Everyone knows that opening a restaurant is the surest path to an empty checking account, but George and Jennifer Sabatino know better. For truly shredding your bankroll, nothing beats not opening a restaurant — as the couple spent an agonizing year doing before the first customers finally came to Aldine in October.
We expect a lot from restaurants these days. If they don’t transform liquids into powders or barrel-steep cocktails with homemade bitters, they’d better serve chickens that roamed freer than our children do. So when a forneria bowls you over even before the door whooshes shut as you enter, it’s time to ask what really matters most.
I’m not the only winter-bitten soul to feel that way crossing the threshold of Brigantessa, where great blasts of heat from a Vesuvian-ash pizza oven ripple along a bar teeming with platters of sausage-stuffed long hots and oil-poached swordfish and wood-grilled octopus salad. Chef Joe Cicala’s sophomore effort on Passyunk Avenue has been rollicking since it opened in October.
You’ve heard it before, and you’ll hear it again, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider it now: the Super Grain of the Future. Because the thing is, there’s a new one every season. One year’s quinoa becomes another year’s amaranth, which soon gets buried in chia seeds.
But for 2015, you could do a lot worse than injecting more teff into your friends’ diets.
We do everything we can at Foobooz HQ to keep local eaters up to speed on everything that’s going on in the Philly food scene. But there are unexplored riches in the offline realm, too. So maybe it’s time to push past Bon Appetit and Lucky Peach and subscribe your favorite foodie to a magazine he’s never heard of but might totally dig. It’s a wide world out there, folks. Here are a few corners that are worth exploring:
Okay, your beloved gourmet is now fitted out to whip up paella with a precision-weighed quantity of saffron and clean up afterward with minimal fuss. Now what she needs is a chance to get out of the house. And here’s where you should send her—because it’s where I wish people would take me: out to lunch.
Does the foodie on your gift list bake? Is she vexed by that one awesome but maddening cookbook that specifies some ingredients in ounces and others in grams? Has he fallen deep enough down the coffee-brewing rabbit hole that all he can talk about is optimizing the ratio of dissolved solids in his morning cup? Does he simply want to know whether an envelope will need one stamp or two?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, a kitchen scale is in order.
It’s that time of the year, again. The gourmets in your life may already have everything, but they belong to a tribe that forever wants everything-plus-one. Here are a few ideas for how to treat your favorite foodie without (necessarily) breaking the bank.
On the first evening of Rosh Hashanah this year, BuzzFeed posted a video called “The Jewish Food Taste Test.” In it, Gentiles sample iconic Ashkenazi dishes. Gefilte fish comes first. “It’s like a cold sausage with sour paste on the top,” one goy cringes. “I’m not quite sure what meat it is,” confesses a hoodie-clad Asian dude. A vaguely Nordic-looking hipster delivers the kicker: “It tastes like a grocery store smells.” Suffice it to say that these people were not eating the gefilte fish on offer at Abe Fisher.
Chef Yehuda Sichel, a longtime loyalist of Abe Fisher co-owner Michael Solomonov, stuffs rainbow trout with a delicately nutty forcemeat of striped bass, smoked trout, walnuts and matzo. After poaching the trout whole, he cuts them into what amount to three-inch-thick boneless steaks, crisps the skin, and glazes them with a sweet reduction of carrot juice and port wine. Smoked Hungarian pepper wafts from a slaw of carrot shreds and pickled raisins piled on one side. Underneath it all is a subtly mustardy puree of butter-roasted carrots, accented with horseradish—lest anyone complain that the “sour paste” is missing.
Pity the Philadelphia hotel restaurant. City dwellers will flock to food trucks, night markets, pop-up gardens and pizzerias with no seats, but just try getting us to eat in a building full of minibars. For every A.Kitchen, there are five Winthorpe & Valentines (a place that really exists, no joke). With Bank & Bourbon, the downtown Loews is now targeting the ground in between.
As the successor to the awkwardly named SoleFood (again, not kidding), which merged corporate decor and loads of dead space under Miami Vice lighting, B&B clearly yearns for some kind of contemporary relevance. Its whiskey-bandwagon name and predictably rustic trappings—now dominating restaurant design so utterly that Fortune 500 conglomerates are doing it, too—are enough to make a cynic roll his eyes and sigh, “Here we go again.”