Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Philly Dining - The Good, The Not-Bad, and the Totally Lame

In order of preference, not chronology:

1. The Good:


Oh, was it ever good. Sometimes I do love this interweb device, what a marvelous meal we had there - and it's not something we ever would've stumbled across on our own. No, M. and I were sent to Matyson through the combined recommendation of a couple of gentlemen who I've never actually met in person, but who both know a thing or twenty about Philadelphia. Funny thing is, I think it started as a joke - somewhere, maybe on Facebook, a couple of days before M. and I were heading to Philadelphia, O-Docker was waxing nostalgic over the Horn and Hardarts of yore, specifically the one his mother used to take him to when he was a kid. I decided to play dumb and ask if that would be a good place to have dinner during the flower show; he came back & suggested that if I really wanted a good recommendation I should ask Baydog. Brilliant idea, I wasted no time & within 10 minutes of leaving the original comment, I was online making dinner reservation (was happy to get 5:30, Baydog had mentioned that it's a smallish place & warned that I might be too late to get a dinner seating).

We LOVED it.

For appetizers, we got the Wild Rice Stuffed Quail with foie gras, charred escarole, rosemary-pine nut vinaigrette, and a special short-rib ravioli with prunes and fresh ricotta. M. and I love quail, we always get it when we go to our favorite Indian restaurant, which does a not-bad job, but nothing like this - somehow they'd mostly deboned it except for the little drumsticks, and the whole bird was moist and tender, where at the Indian place, the legs tend to get a bit dried out. The ravioli was great - our server said "filled with braised short rib" and she had me; prunes may sound odd but it was a perfect balance to the slightly salty beef. Yummy!

We both had the Five Spice Duck Breast with quince, honeycap mushrooms, pak choi, and apple dashi for an entree - again, absolutely delicious, I'm a sucker for duck.

We had enough room for dessert & shared the apple cider doughnuts and the banana turnover. The banana turnovers were good but the doughnuts? Jeeze. Unbelievable. Perfectly done, toothsomely crispy exterior, stuffed with cooked apples (more like a fritter than the usual cake doughnut) and a praline sauce that made me want to lick the plate (I refrained because that would be gross but I did scrape up as much as I could with the edge of my spoon). We were in heaven.

At the end of the meal, we decided to walk back to the hotel; mentioning to our server that we were from out of town, we asked if the area was safe & not only did she confirm that, but she looked at our SEPTA map and showed us where the nicest walk would be. Baydog had mentioned that we'd be likely to be sitting next to locals, and sure enough, the ladies who were sitting at the table next to ours heard us mention that we were from out of town, welcomed us to Philadelphia, had a nice little chat about what we were up to, and then M. and I had a very pleasant stroll back to the hotel - I took this shot of City Hall on the way.

Aside from everything being delicious, another thing we were very impressed with was what a perfect amount of food we'd been served - the walk was nice, but with an appetizer, main course and dessert, we were just pleasantly full, not overstuffed.

I think we would've enjoyed lunch just as much, but one good thing about getting the dinner reservation was that it allowed us to take up O-Docker on a related challenge - which brings us to --

2. The Not-Bad.

O-Docker may be living far, far away, on the shores of that magnificent natural ampitheater on the West Coast, but he grew up in Philadelphia & it sounds like one of the constants of a youth spent there is participating in spirited debates about the purveyor of the best Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich.

Apparently the one thing that everyone agrees on is that a Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich is a wonderful culinary creation - it's just a matter of where you should go to savor the finest rendition.

Well, O-Docker, being an inquisitive sort, thought that it would be interesting to hear an unbiased review by an outlander, sampling the delicacy for the first time.

Now, I have to say that I'm not entirely unbiased - in fact, I'm a little bit scared of these things. The Philly Cheese Steak is one of the few things that they serve in our cafeteria that I won't even try - mostly the cafeteria serves good food, but that sight of steam table tray full of cooked-to-death shredded beef, swimming in grease, with the tub of fluorescent orange goo next to it, waiting for the ladle, sends me out hunting for the Tribeca Taco Truck every time.

But I figured that couldn't be a proper representation.

Baydog told me the right and good places to go - Pat's, Geno's, Jim's, or Tony Luke's.

Unfortunately, those were all in South Philly, not convenient to a couple of people on a limited schedule - so O-Docker suggested the Reading Terminal Market instead, and that, we walked past right after we got off the SEPTA train.

We went to the hotel, dropped off our bags, and went back. It was neat, although insanely crowded. Within 10 minutes or so, I'd homed in on the beacon of a red neon "Cheesesteaks" sign, and...



Tillerman said...

I hope you went to see the bell with my name on it.

bonnie said...

Oh noooo! Next time!

Baydog said...

Divide my knowledge of things Philadelphia by 10, and multiply O Docker's by 100. I knew you'd love the restaurant and now that you've got me hungry, it's time to go again!
But to tide me over until then, I may need to get a cheesesteak for lunch.

Buck said...


O Docker said...

Wild rice Stuffed quail with foie gras, charred escarole, rosemary-pine nut vinaigrette, duck breast with quince, honeycap mushrooms, pak choi, and apple dashi?

You would have had a very tough time finding any of that in the old Automat! Maybe things in Philly really are better than the good old days.

And thank god you're still strong enough to type after your Cheesesteak experience. I don't think groundhog meat is one of the things the USDA checks up on.

Great shot of City Hall, by the way. When I was a high school photography geek, that was one of the few buildings in town worth photographing (and may still be), and one had to prove one's mettle by coming up with a good one of it.

I'm really looking forward to the part about the 'totally lame'. We Philly folk find strength in defeatism.

bonnie said...

O Docker, that is one HECK of a City Hall! We rode the SEPTA train in from the 30th street station, came up at Market East station & when we came up to the street, that was the first thing that caught our eyes. I took some daylight shots of it too, we went there to take the trolley to 19th street -- it was a nice walk back after dinner, but we were running a little bit late heading out,M. was in a car crash a few years back & can't walk too fast but the trolley got us there in plenty of time even with my photo-taking stop. Quite the edifice!

O Docker said...

That edifice is one of many reasons that Philly has remained, maybe literally, in New York's shadow.

Until about 20 years ago, there was a city ordinance prohibiting any downtown building from being taller than the statue of William Penn on top of the tower. That seriously compromised the potential profits developers could expect from erecting office buildings there and put the city at a distinct disadvantage in competing with other eastern cities for commercial investment.

It is a nice statue, though.

bonnie said...

Wow. That's just wild. It's incredible that it was that recently that that the edict was repealed - you would think it would've gone down sometime in the 60's or 70's, when people suddenly didn't think anything old was worth a bucket of warm spit (I was actually very actively reflecting on that spirit as M. and I waited for our train in the dingy, miserable basement that we call Penn Station today).

Baydog said...

I like how the phrase 'bucket of warm spit' is in the same paragraph as Penn Station.

bonnie said...

Spit and other unpleasant excretions. Ugly, ugly place.

O Docker said...

This got me to wondering a bit, so - you know me - I started researching.

It turns out it wasn't an ordinance at all, but a peculiar 'gentlemen's agreement' among city planners and developers, explained in tedious detail here.

And, I spent many hours of my tormented youth commuting in the city's various subterranean chambers of doom.

I think that may have been where the whole notion of Purgatory came from.

bonnie said...

Absolutely fascinating. Skimmed the first 10 pages or so & must try to remember to go back once I have a little more time - crazy week at work.

Baydog said...

I never get tired of reading this post!