Philly Bargain: The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College

This past Saturday Sarah and I went to the Restaurant School for dinner. She had a tough week and needed to be treated. We had often thought about checking this place out, with its $21 three-course prix fixe for the European Courtyard French Menu. For those who don’t know, the Restaurant School is a culinary institute between 42nd and 43rd on Walnut St. in West Philly [where: 19104]. In addition to the school itself, it has two restaurants, a bakery and a market with sandwiches. The restaurants and the stores are run by the students under supervision from instructors. There are some rough edges, but overall we had a good time and a good meal. Read the rest of this entry »

Restaurant Week: Xochitl

For Restaurant Week, Sarah and I finally made it to Xochitl (pronounced So-cheet). Xochitl is an upscale Aztec Mexican on 2nd St. across from Headhouse Square in Old City. We had planned to go to this restaurant for some time and at $35 for a four-course meal this seemed like the perfect time. We were not disappointed.

The atmosphere is relaxing if a little cramped. We had a margarita and a beer at the bar while we waited for our table to free up. I could see coming to the bar for a few drinks and their freshly made guacamole. They have numerous types of tequila to sample as well as a good beer and wine list.

The prix fixe menu was divided into four courses: a soup, an appetizer, the main course and dessert. So let’s take each course one by one. Read the rest of this entry »

Irish Cream

For about 15 years now, it has been a tradition of mine to make homemade Irish Cream for family and friends. An old friend gave me the recipe, which I’ve tweaked here and there over the years. It doesn’t have the shelf life of commercial Irish Creams like Bailey’s. It should last a couple of weeks if you manage not to drink it over that period of time. In my humble opinion, the homemade variety is creamier and more flavorful.

One thing. Yes, this is made with raw eggs. I know some people are a bit squeamish about that but if you use fresh eggs it should be fine. Plus, the whiskey acts as a preservative. But if you must leave the eggs out, add a bit more heavy cream and blend a little longer.

Here are the ingredients:

2 eggs

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup Irish Whiskey

1 can of sweetened condensed milk

1 tbsp instant coffee (one of its few uses) You could let a couple tablespoons of dark roast coffee steep in a couple tablespoons of water overnight. Strain out the grounds and use the liquid. For me, since it is not a central flavor, the instant coffee works fine.

1 tbsp chocolate syrup

1 tbsp vanilla extract

1 tbsp almond extract

Just add all ingredients into a blender and blend at high speed for 30-45 seconds. You can serve right away but it will taste even better then next day.

I like it over ice or as a creamer in coffee. Enjoy!

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The 2007 Potato List

It’s that time of year: your office is filled with sugary treats, pop divas are murdering ‘O Holy Night’ on every radio station, you are tempted to drop five bucks on an eggnog latté, and every blog, magazine and newspaper is filled with ‘Best of 2007’ lists. Why should the Real Potato be any exception? Here are a few of my favorite discoveries of 2007, in no particular order.

1. Tiffin

www.tiffinstore.com, 710 W. Girard Ave. (between 7th and 8th Sts.), Philadelphia, PA
I can’t believe I haven’t written about Tiffin yet. Not only is this the best Indian food in Philadelphia, but my friend LeftyProf and his partner, both from Bangalore, swear this is the best Northern Indian they’ve had in 15 years in the US. In fact, I know several Indians who have gone out of their way just to get more of Tiffin’s food. We even had them cater our wedding. I am grateful to live in their delivery zone. They’re that good.

Tiffin is a multifaceted operation– they’ve got a dining room on Girard; they do regular old takeout; they have a catering business; and they also have an Indian-style lunch tiffin system. You order a light, healthy lunch online from a fixed menu in the morning, and they deliver at lunchtime anywhere between Fishtown and University City. Make sure to check out their specials, which change constantly and tend toward the fresh and seasonal.

2. Spring Garden Market

Spring Garden St at the corner of 4th St.

This is a brand new discovery– Spring Garden Market just opened its doors this week. This new addition to Northern Liberties, just north of Chinatown, is a cavernous, colorful, sparkling new Asian supermarket. The produce section is huge, and filled with all sorts of specialty produce (five kinds of sweet potatoes, anyone?) for Asian cooks. There’s a butcher and a fishmonger: their prices are low and the quality is quite high. You need pork belly? This is the place. Blocks of fresh tofu are 5 for a dollar; fresh noodles, whole water chestnuts, gigantic sheets of bean curd, you name it. The groceries are comprehensive, from Vietnamese noodles to black sesame oil to a huge range of canned fruits and vegetables, bags of rice, and 99-cent cans of rice congee. This is my new favorite grocery store.

3. The Les Halles Cookbook

OK, we all know I love Anthony Bourdain, but seriously, this cookbook is great. It’s not just the food, though there’s definitely plenty of food porn here. It really delves into Bourdain’s philosophy of cooking, and it’s filled with passion on so many things. It’s also written in Bourdain’s actual voice, so expect cooking instructions that swear at you, tell you that you don’t deserve good steak if you’re going to overcook it, and instruct you to roll your herb butter in plastic wrap “just like you would roll a joint.” Hee. The style doesn’t veer into the gimmicky, though, which is a hard balance to maintain. And the FOOD, oh my god. I’m going to get some pork belly at Spring Garden Market and try my hand at rillettes de porc, oh yes.

4. The Hot Sauce at Taco Riendo

It’s not red, guys. It’s a deep, velvety maroon, with a flavor that penetrates into the dark, smoky heart of chipotle flavor. And it’s totally amazing on al pastor tacos. If they bottled this, I would buy it and give it to everyone I know. (Aside to Taco Riendo: Seriously, have you considered bottling it?)

5. The Headhouse Market

This farmer’s market (which closes this weekend!) appears on Sunday mornings in the historic Headhouse pavilion at 2nd St. and South St. It’s sponsored by the Food Trust and features deliciously fresh produce, breads, dairy products and even wines. And some of the vendors are fellow Philly food bloggers!

6. Country’s Barbecue

3137 Mercury Drive, Columbus, GA

I was down in Columbus on a business trip a few months ago. The highlight of the trip was getting to see my cousins Maggie and Sheryl, but the culinary highlight was Country’s. My client’s directions involved the phrase ‘you can’t miss it, with all the barbecue smoke.’ He wasn’t kidding. The parking lot is full of fragrant black smoke from the barbecue pits– and it’s a wonderful sign of things to come. I went with some fellow translation project managers and shared achingly tender pork barbecue sandwiches and the best fried chicken I have ever eaten. (They also had fried pickles, which I hear are amazing if you like pickles– but I hate pickles with a furious passions, so I passed.)

7. Serious Eats

I first checked out this site after hearing that Alton Brown reads it religiously. It’s great– filled with food news, good recipes, and essays by serious chowhounds who share a passion for real food. They like to give away prizes, which is pretty awesome– I keep trying to win those Peter Luger steaks, believe me.

8. Lagavulin

This is Joe’s influence– he’s turned me on to the joys of good scotch. I’ve been a beer nerd for many years now, and one of the things I enjoy about scotch is that it uses the same sort of palate, with malty, smoky flavors. Lagavulin, though, is the scotch that turned me into a scotch snob. It’s a single malt aged in sherry casks, and its dark, complex, smoky flavors just make other scotch seem kind of pointless.

9. Paizano’s Pizza

Baker City, Oregon

I’ve never been to Oregon, but I’ve been reading KeenEye’s blog for months now. In the time I’ve been reading, she’s renovated a building, opened a gourmet pizzeria and started to thrive. Her posts about the joys and pitfalls of running a restaurant are witty and sharp, and the food looks amazing.

10. Peking Duck

Yes, I realize that I’m years late to the party on this one. Until recently, I’d had Peking duck only once, on a college trip to London. I loved it but it never occurred to me to seek it out in the US. Thanks to Philly’s Chinatown, though, I’m a convert. We get ours at Wong Wong on the corner of Race and 9th. One whole duck feeds two people. You get tender duck with crispy, outrageously flavorful skin; fluffy little rice pancakes; fresh scallions; and plummy, tangy hoisin sauce. Make a little taco out of that and abandon yourself to the decadent glory of duck fat. Oh yeah.

Your turn: what’s your favorite food discovery of 2007?

I’ll be headed home to Pittsburgh this weekend and will probably be internet-less, so until then– merry Christmas, Eid Mubarak, happy Kwanzaa, blessed Yule, and if you don’t celebrate any of those, have fun on your day off. And thank you all for an amazing year!

Sarah

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Tiffin in Philadelphia

A Chocolate Chip Triptych

chocolate chip cookie

I love homemade chocolate chip cookies. You love homemade chocolate chip cookies. Everybody does. If you grew up in the US, they were probably part of your childhood. If you didn’t get the real thing until adulthood, then I envy your first taste of a warm, melting chocolate chip cookie. It’s still one of life’s great pleasures for me.

There are a few conflicting histories of the chocolate chip cookie, but everyone agrees that it was invented by Ruth Wakefield of the Toll House Inn in 1933, and popularized during World War II, when families shipped boxes to soldiers overseas. It became an American classic, and today the recipe is printed on bags of Nestlé chocolate chips.

Here’s the original recipe; it’s pretty much in the public domain at this point, so here, go crazy. I’ll follow that with two worthy variations, one of which is gluten-free.

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Bar Ferdinand: Tops in Tapas

Sarah and I love tapas. Eating samples from multiple plates is our favorite way to eat. You can relax, take your time and enjoy the food, what you’re drinking and good conversation. A number of months ago we tried Bar Ferdinand in Northern Liberties. It was great and it had just opened recently. We went back a week ago and had an equally great, if not better experience.

First off, Bar Ferdinand is open late. They serve dinner until midnight and the bar is open until 2AM. What’s more, they have a late-night happy hour between 9PM and 11PM. Normally, this means $3 sangrias and $4 draught beers. The beer selection is very good, featuring Belgians and microbrews. The wine list is extensive with a nice amount of selections by the glass. One of the things we miss about New York is the ability to get good meals late in the evening. Bar Ferdinand satisfies this need for us.

On to the food.

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Beneluxx Tasting Room: School is IN!

Beneluxx is an unabashedly educational bar, devoted to teaching its customers/students to appreciate fine beer, wine, cheese and chocolate. These are the four food groups as far as Joe and I are concerned, so we were excited when we sought out this recently opened below-ground bar on a rainy Friday night. Mind you, this doesn’t take away from the fun.

The offerings fall into those four categories, plus a page of small dishes such as fondue, crepes, salads and pizzas. The menu gives detailed descriptions of all of its offerings and suggests some pairings (wine/cheese, beer/cheese, wine/chocolate, etc.). Better yet, it offers tasting sizes of its offerings, which encourages customers to try new beers, wines and cheeses, compare their flavors, and experiment with their own pairings. (And the tasting sizes come in beakers! Cute.) If you’ve always wondered why people make such a big deal about wine and cheese, this is a great place to start.

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