Thursday, February 24, 2011

Fathom Seafood House (CLOSED)

200 E. Girard Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19125
(267) 761-9343

One of the newest restaurants/bars/hangouts to the Philly scene is the latest offering by Mike Stollenwerk, of Fish and Little Fish. It's a welcome addition to the stretch of Girard that is quickly becoming a bizarro Passyunk up in Fishtown (quite appropriately). I normally try not to go places that just opened, or at least I am aware that they need to iron out the kinks, and so I either don't write about them or I cut them some slack, but in this case I had to mention how much I loved this place.

A sleek exterior gives rise to a homey, welcoming interior, that is one part bar, one part raw bar, and one part awesome. I am done trying to reduce this place to a description. Just trust me, you'll like it.

As my dining partner is not big on raw seafood, I couldn't go for broke on the oyster scene. I asked for one East Coast and one West Coast oyster, trusting my server's discretion. One from Massachusetts and one from British Columbia. Both were great, but I liked the Eastern offering (the smaller one) just a bit better. Fresh, expertly shucked, and deliciously briny, I could have eaten ten of each. They were served with a trio of sauces, which were perfect complements, but not exactly necessary, especially when I was only having one of each. Like a proper heavy child, I kept them to eat with anything else that was coming (I ended up tasting them so many times, I pretty much ate the oysters both plain), no shame in my game. The server even laughed sympathetically and admitted she knew where I was coming from.

Before I forget, I have to mention the service. I can't remember having service in any of my recent restaurant outings that has been more perfectly tailored to the situation. When we arrived, it turned out some of our friends were already there, having just finished dinner at the bar. With no reservations whatsoever, the server cheerfully acknowledged that they were going to sit with us with their beers while we ate. No attitude that they weren't on our tab or ordering more drinks from her. She was there when we needed, and gone when we didn't. No snobbery when I ordered a mere two oysters (they are offered several), nor was there any up-selling going on. We went for a quick, low-key meal/snack, and we got just that. That alone is worth going back. But the food, oh that food, was why I will be there again soon.

By the way, the sauces with the oysters were: #1, the best cocktail sauce I have ever had; #2, a creamy mustardy aioli (I believe); and #3, a traditional mignonette. So damn tasty. I can't wait to go back and hit the raw bar, hard. Also, they boast a well thought-out beer list, from delicious micro-brews to an extensive can and bottle menu, including some good old fashion domestics - the ones that other places believe they are too fancy to carry, but give a nod to the roots of the neighborhood. Well done.

I knew that the Fathom Fries had to be sampled before I got there, as I was drooling over them for months while I was awaiting their arrival. A large bowl of fresh fries, smothered in crab gravy and cheese curd. They were dangerously addictive. Everything was in balance, the gravy was not overly "seafoody" and the curd was meltingly delicious. A seafood house take on my beloved poutine, that I will be craving time and time again.

A bowl of mussels is so easy, yet so delicious. The Blue Bay mussels with coconut, panang curry, and lemongrass were an exercise in simple perfection. Nothing too fancy, but they let the plump morsels speak for themselves, while teasing out their briny goodness with a savory broth that I would drink through a straw. Seriously, I was going to ask for more bread, but found myself dipping my fingers in the bottom of the bowl. Who wants to share food with me???

The cauliflower tempura with chili mayo was another winner, and probably the best use of that dreaded vegetable I have eaten, outside of Indian cuisine. One of the biggest surprises was that the chili mayo packed a punch. My god, it's about time! I have eaten gallons (gross, I know) of mediocre "spicy mayo" in the past couple years, that were too timid to really carry any heat, thus rendering them useless. I guess I have a different opinion of "spicy" than ninety percent of restaurant establishments, but they went for it here, and it was fantastic.

Although they had only been open for two days, with Stollenwerk's track record, this place can only get better. In which case, I might have to delete this post, because I want to be able to get a seat here in six months. However for your sake, go eat there and enjoy it for what it is. A seafood house in a Pisces named neighborhood. As I told the couple coming in when I was leaving, upon being asked if it was worth going eating there "go inside and order anything, just make sure you get some fries and cauliflower to go with it."

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Tyson Bee's, continued

33rd and Spruce
Philadelphia, PA 19104

After my last love fest with Tyson Bee's, I knew I needed to head back for some more of their delicious fusion goodness. This time I wanted to try some of the things I missed the last time around (even I can only eat so much).

The kimchi and cheese quesadilla was better than it sounds. No offense, but IN GENERAL, cheese and fermented vegetables are not a go-to combo in my book. Obviously, Tyson Bee's is the exception to the rule, and this thing was delicious. The tortilla was perfectly browned, the cheese deliciously melted, and the kimchi added a tart, pungent slap that sets it apart from it's south of the border brethren. The spicy aioli really tied the dish together. No surprise here, Tyson's food is decidedly toothsome.

The pork belly bun...another winner. This one is a no-brainer. Although it's not as adventurous as some of the other offerings, it's comforting, pure and simple. The sweet and tangy hoisin style sauce was a perfect match for the tender, fatty, slightly crispy chunks of pork. Again, simple and perfect.

Last, I had to try one of the hot dogs (!?!) offered on this Asian/Mexican inspired menu. The "O.G." dog boasts an all beef frank, topped with Korean BBQ short rib beef, topped with kimchi. A lot going on, to say the least. The BBQ beef was tasty, and almost absurdly rich. The kimchi added some crunch and once again, that interesting tang of fermented vegetables. Some thinly sliced radish kind of fell by the wayside. This was a good hot dog, but needed a couple of tweaks. The dog itself could use a brief stint on the grill, to crisp it up a bit, as it was slightly lost in the fatty BBQ beef topping. And much like the Banh Mi, it needs a crispy roll, such as those found at Cafe Nhu Y. Tyson Bee's is still the jam, and I have high hopes it will continue to serve up interesting, delicious, relatively cheap eats.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Zorba's Tavern

2230 Fairmount Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19130-2617
(215) 978-5990

Gyro's are one of my favorites, but sadly, our fair city is somewhat lacking in that department. Don't get me wrong, there a few gems around, but for the most part, we don't have much. Even though we more than make up for it with other amazing foods, I am still always on the lookout for that special one. Zorba's is up in the Fairmount/Art Museum area (also ON Fairmount Ave), and they offer a traditional Greek menu, with a reasonably priced lunch time sandwich.

The place is about what you would expect from an authentic Greek spot, charming, yet somewhat "seasoned." I started with the cold appetizer combo, a steal at $7. It includes all of their cold dips, and is served with pita bread. This means you get to sample the: Tzatziki (homemade yogurt, garlic, dill and olive oil), Skordalia (garlic, bread, olive oil and vinegar), Hummus (chickpeas, olive oil, lemon, garlic, tahini, and cumin), my personal favorite Kopanisti (feta, olive oil, hot peppers), Tarama (fish caviar, olive oil, lemon, bread and potato), Melitzania (roasted eggplant, peppers, garlic, olive oil, and feta), and a Dolmade (grape leaves stuffed with rice and herbs). This was a great starter, and as all of the various spreads had such different flavors, it was fun to discover each one through tasting with the warm, fresh pita bread.

I also obviously went with the gyro, as that was the main reason for my visit. They make their gyro's with the traditional thinly sliced beef and lamb and add lettuce, tomato, red onion, french fries, lettuce and tzatziki. Yes, I know, lettuce twice? The answer, they must, because I felt like I was biting into a pita stuffed with shredded lettuce, accented by a bit of meat and a couple of french fries. The meat was good, as was the pita, but I could not get over the sparseness of the main star. It was ALL lettuce.

If they had an option to go double meat, I would be all over it. And it would bump this sandwich up a couple of notches, but until that point, I will stick with South Street Souvlaki. Unless someone has another suggestion. I am open to them. The service was great, the ingredients fresh and the appetizer combo delicious, but I was definitely let down by the lack of delicious meat.

This would have been me celebrating if they had tripled my meat.

Hello???? Any meat in there??????

Thursday, February 17, 2011

George's Famous Roast Pork and Beef (George's Luncheonette)

1007 S 9th St
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 574-9878

This place is cheap. Food cart prices with Italian Market charm, you might say. I love to come here when I am shopping on the weekend, as you can get TWO breakfast sandwiches for $6. Total. And they are damn good, for what they are. Nothing gourmet, but definitely a solid, cholesterol boosting breakfast. Cheap, quick and dirty, just how I like it. As a bonus, there are outdoor seats, and Fante's (otherwise known as heaven) is across the street.

Don't get this place confused with the George's Sandwich shop right up the street, which makes terrific lunch sandwiches. Although this spot also makes hot lunch sandwiches, I prefer this location for breakfast, and the other for my pork, roast beef, etc. Just a matter of personal preference. As can be imagined, it's cash only, and no-nonsense.

One of my favorites is bacon, egg and cheese with banana peppers. There is something about the salty brine of the peppers that mixes brilliantly with eggs and bacon. Not sure why, and I really don't care. It just works.

For something just slightly lighter (actually probably not), I also love the egg, cheese, and peppers sandwich. A little mayo and hot sauce to grease the wheel, and you have a perfectly satisfying (gasp) vegetarian version of breakfast. Delicious.

To say this place is not fancy is like calling Detroit a little rough around the edges - an understatement, to say the least (just kidding Detroit, please don't kill me). But if you want something tasty, cheap, and quick for breakfast while shopping in the Italian Market, this is your spot.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Guest Post: Dim Sum Garden

59 North 11th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 627-0218

On a recent (and very quick - parking in a 30 minute loading zone) trip to RTM, and after having already eaten breakfast only 1 hour prior, I decided it might be a great idea to stop in to Dim Sum Garden to try their soup buns - I thought, "what the heck, a few delicious, porky dough balls can't be that bad for an already (almost) full stomach." I've never been here before, but have heard numerous rave reviews about their steamed buns.

Located under the Hilton Garden Inn's eastern overpass and just north of New Century Travel, it's a beacon of light in what's probably the most dank and dreary part of Chinatown.

Bustling and full of patrons at 11:30 on a Sunday morning, the restaurant is bright and colorful with green walls, servers in matching green tops and an open kitchen that doesn't seem to ever cease putting off steam. The windows are all fogged over and, buyer beware, there is no public restroom.

Fully furnished by IKEA products, we chose to sit at a high top near the entrance. Each table is outfitted with a small vase each of soy sauce and vinegar and a plastic jar & spoon that houses the standard hot pepper oil. These ones, however have a lid that doubles as a decorative snow globe, without the snow - instead there's a pair of plastic peaches set inside the empty (and filthy) dome. Although disturbing, this did not effect the flavor of the oil, only made its use slightly less appealing.

We decided to go with one order of the Shanghai Steamed Pork Juicy Buns (8) for the low price of $5.25. Upon telling this to our friendly server, she recommended we 'maybe try the fried buns, same but fried instead of steamed - today special, with 6 in order that are fried, not steam.' Who can resist fried anything? Certainly not me, and even more certainly, not my dining partner. It was an immediate and simultaneous, "okay" and so we waited for our snack. In the meantime, we were each served a hot cup of delicious rice green tea - of course that too was served in the standard IKEA ceramic ware.

The beautiful buns arrive, looking as lovely and innocent as ever, with their steamed tops and their secretly golden-brown pan-fried bottoms! What a pleasant surprise, here we were thinking they'd be deep-fried - fully submersed in canola oil, but gladly, we were wrong.

Our waitress told us to 'bite and then use the sauce' and pointed to the vinegar. Using a little of each of all 3 aforementioned sauces, we drizzled our buns before biting and then drizzled a bit more about halfway through. It took me about 3 bites to finish each one. Well, 3 heavenly bites, I should say. The buns were perfectly cooked through with the broth and pork/onion ball at just the right temperature. There was an initial hesitation to bite, in anticipation of what could have been scalding hot soup inside, but to our delight, every one was just hot enough to enjoy without fear of burning the insides of our mouths. Delicious.