Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Philly Mag's Best New Restaurant: Distrito

Yesterday I went to what is now officially Philly Magazine's Best New Restaurant 2009: Distrito. I made my first visit right after Craig LaBan's 3-Bell review last September. My 10 month lapse between visits might indicate that I was less than excited about the place. It just didn't quite live up to the hype. The food was alright, but, yes, as everyone likes to say, "It just wasn't as good as Amada."

I owed a "frequent" Tria guest a visit to their place of work, so I decided to trek over to West Philly for some "modern Mexican cuisine." Turns out, it was also University City Dining Days. The menu I had hoped for was abbreviated into a $30 prix fixe. I decided to go à la carte anyway.

After being sent out guacamole with chips, I went with gazpacho - watermelon, tomato, red chile, crab, cucumber. While the cool watermelon flavor, enhanced with just a touch of spice was fantastic, the completely pureed texture wasn't what I expected. The crab and cilantro wasn't enough to give this soup the perfect textural experience.

Next, I went with a salad: jícama, honeydew, watermelon, chile piquin, lime zest. The finely diced ingredients were perfectly chilled and crisp. Seeing as it was hot and humid yesterday, this was actually exactly what I wanted to cool down. In fact, both the soup and the salad were weather appropriate food choices.

Apparently, I ended up dining vegetarian; obviously not something I normally do. Last time I visited, the bone marrow tacos were the highlight. Unfortunately, they're not even on the menu anymore.

I realize I did some lame ordering. I didn't choose their most exciting items, and I didn't even get tacos. But, I wasn't that hungry and the weather wasn't exactly pushing me towards hot dishes.

In the end, I'd go to Distrito again. And do some better ordering.

Distrito Restaurant
3945 Chestnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104-3621
(215) 386-1072

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Oysters and Bubbles

Yesterday, my day off eating tour began at the newly reopened Oyster House. I work just down the street, yet somehow hadn't stopped in yet. Naturally, in the mood for decadence, I went with the classic pairing of oysters and bubbly. Really, sometimes, there's just nothing better in the world.

I started out with a glass of Paras Balta Cava Brut from Penedes, Spain to go with my half dozen Royal Miyagi oysters from British Columbia. The oysters were incredible. They were really creamy with a somewhat fruity/salty aftertaste.

I have to give the Oyster House credit; they were the best shucked oysters I've had in Philly. I really do take issue with restaurants that want to serve oysters for between two and three dollars a piece, yet do a terrible job of cleaning them. I'm willing to deal with a little grit, but if the oyster isn't even separated from the shell, I have to draw the line. So, kudos to the Oyster House. I suppose, based upon their name, they really couldn't get away with anything less.

After the oysters, I moved onto a glass of Bouvet Brut Rosé from the Loire. To somewhat pair with the rosé, I went with a version of my favorite Tria dish: Roasted Beets with Feta. At Tria, the beets are roasted with red onion, honey, and lemon. In comparison, the beets at Oyster House were much less sweet. They were also unevenly roasted and covered in parsley. The Feta was also pretty low quality. Between the pervasive parsley flavor and the boring feta, these beets really didn't match up to Tria. I may be a little biased, but really, I don't want parsley on my beets.

So, I guess I should just stick with oysters at Oyster House. And, well, there's nothing wrong with that.

Oyster House

1516 Sansom Street

Philadelphia, PA 19102


Monday, July 13, 2009

Movin' On Amherst, MA

Yes, Folks, I'm moving away from my beloved hometown city for the next few years. As my mini-biography indicates, my life has been a precarious mix of education, bartending and all things fermentable. Since graduating from college 3 years ago I've played a little juggling game. At the height of it, I ended up opening and managing a restaurant in Wayne while finishing a Master's Degree at NYU.

Since commuting to Massachusetts isn't a possibility, I'll be giving up my bartending gig at Tria in September, and moving to Amherst to pursue a Ph. D. in history at UMass. Have no fear, my passion for, and pursuit of, all things beer, wine and food related will not end; it will just be relocated, and interspersed with trips back to Philly.

Last week, I went up to Amherst to find a place to live. Naturally, I had to include some food and beer. With the help of Beer Advocate and Yelp I picked a restaurant that alleged to have the best combination of food and beer in the area. So, after securing a great place to live, my parents and I stopped at The Sierra Grille in Northampton.

To start, Beer Advocate didn't lie. The beer selection was great. With 21 taps, one hand pump and an okay sized bottle list, I wasn't disappointed. The list was about 75% import, 25% domestic and managed to cover most major styles.

I started out with a local draft beer: Berkshire Brewing Company Steel Rail Extra Pale Ale. Berkshire Brewing Company, started in 1994, is a craft brewery located in South Deerfield, MA. As their website says, they brew in 620 gallon batches and can brew 420 barrels (13020 gallons) a week. According to the brewery, Steel Rail, their flagship beer, is "a full flavored American style ale." While the beer had good balance between hops and malts, it lacked some body. It's citrus hop character was enjoyable, but not quite complex. I'm curious to try more of their beers and perhaps make a visit to the brewery. Based on BA, it seems like they might have some interesting one-off beers to try out.

After the BBC, I moved onto Ommegang Rouge, a Flanders Red from Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, NY. Since it's debut this past fall, I've been a big fan of this beer. I love, love, love sours and was impressed to find such a great American rendition. Say what you will about Duvel-Moortgat and Don Feinberg's exit from Ommegang (and I'm often the first one to jump in when Duvel comes up), but this is a great beer. It's tart, sour, refreshing, crisp and beautifully complex.

Moving to food, there was much to be desired. I realize I live in a fantastic foodie city. My standards for great meals have been set by the likes of Bryan Sikora, Jose Garces and Marc Vetri. So, this dinner was alright. I sound incredibly snobby in saying this, but dinner was just okay. I know that I'll find a few culinary gems in Western Massachusetts, this just wasn't one of them.

However, their cheese plate was great to see. Featuring 5 regionally local cheeses for 18 dollars, this cheese plate was the highlight of the meal. The plate included Great Hill Blue from Marion, MA, Shelburne Farms 24 mo. aged Cheddar from Shelburne, VT, Cobb Hill Ascutneg Mt. Gryere from Hartland, VT, Westfield Farms Camembert from Hubbardston, MA, and Vermont Butter & Cheese Chevre from Websterville, VT. Yes, it was a great all-American cheese plate. There's something to be said for fresh, local cheese.

All in all, not a bad place for cheese and beer. And for me, that's often all I need.

Here's to new adventures, culinary and otherwise.

The Sierra Grille
41 Strong Ave.
Northampton, MA 01060

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Brunch at Supper

Last Sunday I accidentally went to brunch at Supper. How does one accidentally go to brunch you might ask? Well, I was in the neighborhood and a few hours early for work. Turns out they serve brunch and have a bar. Both sounded like a great idea to me at noon on a Sunday.

With the help of a fellow bartender, and Tria Sunday School regular, I selected a Bloody Mary and entrée. In the mood for something sweet, I went with the "Crispy Banana French Toast with caramelized bananas and peanut butter crème anglaise." The crispy part is no joke. Turns out they soak the bread in the peanut butter crème anglaise overnight and then deep fry it. Yeah, it's as good as it sounds. Deep fried french toast? You can't really go wrong.

The house-made Bloody Mary's were also incredible. I had one with clam juice and a pickled quail egg, a more traditional version, and finally, my favorite, a Bloody Maria made with tequila and some sort of hot sauce. It was seriously the hottest beverage I've ever had. It was so spicy, yet so delicious.

All in all, I'd certainly go back to Supper for brunch, or dinner for that matter. And I'd definitely go back for the Bloody Marys...

926 South Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147