Sake Fest: Food

30 04 2009

Philadelphia Sake Fest is all about the sake, but food vendors are invited as well.  The food is always gone in an hour.  This year was no exception so we made it a point to eat before we drank.

First we hit up Le Champignon De Tokio.  This is a quirky little restaurant in Old City that serves Japanese, Thai, and French cuisine.  The Japanese is the best and sometimes I think that the restaurant needs to focus on one type of cuisine.  I managed to taste a few different types from their sushi selection:

Le Champion


The rice was almost perfect–some would say it was all-the-way perfect but I like my rice a little moister than normal, and this rice was a tad dry for my taste.  The salmon was delicious–lots of flavor and very fresh.  A great start to the evening.sushi

Margaret Kuo’s, a very successful Asian food restaurant on the Main Line, had a chef making gyoza and fried rice on the spot.Kuo


This guy was fast:cooking

The gyoza was so uniquely flavored and nicely heavy on the ginger. The fried rice with wild mushrooms also contributed a strong flavor to the dish. The sweet ginger and smoky mushroom flavors complimented each other well.
fried rice and dumplings

Peace A Pizza makes decent pizza–the sauce is a little too sweet but I love the toppings. What were they doing at Sake Fest, though?

Peace A Pizza was the only vendor that had food left at the end of the event and people were lined up to get it.  a pizza

Morimoto was serving their tuna pizza on a tortilla with anchovy sauce and jalapeno pepper.  So fresh.  So clean.  So tasty. So pink and green.tuna pizza


I checked back at Le Champignon at 7:00 and the sushi was already gone:

empty at 7

Maido was giving out some tasty Japanese snacks.  Perfect with sake.



Then there were the Morimoto macarons.  I’ve already professed my love (click here).

morimoto macaroons


The overall food selection was decent and enjoyable, but I’d like to see more cohesiveness between what is being served and more of a connection between the food and the sake next year.


Philadelphia Phillies

28 04 2009

Philadelphia welcomes thousands of tourists during the summer months.   A unique experience for those who visit Philadelphia this summer starts on the Broad Street Subway Line (aka Orange Line) and goes south to South Philadelphia, where our sports teams play (and often disappoint) year round.  A Phillies Game, especially, can show you the heart and soul of the city through the fans who have stuck by the team through a World Series win in 1980, heartbreaking series in 1993, second Championship in 2009, and all of the boos and jeers in between.  With the new family-friendly Citizens Bank Park as the new home, a night at the ball park can be liberating, exciting, or boring.  It’s always a gamble and you take your chances–especially with the Phillies.


The crowds start arriving at the park early–usually between 5:30 and 6:00 for a 7:05 start.  The cheapest reserved seats are $16.  There are no bad seats in the park.  The only drawback to the cheap seats is that they are in the outfield and always catch the setting sun until around 8:00.  On a 90-degree day, those seats can be brutal.  Matt and I often watch the game from the concourse until the sun sets and then we settle in.  The best seats cost $41.  Call the box office about Standing Room Only seats–these can usually only be purchased when the regular seats are sold out or on the day of the game: (215) 463-1000.


The ballpark serves some premium beers–imported bottles and drafts are $6.75.  Hop Devil, Corona, and Sierra Nevada are our usual picks.


Get to your seats early to see the players warm up on the field (shown are my favorite active players, Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth).


The fans are extremely interactive.  Most games will be filled with waves and boos.  If you are visiting from a rival city, be careful wearing that gear in the stands.


Ashburn Alley (below) is where the action is.  Packed with shops and food, many people will watch the entire game from this spot (and do a lot of people watching between innings).  Food selections include Tony Luke’s cheese steaks, Chickie & Pete’s crab fries, and Philadelphia soft pretzels.

ashburn alley

The outfield is usually filled with rowdy fans.

rowdy crowd

Phan-o-vision is a fun distraction between innings.  Every game features the “Kissing Cam,”  “Flex Cam,” or Septa races.  If you’re lucky, you’ll see a proposal.

septa race

Many nights are promotion nights, and some are easy on your wallet, such as Dollar Dog nights.  Despite the reasonable prices of tickets, it’s possible to spend $40-$80 on food and drink in one night for two people, depending on your choice of drink (alcoholic vs. non) and food (nachos cost much more than hot dogs).

Dollar Dog Night

The fixings stand can be a bit scary, but it’s all for a dollar so wade in with your life preservers on.  Just stay away from the onions unless you like them pureed.


This is a Dollar Dog;


This is also a Dollar Dog:


Oh, and this is one, too.  My husband is trying to show how small they are.


And if you are lucky, the Phillie Phanatic (the best mascot in history) and the Hatfield Pig will shoot a dog up to you in the stands.  Phanatic

Play ball!

Keswick Tavern

24 04 2009

Quicky on the Keswick Tavern (or “KT” as the locals call it).  I used to frequent this bar whenever I came home for holidays in my mid-late 20s.  I hadn’t been back in about 4 years (this seems to be a phase with me right now–see my Oscar’s post below) and I remembered it much differently. Without the wall-to-wall drunk people that usually cram themselves in on weekends, it was run-down, dingy, and slightly depressing.  This was the view from my table.  I was waiting for people (isn’t that sad–me alone with my beer? I caught the last 15 minutes of Happy Hour and had to order a $1.50 beer).   keswick

I thought everything was overpriced.  Here is the complete menu

My mac n cheese obsession continues.  These were the Macaroni Cheese Wedges with thousand island chipotle sauce.  They were actually quite amazing.  Lightly fried, not too much batter.  The mac was in tact and not to mushy.  The cheese was melty and delicious.  It was all I needed from this place.  I was in my own little perfect world while I ate these.macncheese

The camera on my iPhone does not like taking pictures–especially closeups.  I will just have to go back and order these again so I can get a proper photo to show you.  Or you can run in, eat some yourself, and then run out.macncheese

 The KT could be a fun place to hang out.  They just have to lower their prices and get more than one bartender.  By the end of the evening there were about 30 people around the bar, and the bartender was splitting his time between pouring drinks, getting food from the kitchen, and watching the Flyers game.  Now that’s just not right. 

Check yelp for more reviews.

Adobe Cafe

22 04 2009

Matt and I discovered Adobe Cafe in South Philly while driving home in a torrential downpour from Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies Game (and Dollar Dog Night) had just been canceled and we were sad. So on a whim we stopped in for some Mexican–my favorite.



This restaurant was dark. Scary dark. Matt said no restaurant should be that dark because it makes him wary of the food.  OK, I’ll buy that for a dollar.  But I still wanted my Mexican.  There were no napkins or silverware on the table and did not come until our food did, although we were sitting in the bar so I will forgive them this time. The special of the evening was a $35 two entree and pitcher of margarita deal. We pounced on it. We were waited on in 20 minutes and we ordered from a limited menu (about ten entree choices) and got our pitcher and free chips and salsa.



The margaritas, surprisingly, were easy on the mix but not too heavy on the tequila. A perfect strength for a Monday night. The chips weren’t exactly fresh, but the fine mix of tomato and spices made the salsa irresistable and addicting.

We didn’t get a great shot of Matt’s Carne Asada but that’s ok because it was my least favorite part of the menu. The meat was a bit tough and it was missing my favorite ingredient: cheese.


My beef chimichanga was delicious. The tortilla was firm and the inside moist and melty. The accompanying salsa verde, roasted tomato salsa, and guacamole were contrastingly creamy and spicy. The Spanish rice got a bit lost in the mix but Matt begged me to save some (this would be his lunch tomorrow) because it further offset the spiciness of the rest of the plate.

I then told him that I probably gave him a bite with some of these sauces I added:

hot sauce



Right now I am thinking about this dish. One of the teams won on “The Chopping Block” (it’s on hulu, OK?) because the food critic judging them woke up thinking about the dinner the team prepared for her the night before. That’s what’s happening to me. This chimichanga is haunting me.


Overall this was a fun and yummy experience. I want to go back. Our total bill excluding tax and tip was $35, per the special. On a regular night, the entrees plus pitcher would have totaled $48. Great deal! Thanks for perking up our soggy and disappointing evening, Adobe!

Click here for South Philly Fashionista’s review on Adobe cafe–it will give you a more well-rounded opinion of this restaurant.

Sake Fest: Sake

20 04 2009

The 2009 Philadelphia Sake Fest featured a wide variety of sake, shochu, and two beers. While the beer part of it made little sense to me, the shochu is certainly a welcome addition as this beverage has received a tremendous amount of attention in Japan, but very little recognition here in the US.

A few specific selections from the evening stood head and shoulders above the rest. Of course, some of my all-time favorites were available, such as Tsukinokatsura’s Yanagi Junmai Ginjo, Dassai Junmai Ginjo, and Dewatsuru Junmai. In addition, there were a few other standouts both good and bad.

Masumi Kara-kuchi ki-ippon (below) is a round and full sake that isn’t overstated. Soft but full and brewed in Nagano.

The distributor presenting Raifuku Concentrate and Sakurafubuki specializes in unique and hard to find items. They shared with me that Sakurafubuki is minimally produced with only about 200 cases made. Raifuku concentrate was a fascinating drink. Introduced as “Japanese Brandy,” it is soft, smooth and fairly sweet. Somewhat cloying but very enjoyable.

Okunomatsu is always a delight to taste and here they had both the Ginjo (below) and the Tokubestu Junmai which is also a nama-chozo sake (one of my favorite types of sake pasteurized only once after brewing).

One of the items that was a bit of a let down this year was Kikusui Funaguchi. This sake is placed in a can to protect it from damage as it is extra sensitive to light, heat or other factors, which might normally damage wine or sake. This was a bit heavy and cloying, and despite the precautions, it felt as though it had perhaps experienced some detrimental temperature extremes in transit. The other confusing issue with this sake is that it is listed as both Honjozo and Genshu. Genshu means that the beverage is “cask strength:” not diluted or, in my mind, altered from the way it leaves the fermentation tank (outside of having the solid stuff taken out). Honjozo means that distilled spirits of one kind or another have been added, so to call something “Honjozo Genshu” seems really bizarre and out of place to me.

The sake below was something interesting from the folks at SakeOne in the U.S. While I don’t care for most of the sake they produce, they have recently begun to offer a shochu with origins around the world. The barley comes from Canada, the distillery is in Vietnam, and the company is Japanese. This was a good, clean, straightforward shochu that I found very enjoyable. If they follow their product model of good pricing and attractive packaging (which seems to be the plan) then the SakeOne group may well end up being the driving force in presenting shochu to the US.

Yumehibiki Brightly is extra fortified plum wine. All plum wine is essentially shochu with plum infused in it, but this plum wine drank a little richer than most. More equivalent to a liquer in both strength and flavor, definitely worth seeking out (if only a distributor in PA would pick up this importers products).

Watari Bune and Yuki no Bosha were two of the best sake present. Both were at the same table, and were far above the other options at that table. They are very good, very enjoyable, and highly recommended. Seek them out if you have a chance. Sorry we don’t have a picture of the regular Yuki no Bosha.  The nigori is also good, but somewhat like Dassai and the regular version is far superior to the nigori version.

Another all-time favorite is Umenishiki (below).  This sake is produced in Ehime, in the far southern region of Japan, and is slightly sweet and cloying to cut through the traditional foods of Shikoku island. This is a great sake with a variety of foods, but especially baked or grilled fish of any kind.


Now we come to my secret soft spot for the evening. If I could have had a bottle of this and nothing else, well, that would have done me in, but even so, I would not have minded so much. Oni no te (Hand of the demon) is a shochu that is carefully aged for twenty years in casks that impart a wonderful vanilla bean aroma to the drink. While it packs quite a punch, I’d personally recommend treating it like good scotch. I’d probably prefer to have a small amount of ice with this, but even just neat it was a delight to experience.

I’ve been told that it is available as a Special Liquor Order item, but have not yet found it on the PLCB search system.

I was pleased to see and taste lots of old favorites at Sake Fest, as well as discover some great new gems (many of which you cannot purchase in Pennsylvania…yet).

Il Cantuccio: Review

16 04 2009

I thought I was in an episode of Kitchen Nightmares and Gordon Ramsay was going to appear at any second when we went to Il Cantuccio in Northern Liberties. This BYOB has been on our list of places to eat for a while after reading mostly good reviews and we were sorely disappointed. 

We got to the restaurant at 6:45. There was one other couple finishing up who left at 7:00. From 7:00 until 8:00 we were the only diners, and it was quite uncomfortable. At 8:00, more people came but at that point we were about ready to go.

We had two waiters. One did not speak or smile and brushed against my breast whenever he put something down on the table–even after I caught on and tried to avoid him. His hair was greased more than the food, with a faux-hawk on the back of his head. Our other waiter was loud and obnoxious–picture Steve-O wearing a cheesy shirt and tie. He forgot the specials, talked on his cell phone in the middle of the restaurant, and asked me how to describe tilapia to another diner while I was eating. At one point, at the busiest time of the evening (seven people seated), he actually sat down with a single diner and ate his own dinner instead of paying attention to the customers.

Matt thought that the decor was one of the strong points, with the open kitchen and rustic tiles and brick. Superficially, yes, it was charming. But there were no tablecloths on cheap tables and when you looked closely, there was at least one layer of grit and grime on the walls. The service was awkward–Steve-O moved our dirty silverware around to serve our second course instead of just clearing it and bringing us new sets.

The food was fine and basic. Mostly it was slopped on a plate and similar to food I can make at home, with rosemary and basil and ground black pepper as the only seasonings.

The bread was the best part.  The pesto was creamy and fresh.  I couldn’t place the red dipping sauce–when I asked, our waiter told us that it was roasted red pepper, sundried tomato, and olive oil.

The Misto platter was the most visually pleasing dish of the evening, although not very tasty. 

The Vodka was disappointing.  I guess when the menu listed “(bacon)” after “pancetta,” we didn’t actually think that it would be bacon.  We thought it would be real pancetta.  But it was just plain ole bacon.  That’s just wrong.

My main course, Ligure, was a hot mess.  By this time I had already had a lot of roasted red peppers and I was really looking forward to the mushrooms.  Do you see many mushrooms in this photo?  You don’t.  Because there were only about five on the whole plate.  I also didn’t really need any more potatoes.  And I got them instead of what I really wanted: mushrooms.

My husband’s Toscana was really just a hamburger patty over a can of white beans.

We didn’t even stay for dessert or coffee and I would never return to this restaurant ever again.

Oscar’s Tavern, Philadelphia

14 04 2009

The block of Sansom Street between 15th and 16th is colorful.  You have Roy’s at one end with the bright purple awnings; the Nodding Head bobble head sign a few store fronts down; and then you get to Oscar’s Tavern, right in the middle, with the bright red door and neon signs.  This neighborhood dive bar holds its own next to the snooty Sansom Street Oyster House, serving up cheap beer, delicious bar food, and a crowd as colorful as the street.  I used to come here every week after class with my fellow Journalist grad students and we would take over.  At least 8 of us at a time went to Oscar’s to discuss the woes of being a writer (or at least trying to learn how to be one) and drown our tortured minds in 23-ounce lagers or cheap whiskey.  The air was thick with smoke (Philadelphia banned smoking in bars that served food in 2006) and the juke was always playing.  Those were the days.oscar's

For a couple of years, after we all graduated, Oscar’s was far from our minds.  On to bigger and better things.  Let’s meet up at that new glam bar a block away instead.  Let’s have coffee.  Did you hear about the media networking event?  We’ll meet up there.  oscar's

It wasn’t until a year or so ago that a few of us returned to Oscar’s.  With the smoking ban in place, we got to really see the dingy and worn interior without the haze of smoke blocking our view.  The fresh smoky smell was gone but in its place was a stale smoky smell, and was that vomit, or pee?  Oscar’s is dark and dirty and smelly.  On April 13th the St. Patrick’s Day decorations were still up.  But the game was on and the bar was lined with fans.  Not the obnoxious fans who hang out at chain sports bars.  These were hard core fans who didn’t talk during the whole game and held their breaths until the last strike was thrown.  Then came the claps and some cheers and the conversation could start.   As I said, Oscar’s is dark.  So dark that when we left at 9:00, the street lights outside seemed like the bright sunlight.inside

The decor has character as the red theme has obviously spread throughout the bar.  Use the chairs, though, as most of the springs are shot in the booths and you sink down to your waist when you sit.  Even though the bar is usually full, during the week after work you never need to wait for a place to sit.  Suits don’t usually hang out here, unless they’ve already been to the Stephen Starr bars and come in to Oscar’s lit for a late night beer. juke

The beer selection is nonexistent, but that’s not really why anyone goes to Oscar’s.  You go to Oscar’s to drink at least one 23-ounce draft for $3.25.  Oscar’s patrons do not like change, made obvious by the fact that my friends almost cried when they discovered that Miller Light had been replaced by Bud Light for the 23-ounce option.  Also on tap were Michelob, lager (Yuengling) and PBR.  Really?  OK.  They all have the same watered-down taste, anyway.  You can’t complain in Oscar’s because it’s just that

The highlight, at least for me, is always the Oscar’s cheese fries.  Nothing compares.  I have weened myself off of cheese fries from anywhere else because I am always disappointed and end up comparing them to Oscar’s.  Give me two drafts and an order of cheese fries and I am happy for three hours.  For a grand total of $9 before tip.  Heaven!  Golden and delicious.  Hot, salty, crispy, chewy, light, dense.  Oxy moronic fries.  These are the only fries I could eat by themselves.  You know you’ve come across some great fries when you have a 2-minute serious discussion on whether the cheese is real Whiz or just squirt cheese.  Verdict: it’s real Whiz.cheese

The menu has hot and cold sandwiches, omelettes, and some main courses like roast beef.  Sandwiches range from $4.00-8.00.  I’d stick with the steak sandwiches.  With Whiz.  menu

My love affair with Oscar’s has been tumultous, but now that I am older and wiser I know that it will never be perfect.  I will always feel like I need a shower when I leave.  The graffiti on the stall door in the ladies room will never be painted over.  And the beers might just go up another $.25 next year.