Archives for August 2012

Restaurant Review: Rex 1516 for Brunch

I discovered Rex 1516 a few months ago, and after a very enjoyable dinner there, I was eager to return to check out their brunch offerings.  So, I rounded up my mom and aunt on Sunday and off we went.

Rex definitely does brunch right.

Sunlight streams in through the front windows, and light jazz music provides a backdrop for the black-and-white movies on the big screen television over the bar. Complimenting this casual atmosphere is a menu of comforting sweet and savory options to satisfy a wide variety of brunch preferences.

As with dinner, chef Regis Jansen’s brunch menu is inspired by his favorite ingredients and flavors of the South. There is also a nice selection of specialty drinks, including basil mimosas.

Specialties include shrimp and grits, topped with fried egg, roasted tomatoes, crispy pork belly and spicy cheddar sauce, and sweet potato biscuits with chorizo gravy. On the lighter side, there is the homemade granola with vanilla bean yogurt and heaps of fresh fruit. I really enjoyed the cornmeal waffles, which have a heartier taste and texture than their standard counterparts and are complimented by a bright citrus maple syrup and whipped cream.

Cornmeal waffles, my new favorite.

Rex 1516 is one of a few area restaurants which offer completely gluten-free options at every meal. Diners choosing from those options don’t have to worry about sacrificing taste or creativity, as gluten-free breads and pastries are prepared in-house on a daily basis. My mom enjoyed the tofu scramble features veggie sausage, sweet potato home fries and a choice of wheat, white or cinnamon raisin toast, and a side of jam.

Sandwiches and salads round out the brunch offerings. My aunt had the Carolina style barbeque pulled chicken sandwich, the spiciness of which is toned down a bit with cool, housemade cole slaw.

At the end of our meal, our server brought over the dessert menus. We would have loved to try the king’s gateau, a flourless chocolate cake with peanut butter mousse and banana ice cream, but were just too stuffed.

We arrived at the restaurant at 11 and it wasn’t very crowded, but it had definitely filled up by the time we left about 90 minutes later. Prices are very reasonable, with items topping out at $11.

Rex 1516 serves brunch from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, so be sure to check it out next time you are in the South Street West area.


Recipe: Classic Banana Bread

I pretty much will only eat bananas that are totally yellow on the outside. Bananas with brown spots are gross. I know that they get sweeter as they ripen, but they also get a mushy texture that I just don’t enjoy.

The only sensible thing to do with these kinds of bananas is to turn them into banana bread. In fact, the riper the bananas, the better the bread.

When I first got into baking a few years ago, banana bread was the first thing that I made. I’ve tried a few different recipes over the years, but my favorite continues to be the Classic Banana Bread recipe from Cooking Light. The yogurt in the batter makes it incredibly moist and tender. I have doctored it up once or twice with nuts and chocolate chips, but it really doesn’t need anything since the banana flavor is so intense.

Although it’s tempting to cut into the loaf as soon as it comes out of the oven, I personally think that the flavors are even better after the bread sits for at least a few hours. You could also make muffins from this recipe, freeze them, and take them out for breakfasts throughout the week as needed.

Classic Banana Bread

From: Cooking Light

What you will need:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups mashed ripe banana (about 3 bananas)
  • 1/3 cup plain low-fat yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

What to do:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt, stirring with a whisk.
  3. Place sugar and butter in a large bowl, and beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended.
  4. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add banana, yogurt, and vanilla; beat until blended.
  5. Add flour mixture; beat at low speed just until moist.
  6. Spoon batter into a buttered loaf pan.
  7. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
  8. Cool 10 minutes in pan on a wire rack; remove from pan. Cool completely on wire rack.

Things I Loved Over the Weekend…

A bunch of people I don’t know in Rehoboth Beach, DE

In no particular order:

1. Enjoying the feeling of the sand between my toes and the sun on my face. Listening to the sound of the waves.

3. Spending time with some of my favorite people and a good book (speaking of the latter, have you guys read Gone Girl yet? You should. I don’t even want to read ahead to find out the ending. That’s how I know it’s a good one).

Yes, she does have a ridiculous number of glasses on her person right now.

2. Eating Kohr Brother’s custard for dessert three nights in a row. Specifically, the chocolate peanut butter kind, dipped in chocolate.

Chester’s first Kohr Brother’s.

3. Running into these guys on the beach.

Mario, Mr. Potato Head, Cat in the Hat

4. Finding bargains, most notably 3 pairs of sunglasses for $20. So I won’t feel bad when I sit on them or lose them three months from now.

5. Playing endless rounds of Skeeball and other boardwalk games. Getting ridiculously excited to win a stuffed Hello Kitty.

6. Carb laden breakfasts at GreenMan and Sammy’s Kitchen. Italian seafood dinners at Adriatico and Tuscan Grill.

That is all.

Restaurant Review: Ulivo (Closed)

Ulivo opened late last year in Queen Village and might not have been on my radar screen if we hadn’t passed it while en route to Cochon (for brunch and dinner), just across the way. Each time we peeked in, it looked warm and inviting and the menu posted in the window sounded amazing. I filed it away on my mental list of places to check out and when our friends Lara and Matt suggested picking a BYOB for a weekend get-together, it the first place that came to mind.


Since I like my personal space and I don’t like sitting too close to strangers, Ulivo immediately scored points with me because there was plenty of space between the tables. This is quite different—and much more comfortable—than other BYOBs which try to maximize their revenue by packing as many customers in as possible. In line with the simple décor, the seasonal menu isn’t huge and features classic Italian dishes, many of which have touches of flavors from all over the Mediterranean, including Spain, Turkey and France.

Our server informed us that all of the pasta dishes could be served in appetizer portions. So, we decided to share the gnocchi, along with the Caesar salad and the calamari. The salad was tasty, but pretty standard. But, I’m still thinking about the latter two dishes today. The wide strips of tender calamari were fried to a perfect crisp and topped with a slightly spicy salsa. The delicate gnocchi seemed to be made solely of light, airy, ricotta—I couldn’t detect any heaviness or flavor from potato at all. They literally melted in my mouth.

For our entrees, Lara and I both chose the salmon, which was grilled and served over a cold, toasted barley and sweet white corn salad, tossed in a roasted garlic vinaigrette. It was definitely a dish that showcased a lot of great summer flavors. Chester gave high marks to the duck, and although I didn’t try it, I could see that it was cooked to a perfect medium rare. Finally, Matt enjoyed the fennel spiced chicken, which was prepared Milanese style with a light breading.

Side dishes are served family style. At the suggestion of our server, we chose the chilled zucchini. With a touch of citrus flavor, they had acidity similar to pickles and were the perfect complement to all of our dishes.

I don’t remember everything that was on the dessert menu, but do recall it including a selection of gelato and sorbet. Do yourself a favor, though, and just go for the chocolate tart. Really, it’s more like a flourless cake, with a base that resembles a cakey brownie and a cracked, crunchy top. The mild flavor of the accompanying mascarpone whipped cream, cuts through the richness of the chocolate just a bit.

The concept of an Italian BYOB is certainly not new (particularly in Philadelphia), but Ulivo is certainly one of the best that I’ve visited recently. It’s also a great value for the money. The bill came out to about $50 per person, which I thought was very reasonable given the generous portion sizes and quality of the food.

The only negative thing I could say was that we were seated right under a fan, which made it a bit chilly. But, that’s the kind of thing you hardly notice after a glass or two of wine.

If you plan to visit—and you should—know that Ulivo accepts reservations (which can be made through its website) and credit cards.

Date Night at Sur La Table

Has anyone ever seen food poisoning listed on those Hallmark lists of traditional anniversary gifts?

I didn’t think so.

Which is why, instead of attempting to make Chester a fancy steak dinner at home to celebrate our second anniversary back in June, I signed us up for a steakhouse themed “Date Night” cooking class at Sur La Table instead.

This was my third experience with a cooking class Sur La Table (I previously attended a cake baking and decorating workshop with my mom and aunt and a class on French pastry) and I really enjoy them. There is ample counter space to work, really great kitchen equipment and someone else to clean up the mess.

 Flank steak, ready for the grill

The instructor split everyone up into groups of four people and we all took turns preparing the ingredients and doing the cooking. My culinary ineptitude was on full display, as I had trouble operating a vegetable peeler. Chester, of course, was one of the star students. The instructor could tell that he knew his way around a grill.

Grilling zucchini

We made four different dishes, starting off with shrimp wrapped in pancetta:

Rosemary stuffed flank steak, topped with Parmesan cheese and accompanied by a side of zucchini with pesto:

Dessert was a caramel apple “pizza,” baked on puff pastry and topped with vanilla ice cream and dulce de leche sauce.

All of the recipes were fairly simple and, since we got to take them with us, I’m fairly confident that I could recreate them at home. Everyone seemed to agree that the zucchini was one of the highlights of the evening, particularly since the pesto had a few non-traditional ingredients–earthy parsley, sweet almonds and tart red wine vinegar–that made for a great combination of flavors.

As a bonus, we got ten percent off all of our purchases at the shop that evening. We bought a bench scraper and a food scale. I was pretty excited about the latter item because now I can try my hand at making macarons.

Chester and I had a great time cooking together, and it made me kind of sad that we don’t have a big enough kitchen to do that more often. That’s definitely going to be a priority when we move to our next home.

Enjoying the end result of all that hard work.


Restaurant Review: Branzino

Branzino has been a fixture in the Rittenhouse Square area for several years. I pass by frequently, but hadn’t actually visited  prior to last weekend, when I went there for a Sunday dinner with my mom, aunt and Chester. It’s a BYOB, specializing in classic Italian dishes, including homemade pastas, veal and other meat dishes and seafood. Not surprisingly, the signature dish is Branzino, or Mediterranean sea bass. 

We enjoyed bread, still hot from the oven, with flavorful olive oil for dipping, while we looked over the menu. Unable to narrow down appetizer choices, we ended up splitting a few dishes. We all agreed that the tender, lightly grilled tubes of calamari dressed in light mixture of tomato/balsamic vinegar was our favorite, but the mussels, in a spicy tomato broth and the ravioli, with a mixture of ground chicken and veal did not disappoint either (pasta dishes can be served as entrees or as appetizers for $12).

The meat, poultry and seafood options on the menu, all included interesting ingredient combinations. My mom and aunt both ordered veal, which had been pounded into thin filets, but not so much that it became tough and difficult to chew. My mom’s dish was topped with prosciutto, eggplant, prosciutto and fontina cheese, while my aunt’s had artichokes and mushrooms. Chester opted for one of the day’s specials, Linguine di Mare, which overflowed with plump scallops and shrimp and more of those delicious mussels.

I opted for the branzino, figuring that someone had to try the restaurant’s namesake dish. As is the standard way of serving it, the waitress brought it over whole, with the head and skin still on, and then filleted it to remove all of the tiny bones. I had never actually eaten branzino before, and am now a big fan. It’s a bit lighter and a bit milder than standard sea bass. This accompanying sauce was very flavorful, with a great balance of acidity from lemon juice and salt from capers.

Although we were more than satisfied with our meal, we couldn’t pass up dessert. The dense chocolate mousse, set atop of thin disk of sponge cake, was the perfect way to end the meal.

The restaurant looks tiny from the outside, but it actually stretches to the very back of the building and includes an outdoor garden space and a small room off of the main area which would be perfect for a private event. Unlike many BYOBs, Branzino takes credit cards.

I’m sorry that it took me so long to get around to trying Branzino, and would definitely love to make a return trip sooner rather than later.