Friday, March 30, 2012

Breakfast Fare at the Market

My foodie partner Keri and I have an ongoing disagreement.  While she is a huge fan of breakfast, she is a downer on brunch, because it falls in that dead zone between breakfast and lunch (and she's a stickler for etiquette.) 

For me, brunch is a languid breakfast -- one of those ultimate indulgences that you only get to do, very occasionally, at the weekend or when you're on holiday and can have a lie in...

What we both agree on, however, is the importance of a hearty breakfast to set you up for the day. 

You'd think that this would be an indisputable truth, but according to the medical website, WebMD, the majority of people still grab a coffee on the go and call that breakfast.  WebMD asserts that "making breakfast a daily habit can help you lose weight -- and keep it off."

In a post entitled Lose Weight: Eat Breakfast, WebMD cites several studies to back up their claim including a study using data supplied by The National Weight Control Registry.  As WebMD maintains: "Eating breakfast is a daily habit for the "successful losers" who belong to The National Weight Control Registry. These people have maintained a 30-pound (or more) weight loss for at least a year, and some as long as six years."

Now that we know how important it is to eat breakfast, here's a selection of some of the breakfasts that we've enjoyed at Reading Terminal Market.

1. Down Home Diner's Spinach Omelet, turkey bacon, pigs in blankets, and grilled tomatoes. 

2.The Famous Smucker's Breakfast Sandwiches - their sausage, egg and cheese is a current fave.

3.  Beck's Cajun Cafe--We mourn the fact that Beck's Beignets are only available on Wednesdays and Sundays. For those other days of the week, try Beck's Bourbon St. Breakfast: Red beans and rice topped with a fried egg.

Beck's Beignets

4.  Le Bus.  When you only have time for a grab-and-go breakfast, then the Market's bakeries are the answer...
LeBus Muffins and Rolls

Metropolitan Croissants

5.  Metropolitan Bakery.  See #4.  Their millet muffin is delicious and provides plenty of whole grain roughage

6.  Profi's Creperie.  We like both their sweet and savory options.  The egg/cheese/ham filled crepe fills the gap nicely.

8.  Dutch Eating Place--This is fast food and fast service, but it's good food too.

9 & 10.  Once you're done, stop by Tootsie's for a healthy lunch-to-go, Old City Coffee for a quick coffee, or one of the fresh produce merchants to grab some fresh fruit for a mid-morning snack!
Pancakes bursting with blueberries, or

A protein-packed cheesy omlet.
Which of these breakfasts stoke your fire in the mornings?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Girls' Night Out at La Cucina in Reading Terminal Market

Girls' Night Out Cajun Cooking Class
“I love my job,” says Anna Florio, owner of La Cucina at the Market, the cooking school in the heart of Philly's own Reading Terminal Market.  “People are always so happy when they come here to cook..” Looking round the room at the sea of bright, smiling faces, you couldn’t disagree with her.

Sixteen ladies were joining Anna and her chef du jour, Bill Beck of the Market’s own Beck’s Cajun Cafe, to crack the secrets of Cajun cookery.

The Bourbon Street Small Plates menu looked daunting...

The Girls started out by sampling a Sazerac Spritzer comprising whiskey, Absinthe, Lemon and Bitters. 

For Chef Beck's recipe, which leaves you wanting another (and another, and another.....) click here.   For a potted history of this cocktail, see cocktails.

While sipping cocktails the Girls and their guests munched away on crab claws served up with Beck's own famous Creole Mayo.  The tart spiciness of the Mayo worked perfectly with the fleshy crab claws... (Feel free to steal this idea for your own appetisers.)

Bill and Anna then called on the Girls to pitch in.  All present took it in turns being sous-chefs, manning their respective food stations in La Cucina and helping out with the food prep. 

Creole Crostini came first.  Goat cheese was whipped with heavy cream, piled onto thinly sliced and toasted baguette and this melange was then topped with a rather exciting spicy tomato jam (for recipe see http://www.beck'scajuncafe/.)

This appetiser was then followed by Bill's Garden District Salad. 

This is an easy to make, brightly colored, all year round salad consisting of salad greens (Bill used a spring mix); artichokes in oil; hearts of palm and central to the salad, freshly roasted red peppers.

Two volunteer sous-chefs gamely roasted the peppers on an open flame.

After the ingredients had been chopped into evenly sized pieces, Bill whisked up a classic Dijon vinaigrette to drizzle over the salad.  (He ameliorated this recipe by the addition of fresh snipped chives and a crushed garlic clove.)

The pinnacle of the evening was learning how to cook that New Orleans special occasion dish - a Crawfish Boil, which includes crawfish, kielbasa (a Polish spicy sausage) fresh corn on the cob, red potatoes and of course lager.  (Bill favours Yuengling for his boil.)

Beck's Devil Dust, Cayenne Pepper and Hot Sauce give this dish its bite

For many, the highlight of the menu was Bill's Mini Bread Puddings.  This dish is one of the best sellers in Beck's Cajun Cafe and for good reason.  Beck's bread pudding is more than just an eggy pudding.  The crunchy bread topping is doused in a light vanilla-infused custard which sits on a compote of sweet pears.

The attendees learned the secret of how to make this memorable New Orleans version of a traditional bread pudding.  Want to find out for yourself?  Full details to follow in a later post.

Bill shows the gals how to hold a cook's knife correctly and slice through corn cleanly.  This was just one of the inside tricks of the trade he shared with the attendees at La Cucina's Girls' Night Out

Monday, March 26, 2012

C19 Restaurant Opens with Local, Slow Food Focus


We were delighted to be invited to the relaunch party of C19 Restaurant.

One of the few perks of this job is the occasional opportunity to enjoy really good food for free.

C19's Venetian Chef/Owner Andrea Luca Rossi is serious about food.  He has fully embraced the Slow Food Movement which seeks to reconnect us with the food we eat, resurrect local culinary and agricultural traditions, and foment responsible and sustainable food production.

We met several of Chef Rossi's suppliers, including Alex Archambaultto of Grateful Acres, whose farm partners with C19 to produce fresh vegetables, fruits and eggs for the restaurant's kitchen.  Chef Rossi is also committed to the "Zero Miles Campaign", which strives to serve food produced locally.  Which is all wonderful, but begs the most important question:  how does it taste?  The all-important answer is:  fantastic!  We sampled a variety of dishes from C19's kitchen and one was better than the next.

Like any properly festive evening, we started with a cocktail.  This refreshing Prosecco concoction infused wiith Aperol and a spritz of orange was a perfect quaff on a warm spring evening.

We moved onto the cheeseboard, which featured a selection that included fontina, reggiano, goat, fresh ricotta and local honey.  Our next stop was the fish table.  We met Chef Rossi's fish suppliers, the folks from Ippolito's Seafood, who shared some interesting observations about how their customers' consumption habits have changed.  In general, they said people are more willing to eat raw fish than ever before.  Previously, only the adventurous ate sushi; now they see fish served raw to a wider range of diners in the form of crudo, ceviche, and shellfish cocktails.

The Albacore Tuna Crudo, cubed and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with coarse pink sea salt was sublime.

The Tramezzino, a toasted brioche-style bread topped with hearts of palm salad was a vegetarian delight.

And the Venetian Polpette, aka Meatballs, were, well, all that I aspired to when I made New Year's Resolution #2 last January, i.e to master meatballs.  (Still unfulfilled, for the record.)  Chef Rossi tells us that his secret is using meat with a higher fat content (25%) and his mamma's recipe, of course. 

The Beggar's Purse was a stunner; house made crepes, filled with pureed spinach, asparagus, and cheese, and tied with a ramp.  It was so pretty we almost didn't want to eat it. Almost.

And the final icing on the proverbial cake was the John and Kira's Chocolate Figs that Chef Andrea served for dessert, paired with a surprisingly delicious Penn's Woods dessert wine, Lacrima Dolce.  A pretty heavenly combo, I'll warrant.

In addition to the glorious food, the admirable commitment to its local, eco-friendly, sustainable mission, its likable chef/owner, C19 has another major plus:  No dish on the menu is priced above $19.00.  

What are you waiting for?

Friday, March 23, 2012

New Orleans Garden District Salad

At La Cucina's "Girls Night Out" Cajun Cooking Class, Chef Bill Beck shared his tricks of the trade

The Garden District in New Orleans is world famous as an example of Southern architecture. 

The District earned its name because of the mansions built in this spot for the wealthy plantation owners: their supersized houses initially featured glorious oversized gardens. 

As the City grew during the late 1800s, a number of the owners of these spectacular mansions sold off parcels of their land and smaller Victorian houses were built on the site of these former gardens.

Today, the Garden District is a unique melting pot of architectural styles, characterized by "a mélange of high styles gleaned from not just the Spanish and French, but also from the Italians, the British, and the “Greek Revival.” (for further info, see's insightful overview on the District's lineage.)

The food emanating from New Orleans reflects the varied influences that shape and define this unique city - which is what makes the New Orleans cuisine so attractive. 

In tribute to this heritage, Chef Bill Beck of Beck's Cajun Cafe rolled out his Garden District Salad at a recent cooking class held at La Cucina in Reading Terminal Market.  The classes, designated as a "Girls' Night Out," focused on Cajun cooking with Chef Bill demonstrating a series of New Orleans small plates, including this Garden District Salad.

The salad is colorful and evocative of sunshine-laden days spent in New Orleans....


(This salad serves 4 people.  Scale up quantities dependent on the size of your dinner party!)
1x jar of marinated artichokes
4 stems of hearts of palm, cut into 1/2 inch rounds
1 red pepper roasted and skin removed, then cut into strips.
Spring mix salad greens

For the vinaigrette dressing
(The recipe below produces approximately 14 oz of dressing.  As the recipe includes raw egg we would not recommend storing the dressing for any length of time.  Use immediately.  If you would like to omit the egg then the dressing will keep for longer, perhaps 2-3 days, in the fridge.

2 tsps of Dijon mustardbsps olive oil
3 cloves of garlic minced
1 egg white
6oz of virgin olive oil
4oz of vegetable oil
2 tbsps of finely minced cloves
2-3 tbsps of water
1 1/2 tbsps of honey
Juice of a lemon
1 1/2 oz Apple Cider
1 1/2 oz Champagne Cider
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Mix first three ingredients together in a bowl.
2. Slowly add the two types of oil to this mix. Add approx 2oz at a time (Note the virgin olive oil provides a strong flavor.  To balance this out and ensure that the salad is not overwhelmed, Chef Bill prefers to use vegetable oil in tandem with the virgin oil.)
3. Add chives, water - to thin the dressing slightly - and the honey.
4. Add the juice of the lemon and then add the two vinegars a little at a time -- to stretch out the dressing.
5. Season with salt and pepper.
6. Toss Spring mix salad in dressing, then add in other prepared salad ingredients (artichokes, pepper, hearts of palm.)

The resulting salad has great texture and crunch.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Salad Days

As this burst of spring weather has exploded upon us, I can't help but crave lighter, greener fare.  This is partly due to the fact that beach season is just around the corner, and after a hedonistic and gustatory winter of cooking, dining, and blogging, I may risk being harpooned come June.  But it's also due to the fact that as the warmer weather arrives, we naturally steer away from the heavy stews and braises of winter in favor of salads and grills.

We know we're not quite there in terms of veggies and fruits yet.  Butch at Iovine's, our go-to guy for all things produce, tells us that we've got some weeks to go before fresh and local become the norm on our tables.

But that doesn't mean that we can't enjoy our favorite salads, either from our own kitchens or at some of our regular restaurant haunts.  If you're making your own, we can definitely recommend Butch's winter salad and our signature Caesar.  I'm also a huge fan of baby arugula tossed in a basic balsamic vinaigrette--a wonderful refreshing side at dinner or for lunch as a healthy bed for a scoop of tuna salad, a few slices of grilled chicken, or a slab of frittata.

If you prefer to let someone else cook it, have you tried Zento's tuna sashimi salad?  Or Las Bugambilla's Ensalada Mexicana?

I adore Amada's Express Lunch--can never decided between the ensalada verde, with its gorgeous combo of greens, beans, avocado and shaved Manchego,

or the more indulgent Serrano Ham and fig salad with Cabrales (Spanish bleu cheese.)

Other strong salad combos to make at home:
  • Romaine, black beans, red onions, corn, and shredded sharp cheddar with a lime and cumin dressing.
  • Spinach, apples, crumbled bleu cheese, sweet onions and salted cashews with a simple vinaigrette.
  • Romaine, cucumbers, tomatoes, black olives, red onions and feta cheese in oil and vinegar.

As the warmer weather arrives, what is your favorite salad?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Raspberry Bars, Deliciously Simple

These bars are life changing.  Utterly delicious, supremely versatile, visually appealing, and they contain--wait for it Phoodie Phriends--4 ingredients!  Here's how to make them:

2 sticks butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 1/4 cups flour
10 oz jar raspberry jam (see note below for variations)

Heat oven to 350.  Grease 8x8 inch square pan.  In large bowl, mix butter, sugar and flour until they resemble crumbly bits about the size of a lentil.  Press 2/3 of this dough firmly into the bottom of the greased pan.  Spread the jam over the dough taking care not to hit the edges (jam will burn if it makes contact w/ pan).  Crumble remaining dough over top, scrunching it into clumps of dough and sprinkling it over the top of the jam.  Press GENTLY on the topping to settle it, and bake for 40 minutes until just turning a golden brown.  Cool completely, cut and serve, or store in airtight container for up to 3 days.

The beautiful thing about this recipe is that you can use absolutely anything to fill it.  (well, anything sweet--I'd avoid things like pickle relish, tuna carpaccio and chicken salad).  Any ONE* of the following options is quite delectable:  lemon curd (personal fave); nutella; 1 cup chocolate chips (or a blend of choc and white chips); apple butter; pumpkin butter; blueberry jam.

The other beautiful thing about this recipe is that if you are in need of a more formal presentation you can use a round cake pan or fluted tart pan with a removable bottom.  Same technique, but you'll slice it like you would a pie and add a dollop of cream for a more elegant dessert.

*I have an amusing story to tell about a friend who asked for this recipe around Thanksgiving.  I had recently given her a batch of these lovelies filled with pumpkin butter, in honor of the season.  Per her request, I shared the recipe, and included the filling options in case she sought variety.  She misunderstood the directions and included ALL OF THEM.   Needless to say, the result was a gooey, inedible mess.  Since then, I have always made sure, when sharing this recipe, to advise choosing ONE filling.

Friday, March 16, 2012

St Patrick's Day Bubble and Squeak (Cheat's Version)

In our household, Monday was always leftovers day.  Invariably the Sunday roast joint of meat was served up in a different shape or form (chicken became chicken pot pie, for example).  Sometimes we simply sat down to coldcuts and salad, or to one of my favorites, Bubble and Squeak, or to use its proper Irish name, Colcannon.

In the run up to St Patrick's Day we were chatting with the Catering Manager at Reading Terminal Market, Stormy Lundy, who was reminiscing about  the colcannon her Grandmother used to make - her Grandmother was of Irish descent and knew how to make a decent fry...

Wikipedia enlightened us to the origins of the name of this dish.  Colcannon comes from the Irish word: cál ceannann, meaning "white-headed cabbage."  The etymology of bubble 'n' squeak is less literary: the butter in the frypan causes the cabbage and potatoes to bubble ferociously while the "squeak" refers to the sound the cabbage makes while it is cooking.  Listen closely you'll hear the air escaping as it cooks down!

Talking about the dish with Stormy brought back memories of my own childhood Mondays and even though it's not Monday, I decided to cook bubble and squeak for my family tonight.  Stopped off at Iovine's for a lovely crinkly Savoy cabbage and I was set. 

Got home and realized I had no potatoes, however.  Brainwave.  I had hashed potatoes in the freezer.  So that's what I used, and it worked - perfectly!

Cheat's Bubble n Squeak

2 sticks of butter and a dash of light olive oil
1 large onion chopped finely
1/2 large savoy or white cabbage
1  packet of prepared hash brown potatoes
Plenty of pepper and salt!

1. To save time, cook cabbage in microwave in a small amount of water until the cabbage is soft (about 8-10 mins)
2. Melt butter in frypan and saute the onions 'til soft
3. Drain cabbage and throw in the pan together with your potatoes
4. Cook on high heat for 15-20 minutes until the potatoes turn brown and crispy; keep turning the mixture in the pan to ensure that it doesn't stick and burn.  Be vigilent.

Happy St Paddy's Day. 

Wondering why we say "St Paddy's"? "St Paddy's" comes from St Padraig (the celtic spelling of the Irish saint's name.)  Please don't say "St Patty's Day" -- it drives my Belfast born husband crazeeeeeee.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Farah's Indian Kale

Our previous post promised Kale, and being women of our word, we're here today to deliver...
How much do you love Modern Family?  Here's my fave foodie scene, from an episode last season:

Cam: Hey Daddy!  How was the Farmers Market?
Mitchell: Well it was great, but guess what the new spinach is?
Cam: Umm, radicchio?
Mitchell: Kale.
Cam: Nooooo!
Mitchell: I know, I was just as blown away as you are.  I see kale as more of a garnish or buffet decor; I don't see it anchoring a meal.

Sorry, Cam and Mitch, much as we love you, we disagree.  We are indebted to our dear friend, Farah Kapoor, pictured here with her handsome (and surprisingly trim, given the food that comes his way) husband.  She taught us new way to prepare kale, which we recently learned was bursting with Vitamin C.   Farah has graced these pages before.

She introduced us to Malaysian food, shared her recipes for saffron chicken, and jalapeno pakoras and has hosted us on numerous occasions.  So we are delighted to tap her again for her newly developed Indian Kale recipe.  Even my teenage daughter, who claims to loathe kale, gobbled this up, so it is definitely joining the rotation in our house.

14 ounces chopped up and washed kale
2 tbsp oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tbsp coriander powder
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp chili flakes
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 onion diced
2 shallots diced
2 cloves garlic minced
1 tbsp Garlic finishing butter (optional)
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock
Salt to taste

1. To the oil add the onions garlic and shallots and fry till translucent.

2. Add the dry spices and sauté until fragrant.

3. Add kale and stock and just keep turning the kale until all the spices are distributed and the kale has wilted. If more liquid is needed add a little more water.

4. The kale needs to be wilted and the stalks a little crunchy.  This takes 5-10 minutes tops

5.  Remove from heat and add some finishing butter if you like.

6.  Garnish with a handful of chopped cilantro and fried shallots.

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Middle Eastern Oasis in Society Hill

Chef Solomonov is also one of the brains behind Federal Donuts in South Philly

Earlier this Spring, Craig LaBan, The Inky's omnipotent restaurant critic, awarded our fave local eatery, Zahav, his coveted four bells accolade.  This tidbit of news gave us the excuse to doorstep Zahav's chef and owner, Michael Solomonov and quiz him about Life, Love and the Universe.

What brought Chef Solomonov to Philadelphia from his native Israel we asked? "An ex-girlfriend from Mount Airy," he replied.  (He then went on to marry another Philadelphian who persuaded him to stay in our fair city.)  And how did he wind up perched atop a hill and sandwiched between the two Society Hill towers?  The Towers management invited him to check out the space when the previous trattoria folded.  Chef Solomonov, or simply "Chef" as everyone calls him in his restaurant, was excited by what the previous owners had left behind: "The pizzeria had its own wood burning pizza stove, which means we can bake fresh flatbread all night."

In fact, our interview took place in front of this same fiery furnace on a packed Saturday night.  I dripped perspiration; "Chef" calmly fielded my questions while simultaneously scrutinizing dishes (every single dish passes under his nose), rolling and baking flatbread (called Laffa), serving mezze starters and co-ordinating orders between servers and sous-chefs.  The speed and efficiency of the whole operation was bedazzling...

What makes Israeli food so special?  "You've got to remember that Israeli food is a combination of food from many different cultures.  It draws from North Africa, from Ethiopia, for example and East Africa and other Middle Eastern cultures, such as Yemen -- and European food has influenced the Israeli kitchen too," said Chef.

And where did Chef learn to cook..? "From my Grandmother," he replied.  "She was a Separdhic Bulgarian.  She used to make Balkan pastries and beef and lamb sausage Bulgarian-style.  We used to have Borekas, one of her signature dishes on our menu, but when she passed away last year we removed it from the menu."

Zahav's own signature dish is Fried Cauliflower with Labaneh (a thick middle eastern yoghurt flavored with herbs, spices and lemon). I've tried many times to reproduce this dish at home from memory, but never managed to replicate any of Zahav's sensational mezze (small tapas-like dishes).  As Chef explains: "On every street corner in Israel there is always someone selling fried cauliflower.  Perhaps we fry it at a slightly hotter temperature and our Labaneh may be slightly different, but essentially we're serving that same traditional Israeli dish." 

Zahav emulates the experience of a bustling middle eastern market.  "Before opening, we flew the entire staff to Jerusalem to visit an open air food market in the chaotic hour before Sabbath - to understand and experience our food."  The photo of their experience takes pride of place in the restaurant which, with its turkish lighting, drapes and painted brickwork, is deliberately evocative of a bazaar.

DO try this at home...glorious fried cauliflower for recipe, see below

Yemenite soup
Zahav's menu features many foods grilled over coals.  Must-trys include their hangar steak, kebobs, chicken shishlick with figs, almond, carrot pilaf, not to mention their spiced eggplant.  The idea is to order a collection of small plates (these are moderately priced at between $8-10 a pop) and then you mix and match dishes and share it around the table.  Not sure what to order, then try one of two recommended tasting menus at $35 or $45 per person - full menu here.

Chef Solomonov continues to rack up recognition for his culinary skills.  In 2011, the prestigious James Beard Foundation nominated Solomonov as their "Premier Chef in the Mid-Atlantic Region."

So where next for Chef?  Where next in terms of global culinary domination?   "One day I would love to open a restaurant in Jerusalem and earn a Michelin star."

You know what?  We'd put money on him doing it.

Zahav was packed even at 5.30pm on a Saturday night. 

Fried Cauliflower (Serves 4)

1 head cauliflower
Vegetable oil for frying
Kosher salt
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 cup Labaneh (Greek Yoghurt is probably the closest approximation to this and is readily available)
1 tbsp each chopped dill, Italian parsley, chives, mint
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

To make the Labaneh, puree the garlic with the lemon juice and let it stand for 15 minutes.  Add the Labaneh and the chopped herbs.  Pulse in food processor to mix thoroughly.  Season to taste with salt and fresh pepper. Cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.
Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy-bottomed pot to 350 degrees.  Remove the cauliflower florets from the core and separate the florets so that they are approximately 1 inch in diameter (i.e. they are all approximately the same size and dimensions).  Fry the florets for about 4 mins or until they turn golden brown.  Remove florets from oil with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Season immediately with salt.  Serve with prepared Labaneh.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Cold-Busters - Winter Produce that Packs a Punch!

Kiwi Fruit are a First-Rate Source of Vitamin C

I'm beginning to think that I'm in the minority.  Am I the only person who thought that oranges and citrus fruit were the best source of vitamin C to be found at this time of year? That's what my mom always told me during cold and flu season; Eat plenty of oranges!

Blood oranges are almost over
While this is not incorrect, it's not exactly right either...  

Although these fruits are a pretty good source of vitamin C, green veggies knock the socks off citrus fruits any day. 

If you're trying to stave off the coughs and colds so prevalent at this time of year and are in need of a vitamin C fix then the first place to go is your produce merchant for sure.  You're better off, however, stuffing your shopping basket with armloads of fresh greens (bell peppers, brussels sprouts and kale for example) than citrus fruit. 

If you just can't stomach those greens, then try fresh papaya or strawberries -- both these two fruits pack a serious vitamin C punch, according to Butch at Iovines Brothers Produce in Reading Terminal Market.

We polled a number of readers on our FB page and were surprised by the results.  Nearly 50% of those who answered did get it right, picking strawberries, bell peppers and papaya as the top three sources of vitamin C.  It's nice to know that we have such a well educated reading public ;)

Inspired by this post?  Looking for neat ways to serve up a healthy dose of vitamin C?  Here are three kick ass recipes for you:

1. Butch's Signature Winter Salad

2. Rick Nichol's Pan-Fried Baby Brussels

3. Our friend Farah's Indian Kale recipe...this to follow in our next post!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Han Dynasty Spiced up our Day!

We have fallen in love with Han Dynasty, the Szechuan Chinese Restaurant on Chestnut Street near Front.  Desperately and dizzily in love, like a tween for Justin Beiber.

We kindled our ardor during one recent lunch.

Han specializes in Szechuan food, which relies heavily on chilis and garlic.  If you prefer a bland diet, this is not the place for you.  But the servers always ask what spice level you want on a scale of 1-10 so you have some control of your destiny; our group has a high tolerance for spice and level 3 was enough kick for us.  So, a word to the wise, err on the side of caution.

We started with the dumplings in chili oil.   These gorgeous half-moons, traditional noodle pillows filled with seasoned pork, doused with chili oil and sprinkled with sesame seeds were hotly wonderful.  And wonderfully hot.

The spicy, crispy cucumbers, sliced and dressed in a delightfully zippy dressing, could make even the most die hard carnivore turn a fork to this vegan dish.

We progressed to the dan dan noodles; again spicy, but infused with peanut, scallion, garlic, and an abundance of other lovely things that brought a complexity of flavor beyond mere chili.

Han Dynasty's main courses present flexibility, and require some decisiveness.  Each available preparation is listed with the protein options--so diners who want a garlic sauce style opt for that, and then select pork/chicken/beef/lamb/tofu/shrimp/scallops.  We chose dry pepper-style shrimp; the shrimp were crisply fried, then tossed with dried and long hot chilis.   Alas, there is no photo of this dish; we tucked into it upon its arrival at the table and by the time we remembered to shoot it there was not enough left on the plate  to fill the frame.

The vegetable sides were spectacular.  The pea leaves with garlic (admittedly my favorite green) made me long for spring even more, when these lovely sprouts are readily available at farmers markets.

And the eggplant with garlic sauce, which was a (naturally) spicy sweet and sour concoction was both scrumptious and pretty to look at.  Wouldn't you love a cashmere sweater in that purple shade?

After lunch we headed home, thoroughly full, with our tongues pleasantly tingly, sinuses clear, eagerly planning our next meal there.  And we thanked our lucky stars that we live in a neighborhood that has such a tremendous variety of high quality ethnic restaurants.

What are your new fave places in Philly?