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Monday, December 03, 2007

Anthony Bourdain in Philly

I don't think I was quite ready for the size of the turn-out to see Anthony Bourdain speak at the Free Library on Saturday, December 1. But apparently the Library was, so they had additional seating set-up upstairs with a video feed from the auditorium downstairs. We were lucky enough to get into the main auditorium, but near the back, despite getting there almost an hour early.

Bourdain was quite entertaining, and had some interesting things to say. The shots at how crass and vapid the Food Network has become were to be expected, as was the inevitable bashing of Rachel Ray and Paula Deen, and despite them being pretty easy targets, the insults were fairly amusing...

Before his arrival, the City Paper featured an interview that included his admission that he just doesn't know much about the Philly food scene, thinking it was all Steven Starr and Georges Perrier, and wasn't sure there was much of interest.

The City Paper followed up with their list of must-visit spots which isn't bad, but some friends and I had already been thinking the same thing, and came up with a list of our own:

  • Osteria for a pizza and some pasta.
  • Hardena for a plate of whatever Ena recommends.
  • John's Roast Pork (and/or DiNic's) for the real Philly sandwich.
  • Taquitos de Puebla for the spit-roasted al Pastor tacos
  • Sarcone's for the quintissential hoagie.
  • StudioKitchen - we're thinking we might be able to talk Shola into re-activating SK for a Bourdain dinner!
  • Carman's Country Kitchen, just because we want to see what happens when you put Anthony and Carmen together.

There are certainly more places that offer good food that he might like, but we were thinking that these places have a good chance of giving him something that's not quite like he can get all the time. Sure, he's had Indonesian food in Indonesia, and tacos in Mexico, and Pizza in Naples, etc, but these are some distinctive places that offer foods that are not too easy to find in most American cities, and most importantly, are really good, in a solid straightforward way.

What did we miss?

Ong's in Chinatown

UPDATE: Ong's closed in January 2009 -Although we don't have any replacement for the Chiu-Chow style of food that they served, its replacement, Sakura Mandarin, is a good restaurant, serving specialties from Shanghai, including Xiao Long Bao, so it's not a total loss..

We were reminded of this restaurant by a recent article in the Inquirer by Rick Nichols. Located on the corner of 11th and Race, we always forget about it, except when driving into Chinatown, thinking "oh, right, let's check that place out!" then forgetting about it again...

We finally got around to it on saturday, and Im sure we'll be heading back. According to the Nichols piece, they specialize in "Chou-Jou" style cuisine, often referred to as "Chiu-Chow." It's a specific regional style of Cantonese, but the menu is also heavy with Vietnamese offerings. Apparently the cook's family is ethnically Chinese, but had emigrated to Vietnam, so both styles are represented.

We started with a Beef Satay soup. The diner can choose from a variety of noodles in the soups, we went with the rice noodles that were suggested. The broth was fresh and clean, and a little spicy, but we were expecting a little more intensity. The beef was impossibly tender and flavorful, despite being in slices much thicker than one might see in a Pho. And the noodles were terrific, so the whole thing added up to a very enjoyable soup, just right on a chilly day.

From the Vietnamese side, we got Fried Spring Rolls, which had a hearty pork filling, and perfectly crispy wrappers. We also got a dish of Pork with Caramel and Black Pepper. They did a great job with this Vietnamese classic: the pork was tender, pleasingly still a little bit fatty, and the sauce had a sweet edge, but was not tooth-rottingly sugary, offset by the subtle heat of the black pepper.

In the interest of being at least passingly healthy, we also got some Chinese Broccoli with garlic. This was very nicely done, and served as a great compliment to our other dishes, offering some crunch and bitterness alongside the sweetness and spice.

The place itself is much fancier than I had perceived from the outside. The decor, furniture and dishes are a step-up from the average Chinatown place, as are the prices, although they're not bad at all. But this is not a cheap, basic, $5 noodle soup joint. Service was quite good.

I'm looking forward to going back and trying to explore more of the Chou-Jou offerings, if only because it's not all that common, although the Vietnamese stuff is quite tempting too!

1038 Race St.
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