Tuesday, February 21, 2017

El Tio

680 Lancaster Avenue
Berwyn, PA 19312
(484) 329-7717

Someone alerted me to El Tio recently, and I thought I might have found a contender for the reigning champion of the Mexican throne in the burbs But unfortunately, it fell a bit short.

I arrived for a Saturday lunch around noon, and they still had the door locked, though they had been open since eleven. The hostess/server was incredibly nice and accommodating, instructing me to sit wherever I wanted.

The menu featured the standard fare for meats. Carnitas are always a plus, and if you don't serve al pastor, then you are doing it wrong.

Some chips and salsa to start. The chips were well salted, though they were not exactly fresh. The salsa had a nice heat to it, despite looking somewhat mild.

Also, some queso, which I ordered after the salsa, because I didn't realize it was offered. The queso had great flavor, but was lukewarm. Almost cold. I like a little more warmth on my melted cheese sauces.

Next up was the entree course. A shredded chicken burrito, smothered in mole and a house platter "El Tio" with al pastor.

The burrito was well endowed, and the shredded chicken was well executed, however the mole was bit lackluster. I guess I am spoiled on the perfect complexity of El Limon, but this seemed a bit flat.

They did not shy away from stuffings.

A well proportioned burrito.

The al pastor had promise, but was pocketed with chewy cartilage and overly fatty cuts. I liked the smoky flavor, and the char the pork received. but having to spit out a bad piece more than once put a damper on my experience. Observe one very said piece below, front and center.

The shredded Queso Chihuahua was a big plus, and melted perfectly on the warm tortillas. The guacamole has a nice acidity, and the beans and rice were alright. Nothing to write home about.

Maybe I caught them after a bad batch from the CarnicerĂ­a, but I really can't stand inedible bits in my meat. Especially al pastor.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017


495 Lorimer Street
Brooklyn, NY 11211
(718) 599-1154

I had to do a quick trip to Brooklyn and knew I'd be in a part of Williamsburg that has a lot to offer with little mom 'n pop shops crammed into little row homes on almost every block. That's the kind of NY experience I can get behind.

I did some walking around and stumbled across this great little turquoise vestibule and thought, hey what the hell is "Samesa?" So I consulted the internet and discovered that not only do they serve up some of my all time favorite foods (Mediterranean) but it's also a spot run by celebrity chef-owners the Sussman brothers.

Brother Eli was in the kitchen that day, you can make out the back of his head here. It's a tiny spot, long and narrow with a kitchen run like a well-oiled machine. Shiny too. There was a Grub Street write up posted about their za'atar wings served with labneh ranch, and as much as I wanted to give them a try, I was in a rush to get back to Philly and was going to have to eat behind the wheel, so I had to skip. Sadly, also against the counter guy's recommendation.

That said, I was happy to have to order the chicken shawarma sandwich instead. They also had a great selection of pre-made salads, dips, spreads and sweets packaged to-go, more on that later.

Great little Gene Wilder meme. They were also playing "Honey I Shrunk the Kids" on a big flat screen which, while majorly hipster, was sort of fun. I mean, this is Brooklyn after all.

The chicken shawarma came on the house made pita with cucumber tomato salad, tahini buttermilk, green zhug (like an Israeli chimichurri with cilantro, parsley, hot peppers and garlic) and fresh mint.

The house made pita was paper thin but maintained just the right amount of chew. It was perfect.

The chicken was tender and there was a crispy bit of heavily seasoned shawarma in every bite. The fresh mint was a pleasant surprise and the combination of all of the other green ingredients was a flavor explosion. The cucumber salad had a bit of a quick-pickle happening that brightened the sandwich nicely.

This is one of the better chicken shawarma sandwiches I've ever had and at only $10, it was more than filling and did it's job for both lunch and afternoon snack on the NJ Turnpike.

I knew that I had to try some of their other offerings, so I brought home some of the aforementioned prepackaged goods to round out the day with a Mediterranean dinner.

The pumpernickel rye was fantastic. It was a hearty and flavorful vessel to scoop all of the goods.

Great rye flavor in there with the caraway seeds.

The Moroccan tomato and roasted pepper salad brought the heat and acidity that paired well with the roasted beet & tahini spread and labneh dip. There was not one bit of flavor missing from any of Samesa's food. I don't want to over describe it, so I'll just leave it at that.

Both the beet and labneh dips were incredibly smooth, whipped to perfection, and presented beautifully with their respective toppings, even in plastic.

Well worth the trip, but let's not forget that Philly is home to Dizengoff either...

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Jimboy's Tacos

1420 29th Street
Sacramento, CA 95816
(916) 452-6451

I was visiting friends recently in Sacramento, and was told there was a "down and dirty" local fast food fix I needed to try. They serve the "tacoburger," and these friends were absolutely correct.

First of all, this local chain is called Jimboy's Tacos. Swoon. It was love at first sight. Speaking of sights, check out the "scenic drive" sign marking the drive through. Delicious AND a sense of humor? How could this go wrong?

From their website listing of Tacoburger: "A unique Jimboy’s product.   A savory all-beef patty blanketed with melted American cheese, lettuce, fresh tomatoes, pickles & our special tacoburger sauce. Grilled in a corn tortilla and topped with our trademark parmesan cheese. Have it without the sauce for a full gluten-free meal!"

Not sure why the tacoburger sauce has all the gluten, but who cares! See below.

A fried corn tortilla with all the trimmings. This was way better than you would think. That tacoburger sauce does something magical to tie the whole thing together, so gluten-free warriors beware. Cheesy, mustardy (and apparently full of wheaty goodness), it tranformed this into a complete meal. The ingredients were put together correctly, and the sprinkle of parm somehow just worked. Not to mention the pickle slices. A perfect mashup.

Check out the patty tucked into its corn tortilla carapace. I am already craving another one of these. Well done, Jimboy.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Common Wealth

319 Market Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 372-7581

I was asked to check out a tasting of the menu at Common Wealth in Old City, a "Lowcountry" style bar/restaurant I had not heard of before. As I LOVE Lowcountry food (and living), it did not take much coaxing.

I was offered a drink ticket for myself and a guest. Which was a little strange. Usually if you are invited to review a joint, they at least get you a couple of drinks. Get ya nice an liquored so the food tastes better, right?

Well, unexpectedly, this event took almost three hours and one drink ticket didn't cut it. So I ran up a healthy bar tab drinking some beers after trying some signature cocktails that were recommended. The Queen Anne’s Revenge is on the left – Bulleit Rye, sugar cube, squeezed citrus and bitters and the Travelers Passage on the right – house infused pineapple vodka. I was a bigger fan of the Queen Anne, because I love bourbon and don't particularly enjoy sweet cocktails.

The pork belly with citrus salad and hoisin glaze was first up. It was probably one of my favorites of the night. Although when isn't pork belly? It was crispy on the outside and succulent in the middle. Plenty of fat, though maybe a bit under salted. All in all, not a bad pork belly.

The hush puppies were likely my favorite of the evening, though I am not sure they are still on the menu. The tender interior was contrasted by the crusty fried shell, and the creole style sauce was delicious.

Next up, chicken and waffles. Usually one of my go-to's, can you tell what my complaint was with these? Yo waffles, where's the chicken? They should have been open faced, and served with a spicy/sweet side sauce. It was DRY. But the chicken was delicious. The honey-sriacha aioli was good, but those waffles needed a drizzle!

Open faced was more realistic, but I was left wanting for sauce.

You can see in the cut-away shot the chicken to waffle ratio is way off.

The oysters "Bienville" were next, in a roasted shrimp sauce with Creole butter. I thought these were okay, but they were so rich, they needed some acidity to cut the fat. Also, an oyster on the half shell, which gave me the zing I was missing with their heavier counterparts.

The oysters were fresh and the sauce tasty.

A lot of care went into these, but they were a bit heavy.

The shrimp gumbo was a disappointment. The roux was under developed for my taste, and lacked heat (and flavor).

I mean, almost every course had shrimp in it.

Fried green tomatoes with pickled shrimp were another highlight. The "pimento" was a sauce rather than a cheese spread (as I had hoped when I squealed with delight when I saw it on the menu), but the dish worked.

Crispy, well fried green tomatoes, and tart shrimp, with enough greens to cut the grease. But the tomatoes themselves were not great. Mealy. not even worth showing you that photograph.

Seared scallops on hoecakes with collards and a bacon cream sauce were, again, okay (who doesn't love scallops), but not all that memorable. This could be that I already ate about eight courses (doubles and triples of some), but it was just scallops.

Definitely cooked the right way, but under-seasoned.

Least favorite of the night (and biggest disappointment) was the shellfish and grits. The shellfish sauce lacked a discernible direction, and the subtleties of the lobster etouffee were not enough to save it. The texture of the Anson Mill Grits were great, think pastina but needed some more salt and punch to carry the dish.

The fried bread pudding dessert was well executed, but it was a lot of filler to eat after a meal.

All in all, this was a pretty okay spot, but I don't know that I would be rushing back. It was filling but lacking that lowcountry depth of flavor all around.