Thursday, November 29, 2012

Pho Ha

610 Washington Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 599-0264

So before I go any further, I want to take a moment to remind any loyal readers, and to inform any new readers, that I hate Pho. I have had it at least a dozen times, and I have never been impressed. Everyone rants and raves about how amazing it is, and in my opinion, its just a bowl of under-seasoned broth with some scraps of meat tossed in, served with a side of bean sprouts and basil. The apparent allure is adding in your own ingredients to make the giant bowl of hot water (and cheap cuts of unseasoned meat) palatable. It’s as though no one had ever had a good bowl of ramen, or Tom Yum, or soft tofu, all of which deserve the cult status of Pho, yet are overlooked in favor of their mediocre Vietnamese counterpart.

That all being said, I hadn’t given it another try in almost a year, so I thought that perhaps on this trip, I would find the missing piece to begin to love this dish. Pho Ha came highly recommended, so I made a trip over.

When you walk into Pho Ha, you will stand around awkwardly until you are whisked away to a table.

Upon arrival at your table, you will be expected to know what you are ordering when you sit down. If not, a non-plussed waiter will stand over you rolling his eyes and awaiting your decision. For the love of God, DO NOT ask for a few minutes to look over the menu.

A large bowl of pho is almost comically large, and at the low low price of $6.60 you will wonder how they do it. Until you see the meat.

I ordered a combo (#45) featuring brisket, flank, tendon, fatty & crunchy flank. Lots of meat. All of it looked the same shade of grey, and for the most part it all tasted the same. The tendon got lost in the giant chopstick pinches of noodles. I used about everything I could find on the table to bring some life to this broth boat, but it was still as mediocre as I had remembered. There is just no level of care put into this dish (not hard to believe when it is served in under a minute and a half).

I brought along some spicy beer to match what I was expecting to be an explosion of flavor.

I am a sucker for some summer rolls, so I grabbed an order of them as well. They were fine. Probably my favorite part of the meal - and still hitting pretty low.

I also ordered the "Com Bi, Cha, Suon Nuong" or julienne pork rice plate.

The platter was another reasonably priced value at $6.60 and literally came out as a pile of indiscernible foods.

Although the pork was well seasoned – it was glossed with a sort of sweet and sour glaze – and had a nice charred flavor, it was decidedly not julienned.

There was some sort of eggy-pate-glass noodle thing that tasted earthy - and when I say "earthy," I mean to say it tasted sort of like dirt.

This tomato was buried under the pate. If your tomato looks more white than red, don't serve it at all.

So I admit I am not a huge pho fan. In reality, I would rather eat about anywhere else than at a pho place. If you love it, feel free to disagree. If you have never been, please go and decide for yourself. As for me, I know which soups are the real deal, and I will continue championing their consumption. You can keep the pho.

Monday, November 26, 2012


32 S 18th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(267) 324-3936

Grillicious is another venture in the same location as the short lived falafel place “CRISP”. After my meal at Crisp a while ago, I was hoping that something better was in store for this great spot. Grillicious did not disappoint, and even improved on some of its predecessor's missteps.

They stuck with the same build-your-own setup, but added meat to the menu of protein options. Big fan of that decision.

The evolution of the ordering process is laid out below.

I went with a flatbread sandwich, and a salad bowl.

The salad bowl is HANDS DOWN the way to go. You get more food, AND it's served with a flatbread anyway.

The salad comes with your choice of ingredients, I chose tomato cucumber salad, onion, parsley, and feta. My protein was the beef kefta kabob, and it also came with falafel - a generous foursome. There is a number of sauces/dressings to choose from and the Amba Wamba sounded like a good one - their take is a pickled mango-chipotle cream that added a nice tang.

Because just one dressing is never enough, I opted for two; although the spicy tahini was a bit under spiced, the amba wamba held strong. I will also say, in contrast to Crisp's execution, the falafel was very good this time around. The crispy exterior gave way to a moist, light, well seasoned interior. A major improvement on the previous version.

The kafta was delicious. A light and crunchy, tender and juicy, slightly smoky (so many descriptors, I know) meat puck added a rich contrast to the healthiness of the salad, and when taken with the falafel and flatbread, made for a hearty meal. At $1 more than the flatbread, it is definitely worth the investment.

It's not that the flatbread was bad, it just didn’t have the substance of the salad. The bread itself was tender and nicely spongy with a smack of char-grilled flavor. The marinated boneless chicken was meat pulled from the thighs, and made for a delicious (and, yes, grillicious) filling.

The ingredients are mostly the same across the board, and I did still enjoy the flatbread. But for the value, I have to recommend the salad. Filling and delicious, go for extra sauce(s) on the side as their tiny to-go containers don’t thoroughly take care of the salad unless used en-mass.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Nom Nom Ramen

20 S. 18th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 988-0898

After the abject failure of Ramen Boy to produce a decent bowl of this soul-soother with a cult-like following, it was time to see what the west side of Broad had to offer. Nom Nom Ramen (hate the name) is in a close proximity to many office workers, and offers a no frills bowl of noodle soup that is pretty damn delicious.

Just note that it's cash only. Though somewhat unfortunate for the quick business-lunchers, it's worth a trip to the ATM on your way.

The interior is a standard "order at the counter and wait to be called" operation. They have a somewhat limited menu, which is a plus. Focus on your strong points. People are not at the Ramen shop for California rolls. Or at least they shouldn’t be. Seating is first come, first served.

The small but effective kitchen pumps out orders quite quickly. As they should, because they are mostly serving soup. There were a couple of interesting side items like soft shell crab dumplings and pork belly buns, and a half dozen or so soups to choose from.

From the left, clockwise, I ordered Shio, extra noodles, Karai miso (spicy), and the pork buns.

The pork buns were solid, light, fluffy vessels wrapped around a variety of ingredients such as Chashu pork, daikon, carrots, lettuce, scallions, and spicy bun sauce which tasted like a slightly spicy hoisin.

The pork was extremely tender, and the toppings were fresh and crunchy. The sauce had a rich, pungent, kick to it. Altogether, it was a great side to go with some soup. Even if everything I ordered already had pork belly in it.

Below is the Shio (seasoned with salt and white soy sauce) tonkotsu (pork bone) broth served with chashu, kikurage mushrooms, naruto, bamboo, scallions, and pickled ginger. This one was killer. The broth had a fragrent, yet delicate odor, and the flavor was so soothing I was wishing I had a head cold to nurse. The tender pork belly is a welcome treat when slurping up noodles, and the richness makes a couple of slices last the entire bowl. I loved this Ramen.

Karai miso, a spicy version of their miso soup is another winner. Although it lacked the finesse of the shio, it scored big in the spice department. I got it extra spicy, and it had a great kick. The rich broth was tempered by the springy noodles, and fatty pork. This was a real “sweat it out” type dish, and I couldn’t have been happier.

The extra noodles were not entirely necessary, and when I started the meal, I thought they were overkill, but by the end, I was evenly dividing them between bowls, happy to slurp up every last drop of delicious broth.

I highly recommend this ramen bar, and I think you will find it to be just what the doctor ordered on a blustery winter day. For once, soup really is a meal.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Bubba's Texas BBQ

19 W Girard Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19123
(267) 324-3530

Editor's note: photography was not easy here, so apologies in advance for the lack of visual representation here. Just take my word for what you're about to read.

First, the good. The wings were great. Smoked, then fried, they were packed with flavor and served in a spicy and deep hot sauce. I would go back for these alone.

Now for the bad. The service, atmosphere, and BBQ. Which is kind of a big deal for a * ahem* BBQ joint.

Service: Our waitress was texting WHILE I was ordering. I thought it was some kind of new tablet system that sent the orders to the kitchen. Until I got done and she said, "sorry, what was that again?" and she pulled out a notepad for me to repeat my order. Come on.

Atmosphere: Weird. It was part Applebee's and part Famous Dave's. Had a feeling of weirdness all around.

BBQ: Most disappointing. We each had a sandwich, one pulled pork, one chicken, one brisket. All were served on a LeBus roll that had no business housing BBQ. The tops of the bread were so big they were discarded by each of us, while the thin bottom let you holding a soggy piece of roll covered in meat. Not to say that the meat was abundant. The pork was flavorless and dry (no sauce served on the table) and overpowered by the enormous piece of bread it is served on. The chicken was just okay, until I bit into a bone, that's all I'll say about that. The brisket was the best of the lot (as it should be for Texas BBQ) but again, it was not as juicy as it should have been. At least it had some sauce on it. The menu said each sandwich was served with half sour pickles. Well each one in our group came with a sad little slice that was roughly the size of one McDonald's french fry. Big disappointment, especially for the $11-14 price tags on the sandwiches. The chips were pretty good, especially because they helped bulk up what was not exactly a heaping portion.

I would go back for a $3 Kenzinger and some wings. That is about it, and barely. Just a disappointment all around. Especially with their competition around the corner.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Pagano's Market

2001 Market Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 523-6200

Pagano's is a DiBruno Brother's type place that caters to white collar workers in Center City. I wrote about the outpost of it here last year, but felt a trip was deserved to the main location.

They get awfully busy during lunch, and the office workers swarm the "gourmet" foods offered.

There is a large salad bar, one at which (unfortunately) I will never be able to eat. Every time I have ever tried to take the healthy route, my food eyes have ended up costing me AT LEAST $15. For a damn salad. I guess I like heavy vegetables.

They also have a pizza station, that includes stromboli's. It looked good, but I was here for sandwiches.

You get into the appropriate line, and try to decipher what you want on this particular occasion. It didn't take me too long. Although I changed my choices a couple of times on the way to the front.

Most of the sandwiches are pre-made, but they will dress them to order.

Always a sucker for chicken cutlets, I had to try the sharp prov and spinach with a side of sauce.

This one did, however, look like a salad even I could get behind.

They dress hot sandwiches according to your requests.

Also, don't forget to grab a side of pickles. They are delicious.

I started with the Italian classico. It had the traditional assortment of cured Italian meats on it, but they were definitely of higher quality than usual.

The crusty roll was really, well, crusty. It was good though. Different than I am used to. The proscuitto was also quite good. Deep crimson in color, it was tender and packed with rich pork flavor.

The other meats and sharp provolone were also quite tasty. I think the roll might have been a bit overkill, but luckily I had oil, vinegar, AND mayo to lube it up. A solid Italian, though it was a bit steep at $10.

The chicken cutlet/parm, didn't fare quite as hot. It wasn't bad, it just wasn't the best I have had. The sauce was incredibly bland, and nothing about this sandwich "popped". It was very one note.

The cutlet itself was pretty good, but again, without any spice or enough salt, no contrasting flavors, it just didn't "cut" it. It could have also taken a bit of a pounding - more surface area and less (dry) breast to cut through with every bite.

I would go back to Pagano's, but probably only if the Kennedy Food Garden was closed. I think the couple of dollars less per item make the difference, but that's just me. Pagano's is certainly good enough, and if I worked in one of these buildings I would probably be here quite often. Has anyone had the pizza?