Philly’s Best New Cheap Eats: Ekta and Zhi-Wei-Guan

Joe and I are headed to Kitty Hawk, NC for a week of internet-free relaxation on the beach.  If you’re in Philly, though, two new spots to try:

Ekta

I posted about Ekta’s opening, so you know I was in a hurry to try the food.  I’m happy to report that Chef Raju Bhattarai has matched the quality that his fans came to expect at his former post, Tiffin, at his new restaurant a few blocks down Girard.  [where: 19125]  I ordered one of the few dishes I hadn’t seen before, Murg Pahari, described on the menu only as “chicken cooked in a village’s style.”  It arrived hot and on time, and it was comfort food– the chicken was cooked in a thick, spicy sauce of onions, tomatoes and herbs.  No heavy cream thickening the gravy here, just fresh vegetables and a low level of heat that allowed the flavors to shine.  Peshawari naan and onion bhajis were tasty, but the real standout was the freebie “chef’s accompaniment” that arrived labeled “semolina.”  It was a dessert semolina porridge with golden raisins and toasted almonds, its subtle sweetness cut by a hint of black pepper.  I hope it makes it onto the menu– I’d order it for dessert or for breakfast.

Zhi-Wei-Guan Restaurant

I’ve posted a lot about Race St. between 9th and 10th: Wong Wong, HK Golden Phoenix and Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodles all live on this blessed block. [where: 19107] Between Nan Zhou* and HK there’s a new neighbor: Zhi-Wei-Guan Restaurant, the Magic Kingdom of Dough.  (That’s what it says on the business card.)  Zhi-Wei-Guan is named after a famous restaurant in Hangzhou, China, and Hangzhou dishes are proudly featured throughout the menu.  We had an amazing Hangzhou-style duck noodle soup with bok choy, and noodle dishes are clearly a specialty.  The real star here, though, is the juicy buns.  When we arrived, around 9:15 PM, our server welcomed us cheerfully** and told us that the pork/shrimp/mushroom buns ($7.50) were almost sold out.  There were only five left, but she’d round out the order with some beef buns.  Who could say no to that?  The buns were indeed juicy, fresh and full of flavor.  The beef buns were very lightly cooked, still pink inside, but delicious, with a lighter flavor and texture than you might expect from a beef dumpling.  Definitely worth the price.  We also ordered a noodle soup with fried tofu and stewed spareribs, and found it deeply satisfying.  Unlike Nan Zhou down the street, which is known for its noodles, the amazing, knock-your-socks-off component to Zhi-Wei-Guan’s soup is the broth.  Both of the soups we tried were all about the complex, rich flavors of the broth.  The way it permeated the fried tofu– oh, man, you’re just going to have to try it.  The soups, by the way, are all in the $5-7 range.
They’re open until 10, and the service is amazing.  Our server was a friendly, personable woman in her twenties who chatted with customers, recommended dishes, brought us freebies (sliced cucumber with a vinegar-soy dipping sauce, yum!) and even took our pictures for the wall.  I wish I’d caught her name.  I’ve worked as a server and in retail, and I’m not a fan of the classic servile style of restaurant service– I’d rather talk to a friendly fellow human being who knows and cares about the food they’re serving.  I loved the food, but our server gave us such a good experience that I know I’ll be coming back regularly.
With that, I’m disappearing for the week– off to enjoy the tasty treats of Kitty Hawk.  Have a nice week, folks!

*a.k.a. Lanzhou (兰州/蘭州), not to be confused with Hangzhou (杭州).  Chinese transliteration is a complicated business; I’m not about to hazard guesses about what’s right or wrong.  Chinese speakers, please feel free to chime in.

** This is a welcome contrast to the dumpling house that briefly occupied this space before Zhi-Wei-Guan– I stopped in one night half an hour before closing time to order takeout and was shooed out by a surly server.

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Korean Noodle House: Low-Budget Joy in Philadelphia’s Koreatown

Lean in, my children, and listen closely. I’m going to tell you the secret to being a working-class foodie.

See, a lot of people assume that being a ‘foodie’ means you’ve got to go to all the best restaurants. You should be able to rave about the zillion-course omakase tasting at Masa or your $400 dinner at Per Se. You should be able to voice your own opinion on every restaurant your local critic has given four stars. You should be able to taste the difference between two bottles of Beaujolais from different vineyards, etc. And indeed, a lot of foodies are that way, or at least that’s what the New York Times’ food section tells me.

Those foodies are rich.

We here at the Potato are not rich. We are very much not rich. (Ask our student loan agents.) But we like to eat well, and we want you to eat well too.

Here is the secret: Read the rest of this entry »

Giwa: Satisfying Korean Food for Winter Days

bibimbap

When we lived in New York City, I went to school and worked at the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate School and University Center, more commonly known as CUNY Grad. One of the nice things about working there, which offset the constant annoyance of tourists (the Grad Center is on the opposite corner of The Empire State Building), was that the area is filled with really good Korean restaurants. They vary in price from cheap to very expensive. Our favorite was Mandoo Bar, which served up wonderful dumplings and noodles. I hadn’t really had great Korean since we moved to Philly– until Giwa opened up down the street from where I work.

Read the rest of this entry »

Siu Mai (Steamed Shrimp and Pork Dumplings)

OK, I’ve done a second Chinese recipe, and I have to tell you, this is fun.  Maybe it’s just because it’s a novelty for me, but I’m really enjoying using techniques like stir-frying and shaping dumplings.  It’s just a good time in the kitchen for me. 

Last night we made siu mai (or shu mai), a steamed dumpling that’s become quite popular in the US.  You can get it at most Japanese restaurants (it’s not as common in American Chinese restaurants, though its origins are Chinese) or frozen at Trader Joe’s.  This is another recipe from the Eileen Yin-Fei Lo book.

Well, I say last night, but it was a two-day process.  It’s not difficult, but the meat needs to marinate overnight.  For the meat mixture, you are mixing diced shrimp (peeled and deveined, please!), ground pork and diced shiitake mushroom caps.  The marinade is a mixture of peanut butter, dark mushroom soy sauce (Best! Condiment! Ever!), sesame oil, Chinese cooking wine, rice wine vinegar, sugar, pepper, salt, and cornstarch.  It’s supposed to have an even consistency, but mine was pretty lumpy so I took it for a quick spin in the Cuisinart.  I put it in a covered bowl and let it sit overnight in the fridge.

The next day is the fun part: shaping the dumplings.  Lo gives instructions for the dough, but she also advocates buying fresh dumpling wrappers if available, so I picked some up at the Chinese supermarket.  I suspect that the wrappers I bought may be a bit bigger than what she was going for, though, since the recipe says it makes 36 dumplings and I got 16.  My siu mai looked exactly like the pictures in the book, only bigger.  Eh, what are you gonna do? 

So, shaping the dumplings.  The dumpling wrapper is a thin, circular piece of dough.  Take that into your left hand, and with the right scoop out a good bit of meat filling– three or four tablespoons, I’d say.  Smooth it onto the wrapper, and then use your fingers to fold and shape it.  You’re creating a little basket shape that’s open on top, and you want to flatten the filling on top so it all cooks evenly.  I used a cookie sheet to hold them while I was making them, and tapped the bottom on the cookie sheet so it was flat and stood up on its own.

Next, steaming time!  The recipe calls for 7 minutes in the steamer, but since they were big we did 10 minutes.  We steamed four at a time and they came out perfectly done and fragrant.  We put some dark mushroom soy sauce on them and oh my god, were they delicious.  The mushroom flavor was dominant, but shrimp and sesame were prominent too.   When they start to cool down, the dough starts to toughen a bit, so these are best eaten piping hot.

The great thing about these is that they freeze really well.  Once we’d eaten our fill, we let them cool and then froze them for about two hours on a cookie sheet, just enough to let them solidify.  Then we wrapped them up, put them in a ziploc bag and put them in the freezer for a rainy day!  Lo says they’ll last for about two months, and to heat them up you just need to steam them for 3-5 minutes. 

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