Saturday, February 25, 2012

Le Virtu

Wade's Take:

Finally, we found a place with a dessert on par with the rest of the meal!

February's dining discovery led us to Le Virtu, a south, south Philadelphia Abbruzzesian restaurant. Yes, I think I made up the term Abbruzzesian (gesundheit!). Basically, it's a place defined by such descriptors as high-end, local, organic, grass-fed, house-made, rustic, etc.. Here's the thing, though - Le Virtu actually lives up to all of those things.

The space is pretty comfortable. The restaurant is divided into a few areas, with the back dining space abutting the kitchen (separated by open shelving cubbies filled with dishes). We had a nice hutch behind our perfectly sized table. The hutch helped to give the space a living room kind of feel.

Typical of most higher-end Italian menus, dishes were arranged for multiple courses, with pretty high price tags attached to each. We are fairly good at mapping out a caloric plan by now (except in the case of Uzu), and focused on three appetizers and three first / second courses. Plus, of course, the plan was designed to leave room for dessert.

We'd heard stories of Le Virtu's salumi plate, and couldn't pass up this opportunity to try it. It was great. There were loads of options, with most being cured directly below us in the basement. One of my favorites was a spreadable salame (ventricina teramana) with orange zest, garlic, rosemary and chili. The bresaola was also great.

I'll let Jess describe the special octopus starter, which we also enjoyed.

Apparently, the oliva all'ascolana was rated as a Philly Mag top appetizer in 2011. Truly? I thought it was a bland, meat-part mash that lacked interest and flavor. Every so often, a taste of the olives would peak through. Most of the time, all I tasted was the bland porchetta.

One of our entrees included a special pasta - chestnut flour gnocchi served with braised wild boar. It could have been fantastic if it hadn't been laden with salt. It almost made us think it was a mistake in the kitchen, or that no one had tasted the dish.

The brodetto was an excellent entree, though. This seafood stew had a rich, pure red pepper and tomato broth that sung with spice. Lump pieces of monkfish, shrimp (head-on) and calamari floated atop the broth, which I sopped up with chunks of bread.

And then there was dessert. We had eyed up a few other dessert courses that were delivered to other tables. We settled on the chocolate semifreddo and the olive oil apple cake.

The apple cake was a multi-textured cake with wintry spices and chunks of stewed, pressed apple. There was a crumb topping, which was then topped with walnut brittle and a marscapone thyme cream. That would have already made a great dessert, but it got even better with the addition of a vanilla gelato. I would say this dish was one of the best restaurant desserts I've had in at least a year. That's saying a lot for a guy that leans towards all things chocolate.

Three out of four happy sweet teeth.

Jess’ Take

I love our Friday dinner – especially those where we are able to secure a babysitter.  We all have a feeling of “ah… thank God for the weekend… and this fantastic glass of wine.” Le Virtu is a great spot for one of these Friday dinners.

After enjoying a glass of amazing Cabernet, the salumi plate just made me happy. In addition to the ventricina teramana that Wade mentioned, the duck prosciutto and bresaola were something I was thinking about long after we left.

In addition to the cured meats and olive all’ascolana starters, we also chose an octopus special to round out the course. While the sauce it was served with is escaping me, it really played second fiddle to the octopus, which was incredible tender. And also a good portion size for a starter – plenty for all three of us to share.

And now I get to do the dish I’ve been thinking about for days – the agnolotti alla porchetta, which is described on the menu as a braised porchetta-filled agnolotti, sage, butter, black truffle and crushed amaretti. This dish was an amazing combination of salty and sweet. The taste of the black truffle hits the tongue first in the front, and then the sweetness of the amaretti lingers on the back of the tongue, long after you’ve swallowed. It was amazing.

Wade was right in describing the gnocchi with braised wild boar as too salty. The dish probably tasted great about 6 hours earlier, but by the time we ate it, was just too salty to be enjoyable.

And dessert… ah dessert. Worth the calories for sure (and believe me – this dinner was a RICH one). The chocolate semifreddo was perfection and the olive oil apple cake wasn’t far behind. We left this dinner full and happy (emphasis on both).

La Virtu, we’ll be back.
3.5 out of 4 homemade salumi plates.

Labels: ,

Saturday, January 21, 2012


Wade's Take:

It was a feeling of eternal return to be back in the space that is now Aperto. Yes, the PFB group has been in many restaurant real estate spaces again and again (see Koo-Zee-Doo formerly Copper Bistro, or Adsum which once existed as Coquette, to name a few). This was different for me. I've known this local eating space as four different restaurant iterations. What began as Carmine's turned to Margot. Margot became Gemelli. Now, Gemelli has blossomed into Aperto. Each had its unique strengths and each was a default spot to take out-of-town guests (I live mere blocks away). I am happy to report that Aperto lives up to this legacy.

The space is comfortable, intimate and warm. The kitchen is small and open, bordered by a eat-on bar curving across the corner of the room. This openness allows for a great feeling of connectivity with the chef and kitchen happenings.

We had a serving of small plates to whet our appetites. I ordered the feta and olives. Small chunks of fresh feta were skewered with nuevo brined olives. 

My starter was the salmon tartare. Small pieces of diced salmon were piled atop cucumber and tzatziki. The dish was good, but very safe. The salmon was mild and tempered even more by the simple tzatziki. Many people might like this dish exactly as it is. For my taste, I imagine it could be improved by serving it with toasted rye bread, a dose or capers or even some citrus to give it some zest.

The striped bass provencal was my entree. It was a scrumptious dish. The fish had a gently seasoned pan fried skin that I lovingly ate. It was cooked just right and was both flaky and meaty. The fish was second-fiddle to the rest of the dish, though. The french-based, thick broth contained chunky tomatoes, roasted fingerling potatoes, capers and cipollini onions. This was my first foray into cipollini onions, and I loved them. These tiny, sweet, purple onions almost tasted pickled with their tartness, but I think it only took some roasting to produce this fantastic flavor.

Dessert gave us many tempting options, but we decided upon the chocolate coffee panna cotta. If I had a nice bitter cappuccino alongside my panna cotta I would have been happier. The mocha and chocolate mousse layers weren't as strong as I'd hoped. We mused that perhaps there was too much gelatine that softened the flavors and left my taste buds craving something with a little more depth as my last taste of Aperto.

3 out of 4 local eateries. 

Jess’ Take:

You know it takes some convincing to get me outside of the City. We’ve done it before with success, so when both Wade and Craig LeBan informed us of Aperto I thought it was time to once again make the trek…. All the way to Narberth.

We were not disappointed. It’s obvious that we weren’t the only ones who enjoyed the new spot. Our reservation was at 8pm and when we left around 10:30 the restaurant was still hopping.

Embracing our European sides, we ordered 3 courses, beginning with several small dishes. The roasted chic peas were my top pic, although the spiced Marcona almonds were a close second.

My second was the Farm Salad, made up of greens, beets, goat cheese, carrots, smoked pancetta, almonds and cider vinaigrette.  It was delicious! The salty pancetta and creamy goat cheese made the dish (naturally the two things that bring down the “health” value of the salad quite a bit).

For my entrée I decided to go with the special, which was monkfish served with braised asparagus, carrots and squash. It was served over French lentils with a red pepper coolie sauce. It was excellent! Monkfish is one of my favorites for it’s meaty texture and subtle taste. This one was just slightly crispy on the outside and very moist on the inside. A top fish dish of the year for sure.

As Wade mentioned, the dessert was good but not great. As always, we were wooed by the chocolate but it failed to hit home. I’m always amazed at how challenging it is to find a good dessert in this town – Narberth included.

3.5 out of 4 commutes to the burbs. 

Labels: ,

Thursday, January 05, 2012


Wade's Take:
We jaunted down Broad Street for the second month in a row to try Sbraga, a fairly new "modern American dining" spot.

The interior was fantastic. A large, open-space was coupled with high-ceilings and lean pillars made of a web of re-salvaged woods. The bar and kitchen prep area stretched the length of the restaurant, and pillars broke up the space to allow for more of a private dining feeling. Windows wrapped around for views of Broad Street in every direction.

Sbraga's primary offering is a four-course prix fixe menu for $45. Each area had some great choices, and here were mine.

My first course was a dose of sweetbreads. These delectable morsels were flash-fried and paired with tonnato and capers. Let's never forget how great capers can be... and tonight's dish did not disappoint. The tonnatos gave the dish a subtle sweetness. The capers added a mini bitter bite. To finish the dish were small pools of yogurt-like substances, and some arugula. It was a dish worth having.

Next up was the arctic char. The fish was cooked excellently - but the skin was unforgettable. Separated from the filet and (pan-fried?) densely crisped, it was like eating a fish potato chip - yet less greasy and only with the slight taste of fish. Dipping the crisp skin in the beet sauce dallops along its side was perfection for me. The caviar, dill and pickled onions that also came along for the ride only added to my enjoyment.

The third and final savory course was meatloaf. I picked the meatloaf with a potato puree and bacon marmalade. The meatloaf was nice, with overtones of your typical homemade meatloaf and undertones of things a bit more exotic, like sriracha and lemongrass. The potato puree was doused in a rich beef broth reduction. The bacon marmalade was subtle, which was nice. I was expecting something too rich with bacon... but Sbraga proved that bacon actually can be subtle.

Dessert was their tiramisu flavor combination of marscapone, coffee granita and chocolate. The texture of this dessert was a highlight of the meal. The crunch, creaminess of the marscapone and bittersweet chocolate and coffee flavorings hit the mark.

Sbraga, I'd love to see you again. 3 out of 4 capers.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, December 06, 2011


Jess’ Take: We choose Tashan because Sophie was joining us for dinner this time and the reviews said that it was kid friendly. As soon as we walked through the door it was obvious that the only thing kid friendly about this restaurant was the fact that it was empty of other diners (we had chosen to dine at 5:30, just in case). However, the staff was gracious about having a toddler wander around the tables and throw food on the floor.

Tashan calls itself Modern Indian and I would say that’s about right. There are plenty of traditional Indian elements in the dishes, but they all have an interesting and sometimes unexpected twist.  The menu is broken up into 5 sections, and we decided to order one dish from each section, tapas style.
We were all intrigued by the description of the Gol-Gappa, so had to order it. Described as hollow durum puffs with spicy potato, injected with tangy mint-cilantro water, they were little one-two bite taste explosions. You had to add the mint-cilantro water yourself, which arrived in a separate little bowl, and it did a good job of cooling down the spice.

Next we opted for the Baby Octopus Nicobari, a Spanish rock octopus that was braised and served with a red bell pepper sauce. This octopus was excellent, very tender and went well with the sauce, although I think they went a little crazy with the amount of sauce that came with the dish. I found myself scraping some of it off to better taste the octopus.

From the Tandoori section we went for the jumbo shrimp, which were served with fenugreek, carom seed toasted yellow pea flour and coco essence and were delicious! Served on a skewer the dry rub on the shrimp complemented the creamy sauce it lay on top of perfectly. Sadly only three came with the dish.

For the last dish we went for the Chilka-Style Black Bass, which was pan-seared, served with a curry froth and apple-fennel salad. It was good, but not the highlight of the meal. There wasn’t enough curry to necessitate the amount of apple fennel salad that was served. It was a nice, light dish though.
It was an excellent meal with so many different and interesting flavors. It’s a bit pricey and the décor is a little too Atlantic City casino-esque (as Wade put it), but certainly worth a visit. I hope to find myself back there again sometime soon, possible without a toddler in tow.
3 ½ out of 4 Indian spices.

Labels: ,

Friday, October 28, 2011


Wade's Take:
Jess told me this was our 81st restaurant as a blogging group. Holy moley! I started to crunch some numbers on what that meant for the total number of calories consumed, dollars spent, percentage of restaurants now closed and more... but then quickly realized that as interesting as that would be, it's clearly not the point of our group. We eat, we talk about it, we write about it. Good old foodie fun. And that's what we did this month, too.

Paloma was our target. It's a Mexican haute cuisine joint in the Bella Vista portion of South Philly. The space definitely used to be an office center. The interior seemed a little stark and white, but that may have had more to do with the lack of other patrons than the decor (it was a cold and rainy night).
On the semi-new trend we've seen for our past few restaurants, Paloma has a blog. I like reading these in advance of a meal. If done right, it can give you a better sense of the mantra of the restaurant, its origins and dishes. Paloma's blog is mainly promotional, but it does list some recipes and ingredient descriptions that are interesting.They love peppers and rare fruits, and add them to whatever they can on the menu (amazed there weren't exotic peppers or cactus juice even in the tap water).

So, on to the food. My appetizer was the crab ceviche. It came out as a tower of tomato and avocado slices with chunks of crabmeat as the crown. It was drizzled with olive oil and shallots, cilantro, jalapeno and lime juice. None of the ingredients with this oil came across too strongly - which was ideal. The crab combined with the creamy avocado and summer-tasting tomatoes was a perfect blending on its own.

My entree was the tilapia, baked with a delicious coating of pinole (coarse flour) and tortillas, served with a sauce of pureed pepitas (pumpkin seeds), ancho peppers, lime and garlic. The sauce poured from atop the fish into a puddle around the fish. I could have licked it all clean. The fish was prepared to perfection with a flaky exterior and a firm interior. The mildly sweet fish was the perfect match for the ambrosial ancho/pumpkin/lime sauce, which somehow managed to produce sharp and mild tastes at the same time. There was another stack on my plate to go with the fish - a pile of whipped potatoes and spinach. It was nice to see a side prepared in such an interesting way.

It was great to see traditional Mexican cuisine flavors used in such a delicate way with all of our dishes. Paloma, I'd love to revisit!

Three out of four peppers.

Jess' Take:
Mexican haute cuisine is just up my alley.

I ordered corn chowder for my entree because it seemed just right on a cold, rainy night. It was very hearty and filling. Although it was described as creamy on the menu, I didn't find that it was. The addition of baby shrimp added an interesting flavor to the oniony, peppery soup. I would have like it served a little more spicy, but luckily the chef makes a special hot pepper sauce served on the side for the whole table. One dab of that and yowza! Luckily I started off with a very small dab.

For my entree I went for the "award-winning" crab cake, which was served in a crisp phyllo dough. The presentation was a work of art. The crab cake was pretty good too, but definitly needed the carrot-curry sauce that was served along side of it.

Of course the dinner would not be complete without chocolate, so I ordered a slice of the espresso pound cake served with toasted hazelnuts and chocolate. It might have been the tallest piece of cake I've ever eaten. How it arrived to the table still standing is a mystery to me. While it looked delicious, it was pretty dry and desperately needed the chocolate-chipotle sorbet that was served along with it (which was amazing by the way)

I love the creativity that the chef at Paloma had - but if you're interested in going, go soon. With an out of the way location, larger than necessary space, and the fact that we were the only diners on a Thursday night, I'm pretty sure Paloma won't be a restaurant option for long.

3 out of 4 large pieces of cake!

Labels: ,