Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Vic Sushi Bar

2035 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 564-4339

Sushi Vic, as this tiny sushi place is commonly referred to, is a great spot for fish on a budget. Mainly because they always have quality cuts, and they put plenty of care into the preparation.

If you are not budget conscious, the specialty rolls are really worth the money.

If you ARE budget conscious, or are just looking to scratch that sushi itch over lunch, the three rolls for $11 deal is tough to beat. Just make sure you are there just before or just after the lunch rush, because there are literally only about eight seats.

The fish is always fresh and beautiful here.

If you are looking for water, or seaweed salad, you must take matters into your own hands. By the front there is a refreshment station, as well as a cooler with cold salads. They are cheap (about $3-4) and they are delicious.

If you go with a friend, get two of the roll specials, and you can diversify your lunchtime take. From top left clockwise we have a Philly roll (salmon and cream cheese), a yellowtail scallion hand roll (best value), a yellowtail scallion maki, shrimp tempura, eel, and spicy tuna. Nothing on here is exotic, but it is all pretty damn good when you are looking to cram your gut with nori, fish, and rice.

Hand rolls are always a favorite, as you usually end up with a good portion of fish, which lets you get a good taste of your favorites.

Vic is not the most mind-blowing, cutting edge sushi place around, but it is a solid choice for a reasonably priced, Americanized sushi feast in center city.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Guest Post: Rubicon Deli

445 California Ave.
Reno, NV 89509

Rubicon Deli makes what I consider to be a really good West Coast sandwich. It's really the opposite of what you'd find on the East.

The bread is soft, avocado is everywhere, the people at the counter aren't intimidating... you get the idea. That aside, the most important aspect of what makes Rubicon Deli really good, and a shared trait of the upper crust of East coast sandwich shops, is that every effort is taken to use the highest quality ingredients.

They make the bread on location every morning and add intriguing accents that really push these things over the top including, pesto, jalapeño jack, bleu cheese. Again, those are probably three reasons right there that you'd never find a sandwich like this on the East. In actuality though, I didn't have a true Italian hoagie till I was well into college. Rubicon Deli was my first experience in attempting to integrate "sandwich" into a food group. We literally ate at this place three days a week through all of high school. Number one on the menu for me was the Rubicon Special.

Your choice of bread (I go pesto), turkey, smoked gouda, roasted red peppers, lettuce, and pesto mayo. My personal accent here was adding their habañero mustard. Mustard is another testament to their commitment to top notch ingredients. The menu includes an array of 6 variations that bring a whole new twist on any item on the menu.

Rubicon Deli has come a long way since it's humble beginnings in the back of a country store on the west shore of Lake Tahoe. It has now established a very refined location in downtown Reno and two successful shops in San Diego. Gone are the days of the Tahoe locations that were so frequently part of our lunch hour mission – though Rubicon Deli has maintained consistent quality since it first opened its doors.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


229 South 45th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
(215) 387-2424

Ethiopian food has a cult-like following. It’s safe to say that Washington DC is the North American hotbed of this cuisine, with an unofficial estimate of 5/6ths of the Ethiopian-American population residing there. That said, we have our own population (unknown estimation) in Philadelphia dedicated to the unique and flavorful fare.

In our fair city, the city of brotherly love, it is well known that West Philly is the Mecca of Ethiopian culinary establishments. One place, in particular, stands out ahead of the pack, notably for its interesting blend of hipster hole-in-the-wall meets authentic-yet-lackluster Ethiopian restaurant – with the former above and the latter below, but not in any measure of quality. I’ll explain later.

When you break it down to its most basic, you can sum Ethiopian food up with two words, injera and wat. Most everything comes in a thick stew (wat), usually served atop a giant piece of spongy bread (injera). This can be both good and bad. It’s great if you are comfortable eating with your hands, and are not grossed out by the people/friends with whom you are sharing the meal. It’s terrible if you end up with some dirty finger-nailed, picky eater, someone who is questioning the cleanliness of the kitchen and/or anyone who isn’t into trying some raw beef.

According to the website, they’re the self-proclaimed “best Ethiopian food in town” and with the added bonus of a fully loaded boutique bar on the second floor, it’s a sure bet for a satisfied appetite and a night full of intimate, live music enjoyment.

But before the music, there is food. It’s generally understood that you get your hands into some injera and wat prior to hitting Fiume – and with good reason, as Abyssinia is literally the ground floor. You have to pass through the restaurant to even reach the venue. This strange juxtaposition has two worlds colliding, with a charmingly dingy, extremely ethnic restaurant, meeting a secret upstairs hipster bar that is one part Portlandia, one part Ann Frank. It’s an experience, to say the least. So when you’re ready for the tour de force, here is what to do.

First floor. Order a beer. Hoppy beer works well with the smack-you-in-the-mouth flavors and spices of Ethiopian cuisine, but anything cold will do. Make sure you have some water, because this is going to make you sweat.

I prefer to get one of the vegetarian combination platters, and intersperse one or two of the other meat-types with it. Each item is completely different, yet all work well together.

Lest I forget, the most important part, the injera. This sour, spongy bread is the main event at any Ethiopian meal. Your entire order will be served on a comically large plate, with a giant piece of injera draped over it, which will serve as your utensils. Simply pull off a piece, and use your thumb and forefingers to pinch whatever your heart desires.

The vegetarian combination (#26 on the menu) is a spattering of two types of split peas in berbere - a traditional Ethiopian spice blend including chili, garlic, ginger, basil, fenugreek and black pepper - sauce with onions (#18 Shiro Wot and #20 Ye'Kik Alicha);

Miscellaneous sauteed, mixed vegetables (#17 Ye'Atikilt Wot);

Two types of lentils in berbere sauce (#16 Y'Misir Wot and #22 Azifa); and sauteed collard greens (#19 Ye'Gomen Wot). There isn't much of each, but together, with the difference in spices, all you need is a tiny hint of each in your food scoop.

You must try the Kitfo, as this is the barometer used to judge just how good an Ethiopian place is. Kitfo is basically a tartar: minced raw beef marinated in mitmita, which is a spice blend found in many Ethiopian dishes, consisting of ground African birdseye chili peppers, cardamom seed, cloves and salt. While you may be a bit squeamish about eating raw beef from a place that looks less than spic and span, just give it a shot. The mincing of the beef really makes it tender, and the wallop of the pungent spices explodes on your palate. This particular version is served with collard greens (gomen) and ayib, a spiced cottage cheese.

We also tried another type of raw beef (#4 Gored Gored) cubes prepared with a blend of spices including berbere sauce, and mixed in clarified butter. There were definitely chewy hunks in the mix, not as tender as the minced bits of Kitfo, so be ready to swallow whole. Not a recommended selection.

To round out the veggies and raw beef(s), we added a third meat with the lamb stew (#10 Yebeg Qey Wot) cooked in, you guessed it, a berbere sauce with "other spices."

The pieces of lamb were actually pretty tender.

You have now experienced Ethiopian food. Try to stop sweating.

But you can’t, because now you head upstairs to Fiume, where you’ll cram into 150 square feet with 30 other people to enjoy the live music and specialty beverages. Pick your poison: Sundays with Shakey Lymon (blues), Perseverance Jazz Band (traditional jazz), & OctoMonkey (gypsy/django jazz) or Thursdays at 10pm the Citywide Specials (starring manager Kevin himself) perform live traditional bluegrass music.

One of the added benefits of having both a restaurant and a venue, is that you can tailor your evening to your mood. Want to sit at a bar and listen to a Fred Armisen lookalike wax poetically about which house-infused cocktail ingredients they are offering that day? Hit Fiume early (where you can also eat food from downstairs). More in the mood for a slightly strange meal at your Ethiopian neighbor’s house? Sit downstairs at Abyssinia.

But above all, stay for the music.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Oktoberfest Contest Winner! (REDUX)

Thanks so much to everyone who entered! After randomly drawing the number (a second time because the first winner never got in touch to claim his winnings), we have our winner! Congratulations BiggRigg!

BiggRigg, please email me at to claim your $100 prize and be on your way to enjoying encased meats galore at Brauhaus Schmitz.

Thanks also, to City Eats for facilitating the contest.
Be sure to make your next reservation through their easy-to-use website.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Fette Sau

1208 Frankford Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19125
(215) 391-4888

The long awaited Philadelphia transplant of the infamous Brooklyn BBQ joint Fette Sau (meaning fat pig in German) has finally arrived. This location happens to be next door to Frankford Hall, and also happens to be owned by the one-and-only Starr Restaurant Group.

Although I traditionally try not to review on opening night (not to mention I had already eaten a dinner full of $1 tacos hours earlier), I couldn’t help but wander down for a beer and some meat. And sides. And potato rolls.

The interior is incredibly spacious, with a mixture of industrial-meets-BBQ shack decor that suits the hipster capital in which it is located nicely.

Menu items are priced by the pound, and although not cheap, there are ways to eat well for a reasonable price. The more affordable sides are not to be missed.

When you walk up, you are greeted by a case filled with various meats. Be warned, the short rib is served at a minimum of a half pound, because you get a bone with every order, which puts it around $15. That being said, it’s probably the best fifteen bucks you have spent in a while.

Brisket and pork belly are sliced to order behind the counter.

As I was not that hungry, I went with a half pound of pulled pork, a quarter pound of pork belly (3 slices), two potato rolls ($.35 a piece), a small potato salad, and a small order of half sour pickles.

The pork was delicious. Slow-smoked with much of the fat rendered out, it had a nice smoky flavor. Pieces of bark were interlaced with the meat, which SHOULD be the norm at any self respecting BBQ joint.

Now truth be told, I am very demanding of my BBQ, as it is one of my specialties, and nothing in Philly REALLY sparks my interest. This place was doing the trick. I know there will be backlash of, "but it’s Starrr... bleh, blah, blah, its too expensive, its too fancy, bleh," etc. Well the thing is, really good BBQ isn’t cheap. It takes a LONG time to do it correctly, and these man hours add up. So shut up, and enjoy the food without coming in already prejudiced against it.

The pork belly was delicious as well, with a glistening vein of rich pork fat, a beautiful crust, and a perfect deep pink smoke ring. It literally melted when it hit my tongue. Let's just say I was a BIG fan of the pork products.

The potato salad was great, specked with whole mustard seed, and coated with a creamy, slightly tangy, light (enough) dressing.

I have an extreme liking of half sours, and these were no exception. Especially when sliced into coins and piled on top of a pulled pork sandwich of my own design. Three sauces were offered, one vinegar (good), one traditional (also good), and one chipotle
(terrible). Stick with the two originals and you can’t go wrong. Did I mention they serve Martin's potato rolls for $.35 a piece? Also a must have in this scenario.

Now, as can be expected, I went heavy on the pork, but a friend that accompanied me went heavy on the beef. Which was just fine with me. We were interested in trying a bit of everything.

The short ribs, while expensive, were absolutely delicious, a “must order” in my opinion. A little goes a long way with this over the top, smoke and fat rich meatstravaganza. Again, the bark was terrific, and the meat glistened with rendered deliciousness.

Just look at this tender pull-apart-ability.

The brisket was pretty damn good too, with a rich, velvety line of fat running throughout. Not the most tender rendition I have had.

The burnt ends baked beans were among the best I have ever had. If you order nothing else, you must get these. Smokey, rich, loaded with beef, the complexity is only matched by the richness. This is a meal unto itself.

Cold broccoli salad was a red pepper flecked, vinegar-based side that was a take it or leave proposition.

After you order your food at the counter, but before you retire to the seat-yourself picnic style arrangements around the restaurant, you can stop and grab a beer or bourbon at the bar, which is highly recommended, not required. Local microbrews are on tap, all at $6/pint and served in ball jars. < Hipster heaven.

The art/interior decor itself is interesting, and not overly contrived. It would obviously be better if it had been here for decades, but with any luck it will.

This is going to be the kind of place people love or hate. Or love to hate. Or hate to love. But for me, it’s probably my favorite BBQ I have experienced to date at a restaurant in the city, and I will continue to stuff my face with various meat products and over indulgent sides and love every minute of it.