Archives for June 2012

Night Market Visits the Italian Market

Since Chester and I had such a good time at the Food Trust’s fall Night Market, we marked our calendars as soon as we heard about its plans to visit the Italian Market neighborhood in South Philly. This time our friends Shannon and Dave joined us.

The location made for a nice mix of vendors, including long-time Italian Market occupants, such as Villa di Roma and DiBruno Brothers, as well as the trendy, new food trucks. The event was set up primarily along Washington Avenue, between 9th and 11th Streets, which made it feel a lot less crowded than the comparatively narrow streets at the Chinatown event. Since it was a pretty warm night, the extra room to move around was most welcome.

One of the first vendors we came upon was the Sweetbox Cupcake Truck. By the time I got to that truck on my last visit, they were almost sold out. So, Shannon and I decided to eat dessert first. The moist chocolate cake topped with creamy peanut butter icing was the perfect way to start our evening.

Then, it was on to real food.

First up was Tashan, which was offering veggie samosas, buttered chicken and mango lassi. The chicken was my favorite because it reminded me of one of my favorite dishes from Sitar India. I know Sitar is a buffet and Tashan is more of a fine dining establishment, but that chicken is one of my favorite things ever, so that’s pretty high praise, I think.

Next up was Royal Tavern. Their sliders, which I had heard a lot about, did not disappoint either. Although there was a major flare up on their grill which caused a fairly long wait time for our burgers, it was worth it. The meat was cooked to perfection and very juicy. Toppings included crispy bacon, caramelized onions, pickled hot peppers, smoky gouda cheese for an interesting and somewhat spicy flavor combination.

These were easily my two favorite stops of the night, and I’ll definitely be paying a visit to their brick and mortar locations soon. Although I was pretty full by that point, I couldn’t resist making a final stop at the Smoke Truck, because they had mac and cheese. It was just okay—I should know that mass quantities of make and cheese don’t keep very well. It was a bit soggy, but I really could only stomach a few bites of it anyway. And, although Chester had already had a pork sandwich from Esposito’s, he tried the truck’s pulled pork sandwich, which is prepared Carolina style, with vinegar and lots of spice. I would definitely give this truck another try, though, on an occasion when I’m not already close to a food coma.

Not pictured are the empanadas from Cuba Libre, tacos from Cantina los Caballitos, and meatball sandwich and gnocchi from Villa di Roma that Shannon and Dave sampled. I try not to annoy my friends too much by shoving my iPhone at them when they are trying to eat, you know?

One vendor that I had been curious about but that we didn’t stop at was the Ka’Chi Truck, which specializes in Korean food. It had one of the longest lines throughout the night (aside from the lines for beer), so I’ll assume it must be pretty good. I will definitely need to keep my eye out for it around the city.

We definitely left stuffed after eating pretty heavy food on a summer night. The Night Market was a good time, once again, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it turns up next!

Recipe: Cranberry-Pecan Granola

I eat yogurt every. Single. Day. And, from time to time, I get incredibly sick of it. But, it’s the easiest thing to throw in my bag for a mid-morning snack, so I keep buying it.

You know what makes yogurt tolerable, though?

I mean, aside from it being of the soft-serve, frozen variety and topped with chocolate chips and a bit of peanut butter?

Granola.

I’m not really a fan of store-bought granolas, though. They contain quite a bit of sugar and are sometimes so hard that I fear I’ll break a tooth. So, I decided to try making it myself.

The process could not have been any easier and only takes one bowl, a cookie sheet, and about an hour from start to finish. When you add up the cost of ingredients, it will probably cost you more to make from scratch than if you bought a box (probably around $10, versus around $5 for a box. Nuts are pricey!). But, you will be able to control the sugar content and add the ingredients and flavors that you like the best. It can also be a great way to use up leftover oats, nuts and dried fruit from other recipes so that nothing goes to waste. In my case, for example, I had the cranberries and pecans on hand already.

The rich, toasted flavor of this homemade granola just seems more…natural. It was perfect with yogurt, or just straight out of the container by the handful. I just finished the last little bit of my batch today and it was still fresh and crunchy even after a week.

I think this is going to become a habit.

Cranberry-Pecan Granola

Adapted slightly from: I Heart Naptime

What you will need:

  • 5 cups rolled old fashioned oats
  • 2/3 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup pecans, chopped

What to Do:

  1. Mix ingredients, excluding the cranberries or other dried fruit you might be using, in a large bowl and stir until combined.
  2. Spread mixture onto a greased cookie sheet (I used my Silpat, since I didn’t have cooking spray on hand).
  3. Bake at 300, stirring every seven minutes, until dry and toasted (I left mine in for a total of 21 minutes, but I have a pretty lame oven. Yours may be ready sooner).
  4. Remove from oven, stir in cranberries, and let cool.
  5. Store in an air tight container until ready to serve.

 

This Week for Dinner

Hope that everyone had a great weekend!

I spent part of mine in New York with my BFF, our moms and my aunt, for belated birthday/Mother’s Day celebrations. We saw the revival of Evita, which has always been one of my favorite musicals. Evita was one of the first shows I had ever seen way, way back in the day and was part of the reason that I grew up preferring show tunes over most other kinds of music. Yes, I am a dork.

Anyway, as we get back to the work week, here are a few ideas for your upcoming meal plans:

Prosciutto, Mozzarella, Tomato and Basil Sandwich

The chicken, tomato, basil and mozzarella sandwich is one of my favorite menu items from Cosi and one that we recreate frequently at home. We wanted something quick on the day we made these sandwiches, so we substituted prosciutto for the chicken. No cooking required.

Southwestern Stuffed Peppers

From: Simply Love Food

This was one of my favorite Pinterest finds to date. These are made with ground turkey and full of veggies, so they are hearty and healthy at the same time. We substituted yellow zucchini for the corn, since I only enjoy my corn on the cob.

Rigatoni with Roasted Sausage and Broccoli

From: Real Simple

I love roasted broccoli, so this recipe immediately jumped out at me. This was my first time trying a Real Simple recipe, and it actually was pretty simple to make. I added some garlic to the roasting part of the process (we rarely cook without garlic) and that enhanced the flavors a bit more.

Chicken Teriyaki Meatballs

From: Real Simple

An additional gold star for Real Simple this week. These meatballs were very light and had a nice flavor without needing to be drowned in the teriyaki sauce. We omitted the sugar snap peas, because they are gross. Next time, I would probably double the amount of shelled edamame or add another kind of vegetable to compensate for this.

Till next time!

Recipe: Zoku Lemonade Pops

Summer. Do you remember how much fun it used to be?

There was nothing like the feeling of coming home on that last day of school, knowing that you wouldn’t have to wear a uniform for three months or spend the afternoons thinking up sentences for those silly vocabulary words. Depending on your age, blowing bubbles in the yard, drawing on the sidewalk with chalk and/or riding your bike to the park were pretty much the only things on the agenda.

I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that deciding what kind of frozen treat to buy at the corner store for an afternoon snack was pretty much the toughest decision you had to make. Am I?

I mean, there were so many to choose from. You could get one of those sickly sweet (but strangely addictive) Otter Pops in the plastic tube that always cut the sides of your mouth. Feel like something a little richer? The sherbet-based Flintstones Push-Up Pop was a good choice. Want to make your mom worry that you would choke to death? The Screwball with the two gumballs at the bottom of the cone was the only way to go, in that case.

Yes, popsicles remind me of simpler times.

So, that’s why I was pretty excited to add the Zoku Quick Pop Maker to my kitchen gadget collection this year. All you need to do is stick the base in your freezer for at least 24 hours and then you will be able to whip up any variety of ice pop that you want in about seven minutes. The possibilities are endless—from single flavor juice pops, to pops with fresh fruit slices, to pops with a cream-based core.

Source

The first time I used the Zoku, I decided to make fudge pops and assumed that you could pretty much use any kind of recipe. So, I found one via Pinterest (of course) that sounded rich and delicious. And, it was. Unfortunately, the mixture was also way too dense and the pops did not freeze all that well. They were nearly impossible to remove from the molds with the handy “Super Tool” that comes with the maker. I probably just should have stuck to either the recipes on the company’s blog or in the recipe book. Oh well. But, you can bet that I’ll be making a trip to the dollar store for regular old ice pop molds so I can make these fudge pops again.

In spite of this mishap, I was not deterred. I made a second attempt using the Zoku recipe for Lemonade Pops and had much better results. The pops came out of the molds very easily this time around. It pays to follow directions, right? The end product is tart and refreshing and vanilla extract balances the acidity of the citrus. The flavors developed even more after the pops spent a few hours in the freezer.

Overall, I am a fan of the Quick Pop Maker. I like the fact that the pops can be made with natural ingredients, fresh fruit, and minimal amounts of sugar (It should be noted, however, that you should not use sugar-free ingredients. A small amount of sugar is needed to help the pops release from the mold). And, the basic pops use many staples you probably already have in your pantry so they are inexpensive to make (the lemonade pops probably came out to around 25 cents each). The maker will produce up to nine pops before it needs to be put back into the freezer and you can buy a nice plastic case separately to store your pops.

Like the bowl of my ice cream maker, the Quick Pop base now has a permanent home in my freezer. You never know when a craving might strike.

Lemonade Pops

“Zoku Quick Pops,” by Jackie Zorovich & Kristina Sacci

Yields 6 pops

What you will need:

1 cup water
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
¼ cup (2 ounces pure orange juice
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
Lemon  slices, cut 1/8-inch thick (optional)

What to do:

  1. Stir together the water and sugar until sugar has dissolved.
  2. Stir in the lemon juice, orange juice and vanilla.
  3. To assemble to pops, use the Zoku fruit wand (sold separately from the maker), or tweezers*, apply the lemon slices to the walls of the pop maker molds.
  4. Insert sticks and pour the lemon base until you reach the fill line.
  5. Let freeze completely and remove. 

*Or, just your fingers, like I did. Stuff sticks to the side of that mold on contact, trust me. So, I guess you should be careful if you go this route, or you’ll end up like the kid in A Christmas Story who gets his tongue stuck to the pole.

On The Road: More from Florence and Bologna

I’m slowly working my way through my Italy photos and have some more to share from the Florence portion of our trip.

Chillin' in Florence

As I mentioned here, there are enough museum and works of art in Florence to keep you busy for days. If  you do in fact have a few days in the city, I highly recommend that you purchase a Firenze Card. Not only does it entitle you to 72 hour access to public transportation, but it provides discounts on admission prices to and allows you to skip the lines at most of the major museums. The 50 euro price tag (today, that’s about $62. But, given the current situation over there, your guess is as good as mine as to what it will be tomorrow) is well worth it, because lines are long, particularly at the Uffizi Gallery (where you will find works by Michelangelo, Giotto, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, and Raphael) and the Accademia (where Michelangelo’s David is located).

The Uffizi Gallery (left) and replica of Michelangelo's David in Piazza della Signoria

The most popular site is Florence is the Cathedral de Santa Maria del Fiore, or the Duomo, which is one of the largest churches in the world. The exterior is constructed of panels of white, green and red marble and is absolutely stunning. But, the main feature of the cathedral is Brunelleschi’s dome, which is the largest brick dome in the world. The design of the dome was based on principles of physics and geometry that are pretty standard today, but were revolutionary in the 1400s.

As I noted, you can climb to the top of the dome (463 steps) and/or Giotto’s bell tower (417 steps) for some amazing views of the city. If you are claustrophobic or have a fear of heights, this is probably not for you.

Basilica of San Croce, burial place of Michelanglo, Dante, Galileo and others, viewed from the top of the dome.

Also located in the Duomo complex is the Baptistry, one of the oldest buildings in Florence, dating from the 11th century. There are some beautiful golden mosaics in the interior that are worth visiting, but the building has copies of three sets of gilded bronze doors by Ghiberti. The originals are located in the Duomo museum, just across the piazza.

(Note: None of these sites are included in the Firenze Card, however. Although the cathedral itself is free to enter, you will need a ticket to visit the baptistery, museum and to climb the bell tower and dome. You can purchase the necessary tickets online. The whole website is in Italian. Google Translate is your friend).

In terms of places to eat in Florence, our best meal was at Vini e Vecchi Sapori, located near Florence’s main square, the Piazza della Signoria. The restaurant has a very homey feel, with wooden beamed ceilings and brick floors. It seats about 18 people and serves simple, rustic Tuscan cuisine, based on the recipes of the family who has run it for years. Mom works in the kitchen, dad is behind the bar and the son staffs the dining room.

The homemade pasta dishes, with incredibly light noodles and rich, hearty sauces, were among the highlights here.  I had the pappardelle with rabbit. Although I wasn’t a fan of all of the little bones that I came across (I told you it was rustic) the meat was so incredibly tender and flavorful. My second course reminded me of a beef bourguignon with a more liberal dose of pepper (there were black peppercorns hiding in the broth. Biting into one was not all that pleasant). It was accompanied by a side of long, wide green beans, drizzled with olive oil. I didn’t catch the Italian name of the vegetable, but was told by the customer at the table next to us (an American college professor who spends part of the year in Italy with his wife who is from Florence) that they only grow in the spring time and their name translates into “eat it all.” I did. Chester, in the meantime, enjoyed the osso bucco, a generous portion which was so tender that it fell right off the bone.

Vini e Vecchi Sapori seems to be a favorite with the locals—there was quite the rowdy birthday celebration going on at the table across the way from us. In a touristy city like Florence, this is the mark of a place worth checking out, in my opinion.

But, it was of course was not the only good eating we did during our three days in Florence. On one of our days in the area, we took a short train ride to Bologna. Nicknamed “La Grassa” (“the fat”), it is Italy’s culinary capital.

I talked a bit about what we ate previously, but we also spent a lot of time wandering around through the Quadrilatero District, which is filled with shop after shop selling fresh fruits and vegetables, handmade tortellini, pastries, meats, cheeses, wine and just about any other gourmet delicacy your heart might desire. I couldn’t resist snapping a ton of photos, like so:

Aside from the food, Bologna has character in many other ways. It is home to Europe’s oldest university so there is quite a diverse population. Many of the red-brick towers and other medieval structures are well preserved. And, there are miles of beautiful covered porticoes, lined with shops and cafes.

Of course, before we left, there was a stop for gelato. Cremeria Funiviva, which has two locations in Bologna, has fewer flavors than the average gelato shop, but the quality is outstanding. It might be the creamiest, most flavorful gelato I’ve ever had. They make several concoctions with a variety of add-ons and toppings. In this case, the cone was filled with a bittersweet chocolate and topped with black cherries.

Can I go back now?

Restaurant Review: Del Frisco’s

The twice yearly Center City District Restaurant Week, in which restaurants offer three course meals for $35 per person, is probably the best known restaurant deal in Philly. But, various restaurants in the city also run promotions throughout the year. Keeping an eye out for these is a good way to discover a new place or to try out places that might otherwise be out of your price range on the average day. Summer is a good time to take advantage of these promotions because restaurants are looking to keep their tables filled, as locals spend more time on vacation and less time in the city.

For example, it’s no secret that Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse (1426 Chestnut Street ) is one of the fanciest steakhouses in the city, with a price tags to match. But, Chester and I recently discovered that summer is a great time to visit, since it is celebrating the season with a variety of special menu offerings.

Through September 3, Del Frisco’s is offering the “Power Couple” a three-course menu, including a salad, dual-entrée and side, and a choice of dessert. Priced at $99 for two people, this represents a savings of nearly $40 per person than if these menu items were ordered a la carte.

The meal begins with a choice of Caesar or Del’s salad. The latter features iceberg lettuce with tomato, onion, carrots, and croutons and is topped with two large slices of crispy bacon and an avocado vinaigrette dressing. For me, the dressing servings were a bit heavy-handed, so be sure to request it on the side if you prefer it a bit lighter.

The entrée plate, from which the “Power Couple” derives its name, features a crab cake and a tender, eight-ounce filet Mignon, seasoned with salt, pepper and clarified butter. Although these are simple ingredients, the mixture was applied so generously that the peppery flavor was just a tad bit overwhelming, in my opinion. Since Del Frisco’s wet-ages its steaks for 28-days, a lighter application of the seasoning would have let the flavor of the meat itself come through a bit more. The crab cake was a standout, when compared to similar offerings at other steakhouses in the city, because it is comprised of a generous helping of jumbo lump crab meat, with minimal bread crumbs or other fillers. A spicy Cajun-style lobster sauce was a nice complement.

Side dishes are served family style for easy sharing. I had the broccoli, which was simply prepared with salt, pepper, garlic and butter. On the opposite end of the spectrum, were Chester’s rich chateau potatoes, smashed with butter and cream. Other side options include from included sautéed mushrooms, baked potato, creamed spinach.

Dessert choices include cheesecake, bread pudding or chocolate mousse. The mousse, made with a high-quality dark chocolate, was rich and smooth. It was topped with sweet whipped cream and strawberries and was a light finish to the substantial meal. The banana and nut laden bread pudding has an incredibly fluffy texture. It is served warm so the accompanying butterscotch sauce and vanilla ice cream melts right in.

In addition to the “Power Couple” feature, Del Frisco’s is also offering several Father’s Day specials through the end of June. These include a 16-ounce bone-in filet Mignon ($65) and a 20-ounce boneless prime ribeye ($52). Bourbon peppercorn sauce or lobster butter can be added to these dishes for $6 and $8, respectively. During Father’s Day Weekend itself (June 15 through the 17), the two featured sauces will be complimentary when you order one of the featured steaks and the restaurant will also offer an eight ounce filet and eight ounce lobster tail ($79).

If you are up for more of a spluge, Del Frisco’s is still offering its regular menu throughout the summer, including its specialty cut—the Wagyu “Longbone”, a domestic version of kobe beef ($89). Seafood fans will enjoy the Shellfish Plateau, featuring chilled Alaskan king crab legs, iced jumbo shrimp, fresh oysters on the half shell, chilled crab claws and assorted garnishes ($77 for two people/$148 for four guests).

Del Frisco’s impressive décor and attentive customer service alone make it worth a visit. The restaurant is located in an old bank and many of its features, including iron gates by renowned blacksmith Samuel Yellin, high ceilings, marble columns and the bank vault (which has been converted into private dining space on the ground floor), were all preserved in the renovation of the space. The large bar area on the main level of the two-story dining area boasts a wine tower housing the offerings from Del Frisco’s impressive wine list. At the very least, a stop at Del Frisco’s for a glass of wine or a cocktail on a hot day would be a wonderful summer time treat.

The Week for Dinner

Happy Friday, all!

Here are a few ideas for you, if you’ll be doing some menu planning or heading to the grocery store over the next couple of days:

Pasta Salad with Goat Cheese and Arugula

From: Martha Stewart

Cold pasta salads are a good summer dinner staple. This wasn’t my favorite of the recipes I’ve tried. It was missing a little something and I’m thinking that grilled chicken or another vegetable (maybe tomatoes) could enhance the flavors. Still, this was the perfect light option for dinner after our massive brunch at Cochon last Sunday.

Penne with Tomato Cream Sauce

From: Back to Her Roots

This isn’t a blog I read regularly, but I came across this recipe on Pinterest, and was sold by the quick prep time. We used  chicken instead of shrimp, which meant that 15 minute estimation went out the window. We would probably use a bit less spinach next time because our generous handful of the green stuff ended up soaking up a lot of the sauce. The creaminess and taste of the Greek yogurt was a bit hard to detect, but, it was still very tasty overall. I would probably make it again and try more of the recipes from this blog.

Fish Tacos

From: Chester

Someday, I’ll get Chester to write all of his recipes all down, but this is fairly simple: you need a firm, white fish (he’s used cod in the past, but switched it up for flounder this time), cole slaw mix with pineapple chunks added in, and guacamole. Fill a taco shell with all of your ingredients and add few squeezes of lime, to taste. Although nothing beats homemade guac, if you are looking for a shortcut, I highly recommend Wholly Guacamole. It tastes just like what you would made yourself.

As a side note, if you are a fan of fish tacos, Cooking Light has some great suggestions right now that I hope to try soon!

Curried Pork and Mango Stirfry

From: Cooking Light

There are a lot of great flavors in this dish—it’s a bit on the spicy side, but a sweet mango was a nice balance to that. Since, I’m not a fan of snow peas we used green beans, which gave a nice bit of crunch, instead, and I’m thinking a green pepper could also be good.

Anyway, hope you are doing something fun to kick-off the weekend right now. Speaking for myself, there’s a Friends marathon on Nick-at-Nite right now, and it’s kind of making my day.

Restaurant Review: Cochon for Brunch

Yesterday, I woke up with a major craving for pancakes and convinced Chester that we needed to go to the diner. Somehow, he interpreted pancakes as “pork” and suggested that we go to Cochon.

You might remember that we fell in love with Cochon after having dinner there back in December.  Even prior to that, we had heard rave reviews about its brunch while waiting for a table at Morning Glory awhile back. So, despite this seemingly complete disconnect in our breakfast preferences, it only took me about three seconds to totally forget that I had been craving carbs and maple syrup.

I made a reservation through Open Table (mostly because I like to accumulate the points), but when we arrived it was clear that this is probably the only South Philly brunch establishment where reservations are not a must and there most likely will not be a wait for a table. This absolutely is not a reflection on the food, but more likely a function of the fact that the menu appeals to a much narrower segment of the population—namely, those who love pork and pork products.. Even the French toast is infused with pork (andouille sausage, to be exact).

Sure, you’ll find a crab frittata in entrée list and pancakes as a side order option. But, the real reason to go is dishes like these:

The Eggs Cochon (on the top), includes slow roasted pork shoulder that comes apart with a fork, just like pulled pork. The runny yolks from two poached eggs and a cheesy Mornay sauce are the perfect complement to a crumbly biscuit, studded with bits of cheddar and bacon. Or, there’s the tender Berkshire ham chop, which is smoked and topped with a sweet, maple-citrus syrup. And, since Cochon is BYOB, you can enhance your food coma if you want by bringing some vodka to add to the restaurant’s Bloody Mary mixes or some champagne to add to its freshly squeezed orange juice.

It’s not health food by any stretch of the imagination and it will leave you feeling like you could sleep for days afterward. That’s why it’s the perfect Sunday brunch. Or, the cure for the world’s worst hangover. In short, for a lazy day, Cochon is the breakfast of champions.

Note: Cochon is cash-only

Restaurant Review: Ela

Source

Ela in Queen Village has been on my list of restaurants to visit since its since opening late last year. The restaurant is a partnership venture between Jason Cichonski (formerly of LaCroix) and Chip Roman (owner of the much buzzed about Mica and Blackfish, which I still have yet to try).

Fish is a predominant ingredient throughout the menu, but this is by no means just a seafood restaurant. The menu is an eclectic mix of dishes, ingredients and flavors, which run the gamut from American to Asian to Spanish and everything in between. At first glance, it all seems a bit wacky. But, the ability to take seemingly disparate ingredients and make them into inventive dishes is how Cichonski has started to make a name for himself (at 27, he’s still fairly early on in his career).

Chester started out with the oysters. I don’t touch oysters, ever, but he enjoyed them as they were fresh, sweet and briny. They were noted on the menu as having dill pickle and bacon, but he found these flavors to be pretty subtle.

I, in the meantime, had the best dish of the night—the diver scallop noodles, one of Cichonski’s signature dishes. Now, this wasn’t just scallops served over pasta. The scallops themselves were actually shaved into long, thick strands, so that they resembled noodle. The shellfish had a unique ability to hold on to the rich peanut sauce as though it was a starchy Thai noodle. Cool strands of sweet green papaya were a nice complement to the slightly salty, spicy sauce.

This was one of the most creative, memorable dishes I have had in awhile and for a moment, I considered ordering a second helping. But then the gnocchi Chester ordered for his second course arrived and we ended up sharing that. The tiny melt-in-your-mouth dumplings were served in a foamy, smoked gouda cheese sauce, and topped with hazelnuts and sweet dates. This dish was a nice mix of sweet, savory and creamy flavors that worked well together.

For the main course, I had the halibut, which was served on top of homemade longatelli (short, thick pasta noodles) and sweet English peas. The fish was fresh, simply seared and topped with a crunchy mustard-seed cracker. I don’t like my fish swimming in sauce, but since halibut is a fish that takes on the flavor of whatever it’s cooked in, it definitely could have benefited from more another spoonful of the accompanying hearty morel mushroom sauce to enhance its flavor. Chester had the pork belly. He noted that it was a bit tough, especially at the top layer, although the rest of the portion was very tender and flavorful.

For dessert, we shared the hot chocolate chip cookie dough. With a name like that, I expected something pretty amazing, but it was just okay. The “dough” was actually a sweet, brown sugar based sauce that was then poured over chunks of bananas browned in butter, dark chocolate shavings and vanilla custard. It was like a deconstructed version of chocolate chip cookies and milk, but the combination of ingredients was just a bit too sweet.

Although the bar menu is diverse and well-thought out (the cocktails, in particular are creative combinations with fun names, like “Last Chance to Lose Your Keys,” to match), drinks are pricey. For example, wine prices hover around $15 a glass. So, although the food is priced appropriately relative to portion size, a couple of drinks will but add a substantial amount on to your bill.

The service itself was attentive throughout the evening, but the pacing was a bit fast for our taste. We were in an out in about an hour and 15 minutes. Furthermore, some of the dishes arrived from the kitchen only lukewarm, making us thing that everything had been prepped way in advance (perhaps pork belly was a bit tough from sitting out a bit?). Given the fact that it wasn’t overly crowded and fairly easy to get an 8 p.m. reservation on a Friday evening, I don’t quite understand why there needed to turn over the tables quickly.

This semi-emptiness also makes me wonder what kind of longevity it will have in the area. Queen Village is still pretty much just a residential neighborhood and not really a dining destination. So, if you live in the area and are looking for after-work dinner options, I don’t know if the food and price tag at Ela will really fill that need.

On the other hand, though, the relative ease of getting a table can give you the chance to check out a talented chef before he becomes really famous and moves on to a place at which it will be impossible to score a table for months. Because, overall, dinner at Ela was an interesting experience and I can’t think of anyplace I’ve been to recently with such a creative approach. Although it fell a bit short in some areas, with a few tweaks to some dishes and to the pacing of the service, it definitely has the potential to be outstanding.

 

This Week for Dinner

Well, I survived my first week back in the real world. Luckily, one of the nice things about working in higher ed means that summer is a pretty slow time, so getting caught up and back into the swing of things hasn’t been too difficult. I did have a minor set back today when I walked by Tiffany’s on Walnut Street and saw it all decked in a Venice theme, complete with gondolas and the Rialto Bridge.  I wanted to crawl into the window. But that would have been embarrassing.

Anyway, we’re also back to cooking and eating in the comfort of our own home, which has been nice. So, here are a few quick and easy ideas for your upcoming menu planning (also, this week I discovered Picasa—I know, I’m probably way behind the times—and might make everything into a photo college. I’m hoping it also helps to hide the fact that I was too lazy this week to use my real camera, so all of these are sub-par iPhone photos):

From top to bottom: Balsamic and Shallot Chicken, Asparagus Prosciutto Panini with Garlic Mayo, Greek Chicken Cutlets

Balsamic and Shallot Chicken Breasts

From: Cooking Light

This sauce for this recipe calls for quite a bit of balsamic vinegar, so if you aren’t a huge fan of that flavor, you might want to reduce the amount. But, the result almost has the consistency and richness of a BBQ sauce, so it might be a good option for summer grilling.

Asparagus Prosciutto Panini with Garlic Mayo

From: Gina’s Skinny Recipes

You pretty much can’t go wrong with any of the ingredients in this one, in my opinion. The asparagus adds a nice crunch, but if you don’t like it, you could leave it out and still get a nice hit of flavor from the arugula and garlic.

Greek Chicken Cutlets

From: Everyday Food

I feel like I’ve posted several variations of this dish, but I’m always a fan, since it’s simple, delicious and requires just a few ingredients. Unfortunately, our supermarket was out of mint, but I would definitely add it next time (or maybe substitute basil).

 

Happy Weekend, y’all!