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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Philadelphia- Part 1

Where should I begin explaining about our food exploits in Philadelphia. You'll have to be a bit gentle when critiquing our pictures for this post. We are definitely not the seasoned veterans that many of you are when it  comes to "in-restaurant" photography. We are still infants in this field, but you have to crawl before you can walk, and Philly is truly a city for walking.

Our food odyssey begins with an overnight rendezvous at Dawn's grandparents who warmly greeted us with chocolate cake despite our arrival at midnight and filled us with a blueberry crumble cake and fresh cantaloupe in the morning. We toured their thriving box garden of squash, hanging tomatoes, cabbages, onions, and a rainbow of decorative flowers. Every time we visit the food is delicious and the company is comforting and occasionally competitive when the Wii bowling gets going.

Around three on Saturday we reached Alexander Inn, which served as a nice cool respite from the miles of walking that also served as penance for the indulgent eating. The Alexander Inn is a nice boutique hotel bordering Antique Row and convenient to Market Street and the Rittenhouse square area. For the most part there is a big city ambiance of wafting kitchen scents, what can only be described as 'back alley odor, all the specialty shops that cooks dream of, and enough new and old standby restaurants to keep anyone busy. 

Around 5:30, we walked the two and a half miles from our hotel to the University District to partake in Jose Garces' Mexico City tapas style restaurant, Distrito. From the moment I walked in, I couldn't stop thinking that the decor reminded me of a a mixture of Nacho Libre and Alice in Wonderland. The whimsical hot pinks, the luchadore wall, the gold specked tables, and the lime green taxi car tables provided an oddly outstanding backdrop for his interpretation of Mexican and Spanish cuisine. First, Dawn ordered the fresh watermelon margarita (12), and I ordered a glass of Tecate (2) to accompany the chips and Mexicana salsa (5). The Los Hongos Hurache (12) was by far the best item we had all night. From the shaved truffle specks and truffle oil, the dish was mushroom heaven with a hint of microgreen herbage.

Dish two was the lengua tacos (7) that I'm always a fan of and was glad to see on the menu. These were lusciously rich with a hint of radish, just enough tang from the pepper sauce, and a nice corn tortilla to surround it.
Next was the Hamachi taco (14) which was a pillar of whitefish, coated with panko and fried, topped with a creamy chipotle sauce and surrounded by a flour tortilla. Although it could have used a touch less breading and a touch more sauce, we happily devoured the set of three mini tacos.

Dish four was an Amarillo mole of rabbit (10) that had a very nice presentation. The tiny staub cast iron casserole presentation was perfect with the rabbit fanned out and the sauce puddle in a vibrant cheddar orange hue. Unfortunately the habanero sauce needed more basics such as salt, pepper, and a hint more body.
Garces' take on the black bean quesadilla (6) was an empanada like version that won both of us over with the presentation and its onslaught of flavor. Surrounded by a terra cotta red sauce and drizzled with a creamy sauce that married well with the turtle beans, it was an awesome dish.

Dessert was truly an homage to Spanish cuisine in the shape of churros (7), or starfish as my dad refers to them because of their shape. They were crisp, chewy, and mesmerizing. The effect was like sinking your teeth into the perfect pomme frites, fries, or chips, yet these churros included a lovely thick cajeta sauce, a spicy chocolate sauce, and of course a perfect scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Overall the whacky themed restaurant prepares picturesque food, that was for the most part an exciting trip for the palette, ample service although at times too much, and great drinks and atmosphere. It is well worth a try if you are in the area.

After a rewarding breakfast provided by the hotel, we spent the morning out and about visiting the historic sights of Philadelphia. For lunch, we stopped at a little hole in the wall in Chinatown called Chung King. We rarely go on a trip without eating somewhere we stumble upon and this is the restaurant. Unfortunately the pictures inside didn't turn out at all, but as we sat down and looked over the menu, we were surprised at the astounding selection of delicacies they offered. Generally I am more adventurous when it comes to ordering strange dishes at restaurants, but Dawn went above and beyond when I ordered the twice cooked pork, and selected spicy pig ears. The waiter looked at her oddly and asked if she liked pig ears, and she responded, "we'll see," after which he brought us a complimentary pot of green tea. Although the pig ears had a unique flavor and were served over a delicious chili broth, they were served cold and were texturally a little much for her to handle. The more I ate them, the less the texture seemed to bother me. The double cooked pork I ordered consisted of thin slices of pork belly along with a rich sauce produced by the fat in the pork, onions and currants. For a meal where you're thinking about your wallet and feeling a little adventurous, this was a nice place to stop for around $20.

After more sightseeing and walking, we were ready for our next culinary adventure and and set off for Pietros Coal Oven Pizzeria. There are a couple more locations around Philadelphia and in New Jersey, so it is not a singular pizza joint, but one that produces a mean pie. We sat down inside instead of on the patio because moments before we arrived, Dawn suggested we stop by Max Brenner's chocolate shop. It reminded me of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when just inside the door you are welcomed by a gust of cool air perfumed by chocolate ecstasy. Inside the doors we were given a candied chocolate coated pecan that told me this pit stop was a good idea. After perusing for awhile we decided to pick up a Textures box of eighteen truffles (24), a single giant truffle (3) and a small bag of toasted pistachio and coconut chocolate balls (4). Everything was fantastic and a worthwhile stop in Philadelphia. We missed the restaurant the store was attached to this trip, but maybe next time!

Back to to the pizza. The decor inside Pietro's was homey and inviting with tables adorned in green and jugs of herb infused olive oil. After we were seated the warm complimentary foccacia rolls were simply delicious. Dawn ordered a "small" salad for us to split before the pizza arrived, and their definition of small is certainly relative. The arugula salad with sun-dried tomatoes and pecorino with a honey olive oil vinaigrette was easily enough for three. But, we were starving and finished it before moving on to the pizza. The pizza we ordered was a piccante pizza consisting of spicy ham, aged provolone, crushed red hot peppers, and Italian tomatoes for a change of pace from what we normally order. The crust was crisp and lightly charred in spots with a really nice crumb. The spiciness of the ham went well with the lightly fruity dry edge of the sangiovese.

Monday, we perused every nook and cranny of Reading Terminal market. Iovine's produce does make me quite envious, but glad I had a chance to stop in. While there we purchased some dry ingredients that would survive the trek home, but were sad to pass up the fresh morels. We did manage to score some dried morels, dried black mission figs, and dried currants though. So many meat and seafood purveyors under one roof are truly astounding. We stopped by the spice rack and picked up some smoked peppercorns, and Dawn eagerly chose some new extracts to try.

But who can visit Philadelphia without sampling the cheese-steak. My choice was as close as I could get to sampling both the famous roast pork sandwich and the famous cheese-steak at the same time. I choose an Italian cheese-steak with roasted peppers, broccoli rabe, and sharp provolone. It was messy goodness in a bun.

All the amazing food and drinks we enjoyed in Philly can't compare to the extraordinary fare and drinks we enjoyed at Taste of that Nations though, held at the Loews Hotel. Sorry for the lengthy description of our endeavors so far, but while we finish sorting through pictures you'll have to wait a few days for the big event! Stay tuned for more about the event, including a meet up with Emily Malloy of Cleanliness is Next to Godliness, and even a surprise run in with a Food Network star!


Fresh Local and Best said...

The tapas at Districto look amazing! I would have gone crazy for all of those tacos, especially the hamachi taco. btw, I have a giveaway going on my blog for an All-Clad pan, come and enter!

Drick said... first I though Dawn ordered 12 margaritas.. now that's a fancy Mexican place, one I would surely like to visit, thanks for taking me on the trip, great sounding food, unbelievable looking, love, love churros...and I find it amusing you two ordered a piccante pizza too - can't wait for the post on the Taste event and the Emily event will be rewarding too...

Gigabiting said...

Some good picks here in my town.
And how 'bout this Philly weather?!

Emily Malloy (Ziegler) said...

ISN'T DISTRITO AMAZING?!?!? I could eat there every night. So glad you guys checked it out!

Anonymous said...

That pizza looks so, so good!

denise @ quickies on the dinner table said...

Distrito sounds like the kind of place I'd want to visit - slightly wacky, with very interesting food! Thanks for an engaging and informative read :)

The Duo Dishes said...

Haven't been to Philly, and definitely don't know a thing about its food scene. You ate very, very well though! It may be time for a visit.

Magic of Spice said...

What a great post...Everything looks so good! Looking forward to more:)

The Housewife said...

Amazing! I love the mushroom pizza... how gorgeous is that!? I love learning about new places to find great food, so thanks for sharing!

RamblingTart said...

How fun!! I love the offerings at the tapas place you found. :-) I MUST find such a place near me soon. :-)

M. said...

looks like a tasty guide to Philadelphia :)

sweetlife said...

glad you featured Distrito, I was hoping to see a review of this place and i love all the pics...yummy


Rick said...

I love that mascot!

Mardi @eatlivetravelwrite said...

I am *in* Philly right now and chomping at the bit to get to Reading Market. Won't be until Saturday though. I am also trying out Garces Trading Company so will report on that but the tapas looks AMAZING!! Adding Max Brennar's to the list right now!

alison said...

so much fun!and so many amazing dishes!

My Little Space said...

The first one should be something I wanted to take for sure! Looks really scrumptious. LOL! Yummmm.... You guys do really know how to enjoy life! Gosh, how I wish I was there too.

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