Happy Hour at V Street (Philadelphia, PA)

For the first time in the history of my life, I stuck with the happy hour deals when I recently went out for an early bar bite. Well, almost. But I am getting better and that’s all that matters! The spot where I was so close to finally sticking to the happy hour menu was V Street, the second restaurant from the wonderful team behind Vedge. Drawn to it partially because it was new to me and partially due to the frigid February weather, I stopped into this small restaurant around Rittenhouse to grab some food and suck down a cocktail before running back to my room to dive under the covers.

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After walking in and spending roughly twenty minutes taking off all of my winter gear, I plopped myself down and easily decided which snacks I would order. I ended up opting for two $5 plates, the 5:00 Sichuan Soft Pretzels and Batada Bites. Slightly chewy with an intense sprinkle of black salt, the two pretzels were offset by the tang of ginger mustard. Still, it didn’t offer any new spins on this classic street food. The batada bites, on the other hand, were golden and crunchy yet smooth and flavorful on the inside. Comforting without being too familiar, these were not boring and were my favorite of the night. Those who think just switching to a diet of vegan food will help them lose weight only need look to these bites to understand otherwise. It was dirty and meant for those looking to indulge, which suited me perfectly.

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Of course, if you know me at all, you know that I washed this all down with a gin cocktail, especially considering the saltiness of my food. When my eye spied the Colonel Mustard in the Library with a Dagger, I knew I had found my beverage, even if it wasn’t one of the interesting happy hour deals. Featuring gin, cocchi, and yellow mustard before being garnished with a pickle, it didn’t really sound that appetizing to me, but I couldn’t deny my curiosity. Unsurprisingly, this was all about the mustard, and I could imagine drinking this one down with a stadium hot dog at a baseball game (not that I go to those sorts of things). On its own, the food would have been too salty and the cocktail a too-intense mess, but they came together beautifully and made for an interesting pairing on my night out.

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While the food was good yet a bit unremarkable, the bartenders only left me with a bad feeling in my mouth. I admittedly like to talk a lot, but I don’t expect my bartenders to stand there and gab with me the entire evening. However, I was the only person sitting at the bar and the two bartenders hardly spared me a glance. The man who eventually served me had the look of a lumberjack and the attitude of a hipster. Restrictive is the word that comes to mind when I think back on that evening. Maybe he could sense that I wasn’t a vegan and that was why everything was done in perfunctory manner. I didn’t belong to the club of people who needed places like V Street, so I wasn’t welcomed. It might have been as simple as him being a bad bartender though. I’ll probably never know. Either way, Grizzly Adams didn’t make me want to return.

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V Street isn’t a place to which I’ll be rushing back, though if friends wanted to go, I’d tag along. With so many phenomenal options around Rittenhouse, this experience was forgettable at best and depressing at worst. I won’t be dreaming about the bites I had, I won’t be coming back just to continue a conversation with a bartender, and this won’t be my first choice when I’m craving something exclusively vegan. There are better bites, friendlier bartenders, and more delicious vegan options blocks away from this spot, so that’s where I’ll be going whenever I want to eat radishes in new ways or try a dessert that doesn’t include a pound of eggs. When I go out, I want to unwind and enjoy myself, and unfortunately, V Street didn’t allow me to do that.
V Street on Urbanspoon

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Beers at Rustico (Arlington, VA)

I get bored easily. This is a fact that probably doesn’t bode well for future relationships. However, it does make trying new food and drink exciting. Sure, I get caught up in ordering the deviled eggs that appear on every menu nowadays and will grab a Blue Moon every so often, but for the most part, I want to experience innovation.

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Recently, I tried a few beers when I went to an Arlington spot called Rustico with my uncle. I tasted a dark, caramelly one and I sipped a soft wheat beer, but what I really want to talk about is a brew that was different from anything I’d ever had before. By the end of our time there, I moved on to the completely individual Femme Fatale Brett, which I ordered 90% for its name, 5% for its description, and 5% for the fact that it was served in a tulip glass. Tart and funky was the perfect descriptor; it couldn’t have smelled more like grapefruit if I had stuck my nose right into one while wearing grapefruit lotion and washing my hair with grapefruit shampoo. This crisp choice the color of aged gold was an American IPA with 6% APV. Also, did I mention the grapefruit flavor? I probably wouldn’t have been able to down a second, and it lent itself more to a humid summer day over a frigid February, but it was fun and youthful, certainly one to try.

For people who love experimenting with new beers, whether they are strong IPAs or silky stouts, Rustico is a nice option. With prompt yet laid back service, TVs churning out lots of sporting events, and a long industrial bar, this is a spot that lacks atmosphere, but it’s also a good provider of distinctive brews in the Arlington area, which is good enough to bring me back.
Rustico on Urbanspoon

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Helping Others with #FoodPicStrike

#FoodPicStrike

Today is the last day to participate in the #FoodPicStrike run by Great Nations Eat. All of us who blog about food are very fortunate and able to go out to nice restaurants, spend time experimenting with recipes, and share our passion for food with others. However, so many people around the world don’t have this luxury. Every country from the U.K. to Niger is filled with people wondering from where their next meal is coming. As far as the United States is concerned, 49 million Americans suffer from food insecurity, and this campaign is a way to raise money for them. All you have to do is share the picture above on Instagram and #FoodPicStrike. I encourage you to participate!

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Movie Review: Le Chef

My attempt to watch 365 movies in 2015 is still going strong! I’ve watched a little bit of everything at this point, but of course, the ones that are relevant to this blog are the food-focused films. I love a nice foodie film, but I adore a foodie film in French. I really just like hearing them talk. So, in an effort to watch a film about food and fangirl a little bit over the French, I queued up Le Chef on Netflix.

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With Jean Reno headlining, I went in with high hopes. As Alexandre Lagarde, the chef who clings to his method like a life raft, Reno humorously captures a food era that people either deride or nostalgically praise. The food isn’t bad, but he’s been serving up the same dishes for decades; in this current world of innovation, foams, and small plates, this won’t fly. Still, he doesn’t want to completely change because he knows his customers and he’s passionate about what he puts out. People who come from old money dine here, so hipsters and food snobs who worship Wylie Dufresne need not apply.

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If Alexandre represents old school cookery, Jacky Bonnot is the man who idolizes that time. He’s like a Led Zeppelin fan born in 1985, filled with nostalgia for a time he didn’t even get to enjoy. Food is taken even more seriously with this young gun. Heaven forbid a lamb is overcooked (a horror I completely understand)! Don’t change a recipe you know works! Perfect your dish, and then don’t let anyone ruin it! The movie illustrates the passion behind food while also poking fun at people like Jacky.

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This is a movie filled with extremes, and the newer style of cooking is found everywhere. Alexandre is considered a dinosaur well past his prime and Jacky clings to a style that should be forgotten, but others want something with more flash. Leading the charge is the manager of the restaurant, Stanislas Matter. Not a film to do anything with subtlety, he is the clear villain. To back him up, the new chef Stanislas wants hire serves as his henchman. For these guys, the only real food is molecular food. Alexandre is a washed-up joke who needs to be ousted. Nothing could convince them otherwise, which only helps strengthen the two opposing sides throughout the film.

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The biggest pitfall of is a cringe-worthy scene where the two main characters dress up as Asians and sneak into a competitor’s restaurant. Stereotypes and insults abound throughout the scene, and even discounting that it isn’t funny. It plays out similar to every other typical “let’s sneak in somewhere and get intel” movie. They sneak in; they make fools of themselves; they almost get caught; rise and repeat. Going down as smoothly as a stale baguette, this entire scene is superfluous and dull. Easily the lowest point, it brings down an otherwise silly film.

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Besides wishing that the whole Asian scene had been nixed, my other qualm about this film is the lack of food shots. I didn’t need half the film to be filled with food porn that would make HBO execs blush, but I would have enjoyed a few mouthwatering images. The food really only takes center stage when it is made fun of. Duck that tastes like bubblegum and food that should never have been created are the shots that we get, leaving me wanting less of that and more real food. It’s a small bone to pick, but it’s one that nevertheless stood out to me. With movies like Chef and TV shows that use precious screen time to relay shots of bubbling broths and gooey cheeses, I’ve been spoiled, and I intend to keep it that way.

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Before you go ahead and add this to your Netflix queue, let me be clear: there is no message. That does not necessarily make the movie inherently good or bad, it’s just a statement of fact. It isn’t some caterpillar that transforms into a butterfly or a heavyweight bull throwing its weight around, it’s a puppy with whom to play. Once I reached the end I asked myself a series of questions: Are they advocating the old school method? Is tradition supposed to be good? Should there be a balance between duck confit and plates put together with tweezers? I have answers to none of these, and I assure you it has more to do with the breezy nature of the film than my poor cognitive skills.

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This is a simple film that doesn’t provide much in the way of substance, but for a fun night in, I wholeheartedly recommend it. Somewhere along the line, simple films that lack a greater message became bad. However, sometimes I just want to sit on the couch and enjoy myself without worrying about angst, or tissues, or some huge payoff. Le Chef is perfect for those who feel the same way. If you like mom’s grilled cheese and dining at TGI Friday’s every so often, spend some time with this film; if you can only be pleased by fancy crostini and real Champagne, look elsewhere.

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Lunch at Oyster House (Philadelphia, PA)

As a girl who grew up in Baltimore, I couldn’t survive without seafood. Steamed crabs with so much Old Bay that you have to wash your hands three times to get it all off; chilled shrimp ready to be dunked into sinus-clearing cocktail sauce; clams hidden beneath butter, cheese, and a crispy slice of bacon. I like it all.

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While the only seafood I’ll say no to is fast food fried fish sandwiches (say that a dozen times fast), I have a soft spot for oysters. Raw, grilled, or fried, I’ll take them any way I can get them. This passion led me right to Oyster House minutes after getting into Philly a few weeks ago.

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Walking in, everyone’s eye should be drawn right toward the white marble bar that takes up a nice portion of the restaurant. Snagging a seat there during lunch was easy, and it’s always my preferred spot to sit due to the fast service and friendly bartenders. The entire restaurant feels clean and crisp, with fun pops coming from the colorful vintage oyster plates that decorate the walls. It straddles the line between upscale and casual without feeling pretentious, a feat in and of itself.

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After eavesdropping a bit on the adorable couple to my left and the man nursing a Chardonnay to my right, I ordered a Doldrum Denial Punch from the bartender. A mix of St. George’s Terroir gin, lillet, cranberry, and sage, this was a good summertime drink, and paired well with the briny oysters I would eventually slurp down. Even though I did like this first cocktail, it was a bit too sweet for me and I needed to switch to something else by round two.

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As I told my bartender that I loved gin in just about anything, he introduced me to my newest love, the Permafrost. He described it as a twist on a gin fizz, a point that only sold me further on trying this new concoction out. This blend of Boodles gin, fino sherry, honey syrup, egg white, and handful of things I didn’t write down was mellower than my first choice, but by far the superior beverage. It wasn’t the kind of cocktail for everyone for a number of reasons, such as the frothiness and the bitter hint of grapefruit. However, it was the kind of cocktail for this happy chica.

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In addition to partaking in a cocktail lunch that would make Roger Sterling proud, I did put a little bit of food in my belly to soak it all up. Starting off with the slightly zingy Snapper Turtle Soup, I spent my time reveling in the depth of flavor in this option. This was perfect for winter due to the weighty meat and the rusty red color. Still, it was neither too thick nor overwhelming for lunch. It had a lot of layers to it and was the kind of soup that should be savored. Thinking on it now, it’s one that I can’t wait to go back and try in order to unlock whatever mysteries eluded me that first time I dug in.

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Although the cocktails and soup kept me content, I went to this restaurant with the intention of trying some delicious oysters, and try them I did. I kicked off my oyster feast well by beginning with my go-to Salt Ponds, a rich, balanced option from Rhode Island. From there, I tried the intensely briny Washburn Islands, which just edged on too salty for me. A touch of the accompanying mignonette cut the sharpness of this option and made them more enjoyable. After these, I went with Little Shemogues, hailing from New Brunswick. These were my favorite of the afternoon because of the nice briny kick to them that was not overwhelming. While they all came from the Northeast coast and fit into a similar flavor profile, their subtle differences set them apart and made each a unique choice. For real oyster lovers, I think trying oysters from similar areas all at once is the best way to determine your favorites, and it’s a method I’ve taken up elsewhere as well.

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Never one to shy away from trying a restaurant by myself, I would go to Oyster House anytime to scratch my seafood itch. For those who need company though, the buck-a-shuck happy hour is ideal for a group of people looking to enjoy some seafood without dropping a lot of money. No matter what your preference, this location puts out the best seafood I’ve had in Philadelphia and should be visited by anyone in town. It offers simple food done perfectly, ideal for those who feel at home with shellfish. With the big boom Philly has seen in recent years as far as quality restaurants go, it’s hard to narrow my list of favorites down, but Oyster House is easily a spot that makes the list, and I hope it stays on there in the years to come.
Oyster House on Urbanspoon

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Recipe: Cheesy Broccoli Soup

I like broccoli, but I love broccoli when it’s covered in cheese. Even better, cheesy soup that has broccoli in it. Though everyone some label me a snob, I will eat my fake, block cheese on everything from a cheesesteak with wiz to this soup recipe I’m about to share with you all. Coming from a copy of Southern Living from the late 70s, this recipe has been adapted by my family over time. While the original called for green peppers and some water, ours focuses on the broccoli and adds chicken broth. For those looking for something truly vegetarian, the cream of chicken soup and chicken broth could easily be substituted for their veggie equivalents. However, I like the way we make it just fine, and will probably be consuming some in the next few days. With the weather we’ve been having, there are few things that sound as good to me as a warm, heavy bowl of soup to forget about the cold. If you are also stuck inside with inches of snow outside, I bet you feel the same!

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Cheesy Broccoli Soup

Yield: 5 1/2 cups

1 bag (10-16 oz.) broccoli florets

1/2 cup chopped onion

2 tbsp. butter, melted

1 (10 3/4 oz.) can of cream of chicken soup, undiluted

1 1/2 cup milk

1 cup chicken broth

3/4 lb. processed American cheese (preferably Velveeta)

Handful Parmesan cheese

1. Sauté onion with butter in medium pot. Add broccoli and chicken broth to pot and cook until broccoli is tender.

2. Add milk and cream of chicken, followed by Velveeta and Parmesan.

3. Cook over medium-low until cheese melts, stirring often. Puree with stick blender until the soup is mostly smooth. Serve and enjoy.

 

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Dinner at Kapnos Taverna (Arlington, VA)

My posts in February were few and far between compared to January, but now that it’s March, I’m hoping to get back on schedule! First up, a review of a location at which I dined while visiting my aunt and uncle in Virginia. We ended up trying the new Kapnos Taverna, a restaurant I later learned is owned by Top Chef alum Mike Isabella.

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Decorated simply in a palette of blues and grays, the restaurant gave off an air of being calm, open, and large. Seated in the bar area, our waiter was fairly hands-off yet still thorough and willing to answer any questions we had. I don’t need to be coddled throughout my meal, so this worked perfectly for me. Of the two drinks I tried that evening, the one that I adored was The Shepherd, an herbaceous gin cocktail that featured oregano and tart lemon juice. It was a cocktail made for me. I do know some crazies don’t enjoy gin though, and the vodka-based Sunset Spritz was also good, particularly for those who love citrus. The thought put into the cocktail list was impressive and there was something for everyone on there, which should be the basic standard for any restaurant crafting a decent drink list.

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These cocktails were a solid way to begin the evening, but before long, plate after plate of food came out. The Roasted Crimini Mushrooms were easily the best thing we tried that night. Featuring a hefty serving of garlic and a zing of lemon, the mushrooms were the star of the evening. These plump veggies packed a lot of flavor, but certainly weren’t enough to keep us satisfied. On the freezing Sunday out, the Cheese Saganaki was what hit the spot. Bubbling, salty, and balanced out by a touch of honey, I couldn’t get enough of this stuff. We quickly devoured everything on the hot skillet, picking it all up with the feather-light flatbread. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one at the table who burned my tongue due to impatience.

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Another dish of note was the meaty Spit-Roasted Lamb, a tender, succulent option that was served with tzatziki and a surprisingly spicy red chili sauce. For those who can’t take the heat, the Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail was a lightly-dressed option that boasted of both subtlety and lingering flavor. If you’re like me and really enjoy tasting the seafood, I’d say to leave the cocktail sauce untouched and relish in the flavor of the shrimp. Much like the cocktail list, there was a little something for everyone on the menu. All of these choices were very different and provided a unique experience, highlighting the benefits of mezze. Those who can’t share should look elsewhere in Arlington for their next meal.

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Still, everything was not sunshine and daisies at this busy spot. The biggest disappointment was the East Coast Oysters we ordered. Shucked poorly with all of that briny oyster liquor gone, they felt dry and lifeless. I’m always a bit reticent to order oysters in a restaurant that simply labels them ‘east coast’ or ‘west coast,’ and these babies were a prime example why. Nothing else sank quite as low as these oysters, but there were still dishes I would pass over on a second visit, including the generally lackluster Cumin Yogurt Marinated Chicken Souvlaki and the Crispy Eggplant, which could have been lovely if the orange zest hadn’t overpowered the rest of the dish.

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Though Kapnos Taverna has some kinks to work out, the vegetable mezze and cocktails were strong enough to encourage my return. I don’t visit Arlington often (my uncle either hates me, can only take so much of my awesomeness, or has a secret wife he doesn’t want me to meet), but I now look forward to going to the Kapnos in D.C., too. A must-visit for anyone who loves Greek food, Kapnos Taverna was a spot that provided diversity and fulfillment, and I can’t wait to see what else Mike Isabella comes up with as his empire grows.
Kapnos Taverna on Urbanspoon

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