Thursday, March 31, 2011

Guest Post: Matyson

37 South 19th Street
Philadelphia PA 19103
(215) 564-2925

It's probably near 200 times I've passed by Matyson and wondered what it was all about. Often the type to judge a book by its cover, I never thought that it would be a place that I might enjoy. Honestly, from the outside, Matyson looks like a place that would comfortably accommodate my grandmother and her knitting club for tea and crumpets. Or like a place that would be a block's stroll away from the beach in Cape May. I remember seeing seashells sitting on their windowsill many times, and maybe even some fisherman's netting hanging as a backdrop... Today there were clear glass bells dangling from chains, with tassels, ribbon, etc. All judging aside, I was given the opportunity for lunch with some colleagues and decided not to be so quick to discount their cuisine. (My apologies, in advance, for the poor images.)

The interior is not what I had expected, a pastel room with shabby chic re-purposed tables & chairs. It's much like most small, contemporary B.Y.O.B. restaurants - modern and unassuming with low lighting and sprinkled with little indications of the owner's taste for interior design and decor.

The lunch menu is very reasonably priced with a near even selection of vegetable, game, seafood and red meat dishes from which to choose. The server brought out a selection of sliced bread, and offered sourdough or multi-grain to each of us - I denied the offer, after all, this is only lunch.

To start, we had the roasted baby beets, which had both red and gold served with baby arugula, candied hazelnuts, blood orange slices and a smear of explorateur cheese (a French triple-cream with a butterfat content of 75% or more!!! A delectably smooth and subtly rich flavor that was a welcome change from the usual goat cheese that is generally served with beet salads). The overall dish was a bit salty, my lunch mate suggested that maybe the beets were brined? Either way, a little salt never hurt anybody, right?

Because I already had some BBQ beef tips in the slow cooker for dinner, I opted for a "lighter" dish and went with the PEI mussel and chorizo stew, with Peruvian (purple) potatoes and an almond-cilantro pistou (pesto). When the dish came out, the server asked, "are you sure you don't want any bread for the mussel broth?" "No, thank you." Honestly, I didn't need it. It was, as described, a stew. I pulled each mussel out of its shell and commenced eating with the provided spoon. It was heavenly. The broth reduction was thick with chunks of tomato and rich with the flavor of pan-crisped chorizo slices; the potatoes were a perfect softness and contrasted nicely against the bits of chewy (in the best way) Spanish meat. The mussels were like any other, but that stew was packed full of savory flavor, with a fresh and nutty kick - thanks to that fancy pistou.

Other dishes ordered included the BBQ pork sandwich and the wild mushroom hoagie - both of which came with a heaping pile of delicious truffle fries. If ever there's a next time, I'll ask for those truffle fries instead of the bread to go with my stew.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Kim's BBQ

5955 North 5th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19120
(215) 927-4550

One thing missing from the Philadelphia food scene (at least from all of the areas where anyone WANTS to live) is authentic Korean BBQ. Sure there are a couple of places to find it, but nothing that is worth spending the amount of money, when I could easily make it at home on my trusty Weber Kettle. However, a jaunt up north through the badlands will take you to some of the best food in the area.

First of all, Kim's is no ordinary Korean BBQ joint. Unlike most (all) of the other places in the city, they use real deal, hardwood charcoal. It's hard to believe that no one else does it right, but the competition tends to use gas. No comparison. Maybe they are afraid of burning the restaurant down. No one ever got anywhere (delicious) by being scared.

Kim's is like stepping back in time. They have an old decor, punctuated by the giant hoods hovering over the old wooden tables, and the fish tank with no water (or fish, for that matter) in the back.

Don't believe me about the charcoal?

As we were seated, we noticed that the dining room was full of young Asian people of various nationalities. It was really interesting to hear the conversations always revert to the unifying English. They were also drinking sake . . . heavily. This had all of the makings of a good time. We were quickly brought an abundance of banchan, and some of the best I have had, to boot. All of the flavors were nuanced, and most of them were quite addictive.

There is a large stainless tub in the middle of the table, which at first might not look too appealing, but the magic happens once you choose your protein. We chose the bulgogi, which, at $38, was a bit spendy for two, but it was certainly a great value in the end, as they say, "100% Natural Hardwod charcoal is very expensive.... we do this because the meats just taste better..." How true. We also drank a couple of pots of sake, because that's half the fun.

Next thing you know, a red-hot hibachi, filled with the aforementioned hardwood charcoal, is delivered to your table, and the decades old ventilation system is electronically lowered, thus rendering your conversation—over. If there is one thing that can shut me up (and I truly think there is only one thing that can), it's food. More importantly, good food.

Heaping piles of meat will usually do the trick. Coupled with a hot charcoal grill, my lips were sealed.

The marinated beef hit the grill with a sizzle, as Mom Kim quickly and efficiently threw our first round on the smokey coals.

One of my favorite parts is the garlic and jalapeno slices, which get laid in the drippings tray, and cooked mainly in the meat juice. Amazing.

When the meat is cooked to your liking, which happens quickly on the hot coals, take your bounty, wrap it in a lettuce leaf, pour some of the optional sauce on top, and prepare for happiness. The cool wrap is a perfect complement for the warm, tender, salty meat. I must have eaten twenty of these wraps.

As tough as it was to hold off, those crispy bits were well worth the wait.

The aftermath was not pretty. Nary a banchan dish left standing. Certainly not a single sliver of delicious meat.

Kim's is not cheap. Korean BBQ rarely is. But it is well worth the money, and the experience is second to none. Cooking the meat of your choice over a hot charcoal fire indoors is something that I will gladly pay for, especially over the dark winter months. In my book, Kim's is THE PLACE for Korean BBQ in Philadelphia. No one else even comes close. The flavors and service were reminiscent of my much loved first experiences in Koreatown, Los Angeles. This meat is not to be missed.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Guest Post: Gia Pronto

At Philadelphia Stock Exchange
20th and Market Streets
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 568-1994

Working in the northwestern section of Center City (specifically Logan Square) often leaves me 'wanting for more' when it comes to selecting a good lunch spot. Heck, it's also difficult to find a good place for dinner and drinks. It's just so "corporate" and it pains me to say that TGI Friday's roof deck might be my first choice for summer time happy hour, considering everything else surrounding it is so middle-of-the-road. But that's another story - I'm writing about a pretty decent sandwich/salad/coffee joint that offers some of the highest quality paninis in the city. 

Gia Pronto is located in the heart of the bustling business sector and often has lines out the door, especially in the summertime when Christo's Falafel Cart has people rounding the corner waiting for his delectable fair. With little time in my busy lunch schedule to wait over 30 minutes for a falafel platter, I often find my way across Market to the beckoning little man on a Vespa.

I've not tried the salads here, but that seems like the preferred choice for most of the suits looking for a healthier option. I prefer more substance in my lunch. They have a small refrigerated case displaying all of their pre-assembled panini sandwiches for the day. Often they run out, so it's good to get there before 1 o'clock, when inventory starts to look pretty bleak.

My sandwich of choice is the Panino Prosciutto which has Imported Prosciutto di Parma with fresh mozzarella and a basil pesto. It's worth the 8-10 minute wait. They always press it to perfection with bread that absorbs the pesto oil and gets a nicely browned crisp on the outer edges. Thinly sliced meat is piled up inside and all of the ingredients are fresh and simple - making it simply delicious.

A recent addition to my list of favorites here is the Free-Range Buffalo Chicken Panini, with its grilled free-range chicken breast, tomatoes, blue cheese, cheddar, romaine lettuce & buffalo-flavored hot sauce. They do a fantastic job of putting just the right combination of ingredients between every 2 slices of artisan bread. Yes, I said "artisan" because it's true.

Did I mention how good their soups are? Every last one of their [what I thought were house-made, but are actually made by Hale and Hearty in NYC (they're so damn good I didn't think any soup could possibly travel so well!!!)] soups - only 1-2 kinds a day at this location - are delicious when paired with the warm pressed sandwiches. By no means is it a 'cheap lunch' but it's one that is full of quality ingredients and one that won't leave you too full for your afternoon tasks.

Friday, March 25, 2011


1625 Chestnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(855) 923-3766

You find yourself in Center City. You don't have time to go to Mama's, but you have a hankering for falafel. You feel comfortable in food court settings, and are actually INSIDE of the strange Liberty Place mall. Where should you eat?

The obvious choice would be Chick-fil-A, err I mean Zaffron. The best way to describe this stand is to say if Qdoba sold Mediterranean food, it would be Zaffron. You step up, order along an assembly line, and pay at the end. Instead of tortillas, they have pita wraps that are very similar. You can get your protein and topping selections as a wrap, bowl or platter, much like its Mexican counterpart.

One cool extra is the hummus bar. You order a side of hummus, choose any or all of five mix-in's, and they add them to the puree and mix it up for you, right then and there. It's actually pretty cool, and the hummus was quite good.

The sandwiches are very similar to a burrito. I got the shawarma, which was good, but not the best I have had. I was happy to see that they had a gyro spit in the back, but unfortunately they were not slicing each sandwich to order. It was perfectly acceptable for the price though. The ingredients were fresh and tasty, and I liked that they don't charge you extra for any toppings you choose. I still remember eating at my favorite place Barbacoa, where I was devouring fresh, hand-held food assemblages way before these things hit the East coast, and cringing every time the sweet lady would say "waca-mo-le ez extera." Very few times did we ever splurge on that beautiful guac. It was always a point of contention.

The plate was a bed of rice, protein of choice and as many toppings as you can throw at them. As you can see below, the answer is, all of them. As it was many of the same things inside of the sandwich, all quite tasty, my main complaint is with the falafel themselves. They were like eating lead sinkers. Not good at all. That aside, I would go for the chicken on the plate next time, and likely leave quite happy.