Townsend does East Passyunk Restaurant Week…. perfectly.

Fun Facts about Chef Townsend Wentz:

  • He goes by Tod.
  • He’s a pro at deboning entire pigs (check it out!) and posting it on Instagram
  • Homeboy KNOWS how to do Restaurant Week right.

I’ve always been a little wary of restaurant week. My inner cheapskate breaks down the numbers of the restaurants offering everything from special dishes to old favorites to one-off dessert experiments, and weighs this with my typical levels of hunger. Most often, the result is a decisive Nahh, I’ll just wait for the crowds to die down and order the exact amount of food I want for the price I expect/am willing to pay. 

That said, when I saw that East Passyunk Avenue, Philly’s hottest nook of up-and-coming dining spots, was hosting their own neighborhood restaurant week, I immediately raced over to OpenTable to make a reservation for my two girlfriends and I. I gotta say that, while I was A-OK with the mandatory phone-in reservation at Zahav a few weeks ago, there’s a remarkable ease and convenience to being able to filter using number of diners, date, and time when we were looking for a Monday night out on the town. We spotted space at Townsend and booked it post-haste.

We made the right choice.

You can look at the EPRW menu here if you’d like, OR you can check out this difficult-to-read but beautifully lit photograph below.

Elegant and simple

Elegant and simple

Since there were three of us, we figured we’d try one of each course. Then we saw that one of the first courses was a foie gras butternut squash terrine. And since I’d just binged on terrines last week…. looks like we’re doubling up on Brandades!

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Course one (served shortly after a DIVINE bread basket [that may have been divine or may have merely been ‘good’, we were pretty hungry]) included a creamy parsnip veloute with brown butter chestnuts, a hint of black truffle, and just enough brussels sprout leaves to leave us wanting more (hee hee). The brandade, a dish I’d never had before, was a crunchy brioche topped with a quail egg, shellfish bouillabaisse, and pernod. How such a tiny little toasty brioche could be so full of flavor…. well I don’t (per)nod, but it was incredible. The veloute was rich and creamy, a nice complement to the light fluff and crunch of the other appetizer. But the best was yet to come…

Enter: the mother lode

Enter: the mother lode

I’ll shoot you straight, the saffron malloreddus, pictured top right, was a little cold by the time it got to us. Flavor-wise, it was fairly unremarkable, and the tastes of caramelized onions and fennel, while there, were hints. If you were only getting this dish, I would not consider your experience worthwhile. BUT if you’re lucky enough to have some dining pals, perhaps they’ll slip you bites of the glorious speck-wrapped cod (bottom right) atop Tarbais bean garbure with tiny cockles (that came with their own fork!) This fish fell apart the moment your fork touched it, delicate… dare I say exquisite?

Oh, if I dared, I’ll repeat that word for the venison en crepinette (different from the online menu, description here). Exquisite. We nearly came to (fork) blows over these half-dollar sized medallions, each soaking up the jus and pairing perfectly with the parsnip pureé. This dish would bring me back again and again.

Somehow, we had room for dessert. Luckily, it was both light and a delight.

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The crème brûlée, flawless. Visible vanilla bean is my jam. The blue cheese plate was a nice tangy option for those without a sweet tooth. And for those WITH a sweet tooth: enter pavlova. No, she’s not your exotic, sexy neighbor (maybe she is, I don’t know where you live). She is actually an it, specifically a crunchy meringue dish topped with mixed berries and strawberry coulis, speckled with fresh mint.

Yup. Imagine the finest cotton candy you can even fathom. And then make it fancy, and French, and bury it in berries. We couldn’t get enough.

Take your dates, your dads, your dudes, your dames, yourself, take them all to Townsend. I’ll be back soon to try out their take on rabbit…. I’ve only heard (read* since I practically live on Yelp) the best things.

Thanks, Tod and team, for the tasty treats.

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Cinder-eat-a: A Night Out at #PhillyCooks

As far as princesses go, I’ve never identified much with CInderella. Sure, I’m blond and my whistling skills have been known to call woodland critters to my side (though, in Philly, it’s mostly pigeons and Rittenhouse rats. Gross.) But I can’t stand house cleaning, I get along famously with my siblings and mother, and I’m rubbish on heels, glass or otherwise.

Last night, however, I think I had my Cinderella moment. Instead of a fairy godmother, I had the team from Philadelphia Magazine as my benefactor. My pumpkin coach was an UberX, and my gown was a hastily thrown together number sourced from Athleta and Nordstrom. Most importantly, instead of seeking out a dance with the handsome prince, I was here for one reason.

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Philly Cooks.

One of the city’s premier dining and drinking experiences, this soirée is put on every year by Foobooz, my go-to for all Food and Booze news in Philly. Tickets range from $85 for the early birds to $100. This plucky princess managed to win a pair, due to some sort of pixie dust I’m sure. And so I grabbed my date (read: my mom) and headed to the castle Marriott.

Imagine an enormous room with vaulted ceilings, complete with warm lighting and the dull roar of live music, chock full of Philly foodies, sprinkled with some of the top chefs in every genre of edibles from neighborhoods far and wide.

Yup, I was in paradise.

Yup, I was in paradise.

From ceviche and smoked salmon to pork, pizza, and potatoes to more terrine than you could shake a stick at (seriously…. what’s with all the terrine, chefs?) With a gauzy, tent-like speakeasy stationed in the middle of the vast space pouring cocktails from Franky Bradley’s, Olde Bar, and Franklin Mortgage and Investment Co. (my personal favorite was a Reverse Valencia from Olde Bar – Tanqueray, Oloroso Sherry, Manzanilla Sherry, and apple bitters), the party was in full swing by the time we arrived around 7pm.

Cocktail line-up looking so fly

Cocktail line-up looking so fly

After we obtained our beverages of choice, we began to loop around. Laurel’s Nicholas Elmi (who all Top Chef fans know as a winnnnnerrrr and all Philly folks know as proprietor of restaurant you can’t get reservations to) started off my night the right way with duck confit and foam, and the party kept going strong from there.

I’ll shoot you straight, when you’re surrounded by ravenous hoards of hungry folks all queueing up for tiny plates, whipping out your phone for photos becomes low on the priority list. In fact, I kinda forgot about it for some standouts. Like, sure I can’t recall EXACTLY where I consumed the most divine lobster (maybe) grilled cheese and tomato soup, when my mother thrust it in my hands (Maybe… The Hunt Room?). But I guess when I went back for my 2nd 3rd, let’s be honest here, slow roasted boar and foccaccia panino with pickled red onion, I deemed it worth for a photo (SERIOUSLY SOMEONE TAKE ME TO CAPOFITTO POST HASTE!)

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I want to fall asleep on this soft focaccia next to a pile of that boar. Is that an appropriate way to describe food?

Probably.

Weirdly enough, though I rarely have much of a sweet tooth, the dessert area was my dream-come-true last night. Wonder why….

Sweet Box glory

Sweet Box glory

Goat cheese ANGLAISE?

Goat cheese ANGLAISE?

Huge up to The Master’s Baker, who have given a new lease on my concept of goat cheese’s LIFE.

But then, I reached the mecca.

Oh, what's that? JUST A S'MORES BAR!

Oh, what’s that? JUST A S’MORES BAR!

Yup, 10 Arts brought the HEAT quite literally. Because, in case you didn’t know, s’mores are my favorite dessert. Want proof?

YOU GOT YOUR PROOF

YOU GOT YOUR PROOF

That’s unbridled joy at the thought of consuming a s’more consisting of graham cracker, housemade marshmallow, AND A REESES CUP.

The rest of the night was a blur of snacking, sipping, spinning around in awe, and sadly seeing some spots sans sustenance. By 8pm, a TON of vendors were fresh out. Made me wish we’d come early, but no one wants to be THAT Cinderella. Princesses need to make an entrance. And as my stomach swelled happily, and the clock struck midnight (JK it ended at 9pm but all that eating tuckers a gal out), my mother and I raced down the escalators, pausing only for one farewell photo.

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Foobooz and Philly, you know how to feed a gal. And you just let me know if you spot any glass slippers in a women’s size 12. I’m not saying they’re mine or anything…. but you wouldn’t believe the blisters those puppies give ya!

Zahav’s Temporary Transformation: The Lamb Shack

If anyone says they heard the term “Lamb Shack” and didn’t immediately start thinking in terms of the B-52’s 1989 hit, they’re a liar. Or they were born in the 1990s. Either way, I probably would avoid hanging out with them, and instead click this link and listen to it while you’re reading along. It’ll bring you along for one of the more delicious rides of my life.

(apologies for the lousy pictures, hate to whip out the DSLR on a date in a fancy resto…)

Having followed Mike Solomonov’s work religiously since I moved to Philadelphia like some sort of food-groupie, when I heard that one of the most coveted dishes in Philadelphia was going to be available to the huddled masses, I immediately called to make a reservation. If you’re not “in the know”, this legendary dish, a whole lamb shoulder, is described better by Adam Erace, so I’d recommend checking out his review. This dish is typically reserved for parties of 4+ and has to be ordered in advance. For the brief month of February, though, Zahav decided to offer this decadent meal to every visitor for a mere $36 per guest (along with the standard fare of hummus tehina, house made pita, vegetarian salatim, and a dessert).

Oh, it’s also BYOB.

Yup, the hits keep coming. But let’s get to the good stuff.

Salatim and hummus

Salatim and hummus

Six different vegetarian sides that almost almost make you forget you’re about to devour a hunk of lamb so rich, so flavorful that you can taste the fields in Colorado where the lamb grazed. My absolute favorite sides were the pickled cabbage and onions, the twice-cooked eggplant, and a tabbouleh salad with pomegranate arils littered throughout. All of this served with house-baked pita that was sprinkled with spices.

Don't worry, I promptly cleared this plate for the main event.

Don’t worry, I promptly cleared this plate for the main event.

But I knew, despite the cloud-like pillow of pita in front of me spread with assorted salads and dips, the best was yet to come. And then…. it came. And it might just be the delicious smells that surrounded me, or the killer 90s soundtrack that blasted through the tented rooms that resembled the inside of some sort of casbah… maybe it was the second glass of Shiraz. But I’m pretty sure that my waiter was briefly replaced with an angel who floated a tray of meat my way.

hubba hubba

hubba hubba

That angel deposited the goods on our table, my date and I shared a moment or pre-meal bliss, and we began to carve our lamb.

One word: Nirvana.

Served on a bed of Persian rice and chickpeas, this hunk of fatty, flavorful, tender and incredibly juicy meat just fell apart at my touch. And then I fell apart with each bite. We tackled as much as we could, but we made sure to hold out a bit of extra space in our tummies.

The grand finale:

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Chocolate kanafi – basically a bird’s nest of shredded phyllo dough filled with a melted chocolate ganache and topped with a dollop of passionfruit mascarpone (which was maybe a hint too tart for my tastes). The ganache was like a gentle chocolate lava that oozed into my mouth and filled me with assurance that everything would be okay.

We waddled home, our to-go bag running over with leftovers, knowing full well the glory that awaited us the next morning. Because you better believe, when a meal is this good on a Saturday night…

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…Topped with an egg or two, it’s going to be even better on a Sunday morning.

They’ve still got a few reservations if you wanna try to sneak in before March hits Philly (give them a call at 215-625-8800). And if you can’t get in before then, find yourself a handful of friends that dig good food and round em all up. You won’t regret it.

ClassPass in Philly: A Review from a Center City Gal

(Heads up: This post contains an affiliate link, which means I make a few dollars if you sign up for ClassPass using this link [You’ll also be able to skip the waitlist!] I received no compensation for writing this post, however, and all opinions are my own.)

Ok, phew, had to get that out there. Because the thing is: I LOVED my complimentary month (and some change) of ClassPass (in case you missed THAT whole announcement or initial feelings). And I’m really impressed with the progress I made in my classes I attended. Unfortunately for me, my time with CP fell during the holidays and two longer weekend trips, which resulted in me attending about 16 classes over the course of my 43ish days. This WOULD have cost about $150 on ClassPass (pro-rating my half month, and basing it on the former prices).

Pretty happy camper, over here

Pretty happy ClassPass-Kid, over here

I think I visited something like 8 studios (two for spinning, two for yoga, two for barre, one for rowing, and one for cross-training) which is definitely not even close to scratching the surface of the options. And this worked for me. I went 110% in every class, I enjoyed all but two, and I fell in love with a few. That said, as of right now, I’m going to hold off on renewing my ClassPass. Partially this is because of my personal circumstances, which are currently a little helter skelter at work with a fair amount of “off-schedule” hours coming up, partially because I’m commuting to-and-from Wilmington every now and then which can really cut into my after-work and before-work workouts, but mostly because, despite their recent drop of prices from $99 to $79 per month in Philly, the cheapskate within is not sure the increase of $35 from my standard gym membership is worth it (however, that recent drop in prices may have me checking back in come March!!)

The PROS of ClassPass

  • Diversity of classes. Y’ALL, there’s a ROWING class!! There’s yoga, hot yoga, power yoga, Lithe Method, spinning (total FlyWheel convert over here), cross-training (weights! Cardio! Yoga! OH MY!) bootcamps, and things I have never heard of (and still haven’t tried yet…) No need to get in a rut when you’ve got all these options!

    Sick form on that stroke, eh?

    Sick form on that stroke, eh?

  • TECHNOLOGY! I love the App, the website is super easy to use, and some of the studios (COUGH FLYWHEEL COUGH) even give you the bonus tech of THEIR sites. Below is a report of my 4 FlyWheel classes. Pretty amazing way to track progress and how you perform day to day!

    Clearly Monday, January 26 I became an ANIMAL

    Clearly Monday, January 26 I became an ANIMAL

  • The Studios Themselves: ClassPass has done an amazing job of getting the TOP fitness studios in Philadelphia signed up. If I’d taken 16 classes individually, I likely would’ve spent at least $300. And then been kicked out of my apartment for inability to pay rent. These are the finest, cleanest, most-updated studios in the area. And I loved being a part of them all, in some capacity.

The CONS of ClassPass

  • The diversity is spread PRETTY far…. Here are all the classes offered in “Philadelphia Metro Area”:Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 4.42.47 PMNot too shabby, right? Except, as a woman without a car (and no real interest in trying to get one just to work out), THESE are the studios I can/would go to:Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 5.03.40 PMAnd even some of those in the Northeast are pushing it…. It’s still more than my current gym offers, but far less than it appears in that first map.
  • The cost Whoah. As I was writing this up, CP dropped down to $79… and suddenly seems less out of reach and more… manageable.
  • ClassPass classes only: Lots of studios should mean the feeling of an endless SMORGASBORD of classes, right? Except… not always. Many of the studios I’ve visited before only have “ClassPass” Spots in the early morning, or during the middle of the day…. For someone without a very flexible schedule, this can be an issue. I tend to prefer to workout before work or IMMEDIATELY after…. but sometimes classes were only offered to certain studios at 11am or 7:30pm. Not my cuppa tea (whether it’s because I’m working, or already considering bed…)
  • No-Show Fee: You cancel a class within 24 hours of the time it starts? $20 fee. YES this made me feel very accountable. BUT come on, life happens. $20 is a steep price to pay if you get caught in traffic, or if plans suddenly change.

All in all, if you’re already spending money for a gym membership and you don’t feel like you’re getting a ton out of it, ClassPass could be just what the doctor ordered!

PLUS if you wanna skip the waitlist and join ClassPass ASAP, click this image to use my affiliate link.

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