Friday, December 4, 2009

French Family Dinner at Bistrot La Minette

In the interest of full disclosure, let us inform you that we were invited to dine as guests of Bistrot La Minette by the restaurant's PR agency, Breslow Partners. This differs from our usual practice of picking up the check ourselves, or at least mooching off of relatives, so be advised that the following is not to be read as one of our typical reviews.

Back in July, our attempt to dine at Bistrot La Minette for our anniversary was thwarted by a Bastille Day party. We never did get a chance to make it out there for dinner, so we were pleasantly surprised when Lauren got an email a few weeks ago inviting us to have dinner there as guests of the restaurant. So that's how we found ourselves seated in the private salon at the Bistrot on one pleasant December evening, surrounded by local writers far more qualified than ourselves, ready to enjoy a traditional French family dinner.

We were greeted by John Woolsey, father of executive chef Peter Woolsey and part owner and business manager (not to mention the carpenter who built the salon's long dining table out of old joists found in the basement of the building). A native of Wisconsin, it was with a Midwestern reserved sense of pride that John told the group about his son's impressive culinary pedigree: working at the Waldorf-Astoria early in his career, studying pastry at Le Cordon Bleu and completing a stage at a three-Michelin-star restaurant in France before returning to Philadelphia and working at restaurants owned by Stephen Starr and Georges Perrier.

As the story continued over a glass or two of the house pinot noir, it became clear that the decision to open the restaurant was just the start of another journey. John's tale of secret municipal regulations, utilities foul-ups, and the challenges of dealing with centuries-old Philadelphia structures was enough to give any potential restaurateur pause. The flip side of this was the delight evident in the tales of planning the interior and acquiring all the right fixtures and décor to give the dining room an authentically French flair. (However, we were treated to the shocking revelation that some of the pieces are not French at all, but rather Belgian – at least we were assured that they came from the French-speaking part of the country.)

We then met the chef himself. Tall, bearded and bespectacled, Peter struck as us completely lacking in the ego and bombast one might expect from an experienced and successful chef. Perhaps his quiet confidence came from him being squarely in his element: aside from all the training he acquired in France, he also met his wife there. By adopting the traditions of her family as his own, it sounds like he's not just cooking French food, he's living it. The meal we were about to experience, he explained, would be as close as possible to sitting around the table with a French family.

After the introduction, the meal began, all served family-style which added to the sense of conviviality around the table. We started with some hors d'œuvre: crisp-shelled gougères, very clean-tasting salmon rillettes served on endive leaves, black olive tapenade on croutons, and small poached button mushrooms, which had a hard-to-place bitter note to them.

Next up, some heartier appetizers, including a pork terrine with soft bits of liver in the middle, served on a tasty slice of toasted homemade brioche. Served with the traditional accompaniments of mustard and cornichons, the terrine was delicious, but I feel as though its flavor would have come out a bit more if it were served a little warmer. An endive, pear and fennel salad with Roquefort and a lentil salad studded with some huge lardons rounded out this course.

The main course was the undisputed heavy-hitter of homestyle French cuisine, boeuf Bourguignon. This was a great rendition, with the beef falling-apart tender. Alongside the beef was a huge dish of gratin Dauphinois, a creamy, if slightly salty, dish of nicely tender potatoes crowned with a dark golden crust. Perhaps the most surprising dish of the night was the haricots verts, a simple dish of green beans cooked with tomato and onion – but the beans, rather than being served just barely cooked and crisp, were cooked within an inch of their lives. Rather than being unappealingly mushy, they were in fact sumptuous, and the beans maintained their green color thanks to some proper blanching before being cooked down. The butter added at the end didn't hurt, either.

Despite the rather tremendous amount and variety of food we had eaten so far, no proper French meal would be complete without a cheese course, this one composed of Comte and a soft blue-veined cheese, served with homemade baguettes and a refreshing green salad.

To finish, the quintessential rustic French dessert, tarte tatin. The crust on this upside-down caramelized apple tart was a little doughy for my taste, but the caramel ice cream served with it (homemade, of course) was uniquely delicious.

As Chef Peter popped in periodically throughout the meal, we had a chance to talk a little about his approach with the restaurant. Unlike a lot of contemporary places that are keen to reinvent and deconstruct, Woolsey's philosophy is to simply execute classic dishes well in keeping with the mold of a traditional French bistro(t). Catering to an American audience, though, means making portions a little bigger and dropping some of the offal-based dishes from the repertoire. It's a bit of a catch-22, because I for one would love to see what Woolsey can do with some more exotic ingredients, but it just doesn't pay to keep them on the menu if diners are scared off by them.

He also talked about his approach to sourcing ingredients, preferring to buy in small quantities to ensure freshness, even if this drives some of his purveyors batty. And he makes an effort to buy local ingredients, but only if they're in season and "if they're good", which is refreshingly pragmatic in the face of some restaurants' local-at-all-costs dogmatism.

With the arrival of some chocolate truffles, the meal was over, and it was quite an experience. In addition to enjoying some great food, we had a unique opportunity to really get some of the inside story on the restaurant business. Considering Bistrot La Minette's success so far, it was a great case study. Now that we've had the family-style treatment, we'll be sure to return for a more typical dining-out experience – though we'll be sure to schedule around any French national holidays.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Apple Cider Donuts

We jumped on the donut making bandwagon right after Halloween. After reading about apple cider donuts on food blogs everywhere, I scoured the city looking for them. Our planned apple picking excursion would have been a great place to find them; alas it was rained out until apple season ended. The Reading Terminal Harvest festival seemed like a sure bet: there was an amish stand selling fresh donuts, but only of the yeast variety. I couldn't take it anymore. One Sunday after a very long wait for a mediocre brunch, my friend Bridget and I decided we were going to adjourn to my kitchen for a donut making session.

I'll take a glazed cake donut over the yeasty kind any day (although I admit a hot krispy kreme is the exception to this rule). Cake donuts also have the advantage of being faster to make, as there is no proofing time needed. I've seen (and made) recipes that call for a long chill of the dough, but this one only needs a short 20 minute rest in the fridge.

This recipe calls for shortening rather then oil or butter, about which Smitten Kitchen made an excellent point: since this fat is solid at room temperature, it makes the end product less greasy feeling and tasting. I would love to try these glazed- we finished ours with cinnamon and sugar (which really is nothing to complain about).

Paul insisted on photographing these next to a roaring fire- I guess to make it seem cozy and fall like.

Apple Cider Donuts

1 cup apple cider

3 1/2 cups flour, plus additional for the work surface
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick or 2 ounces) butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
Vegetable oil or shortening (see my explanation in the post) for frying

In a saucepan over medium or medium-low heat, gently reduce the apple cider to about 1/4 cup, 20 to 30 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and soda, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer on medium speed (with the paddle attachment, if using a standing mixer) beat the butter and granulated sugar until the mixture is smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, and continue to beat until the eggs are completely incorporated. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the reduced apple cider and the buttermilk, mixing just until combined. Add the flour mixture and continue to mix just until the dough comes together.

Line two baking sheets with parchment or wax paper and sprinkle them generously with flour. Turn the dough onto one of the sheets and sprinkle the top with flour. Flatten the dough with your hands until it is about 1/2 inch thick. Use more flour if the dough is still wet. Transfer the dough to the freezer until it is slightly hardened, about 20 minutes. Pull the dough out of the freezer. Using two concentric round cutters, cut out doughnut shapes. Place the cut doughnuts and doughnut holes onto the second sheet pan. Refrigerate the doughnuts for 20 to 30 minutes. (You may re-roll the scraps of dough, refrigerate them briefly and cut additional doughnuts from the dough.)

Add enough oil or shortening to a deep-sided pan to measure a depth of about 3 inches. Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan and heat over medium heat until the oil reaches 350°F*. Have ready a plate lined with several thicknesses of paper towels.

Carefully add a few doughnuts to the oil, being careful not to crowd the pan, and fry until golden brown, about 60 seconds. Turn the doughnuts over and fry until the other side is golden, 30 to 60 seconds. Drain on paper towels for a minute after the doughnuts are fried. After allowing excess oil to drain, place doughnuts into a plastic or paper bag in which you have placed cinnamon sugar. Shake gently, remove, eat.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

TWD: Rosy Poached Pear and Pistachio Tart

It's my week to choose the recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie! I hope everyone who baked along with me this week liked the results as much as we did! I picked this recipe for the pretty picture and the chance to make poached pears. After I got started though, I realized this was a pretty detailed recipe, so double props to those who stuck out the whole tart even after all that thanksgiving desert. (I was pretty excited about pistachio pastry cream though!)

Here is the recipe, found on page 370 of Baking, From my home to yours, by Dorie Greenspan


For the Pastry Cream:
2/3 c shelled pistachios
7 Tablespoons suga
1 1/3 cups whole milk
4 large egg yolks
3 Tablespoons cornstarch, sifted
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
1/4 cup sour cream, if you do not strain nuts from pastry cream

For the Poached Pears:
3 cups fruity red wine (shiraz, syrah, zinfandel)
zest of one orange, cut into long strips
zest on one lemon, cut into long strips
3/4 cup sugar
5 ripe but firm medium pears
small lemon wedge

For the Caramelized pistachios:
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons water
1/2 c shelled pistachios

For the Sauce (optional)
poaching syrup from pears
2 tablespoons honey

1 9 inch tart shell made with Sweet Tart Dough (or any pastry) fully baked

To Make the Pastry Cream:
Put the pistachios and 3 tablespoons of sugar in a food processor and process until the nuts are finely ground, about one minute. Turn the nuts into a medium heavy bottom saucepan, add the milk, and bring to a boil.
While the milk is heating, whisk together the remaining 4 tablespoons of sugar, the yolks and the cornstarch in a bowl. WHen well blended, whisk in the vanilla and almond extracts. Whisking constantly, drizzle in one quarter of the hot milk to temper, or warm the yolks so they don't cook. Add the remaining milk in a steady stream. Pour mixture back into the saucepan, put the pan on medium heat, and, whisking energetically, bring to a boil. Boil, whisking, for 1 minute, then remove the pan from the heat.
You can scrape the pastry cream int a clean bowl, in which case it won't be smooth, or if you want smooth cream, press the cream through a strainer, leaving the nuts behind; I usually leave the nuts in. Peice by Piee, stir the butter into the pastry cream.
Scrape the cream into a container, pres apiece of plastic wrap directly against the cream's surface, cover and refrigerate for at lest 4 hours, up to 4 days.

To Poach the Pears:
Put the wine, citrus zests and sugar into a large narrow pot, one that will hold the pears snugly, and bring to a boil.
Peel the pears and immediately rub them with lemon to keep them from darkening. Reduce the heat under the pot so that the wine simmers gently and lower the pears into the pot. Cut a circle of parchment or wax paper to fit inside the pot and press the paper against the tops of the pears, Partially cover the pot and simmer, turning the pears if needed so they are evenly colored by the poaching liquid, for about 30 minuted or until tender. test the pears by poking them with the point of a paring knife. Remove pan from the heat.
Transfer the pears to a heat proof bowl and pour over the poaching syrup; cool to room temperature. These can be covered and kept in the refrigerator of up to 3 days.

To Caramelize the Pistachios:
Place a piece of parchment or a silicone mat on the counter near your stove. Put the sugar and water in a small non stick skillet or saucepan over medium high heat and stir with a wooden spoon to dissolve the sugar. Bring to a boil and cook without stirring until the sugar has reached an amber colored caramel. Add the nuts and stir without p until the sugar becomes a dark caramel color and coats the nuts. Turn the nuts onto the parchment or baking mat and spread as best you can.
When the nuts are cool, chop them coarsely. Keep in a cool dry place till needed.

To Make the Optional Sauce
30 minuted before assembling the tart, remove pears from the poaching syrup. Put the syrup in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the hone and boil until the syrup is thick enough to coat a metal spoon. Pour into a container and chill until needed.

To Assemble the Tart
Cut the pears lengthwise in half, scoop out the cores and trim the stems and center veins as needed. Place pears cut side down on a triple thickness of paper towels. Cover with another triple thickness of paper towels and pat dry. Leave them between the paper towels until the excess liquid is absorbed, changing paper towels if needed. When the pears are dry, cut each pear lengthwise into 4 to 6 slices.
If you did not strain the nuts from the pastry cream, mix in 1/4 cup of sour cream to thin it a little. Spread the pastry cream in the baked tart shell (you may have some left over). Top the pastry cream with the pear slices, arranging in slightly overlapping concentric circles. Scatter the caramelized pistachios over the tart and serve with wine sauce, if desired. The tart can be covered and kept in the refrigerator for up to 4 hours.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Review: Brauhaus Schmitz

Why is it that Germans have this reputation of being cold, unfriendly, and warlike?

[Watches the History Channel for 5 minutes.]

Oh. Well, there's all that. But everyone I talk to who's been to Germany raves about the warmth and good spirit of the people they encounter. Some say Germans even actually like to have fun! To investigate, we went to Philly's own outpost of all things Teutonic, the semi-recently-opened Brauhaus Schmitz, on the occasion of our half-German friend's birthday.

Not having ever been to an authentic German beer hall, I can't speak to the space's authenticity, but it certainly rings true enough. Simple, noisy, lots of wood, waitresses wearing dirndls (think St. Pauli Girl's getup). And as a nice touch, a large rendering of the Reinheitsgebot, or beer purity law, hangs as a helpful reminder about what beer ought to be made of (barley, water, and hops – they weren't aware of yeast's existence back then in 1516).

Though a lot has changed in the almost 500 intervening years, the fact that "beer is good" has remained constant, and in this respect the Brauhaus does not disappoint. There are twenty selections on draught, most of them German (the house beer is Stoudt's Gold from right here in PA, which is at least German-style), and the menu provides very helpful descriptions to help you make your decision. What's more, there is an array of comical vessels out of which you may choose to drink your beer: the beer garden-style one-liter "giant glass mug"; the one-liter "boot", or the two-liter "giant boot". The boots are quite popular, so get there early if you want to make a fool of yourself, though be advised that according to our waitress, the two-liter boot is meant to be shared and passed around the table as a sort of drinking game. I went for a one-liter of the Warsteiner which proved adequate for the night's drinking needs.

Now, the food. The sense I get is that German beer-hall food is something that you need to deal with on its own terms. Don't expect a great deal of sophistication, subtlety, or culinary artistry. Do expect a giant slab of meat, which may or may not have been ground up and forced into a tube, served with a side of vegetables that have either been fried, pickled, made into some sort of dumpling, or all of the above.

In this context, the food at Brauhaus is quite good. Ingredients are fresh and preparations are well-executed. And portions certainly are ample, which justifies the hovering-around-$20 price for the entrees. This time out I had the cotoletta alla milanese Wiener Schnitzel, which of course is a veal cutlet, pounded flat, breaded and fried and served with a squeeze of lemon. The breading was nice and the cutlet was tasty, though I wish it had been pounded out a little more thoroughly and evenly, as there were some undercooked spots here and there. Lauren had the sauerbraten, the slow-cooked beef pot roast that's first marinated in vinegar. It was deliciously fall-aparty and flavorful from the marinade and sauce.

Our birthday friend ordered the star of the menu, in my opinion: the Schweinshaxe, which quite literally is the "swine hock" it would sound like it is. It's rotisserie-roasted until the meat is meltingly tender and the skin on the outside becomes gloriously crackly. And its size will present a challenge to even the most ardent pork-lover.

On a previous trip to the Brauhaus, I had tried a few of the sausages, which while tasty are not especially noteworthy. The Nürnberger Bratwurst is homemade, and the Bauernwurst is somewhat interesting as it is made of smoked beef and pork.

Not to be overlooked are the two sides that you get to choose to go along with your entree. The red cabbage is probably my favorite, sweet and tangy with vinegar and aromatic with spice. The Spätzle is quite good as well, as these little egg dumplings manage to be light even as they swim in melted butter. A taste of the sauerkraut was surprising in its smokey note and unlike anything you've ever put on a hot dog, and the fun-to-say Kartoffelpuffer (potato pancakes) were better than any of the pre-fab monstrosities I've had at delis around here.

Good food, good beer, good friends – some combination of those valuable things and the relaxed atmosphere at the Brauhaus leads to having fun. Maybe part of it is the simplicity and honesty of the food; somehow not having to worry about high-precision, high-concept cooking results in a laid-back meal. Whatever the case, Brauhaus Schmitz is worth a shot.

Brauhaus Schmitz on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Foodbuzz Festival!

At the beginning of November, we attended the First Annual Food Blogger Festival in San Francisco, hosted by Foodbuzz.

Foodbuzz planned a great weekend for us and 248 of our fellow bloggers, starting with a cocktail party overlooking the city on Friday night. We were happy to sip cocktails and meet up with fellow Philly bloggers E from Foodaphilia and Jess from Fries With That Shake. Everyone headed over to the Ferry Building (which now houses an array of specialty food purveyors – think the Reading Terminal, on a slightly smaller scale) for a street food fair, featuring delicious, tiny Hog Island oysters, mini cupcakes from Mission Minis, and, best of all, fantastic, heavenly roast pork sandwiches from Roli Roti.

(Dissenting note on the pork sandwich from P: while the rotisserie pork was nicely cooked, and the crispy skin was excellent, the porky flavor was overwhelmed by the sweet onion marmalade and fussy micro-herb salad on the sandwich. It certainly didn't have that juicy, down and dirty feel of a South Philly-type roast pork sandwich, which I would take any day of the week.)

On Saturday mornings, the Ferry Building is surrounded by a huge and colorful farmers' market. Besides the fruits and veggies, there were all sorts of specialty vendors around, so L picked up some rose-flavored sugar while we waited for the morning session to begin.

Up on the second floor of the Ferry Building, overlooking the bustling stalls, Foodbuzz held a talk and tasting from Sue, one of the founders of Cowgirl Creamery. We learned a lot about the history of the cheesemakers as Sue walked us through a tasting of four cheeses, from a fresh and raw fromage blanc to an aged Asiago-like hard cheese that's under development. The "Inverness", a cylindrical soft cheese covered in a white rind, was our tasting favorite. We were told that the "Mount Tam" we tasted was meant to be in the style of a Saint Andre, but given the Tam's odd bouncy texture, for my money I'd opt for the creamy Saint Andre. Still, it was an interesting talk, and big props to the Cowgirls for helping to advance the cause of cheesemaking in the USA.

After the cheese talk, a short walk over to the Metreon took us to the Tasting Pavilion, which was set up more or less like a trade show. Purveyors of everything from wine to chocolate to popcorn to something called "Oregon Dukkah" were at their tables, handing out samples and bestowing us blog-smiths with piles of swag. The array of products represented was remarkable, even if a good number of them were the kinds of things you'd receive as a gift and stow away in your cupboard indefinitely.

Unfortunately, other plans got in the way, and that was the last event of the weekend we were able to attend. But thanks to Foodbuzz and everyone who participated for having us all out. It was a great chance to meet some new people, eat some new foods, and get lightly hammered on beer samples without paying a dime.

But you know, there is something overblown about all the local, sustainable, artisan, small-batch bombast of Bay Area food culture, where adjectives outnumber nouns on menus and store signs, and the last vestiges of the pioneering gold-rush spirit that founded the place have been lightly toasted and folded into a quinoa salad. Eating while respecting nature is doubtless a noble goal, but when purveyors beat you over the head with it, it comes off as little more than marketing hype, or worse yet, overcompensation for less-than-skillfully prepared products. I guess it's all a consequence of rediscovering traditional means of production through a twenty-first century lens. With the benefit of time, hopefully those that survive will attain the same state of effortless grace as those who have been doing it all along.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Review: Honey's Sit N' Eat

My aversion to brunch has been well documented, so I'm not going to go into another thought-provoking, erudite and entertaining rant here. But no review of Honey's Stand 'n Wait Honey's Sit 'n Eat would be complete without a mention of the fact that our party of four spent somewhere between 45 minutes and an hour (including a trip to Silk City to see if the wait was any shorter) waiting for a table in the chilly November morn. So it had better be damn good.

Damn good? Well, good-ish. Our hopes were high at the outset because sitting down at a table was a relief, and the coffee was good (but $2.50 a cup? Come on. Way too much for a place like this, and "bottomless" is not a nicety, it's a basic human right at a place like this, so touting the cup's bottomlessness on the menu doesn't impress me. Anyway...). The fried green tomatoes we ordered to start were very promising: breaded with cayenne-spiked cornmeal, crisply fried and not greasy, served with a homemade ranch sauce that worked nicely with the flavors and textures of the tomato.

But then our mains arrived and the table was flooded in a sea of meh. The pastrami portion of my pastrami and eggs was pretty good, and I did enjoy the green-pepper-laden home fries, but the over-easy eggs were limp and watery, and the rye toast was barely toasted at all. The egg portion of our friend's omelette was overcooked, and the contraption suffered from the too-many-wet-ingredients syndrome that spells disaster for any egg dish. The "latkes" were some kind of weird, triangular, gray-in-the-middle potato mess that was not all that enjoyable. Lauren's "enfrijoladas" was a pseudo-Mexican pile of stuff with some very rubbery scrambled eggs at the center.

Brother, it just ain't worth it. Not the time, not the money (it was something like $70 for the four of us to have breakfast). Not the bearded beady-eyed hipsters, not the guy that calls out when your table is ready who acts like he would rather be anywhere else in the world. If you can switch your senses off and pretend that the experience is going to be everything you wanted it to be, you can enjoy it. Otherwise it's hard to justify when you can stay home and make yourself a nice omelette for a fraction of the cost and about 2% of the time.

On the plus side: once seated, our service was very friendly and pretty attentive. Otherwise there is not much to recommend this place over your typical diner-style breakfast joint. For not a hell of a lot more money, go have brunch at Parc and get food prepared with much more care, in a less hectic atmosphere, and be in and out by the time you would have been seated at a place like this. Until places like this can deliver and the word brunch is no longer spelled with the letters H-Y-P-E in this town, I am abstaining.

Honey's Sit 'n Eat on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 6, 2009

Review: Circles

Takeout menus. Usually they're for another interchangeable wings-steaks-pizza-or-Chinese place, and they're destined for a one-way trip to the recycle bin. But when the menu for Circles, a "contemporary Asian" restaurant down near 15th & Tasker in South Philly, arrived unsolicited in our mailbox, something made me give it a second look. First off, it didn't fit into the usual takeout genre, the Thai-style dishes on the menu looked pretty tasty, and the prices were almost downright cheap! So we decided to give it a chance for delivery, and we're glad we did.

One thing off the bat that Circles does right: when you order something fried that's supposed to be crispy, they cut notches in the corners of the container to keep it from becoming a soggy mess. This technique is employed with great success with the Thai Rolls, which are quite large and served cut in half lengthwise, allowing you a glimpse at their cross-section of succulent pork, vegetable and mushroom stuffing. Likewise, the Crab Rangoon arrives as five or six crisp, perfectly folded packages, stuffed with a curry cream cheese and crab filling. On the non-fried front, the summer rolls are a good version of the classic cold rice paper roll with shrimp.

The tom kha gai (coconut milk soup with chicken) was a fine way to start one of our orders; it was rich without being greasy, and had that kind of spiciness that builds up the more you eat of it.

Circles' Thai-style take on General Tso's Chicken is the humorously named General Thai Chicken, which differs from its counterpart by being much less deep-fried-tasting, and with pineapple to provide a nice sweet and sour note. Some surprisingly spicy peppers heat up the affair.

Finally, the dish that should be in the wheelhouse of any Thai-style restaurant, pad Thai, is a great rendition. Tasty sauce, not too sweet, not too greasy, just enough pea-nuttiness, and fresh, large shrimp. And at $9.95 for the shrimp version, considerably better than pad Thai I've had at some restaurants that charge $5 more for the same dish.

There's lots more on the menu that we've yet to try, including some interesting-looking desserts, and an $8.95 lunch special that includes soup, a spring roll, entree and dessert. From its first auspicious appearance in our mailbox, the Circles menu has gotten a well-deserved share of usage in our takeout rotation, and if you're nearby we highly recommend it for Asian food that's a little different from the usual.

Circles on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Chocolate Pretzel Chunk Cookies

A week or so back, I was sitting at my desk eating pretzels and m and m's so I could get hit of that perfect combo of sweet and salty that is the chocolate covered pretzel. As I was munching away I had a brainstorm that this would be perfect as a cookie, so I ran home to whip some up. My mom was visiting me and I asked her to get me some pretzels while she was out and about- she brought back the unsalted kind. (just an aside- what is the point of unsalted pretzels? I mean really people). I had to thank her but point out that in these cookies you want the crunch of the pretzel, but you also need the salt- it's absolutely crucial to capturing the "essence" of pretzel in this cookie. We headed out to the corner deli to procure the salted pretzels, and were back on track. I didn't break the pretzels up too much, I was worried that the kitchen aid would pulverize them, but they maintained their shape well. If you try these, be sure to break them up to your liking before adding them to the batter.

Chocolate Pretzel Chunk Cookies

adapted from Martha Stewart

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt with a whisk; set aside. 2. With an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugars until well combined; add the eggs and vanilla extract, and mix until well combined. Add the dry ingredients, 1/2 cup at a time, and mix until just incorporated. Do not overmix. Fold in the chocolate and pretzels with a wooden spoon. 3. With a small ice-cream scoop, place 1/4-cup balls of dough on a baking sheet lined with a baking mat or parchment paper. Arrange dough in rows of two lightly pressed balls to allow for spreading. Bake 8 to 10 minutes, until puffed and cracked. Allow to cool on a baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire cooling rack.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

R2R: Soupe A L'Oignon

Back on the R2R train in time for this months challenge- Soupe a L'Oignon, or French Onion Soup. You've probably had it before- a deep, meaty broth made sweet by silky caramelized onions topped with cruton of crusty bread. All this goodness sits beneath an crunchy, oozey blanket of melted cheese. When made right, it is absolute heaven.

This month's host, Sara from I'm a Food Blog picked a winning rendition from Thomas Keller's Bouchon Cookbook. This soup is simple in concept, but does need a lot of babysitting while you s-l-o-w-l-y caramelize the onions over low heat, making sure not to brown or burn them. The onions put off a heavenly fragrance, and by the time you are ready to eat, the whole house smells delicious.

Onion Soup - Soupe A L'Oignon
Thomas Keller - Bouchon
makes 6 servings

2 bay leaves
12 black peppercorns
6 large sprigs of thyme

8 pounds (about 8 large) yellow onions
8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter
Kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons all purpose flour
3 1/2 quarts Beef Stock (recipe below)
Freshly ground black pepper
Sherry wine vinegar

1 baguette (about 2 1/2 inches in diameter)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Kosher salt

6 to 12 slices (1/8 inch thick) aged Comte or Emmentaler cheese (at least 4 inches square)
1 1/2 cups grated aged Comte or Emmentaler cheeses, or a combination

FOR THE SACHET: Cut a piece of cheesecloth about 7 inches square. Place the bay leaves, peppercorns, and thyme in the center, bring up the edges, and tie with kitchen twine to form a sachet.

FOR THE SOUP: Cut off the tops and bottoms of the onions, then cut the onions lengthwise in half. Remove the peels and tough outer layers. Cut a V wedge in each one to remove the core and pull out any solid, flat pieces of onion running up from the core.

Lay an onion half cut side down on a cutting board with the root end toward you. Note that there are lines on the outside of the onion. Cutting on the lines (with the grain) rather than against them will help the onions soften. Holding the knife on an angle, almost parallel to the board, cut the onion lengthwise into 1/4 inch thick slices. Once you've cut past the center of the onion, the knife angle will become awkward: Flip the onion onto its side, toward the knife, and finish slicing it, again along the grain. Separate the slices of onion, trimming away any root sections that are still attached and holding the slices together. Repeat with the remaining onions. (You should have about 7 quarts of onions)

Melt the butter in a large heavy stockpot over medium heat. Add the onions and 1 tablespoon salt, reduce the heat to low. Cook, stirring every 15 minutes and regulating the heat to keep the mixture bubbling gently, for about 1 hour, or until the onions have wilted and released a lot of liquid. At this point, you can turn up the heat slightly to reduce the liquid, but it is important to continue to cook the onions slowly to develop maximum flavor and keep them from scorching. Continue to stir the onions every 15 minutes, being sure to scrape the bottom and get in the corners of the pot, for about 4 hours more, or until the onions are caramelized throughout and a rich deep brown. (my note - like a super deep brown, like way browner than you think they need to be. Think poop. Yes I said it.) Keep a closer eye on the onions toward the end of the cooking when the liquid has evaporated. Remove from the heat. (You will need 1 1/2 cups of onions for the soup; reserve any extra for another use. The onions can be made up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated.)

Transfer the caramelized onions to a 5 quart pot (if they've been refrigerated, reheat until hot.) Sift in the flour and cook over medium-high heat, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the beef stock and sachet, bring to a simmer, and simmer for about 1 hour, or until the liquid is reduced to 2 1/2 quarts. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and a few drops of vinegar. Remove from the heat.

FOR THE CROUTONS: Preheat the broiler. Cut twelve 3/8 inch thick slices from the baguette (reserve the remainder for another use) and place on a baking sheet. Brush the bread lightly on both sides with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt. Place under the broiler and toast the first side until golden brown, then turn and brown the second side. Set aside and leave the broiler on.

TO COMPLETE: Return the soup to a simmer. Place six flameproof soup tureens, with about 1 1/2 cups capacity on a baking sheet to catch any spills (the soup will bubble up and over the tureens). Add the hot soup to the tureens, filling them within 1/2 inch of the tops. Top each serving with 2 croutons: Lay them on the surface - do not push them into the soup. Lay the slices of cheese over the croutons so that the cheese overlaps the edges of the tureens by about 1/2 inch, Scatter the grated cheese over the sliced cheese, filling in any areas where the sliced cheese is thiner, or it may melt into the soup rather than forming a crust.

Place the tureens under the broiler for a few minutes, until the cheese bubbles, browns, and forms a thick crust. Eat carefully, the soup and tureens will be very hot.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Halloween Haunted Houses

When I was in elementary school, I remember each December we would dutifully save an empty milk carton from lunch and use a mess of frosting, graham crackers, and candies to turn it into a "gingerbread house" as we celebrated Christmas. Last halloween, my co-workers and I adopted this concept and created frightfully sweet "haunted houses" with the children in our program. The kids had an awesome time ( I admit the adults did too), so I thought I would share our creepy creations with you all in time for the holiday this weekend.

This one's mine. Obviously the best. I used a candy corn "autumn mix" to grow my garden.

We used rice krispie's treats to support our walls of graham cracker, with frosting cement.
Seasonal peeps make good decorations.

Square preztels served as windows and doors. We're planning on doing this activity again, and the kids are super-psyched! The hardest part of this project is the shopping, but if you plan ahead and pick up things here and there in the run-up to Halloween, You should be set. For those of you with kids, give this a try!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Daring Bakers: Macarons

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

If you've been to a fancy schmancy bakery, especially one in Europe, you've seen macarons of every size, color, and flavor. They have an easily adaptable recipe that, despite it simplicity, requires exacting technique to get it just right. I've made macarons once before, and they turned out relatively successful. This time I hoped to perfect my technique and get creative . . . or not. I had some leftover salted caramel that I wanted to use in the filling, so I decided to make chocolate macarons. In adding the cocoa powder to make them "chocolatey" I must have messed up the chemistry of the cookie, so my end result, while tasty, was not really what you would call a true macaron.

Macarons (when done right) have a signature "foot" at the base of the cookie, topped with a light, slightly crunchy dome of sweet, airy cookie. Mine puffed up a bit, but failed to get the "foot" and were overall too cakey. I filled mine with a ganache made with cream and some gianduja chocolate from caillebaut that I scored on a trip to chelsea market- basically homemade nutella. Despite my best efforts, the salted caramel was too oozy to be a good filling for these cookies.

Since, as I've mentioned, these are finicky cookies, check out the following links below for some assistance.

Confectioners’ (Icing) sugar: 2 ¼ cups (225 g, 8 oz.)
Almond flour: 2 cups (190 g, 6.7 oz.)
Granulated sugar: 2 tablespoons (25 g , .88 oz.)
Egg whites: 5 (Have at room temperature)


1. Preheat the oven to 200°F (93°C). Combine the confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a medium bowl. If grinding your own nuts, combine nuts and a cup of confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a food processor and grind until nuts are very fine and powdery.
2. Beat the egg whites in the clean dry bowl of a stand mixer until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add the granulated sugar and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks.
3. Sift a third of the almond flour mixture into the meringue and fold gently to combine. If you are planning on adding zest or other flavorings to the batter, now is the time. Sift in the remaining almond flour in two batches. Be gentle! Don’t overfold, but fully incorporate your ingredients.
4. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a plain half-inch tip (Ateco #806). You can also use a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off. It’s easiest to fill your bag if you stand it up in a tall glass and fold the top down before spooning in the batter.
5. Pipe one-inch-sized (2.5 cm) mounds of batter onto baking sheets lined with nonstick liners (or parchment paper).
6. Bake the macaroon for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and raise the temperature to 375°F (190°C). Once the oven is up to temperature, put the pans back in the oven and bake for an additional 7 to 8 minutes, or lightly colored.
7. Cool on a rack before filling.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Rewind: Hauntingly Chocolate Cupcakes

With Halloween just around the corner, I'm resurrecting this project from last year for all those in search of ideas for a spooky treat!

Sure, your grocery store is full of orange and brown frosted cupcakes, but why not make your favorite cupcake and dress it up? These marshmallow eyeballs from the dollar store turned tasty-but-plain chocolate cupcakes into something fun and festive! Best of all, it was homemade and easy.

See the original post here

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Review: Girasole

Because the Opera Company had the good fortune to call me after I had had a few glasses of wine with dinner, we're opera subscribers! We needed somewhere close to the Academy of Music for pre-show dining, so we decided to try out Girasole, recently moved into the new Symphony House.

Step through the doors of Girasole on Pine Street and you find yourself living out the old trope "a man walks into a bar". The square colossus of a bar takes up almost the whole front of the restaurant and makes it a little difficult to know where you're supposed to go, especially when the maître d's area is unstaffed. Eventually someone arrived and we were seated.

Our initial service issues were a hint of things to come. Despite assurances from our first waiter that he would be taking care of us, service proved to be more of a group effort. And when everyone's your waiter, no one's your waiter. Even with at least half a dozen servers in the not-that-large dining room, there was a long delay before our orders were taken, we had to place out wine orders twice, and even ask for bread plates. To their credit, our herd of servers was friendly, and they were responsive to our request to speed things along given our time constraints.

Normally I don't harp so much on interior layout and service, but they were the first things to come to mind about our experience, because the food really failed to distinguish itself enough to overcome these drawbacks. We all had the three-course, $35 prix fixe menu. I started with the beef carpaccio, which was fine (though difficult to screw up). Lauren had a layered, lasagna-ish contraption of eggplant, zucchini and tomato, which was fine until she reached the middle, where it was refrigerator-cold. A trip back into the microwave resolved this, but not a good start to the meal.

For an entree, I had the "bucatini Girasole", which was tossed in a sauce of onions, pancetta, tomato and pecorino. Nothing too fancy, but well-executed. Lauren had the grilled "Tasmanian" salmon with leeks and a balsamic reduction. The salmon was seared to the point of deep-brown crispiness on one side and otherwise a little overcooked and gummy, and the plate was devoid of any kind of accompaniment aside from the leeks.

Dessert was a pleasantly light cheesecake (served in a chintzily small slice) that was served with a rather odd sauce. Our best guess is that it was some kind of strawberry and orange flower water concoction, but it had a strange note to it that was a bit off-putting.

Perhaps some of what we encountered were the pitfalls of a fixed-price pre-theater menu, but at the same time nothing in our experience enticed us to come back to try something from the rather pricey a-la carte menu. Even with the fixed-price "bargain" in place, throw in a glass of wine and tip and you're still talking over $100 per couple. In a town teeming with more or less interchangeable Italian restaurants with similar menus, there's just no reason to go to a place where the service is confused, the food is little more than adequate, and you can't even figure out how to get into the damn place in the first place.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sweet and Salty Chocolate Cake

My mother-in-law had a birthday recently, and the whole family came over to celebrate. She requested "any kind of chocolate cake" and I wanted to try something that would be new but familiar. I saw this recipe in the cookbook Baked: New Frontiers in Baking and decided to give it a try (after approval from Paul). My first attempts at baking from this book were met with lackluster enthusiasm (red velvet cake, root beer bundt) but once I discovered their hands-down fantastic brownie recipe, my faith was renewed.

This cake was a little more complicated them my usual birthday cake but well worth it. The salted caramel had a very pronounced flavor, helped out by liberal sprinklings of fleur de sel during the assembly process. The frosting was also a new experience: a ganache started by making a chocolate caramel, bolstered by whipped butter.

Take note: leftover caramel is excellent on ice cream :)

Sweet and Salty Cake
from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito.

Chocolate Cake:

Makes one 8-inch 3-layer cake
3/4 cup cocoa powder
2/3 cup sour cream
2 2/3 cups cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pans
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla
1/2 cup Caramel with Salt
Whipped Caramel Ganache Icing
Fleur de sel, for garnish

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter three 8-by-2-inch round cake pans. Line each pan with a parchment paper round, butter parchment paper and flour; set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together cocoa, 1 1/4 cups hot water, and sour cream; set aside to cool, about 10 minutes.
In another large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening together until smooth and it appears to create strings inside the bowl, about 7 minutes. Add both sugars and continue beating until light and fluffy, about 7 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until well incorporated. Add vanilla, scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, and mix again for 30 seconds. Add flour mixture alternating with cocoa mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture.
Divide batter evenly among the three prepared pans. Bake until cake is just firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 18 to 24 minutes. Let cool completely.

Salted Caramel

1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon fleur de sel
1/4 cup sour cream

Combine 1/4 cup water, sugar, and corn syrup in a medium saucepan; stir to combine. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until the mixture reaches 350 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, in another small saucepan, mix together cream and salt. Bring cream to a boil and cook until salt has dissolved, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
When the caramel mixture has reached 350 degrees, remove from heat and allow to cool for 1 minute. Carefully add the hot cream to the caramel; stir to combine. Whisk in sour cream. Cool, and store in an airtight container, refrigerated, for up to 3 days.

Whipped Chocolate Caramel Ganache

1 pound dark chocolate, chopped
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 pound (4 sticks) butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces, softened but still cool

Combine 1/4 cup water, sugar, and corn syrup in a medium saucepan; stir to combine. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until the mixture reaches 350 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 10 minutes.
In another small saucepan add cream and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and set aside.
When the caramel mixture has reached 350 degrees, remove from heat and allow to rest for 1 minute. Add the hot cream to the caramel; stir to combine. Let cool 5 minutes. Place chocolate in the bowl of an electric mixer and pour caramel sauce over chocolate. Let sit 1 minute before stirring from the center until chocolate is melted.
Attach bowl to electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low until the bowl feels cool to the touch. Add butter and increase speed to medium-high until mixture is well combined, thickened, and slightly whipped, about 2 minutes.

To assemble the cake

Using a serrated knife, trim tops of cakes to make level. Place four strips of parchment paper around perimeter of a serving plate or lazy Susan. Place the first layer on the cake plate. Using about 1/4 cup of the caramel, spread a thin layer on the cake, allowing some of the caramel to soak into the cake. Follow the caramel layer with a layer of about 1 cup of the ganache icing. Place the second layer on top and repeat process with another layer of caramel followed by a layer of ganache icing. Place the remaining layer on top of the second layer bottom side up. Spread entire cake with remaining ganache icing. Sprinkle with fleur de sel.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

TWD: Sweet Potato/Squash Biscuits

So, after an extended break, I'm back on the TWD train. I was really excited for this recipe- i love all things sweet potato! But I have to say I jinxed myself on this one. While getting ready to bake them, I told my husband and my mom that I hadn't had a recipe that really turned out bad from Dorie's cookbook. Until now (actually I take that back, the arborio rice pudding was also a clunker). We had leftover roasted sweet potato and squash and I was excited to use that for these biscuits. Maybe because they were roasted, not steamed, the mixture was dry. I added a teeny bit of milk, which made the dough come together but perhaps they were overworked because these biscuits didn't "puff." They were flat and a little chewey, like some other experienced. They tasted alright though, alongside a bowl of beef chili with all the fixin's. This week's recipe was chosen by Erin of Prudence Pennywise. Check out the recipe on her blog or on page 26 of Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Boeuf Bourguignon

I've been waiting to make this dish and I finally got off my butt and made it, spurred on by the attempts of my friends at
Recipies to Rival, who made this for the September challenge (people- I am gonna try to be on the stick this month, I promise). Hands down, one of the best things I have ever made, and surprisingly easy if you plan ahead. It takes just a little active/prep time up front, but most of it is passive cooking time, letting this stew away in a low oven. If you "cheat" and use frozen pearl onions and pre-sliced mushrooms (you know you do this), the prep is virtually nonexistent. I made this on a Sunday night, stuck it in the fridge, and we ate it for dinner on Monday. It was such a treat to have a rich slow-cook dish on a weeknight, and I plan on spoiling us again in this way soon!

Boeuf Bourguignon

Yield: For 6 people

A 6-ounce chunk of bacon
1 Tb olive oil or cooking oil
3 lbs. lean stewing beef cut into 2-inch cubes (see Notes)
1 sliced carrot
1 sliced onion
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
2 Tb flour
3 cups of a full-bodied, young red wine such as one of those suggested for serving, or a Chianti
2 to 3 cups brown beef stock or canned beef bouillon
1 Tb tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
½ tsp thyme
A crumbled bay leaf
The blanched bacon rind
18 to 24 small white onions, brown-braised in stock
1 lb. quartered fresh mushrooms sautéed in butter
Parsley sprigs

Remove bacon rind and cut bacon into lardons (sticks, ¼ inch thick and 1½ inches long). Simmer rind and bacon for 10 minutes in 1½ quarts of water. Drain and dry.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Sauté the bacon in the oil over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon. Set casserole aside. Reheat until fat is almost smoking before you sauté the beef.

Dry the beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Sauté it, a few pieces at a time, in the hot oil and bacon fat until nicely browned on all sides. Add it to the bacon.

In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables. Pour out the sautéing fat.

Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with the salt and pepper. Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly with the flour. Set casserole uncovered in middle position of preheated oven for 4 minutes. Toss the meat and return to oven for 4 minutes more. (This browns the flour and covers the meat with a light crust.) Remove casserole, and turn oven down to 325 degrees.

Stir in the wine, and enough stock or bouillon so that the meat is barely covered. Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs, and bacon rind. Bring to simmer on top of the stove. Then cover the casserole and set in lower third of preheated oven. Regulate heat so liquid simmers very slowly for 2½ to 3 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.

While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms. Set them aside until needed.

When the meat is tender, pour the contents of the casserole into a sieve set over a saucepan. Wash out the casserole and return the beef and bacon to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms over the meat.

Skim fat off the sauce. Simmer sauce for a minute or two, skimming off additional fat as it rises. You should have about 2½ cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly. If too thin, boil it down rapidly. If too thick, mix in a few tablespoons of stock or canned bouillon. Taste carefully for seasoning. Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables.

Recipe may be completed in advance to this point.

FOR IMMEDIATE SERVING: Cover the casserole and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times. Serve in its casserole, or arrange the stew on a platter surrounded with potatoes, noodles, or rice, and decorated with parsley.

FOR LATER SERVING: When cold, cover and refrigerate. About I5 to 20 minutes before serving, bring to the simmer, cover, and simmer very slowly for 10 minutes, occasionally basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Review: Village Whiskey

So what were we to make of Village Whiskey? Well, the "whiskey" in the place's name already gives it points in my book. And Jose Garces is Philly's reigning culinary hero – but I still found Chifa underwhelming, and with Village Whiskey's concept lying outside Garces's usual Latin area of expertise, one might wonder if our possible Next Iron Chef is fancying himself more of a Stephen Starr figure these days than a man who's strictly all about the food. But heck: Whiskey. Garces. Oh, and duck fat fries. We'll be there.

We showed up on a Tuesday night the week after VW's opening day. Seemed like word had gotten around, because we had to put our names on a list for a party of two, and we were informed that there would be a 45-minute wait (even to sit at the bar). Luckily, Jose has thoughtfully provided a waiting room next door by the name of Tinto (they apparently even share a kitchen), so we headed over there for some sangria and Albariño until our number was up.

Little wonder there was a wait, because VW is mighty cozy inside. Simple white tile adorns the walls, and behind the bar that runs most of the length of the restaurant, you will find bottles of the 80+ whiskeys that are offered. Perhaps paralyzed by the prospect of choosing one from the list, I went for an Old Fashioned, which they make by default with Old Grand Dad. It did the trick, though the Old Grand wouldn't have been my first choice, and other than the grains of undissolved sugar at the bottom of my glass, it was well-made. (Insert Don Draper reference here.)

Looking at the menu again now, I would have loved to try some of the "bar snacks", but in an effort to have some semblance of a balanced meal, we started with the mixed green salad with huckleberry vinaigrette. Given the rest of the menu, it seemed oddly overpriced at $9 for what it was, which was a well-made though pretty unremarkable salad.

With roughage out of the way, we moved on to the Whiskey King, which for our arteries' sakes, we split. This is because the Whiskey King is eight ounces of beef topped with bacon, bleu cheese, maple bourbon glazed cipollini, and foie gras. And even at $24, damn if it isn't tasty. Though it would almost seem to be a parody of that old Simpsons episode where Homer watches the commercial for the burger topped with bacon, ham, and rich creamery butter, the Whiskey King is remarkable in the sense that it's hard to imagine it being as good without any of its constituent ingredients, except perhaps for the burger itself. Despite its seemingly heavy and fatty toppings, it's surprisingly easy to eat, making it all the more dangerous. In short, a glorious achievement in the burger arts.

If you don't care to indulge in the petting-zoo-between-two-buns grandeur of the King, starting at the low low price of $9 you can have a plain eight ounce burger and add toppings a la carte, including Rogue Smokey Bleu cheese (which is damn delicious), truffles (market price!), and yes, Homer, a fried egg. Though I would probably skip the egg, I'd love to come back and make up my own combination.

What about the duck fat fries, the mere idea of which was making me anticipate the opening of this place all summer? I won't say they were disappointing, but they weren't what we expected. They're rather lightly cooked, more or less blonde in color, and not very crisp at all. Perhaps it is a testament to the skill of the frying that you can't very much taste the duck-fattiness, but then, what's the point? Thankfully, I was talked by Lauren into getting the Sly Fox cheddar sauce on the side. In a word, bangin'. It's one of those sauces that you wish you could pour on everything. Oh, and another thing – the only homemade ketchup in the universe that's actually as good as or better than plain ol' Heinz. Period.

This is a place that demands a return visit. The "Kentucky fried quail" in particular sounds very alluring, and I would have loved to try something from the pickled section of the menu (which means I'll have to come back without my pickle-adverse wife). I haven't been by at lunchtime yet, but given the prices and menu selections, I think it would be a great lunch spot if it doesn't get too crowded, and if you don't mind showing up for work in the afternoon lightly soused (and/or in a saturated fat-induced coma).

Word is there's even been a few celebrity sightings there. In fact, we had one – Jose himself, seemingly on hand to make sure everything was going smoothly at his latest venture. And so it was on this night in the Village. I hope to be back for another visit some time soon.

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