Restaurant Review: Nam Phuong and a bit of Capogiro

On Saturday, I had to work all day (I’ve become a bit spoiled, actually, as I haven’t had to work on a weekend since before leaving DU.) and when I left, it was dark and chilly, my feet were killing me, and I was tired and hungry. Chester suggested going out for Pho, and I thought it was the best idea ever.

We headed to Nam Phoung (1100 Washington Avenue), which we discovered shortly after moving to South Philly. The restaurant has been around for more than 20 years, and bills itself as “the best Vietnamese restaurant in Philadelphia.” Evidently, more than a few people agree, since it’s always packed when we go.

Some people swear by chicken soup, but I’m convinced that a heaping bowl of Pho from Nam Phoung is the cure for whatever ails you. The broth is rich with beef and ginger flavor, but is not salty at all. I usually order mine with chicken, and Chester prefers the Deluxe version, with steak, flank, brisket, tendon, beef tripe, and beef meatballs. A side dish of Vietnamese basil, lime wedges, bean sprouts, and mint and assorted condiments are placed on each table so that you can season it to your taste and preferred level of spiciness.

In addition to the soup, we really enjoy the spring rolls, with shredded pork, and the summer rolls with shrimp and chicken. The former is served with a rich peanut based dipping sauce that I’m pretty sure would be amazing on just about anything.

Nam Phoung has yet to disappoint, and best of all, it’s pretty inexpensive. Dinner for the two of us (two appetizers and two soups) adds up to less than $20. Service is friendly and efficient and there is also free parking in the adjacent lot.

After this most recent visit, we took the money that we didn’t spend on dinner and headed over to Capogiro (1625 E. Passyunk) for dessert. I suggest you do the same. At some point, I’ll need to devote a whole post to the love I have for Capogiro. Their gelatos are made with fresh ingredients that make them well worth the price tag.

Nutella and Peanut Gelato

I was all better after that.

Restaurant Review: Fuel

After a few days of eating like New Englanders, we were craving something on the lighter side when we got home. We decided to check out Fuel (1917 E. Passyunk Avenue), which serves salads, snacks, soups, sandwiches that contain fewer than 500 calories.

The lounge style furniture, brightly colored walls, and TVs tuned to dance music videos at top volume combine to create an atmosphere that’s a cross between a club and a gym. It seemed a little strange, especially on a slow Monday night (I’ve since learned that Fuel is owned by Rocco Cima, a DJ at Q102, so I guess these things make sense).

With this first impression, I became a little bit skeptical about the place. Turns out, I needn’t have worried. Service was attentive, and everything was made to order, with fresh ingredients.

We debated between guacamole and hummus to start, and finally chose the latter, which was served with soft, grilled pita. It was decent, but had a bit more lemon than I typically like. A bit more garlic could have evened it out.

The sandwich and salad combinations were creative. I considered the skewered Greek salad and spinach and strawberry salad before I noticed the South Philly wrap (note that the bread will up the calorie counts on the sandwiches past 500!), with grilled chicken, provolone, spinach, roasted red peppers, and garlic spread. The wrap had a generous helping of tender chicken and was served with a side of mixed green salad with tangy balsamic dressing.

Chester opted to order the  Roasted Portabello and Eggplant Sandwich as a salad. It was served with roasted peppers, strips of provolone cheese, olive tapenade and chicken. The portion was also generous, but there was a little bit too much dressing. This probably pushes the calorie count up too, so order on the side, and you should be fine.

In between courses, we perused the juice/smoothie menu. Of course, the Protein Buster, with peanut butter, honey, and banana was the first thing I noticed, but many of the fruit based options, including the Fruit Fuzzion (with strawberries, raspberries and banana) sounded appealing, too.

If you are one of those people who don’t believe that healthy food can be delicious too, a trip to Fuel is sure to change your mind. Fuel also has a location in Center City (around 12th and Walnut), and delivers pretty much anywhere. Prices are reasonable too—our meal came out to roughly what we would have spent at a fast food restaurant and the quality was far superior.

We’ll definitely visit again, even when we aren’t in detox mode.

On the Road: New Hampshire

When Chester and I are on vacation, we usually spend some of the time thinking about where we’ll go next. When we were in Pittsburgh over Labor Day, we came up with the idea of a trip to New England to see the fall foliage. We mentioned the idea to my BFF and her husband, since they live in Boston. Turns out, Bridget and Bill had the same idea for a fall vacation. We decided that we would all head up to New Hampshire and rent a cabin for a long weekend.

We flew up to Boston and then drove about two hours or so up to Lincoln, New Hampshire, in the White Mountains. Bridget and I had scouted cabins online, and I think we made a pretty good pick with Green Village Cabins. The cabins were pretty tiny, but clean, comfortable, and centrally located to all the major attractions in the area.

Then, we spent the weekend doing festive fall things.

We picked apples.

Took in nature at the Lost River Gorge and Caves.

Drove along the Kancamagus Highway.

Saw rainbows (three to be exact!)

Encountered wildlife.

Drove half-way up Mount Washington (it was too windy to go all the way up), the highest peak in the Northeastern United States. And nearly froze.

Of course, we ate. A lot.

Cider Donuts!

Before we left Boston, we stocked up on fancy meats and cheeses at Formaggio Kitchen. Combined with the apples we had picked, wine (for me and Bridget) and beer (for Bill and Chester), we had some pretty awesome nighttime snacks while playing Apples to Apples and Catch Phrase.

We were all kind of craving comfort food throughout the weekend. It must have been the chill in the air. Luckily, the vast majority of the restaurants in the area seemed to specialize in this type of cuisine. For lunch, we just grabbed whatever we happened to be near, but we had really good dinners each night.

On the first night, we ate at the Adair Country Inn and Restaurant, in the nearby town of Bethlehem. The restaurant is casual, but elegant, and its menu showcases local ingredients and specialties. We all ended up doing the three course menu option (you can choose as few as two courses or as many as five) which included an appetizer, salad, and entrée.  My whole meal was excellent, but I particularly enjoyed my spinach salad, mostly because it had dried cranberries, and the entrée, the Haddock New Bedford, which was lightly breaded with cornmeal, and served with a tomato, clam, and chorizo topping. For dessert, we all shared the apple-popover bread pudding. The texture was very light, and it wasn’t as sweet as some other bread puddings that I’ve had. The tartness and natural sweetness of the apples really came through, but it didn’t seem like there was a lot of extra sugar added.

Toasting the Weekend!

The second night, we went to the Common Man, which is actually a restaurant chain in New England. The rustic furnishings and homey feel of the place reminded me of the Cracker Barrel—which I hate—so I was a bit skeptical. But the food was far superior. The menu is pretty extensive, and features everything from soups and salads, to lobster mac-and-cheese, to ribs and steak. I had the meatloaf which was served with a rich tomato based pan gravy and topped with caramelized onions. I can’t imagine anything that would have tasted better after a day of being outdoorsy.

The Woodstock Inn Brewery was our final dinner of the trip. I think Bridget was probably the only one who was not totally happy with her dish—sesame maple scallops, served over linguine. It was…interesting, and not in an entirely good way (it kept making me think of that scene from Elf, where he douses his spaghetti in maple syrup). I enjoyed my chile glazed salmon, since it was a change of pace from the heavier dishes I had been eating. The Brewery also featured a selection of Wellingtons, which the boys both enjoyed.

On the last day of our trip, before getting on the road back to Boston, we sought out a pancake house. A lot of places had closed for the season, but, luckily, we found Flapjack’s Pancake House. Best. Pancakes. Ever.

Cranberry Apple Flapjacks

The whole weekend was very relaxing, but Monday rolled around so quickly, and it was time to go home. It was so nice to spend some time with our friends and I’m looking forward to being able to do it again soon!

Chinatown Night Market

October is one of my favorite months of the year, but it always seems to be the busiest. I guess that the first hint of fall in the air snaps everyone back to reality after three months of summer mode and we pack as much as we can into its 31 days. Work and the rest of my life are always seem extra busy in October, which is why I started to write this post more than a week ago and am now just getting around to putting it up.

Anyway.

The Food Trust launched its Night Market events last year and they’ve quickly become a Philadelphia tradition. The concept is based on the night markets traditionally held in Asia and brings together entertainment, artisans, and food in a residential area. Many of the well-known, as well as the new players, in Philadelphia’s food truck fleet participate. Despite the fact that there has been one held in South Philly (where I live) and University City (where I used to work), Chester and I didn’t get around to experiencing the festivities until a couple of weeks ago, when the fourth Night Market was held in Chinatown.

When we arrived at around 8 p.m., the market was in full swing, with live music, dancing and throngs of people making their way down 10th Street, which was closed to traffic.

We picked our way through the crowds to make it to our first stop The Dapper Dog. This truck serves all-beef hot dogs with a variety of toppings, from fried egg to mac and cheese to asparagus. At the Night Market, the truck was offering a traditional Chicago Dog and a Cheesesteak Hot Dog. You’ve probably been reading long enough to guess which one of us ordered what.

The truck uses Sarcone’s hoagie rolls as the vehicle for their creations. While Sarcone’s is awesome on its own, I’m just not a fan of overly chewy, thick bread with a hot dog. Give me a traditional potato roll any day. But, The Dapper Dog’s version of the Chicago Dog was spot on—even Chester, who hails from Chicago and has had many a hot dog in his day, was impressed.

Our next stop was Chewy’s a new food truck that specializes in burgers, fries, sandwiches, and salads. The blue cheese slider was well seasoned, but pretty basic. The kimchi slider was unique and much more memorable. The fries were a bit disappointing, as they were limp and soggy (but did bring back memories of food truck dinners in college). I’ve read a few more reviews about  Chewy’s since the Night Market, and the tater tots are getting a lot of buzz, so those might be a better side dish option.

You all know by now that I spend most of the time planning what I’m going to have for dessert. There were quite a few dessert options to choose from at the Night Market, but I had my sights set on sampling the gourmet cupcakes from Sweetbox Truck.

 

Sweetbox was offering several flavors that night (including a Pumpkin Spice, which was really tempting!), but we kept it simple and went with a Vanilla Buttercream and Chocolate Ganache.

Oh my goodness. With the first bite, you can tell that the ingredients that the bakers use are extremely high quality. The cake was moist and delicious, and the icing was not overly sweet. They were on the softer side, which made them a bit tricky to eat, but perhaps that was because it was a bit warm that night. Overall, these cupcakes were heavenly, and I see a quite a few trips to Love Park, where Sweetbox is frequently stationed, in my future.

The crowds had started to thin out a bit, so we went off in search of Guapos Tacos, Jose Garces’ mobile outpost. I love that the truck is covered in bottle caps, by the way.

We shared a chipotle short rib taco, with onions, radish, cilantro, crema and queso fresco. The short ribs were juicy and well seasoned, as though they had been marinating all day. This was one of the highlights for me, and I wish I had saved enough room to try one of the other flavors as well.

Our last stop was Yummy Yummy, for Hong Kong egg waffles. Yummy Yummy had a stand at the Market, but the waffles were only available from the shop on (52 North 10th Street).

These doughy sweet treats are made from eggs, sugar, flour and evaporated milk and produced on a special griddle that gives them their fluffy, egg shape. The outside of the waffle was crispy and golden brown, but yielded to a tender, creamy center. These could be habit forming.

And, with that, we called it a night.

Overall, the Night Market was a fun experience. A few tips, if you plan to go: Pack your patience as the lines are long. We waited about 20 minutes or so at the beginning of the evening although the crowds did thin out as the night went on. The price point at most trucks is about $5 and portions were quite generous. So, pace yourself and don’t expect that you will be able to sample every single thing on offer.

I’ll be keeping an eye out to see where the next installment of the Night Market will turn up. In the meantime, I’ll be stalking some of the other trucks that I missed out on at the event, as were so many things that we just couldn’t get around to sampling.

Restaurant Review: Spread Bagelry

I love bagels. So, when I first heard that Spread Bagelry would be coming to the Rittenhouse Square area, it immediately went on my list of places to try. However, three days after opening in May, a small fire broke out in the shop and it ended up closing for repairs for a bit. Chester and I finally got around to trying it out for lunch last week.

Spread specializes in Montreal-style bagels, which are hand-rolled, boiled in honey water, and baked in wood-fired oven. At first glance, the only thing that seems to differentiate this kind of bagel from the typical New York style bagel is the larger hole. But, it’s, chewier, lighter and sweeter than that variety. Spread offers plain, sesame, poppy, everything, whole wheat, whole wheat everything, and a sweet daily special.

Toppings include Amish cream cheese (plain and flavored), butter, jam, peanut butter, smoked salmon, bacon/turkey bacon, tomato, onion, and apple slices. I chose to keep things simple and opted for the mixed berry variety, last week’s featured special, on my whole wheat bagel. It was light and fluffy and studded with bits of blueberry throughout. And, there was a lot of it.

Spread also offers a variety of sandwiches and melts. Chester had the Bagelry Club, with roasted turkey, cheddar, apple slices, and bacon on a whole wheat bagel.  All of the ingredients were fresh—the apples were a particularly nice touch—but we both would have preferred it as a melt. Although this didn’t seem to be an option, maybe next time, we’ll ask.

Also, they serve La Colombe coffee. It’s self-serve, and unlimited. Bonus points.

The line was out the door during our week day lunch visit, so I can only imagine what it’s like at breakfast and on weekends. There were more than half a dozen staff members milling around behind the counter, but only one person taking orders (who was a bit on the slow side. She kind of stared down at her notepad for almost 30 seconds before asking if she could help us). It all seemed a bit disorganized. But, the staff members were all very friendly. There seemed to be quite a few regulars around, and the owners went out of their way to chat with them.

While the bagels are pretty good and offer a change of pace from what you find at Dunkin Donuts (whose bagels I actually happen to like) or Manhattan Bagel, they are pricey. One bagel will run you $2 and a half-dozen come in at $10. Then, you’ll need to add on an extra $3 or so for a spread. Sandwiches are about $8 or more.

Ultimately, I think Spread offers a great concept and product, I don’t know that the long wait and the price tag are justified. Maybe I’ll stop by every once in awhile, but I won’t necessarily go out of my way. They’re just bagels.