Philadining Home

Monday, October 29, 2007

Return to Osteria

After a rather unforgivable absence from Osteria (hey, there are lots of places to try!) we finally made it back after a couple of months. The one benefit of doing this is that the menu has changed a bit, and a few old faves have returned with the cooler weather. Most specifically, the Candele with Wild Boar Ragu is back, as rib-stickingly, heart-warmingly delicious as ever.

There are a couple of new new pizzas: we tried the Cotto, with house-cured ham, gruyere cheese and spinach, enclosed in a double crust. It didn't actually taste much like a pizza, more like a calzone, and rather French... but hey, it was very tasty, so I'm not complaining.

Got the old favorite octopus antipasto: perfect as usual.

We also sampled a pork-filled ravioli that was tissue-thin, as usual, and flavorful in its butter sauce. Roast Duck was perfectly done, with crispy skin and moist meat, a not-too-sweet grape sauce underneath. Loved it.

Honey, Spice, and Pistachio Gelato (one scoop of each - all really good, especially the spice) to finish.

The folks behind the bar offered a very warm welcome, remarking that it had been too long since we'd been in, which this meal reinforced as being true! Thew were very kind to comp us each a glass of wine, which was much appreciated.

But even before seeing the bill, we were commenting on how great the food was, and how it was one of our favorite spots in the city, of any style or price-range. I'll be back soon, try a few more of the new offerings, and to get that duck again...

I'll try to remember the camera next time!

full Osteria write-up at >>

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Taiwanese in the 'burbs

We were thrilled to find good Taiwanese food at Empress Garden in Philly's Chinatown, but we had already found a good source, in an unlikely location. Han Dynasty in Exton, PA is not an exclusively Taiwanese place, but features several specialties, and does them really well.

There's excellent Sichuan food there (the Chef was formerly at Tifco's China Bistro in its heyday, then opened Chung King Garden in Philly's Chinatown, before returning to the suburbs) but Han, one of the main players in the restaurant, is from Taiwan, and brought some of his favorites with him.

I'll post more about the other things one can get there, but for now, let's examine some of the Taiwanese dishes we like.

Taiwanese Sausage

This is dangerously addictive, perhaps the perfect beer snack. Take a slice of this sweet, salty, fatty sausage, top it with a thin slice of raw garlic, take a bite, have a swig of beer... It's really hard to stop!

Lions Head Meatballs

These are amazingly light and airy, yet hearty and porky.

Three Cup Chicken

This is a real crowd-pleaser: a little sweet, a little boozy from rice wine, with a good hit of ginger and garlic, what's not to like? I can't figure out how this hasn't taken over the world.

Porkchop Rice

Self-explanatory, simple, but delicious. The porkchop itself was juicy and a little smoky, and the whole plate adds the tartness of pickled vegetables, the tanginess of a fermented egg, and the sweet saltiness of the ground pork drizzled over the rice.

Sausage Fried Rice

Because it's always a good idea to have more of that sweet sausage insinuating itself into whatever it can...

There's lot's more traditional food to be had at Han Dynasty, much of it Sichuan and blazingly spicy. Do yourself a favor and try some of the unusual dishes, there's an opportunity for some real thrills here. If Han's there, just ask him for advice, he'll guide you through the best offerings on the menu, or perhaps something that's not even on it.

Han Dynasty
Exton Plaza
260 North Pottstown Pike
(in the plaza with the McDonalds)

Mon-thurs 11am-10pm
Fri & Sat 11am-10:30 pm
Sun 11:30am-9:30 pm

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Taiwanese in Philly's Chinatown

Although I think Philly's Chinatown has some really great food, it's still a little tricky to find authentic regional specialties, outside of the common Cantonese norm. Szechuan Tasty House and Chung King Garden offer some serious Sichuan cooking, and Four Rivers offers some Sichuan and a few Shanghainese dishes too, and there are dishes lurking on other menus, even if the restaurant as a whole doesn't declare itself as devoted to a specific regional cuisine.

We'd heard rumors of Taiwanese food, but only recently tracked it down at Empress Garden on 10th street in Chinatown (NOT Golden Empress Garden on 5th street). The restaurant doesn't look like much from the outside, and the menu is filled with the routine Chinatown clichés. But in the back of the menu, in Chinese characters, there are more traditional offerings, including classics from Taiwan.

Most likely due to both geography and politics, there are some Taiwanese specialties that other regions claim as their own, and I'm not going to worry too much about who had what first. If someone wants to serve me a Lions Head Meatball, I'm unconcerned about whether it's supposedly from Shanghai or Taiwan.

With help from a few friends, we managed to get a few Taiwanese classics from Empress Garden. I was lucky enough to have a Mandarin speaker with me, who was familiar with many of these dishes, but I suspect that even flailing away in English, we could have managed to get many of these by just explaining that we wanted traditional Taiwanese food. The staff was very friendly and offered suggestions once they realized what we were looking for.

A few of the specialties we had were:

Beef Noodle Soup, with thick, chewy noodles, large cubes of tender, braised beef, and a slightly spicy broth.

Three-Cup Chicken, a little sweet, a little boozy, tingling with garlic and ginger. Apparently the name comes from the simple recipe, based around a cup of rice wine, a cup of sesame oil, and a cup of soy sauce.

Fried Pork Chops, with a light, crispy coating, almost like a tempura, over very juicy, small chops.

Pork and Pressed Tofu, featuring thin julienne of firm tofu, bamboo shoot and pork.

Lion's Head Meatballs, large tender ground pork, in a thick gravy, over celophane noodles and onions.

We also had a few more conventional dishes that complimented all the rich, porky things we ordered! Sautéed snow pea leaves were quite good, as were some other greens I forget the name of, and some dry-fried green beans with ground pork. A scallion pancake was especially well-executed, nicely crisp and not too greasy.

I'm eager to try some more, or even to just go back for some of these same dishes. The three cup chicken and the pork chops were especially thrilling.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Pif night at Ansill

Update: Ansill has closed.  It has been replaced by Ela. 

There was much gnashing of teeth when chef David Ansill closed his tiny BYOB called Pif. It had been a reliable source of hearty, un-fussy French food, from garlicky escargots to pigs trotters to an inexplicably delicious steak.

The chef had opened a second place, Ansill at 3rd and Bainbridge streets, and chose to concentrate on that location, offering creative small-plates as well as a full bar. But responding to the almost immediate nostalgia for Pif, he's found a good compromise: Pif nights on sundays. He offers a traditional Pif menu, and even allows BYOB with no corkage.

We went recently and had:
Steamed Mussels

Escargots "au pif"

Pumpkin Ginger Soup

Mixed greens with Duck Leg Confit

Pork Chops with White Bean Ragu

Quail with Port

Sweetbreads with Truffle Coulis

Chocolate Fondant


Chestnut Mousse

So, was it just like the old days? Not quite... The food was pretty good, we'd probably be impressed with it at any other place, but it didn't quite capture the intensity and transcendence of the food at Pif. The escargots were well-prepared, but the sauce was not as vividly flavored. Porkchops had good flavor, but seemed somehow pedestrian. I had a bit of sweetbreads that was quite nice, but another diner at our table was not pleased. My quails were a little overcooked, but were actually nonetheless quite delicious. In a nice twist at the end, all the desserts were excellent.

So, not bad but the dinner didn't quite capture that Pif magic. That said, we'll try again, and we'll encourage others to, it was close...

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Cochon - Queen Village Bistro

We've dropped-by Cochon twice, and so far, are very excited about this new BYOB at the corner of Passyunk and Christian in Queen Village. We were there opening night, and a again a few days later, so we're going to withhold final judgment, but so far, it's lookign really good as a place for homey, hearty, casual French-style food.

Here are a few photos from the second night:

<Seared Scallops with Frisée, Lardons, Roasted Peppers, Fingerlings, Lemon-Thyme Vinaigrette.

<Haricots Verts Salad w toasted Almonds, Shallots, Tomato, Mustard-Vinaigrette

<Mussels w Tomato-Leek Saffron Broth, Grilled Baguette

<Escargots w Shitake Mushrooms, Tomato Concassé, Pernod Garic Butter Sauce

<Onion Soup

<Crispy Chicken Livers w Balsamic Vinegar, Candied Walnuts, Raisins

Duck Breast w White Bean Ragoût, Hericots Verts

Steak Frites w Red Wine Sauce and Aoli.

Japanese Black Bass over Sweet Pea Risotto, Saffron Buerre Blanc

Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder over Lentils du Puy, Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Poached Egg

Braised Lamb Shank with Ritabaga, Fingerlings, Crimini Mushrooms

Grilled Pork Chop w Celery Root - Fennel Hash, Juniper Oil

Crême Brulée

We're looking forward to heading back to try some specials, and a tasting menu that has been mentioned for sometime in the future. Our favorite dishes so far are the Seared Scallops, the Sea Bass, the Pork Shoulder and the Lamb Shank, but everything has been good. More updates soon, I hope!

Starting fresh, Fall 2007

For the last couple of years, I've been concentrating on posting on, enjoying the greater energy and interaction of a group forum. But people have complained to me that opinions of specific restaurants are too hard to find, easily lost among the chatter, and that the missed the focused collection of reviews here.

So, between this blog for quick posts and pix, and the main site for more in-depth summaries, I'm going to try to post everything on my own sites as well as eG.

Thanks for visiting, comments are welcome!