July 28, 2007

Philadelphia Magazine's Best of Philly 2007 - Food & Drink

It’s that time of year again, folks. The time when Philadelphia Magazine dishes on the things it loves the most about Philly. "Essential" and "authoritative," Phily Mag’s “Best Of ” issue is a Philadelphia institution. Editor Larry Platt says it best: "We don’t just try to reflect your world and tell you what you like; instead, we try to influence your world, by spending all year combing the region in order to tell you what you should like.” This year, Philly Mag returns to some of the more basic categories and gives you something extra—a handy little “black book” that you can tear out and take with you anywhere you go, making the 2007 Best Of issue a must read.

Without further ado, here are a few highlights from Philadelphia Magazine’s Best of Philly 2007, Food & Drink:

Osteria's Wood Grilled Halibut with Marinated Fennel

Best New Restaurant, City: Osteria. Given the number of high caliber restaurants that opened this year, this choice could not have been easy for the folks at Philadelphia Magazine. Indeed, April White confesses there was “heated debate” over this category. But I could not agree more with this choice—Osteria captures the authenticity of the Italian dining experience by delivering high quality Italian food in a casual yet polished atmosphere. From the “fine handmade” pastas to the “ethereal” Polenta Budino, there is much to love about Osteria. Check out my Osteria review here.

Snackbar's Beef Gyoza

Best Chef: Jonathan McDonald. Philly Mag likes Snackbar's Johnny Mac for the same reason I do: He’s the MacGyver of the kitchen when it comes to successfully combining seemingly incompatible ingredients. The guy is fearless. Give McDonald any three random ingredients and you can guarantee he’ll rescue your palate from boredom. You can find my Snackbar review here.

James' Cornish Hen

Best Entrée: The Roast Chicken at James. I know what you’re thinking. Chicken? Believe me, I, too, would be scratching my head had I not eaten Chef Burke’s Cornish game hen myself and written about it here. Burke’s secret is to select high quality meats and to cook them slow and low to concentrate the flavors.

Best Indian: Tiffin Store. I’ve taken great pleasure in introducing my friends to Tiffin Store. The downside to having done that, of course, is that it now takes me longer to get my delivery because the place is busier than ever. Quality Indian food at reasonable prices, you say? You better believe it.

Best Food Trend: The Sequel. This year, Philly took a page from Hollywood’s playbook and adapted it to the restaurant scene. Daniel Stern’s “Empire Strikes Back” with Rae. Marc Vetri, Philly’s “Godfather” of Italian cuisine, “pulls [us] back in” with Osteria. And thanks to Tinto, Jose Garces now has “Two Towers” on the Philly tapas scene. Next year’s Best Food Trend? I’m thinking it could be The Trilogy. After a diversion to Chicago to open Mercat later this year (which will feature Barcelonan-style tapas and charcuterie), Garces will come back to Philly to open Chilango, a Mexico City-inspired taqueria that (I kid you not) will pay tribute to Mexican professional wrestlers. Though it sounds more like “Nacho Libre,” if the success of Amada and Tinto are any indication, Chilango will herald the “Return of the King.” Either way, I’m getting my ticket in advance.

Want to know who won the Best Cheesesteak, City category? How about Best New BYOB? Best Pizza? Pick up your own copy of the Best of Philly 2007 edition of Philadelphia Magazine. It hits newsstands on Monday.

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July 26, 2007

University City Dining Days Are Here

University City Dining Days are going on right now—from July 26, 2007 to August 2, 2007.

The University City District has taken the concept of a restaurant week to the next level. Instead of all restaurants offering three courses for one price, it’s three courses and three prices. Each participating restaurant is offering a three course meal at one of the following price levels—$30, $25 and $15. Check out UCityPhila.org for participating restaurants and to find out the price level at which each one is participating.

Also, Marigold Kitchen has extended its three-course $30 Dining Days menu to August 9. (h/t to FooBooz).

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July 24, 2007


Two of the topics that govern my life are law and food. The two don’t often intersect, but when they do, I’m in my glory.

That explains why I enjoyed Saira Rao's first book, Chaimbermaid. Rao is a lawyer who clerked for the Third Circuit Court of Appeals here in Philadelphia. After her clerkship and a stint at a large law firm in New York, she decided to risk it all to become an author. If Chaimbermaid is any indication, Rao made the right choice.

Chaimbermaid is a fictional account of a judicial clerk, Shelia Raj, and her experience at the Third Circuit Court of Appeals here in Philadelphia. A lot of the action takes place in Philadelphia restaurants, including such gems as Rouge, The Continental, Jones, Las Vegas Lounge and Ralph’s. It’s interesting to see the perspective of these restaurants from a character who is not a Philadelphia native. And Shelia’s objectivity is refreshing. For example, Shelia, who hails from New York, is annoyed by the velvet rope elitism practiced at Rouge and is not a fan of The Continental’s “Oriental Ginger Noodle Salad.” Yet, she’s grounded enough to appreciate the simple comforts of the mac-and-cheese and deviled eggs at Jones.

The book has received a lot of press due to its so-called scandalous, fly-on-the-wall perspective of what happens inside the chambers of a federal appeals court judge. This aspect of the book certainly is a draw, especially to us lawyer types, and does carry its share of the book’s humor. But the press’s reaction to all of this is a bit extreme.

Perhaps I have been around the block a few too many times or am thicker skinned than most, but—fiction or not—the colorful behind-the-scenes tales are more silly than scandalous, especially compared to the absurdity of law firm life as told by folks such as Opinionistas and Anonymous Lawyer. Moreover, Rao’s stories did not diminish my respect and reverence for the court. In the end, all judges are human beings. And Rao, in fact, demonstrates that it takes an exceptional kind of human being to be the effective judge that Judge Friedman is in Chambermaid.

In addition, there’s a lot more to Chambermaid than the gossipy goings-on behind chamber doors. For example, one of the key plot threads involves a high-profile death penalty case Shelia has been assigned. Death penalty jurisprudence can be complicated stuff (I know; I represented a death row inmate back in the day). But Rao not only manages to make death penalty jurisprudence approachable, she also makes it engaging.

Yet, Chambermaid is still an escape. Rao’s style is light, witty and entertaining. And her book is chock full of politics, love and other tumultuous happenings in the life of a young lawyer struggling for direction and identity. Chaimbermaid is the perfect beach read for anyone interested in a young professional’s perspective on law, Center City or the Philadelphia dining scene.

Join Saira Rao today (Tuesday) for a rare appearance here in Philadelphia. She will be reading exerpts from Chambermaid and signing books at Barnes & Noble (1805 Walnut St.) at 7:00 p.m. For more info, check out SairaRao.com.

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July 18, 2007

Cooney Responds in the "Nick of Time"

I had planned to sit down with Nick Cooney, the director of Hugs for Puppies, for my “Liver Let Die” article that was published in the July 5, 2007 issue of the City Paper. However, Cooney failed to show for the interview.

After the article went to print, Cooney contacted me to explain that he missed our meeting because he was in jail for failing to respond to a subpoena issued in a lawsuit related to animal testing protests, a charge Cooney says the judge dismissed.

I recently sat down with Cooney to get his take on London Grill co-owner Terry McNally’s characterization of Hugs for Puppies’ protesting tactics and my experience at Hudson Valley Foie Gras. Read my Q&A with Cooney called “Nick of Time” in this week’s City Paper.

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Philly Represents on Wine Spectator’s 2007 Restaurant Awards List

Every year Wine Spectator celebrates restaurants that “show passion and commitment when it comes to wine.” This year Wine Spectator awarded the Award of Excellence—an award recognizing lists that have a well-chosen selection of at least 100 wines by quality producers and a thematic match to the cuisine—to four additional Philadelphia restaurants: Flemings Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar (Radnor), Fogo de Chao (1337 Chestnut), Le Castagne (1920 Chestnut) and The Melting Pot (King of Prussia). A run-down of most of the past Philly winners can be found here.

But New Jersey seems to have kicked our cork. Seven additional New Jersey restaurants earned the Award of Excellence this year: Bacchus Chophouse & Wine Bar (Fairfield), Basil T’s Brewery & Italian Grill (Red Bank), Bobby Flay Steak (Borgata, Atlantic City), Buona Sera (Red Bank), Hunan Taste (Denville), and Mahogany Grille (Manasquan) and The Melting Pot (Westwood). Not only that, but two past New Jersey Award of Excellence winners—Chakra (Paramus) and Old Homestead (Borgata, Atlantic City)—were upgraded to “Best Award of Excellence,” which recognizes lists of 500 or more wines that show either vintage depth or excellent breadth spread over several winegrowing regions.

Hey, for what it's worth, at least we beat Delaware; they didn’t have any new additions or upgrades this year.

Congratulations to this year's winners.

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July 05, 2007

Foie Gras - A Bird's Eye View

I’ve spent a great deal of my spare time over the past year reading all of the scientific studies and articles regarding foie gras production I could get my hands on, including the studies found here, here and here. I did so because I wanted to inform myself before deciding whether the production of foie gras is inhumane.

Recently, I even toured Hudson Valley Foie Gras in New York, the largest of the three foie gras farms in the United States (pictures from the farm visit are available here). I wrote about my experience for the City Paper in an article called Liver Let Die that was published this week. I managed to snag a quote from famed restaurateur Danny Meyer for the article. I believe this is the first time he has ever taken a stance on foie gras in any publication, so this was a major scoop.

After reading all of these studies and articles and visiting the farm, the bottom line is this: the ducks are not being mistreated and the process by which they are fed (gavage) is not inhumane. Period.

Don’t take my word for it; read the studies and visit the farm yourself. And even if you still disagree, that’s ok. Just keep your opinion off my plate.

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