Thursday, August 27, 2009

Le Bec-Fin: Philadelphia's Saving Grace

Le Bec Fin,Philadelphia Restaurant,Passport Foodie,Taylor Young Photography
Le Bec Fin,Passport Foodie,Taylor Young Photography,Philadelphia Restaurant
Le Bec Fin,Passport Foodie,Taylor Young Photography,Philadelphia Restaurant
Terrine,Le Bec Fin,Taylor Young Photography,Passport Foodie,Philadelphia Restaurant
Escargot,Passport Foodie,Le Bec Fin,Taylor Young Photography,Philadelphia Restaurant
Sweetbreads,Le Bec Fin,Passport Foodie,Taylor Young Photography,Philadelphia Restaurant
Masseto,Le Bec Fin,Taylor Young Photography,Passport Foodie,Philadelphia Restaurant
Roasted Flat Iron Steak,Le Bec Fin,Passport Foodie,Taylor Young Photography,Philadelphia Restaurant
Masseto,Le Bec Fin,Passport Foodie,Taylor Young Photography,Flat Iron Steak,Philadelphia Restaurant
Le Bec Fin,Dessert Cart,Passport Foodie,Taylor Young Photography,Philadelphia Restaurant
Pistachio Cake,Petit Fours,Passport Foodie,Taylor Young Photography,Le Bec Fin,Philadelphia Restaurant
Le Bec Fin,Coffee,Passport Foodie,Taylor Young Photography,Philadelphia Restaurant
Le Bec Fin,Passport Foodie,Taylor Young Photography,Philadelphia Restaurant
You know what's better than eating at an exceptional French restaurant? Eating there for a third of the price and being able to bring your own wine. That's what Georges Perrier of Le Bec-Fin has done in Philadelphia. Every Monday starting at 5:30pm, Georges has opened his doors to the, how can I say this, lesser fortunate Foodies. That is, those Foodies who love to dine at the best restaurants in the world, but who can't afford $180 for food and $200 for wine. To help us out Georges has given us a 3 Course Prix Fixe Dinner Menu for only $35.

In preparation for my meal I decanted a bottle of 1998 Tenuta dell'Ornellaia Masseto about 2 hours before leaving for Le Bec-Fin. Bottle in hand I entered the lavish, but slightly outdated entryway. We were seated right by the door leading out to the reservations desk, which annoyed me more than I care to say and after much deliberation between me and the other diners we decided to stay put and just be bitter and grumpy for a while. Just long enough for the waitstaff to notice and hopefully offer us a better table, the Chef's Table perhaps.

Our waiter came by a few minutes later with our menus and we were all shocked to see that they were the normal menus, with the normal prices. We swallowed hard and decided to bite the bullet and pay full price even though I had checked with the reservations gal a week prior and she said they did indeed still have the BYOB offer and the $35 Monday 3 Course Dinner. And as I was about to call Amex to see if I had enough credit to cover the meal, one of the diners spoke up and asked the waiter if there was a separate menu with the $35 3 Course Dinner listed. He fumbled around a little, obviously not wanting to give in and he finally said, "well, well, yes... you mean the 3 Course Dinner? Yes, there is." Ah, just for the record, I have never been in a restaurant which didn't advertise their specials, but I understand his reasoning. Try to bone the customer for everything they're worth. Fair enough. Well played sir.

Our Appetizers arrived in very good time considering the amount of people streaming in the door. Their plastic or paper bags, clutching the Yellow Tail Shiraz they just bought down the street. Up first was the Terrine Du Jour with Rustic Toast and Moularde Violette. The Terrine had very little gelatin on it which I appreciated. It was quite tasty. Next was the Crispy Veal Sweetbreads with Coddled Egg, Artichoke, Arugula Salad and Lemon Vinaigrette. They were incredibly delicate and pungent at the same time. A masterpiece of finesse. No French meal is complete without Snails and our Escargots Cassolette with Champagne and Hazelnut Garlic Butter was a testament to the beauty of Garlic overload. I loved it. Our Appetizers went down very easily and our Main Courses were brought out with the speed of a restaurant trying to serve 100+ people in a single evening. It felt a little rushed, but didn't detract from the meal.

My Roasted Flat Iron Steak with Pomme de Terre, Carrot Confit with Sauce Bordelaise was a brilliant example of timeless French cooking. Although there were some bits of chewy, tough fat running lengthwise through my meat, it was not horribly affected and the flavors were intense and juicy. The meat paired perfectly with the Masseto and the two tastes merged into a harmonious, rhythmic dance of flavor in my mouth. Masseto truly is one of the greatest wines I have ever had the privilege of tasting. I urge each and every one of you to seek out a bottle and try it. Ideally, in a Michelin Starred restaurant where you eat for $35 a head.

Dessert was equally delicious. As the trolley was wheeled over to us I saw heads turn and mouths open. Our French waiter began spitting out names of desserts with mind blowing rapidity. I didn't understand the name of one dessert except for something with Pistachios, so that's what I ordered. I lovingly disposed of the Pistachio Cake with Petit Fours and a gorgeous Raspberry Sauce accompanied by fairly decent coffee. Although it did taste like Juan Valdez was in the back brewing this coffee rather than our friends at Illy, or Lavazza.

Le Bec-Fin is without question the best restaurant I have been to in Philadelphia. The fact that they offer BYOB and $35 Mondays just adds to the importance of this longstanding establishment. Georges Perrier strikes me as someone more concerned with keeping Philadelphia from becoming a restaurant graveyard than turning a profit, or appealing to the Michelin-Men. I applaud him for his effort.

My professional photography website: Taylor Young Photography

Le Bec-Fin on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Burger Challenge: Passport Foodie vs Half Moon Restaurant & Saloon

Up First: Half Moon Restaurant & Saloon Kennett Square, PA
Half Moon,Kennett Square Restaurant,Passport Foodie
Half Moon,Kennett Square Restaurant,Passport Foodie
Chimay,Kennett Square Restaurant,Passport Foodie,Half Moon
Gorgonzola Fries,Kennett Square Restaurant,Passport Foodie,Half Moon
Kennett Square Restaurant,Passport Foodie,Half Moon,Antelope Burger
I have been immersed in a life altering Hamburger obsession for the better part of two months. It has consumed my daily life and added to my waistline. A few weeks ago I was watching The Travel Channel and they had a Burger special. Yummy! It featured a Restaurant in my backyard, The Half Moon Restaurant and Saloon in Kennett Square, PA. On the program they were touting their unique Hamburgers made from such animals as Elk, Buffalo, Antelope, Kangaroo and many more. This intrigued me as I happened to be thinking of nothing else but tasty Burgers. A few days later I drove the exhausting five miles to Kennett Square and had a chance to try out this now famous, local restaurant.

Upon entering The Half Moon I was struck by the incredibly pungent smell of Bleach and Animal Fat. The downstairs is dark and reminds me of the Hemingway story, A Clean, Well-Lighted Place. Except that this was not so clean and not so well lit. Hmmm... that is perhaps my most incoherent sentence yet. But no matter. I was happy to notice a stairway leading upstairs to a rooftop dining area. Bingo! It is a lovely, shaded escape, high above Kennett Square. A place I thought I'd come back to even if the Burgers were crap.

We started with the Melted Gorgonzola-Jack Fries with BBQ Sauce. The Fries were cooked well, with very little moisture left in them. The skins were left on and were nice and crispy. The Gorgonzola and Jack Cheeses must have been poured on with a dump truck, because it was overflowing with Cheesy goodness. The Fries were very nice. The Burgers came up quickly after we finished the Fries. My Antelope Burger looked a wee bit small to me and the Bun looked like I could break a tooth on it. Far from the Brioche buns I have come to love with Burgers.

It was not the appearance that was the stunning factor in this meal, it was the poor quality of the Burger which, even as I sit here I can't believe. The Antelope itself was actually very tasty and with some effort would have made a delicious Burger. However, this thing I was eating was not tasty in the slightest. It was rough, tasteless and begged for seasoning, less time on the grill and butter basting prior to serving. I noticed on the menu that there were several additions one could order if they chose to do so. They included: various Cheeses, Mushrooms, Caramelized Onions, Avocado Salsa and Bacon. Wait, I have to pay extra to make my Burger taste good? As my wife would say, "One was not amused." And to add insult to injury, the Burger was accompanied by a limp Pickle Slice and Potato Chips. Which, oddly enough were actually pretty tasty and seemed to be handmade. But I expected more of a $10 Burger.

I left wishing I hadn't eaten at all. And that's not a feeling I enjoy. So, I decided to spend some time in the Passport Foodie Kitchen and make my World Famous, ok, Not So World Famous, but still delicious, Gourmet Burger. I posted the recipe a while ago here.

All I can say, and I will try to say this without sounding like I'm tooting my own horn, is GOOD LORD, this is what a Burger should taste like. I made Fries cooked in Peanut Oil and they didn't even need to be double, or triple cooked. The Burger was juicy, flavorful and intensely, erotically, delicious. The Fries were equally good and could stand up by themselves if one wanted them as a meal. I hope that my Burger obsession is over for a while, because this is not a light meal. But, it is an immensely mouthwatering meal that deserves to be made by any and all Foodies.

Next Up: Passport Foodie's Gourmet Burger For People Who Know
Burger,Passport Foodie
Burger,Passport Foodie
Burger,Passport Foodie
French Fries,Passport Foodie

My professional photography website: Taylor Young Photography

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Osteria: Are You Kidding?

Osteria,Philadelphia Restaurant,Passport Foodie
Osteria,Philadelphia Restaurant,Passport Foodie
Osteria,Passport Foodie,Philadelphia Restaurant
Simple Foodie,Osteria,Passport Foodie,Philadelphia Restaurant
Wife,Sunflower,Osteria,Passport Foodie,Philadelphia Restaurant
Olive Oil,Osteria,Passport Foodie,Philadelphia Restaurant
Pizza,Passport Foodie,Philadelphia Restaurant,Osteria
Pizza,Osteria,Passport Foodie,Philadelphia Restaurant
Pizza,Osteria,Philadelphia Restaurant,Passport Foodie
Veal Tongue,Passport Foodie,Philadelphia Restaurant,Osteria
Cannelloni,Passport Foodie,Philadelphia Restaurant,Osteria
Chanterelle Ravioli,Osteria,Philadelphia Restaurant,Passport Foodie
There are only a handful of countries which can produce better Gastronomic delights, than the Italians. Actually, in my opinion, there is only one, France. But that's my palate and many would disagree. Italian Americans are very proud people and they love to share their food with the rest of us. Just go to any town center and look around. I'll bet you see a dozen Italian influenced restaurants.

So what's the problem? The problem, my dearest reader, is that there is a distinct lack of great Italian restaurants in the US. At least on the East Coast. Yes, there are a lot of Americanized versions of what some wealthy Italian American, sitting in his Ivory Tower thought was genuine Italian tastiness. But I have never eaten anything in the US that even comes close to what I had in Italy. Restaurants like La Finestra, in Siena and little "hole in the wall" joints in Montepulciano produced some of the most amazing meals I have ever had the pleasure of eating. And let's not forget pizza in Naples. Restaurants like Pizzeria Trianon are plentiful in Italy, but in the US, trying to find something of similar quality makes me want to pull my hair out.

However, I thought I nailed it with Osteria in Philadelphia. Owned in part, by the visionary chef, Marc Vetri. Chef and owner of the respected, Vetri, also in Philadelphia. I've never been to Vetri, but it has an incredible reputation and I was excited to try out his sister restaurant. My excitement was quickly extinguished by the rude waitress, who seemed to care less about what we ordered and more about her apparently, extremely valuable time we were wasting. The restaurant was almost empty when we arrived at 5:30pm. The only people there were the dozens of staff they employ. Way too many staff. In fact, as we were eating we had swarms of staff hovering around us, refilling glasses, taking plates, standing behind us and just generally, being bored and trying to look busy.

The Olive Oil and Bread were quick to come out, so were our Woodford and Cokes. Little did I know that those two food items would be the best part of our meal at Osteria. We shared the Trentino Pizza with Gorgonzola Dolce, Mozzarella, Grilled Figs and Speck. Besides the charcoal taste it wasn't bad. The Figs were the dominating taste and they made the Pizza. But, for the most part, it simply tasted of burnt toast. For my main, I chose the Veal Tongue with Salsa Rossa. Although, this dish lacked serious flavor as you would expect from Tongue, it had a nice Pate component to it, which I actually enjoyed. One of the diners had what looked like 4 or 5 deflated Dumplings. But in actuality, they were Chanterelle and Bone Marrow Ravioli with Bitto Cheese. That's what the menu said it was anyway. I'm pretty sure the Chef went down the street and got some Chinese Take-Away and made a plate of deflated Dumplings and drenched them with Olive Oil. My fellow diner, Simple Foodie, couldn't even finish it. I ate what he couldn't and it was even hard for me. And I am, what my beautiful wife calls, an Olive Oil Fiend.

On the opposite side of the table, my wife looked to be enjoying her Pork Neck Cannelloni with Tomatoes and Basil. A gorgeous looking dish. But there was something very, very wrong with it. The size. The entire dish consisted of two tiny pieces of Cannelloni, each about the size of a Spring Roll. This must be one hell of a dish for $16. I'm afraid to say, it was not. It was a seriously mild dish with not enough Basil, nor Tomatoes, nor Cannelloni for that matter.

When we finished our meal we all dove into the rest of our Olive Oil and Bread like hungry Depression Era children. Scooping up whatever sauce was left on our plates. This was the first time in years that I had felt undernourished and underfed while spending that much on a meal. There was simply no excuse for it. Yes, we didn't get the full experience and order a Secondi. We simply chose an Antipasti and Primi with an accompanying Pizza. However, I have done this on many occasions in Italy and I have never walked away feeling completely unsatisfied. I truly hope Marc Vetri decides to make his dishes slightly larger, his tastes slightly more complex and his waitstaff slightly friendlier. And Marc, get rid of some of the staff, you don't need all of them. Osteria is not The Four Seasons. I felt like I was eating inside a Wasps nest.

My professional photography website: Taylor Young Photography

Osteria on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 7, 2009

Azie: Iron Chef Where Are You?

Azie,Passport Foodie,Teikoku
Azie,Passport Foodie,Teikoku
Azie,Passport Foodie,Teikoku
Chimay White Label,Azie,Passport Foodie,Teikoku
Seaweed Salad,Azie,Passport Foodie,Teikoku
Truffle Fries,Passport Foodie,Azie,Teikoku
Vegetable Tempura,Passport Foodie,Azie,Teikoku
Shrimp Tempura,Azie,Passport Foodie,Teikoku
Chicken Teriyaki,Azie,Passport Foodie,Teikoku
Jumbo Lump Crab Pad Thai,Teikoku,Azie,Passport Foodie
Salmon Ceviche,Passport Foodie,Azie,Teikoku
Recently, I have wondered about the consistency of high quality restaurants and their Chef's. Does a great Chef and restaurant owner automatically equal a fabulous dining experience? That's the question I posed to myself this week. And the response was what I thought it would be. No.

For example, take Azie. This "Refreshingly Global" offspring of the incredibly tasty Newtown Square restaurant, Teikoku, reviewed last month, was not in the same league as its big brother. Not even a little. This is surprising to me considering its Executive Chef is the famous Takao Linuma, the courageous Iron Chef, that has appeared in more than 4o episodes of the show.

It was busy for a Wednesday evening, which fooled us. We were seated upstairs where the light was really nice. Hanging from the ceiling was a blown glass decoration that reminded me of thousands of Salmon eggs. In a nice way though. The menu is very similar to Teikoku. They have the usual Sushi Rolls, the same Beers and even the outstanding Avocado Salad. However, there are some differences and we decided to explore the variations in the menu.

After spilling our Chimay all over the table, the waitress quickly took our orders and a few minutes later our starters arrived. The table was graced with an assortment of Asian Gastronomic delights. My Seaweed Salad was tender, light and very flavorful. But the highlight of the starters was Lou's, aka "Simple Foodie's", Salmon and Yellow Tail Ceviche with Hot Yellow Peppers, Fresh Orange and Red Onion. Not only was it delicately tart, with just a hint of savory Salmon, but the dish was aesthetically pleasing and made for a nice photo. A small bowl of Truffle French Fries sat to my left and I quickly grabbed several while still chewing Salmon. Truffle Butter was a good choice to baste these in, but I think a dash of Truffle Salt would have been much better. They were kind of sickly and sadly, underperformed. The other diners enjoyed a less expensive and much smaller version of Teikoku's Avocado Salad. I had no interest in it though. I was on a mission and I didn't want any of those familiar tastes to interfere with my palate.

The main course arrived without any food being spilled, which was a highlight of the evening. Although, my Nikon was still spotted with the golden, delicious drops of Chimay, at least our food was entirely on our plate. My Jumbo Lump Crab Pad Thai was well cooked, but lacked what I like to call, flavor. The dish was incredibly muted and toned down. I finished it, but that's only because I hadn't eaten all day. The Tempura Cheese Fondue that my wife was eating was, how can I put this? Terrible. The Chicken tasted like it had been boiled and then battered in a half-assed attempt to create something Asian, but it tasted more like KFC.

One of our diners was eating a beautifully put together Chicken Teriyaki and I was confident no one could mess up something so simple. It was not so. Clearly the same person boiling the Tempura Chicken was boiling the Chicken used in the Chicken Teriyaki. What was happening? I had such high hopes for Azie. Lastly, was Lou's Jumbo Shrimp Tempura with Wasabi Aioli Sauce and a Romaine and Mango Salad. Once again, Lou chose the dish of the evening. This dish has two components to it. The front end is light, fragrant and delicate, with the Mango coming through ever so softly. The back end is big, bold and nose tingling. The Wasabi going to work after the Mango has dissolved. Wonderful.

In the end, Lou had the only dishes I would eat again at Azie. For $164 without tip, but including 4 $11 glasses of Chimay, this was an expensive lesson for us all. This has taught me to respect those restaurant owners and Chef's who can organize and control more than one restaurant and do it well. Bravo to you all.

My professional photography website: Taylor Young Photography

Azie on Urbanspoon