Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Wajoe - 20th and Chestnut St

Center City has never been the place to go to for good Korean food.  Sure there are spots like the higher end Miga or the dolsot bibimbap serving Giwa but I consider those places washed to fit the palates of the general public.  If you want the good stuff, the real tastes of Korea, you have to head up north and plant yourself in Cheltenham(the closest thing to a Ktown you'll find in this area) to see what unfiltered Korean food is all about.  
Now comes this restaurant Wajoe, in the ashes of the Korean place that resided here before whose name escapes me now, a fitting testament to how unmemorable it was.  I was a little apprehensive when I saw the new signs starting to come up a few months back.  A new awning and some paint was not going to fix the mess that was here before.  


Upon entering, I'm pleased to see the renovations do not stop at the door.  The tables are fitted with new BBQ pits and ventilation systems.  Some money was definitely spent here.  When we're greeted by our server I ask him if this was under new ownership to which he said it was.  It confirmed what I was seeing from this improved space and gave me hope that the food would be similarly improved.


First, of course, is the 반찬(banchan) or the side dishes.  For lunch I think this amount works perfectly.  Not a deluge of tiny dishes or a little plate of kimchi.  Included are bean sprouts, potato strips in a light mayo sauce, fish cake and the omnipresent kimchi.  A good indicator of a good Korean restaurant is the quality of the kimchi they serve and this kimchi was good.  Immediately we knew it as a sign of good things to come.  

1) Kalbi Box - $12.99
Ordering the regular kalbi BBQ for lunch would've been a little too baller for my friend so she opted for the kalbi box.  It came in this massive dish that could have doubled as a small sea vessel.  The kalbi, although pre prepared, was seasoned nicely and albeit not sizzling hot off the grill was not disappointing.  The dumping was another highlight and next time the dumpling appetizer will definitely be ordered.  Lots of food, all good, thumbs up.  

2) Soft Tofu Chigae(순두부 찌개) - $8.99
Yep, again this cauldron of bubbling jigae continues to confirm what the kimchi had foretold at the beginning of our meal.  This is the real stuff, not watered down to make it any less spicy for sensitive non Koreans or modified to tone down the flavors.  Piled high with tofu this pot of authentic Korean fare gave me renewed hope for the state of Korean food in the area.  There is at least this one beacon within in the darkness.


Overall LTE score [8.5/10] I cannot put into words how awesome it is to have a Korean place that is 5 minutes away from the office that serves Korean food that I actually want to eat.  Not only do I want to eat it I want to try everything that's on the menu.  Maybe all this high praise is a little premature considering they opened their doors just yesterday and I've only eaten here once but what I had today made me want to go back and go back soon.


Wajoe Korean Restaurant
2034 Chestnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 496-9021

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Little Thai Market - Reading Terminal Market

Reading Terminal Market is a little far from home base on 20th and Market so it's a spot I rarely get out to for lunch but owing a friend, who works on 8th and Market, a lunch I decided it would be a good opportunity to try Little Thai Market, a very highly recommended spot.

As appetizing as everything on this menu sounds the Salmon Curry was the one dish I was told I had to get.   I obliged and so did my friend.  

1) Salmon Curry - $6.50
When we opened up our containers we both marveled at the size of the salmon that lay in front of us.   Underneath it you can barely make out the bed of rice with some broccoli, peppers and possibly spinach the salmon sits on.  If I were to go to the store and pick up a salmon filet this size it would probably be close to the cost of this entire dish so I really wonder how they make any money off of this.  Now, it would all be meaningless if it tasted like crap but the salmon was moist and flaky and the Thai red curry sauce, with just a touch of sweetness, put this meal on my list of one of the best lunches you can get for cheap.

Overall LTE score[8.5/10]  Reading Terminal Market during lunch time is like the liquor store right before a major hurricane.  Painfully shared with what seems like every other person in the city.  But having said this, I think if there was one thing I would be willing to endure the crowds and also the long trip over for it would be this meal.  It's cheap and its delicious.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Tyson Bees, Magic Carpet - University City

A double dose of food truck/cart reviews today as I hopped onto the 36 trolley towards University City and UPenn campus to see what the kids are eating these days.  My first stop is at Tyson Bees on 33rd and Spruce St.  A Korean, Vietnamese, Mexican fusion food truck, there has been some recent concern over the  food quality since a split between chef Tyson Wong and his partner.  Wong moved on and the partner now runs the truck.  Did losing the man behind the food change things for the worse?

1) Korean Short Rib Taco, Pork Bun, Thai Tea - $8
I think the concern over the quality taking a nose dive are overblown.  I found these to be the pretty much the same as what I remember when Tyson was still involved.  The pork(as pictured trying to migrate to the taco) wasn't as fall apart tender as I remember but I would still face 5 of these no problem.  Taco was excellent and really the only reason I didn't get another serving was to save room for my second cart meal.  

First time trying the Thai tea, if this was good at one point then something seriously bad happened here because despite the vibrant coloring the taste was weak.  They put way too much ice in and what little tea was included was watered down.  

Magic Carpet is a well reviewed Vegetarian, Middle Eastern cuisine cart located in the food truck block of 36th and Spruce St.  If you're walking towards the direction from 36th to 37th street this would be the first cart in the long line of food carts here.

Two windows help keep the line moving which is nice because the line can become very long.  The menu is pretty impressive and it took me a minute to get my bearings on what I would want, they have platters and sandwiches that include a diverse array of vegetarian foods such as tofu, veggie chilli, eggplant.  Me, not being at all familiar with vegetarian cuisine did not recognize some of stuff on the menu.

1) Fallafel Sandwich - $5
I thought I would go basic and try their regular fallafel sandwich.  Unfortunately, it was just not very good.  The pita was weak, falaffel balls were bland and as a whole this sandwich was disappointing.  I had no desire to finish it so half of it went into the trash. After hearing the high praise bestowed upon Magic Carpet I can only hope I got unlucky.  I would try this cart again but definitely not the falaffel sandwich.


Overall LTE scores [7/10] Tyson Bees, [4/10] Magic Carpet 
A mixed lunch today, first course was good but second course failed to deliver.  

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

a.kitchen - 18th and Walnut St

a.kitchen opened up around the same time as Serafina did just across the street but with decidedly a lot less fanfare.  Bryan Sikora, who is the man behind a.kitchen, is an accomplished chef but his pedigree was no match for the hype and crowds that greeted the NYC import.  So opening week, I of course, fell in line and lunched and wrote my review of Serafina, putting off a.kitchen for another day.  Well that day has finally arrived as I continue my week of wallet busting lunches.  

The view from the entrance.  Bar to the right, seats to the left and a wide open kitchen surrounded by bar seating in the back.  

In case you want to get an up close and personal experience with the kitchen staff you have the option to be seated right in front with a full view of your food being prepared.  

The styling is clean and modern.  Wood tables with wood benching and black plastic seats.  The interior space is not very large but outdoor seating is available.  18th street can become very busy during this time, especially with this weather, so we opted to eat indoors.  

1) Spicy Fried Potatoes with saffron aïoli - $8
Heavily seasoned old bay potato wedges is what we have here.  The saffron aioli was nice and definitely added kick to these potatoes but overall this was just ok.  

2) Chorizo Stuffed Calamari with tomato fondue - $14
There was definitely something missing from this dish.  The chorizo was good, the calamari were cooked well and the tomato fondue was nice and light but there was nothing here to mesh them all together.  A starch component and this would've been a much more enjoyable dish.  Also portions are on the smaller side.

3) Cheese Steak cheddar sauce, mushrooms and sweet onions - $15
Really, this is what drew me to a.kitchen, the idea of a $15 cheesesteak.  I know, I'm a total lush but curiosity got the best of me and being a Philadelphian I had to see what this was about.  What arrived was surprisingly decently portioned.  I kept hearing about how small the plates were here, as with the previous dish but I guess you can't really shrink a hoagie roll.  On my first bite I got a the a full blast of the cheddar sauce.  It made me want to order wit cheddar sauce for all my future cheesesteaks.  But really the decadence ended there and I can't say I would prefer this sandwich over one from Jim's or Chink's or any of the other established cheeseteak purveyors.  $15 probably pays for a prime cut of rib eye but really the cheesesteak is a blue collar sandwich and making it fancy doesn't make it any better.

4) Six Point Righteous Rye, Brooklyn 6.4% - $5
Resembled a beer I enjoy often, Dog Fish Head 60 minute IPA.  

Overall LTE score [6.5/10] We left a little underwhelmed by a.kitchen.  It was certainly Rittenhouse priced but in the case of the Chorizo Stuffed Calamari, the portion was small and the dish was lacking something.  The cheesesteak was pretty good but it made me appreciate what I could get for much cheaper around the city.  I hate to compare it to my experience at Serafina but they both left me with a similar impression, overpriced.  

http://www.akitchenphilly.com/

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Parc - 18th and Locust St

A Parisian bistro dropped right into the heart of Rittenhouse Square is the idea behind Stephen Starr's Parc restaurant.  Now I've never been to Paris so I can't compare the experiences but with menu items like steak tartare, trout amandine and spaghetti bolognese, surrounded by some of the best scenery in Philadelphia, this has to be pretty close to that idyllic scene I imagine a Parisian bistro to be. 

View of the interior from my seat.  Nothing flashy here, rustic would be a good word to describe it.  I remember hearing that it was styled after a train station and with the speakers on the columns, the mosaic tiled floor and faux weathered furniture you can definitely see it.  But honestly, I only took a quick look around the inside because the real draw of eating at Parc was not to my right.  

The view of the outside from my seat.  This wasn't the best seat for enjoying the scenery of Rittenhouse Square but I'd say it's still better than any of the other restaurants in the area and I think this side is a little quieter.  On a perfect day like today they could have served me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and I would've been blissfully happy here.

We're offered a basket of bread to which we happily accept.  Included are sour dough bread, cranberry walnut bread, and a baguette with a side of butter.  The bread was awesome and combined with what was to come we left this basket mostly empty.

1) Escargots - $14 
We started with this playfully miniaturized pot of escargot and mushrooms in a hazelnut butter sauce.  French cuisine in all its butter drenched glory was on display here.  The snails came already extracted from their shells and soaking in this uber rich sauce waiting to be devoured.  And devour we did, only the prospect of suffering a coronary did we not indulge in sopping up all of the buttery goodness in this pot.

2) Warm Shrimp Salad - $16.50
Shrimp seasoned with truffle oil, avocado, and a slice of Parmesan cheese with a lemon beurre blanc dressing.  The shrimp were huge and had an ever so slight hint of the truffle oil.  The rest of the plate was fresh, as to be expected, and the lemon beurre blanc completed the french'ness of this salad...heavy cream and butter!  It was lightly dressed though so it didn't feel heavy. 

3) Moules Frites - $17.50
Massachusetts mussels in a white wine, shallots, garlic and of course butter sauce.  Fries with an aioli dip.  What can I say other then I'm eating freaking mussels for lunch.  Everything here was as it should be, simple yet delicious.  The remaining sauce was sopped up by the aforementioned bread and 25 mussels and a handful of fries later I had reached nirvana.  My only minor gripe with this order would be the frites, they were a bit on the limp side.  

Had one mussel that didn't open and maybe 3 with some sand in them.  Overall a good bowl of mussels.

4) Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier - $6
Hefeweizen, Brauerie Weihenstephaner, Germany, 5.4%
I felt like a two year old trying to read the encyclopedia looking at this beer on the menu but I knew I wanted something different and light so this wheat beer fit the bill.  I simplified this order by asking for a Hefeweiss beer and arrived this large beer.  $6 for about a beer and a half is a good deal.

Overall LTE score [9/10] Parc has to be one of the most frequented nice weather spots in all of Philly.  It's packed every time I walk by here and when you sit down and eat it becomes apparent it's not only because of the view.  The food here is top notch and despite the cost I feel it's absolutely worth it.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Village Whiskey - 20th and Sansom St

Village Whiskey is Jose Garces' whiskey/cocktail concept bar, planted right next to Tinto, his Spanish inspired wine bar.  This was certainly an interesting departure from his previous Latin inspired restaurants when it opened up 2 years ago.  Me, not being a huge fan of dark liquors, didn't think much of this whiskey idea but hoped some good bar food would accompany it.  

1) Pickled Green Beans and Shallots - $8
This was served with Black Olive Tapenade, Whipped Ricotta & Toasted Sour Dough.  Big fan of the ricotta and the tapenade but the picked green beans and shallots could have used some more time in the pickling jar. I like my picked veggies to be potent.

2) Cobb Salad - $12.50
Romaine, avocado, blackened chicken, bacon, bleu cheese.  This was ordered because of a review on Yelp singing it's praises but even though it wasn't as mind blowing as that reviewer suggested it was still pretty good.  Chicken was nicely seasoned, the bleu cheese had a good bite to it with that distinctive apple taste of fine bleu cheese and everything was fresh.

3) Jamie's Lobster Mac - $18
Fontina, Mascarpone, bread crumbs and obviously lobster.  I'm not familiar with the cheeses involved but they had a buttery, Velveeta like taste and consistency to them.  Very creamy and the coverage was good.  I don't know if I'm a huge fan of sprinkling bread crumbs or toasted corn flakes or any of that sort onto my mac and cheese, I know it's the fancy thing to do but I could do without it.  The lobster was cooked perfectly and there were enough chunks of it in my bowl for me not to feel silly for paying $18 for a bowl of mac and cheese.

4) Whiskey King - $26
Flashback review.. I went here opening week and had the Whiskey King - Maple bourbon glazed cipollini, rogue blue cheese, applewood bacon, foie gras.
My first experience with foie gras was on this burger.  I was reluctant to order it at first as I'm aware of the questionable ethics behind foie gras production but it's not something I see on a menu everyday so I decided to ignore my moral objections and enjoy some force fed duck liver.  The burger that arrived was thankfully not one of those pretentious(ignoring the foie gras), borderline slidder burgers you might expect from a high end restaurant.  This was a serious patty of beef.  The foie gras was perched right on the burger with the blue cheese topped with a perfectly formed sesame seed bun.  I decided I should first try the fois gras by itself.  It was rich and creamy, almost buttery but a distinctive flavor it did not have.  I wondered how it would stand up to the strong flavors of the burger and blue cheese.  Combined, the fois gras disappeared into the background.  The burger itself was excellent but I think the fois gras was overkill.

Overall LTE score [8/10]  Again, Village Whiskey is of those spots where if I could afford it I would lunch often.  The burgers are top notch and some of their side items are excellent as well.  Do yourself a favor and try the duck fat fries, they are very good.  Even without enjoying a sip of whiskey or bourbon or any of the other fine liquors stacking the bar, Village Whiskey is a great dining establishment.  The only issue I have is the limited seating, get here early because this place fills up fast and they don't take reservations.

http://villagewhiskey.com/

Friday, August 12, 2011

Latin Farmer - Love Park (Closed)

The food truck phenomenon rolls on as Center City is introduced to Latin Farmer, the latest in a growing number of "gourmet" food trucks in the area.  This is a trend that I accept with open arms.
We all know that the street food scene is a little weak here, especially when you compare it to the other side of the Schuylkill River in University City.  I've always kind of wondered why this was.  I guess maybe the preexisting stigma of getting food from a truck has a part in it and also the availability of street space is probably a hindrance.  But thanks to the ever increasing acceptance of restaurant quality food coming from a truck and open spaces like Love Park we're seeing the renaissance of food trucks finally coming to age in Philly.

From their website: "Latin Farmer is a sustainable, local and responsible approach to Latin food...We try our hardest to use fresh ingredients, biodegradable and compostable supplies, and use local products and resources as often as possible in efforts to minimize our footprint while also giving back to our community."
Being the hippie that I am, this mission statement gets a definite plus in my book.

El Menu.  Notice the Friday special, I assume this will change from week to week.

1) Bocadillo - $8
First up the Friday special. Malta braised pulled beef, chipolte peach aioli, chayote apple slaw, queso de papa.  The pulled beef was tender but a bit on the under seasoned side.  The queso de papa and aoili saved this sandwich from being too boring.   [7/10]

2) Skirt Steak Collard Wrap - $8
Tomato chimichurri, chayote apple slaw, queso fresco.  The same braised beef from the sandwich before but unfortunately there was nothing to give it that kick it needed as the queso de papa and aoili did in the Bocadillo.  The leaf wrap itself though is pretty awesome so even though I was a little disappointed in the flavoring the concept was nice.  [7/10]

3) Choripan - $7
Chorizo, sugarcane stewed onions, queso de papa, banana ketchup/pineapple culantro grain mustard.  Now this is a real gourmet hotdog.  I thought it worked well as I'm a huge fan of chorizo and equally a huge fan of hotdogs.  I would've liked it more had the sausage had more bite and snap to it.  Nevertheless I would definitely order this again.  [7.5/10]

4) Roasted Sofrito Hummus w/ Seasoned Plantain Chips - $4
The hummus was very good.  Plantain chips were an interesting choice for dipping instrument, unfortunately one I didn't really care for.  I would've preferred something more neutral to enjoy my hummus with. [7/10]

5) Cucumber Mojito Agua Fresca - $3
Wish I got more juice here because with the size of the cup combined with the amount of ice included I drank this non alcoholic mojito in 4-5 sips.  The flavor was distinctively cucumber with just enough sweetness to make it interesting.  It was good but next time I'm bringing a flask of rum. [6/10]

Overall LTE score [7/10]  Love Park is quickly becoming the flash mob meetup spot for food trucks.  I think this is a very good thing for the food scene in Philly and hope this can spread throughout the rest of Center City.  Latin Farmer is a welcome addition and it delivers in a lot of ways.  I think the price could use a reduction, $8 for half a sandwich with no sides is a bit steep but maybe when they get a better idea of their business those prices will adjust.
At the time of this review they will be serving in Love Park on Wednesdays and Fridays only.

http://www.latinfarmer.com/