Sunday, January 30, 2011
When you ask most people not native to the area where to get a good cheesesteak in Philly, two iconic names usually pop up. Pat's and Geno's. As weird as this sounds, I've lived in Philly for about six months now, and up until last week, I had never been to either. Part of that you can chalk up to laziness (okay... more like 90%), but the remainder is because a lot of people have told me that both are somewhat disappointing. All hype and no substance... kind of meh. Anyway, the original plan was to bring a couple of my friends to Paesano's, home of massive sandwiches, but when we got there, we found that their 9th street location was closed for renovations... fail. Since it was Sunday and nothing else was open, I figured we could do worse than a couple of mediocre cheesesteaks. Besides, my friends are from NYC... what do they know about cheesesteaks anyway?
There it is. Pat's King of Steaks... apparently owned by parent company Pepsi. Really nothing special, just your average triangular wedge shaped steak sandwich shop with only external seating available.
Ah yes. The sign for noobs. I've heard horror stories about the guys there being assholes to people who fuck up the ordering process. Have no fear. I'm pretty sure my Korean friend didn't follow directions, and they didn't make him go to the back of the line. Also, it was 20 degrees outside, so there was virtually no line. Yes, my anecdotal evidence is all but worthless. Moving on.
$8.50 later and there it was. Ordered wit whiz of course, the way it should be. First impression... it's yellow. It's really yellow. Disturbingly so. I like my food to be colorful like any other food blogger, but I'm not sure I like eating radioactive cheese. Upside, I gain superhuman digestive powers. Downside, I get stomach cancer. I think the latter is more likely. Still, it was windy out (have I mentioned that it was 20 degrees?) so shoving hot beef and liquid cheese in my mouth seemed like a fantastic idea to stay warm.
Oh wait! That's not how it works. More pictures first. Sorry other people who went with me whose hands were probably freezing. Documenting the internals of Pat's cheesesteak is more important than the wellbeing of your hands. Now... after eating the sandwich and reflecting on the meal for several hours, here are some thoughts I wish to share. Pat's doesn't cut up their steak very well. This might be a product of laziness, or it might be a product of how busy they are, but honestly... it works out alright. At the very least, you know it's real meat as opposed to that frozen stuff some places serve. The meat is appropriately tender and juicy, but still has the occasional lump of fat (in the good way). These pockets of fat are like textural treasures, making the beef less boring to chew (i.e. not just cow mush). As for everything else? The cheese is surprisingly mellow given how radioactive it looks, and the bread is decidedly average. Basically you have a really nondescript sandwich with a reputation it doesn't live up to. But it's fine. It's not fantastic... it's not worth $8.50... but if you said you'd kidnap my dog if I didn't eat it (the cheesesteak, not my dog), I would gladly stomach it. Yep. That's the best way I can come up with describing it.
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Bubble tea is something that almost every Taiwanese person holds dear to their heart, myself included. Let's be honest, we're not exactly known for much else outside of Jay Chou, so boba is basically a thing of cultural pride, a national treasure of sorts. When I read about a Chinese bakery in Philly that was making yogurt pop boba drinks, I was both curious and livid. Put chewy tapioca balls in milk tea, smoothies, whatever, and I guarantee you it'll be awesome. It's a formula that works... you don't fuck with something that works. It's like insulting millions of Chinese people by telling them that their beloved national drink of choice isn't good enough. Them's fightin' words. But like I said, I was curious. If they actually keep this "yogurt pop" nonsense on their menu, then there must be some reason right?
Apologies for the picture of a partially finished smoothie. I get that some people don't like to see photos of things that are half-eaten, but I really didn't know how else to depict the bubbles without going to such extremes. The concept is simple, you take yogurt drink (think Yakult) and put it inside thin layers of what is most likely a gelatin based skin. These are your "new and improved bubbles." They look kind of like little cream colored pearls sitting in a bed of unnaturally purple crushed ice. I realize that sounds incredible... but really, they kind of suck. Sure, the idea of stuffing yogurt drink inside bubbles is admittedly very creative, but why? I tried drinking it with an open mind, but I honestly don't see the appeal. The tartness of yogurt isn't really something I want complementing a smoothie or milk tea, and the skins end up sticking to the top of your mouth (they actually feel kind of like dead burnt skin). I generally like most drinks that have sugar in them, but this one legitimately made me sad. Failtown.
Anyway, I want to apologize to anyone who actually likes these things. Sorry. I'm sorry you've never had truly fantastic bubble tea, because it puts this to shame. If you've ever tasted a batch of perfectly cooked tapioca pearls, you'd know that they needed no such improvement.
Sunday, January 23, 2011
In case you couldn't tell, 500° is a burger joint. I can't believe I never wrote about this place. I mean... technically I did, but that was for serious business, and not for pleasure. Anyway, fast-forward a couple of months and I'm still smitten with the place. Great burgers, fantastic milkshakes, and truffle fries that I'd trample senior citizens for (I'm not normally mean to old people... I swear). When a couple of my friends from NYC, who were up to no good and started making trouble in the neighborhood, showed up... I forced them to eat burgers at 1 am. And truffle fries. This post would not exist if there were no truffle fries.
Even at 1 am, the place is still surprisingly packed. Undoubtedly because it's BYOB, and you can throw a quarter in any which direction and most likely hit a bar. The fact that they keep the place clean is remarkable considering the number of drunk people wandering in at any given time. Or maybe that's more a testament to the drinking ability of the fine people in Philadelphia. I honestly don't know. In any case, the first thing that arrived was my black and white shake. It is made with Bassett's ice cream, and it is sensually thick. Yes there are two straws in there. No shame. It was split with a bro.
Always go with the "Classic." It might not be as photogenic as some other burgers, but whatever, it tastes great. I was also tempted by the "7th Degree," which is a burger in which they let you pick whatever toppings you want (which to me means all of them), but 500° makes such a fantastically delicious burger that I honestly didn't want to ruin it with my innate Asian desire to get my money's worth in toppings. Did I shame my family name? Probably. Did I enjoy my meal? Hells yeah.
Aw yeah... the real reason I went. The fries. Yes, they do offer their fries in a plain variety, as well as a spicy variety, but don't be an idiot. Get the truffle fries. They're like McDonald's fries... but better. They're crispier, fluffier, faster, stronger... basically fries on steroids. Doused with a generous helping of truffle oil, these puppies smell like heaven. If there weren't other people in the restaurant, I would've been tempted to rub them all over my jacket so I could smell like super awesome fry time. They are the cat's pajamas, the bee's knees, and all that jazz. So yeah... go there and get some fries? You're welcome.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
You know the drill, go read my post over at AHT for my attempt at unbiased burger related thoughts on Grace Tavern. If you're looking for second-rate content with minimal editing, then you're in the right place.
I'm not really a big beer drinker... or really much of a drinker at all. I tend to describe all my beers as "smooth" or "dark." It's as if I only know two adjectives to describe beer... I use no other descriptors aside from those two. Needless to say, going to places to drink is mostly a pointless endeavor for me. Will I drink? Yes. Can I discern a good stout from a can of Natty Ice? Just barely (the can is a dead giveaway). The food however is a different story. While all my friends are busy getting plastered, you can usually find me gazing deeply at the menu, contemplating whether or not I should add on an order of onion rings or an order of sizzling fajitas. Good thing Grace Tavern kicks ass at making burgers.
The Grace Burger was one of the best pub burgers I've had in Philadelphia. They don't really screw around with tradition, they just melt a goopy layer of Swiss cheese on top, then top it with some lettuce and tomatoes. Then they sandwich it between a bun. An awesome bun. A bun that's brushed with oil, because oil makes everything better, especially bread. Win. I like oily buns and I cannot lie. You other fat kids can't deny. The only thing that was weird was how pungent and crunchy the onions were. Those onions were some crunchy sons of bitches. Either way, their standard cheeseburger is something worth having again, even if I have to pay for it the next time!
Look at all that yellow. It's like a cautionary tale of heartburn, narrated by melted cheese. It's pretty much the same burger, but without healthy stuff like lettuce, onions, and tomatoes. Meat, cheese, mushrooms... that's all there is to this burger. I know what you're thinking, "but wait, aren't mushrooms are healthy?!" No. Not the way they cook them. They're sautéed in a buttload of oil. Because oil makes everything better, especially when your sautéing the crap out of mushrooms. Once again, the bun is grilled and lathered up with a thin layer of oil, resulting in a super rich and hearty burger from the first to the last bite. I think I might've actually like this better than the classic cheeseburger... but I was also alternating bites between the two, so who knows?
Anyway, Grace Tavern makes some bitchin' burgers. They're good enough where I don't feel like an absolute moron if I go there just for the food. Although I probably should. I'm pretty sure the bartenders aren't too enamored with me staying sober.
Monday, January 17, 2011
Yo, Koreana... I'm really happy for you and imma still eat at your restaurant, but Giwa in Center City has some of the best Korean food in Philadelphia of all time! Since the beginning of the year, when I found out about this restaurant that serves up Korean tacos, I've been itching to go have a taste. Unfortunately, due to my immensely busy schedule (i.e. my inability to efficiently manage time between class and food), I never got a chance to until last week, because, you know, I figured I should probably go get me some Korean tacos before the world ends in 2012. I'd be really sad if I died without ever having known the taste of Korean tacos. For shame. Anyway, after talking about this place for damn near four months, my expectations were obviously getting a bit out of control, like a teenager and hormones... and something bad happens? It was basically to the point where there was so much hype that I expected it to suck. Fucking (adjective... not verb) tacos. It's serious business.
Ha, I bet you thought after the jump I'd talk about tacos. Nope, I don't give it up that quickly. First we're gonna talk about their dolsot bibimbap. Now with 25% more SUPER STEAMING action. That's how you can tell it's hot. I actually burned myself on the pot trying to take pictures, but that's not what's important. What is important is that they make a fantastic bowl of spicy rice and other junk. By which I mean bean sprouts, carrots, greens, and beef.
After you pour in your desired amount of sauce (all of it), you get to stir like a champ. Until your arm gets tired. Then you switch hands and go at it with your other arm, until that one gets tired too. End result... a beautiful bowl of red rice and some other stuff that people like to eat. By which I mean bean sprouts, carrots, greens, and beef.
But none of those things are important. The only thing that you need to know is that at the bottom there exists a layer of rice unrivaled in flavor and texture. It's soaked in a pool of all the remnant sauce, and it's crunchier than a Crunch bar (those aren't actually that crunchy...). It is the greatest single bite of rice dish I've had for a long time. And it was good. At $10.75, I was somewhat filled with rage when I was paying, but by the end of the bowl my anger had disappeared. This pot of fiery crunch (and other junk!)... it is le beautiful ಥ_ಥ.
And then I had tacos! I know what you're probably thinking. Why would anyone eat a full meal consisting of a giant bowl of rice, then follow it up with more food? Because. They're Korean tacos. You don't say no to tacos with spicy marinated pork inside. So I obliged. At two for $5.95, I again felt slighted. That's three tacos from Mr. Don Memo. Their tacos are the bees knees. Was I going to be filled with an inappropriate amount of food related rage?
Nah, this stuff is premium. Legitimately delicious. They're actually stupid simple in concept... you take plain soft tacos and fill them with a sweet and spicy Korean marinated pork (which separates like a more solid pulled pork), add in some lettuce, onions, cheese, sour cream, spicy cabbage, drizzle it with some lime juice and cilantro, and bam. Genius in wrap form. Douse it with some of their curiously red spicy sauce and it's basically like Mexicans and Koreans are having a party in my mouth... with pinatas and kimchi. So... while I don't enjoy paying $18 for a meal, ever, this place is definitely worth it. If it weren't 18 blocks away... Koreana would be in real trouble.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Sorry Drexel kids, the truth hurts, but I'm just gonna put this one out there... your Chinese food trucks... they suck. Forreals. I like to consider myself a connoisseur of fine dining, by which of course I mean mobile kitchens that serve food of Asian origins, and I spend a fair amount of time trying out each of them, noting the subtle nuances that make each one special (for instance... like gratuitous usage of MSG). After exhausting the options available on Penn's campus, going from "Le Anh's" all the way to "The Real Le Anh's," I expanded my horizons and set out to explore Drexel's offerings. My process was simple, I picked the cart with the longest line of Asian people which happened to be Kim's Dragon (Not to be confused with Kim's Oriental... which actually makes me wonder how many people named Kim are going to open Chinese food trucks?).
First thing... the people in the truck aren't even Chinese (I tried ordering in Mandarin and was greeted with blank stares). That's not really something I can hold against anyone, since some of the best tacos I've had were made by Chinese people, and some of the best General Tso's I've had were made by Mexican people, but it just felt... unauthentic? Secondly, the wait time is absurd compared to Kim's Oriental, what would've taken 5 minutes there took more than 15 here. Efficiency fail.
The beef w/broccoli wasn't actually awful, but it also wasn't the dish you'd normally think of. The beef was a tad overcooked, but coming from the back of a truck, it's something I'm willing to overlook. The sauce however, wasn't the standard oil-laden soy sauce affair I've come to know and love. Their rendition was cloyingly sweet, clearly doused in sugar. Like I said, it wasn't awful, in fact, the penetration of the sweet sauce actually made for some damn good broccoli, but it clearly wasn't what I expected to get. It's a $4 experiment that I probably won't try again.
I also ordered a beef chow fun since I had a jonesing for noodles pretty badly. It's a hard dish to fuck up, in my opinion. It's basically soy sauce, a lot of oil, noodles, and beef... stir fry them together. Yet somehow, they did. Catastrophically. Sure they got most of the components in there, the rice noodles, the beef, and even the bean sprouts, but why in the hell is there broccoli... and a single string bean pod? That's not beef chow fun, that's what my mom does when she's cleaning her fridge... throwing random shit together and stir frying them. Then I thought... maybe looks are deceptive. Maybe this dish is spectacular in every way, and that broccoli and a single string bean pod added to beef chow fun was the next big thing!
Nope. That didn't happen. This was the blandest $4.50 I've ever spent. After disposing of the extraneous broccoli and single string bean pod, I went to town on the noodles, which were dry, stuck together, and were cooked with 沙茶醬 a.k.a. "Chinese bbq sauce." That's not what beef chow fun is about... at all. If you're unfamiliar with the sauce I'm talking it about, it's normally used to make dipping sauce for hot pot, not for stir frying noodles. Nice going Kim's Dragon, you failed at one of the simplest noodle dishes known to man. All you had to do was make oily noodles and add some beef to it, but you fucked it up good. Nice. To add insult to injury, the portion sizing... is kind of inadequate compared to Yue Kee or the other Kim's.
Someone actually suggested that it was 'the best Chinese food in the city.' Not only is this an exaggeration gone astray, but it's downright silly (Chinatown is outraged). If they're not even the best Chinese food within a 5 block radius, how can it be the best in Philadelphia? Sorry Drexel, but if this is the best you can muster, I think I'll stick to my Kim's... the Oriental one. PS - It has Chinese people in it.
Saturday, January 8, 2011
You might be thinking that this post looks kind of familiar. That's probably because I previously wrote about the spicy pork bulgogi cheesesteak at the beginning of the year. To refresh your memory, it's the simple combination of hoagie roll, melted cheese, onions, peppers, and ass-numbingly spicy pork, all of which is drenched in a sweet and spicy sauce made from gochujang. Oh yes... it is a sandwich I love dearly, but at the same time, fear and respect. As a good friend of mine once said, as spicy as it is... the amount of enjoyment you get from having one is completely negated by the amount of discomfort on exit. I'm pretty sure he's just being a wuss, but if a fiery rectum is not so high on your list of 'likes,' let me present you with a more mild alternative... the beef bulgogi cheesesteak.
Bulgogi should be done with beef to begin with, so if anything, this is more 'authentic' than the spicy pork version... as authentic as a Korean cheesesteak can be anyway. The formula is more or less the same. You take bread, you melt cheese, you grill onions and peppers, but this time... stuff the crap out of it with thinly sliced beef, marinated in a sweet concoction of sugar and soy sauce. Drizzle some sesame seeds all over that bitch and you got yourself a beef bulgogi cheesesteak. Most of the things that made the spicy pork version awesome are still present in the beef version. The peppers and onion provide a certain natural sweetness, while adding a crunchy nuance to the texture. The cheese is fully melted and becomes the backdrop to the main attraction... which is of course the meat. The beef comes off the griddle literally dripping with juices. The fantastic combination of marinate and oil then soaks into the roll, leaving you with a greasy mess of sweet and savory brilliance.
Do I like it better than the spicy pork version? Not sure. They're too different to choose one over the other. One is an exercise in masochism, stimulating your taste buds and digestive system in a way they've never been violated before, while the other is just... plain pleasant. The great thing is, at $3, I don't have to make that choice. I can switch it up as much as I want. I could even... gasp get both for one meal. Crazies.
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
Don't be deceived by the title of this post, it will be heavy on bitching, with only a side of commentary regarding burgers. Yet again... if you want to read a more factual depiction of my meal at Good Dog, then do show some love to AHT, here. Nah... instead, today I'm gonna complain about the rise of the 'armchair quarterback.' In case you're not familiar with the term, here's what Urban Dictionary says it is... "some d-bag who is certain that he or she can make better decisions than the coaches or players while watching a competitive sport on television." This isn't just applicable to sports. No, this is way bigger than that. We all know someone who does it, the guy who criticizes everything, all the time, regardless of their expertise on the subject. Evidently, this exists in the blogging world too. Enter... the armchair quarterback on blog commenting.
See that burger at the very top? It's stuffed with cheese. I thought it was cool in concept, decent in practice, but not entirely perfect. Some would disagree with me, but hey... that's what opinions are. I found mine to be undercooked (and my cheese less than melted), so understandably I wasn't overwhelmed with the experience, but I could also understand why someone would fall in love with it. Moving on.
The traditional burger was also pretty good. I talked about the bits and pieces that go into its construction of AHT, so we'll have none of that here, but it is what it is... a thick grilled gastropub burger.
In my opinion, that burger is not medium-rare. Everyone has a different definition for that, but if I had to quantify that on a scale, it'd be like a 3 on the Richter of well-done-ness. Putting aside the fact that such a scale doesn't really exist, and that my rating of a 3 means absolutely nothing, I'd argue that it's closer to rare than it is to medium. Not that the burger didn't taste good, just that I would've preferred it to be slightly more well done, even at the risk of slight overcooking on the fringes.
Anyway, back to the point about the armchair quarterback (of blog commenting). By no means do I qualify myself as an expert on anything related to food, but I do feel like I've eaten enough of certain things to have built up a pretty decent picture of what's good, and what's not. If someone disagrees with me on something, I'm down with that... some of the best meals I've ever had came about because someone introduced me to something I didn't know about. The way in which someone does this however... is my main point of annoyance. Things that do irritate me... criticism of an opinion (I won't call something perfectly medium-rare just because it matches someone else's expectations), listing of credentials to prove said person's expertise, and linking to your own post to tell me why I'm wrong (these gripes aren't limited to this post alone/specifically). That last one's just like slapping me in the face... I mean, HOW CAN SHE SLAP? Maybe I'm being overly bitchy about this, which is likely, but it's something that's bothered me as of late. In this specific case... maybe the Good Dog burger is the 'best burger you've ever had,' (maybe you should eat more burgers? Har har) but sorry... it's not mine.
I should add that 99.7% of commenters (that's 3 standard deviations of irritability!) are plain awesome. Reading their thoughts is, more often than not, insightful and filled with humor. It's unfortunate that the remaining .3% of asshats exist, but I guess you can't make everyone happy. Luckily, I don't think anyone who makes those comments would like reading my blog to begin with... so I'm safe to rant.
Saturday, January 1, 2011
I know that most people are all about the cupcake. It's compact, it's portable, it's topped with frosting... I can see the appeal. Cupcakes are downright sexy... but you know what? They give it away up front. I mean, frosting on top? Too easy. Now that the fad has died down (not really), apparently people are moving onto pies? I mean, I like pies. Buttery pastry crust, filled with fruit and syrup, that's something I could totally get behind (cue that's what she said jokes). But you know what? My heart can't be swayed by sultry things like gianduja frosting or peach cobbler filling. Like Homer Simpson... I'm a doughnut man through and through.
I know that I'll never find a fancy pants doughnut place like Doughnut Plant in Philadelphia, but surely there exists something better than the second-rate doughnuts that DD and Wawa serve up, right? Enter Donuts Plus.
Donuts Plus (or maybe it's called Donuts Plus Plus as their neon sign seems to indicate) is an old fashioned doughnut shop. They don't try to fuck around and make weird flavor combinations. They just do all the traditional ones as best they can (which is pretty damn well). Located on 43rd and Chestnut... it isn't in an area I would use the word 'quaint' to describe. It's not hardcore scary, but let's just say this... more than a few of the apartments have steel bars on their windows. I occasionally get public safety notices about shootings and robberies near 40th, but let's be honest... to a fat kid, not having doughnuts is probably worth than getting shot. Truth.
Another thing they kick DD's ass on? Pricing. Individual doughnuts are $.60, a half-dozen is $3.25, and a dozen'll run you less than $6. If I were completely broke and trying to maximize my caloric value per dollar, outside of eating sticks of butter, this place is pretty much your best bet. Oh and their doughnuts are fantastically good if I haven't made it abundantly clear yet.
Their jelly filled doughnut is... conventional. It's no more than a fried pocket of dough, dipped in sugar glaze, then pumped full of jelly. The dough is neither too porous, nor too doughy, the glaze is neither too sweet, nor too subtle (it's like Goldilocks... except with doughnuts), and the jelly is... well it doesn't taste like artificial sweetener like DD's does. Like I said, it doesn't try to be more than it should be, and the end result is exactly what you'd hope for.
And they're not too stingy on the jelly. For some reason, some places are entirely incapable of pumping filling. It either ends up all on one side, or it comes spilling out the inlet. Luckily, Donuts Plus isn't plagued with idiocy. The result is a doughnut that has filling from end to end.
Of course my bag included a Boston cream doughnut. I can't really resist chocolate covered pastries, let alone ones filled with cream. Basically I like Boston cream doughnuts and eclairs. Anyway, all the descriptors of the jelly doughnut are applicable here too. The dough was appropriately dense, the chocolate glaze wasn't overwhelming, and the cream was rich and... uh, creamy.
Clean your pants people. You just got creamed. The dough tiptoes the fine line between porosity and cake-like, with just enough pockets of air to keep it soft, but still chewy. The glaze was deep in chocolate flavor, enough to penetrate the smoothness of the Boston cream. Basically... a decent take on a classic. Nothing mind boggling, but good enough for me to sing its praises.
But this is the real reason why you should go to Donuts Plus. It's the star of the show, enough to make you wonder why the hell you didn't just get a dozen of these bad boys. Their French cruller is a cruller that puts other crullers to shame. It's like the Kevin Durant of crullers, it's just not even fair. I would describe it as light, but that would be selling it short, as it's far more dense than you'd expect. The body is comprised of a perfect matrix of fibers... with each bite, you play a game of tug-of-war, sheering away a single mouthful of dough that has an ever so subtle sweetness. The outer glaze is just a thin layer of sugar coating. Even at room temperature, it has both crispy and soft characteristics. It makes no scientific sense, and it blows my mind. If I could marry a fucking doughnut, I would, and I would be faithful.
I know what you're thinking... "holy Batman that's disgusting! You ate a half-dozen donuts by yourself for breakfast?" Sadly no... I do care about my health a little. I gave one away to a friend, so really I only had five. Do yourself a favor though... go and try them. Save the cruller for last. You'll be hooked. I promise.