Vetri in Philadelphia

Vetri
1312 Spruce Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107

ambiance

I was excited over the moon to be able to eat here tonight. For the four years I lived in Philly, I had never been able to get a reservation before 9 PM at Vetri and so I’ve never eaten here before. I called 3 months in advance and out of the 3 Saturdays I was going to be in Philadelphia, only one of them had an availability before 10 PM. This is definitely the most exclusive restaurant in Philadelphia with seats only for 36 patrons. When I made the reservation, the hostess said that Friday and Saturday is Grand Chef Tasting menu only which means Chef Vetri will give you a hand-painted menu from which you can say what you love or something you don’t eat and then from there, he will decided what to send to your table.

ambiance

We were the first ones there and so we got a nice cozy table in the corner. I loved the decor inside, it was peacefully rustic. As soon as we sat down, the hostess asked us if we would like to start with some complimentary Prosecco and hor d’ouerves while we looked over the menu. I think that is  a genius idea, bring out some nibbles to munch on while we read over the menu.

Prosecco

We started off with a half bottle of Classico Chianti. I don’t know why in my head I imagined them bringing out a full bottle of wine and pouring only half. Made sense that they brought out this cute little bottle. I think we got about 5 glasses out of it which was the perfect amount for dinner for two.

classico chianti

Our first course which was appetizers was a huge plate with 5 little “appe-teasers” on them. Each about the size of 1/4 of my palm. This is definitely a quality over quantity type of place which was fine by me. Joe gave me a bite of his squid dish which was pretty good (that’s a huge compliment from a non-seafood person).

foie gras over brioche

 

vegetable torta

 

salami

salami

baby carrot medley

squid galette

veal tartare w parmesan

quail egg over kale

tuna and swordfish carpaccio

radicchio over kale

veal tongue

Then our second course came out which was the duck and raddichio crepe for Joe and the sweet onion crepe for me. Being a good couple, we each ate half and then traded plates (almost every table there was doing this). The sweet onion crepe was by far my favorite, combining my three favorite flavors in the world: cheese, truffle and caramelized onions. With my first bite, it was like a church choir group was singing “Hallelujah” on my tongue!

duck crepe

sweet onion crepe

Our third course we each got a serving of the spinach gnocchi with ricotta salata. Joe said it was too rich for him but I was in love with it and gladly finished his. I am a huge fan gnocchi and therefore am pretty critical of it. The spinach gnocchi was amazing! So soft, it just melts in your mouth, and perfectly complimented by the brown butter. I cut one in half easily with my fork so that I could admire the grounded spinach by candle-light but Joe told me to hurry up and finish so he could see what would come out next.

spinach gnocchi

Our fourth course, we each received a serving of mint pappardelle with lamb ragu. The infused mint gave it a very interesting flavor, making the dish more complex on the palate. The lamb was so tender that the only way I could pick it up was if I scooped it up with my fork. We both loved it! You could really appreciate the texture cuz it was hand-made pasta.

mint pappardelle

Our next course, Joe was brought the whole roasted baby goat and I received the Creekstone aged ribeye with bean medley. The ribeye was medium-rare and practically melting in your mouth. But the clear winner of the two was the roasted baby goat (I had some serious reservations about this dish but I got over it with my first crispy bite).

whole roast baby goat

 

aged rib

I was amazed by how spot on Chef  Vetri’s selections for our table were, when I looked at the table next to us I noticed that their dishes were entirely different from ours. I had 2 thoughts come to my head: 1. thank God he sent the vegetarian main entrees to the other table and 2. is our table bugged? i felt underneath the table and didn’t feel any wires and then figured that with these tasting menu prices, he could probably afford wireless microphones.

goat cheese

Next we were asked if we would like to go straight into the dessert portion of the evening or would like a cheese platter. Without skipping a beat, I said cheese! We had 3 different types of cheeses, but I’ll only show my favorite, the Spanish goat cheese which had a strong flavor (my motto for cheese: the stinkier, the better).  They served it with toasted bread and this house-made honey and orange marmalade which Joe was using the bread to dunk and then scrub the plate clean with.  It was wonderfully sweet but not too sweet.

orange marmalade

Then we were brought our first dessert, a milk gelato with hot espresso poured over it at the table. This was perfect because I was considering ordering coffee with my dessert. It was so delicious! The sweetness of the gelato complimented the bitter espresso flavor, making it similar to coffee ice cream (it was still cold as we ate it). This was another example of when I thought our table might be tapped, because it was only a few seconds before when I told Joe I’ll probably need to  get some coffee after this meal and what is the first dessert that the waittress brings to our table? espresso!

milk gelato

Our second dessert, Joe was brought the lemon poppy seed cake with beet sorbet (unfortunately, neither of us were a fan of the strong poppy seed flavor), and I was brought a chocolate polenta souffle served with vanilla bean ice cream (even though this was super rich, we couldn’t get enough!) We were fighting over the last morsels of the chocolate-y goodness on my plate.

lemon poppy seed cake

 

chocolate polenta cake

 

vanilla bean cake

At this point we were getting extremely full and I think both of our jaws dropped when we saw the waittress bring out another plate(the waiters rotate all night so that you get a different person serving you each course).  This plate showcased a bunch of different desserts: marshmallow covered in powder sugar, tiramisu, peanut butter fudge, peanut brittle and lemon gumdrops. All of which, of course, were delicious.

dessert!

Being a good food blogger, I tried to write down everything we ate as they came out onto my iphone. Since I had never dined here before I didn’t realize that at the end of the night you get a goodie bag with a copy of the hand painted menu which made writing this blog entry so much easier. I love the bag! I’ll treasure it forever!

my goody bag

Now i’ve had some expensive meals in my life, (I’ve eaten at the 3 most expensive restaurants in Boston), but none of them compared to the $$/person for this meal. The tip alone for this meal cost more than any meal I’ve had at some of the more expensive restaurants in New Orleans. This was definitely a once in a life time meal that I’ll never forget. Best Italian restaurant in America, how could I not go? This chef is renown for his creativity and skill and rightly so, this had to be one of the best, if not THE best meal I’ve had in my life.

Vetri on Urbanspoon


Maps for Diners, DriveIns and Dives, Man v. Food and more

RECIPE: Truffle Mac and Cheese

Truffle Mac and Cheese, courtesy of Ina Garden

truffle mac and cheese

I’ve recently become obsessed with watching Ina Garden (aka Barefoot Contessa) on Hulu. I tried to watch Giada, but she was just way too perky for me (what’s up with her ginormous head?!?) Anywho, Ina is a bit more down to earth and laid back which I like. Also her food is classier and more gourmet whereas Giada’s food is California fun. Also, Ina Garden used to work for the White House (as a nuclear energy consultant) before leaving to follow her true passions and starting a specialty food store based off of Julia Child recipes!
One main tiff that I have with Ina though, and a lot of other food bloggers have also noticed this, is that she’s not that relatable though to her main audience. Not all of us have humongous kitchens that a family of 6 could live in, in the East Hamptons, with 2 refrigerators (not including freezers, those are separate), 2 dish washing machines, and 6 stove top oven! I was doing fine with this recipe, boiling 1 lb of pasta (my local grocery store didn’t have her fancy cavatappi so I had to use regular old elbow macaroni), chopping up the shiitake and cremini mushrooms. One of the first ingredients is truffle butter, and none of the local stores (including Whole Foods) in New Orleans carry this specialty item, the only online company I found was D’artagnan, and it would have cost $25 for the butter and $28 for shipping. I ended up using regular butter and regular truffle oil (which I had ordered online months ago and luckily kept in my pantry).  Once I had melted the butter and truffle oil, I added in the chopped up mushrooms and then add some cream sherry (whatever you do, don’t drink this with dinner. It is super sweet and 17% alcohol content. Definitely the wrong choice for dinner).  Once the pasta and mushrooms are done, set them aside.
Then she says to use a food grinder for the 12 ox of Gruyere cheese and 8 ox of extra sharp cheddar. I don’t  have one, so I thought ok, my mandolin slicer will suffice. WRONG! the cheeses crumbled under the pressure and so I spent about half an hour dicing up all the blocks of cheeses. And then she says to pulse fresh white bread until they’re minced. Also difficult to do without a food grinder……..I had to hunch over with a knife and cutting board and manually mince my bread into breadcrumbs. As you can probably tell from my tone, I was not pleased while making this and so there are no pictures of the process.  It’s cooking experiences like these that make me wish that my dream kitchen will become a reality sooner rather than later. At this point my mushrooms and pasta were cold and I had to reheat everything in a large bowl, mixing the cheeses with the mushrooms and pasta and whisked milk (which became super frothy. I recommend throwing this in a sink full of water to make washing later easier). Then set it in the oven for 35-45 minutes to allow the cheeses to melt and the bread crumbs to become golden brown.

delicious!

The truffle macaroni and cheese was delicious. The crispiness of the bread crumbs perfectly complemently the pasta texture (not too mushy!). I especially loved how the truffle oil accentuated each of the cheese’s natural flavors. It was amazing! I shared this dish with a few friends who also gave it rave reviews! I definitely recommend this

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/mac-and-cheese-recipe/index.html

Review from a fellow diner who had the pleasure of dining some of this terrific dish: “Just needed to send you a quick note to say how AMAZING your mac and cheese was… super decadent, loved the truffle oil, the cheese was great, and I also really liked the crunchy top to break up the texture. Thank you sooo much!!!”

Mona's cafe in New Orleans, LA

Mona’s Cafe
4126 Magazine St.
New Orleans, LA

This location is one of four sites (which probably means it must be pretty good right?) Mona’s is known to be THE place for cheap and fast Middle Eastern food.

Mona's Cafe on Magazine St.

My friends’ ordered quite a few dishes starting with the Mona’s special appetizer for $14.95 (for two) which includes: hummus, baba ganuj, grape leaves, tabouli, falafel, kibby and lebna.

hummus

The hummus dip is chickpeas puree with Tahini (sesame seed paste) and lemon. It was your usual hummus dip.

Lebna

The lebna is a thick yogurt mixed with mint, sumac and olive oil. This was by far my favorite of the 3 dips that came with this appetizer sampler.

Baba ganuj

The baba ganuj is smashed eggplant dip with Tahini paste, lemon and mint. The eggplant flavor was a bit bitter.

Tabouli, Stuffed grape leaves, 2 falafels and 1 kibby.

Tabouli is a salad made of bulgar (wheat), chopped parsley and mint, tomato, onion, seasoned with lemon juice and olive oil.  Stuffed grape leaves containing a mix of meat and veggies. Falafels is fried ground chick pea with spices, onion, and parsley. Kibby is made with cracked wheat, ground beef crust and stuffed with spiced ground lamb, onions and pine nuts.

Safeiha $2.99

My friends also ordered 2 dishes in addition to the appetizer sampler. The safeiha is a mini pizza with ground lamb and beef, tomato, parsley, onion and spices baked on a pita bread.

Spinach pie $2.59

The spinach pie is a stuffed spinach triangle with onion and sumac spice.

The gyro plate $10.99

The gyro plate is ground lamb and beef with tahini sauce. I compared it to the gyro plate I had at Lebanon’s and I liked this one better. The meat was more tender and flavored better compared to Lebanon’s version (although I think the dips and sauces are much better at Lebanon’s). I noticed that they had brought out my food without tzatziki sauce which is one of my favorites! I asked the waittress to bring out a little bit for me and she did bring it out in one of those tiny sampler dishes. I was surprised that they had charged me an extra $1 for this tiny little sample.

Some things I didn’t like: I was confused when I was looking at my bill for $11 gyro + $1 sauce and it somehow came out to more than $14…. I was thinking maybe they charged me for my ice water? Because even with 10% sales tax, that’s not even $14… And also, while we were eating the waittresses were hanging out on the other side of this wall, so every time we wanted something, we had to get up and walk around the restaurant to get someone’s attn.

Mona's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Bistro Daisy in New Orleans

Bistro Daisy
5831 Magazine St.
New Orleans, LA

Bistro Daisy was opened by husband and wife team Anton and Diane Schulte and named after their daughter, Daisy.  The restaurant features fresh, seasonal and locals foods that are prepared in American bistro style.

Bistro Daisy

Started the night off with some wine.

Education Guess red wine

The bread rolls came out warm and crispy. Just what you crave on a cool winter evening.

My friend started with the apple appetizer, Gala apples julienned with Belgian endive and Amish bleu tossed with toasted walnuts in a white wine vinagrette. The combination of the apple and blue cheese was amazing!

sliced apple appetizer

Another friend had the soup of the day, cauliflower soup with parmesan (great for vegetarians out there!). This was by far my favorite dish of the night.

soup of the day

I had Gulf oysters poached in an Herbsaint and fennel cream with bacon, spinach, tornbread croutons and chives.

Gulf oysters

My vegetarian friend had the hand made ravioli of Louisiana crawfish and mascarpone with leeks served with oven dried tomato in a herb cream.

handmade ravioli

My other friend had the pan roasted duck breast over spinach, almond, garlic and confit couscous with brandy, orange and foie gras demi. I was surprised by how sweet the duck breast was.

duck breast

I had the pan roasted chicken with porcini mushroom, parmesan and roasted shallot risotto with a thyme reduction. This was a unique preparation but chicken, I hadn’t real had anything like this before. I really enjoyed the parmesan and shallot risotto.

Roasted chicken

My friend ordered an espresso which came out with a sugar cube. Very classy.

espresso

She also ordered the baked Alaska dessert, a dessert made of ice cream placed in a pie dish lined with some sort of cake and topped with meringue and then cooked in a hot oven until the meringue is solid.

baked alaska

My other friend had the vanilla bean creme brulee.

creme brulee

Food was pretty good but the service was not. We had asked for an extra basket of bread which seemed to take forever to come out. And when we finished each course, I was always surprised at how long our empty plates lingered on the table before catching the eye of the waittress who would hurry over but was careful enough not to apologize. The only thing she was quick about was bringing our check. I did like the candle-lit ambiance and it wasn’t terribly crowded or noisy while we enjoyed our supper.

Bistro Daisy on Urbanspoon

East Ocean City in Boston, MA

beef with vegetable over flat noodle

East Ocean City
27 Beach St.
Boston, MA

This is a seafood staple in Chinatown. For $10 you get a ton of clams cooked in a flavorful black bean sauce. This dish came out shortly after we had placed our order. I was really surprised given how packed this restaurant was. When we walked in, the hostess asked us if we had made a reservation (we were thinking, who makes a reservation for a chinese restaurant in Chinatown!?!)

clams in black bean sauce

The soft shell crab is fried in a spicy salt. This was probably my favorite dish of the night, but the portion was quite small. It was really delicious though.

spice salt soft shell crabs

I always try to get beef chow fun at Chinese restaurants and this one was pretty standard for a beef chow fun. Nothing spectacular but not disgusting either.

beef chow fun

When we ordered the fried sea scallops, I was surprised to see that it was covered in batter and deep fried. This was probably the easiest, least-messy dish to eat for the night. Unfortunately, I mainly tasted the batter and not the scallops.

fried scallops

The lobster in ginger and scallion was pretty good. Very good portions. After we had placed our order, I saw a waiter walk over to the live lobster tank and pull out two and place them on a tray and walk to the kitchen. And this was probably the last dish to arrive at our table, probably because it was cooked fresh.

lobster in ginger and scallion sauce

proof that they served 2 lobsters

 

beef with vegetable over flat noodle

 

sizzling steak

 

bok choy with garlic

 

salt and spicy dunginess crab

East Ocean City on Urbanspoon

Mila in New Orleans

Mila
817 Commons St.
New Orleans, LA

front outside

Mila is located just outside the French Quarter. We were probably the youngest people in the restaurant by at least 20 years.

interior

I loved the decor here. Very hip and trendy. We were super-under-dressed but didn’t think anyone would notice/care. But sitting in this gorgeous restaurant, we had to judge ourselves. haha.

cool wall

After  a while (I was surprised by the wait), we were brought complimentary bread rolls and cornbread. I loved the scallion flavor in the cornbread. We were the first people in the restaurant but an elderly couple sitting nearby got their appetizers and entrees way before we did. Senior special? Who knows.

complimentary cornbread

The sauces were interesting. The butter had shaved parmesan cheese on top while the other sauce was a bit tangy (reminiscient of hummus). I particularly liked the butter with parmesan cheese and cornbread combo myself.

2 types of spread

My friend had the iced tea. We came to Mila to treat ourselves to the 3-course-fixed menu for $20. What ended up happening was only one of us ordered the 3 course menu (greens and grouper fish and rice pudding). I knew that the fixed menu would be limited but you only get 2 choices, either fish or veal cheeks……..

iced tea

mixed greens

Another friend had the grilled shrimp appetizer and seared yellowfin tuna. The grilled shrimp was marinated in a Cajun spice. It was smoky and I loved the spicy aftertaste.

grilled shrimp appetizer

The grouper fish was wonderfully prepared. The fish flavor was subtle and very well cooked. I’m not a huge fan of fish but I did like this dish. The friend who ordered this dish loved the couscous and devoured it without a hesitation.

Grouper Fish

The seared yellowfin tuna was amazing! This was by far the winner of the meal! I’m usually reluctant about seared tuna because the composition feels weird on my tongue but this dish was out of this world! By far one of the best seared tunas I’ve ever had.

seared yellowfin tuna $18

I  ordered the butter-poached chicken because I had read really great reviews about it and the waiter said that this was the most popular dish. I was quite disappointed. It tasted like turkey. Just like turkey…. sigh $18 is expensive for turkey.  I really liked the sauce though with steamed cabbage and buttered potatoes.  The sauce reminded me of Asian sweet and sour sauce.

Butter-poached chicken $18

I had to run out before the dessert because my meter ran out during lunch. My friends stayed and enjoyed the rice pudding and they said it was quite delicious. The waiters were ok, I wouldn’t say the best I’ve had. When we asked for the check, it seemed to take a while for it to come out.

rice pudding

MiLa Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Bambu in New Orleans

Bambu
8 Canal St.
New Orleans

In order to get in to this restaurant, you have to walk thru the casino area of Harrah’s (sorry for people who don’t like cigarette smoke but it’s a short walk). And don’t forget your ID, they’re very strict about under-21 people not being allowed to enter.

Harrah's

I like that this place is spelled “Bambu” and not “Bamboo.” I think it is to represent that this restaurant is a departure from your typical Asian restaurant.

Bambu

The ambiance was quite interesting. Reminds me of a tropical paradise. Maybe that’s the point. Forget about your gambling problems and come enjoy a reasonably priced lunch special in paradise!

Ambiance

Actually though, i think the items on the lunch menu were on the only things reasonably priced. The sushi, heck no!  I definitely wouldn’t have come here if it weren’t for my restaurant.com coupon. Brought down my lunch to $12 (including tax and tip!)

First we had the famous honey wasabi shrimp. The chef is well known for his restaurant in Atlanta which received national praise from the Zagat. And the Zagat reviewed this dish as one of his best ever. So of course I had to try it and of course I fell in love. Especially with the candied pecans (my favorite!) Could’ve used some more shrimps but oh well. It was still super delicious and by far the winner of the meal.

Honey Wasabi Shrimp $12.95

This next dish was probably a huge mistake to order. We asked for another popular dish and the waiter suggested General Tso chicken (shame on you! The waiter was Asian too! You never should suggest such an americanized dish to Asians). Anyways, this was your typical general tso sauce.

General Tso Chicken $9.95

This sushi roll was amazing! But 8 pieces for $20 is a bit expensive for me.

New Orleans Roll $20

The New Orleans roll had spicy crawfish, crunchy, and avocado on inside w/ half spicy tuna, half snow crab, and down the middle a line of wasabi tobikko w/ eel and avocado sauce. This roll was so amazing and delicious!

New Orleans roll not the Nola roll (that's a different roll)

Bambu at Harrah's Casino on Urbanspoon

Kickass Cupcake Boutique in Boston, MA

Kickass cupcake boutique
378 Highland Ave.
Somerville, MA

This cupcake boutique is a hidden gem in Davis Square. It’s actually a bit of a walk from the center of the square, so unless you’re looking for this place you won’t really come across it.

store front sign

I had asked around for some great cupcake and heard about this place. As soon as I walked in, my eyes tried to take it all in. There were so many flavors and everything just looked so delicious.

these looked so good as I walked in

With all the choices, I asked the lady behind the cashier what are the popular ones. She said the mojito cupcake and super chocolate but I wasn’t too sure about that so I looked around and since it wasn’t crowded, I got to take my time.

lots of choices

famous Mojito cupcake

I went with the following 3:
The Berry Crumbley cupcake with berries and almond crumble baked into a vanilla cupcake topped with a kiss of mascarpone and house made creme fraiche. This home made cream was sooooooooooo good.

Berry Crumbly

Super chocolate cupcake with chocolate brownie topped with bittersweet chocolate ganache and covered with chocolate shaving. This cupcake was AMAZING! I loved that the cupcakes were moist but not rich (they were all very light).

Super chocolate cupcake

The Cinnamon Pecan Sticky cupcake is spiced up with gooey caramel pecan topping. This was so delicious. Reminded me of a nice coffee roll.

Cinnamon Chai Pecan Sticky cupcake

Kickass Cupcakes on Urbanspoon

Mike's Pastry in Boston, MA

Mike’s Pastry
300 Hanover St.
Boston, MA

This is a very well known neighborhood pastry shop in Little Italy ever since the Clintons dined here and put this place on the map! (like what the Kennedys did with Cape Cod). When I was finally able to find parking in the North End (what seemed to take forever because the streets are so packed and narrow), I saw this line going out the door and down the street! No joke! I took a picture to prove it!

line out the door

And once you get inside, it’s not just a single file line, it’s a mob! Everyone pushes to the front because they have about 6-7 girls working the front, running around to get everyone’s orders.

cannolis are their specialty

Since this place is known for their cannolis, I went with two kinds:

Box of joy

the chocolate chip filled with chocolate mousse. it was a pretty nice change from the traditional cannoli that I’m so used to.

chocolate chip cannoli

The traditional cannoli is filled with ricotta cheese cream. The shells are baked early in the morning and then as customers order them, they are filled with whatever filling you ask for (so as to insure that you will receive a fresh cannoli versus a soggy one). Then you have the option of getting powdered sugar (which is a must!). So good! And very filling!

ricotta cream cannoli

Mike's Pastry on Urbanspoon