Half the fun of discovering a new restaurant is sharing it with people you know will enjoy it. As Rachael Ray’s resident restaurant guru, here’s an inside look at what I report back to Rach about some of my favorite restaurant finds and food experiences!
Sent: Wednesday, July 10, 2012 10:00am
Subject: My Year in Philly Food – Part 1 of 3
Hey Rach – my apologies for holding out on these for so long, but I’m coming at you with a big, bad recap of my (last) year in Philly food. I’ll be sharing this one in three parts, so get ready!
Whenever we head out to PA to do your QVC appearances, I’m always sure to stop at Philly’s best restaurants. I’ve been loving their dining scene! Hands down one of my favorites is Zahav Restaurant. It is the best authentic Israeli food I’ve ever had. You probably remember this place because I brought you that condiment they serve called zhoug, that spicy, herbaceous, chimichurri-like sauce made with serrano peppers, cilantro, garlic and a couple other ingredients.
Anyhow, the chef there, Michael Solomonov, is super talented; he also has a couple other places I’ll be writing about in the coming weeks. I sat at the bar – solo – and there were so many things I wanted to try, so he gave me bite-size portions to get a good mix of it all. I had one of his many hummuses on the menu, but this one was warm and served with house-baked laffa bread, which is similar to pita and has spices dusted over it. I also had an excellent Crispy Haloumi Cheese with Date Paste, Pistachios and Honey. Brussels Sprouts served with Whipped Feta as well as a Fried Cauliflower dish were satisfying , but let me tell you what really blew me out of the water: the Oxtail Soup with Yukon Gold Potatoes and Fenugreek. A rich and flavorful beef broth with some balls of potatoes, pulled oxtail meat and spices…words don’t do it justice. The flavor was seriously insane. I practically drank this soup. Some other highlights include a Ground Duck Kebob; a crispy piece of Chicken Confit; a wonderful Crispy Eggplant that was brined, fried and grilled; Crispy Branzino served with a poppyseed potato salad; and also a great mezze salad dish, which changes almost daily. Not that I had room, but their homemade rugelach was fantastic, as was a dessert called Katafi, a chocolate and shredded phyllo with lebnah ice cream and kumquat. You need to try this place.
Speaking of Israeli food, I was all about the 4th Street Delicatessen – Philly’s version of Katz’s (not to take anything away from the owner Russ with that comparison, because this veteran was behind some big delis in New York, too). A friend of mine who works for Vienna Beef in Chicago told me I had to go in there because they smoke all of their own meats and do it better than most delis in Chicago and New York City. I tried a small slice of their homemade corned beef, pastrami and brisket, and couldn’t miss out on a couple bites of the mammoth-size Matzah Ball Soup and the Potato Latke/Pancake, whatever you choose to call them.
And yes, I finally got to Chef Michael Schulson’s Sampan! Oh, how I’ve missed those Edamame Dumplings of his. I LOVED those things when he was at Buddakan in New York. I went in for a quick bite with a couple co-workers and we picked a bit. We of course had the Edamame Dumplings and also had the General Tso’s Dumplings, which rock, too. We enjoyed a fantastic Lobster Gazpacho and added a few more small plates, including the Crispy Spicy Shrimp , Korean Beef Skewer and a Tomato Burrata and Melon Salad with an Anise Balsamic-like dressing.
Just before going to Sampan, we sat for a quick sample from Marc Vetri’s Amis. I could have easily had my whole meal here. I’m not a huge animal tongue person, but the person I was with is, so we ordered the Veal Tongue. It was actually quite good. We also had the Mortadella Mousse, which was delicious, and a really unique free-form Eggplant Lasagna that kind of blew my mind – it had the ricotta mixed with roasted and pureed eggplant.
And I can’t forget to mention the housemade fennel salumi! I need to return here or to one of his other places. I know many out-of-town chefs are fans of Vetri’s.
Rounding out the food portion of Part 1 of this Philly extravaganza was a delicious meal at Barbuzzo. I know you featured this restaurant in your magazine and on the show. I love the 13th Street Ladies! They’ve made this particular block in Philly really exciting. I went with Abigail from the kitchen staff at the show and shared a bunch of dishes. We ordered a big meat board with salami, chorizo, lomo, and sopressata, the squash and parsnip salad and the Uovo Pizza with Brussels sprout leaves, guanciale, a secret white sauce, fior di latte cheese, truffle and a farm egg. Needless to say, it rocked. We also tried the Casarecce Pasta with hen of the woods mushrooms, arugula, ricotta and preserved lemon walnut pesto and the Caciocavallo-stuffed meatballs with ground short rib and pork – I couldn’t pass up a meatball! But wait…their Budino dessert is madness! It has Oreo crumbs, butterscotch pudding, vanilla bean caramel, sea salt and whipped crème fraiche. Beat that!
Oh, one more thing. If you need a cup of gelato that’s a little out of the ordinary, check out Capogiro. I tried the Thai Coconut Milk flavor and Mexican Coffee and they were both winners!
And that’s what’s on my plate!
237 Saint James Place
Philadelphia, PA 19106
4th Streeet Deli
700 South 4th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147
124 South 13th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107
412 South 13th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147
110 South 13th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Andrew “Kappy” Kaplan loves food. A professionally trained chef, by day he runs Yum-o!, Rachael Ray’s charity focused on kids and cooking, and keeps special projects running smoothly for her. By night he hops course to course, place to place, all across the country. He’s Rach’s own personal dining guide! You can also follow Kappy on Twitter to see what’s On Kappy’s Plate in real-time!