Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The City of Brotherly Love - Part Two

(Originally posted on MySpace on Sunday, September 28, 2008)

Once again, this damned thing is cuttig my blog off at the end, so I'm trying it in two parts.

FOOD: There isn't much to say about food in New Jersey. The Six Flags Park had a small version of New York's Carnegie Deli and we enjoyed a huge Woody Allen sandwich (pastrami and corned beef) there. It was much better than anything you can find at Magic Mountain. On Friday, before we went into the park, we found a small restaurant in Jackson, New Jersey, called the Java Moon Grill, which was actually very good. I had a Blue Cheese Iceberg Wedge Salad and a Chicken Pot Pie, full of chicken and vegetables in a puff pastry and mashed potato crust that I enjoyed quite a bit.

The day we arrived in Philly, we spent the morning driving around the New Jersey coast, which was beautiful and relaxing. There, we found a diner called the Circus Drive In ( that was a lovely thing. It was established in 1954 as a car hop and is pretty much still the same to this day. We enjoyed delicious soft-shelled crab sandwiches and lobster rolls there.

That evening, we arrived in Philly and had dinner at Morimoto (, a beautiful high-scale restaurant opened by the Japanese Iron Chef of the same name. The room itself was a curving wonder, with sifting colored lights, making the dinners feel like they were eating under the ocean. We decided to do the third tier chef's tasting with wine pairing. It was expensive, but well worth it just to taste as much of Morimoto's food as we could. (The fourth tier tasting is openly priced and includes real Japanese Kobe beef and strange seafood, including blowfish in season. We would have loved to do it, but were afraid of just how expensive it could get.) The first four courses were phenomenal.

1) Toro Tartare with Crispy Shallots, Fresh Wasabi and Osetra Caviar and Yamamomo (Wild Japanese Mountain Peach)

2) Kumamoto Oysters served with Japanese Orange Salsa, Citrus Cilantro Ceviche and Thai Fish Sauce with Jalapeno

3) Diver Scallop Carpaccio seared with Hot Olive and Sesame Oils seasoned with Yuzu Citrus Soy and finished with Shiso, Ginger, Mitsuba and Chives, and Salt Cured Mullet Roe

4) Kampachi Sashimi Salad served over mixed greens dressed with Soy, Onion and Chive Oil with a Balsamic Reduction and Shaved Bonito.

These four courses were unlike anything I had ever had before. The flavors were new and exciting. We were in heaven and thinking we were having the best meal of our lives.

After an intermezzo of Apple/Mint Soda to clear the palate, there were three more main courses and a dessert. These were all delicious, but the flavors were nothing new and in that respect, I was a bit disappointed. Still, I shouldn't complain too much as the quality, freshness and tastes were all excellent.

5) Lobster Epice: 8 Spice Lobster served with Yuzu Citrus Crème Fraiche

6) Kobe Beef: Lightly seared American Kobe with Grilled Royal Trumpet Mushrooms, Microgreen Salad and Basil Oil with a Soy Reduction

7) Chef's Choice of Sushi: Included Chu-Toro, Golden Big-Eyed Spanish Snapper, Two types of Jackfish and Orange Clam

8) Apple Frangipane Torte with Red Miso and Crème Fraiche

The wine pairings couldn't have been more perfect. The choices ran from light whites to complex reds to Sake. It was one of the best wine pairings I've ever experienced. All-in-all, it was a beautiful experience, although not quite reaching the "best meal ever" status.

The other dinner we had was at Amada ( Chef Jose Garces was also on Iron Chef, where he beat Iron Chef Bobby Flay in the Melon battle that also included at least one frozen element in each dish. The restaurant specializes in new interpretations of Spanish tapas. Again, we did the chef's tasting paired with wine. Since the restaurant specializes in small plates, this meal was broken down into three courses of three dishes each.

First course:

A) Ensalda de Jamon – Serrano Ham and Fig Salad with Cabrales Cheese and Spiced Almonds

B) Cheese Mixto – Cadi Urgelia with Chocolate Hazelnut Puree, Aged Manchego with Truffled Lavender Honey, Garrotxa with Garlic Dolce de Leche

C) Oyster with Cava Granita and Grapefruit Espuma

Second course:

A) Pulpo a la Gallega – Spanish Octopus and Potatoes

B) Alcachofas y Setas – Spanish Flatbread with Artichoke, Wild Mushrooms, Black Truffles and Manchego

C) Mollejas con Guisantes – Crispy Sweetbreads with Fava Beans, English Peas, Chestnut Pappardelle and Jamon Iberico

Third course:

A) Lamb Chops

B) Entrecote a la Catalana – Prime Sirloin with Catalan Spinach, Membrillo and Goat Cheese

C) Salmon con Alcachofas – Alaskan King Salmon with Crispy Baby Artichokes and Orange Saffron Emission

D) There were also two sides: Seasonal Wild Mushrooms and Esparragos con Trufas, which was Grilled Asparagus with Poached Egg, Mahoin Crisp and Truffles.

Everything was amazing and several of the dishes brought flavorful surprises, especially the sweetbreads dish. The three wines paired with the courses were all Spanish and lovely. For dessert we had a Manchego Mousse with Pistachio Shortbread and Apple Cider Sorbet, which was a deliciously light, cloudlike cheese cake. It was a wonderful meal. The only disappointment was all the items on the menu we didn't get to try.

Chef Garces also recently opened a Mexican restaurant on the other side of town called Destrito ( Our only regret was not having time to do dinner there as the menu looked great. But we did have lunch and although it was a simpler affair, it was still wonderful and delicious.

We had several small plates:

1) Chilango Chop Salad – Baby Arugula, Watercress, Cherry Tomato, Mandarin Oranges, Candied Pecans and Fried Tortilla Strips

2) Sopa de Cangrejo – Coconut Crab Soup, Chicken and Habanera

3) Hamachi "Estilo Og" Tacos – Fried Yellowtail with Chipotle Remoulade, Avocado, Red Cabbage and Lime

4) Los Hongos Huarache – Forest Mushrooms, Hauitlacoche, Queso Mixto, Black truffle and Corn Shoot

5) Queso Fundido – Duck Barbacoa, Poblano Raja, Tres Quesos

6) Tres Leches – 3 Milk Cake with Meringue and Tropical Fruit

The salad was delicious, although a bit busy. The soup was a great Mexican twist on the Thai classic. Huarache is like a Mexican pizza on a crispy tortilla and the mix of mushrooms and hauitlacoche (black corn fungus) made it an earthy delight. The addition of barbecued duck to the queso instead of the usual chorizo was inspired and absolutely amazing. The fish tacos were a mix of great flavors. It was a great little meal and I hope we can go back some day for dinner.

For our last lunch there on our last day, we decided to hit the three top Cheese Steak places in town, Pat's (, Geno's (, and Jim's ( We split a cheese steak sandwich (with provolone) at each of them. While Pat's supposedly invented the sandwich, they were our least favorite of the three. I liked Geno's the best and Skip liked Jim's the best. But it was just by a small margin. All three were delicious and I'm glad to say I have now had a real Philly Cheese Steak.

And that was pretty much our trip. Food and fun is all a trip needs to be. I am now a fan of Philadelphia and look forward to returning for a longer time period sometime in the future. It's a beautiful, friendly city and does America proud.

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