Restaurant Rewind: Max Brenner & the Family

The weekend before Mom’s Day, my sister & I met up with my parents for Sunday dinner. Kerry decided on Max Brenner, a global chain focused on inspiring a new “chocolate culture.” Many a man has named a restaurant after himself and this bald guy seemed a bit suspect. But in the spirit of celebrating Mary Ann’s birthday, it made sense to give our family chocolate lover an indulgent experience. And that is was!

The menu consisted of familiar items with a “Max Brenner Chocolate Culture” twist. It was hard to focus on savory dinner items with a bible of chocolatey confections tempting you, so we made up our minds on dessert before placing our dinner order. I ordered the Veggie Conscious Burger. The soft, herb-flavored patty topped with tomato & avocado engulfed a brioche bun smeared with avocado-cilantro mayo. chili-chocolate powder dusted waffle fries with some yummy spiced mayo dipping sauce sat opposite  on the long oblong wooden serving plank. My dad ordered The Brenner Burger and we loved both!

NOTE: 2 pickle spears and I didn’t even have to ask!

Veggie Conscious Burger @ Max Brenner

Dad & I decided to share a side dish as well and were fully impressed with the Black & Tan Beer Battered Vidalia Onion Rings w. Dark Chocolate Ranch. You heard that right – time to get some chocolate Ranch dip in your life!

Black & Tan Beer Battered Vidalia Rings w/ Dark Chocolate Ranch Dressing @ Max Brenner

Kerry was underwhelmed by the fish tacos, but Mary Ann seemed to really enjoy her Deep Bleu Cobb Salad. A sampling on my part deemed it quite tasty & crisp. Rabbit food (complete with ears) done right!

Deep Bleu Cobb Salad @ Max Brenner

Now, on to the important stuff, CHOCOLATE! We were quick to place our dessert order since our minds were already made up. Spoons in hand, the four of us waited for our two selections to arrive. Mary Ann went with the Melting Chocolate Heart, a classic chocolate bomb with a oozing raspberry filling, for a tart & rich end to a great meal.

Melting Chocolate Heart @ Max Brenner

I chose my favorite approach to a dessert crepe – Banana & Hazelnut – finished with a side of ice cream, berries & molten chocolate syrup. Took me back to the La Crêperie truck of my Temple days. I loved it –  every last bite & every moment with the fam!

Banana & Hazelnut Cream Crepe @ Max Brenner

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MARY ANN!

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Restaurant Rewind: Date Night @ Sampan

I love date night! On a Friday in early March (bear with me, I’m a bit behind), Dre & I made plans for dinner at Sampan, the new hot spot I’ve been dying to try.  We walked into the bustling restaurant early for our 930pm reservation and sat at the bar for some cocktails. First on the drink list, and my choice, was the Blood Orange Martini w. Gin, Lillet, & Blood Orange. It a great balance of sweet & tart, but I was really jealous once I sampled Dre’s crisp Yuzu Sake Martini w. Gin, Elder Flower, & Lemon Grass. So far, so good!

Dre noticed that there was counter seating overlooking the energetic open kitchen. The hostess confirmed that a twosome was about to pay their bill and seats would be opening up. SCORE! What more could a foodie ask for than to watch the magic happen (under great lighting,too!). We got to know the cold line chefs, Matt & Onna, along the way and oggled the food porn they effortlessly executed. I’m always refreshed by a culinary team so dedicated to their craft.

Tuna w. Avocado, Puffed Rice, Flat Bread, & Spicy Sauce

Earlier in the week, I met Michael Schulson, the man behind Sampan, at a Philadelphia Weekly sponsored panel discussion on “Chefs, Bloggers, & the Blogosphere.” After the event, Chef Schulson graciously indulged my request for some personal menu recommendations. I definitely took his suggestions seriously! While we waited for each of our 7 carefully selected dishes to arrive, we sipped Sampan’s monster cocktail, the Scorpion Bowl – 64 ounces of rum, gin, white win, & fruit juice. It was really tasty, impressively strong, & lasted through the whole dinner. Our first dish, the Edamame Ravioli was light, tender, & perfectly enhanced with white truffle oil.

Sampan's Edamame Ravioli w. Truffle, Shoot, & Sake Broth

I always like to try different interpretations of the famous Philly Cheesesteak and we really enjoyed Chef Schulson’s version. The braised beef was rich & savory, accented with crispy shallots & Sriracha’s perfect heat.

Philly Cheese Steak w. Bao Bun, Shallot, & Sriracha

Next, a contrasting plate of cool freshness arrived. Chilled poached lobster nuggets laid under a simple pico of flavor-packed chopped tomatoes & garlic speckled with tender black beans for a perfect intermezzo between savory dishes.

Lobster w. Black Bean, Tomato, Garlic

I love bulgogi, so the Korean BBQ Beef Satay was a no brainer. Double-enforced skewers pierced tender ribbons of marinated medium-rare short rib topped with traditional kim che. They were a bit too pink for Dre’s liking, but that just meant more for me to savor.

Korean BBQ Beef Satay w. Short Rib, Bulgogi, Kim Che

The following dish may have be my favorite & the most interesting. I was excited to see the flavor combination & presentation of hiramasa, a sustainable substitution for yellowtail, bacon, arugula, & a pear kim che. The menu may tell you what you’re getting, but in most instances not how you’d expect to get it. From the deconstructed spicy tuna (see the photo above of Ona preparing this dish) to the current plate in front of us, Sampan’s surprises always seem to please. I really loved this dish. Beyond the interesting plating, the flavor blend was spectacular. I took the time to include a morsel of each element on my fork for each bite. The clean hiramasa fillets, painted with a peppery arugula puree, were a flawless palate for smokey bacon and sweet & spicy pear kim che. The portion was impressive and I still could have eaten another plate!

Hiramasa w. Bacon, Arugula, Pear Kim Chi

Another interesting take on a traditional dish was Sampan’s Peking Duck. The tender duck meat was pulled & served with foam in a small glass jar. The accompaniments included julienne cucumber, shaved scallion, & tamarind pancakes to build your own Peking Duck soft taco.

"Peking" Duck w. Tamarind Pancake, Scallion, Cucumber

Our final dish was a last minute decision and a menu item I’d been eyeing since before we made reservations – the Wonton Taco. The wonton wrapper, crisped in the deep fryer into a perfect hard taco shell, was stuffed with spicy succulent rock shrimp balanced with blood orange & avocado. We were one of a few tables left & we scarfed them before I could snap a pic.

Sampan’s energy and delicious cuisine were a perfect setting for another amazing date night with Dre. I couldn’t imagine anyone else I’d want to “mmm & ahh” over an impressive dinner with!

Next trip to Sampan – bahn mi & homemade ice cream!

Leftover Lightning! Sweet & Spicy Garlic Shrimp Lettuce Wraps!

Portioning is definitely not my forte when it comes to cooking… but who can deny leftovers! With my Spicy Fish Taco dinner, I went a bit overboard with the Mexi-Risotto! I also had an avocado, grape tomatoes, romaine, & green onion to use at their peak freshness. I defrosted some U-30 shrimp and made the tastiest Sweet & Spicy Garlic Sauce (recipe via Big Oven) to toss them in! I added some extra water in the end as the result was a bit too sticky for me, but I’ll def be keeping this simple recipe in my back pocket & suggest you do too! Next time I may just make the sauce & pour it over rice (or drink it straight)!

I wasn’t sure about the blend of flavors once I combined all of my lettuce wrap ingredients, but they meshed perfectly!

Sweet & Spicy Garlic Shrimp Lettuce Wraps

Sweet & Spicy Garlic Shrimp Lettuce Wraps

Sweet & Spicy Garlic Shrimp Lettuce Wraps:

Sweet & Spicy Garlic Shrimp – U-30 Shrimp tossed in this amazing & easy Big Oven Recipe

Leftover Mexi-Risotto

Tomato-Avocado Salsa – Leftover Avocado, Grape Tomatoes, & Green Onion w/ Lime Juice & S&P – made by Dre

Whole Romaine Leaves

To Taste: Spicy Fish Tacos & Mexi-Risotto

One of my favorite quick & economical meals is Spicy Fish Tacos. Acme offers frozen Tilapia fillets in single portions at $1.00 apiece, so my freezer is always stocked with the easy to defrost packets. Summer hosts the best vegetables so fresh avocado, grape tomatoes, romaine, & green onion were mandatory additions! I had a bit more time on my hands on this quiet Sunday evening, so I had no qualms spending a bit more time in the kitchen pairing it with a Sweet Pepper & Cheddar Risotto. Thank goodness for Dre, my handsome kitchen assistant, as he took on the tiring task of continually stirring the rice.

Spicy Fish Tacos w/ Mexi-Risotto

Spicy Fish Tacos w/ Mexi-Risotto

Spicy Tilapia, Grape Tomatoes, Romaine, Green Onion, & Flour Tortillas

Spicy Tilapia, Grape Tomatoes, Romaine, Green Onion, & Flour Tortillas

Spicy Fish Tacos & Mex-Risotto:

Spicy Tilapia Fillets – Marinated in Sazon, Sriracha, Garlic, Shallots, & Lime Juice, Pan-Fried

Flour Tortillas

Mexi-Risotto – Red, Orange & Yellow Sweet Peppers, Cheddar, Garlic, Shallots, Chicken Stock, & Arborio

Restaurant Rewind: P.Y.T.

Friday night, I scooped the man from work & we headed to PYT, TommyUp’s newly-launched burger & shake bar at the Piazza at Schmidt’s. My patronage is the least I can offer to someone who has provided me with some epic party memories over the last 5 years! A storm was astir, so we sat ourselves at the strategically-placed yellow tables protected by the tunnel entrance-ways. We placed our order with the anticipated hipster waitress, adorable in her leopard dress, platinum bangs, & bright smile. 20 minutes later, magic arrived… complete with a stunning boom of thunder!

PYT Cheeseburger w/ lettuce, tomato, onion, fried egg, bacon, & mayo on a potato roll

PYT Cheeseburger - med-well w/ lettuce, tomato, onion, fried egg, bacon, & mayo on a potato roll

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