Wednesday, August 31, 2011

IndeBlue Indian Cuisine

619 Collings Avenue
Collingswood, NJ 08107

IndeBlue was one of those places I had heard about out in Jerseyland, but also one that I would probably never get around to visiting. Having Ekta, Tiffin, AND Tiffin Etc. right in my corner of the 'hood would certainly not offer any openings in my fulfilling a craving for Indian cuisine. However, in the name of hopefully finding a backup, go-to place to eat when I find myself in Collingswood (when Sagami is closed), I decided to bite the $5 bridge-toll-bullet and head out for some contemporary Indian food.

Sorry about the first couple of pics, must've been a smoke ghost.

IndeBlue is nicely decorated inside, with a clean, bright & spacious environment. They offer a variety of traditional Indian foods, as well as some updates on the classics. I was very impressed with everything, save for the manager. A young, sweaty, overly enthusiastic white guy is not the person I want to be poring over my table. He obviously meant well, but it was borderline obtrusive. As it's a BYO, you can't beat bringing your own booze to help cut down on the bill, but be advised, this is certainly not cheap Indian food. It is, however, a reasonably priced spot to grab, what I have to assume is the best (and only), Indian in the area. We started with a creamy corn and cilantro soup. The soup was smooth and had a wonderful corn flavor. A touch of curry livened it up, and the cilantro puree swirl was a pungent kick, easily applied to each bite as needed.

The Onion Bhajia, a fritter of onion, potato, cauliflower and spinach in a chickpea batter, came in lower on the tasty scale than I had hoped. The tamarind and green chutney were hands-down the best part of this appetizer. I could lap that green chutney up with a spoon.

For the entrees, we stuck with two traditional dishes, the paneer tikka masala and the chicken coconut korma. The paneer consists of BBQ Indian cheese cubes cooked in a rich onion, tomato and fenugreek sauce. They serve these dishes with saffron basamati rice, and I had to get an order of garlic naan on the side. It was certainly a solid rendition of tikka masala, but I am always drawn to the same conclusion when eating Indian food. There are really only two kinds. Good and bad. Good = freshly ground spices and care put into the balance of those spices. Bad = mediocre spices haphazardly thrown together. This was an example of good Indian, but it's the same as good Indian anywhere. It all tastes very similar.

The chicken korma consisted of caradmom-flavored chicken cooked in a gravy studded (most overplayed descriptor ever) with raisins and cashews. Again, while this was very good korma, it was just as good as the other good kormas I have had.

All in all, IndeBlue has some exciting things on the menu, in particular some of the specials, but it is not too-far-off some of the other good Indian I have had in the city. It does, however, give Southern Jersey-ites a reason to rejoice. One less thing to have to drive to the city for.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Gilbert's Chowder House

92 Commercial St
Portland, ME 04101
(207) 871-5636

I recently had the opportunity to take a road trip through New England. I had never been to Maine, and I really felt that I had to check it out while I was up that way. I have a friend from Portland (although he now lives in Philly) and so I figured that was my destination, and I was also ready to get a taste of the nightlife. Our first stop was for some chowder (and a lobster roll). I heard that Gilbert's made some of the best chowder around, so it was a no-brainer to see what they had to offer.

Located on the waterfront, this chowder house is in a pretty magnificent location. The briny sea air fills the streets and piping hot bowls of rich chowder fit the ticket quite nicely. The chowder comes loaded with clams, thick and rich without being clumpy. It was a perfect example of New England's namesake chowder. They use local clams, and cook the potatoes JUST right. It was truly one of my favorites I have eaten.

An order of steamers were next on the list. If you look closely you can see the little tongues (?) sticking out, like a tiny version of a geoduck. The steamers were fresh and delicious, if a bit on the gritty side. This was solved for the most part by the warm water served alongside the drawn butter, to wash them before consumption.

Last but not least, the venerable lobster roll. It seems everyone these days has their own version, from Philadelphia to California, but as expected, no one can do it like they do up North. The lobster is as fresh as it gets, thus the roll comes out spectacular. Served simply with some plain Ruffles and a pickle, this was simple enjoyment at its best. I only wish it were twice as big.

All in all, Portland, Maine is a pretty wonderful place. Although perhaps not a destination in and of itself, it's a wise place to spend a night or two and take in the beautiful scenery and drink some delicious craft brews.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

QT Vietnamese Sandwich

48 N 10th St
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(267) 639-4520

I hadn't been to QT in quite some time. I remembered it being quite good the few other times I had eaten there, but my last visit was less than desirable. QT is a tiny store-front shop located in Chinatown, and boasts a lemongrass tofu banh mi as one of the highlights of the menu.

Unfortunately, the version I received was dry. Not only was it dry, but it was absolutely devoid of flavor. No lemongrass, no spread, barely any zip from the vegetables. To put it politely, this was not a good sandwich. However, at least it was edible. I also got my favorite, BBQ pork.

Once again, dry as a bone, but what really got me was the poor quality of the meat. It was basically pork spam. I mean, look at it. Does that hold any semblance to BBQ pork YOU have ever seen? Because to me, it looks like processed pork product. Not to mention, wheres the BBQ? Non-existent. One thing they had going for them: the bread was decent. Is this enough to earn them a return trip with all of the other DELICIOUS banh mi spots around the city? Absolutely not.

Sadly, this was how the sandwiches were lain to rest. In the trash. I cut my losses and went to RTM for some Pad Thai. I absolutely HATE throwing away food, but I couldn't bring myself to eat this sorry excuse for banh mi. It's supposed to be bursting with flavor, not SPAM (unless you ORDER SPAM).

Monday, August 22, 2011

Jong Ka Jib Soft Tofu Restaurant

6600 N 5th St
Philadelphia, PA 19120
(215) 924-0100

Cool Sunday summer rain storms are one of the things that just scream comfort bowl. Although I am not a warm weather soup person, it's tough to pass up Jong Ka Jib when I am up in the "Koreatown" section of Olney. Sundubu, served scorching hot, is the house specialty on this succinct menu. This is spicy, comforting love in a bowl so hot that it could easily cause third degree burns.

Yes it may take a while to get there, and sure, you COULD get carjacked on the way, but this is some seriously great food.

The banchan is as good as anywhere, and generously portioned. Fermented brown beans and sprouts were among my favorites. The mushroom tofu is served HOT. I mean, see for yourself below.

The mushroom soft tofu was a perfect compliment to the thunderstorms rolling through. I seriously think this is some of the best soup around. It's served alongside a stone bowl that cooks the rice from the bottom, resulting in delicious crunchy rice to scoop up alongside the soup. The flavors are so rich with umami it's mesmerizing. As it breaks apart, the little pieces of perfectly smooth tofu turn it into a stew. I asked for it served extra spicy, but I think that they still held back. I could have used a BIT more heat, but it was so balanced that I hardly realized I was sweating by the end of the meal. An egg is served alongside for you to crack into the boiling hot soup if you so desire. I cracked two.

As I also craving some gochujang, I got bibimbap as well. They actually served the sizzling stone bowl with its own container of gochujang. Right there was a major bonus for me, as I usually end up having to order extra anyway. This way I was free to indulge my desire to over-sauce my crispy bowl. It's a solid rendition of one of the more pedestrian items on the menu of Korean places everywhere, yet one I still love. Crispy rice and red pepper paste get me every time.

You can do worse than spending an afternoon checking out Jong Ka Jib, and getting your soft tofu on. Such as whatever you usually do on Sundays. While you are up there check out Sol Levante Bakery. The sweet cream breads are outstanding. Lastly, the grocery store in the same strip has some of the best pre-made banchan around.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Philly Phoodie's Mailbag: Center City Eateries

5 Best City Center Eateries You Never Heard Of

Because City Center is well known for housing some of the best restaurants in Philadelphia, it can be a bit difficult to secure reservations to an acceptable dining experience (and walk-ins can expect long waits at most hotspots). So if you’re looking for something a little off the beaten path but still in proximity to downtown activities, here are a few eateries you may want to visit (or revisit, if it’s been a while).

1. Morimoto. This modern Japanese restaurant is the brainchild of the former Iron Chef of the same name. After putting Malibu hotspot Nobu on the map with his incredible sushi creations, Masaharu Morimoto decided to strike out on his own; this Washington Square West establishment is the result. You’ll enjoy a unique atmosphere that offers ever-changing lighting colors and soft, curvingarchitectural features and furnishings to go with your delectable sushi, sashimi, and other Japanese cuisine (both traditional and modern). In short, it’s a total dining

2. Rick’s Steaks. It’s not impossible to avoid the Philly cheesesteak while in Philadelphia, but it is ill-advised. However, you’ll almost certainly want to steer clear of samples that are not authentic. Luckily, Rick’s offers incredible cheesesteak sandwiches in the heart of City Center, thanks to the “Prince of Steaks”, Rick Olivieri (a 3rd generation steak-maker). The trick behind Rick’s cheesesteak sandwich likes in the cooking; he grills whole pieces rather than chopping them up. Add that to a soft roll, some grilled onions, and of course, a hearty dollop of cheese whiz (hey, it’s traditional), and you’ve got one of the best sandwiches in town.

3. Zinc. Although you may not necessarily associate the city of Philadelphia with fine, French cuisine, you’d be a fool not to gravitate towards this authentic bistro that will have you feeling like you’ve stepped across the pond. The cozy décor is straight up old-world, with a mixture of brick and dark wood playing backdrop to chalkboard menus, Parisian renderings, and a wine list that is exclusively de la France. A sophisticated (yet laid back) dining experience awaits you at Olivier Desaintmartin’s Washington Square West digs, along with scallops that could be the best you’ve ever had and a Normandy duck that is to die for.

4. El Vez. Although Rebel City is far from America’s southern neighbors, that doesn’t mean they are short on Mexican cuisine. This attempt at south-of-the-border sustenance is helmed by Stephen Starr, the man credited as Philly’s most successful restaurateur, and it shows. The Mexican-American fusion menu has wide appeal, as do the slate of tasty margaritas and guacamole that’s made to order. And the atmosphere is unexpected (in a good way) with hip, loungy décor that will make you feel cooler than you are.

5. Le Bec Fin. Okay, in all honesty, this restaurant could hardly be described as unheard of. In fact, it is well known as one of the best eateries in the city. But it’s a dining experience you simply cannot skip when visiting the City of Brotherly Love. If you’re not blown away by 20-foot ceilings that sport crystal chandeliers, then perhaps the traditional French cuisine will grab your attention. With a staff sommelier to recommend drinks, incredible appetizers and entrees to fill you up, and a dessert menu that is spectacular (try the salted caramel ice cream), you can’t help but leave satisfied (if somewhat lighter in the wallet).

Sarah writes for Trucker to Trucker where food trucks are king! You can also find used box trucks and other used trucks for sale across the country.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Marathon Grill

10th + Walnut
929 Walnut St, 2nd Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 733-0311

Marathon Grill. I bet most Philly people have been there. More than likely because there are a number of them all over the city. Marathon and I have a storied past. I have eaten at a number of them, and to be honest it's usually in a pinch. Not that there is anything wrong with the establishment(s), but the reason my body is not cut like a Greek God is that I go out seeking new, interesting food. Also the fact that I have no portion control and that I love beer MAY contribute to my "huskiness." That being said, Marathon serves a niche in Center City. It's decent food, interesting yet approachable by the more reserved generation of eaters, and it's reasonably priced.

I asked the waitress on this visit what she recommended. She said the burger over the cheesesteak and the fish and chips (should have went with my chiseled gut feeling on this one). She actually said that the fish and chips were her favorite thing on the menu. More on this later.

The Marathon Burger consists of an 8oz. blend of sirloin, short rib, and chuck steak, Vermont cheddar, caramelized onions, applewood smoked bacon, and housemade bbq sauce, served on brioche.

Fish and chips obviously comes with fries, so I opted for the Caesar salad with the burger. The burger was cooked to a nice medium, which was for the best with the hearty blend of steak involved. The meat itself was very tender and flavorful. A nice amount of fat rounded it out. The bacon was probably the best part, crispy, thick and more bulky than the one slice some places try to pass off as reasonable. Was this the best burger I have had? No. Was it good enough to eat the next time I find myself at Marathon Grill? Definitely.

The crispy cod "fish fry," however, was not as great of a catch. On the menu they are labeled as crispy cod, hand-cut french fries, green cabbage slaw, served with tartar sauce and malt vinegar. The breading was not very crispy. Actually it was a bit soggy. The fries were another disappointment, soggy and seemed to have been sitting. The greatest mystery of all, was why there was coleslaw served under the fish. It was wilted, warm and bland. A big letdown after the delicious burger. I may have either caught it on a bad day, or maybe ordered the wrong item, but I was not a fan.

Bottom line is that Marathon is a good place to go if you want a good sandwich, an upscale diner, or a place to take your parents who think that Pad Thai is exotic.