was super flaky—again excellent baking technique—and the apricot filling was delicious! The frangipane was creamy, custardy and had great almond flavor; it wasn’t too sweet, and just tangy enough. In addition, the plating was extremely beautiful.

Another delicious meal that definitely utilized the bountiful produce characteristic of the farm-to-table movement. In fact, Russet publishes where they get many of their ingredients on the menu. You could taste the freshness of the ingredients and the passion in the food. Definitely on the list as well.

Is there a winner of this battle? The real question is if there is a loser. The answer is: no. Both Russet and Pumpkin provided great meals full of fresh ingredients, amazing culinary technique and a logical progression of flavors. If I had to choose, I would choose Pumpkin, but only because it’s closer! In fact, I’m going to go on OpenTable and make a reservation for dinner at both ASAP—and you should too!

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Philadelphia Restaurant Week Round Up, Round 1

Battle of the 13th Street Corridor

There are so many places to eat in Philadelphia. From hole in the wall Vietnamese pho shops, to fancy high-brow steakhouses, to comfort food joints that just make fried chicken and donuts—moral of the story? You’ll never go hungry in the PHL. With that said, Center City Restaurant Week holds a special place in my hungry heart. “Why?” you ask—well it’s because the entire concept of Restaurant Week allows diners who might not have gotten a chance to eat at many of the city’s amazing restaurants to not only sample some of their signature flavors, but also have the full three course dining experience on a budget: appetizer, entree and dessert.  Lunch is $20 per person, and dinner is $35, though some places include optional supplements to the menu—usually high end proteins. Now, who wouldn’t want that?

Bravely, I’ve taken it upon myself to sample the dishes at a number of local restaurants and have compiled them into a Philadelphia Restaurant Week Round Up. To make my life easy, I’ve made super use of the globally expanding restaurant reservation platform, OpenTable. Now to make it even more interesting, I’m going to put my dining experiences up against each other in head to head battles—and to the tastiest go the spoils. And by spoils, I mean my pick for Top Pick for Center City District Restaurant Week of 2016. So, as they say on Iron Chef America—“Allez cuisine!” and let the battles begin!

IMG_6700Barbuzzo
110 South 13th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107

I must have passed this place hundreds of times over the last few years, but—surprisingly—I’ve never been in. The only question I can ask now is…why have I denied myself? Barbuzzo is one of the six eateries co-owned by Chef Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran that dominate the 13th Street corridor and helped revitalize the Midtown Village neighborhood in Center City. It is known for its Mediterranean plates, chic atmosphere and a traditional wood fire oven—naturally, I was ready for some delicious pizza. I was not disappointed.

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IMG_6686My reservation was for 1:45pm and I got there a few minutes early and immediately noticed that it was pretty busy even though it was only lunchtime. I’ve noticed in Philly that so many people go out for lunch, and places get even more crowded than during the dinner rush on some days. Although it wasn’t that busy for a Monday afternoon, it was noticeable—it might have also been due to the narrow, deep layout of the restaurant’s interior that is typical of many Philly food spots. The inside had a hip vibe with metal chairs, cozy table setups including square of old menu used as paper decoration for some of the plating, track lighting and lots of wood—maybe this was an homage to their eponymous wood oven? The interior did seem a bit on the dark side, but my table was near the large front window so there was tons lots of natural light.

IMG_6690The Sheep’s Milk Ricotta appetizer was plated beautifully. It almost seemed as if there were ricotta mountains and the balsamic vinegar acted as the valley or river running through. The ricotta was super creamy and smooth and whipped with fresh herbs, and garnished with good quality, fruity olive oil and acidic balsamic that brought out the natural sweetness of the ricotta. It was plated with some grilled bread that was hot and crisp on the outside, but chewy and not too hot in the middle—side note: I had visited a few places the week before (See next post!), and I had been waiting all week for someone to give me hot bread. Thank you Barbuzzo for anticipating my primordial desire for bread and fire. The cold ricotta spread on the warm toasty bread made for a good temperature contrast as well.

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IMG_6693Up next was the Salsiccia Pizza, which I have to admit I was the most excited for. I mean come on—how can you not order a pizza when there’s a wood burning oven?? As they brought the pizza to the table, the first thing I noticed was the smell of the fresh basil, and the herbs baked into the fennel sausage. The second thing I noticed was its size: it was huge! I can definitely eat a lot, but I ended up taking one of the generous quarters home (Hello midnight snack!). The crust was chewy with a slightly crisp at the edge, though I wish there was a little bit of char. It was definitely browned on the bottom though. The addition of the chili oil and fresh oregano garnish served table side was a nice touch and helped highlight the flavors of the pizza toppings. The taggiasca black olives were pungent salt bombs of flavor—you can tell these weren’t from a can—and the tomato sauce was still very acidic in a way that played well with the brininess of the olives. The salty pecorino cheese crumbles contrasted with the subtle meaty and earthy flavors of the sausage. The smoked mozzarella blanketed the whole pizza in cheesy goodness and was strong enough to stand up to the other flavors.

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IMG_6697For dessert, I honestly wasn’t sure what I was expecting. I have a friend who tells me that the Salted Caramel Budino is his favorite dessert in the entire city. High praise considering such confectionaries as Beiler’s Bakery, Franklin Fountain, Scoop DeVille, Magpie Artisan Pie Boutique, and more, are all within about a mile of 13th Street. However, I was still worried—what if dessert isn’t as good because it’s restaurant week? Maybe they’re just going to serve something unpopular or that they over-ordered. My worry was for naught—the Salted Caramel Budino was glorious. It’s served in this cute little mason jar, and it actually is a great way to prepare a lot of these bad boys ahead of service. The vanilla bean caramel is so good it’s honestly like crack—I could eat it by the jarful. The vanilla bean gave it a slight floral taste and the sea salt just took it over the top. The unsweetened whip cream is a good choice since the caramel is so sweet. The word “budino” actually translates to pudding, and while the pudding layer underneath was also tasty, but really just a vehicle to shovel more of the caramel into my mouth. The dark chocolate crust is sort of drowned out by the other layers, but still lends the dish a bit of crunch and texture—just enough to know its there, especially  towards the bottom. Plus, over time the chocolate layer absorbs some of the cream and softens up, allowing the flavors to intermingle. This dessert was amazing!

Overall, Barbuzzo really brought their A-game to this year’s culinary rumble. Great meal with delicious food and great service. I left feeling satisfied and having definitely gotten my money’s worth.

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Sampan
124 South 13th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107

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I had originally planned to have dinner with a friend at another restaurant this night, but she ended up canceling and I decided to visit a place that she wouldn’t really like. You see, she’s allergic to chilis and so we can never really have spicy food—very sad since I love spice and heat in my dishes. No joke, I must have about 6-7 kinds of hot sauce in my pantry. So, since I was “off the hook,” basically, I decided to be adventurous and head to Sampan. I’ve heard great things about this place and have wanted to eat here for a long time—especially after seeing Chef Travis Masar on Top Chef, Season 11 in New Orleans. Sampan is pretty big on the inside and comparatively huge in contrast to most Midtown Village dining destinations. The decorations were pretty funky with purple stenciled trees on the walls and more dark wood. Graffiti Bar is attached and has a small outdoor bar that’s a very different theme—think hipster chic; graffiti on the walls and have to walk through a narrow, mini alley to get there (though you could enter through the restaurant space). It has great drinks with a late night happy hour, featuring cocktail and food specials. The main restaurant has an open service kitchen, which was where I was seated. I was seated at “chef’s table,” which is always good and bad. You get a bird’s eye view to plating presentation, but I kind of wish I had a table of my own to stretch out, but often, big restaurants like this hate solo diners. I think they should embrace them—they’ll order more food, but oh well. My seat gave me a preview of the wonderful smells of garlic, scallions, chilies, and soy that permeated the air. There were 4-5 woks of noodles or rice working at each station, bamboo steamer baskets filled with buns, skewers of sate meats grilling, and a cacophony of sounds—bowls clanging, woks sizzling, but no yelling, which was good.

Of note, I was slightly confused how the restaurant week deal worked here. As a solo diner—even if I would have paid extra for the traditional Chef’s Tasting ($45)—I receive five plates instead of the usual seven. The restaurant week menu is similar as you get one side dish, one dish from each of the Small, Cold & Hot, and Satay categories, one dish from Fish or Meat and soft serve for dessert for $35. Though I was a bit disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to try some other dishes as part of the deal, I was ready for some Asian flavor explosions.

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IMG_6711First up was the Pork Bao Bun as the Small course—point of fact: the starter dishes were really small and it was tortuous to just have small tastes as I sat there at the chef’s table seeing the food being prepared. The steamed bun had a nice chew and the thinly sliced shallot and fresh mint were visible as I folded it open. There was a substantial and thick slice of crispy, fried pork belly smothered in a sticky and sweet sauce. This tasted even better to me with a squirt of sriracha sauce. The flavors were traditional for a porn bun, but I only wish it came with more than one on the plate. The Satay course of Korean BBQ Beef arrived, and though it smelled great it too was small—really small. The kimchi topping was flavorful, if a bit sharp together with the ginger. The short rib meat was very tender and fatty with a heavy dose of Korean soy-based marinade. It was cooked rare and the marinade helped keep the beef moist. Very tasty, but again, I just wish there was more of it.

IMG_6712The Crispy Spicy Shrimp was more on the hot side of the Cold & Hot category—mostly in temperature. In actuality, I had hoped for an extra meat or fish dish in place of this category, but wasn’t allowed. A generous portion of rock shrimp were plated up in a bowl, which kept the dish hot, and also made for easy mixing of the shrimp with the garnishes and sauce. The chili aioli had a creamy taste and a little bit of spicy, but I like very spicy Asian food so added sriracha. The batter on the shrimp was nice and thick, and kept the shrimp, which were perfectly cooked, juicy.I loved the crisp edges of the fried shrimp. The picked radish garnish was a nice relief from the heavily battered protein and a needed acidic kick. Even though rock shrimp are not as meaty as say big jumbo shrimp, they were tasty and allowed the kitchen feel comfortable giving a bigger portion.

IMG_6724I have a confession to make; I am addicted to duck. I just love the deep red meat headiness in the guise of poultry. It bastes itself in its own fat, and has amazingly crispy skin when cooked right. So, when I saw Sampan’s version of Peking duck on the menu, you’ve got to know that I’d order it. Pekin Duck was presented with all of the classic fixings of a Peking duck meal—a small bamboo steamer filled with soft buns that had been heated over a grill, with Some of the buns even had char marks, which I love. A second plate contained the rest of the components: a good number of duck breast slices—crispy skin included—with all of the traditional garnishes. The thinly sliced scallion provided a bit of crunch, the duck was fatty and juicy, the hoisin sauce sweet and sour, and the julienned cucumber helped cut through the richness of the duck meat. This might have been the perfect dish for me. It was plated nicely, had a good amount of food, and was interactive in just the right to echo the classic Peking duck presentation.

IMG_6725Around the same time, the extra large Duck Fried Rice emerged from the kitchen. The other dishes might have been small, but the Duck Fried Rice was really big, though this shouldn’t have been surprising since rice is a cheap dish to make I saw them plating up the Pad Thai side too and it was equally as big. It had a decent amount of meat throughout the dish and went really well with the meat course. I ordered it with an egg on top because why not? Sunny side up eggs on rice dishes always make them better. Duh! The server mixed the egg into the rice for me—nice touch— and the yolk really helped bring everything together. The soft, fat coated rice—combination of the duck and yolk—thinly sliced and spicy chilis, and salty bite from the duck skin gave this dish some interesting layers of flavor and made it a very comforting bowl of food.

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I was not looking forward to the Soft Serve ice cream for dessert—I’ve had plenty of soft serve from Chinese buffets, and while they’re usually not terrible, they’re not great either. Luckily, I was pleasantly surprised. It was a cute presentation of mini cones filled with Chocolate Oreo and Vanilla Strawberry flavors—though I have to ask, why has there been such a resurgence in oreos among chefs? The fruity and tart strawberry flavor in the vanilla strawberry flavors really comes through that the vanilla just seemed to be the base. Strawberry was the star here. The chocolate ice cream was particularly rich and chocolatey, and the two together provided a needed cool down after a spice filled meal. Overall, the ice cream was actually delicious, but it didn’t strike me as gourmet and I kind of wish they had thrown in a complimentary cocktail in place of dessert.

IMG_6719Most of the food at Sampan was tasty, but throughout the meal I noticed that there was not as much interaction as I would have thought. Even sitting at “chef’s table,” no real attention was paid to me. At other restaurants, the kitchen staff would interact and at least acknowledge, but here it’s almost like I was invisible. Reinforcing this belief was the fact that my waiter stopped by once—maybe twice for super short visits.  At one point, after the check had been dropped off, someone else was coming over and I thought, “hey, maybe he’s coming to talk to me, and see how the meal was, what I thought of the food, etc,” but I was wrong. He was just collecting the little sriracha squeeze bottles. Before leaving, the waiter gave me the spiel about thanks for stopping in, hope to see me again blah blah but that too was very rushed—I felt like an afterthought. The food here might taste good, but the service is just not that warm.

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Lolita
106 South 13th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107

You might start noticing a theme from this battle—many of the eateries and shops along 13th Street belong to Chef Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran. So much so, in fact, that their blog is called We Love 13th Street. Lolita, which opened in 2004 was the first restaurant that Turney and Safran opened on 13th Street. It went through a facelift in 2014, and continues to dish out bold flavors inspired by Mexican street foods. The interior is similar in design to Barbuzzo with the long narrow space, big bar overlooking a semi-open kitchen, exposed brick and a general hip vibe. This seems to work for them as they are the reigning queens of 13th Street.

One weird thing that I noticed was the velvet curtain as you open the outer door to the restaurants. There was a curtain at a couple of other places on 13th Street as well—is this a Winter thing? What is this: Studio 54?

IMG_6742Strangely, Lolita was practically empty except for two people seated at the bar when I came in around 1:30-ish, but I was told that the big lunch rush had just left, which I can definitely believe since I’ve walked by around lunchtime and it’s been bustling—especially at the sidewalk cafe when it’s warm. I got to sit anywhere I want, thought, which was awesome, but I didn’t see my waiter much over the course of the meal. Sort of thought I’d have more one-on-one time with an empty dining room. Also, I was kind of hoping for some sort of non-alcoholic specialty drink, but the only aqua fresca they had was blood orange mint flavor, which was remarkably similar to the drink I had at Barbuzzo the day before. It was tasty the previous day, but I didn’t want a repeat, so kind of a creative disappointment. I wish that there were more flavors or maybe even something like a horchata or pineapple based drink. Just something nonalcoholic that I could sip on for a bit. Oh well, I was really here for the food anyway.

IMG_6732Lunch began with the Pork Carnitas Tostadas, which were great. The pork itself was a touch smoky and slightly sweet from the canela orange glaze. The pickled red onion might have been hidden on the plate, but emerged as I bit into the dish as a great counterpart to the fatty pork. The little bit of bark on the outside of the pig was very much appreciated as well—it really carries such a concentrated flavor bomb, and also heightened the already beautiful presentation. The crispy tostada on its own was flavorful and had a powerful crunchy factor that held up well under the heaping toppings. The orange and jicama in the salsa lent a fruity brightness, and not only helped highlight the natural sweetness of the pig, but also brought out the spices even more.

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IMG_6737The Morita Chile Rubbed Filet Tips came with a small mound of hot corn tortillas in wax paper, which seems very traditional but also playful to me. While the beef was cooked well, it wasn’t as tender as the pork. The poblano peppers, along with the chipotles in the salsa and the morita chiles in the rub gave off a soft, lingering heat that built as time went on. The tortillas and creme helped cool it down. The beans were super flavorful—meaty, salty, fatty, smoky—Yum! Some of those black beans in an enchiladas dish would’ve been delicious. The cheese was nice for presentation, but it I basically ate all of it in one of my tacos. I wish it was a little stronger in flavor, and the rice, while tasty, wasn’t super necessary on the plate.

IMG_6739After a very Mexican meal, I went with what sounded like the most authentic offering: the Coconut Tres Leches. As soon as this dish came to the table, I knew that a lot of thought had gone into not only the taste and flavors of this cake, but also the plating. The bowl almost resembled a cow’s skin, which can only be an homage to the tres leches or three milks. The cake itself was warm and sitting in additional sweetened milk, and had flecks of coconut throughout. Though it was moist in the middle. it wasn’t wet like I’ve come to expense from many tres leches cakes. The warm cake was able to absorb more liquid to prevent any drying out from the milk in the bowl—so many more cakes should be served warm, it just makes them better. It was garnished with some shredded coconut whipped cream and a chocolate pot de creme plated like a truffle atop the cake. The pot de creme was made with Mexican chocolate, which has a slight cinnamon flavor, and is not as sweet as milk chocolate so it complemented the super sweet cake. The texture of the coconut also provided a good change of pace from the soft chocolate and crumbly cake.

IMG_6730Lolita serves up delicious and modern takes on classic Mexican flavors in a chic urban setting. Great spot for lunch, but would’ve been even better at a time with more hustle and bustle.

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Jamonera
105 South 13th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107

IMG_6798Opened in 2012, Jamonera is a Spanish restaurant and wine bar known for its tapas, charcuterie, shareable plates, and extensive selection of sherries in a cozy and intimate atmosphere. I had only dined here once before for brunch, and it was delicious, so it seemed the perfect place for a late night, midweek dinner.

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IMG_6778To start off the meal, Manchego and Marconas, White Bean Puree and Papa Frita were brought to the table for us to share. Even though these dishes were automatically included in the restaurant week special, the plating was done with just as much care as the rest of the dishes of the night. Marcona almonds are a frequent guest of many cheese boards, and manchego is the quintessential Spanish cheese—a classic combo. The almonds played off the nutty flavors and the quince paste garnish highlighted the fruitiness of the cheese—it all made for a classic combination that helped whet our appetites. The papa frita dish—literally translated as fried potato—is exactly as described. A more upscale, but at the same time rustic, version of the classic Spanish dish. The perfectly seasoned potato chunks are fried until the skin gets super crisp, while still maintaining a pillowy softness in the middle. The garlic aioli helps cool down the dish—temperature-wise—and the heat of the potatoes helps bloom the garlic flavor throughout the plate. The aioli was so tasty that I’d slather it on a turkey sandwich. Mmm yum! Our waitress also brought out some housemade hot sauce made with chile de arbol, ancho chiles, and a sherry vinegar base. The hot sauce was heavily acidic and delicious.  The final shared plate was the white bean puree, which was pretty special. The spread was a pretty white color and very smooth, almost hummus like in its consistency. It tasted great on the toasted bread, and had a salty background from anchovies maybe, smokiness from the pimenton (commonly known as paprika) and and earthiness from the fresh rosemary.

IMG_6780The Smoked Bacon Wrapped Medool Dates were a favorite of mine, though my friend didn’t like them as much, since she’s not a big fan of blue cheese—more for me, yay! The dates were stuffed with valdeon cheese, a tangy and pungent Spanish blue cheese, and wrapped in thick cut bacon that cooked up crispy, meaty and fatty. The bacon helped the date become sweet and syrupy without losing its structural integrity. The vinegary, acidic celery root salad was great a accompaniment to cut through the heavy, wrapped delights, and the spicy piquillo-almond sauce hidden underneath provided a a heated balance to the sweetness of the dates.

IMG_6782The Heirloom Pumpkin Croquetas were also great with smoky and bold flavors. The fried croquettes were crispy, spicy and cheesy—with cheese oozing out as you bit into the hot surface of the spheres. The julienned radish acted as a refreshing and peppery slaw, and the brussel sprout leaves added an additional level of crunch. The pumpkin seed puree was smooth and creamy, and the toasted pepitas (or pumpkin seeds) had a nice chew as well. This vegetarian dish definitely didn’t leave you missing the meat at all.

IMG_6783Next up was the Grilled Skirt Steak, which was cooked to a perfect medium rare. and then sliced. This dish completely identified as “meat” in the best sense of the word. The hazelnut-almond romesco sauce was very earthy and rich with pieces of chopped nuts throughout. There was a surprising pop of spice from the artichoke escabeche, which added a level of tang and freshness to the plate as well. All of the components worked well to create a well composed dish—it would’ve made for some delicious fajitas actually.

IMG_6787Along with the steak came the Albondigas, which were so, so tender. Almost every culture throughout the world has their own version of meatballs—the classic Italian meatball, Middle Eastern kofta, Polish pulpety, or even the classic IKEA Swedish meatball called köttbullar. Albondigas is the Spanish—both from Spain and Hispanic—contribution to the meatball milieu. Albondigas are sometimes referred to as “Grandma’s Meatballs,” and often served in a tomato-based sauce or stew. Jamonera offers up a modern twist on the traditional albondigas by stuffing the large meatballs with manchego cheese, and blending the meat with briny green olives, and smoky and salty serrano ham. They were floating in a bowl of a spicy, stew-like tomato sauce and garnished with some grilled bread for dipping. These meatballs were comforting and perfect for a cold Winter night dinner.

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IMG_6792Finally, for dessert we ordered the Warm Nocilla Bread Pudding and Calasparra Rice Pudding. Though they’re both puddings, they were very different desserts. The bread pudding was served warm—as all bread puddings should be—and reminded me of the inside of a British bun or cinnamon bun. It was slightly gooey from the Nocilla, which is Spain’s answer to the ubiquitous Nutella, and custard soaked into the bread. The accompanying ice cream was textbook perfect—creamy with a  strong vanilla flavor. There was just enough of the caramel to coat the ice cream, and spiced peanuts helped cut through he rich dessert. Very comforting and delicious, though didn’t strike me as super Spanish. The rice pudding was cold and refreshing with apple pieces running throughout. The toasted coconut might not be my dining companion’s favorite flavor, but I’m a big fan of the subtly sweet coconut flavor. The pudding was sweet and creamy with a warm cinnamon flavor from the Spanish canola and the caramelization on top.

IMG_6800

IMG_6801While I might not have planned this dinner far in advance, I’m so glad that we came here for out late night meal. The food was flavorful, the portions plentiful and the service sublime. I just wish we had more time and an extra stomach to truly enjoy another long, drawn out Spanish mealtime experience.

So, Round 1 of my Philly Restaurant Week Round Up was complete. The only thing left to do is to declare a winner of the Battle of 13th Street. This was a difficult decision, but I’m going to have to go with Barbuzzo. The combination of the delicious food, the attentive and quick service, and the large portions won me over. Plus, the salted caramel budino was absolutely amazing—it truly gave me a foodgasm. I’m currently drooling in fond remembrance. Honorable mention goes to Jamonera for best late night hot spot, and delectable delights of course. Stay tuned for more restaurant rumbles throughout Philadelphia and New York City, my OpenTable account will be getting a lot of exercise. Can’t wait to redeem dining points for a free dining reward!

A Modern Twist on Old School French Fare

Loulay
600 Union Street
Seattle, WA 98101

2015-09-20 21.14.11

2015-09-19 19.06.27It was the final day of the 2015 International Food Bloggers’ Conference in Seattle, and I was tired and hungry. I had a chance to sample some of Chef Thierry Rautureau’s dishes the night before at the Culinary Tasting and Expo and they were all delicious. Luckily, this made my dilemma on where to eat on my final night in Seattle easy, since the restaurant is attached to the Sheraton hotel downtown. Chef Thierry Rautureau, or the “Chef in the Hat” as he’s known among the Seattle food scene, focuses Loulay on recipes and dishes from his French upbringing with a modern twist, and local, seasonal ingredients.2015-09-20 21.39.14

2015-09-20 21.25.19Before my started came to the table, the chef sent out an amuse bouche, which is a fancy French term to refer to a pre-appetizer. It usually consists of a single bite, and is meant to wake up the palette before the meal really begins. That night, the chef prepared an olive and jalapeño tapenade with harissa aioli on a crispy French bread crouton. Within that single bite, there was tanginess from the briny olive, bite from the spicy jalapeno, crunch from the crouton, as well as a warm heat from the harissa, and a textural contrast between the creamy aioli and course tapenade. It definitely woke up my tastebuds!

2015-09-20 21.30.172015-09-20 21.30.24The Smoked Pork Cheeks ($19) exemplified nose to tail cooking at some of its finest. While some may consider cheek to be a throwaway item, it can be some of the most succulent meat if cooked correctly and given a little love. The meat definitely had a certain level of smokiness, and was so tender without losing all of its chew—think of a perfectly cooked short rib. The sauce was super delicious and resembled a pork demiglace flavored with sweet onion and wine. The bread basket came in handy to sop up extra broth. The charred cauliflower side was not mushy at all and, in fact, had a subtle crust that contrasted nicely with the soft meat. The dish was garnished with some shaved scallion and watermelon radish that provided much needed color and a fresh, crunch factor to the heavy starter.

2015-09-20 21.41.262015-09-20 21.41.38Up next was one of the Chef in the Hat favorites, Seared Fois Gras ($21). The fois gras was perfectly browned and caramelized on the outside, while maintaining its fatty rareness inside. It was sinfully decadent, and served atop chewy, eggy brioche, and in a small bowl of a sweet apricot puree with pine nuts for texture, and a spiced honey glaze that played nicely with the crust on the fois gras.

2015-09-20 21.56.40The dishes at Loulay are somewhat small—as is the norm with many French restaurants—so I definitely had room for dessert. Thank god, since French cuisine has some of the best desserts on the planet! I had been considering the Caramelized Pineapple Turnover, but went with the advice of my server and tried the Portuguese Beignets ($10). While beignets are mainly known in the United States as a New Orleans delicacy of fried dough covered with powdered sugar, and eaten hot, they are actually a variation of a traditional French dish of deep-fried choux pastry. Choux pastry is the base for many well-known French desserts such as profiteroles, croquembouches, éclairs or cream puffs. These beignets were so light and airy that I could have eaten a whole box of them. They were lightly sweetened and sitting on a velvety creme anglaise flavored with vanilla. To complement the hot pastry was a funky blue cheese ice cream. The ice cream was a wonderful yoyo of sweet and salty bites, and made me think of a gorgonzola dolce flavor profile. Pears that were soft and sweet in contrast to the ice cream were lightly caramelized and helped cut through the richness of the dish.

2015-09-20 21.58.24To help wash down the beignets, was another chef in the hat favorite of the Chef’s Hot Chocolate ($5). Inspired by a recipe from his grandparents, the hot chocolate was unique in that it was not very sweet, but had a very forward cocoa flavor. Alongside the drink came brioche sticks to act as dippers and salty butter. The ideal bite was to smear some butter on the toasted brioche, dip in the hot chocolate, and eat. The hot chocolate not only was absorbed by the soft bread, but also melted the butter and it changed the whole texture of the dessert as they came together. The saltiness of the butter also tied in well with the blue cheese ice cream.

Overall, the food and atmosphere at Loulay were top notch and delicious! It was a great way to wind down a supremely foodie weekend. What was also very cool was being able to pay my bill through the new feature on OpenTable that allows you to pay for your meal through the app. How convenient is that?

Middle Eastern Night at Home

Photo Oct 15, 9 01 35 PM

The other night I was thinking about what to make for dinner on my way home, when I passed by one of the ubiquitous Halal carts. I don’t know why, but whenever I pass a Halal food cart, I always take a big sniff…it just smells so good! It immediately made me think of Middle Eastern flavors with lots of spices, citrus, and conversation. That night I made chicken shawarma for dinner with fixings, and instead of using store-bought dips, I decided to make my own–and it was so easy! Rustic lemon hummus consists of a quick trip to the pantry for most of the ingredients, and roasted eggplant babaghanoush will make your fellow diners think you’re a spice savant! Try these Middle Eastern spreads at home and you’ll never feel the need to head to the grocery the next time you want to eat some hummus.

Rustic Lemon Hummus

  • 1 can of chickpeas—canned chickpeas are super easy and always in my pantry, but dried chickpeas that you soak overnight are really the best for this recipe and will give you a cleaner flavor
  • 3 tablespoons of tahini paste
  • 2 lemons—juice of both, and the zest of one
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons of ground cumin
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon of paprika
  • Olive Oil
  1. Rinse the chickpeas off under cold water until you get rid of all of the gunk from the can off of the chickpeas
  2. In a food processor or blender–I only had my KitchenAid mixer available, so that’s what I used–add the chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice and zest, salt and pepper4
  3. Start to mix all of the ingredients on low to slowly break up the chickpeas until it becomes a thick paste5Photo Oct 15, 7 45 21 PM
  4. Add in the rest of the spices, and gradually add the oil as you increase the speed to mediumPhoto Oct 15, 7 47 05 PMPhoto Oct 15, 8 17 59 PM
  5. The hummus is done when it gets to your personal consistency preference—I like mine a bit chunky—great for pita chips!Photo Oct 15, 9 01 48 PM
  6. Spoon out into a bowl and eat with chips, pita, or use it was a topping for your favorite falafel. Hummus is also delicious as a spread or used in place of mayonnaise or mustard on sandwiches

Roasted Eggplant Babaghanoush

  • 1 large eggplant
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon of smoked paprika—this goes well with the roasted and charred eggplant, but regular paprika works just as well
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon of cumin—add the extra teaspoon if you don’t have smoked paprika. The cumin has a natural smokiness that can compensate
  • 4 garlic cloves, grated
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt
  • 2 teaspoons of black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon fo fresh parsley, chopped
  • Olive Oil
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons of tahini paste
  • 1/4 of an onion, grated
  • Hot sauce (to taste)—I like mine spicy, but this dip is delicious mild as well
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees fahrenheit1
  2. Cut your eggplant in half lengthwise—Resist the urge to peel it at this point! The peel will not only help keep moisture in the eggplant flesh, but also hold it together in the oven.
  3. Use a fork or sharp paring knife to poke holes into the eggplant skin all over2
  4. Rub the flesh side with olive oil and season with 1/2 tablespoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of pepper, 1/2 tablespoon of paprika and 1/2 tablespoon of cumin
  5. Roast the eggplant for 20-25 minutes until the skin is charred and the flesh becomes slightly creamy and the outside if browned—you want the skin to get black10
  6. Once the eggplant has cooled a bit, but still hot, use a knife or fork to remove the charred skin—it should come off very easily
  7. Discard the skin and spoon the flesh into the bowl of a mixer or food processor11
  8. Pulse together the eggplant with the remaining ingredients until it comes together in a thick dip—feel free to blend it as much as you’d likePhoto Oct 15, 8 21 40 PM
  9. Serve similarly to the hummus, and garnish with a squeeze of lemon juice and extra parsley, and enjoy—One of my favorite ways to consume the eggplant is to make sabich, an Iraqi sandwich that consists of hard boiled eggs and fried eggplant on fresh pita bread. Babaghanoush would be a wonderful substitute for the traditional fried eggplant, and maybe add some salty feta cheese to give the sandwich a rich umami flavor22

All I know is that both of these spreads are absolutely delicious, and are perfect for any dinner party or even an afternoon snack. You can also feel free to customize your hummus and babaghanoush—substitute cilantro for the parsley for a more Mexican version, top your hummus with some mushrooms sautéed with zhatar spice, or make a festive zucchini version of babaghanoush and spread it on some thick toast and top with avocado. Yummy! I love to simply serve them with some homemade pita chips!

Recipe: Roasted Vegetable Lasagna

Sorry I’ve been away for a few weeks, but work’s been crazy! This recipe is actually inspired by all of the craziness. I wanted something that was not only delicious, but also comforting. This lasagna is packed full of roasted vegetables, so it’s also a healthy dinner to serve your family. This recipe might seem like it has a lot of steps, but all of them are simple and can be multitasked. So if you want to feed a crowd, or have a lot of leftovers–which are delicious!–try this recipe for Roasted Vegetable Lasagna.DSC00340DSC00341

Ingredients:

  • 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes—my favorite brand is San Marzano for its inherent sweetness, but any brand should be fine
  • ½ teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 ½ teaspoons of dried oreganoDSC00369
  • 1 tin of anchovy filets—it’s important that the anchovies are packed in oil as opposed to water since you want to flavor and richness of the oil to help flavor the sauce. Flat filets are also easier for melting into the oilDSC00368
  • 4-5 medium garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1 pound of grape tomatoes—quartered whole tomatoes or cherry tomatoes could work in this dish too, but grape tomatoes are a nice size and roast beautifully in the oven
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 pound of cremini mushrooms, halved or quartered depending on size
  • 2 small to medium zucchini, cut into half moons
  • 2 small to medium yellow squash, cut into half moons
  • 1 green pepper, sliced into strips
  • 1 large onion, chopped roughly
  • 1 pound of ricotta cheese—it might be tempting to use low fat here, but use whole milk ricotta—trust me, you’ll taste the difference!
  • 1 cup of Parmesan cheese—shredded or grated as long as you’d eat it on your pasta
  • 2 eggs
  • 10 oz package of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained—Make sure you squeeze as much water out of the spinach as you can
  • 1 box of oven ready lasagna noodles
  • 1 bag of shredded mozzarella—one of those Italian blends works too
  • 1 small ball of fresh mozzarella (optional)
  • Olive oil

To Cook:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degreesDSC00345
  2. Toss tomatoes with 1 tablespoon of oil, 1 teaspoon of oregano and salt, and ½ teaspoon of black pepper
  3. Spread tomatoes on a sheet pan and roast for 15-20 minutesDSC00343DSC00344
  4. At the same time, use a second, larger sheet pan for the zucchini, squash, pepper and onion and increase to 2 tablespoons of oil, 1 tablespoon of salt, 2 teaspoons of oregano, and 1 teaspoon of pepper
  5. Roast the veggies for around 30 minutes, while you prepare the rest of the components for the lasagna
  6. Drop the heat to 375 degrees when the veggies come out of the ovenDSC00363DSC00362
  7. While the veggies are in the oven, add enough olive oil to a big sauté pan to coat the bottom and heat on medium-high heatDSC00370
  8. Add anchovies to the pan and break them up with a back of a wooden spoon—Don’t skip this step! Even if you don’t like anchovies, the high heat will melt the filets into the oil and it will give needed background and depth to your sauceDSC00371
  9. Once the anchovy is melted, add the garlic and brown for about a minute or twoDSC00372
  10. Add the mushrooms—it’s important for mushrooms to be spread out for them to brown evenly. If they’re too crowded in the pan, then they’ll start to steam and turn rubberyDSC00373
  11. Once the mushrooms have cooked, season with a teaspoon of salt, ½ teaspoon of black pepper,½ teaspoon of oreganoDSC00375
  12. Add the crushed tomatoes to the pan and stir—you want the seasonings to be evenly spread throughoutDSC00374
  13. Reduce the heat to medium low, and simmer until the roasted tomatoes are ready to come out of the oven, and then transfer tomatoes to the sauce
  14. Continue to simmer for another 5 minutes
  15. While the sauce is finishing up, you can work on the ricotta layerDSC00364DSC00365DSC00366
  16. In a large bowl, add ricotta cheese, parmesan, eggs, and spinach, as well as a teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of pepperDSC00367
  17. Whisk all the ingredients together for about 3-4 minutes
  18. Time to assemble the layers! In a 9×13 baking dish, spoon a bit of the tomato sauce on the bottom of the dish
  19. Add the lasagna noodles to the dish in a single layer all the way across—I shingled a little and also got creative by using one noodle that I cracked to fill in empty crevicesDSC00378
  20. The next layer should be some more tomato sauce
  21. Next up is a layer of the roasted vegetables
  22. After the vegetables should be a layer of the ricotta mixture—don’t skimp on the ricotta!DSC00377
  23. After the ricotta comes the cheese layer—add about ¼ of the bag of mozzarella cheese over the ricottaDSC00379
  24. Repeat the layering another 3 times, and top with a layer of noodlesDSC00380
  25. For the final layer, add a thick layer of tomato sauce all over the top, followed by the rest of the cheese, and a handful of parmesan—for my top layer, I actually like to use some fresh mozzarella since it melts so beautifully and makes for a beautiful presentation
  26. I place the whole thing onto a larger sheet tray so that if there’s spillage, it doesn’t go all over the oven floorDSC00383
  27. Bake in the oven at 375 degrees, uncovered, for 30-35 minutes

DSC00384Let it cool for at least 5-10 minutes before you cut into it. In fact, lasagna is a great make-ahead dish that you can keep in the fridge for up to 2 days before heating it. If you plan to refrigerate, make sure you add an additional 10-12 minutes to the cooking time. Also, this makes for a pretty saucy lasagna, but if you want you can reserve some extra sauce and spoon it over the top of each piece as it’s served, and garnish with some extra parmesan. Now who wouldn’t want a piece of that beauty? Buon Appetito!

Seafood Bounty in the Pacific Northwest 

Shucker’s Oyster Bar
411 University Street
Seattle, WA 98101 2015-09-17 20.29.11

2015-09-17 20.29.28The Pacific Northwest is known for some of the freshest seafood in the world—it’s a fish lover’s paradise. In fact, at the famous Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle, many of the fish mongers will be happy to “throw the fish” for visitors, and I even got to sample some delicious and super fresh smoked salmon! Therefore, it was a no brainer on what kind of food I wanted on my first night of a foodie weekend in Seattle—seafood! At the same time, I wasn’t in the mood to walk very far and found Shucker’s, which had great reviews on both OpenTable and Yelp and was only a 5 minute walk—I was sold.

2015-09-17 20.30.16Located inside of the landmark Fairmont Olympic Hotel, Shucker’s seemed like an old school seafood joint with a heavy focus on fresh fish. The aroma of some sort of baked seafood dish—maybe Oysters Rockefeller?—hit me as I walked in the door with an amazing garlic smell. It was sweet, salty, briny and so tantalizing. As I sat at the table, I had a good view of the chalkboard where that day’s market pics were listed—another nod to old school seafood houses—and got comfy on my side of the booth.

2015-09-17 20.47.282015-09-17 20.50.57The bread basket was bountiful, though not the best bread I’ve ever had. The white sourdough had a subtle tang, the whole wheat was nice and fluffy, and the cracker had a good amount of black pepper baked in. The butter was delicious though, and super creamy. The breads were great for dipping in my huge bowl of Creamy Clam Chowder ($12). Accompanying the soup was a mid-sized beer mug of oyster crackers, which I thought was a nice touch, albeit a little weird. The soup itself was creamy with a nice velvety texture, and uber-filled with fresh, chunky clams. I think a lot of the creaminess came from the starchiness of the potatoes, as opposed to a super amount of cream, which kept it from being too heavy. The whole bowl had an undertone of seafood flavor from the clam juice and it was a great way to ease into a seafood dinner. The waiter’s designation of it as a house specialty was spot on. It was very filling with such well cooked clams, but I soldiered on to the next courses.

2015-09-17 21.03.472015-09-17 21.04.10Up next was the Dungeness Crab and Artichoke Gratin ($17). This dish seemed a little different from the oft-ordered shrimp cocktail or crispy calamari that are so common at fish restaurants. Compared to the chowder, this appetizer was much more petite, but with a beautiful presentation. The gratin had big chunks of chunky crabmeat juxtaposed with the salty and tangy artichoke hearts. The top crisped up under the broiler and gave it some nice texture. It was garnished with a long, thin focaccia crisp, which was tasty but I wish was slightly chewier. It was a great vehicle for shoveling more crab and artichoke creaminess into my mouth though—so mission accomplished!

2015-09-17 21.23.072015-09-17 21.23.52Finally, was the main event that I had been waiting for—and salivating over—since I saw it on the menu: Shucker’s Seafood Paella ($41). Though it looks like a pretty steep price tag, there is so much seafood in this paella, and it was so delicious that it’s worth it. Plus, my waiter was so nice that he substituted a big scallop for me instead of clams in the paella, since I’m not a big fan of clams in their shell (plus already had clams in the soup). He didn’t even give me an up charge! To go through the long list of seafood in this dish, we can start with the huge quarter of a Dungeness crab atop the bowl, along with some crabmeat running throughout the rice. The crabmeat—after I used the seafood cracker to break the shell—was nice and sweet, and gave this dish such a level of elegance that many paella dishes are missing. The prawns and scallop were perfectly cooked—juicy and moist on the inside, with a slight acidic crust. The scallop specifically was gigantic with a wonderful, slightly acidic char on the outside. This dish also had plenty of meaty calamari flavor bombs and fresh, delicious mussels that absorbed flavor from the traditional saffron paella broth. The chorizo, chicken and andouille sausage were rendered down, and lent this dish a nice level of spice and bumped up the meatiness of the creamy rice. The saffron gave it not only a wonderful red-orange color but a depth of flavor that helped bridge the gap between the seafood and meats. Served in a mini-paella pan with a wedge of lemon to squeeze over the top, this dish was awesome, and such a great way to try a variety of fresh seafood in one dish.

2015-09-18 08.58.26Unfortunately, at the end of this deliciously decadent and unbelievably rich meal, there was absolutely no room left for dessert, though they sounded delicious. Regardless, this dinner was absolutely amazing, and the perfect gateway to the plethora of fresh seafood available in Seattle, and a wonderful “stick to your ribs” meal. I also have to mention that the servers at Shucker’s were very knowledgeable about the menu and attentive throughout the night. So, next time you visit Seattle and want to sample the bounty of the Pacific ocean, I recommend a pitstop at Shucker’s Oyster Bar! And, if you want to make your own fish dinner at home, check out my recipe for Sesame Crusted Tuna with Peanut Noodles 🙂