Weekday Update: Feastival 2011

This past Wednesday, I had the pleasure of volunteering with Corie Moscow of Gloss PR and her fabulous team at the 2nd Annual Feastival. Co-hosted by the gastronomical trifecta of Stephen Starr, Michael Solomonov, + Audrey Claire Taichman, Feastival is a celebration of culinary arts, highlighting the talent of Philadelphia’s top 75 restaurants and their chefs. It also stands as a benefit for Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe, but based on the number of times I was asked who the “charity” was, I’m pretty sure no one was really there for that reason. But I digress…

For most of the afternoon set-up, I checked in restaurants with my longtime catering pal, Harry Spivak, making sure everyone unloaded quickly and was situated at their stations. And along with that job, came dealing with your stereotypical chef personality traits – asking where their dedicated freezer space was (in a pier warehouse…), getting cursed out in a mix of English & French (guess who!), and endless inquiries of when the bar would be open. I’m used to it, enjoy it to some sadistic degree, and took it all in stride as the event professional that I am.

Before I knew it, I was speed-changing in a Porto-o-potty and slapping on a crimson-lipped smile as everyone from Rittenhouse “socialites” to CEOs of XYZ Company to the ex-Governor (who remembered who I was!) poured into the open-air Pier 9. The space really transformed as cocktail party met perfomance art – acrobats trapezing over a glass-topped bar, ballerinas floating above the who’s who of our great city, and the three belles of Strange Fruit teetering next to my soon-to-be-new-addiction, Federal Donuts. I soaked up what I could while I checked in press for most of the night, taking an awkward pride in knowing who most of the local food writers were before they could even get their name out. Any of you guys/gals hiring?

As the night wound down, I worked the room with requests to return all Feastival coats along with gift bags for the chefs. The busy bee that I was, I actually enjoyed eating with my eyes as I scurried past the remaining samples at each station. The crowd dwindled, the chefs migrated towards the bar, and I was officially relieved of a great day of helping to make some serious magic happen. So, I migrated to the bar, too… and not only because I needed a drink after a long day, but because 2 of my favorite Philly bartenders were pouring the booze. Colin, the no-longer bearded (sad face!) GM from Franklin Mortgage (the only bar I’d ever drink at if I could afford to), was on hand with the promise of whiskey. He took the edge off with a strong pour of Jim Beam’s Devils Cut in a martini glass, the last of the clean options. And you know I can’t have whiskey up without a beer… or beers. Thanks to my old co-worker and favorite day bartender from the Belgian Cafe, Lisa, I cruised through 2 Yard’s Pale Ales to end a perfect night.

Advertisements

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!

Saturday w/ Sarah: Ansill’s Menu @ Ladder 15

This past weekend, Dre & I went on a mission to the bookstore for Dalai Llama wisdom, food rules via Michael Pollan, & hopefully a continued subscription to Cook’s Illustrated. He headed off to work at 3 and I ventured across Broad is pursuit of a long-overdue Saturday w/ Sarah.

I’m glad I recalled that David Ansill (of Pif & Ansill restaurant notoriety) had revamped the menu* at the relatively new Ladder 15 – 1528 Sansom Street. Our waitress was great and beyond adorable, so I took her recommendation on the Pear Complex from their (also newly revamped) cocktail menu. DELICIOUS! We started off the meal with the Curried Lamb Empanadas. The three rich, crispy, & dense pockets were  savory and perfectly paired with an Apple Chutney & Mango Yogurt.

Curried Lamb Empanadas w/ Apple Chutney & Mango Yogurt

Ahh, the new buzz menu item around Phily – the Ladder 15 Burger! This burger is on a new level of decadence. Eff a kobe burger… a sizzling bone full of marrow & truffle sauce are where it’s at! For those that can’t handle it, they have a classic burger, too. Both are paired with perfectly crisp fries & parmesan mayo dipping sauce… with caviar on top?!?!

Burger 15 - Prime Sirloin, Braised Short Rib, Red Wine Mushrooms, Grilled Red Onion, Bone Marrow, & Truffle Sauce on Metropolitan Bakery Brioche**

Ansill’s self-titled restaurant (that unfortunatley closed last Summer) had a buzz menu item of its own – Korean Tacos! I never had the opportunity to try them, so it was exciting to have a second chance. The order came with (2) soft tacos – a Pork Belly one & a Braised Short Rib one. They were of a richness beyond my imagination with a fatty Korean BBQ marinade, kim chi, scallion, & sesame seeds. I WILL be back for these again soon… and to try whatever flaming dish I envied as it was delivered to another table.

Ansill's Korean Tacos - (1) Pork Belly & (1) Braised Short Rib

The highlight of the experience was not one, but two visits to our table by Chef Ansill. He made a welcome point to show Sarah his vision on topping off the Burger 15 and popped over again to see how we were enjoying everything. Now that’s a chef I can surely respect & support!

*Check out Ansill’s full new Ladder 15 menu HERE!

**Thanks to Metropolitan Bakery for their Twitter shoutout of my Burger 15 pic on Flickr!