News you can use, from sushi to booze

-Asian chefs and kitchen workers are on strike in Israel. The Israeli government, which initially brought the chefs in as part of a move to replace Palestinian workers during the first Intifada, has decided it no longer wants them. Instead, they plan to train Israelis to cook Asian food instead. Two wrongs make a bad meal.

-In happier and more local news, the latest fruit of gentrification in Fishtown has arrived in the form of the Memphis Taproom. It’s a new bar that promises to serve tasty local food and, according to the Philadelphia City Paper, “a sizable American craft selection in addition to Belgian, German and English brews.” And for this transplanted Pittsburgher, it gets even better: “It would be pretty much a sin not to have really good pierogies and really nice kielbasa,” says co-owner Brendan Hartranft. All this, and it’s right down the street? I can’t wait until this place opens, in April. Oh, and they’ve promised to keep prices down. Sweet. [where: 19125]

-It’s the most wonderful time of the year… the Philly Craft Beer Festival is coming up!

-A Columbia University study finds that body image is a better predictor of health than obesity. Furthermore, the results seem to suggest that discrimination and body-based oppression and the stress associated with them have a bigger impact on fat people’s health than the weight itself:

“Our data suggest that some of the obesity epidemic may be partially attributable to social constructs that surround ideal body types,” said Peter Muennig, MD, MPH, Mailman School of Public Health assistant professor of Health Policy and Management. “Younger persons, Whites, and women are disproportionately affected by negative body image concerns, and these groups unduly suffer from BMI-associated morbidity and mortality.”

…There is evidence that discrimination against heavy people is pervasive, occurring in social settings, the workplace, and the home. These processes are likely internalized, leading to a negative body image that also may serve as a source of chronic stress.

“The data add support to our hypothesis that the psychological stress that accompanies a negative body image explains some of the morbidity commonly associated with being obese. Our finding that the desire to lose weight was a much stronger predictor of unhealthy days than was BMI further suggests that perceived difference plays a greater role in generating disease,” said Dr. Muennig.

Interesting findings indeed. And if you’re trying to feel a little more sane about what you eat and how you feel about your body, check out this post about intuitive eating over at Shapely Prose.

-Good article on the Bush administration’s linguistic sleight-of-hand when it comes to food safety, from’s regular feature Politics of the Plate.

-Finally, I’m told that shellfish are particularly sweet and lovely this time of year. Mario Batali’s recipe for crab tortelloni with scallions and poppy seeds might have to be our fancy, splurge-y meal for the week. There’s nothing like good crabmeat treated well. I used to turn down homemade crab cakes during my picky-eater childhood; I could kick myself for doing that now!

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Loaves and Fishes: The Friday Fish Fry

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The Christian season of Lent started yesterday– it’s early this year, thanks to a quirk of the calendar. Catholics around the world have a tradition of fasting and/or food restrictions– they’re different everywhere. I’m from western Pennsylvania, where people eat fish on Friday during Lent. Specifically, they eat beer-battered fish sandwiches.

Fish sandwiches are a big deal in the Pittsburgh area. They always involve a soft bun, a thin but flavorful batter, no toppings other than maybe some tartar sauce, and WAY more fish than bun. The fish is usually sole. There are sandwich shops where you can get them year round, but the real place to go is the basement of the local Catholic church on a Friday afternoon during Lent. Churches (often the women’s auxiliary– yes, those still exist– or another fundraising group) all around the area make homemade fish sandwiches and sell them for eat-in and takeout. They’re crispy, juicy and utterly delicious.

They’re not just for Catholics, either. When I was growing up, we Presbyterians were regulars at the fish fry at St. Alphonsus in Springdale, and it was common to walk into the church basement and see a table full of Presbyterians and another of Lutherans, drinking Cokes and maneuvering massive fried sole filets into their mouths. I can’t speak for Lutherans, but Presbyterians are under no obligation to eat fish on Friday– it’s just that the fish is sooo good.

St. Al’s no longer makes their divine sandwiches, but if you’re in the Pittsburgh area, here’s a list of parish fish fries. Don’t be shy if you’re not a Catholic– if you like fish, you’ll be welcome.

Hey Philadelphians– has the fish fry caught on in eastern PA? If so, where should I go for my Lenten fish sandwich tomorrow?

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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 »

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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Giwa: Satisfying Korean Food for Winter Days


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.

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Sole Sauteed in Garlic Over Pine Nut Couscous

A very simple family-style dish from my childhood. As a kid, I wasn’t too into most seafood but sole has a very mild flavor that I quite liked. I’d never made this for Sarah but we had these sole filets, so I thought I would give it a go. In my youth the sole was served over pasta. But I thought couscous would be tasty. You need the following:

9-10 sole filets

Two cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped

Olive oil

Chicken stock

One cup of water

One cup of couscous

1/4 cup pine nuts

1 cup of panko bread crumbs

1 tablespoon of butter

Juice of one lemon

First, boil the cup of water. Toss in the pine nuts and some salt. Stir in couscous and remove from heat. Cover and set aside for five minutes. After five minutes, fluff with a fork, add some olive oil and it is ready to serve.

While the couscous is resting, melt the butter in a small pan. When the butter is getting foamy add the bread crumbs and saute until the bread crumbs start to turn brown. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a large skillet heat enough olive oil, over medium high heat, to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the garlic. Saute the fish in batches and remove to a paper towel. Saute one side in the olive oil. When you flip the fish add just a bit of chicken stock to deglaze the pan. When the stock has nearly all evaporated, remove the fish to the paper towel to drain. Repeat until all the fish is done.

To serve, make a pile of couscous in the middle of the plate. Put the desired amount of sole over the couscous. Sprinkle the sole with the bread crumbs and drizzle a bit of olive oil and lemon juice over the top. I garnished with some yellow heirloom tomatoes.

A very tasty and healthy meal. You can adjust the amount of the ingredients depending on how many people you have. This served Sarah and me with a bit of fish left over to give the dog and cat a taste. Enjoy!


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Ida Mae’s Bruncherie: Not just for brunch anymore.

Ida Mae's

I’ve been a fan of Ida Mae’s since it opened: before, even, since we live around the corner and waited impatiently for a year or so before it finally opened. We saw the deliveries from Greensgrow, our neighborhood farm, and we watched the space transform. We attended the opening day reception, and watched our Fishtown neighbors pile in to add their good wishes to the chorus. I’m not unbiased here. I really want Ida Mae’s to succeed.

So you can imagine our trepidation the first time we stopped in for breakfast, and again last night when we first tried the new dinner service: what if it sucks? What if it doesn’t live up to our high hopes?

I’m happy to report that Ida Mae’s does indeed fulfill our hopes for it. If you’re not from the neighborhood, it’s worth the trip to Fishtown, especially for dinner.

The space is cheerful and clean, with high tables, a long breakfast counter, and a backroom cozily decorated with stained glass and a fireplace. Coffee mugs feature Ida Mae’s logo, a shamrock, and some seriously good coffee.

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