BEST OF THE GAYBORHOOD AND BEYOND: Restaurants

Marie Turney and Valerie Safran's enchanting Little Nonna's gets our prize for Best New Gayborhood Restaurant.

A table spread at Marie Turney and Valerie Safran’s enchanting Little Nonna’s, which gets our prize for Best New Gayborhood Restaurant. Photo courtesy of Jason Varney.

GAYBORHOOD RESTAURANT: Amis
You don’t have to spend the mortgage at Marc Vetri’s eponymous townhouse to get that delicious Vetri Italian cooking. This exposed-brick, slightly industrial-feeling space has food that will simply knock your socks off, including our fave, the addictive tonnarelli. Sit at the counter, sip some very good wine, and watch the masters do their thing. 412 S. 13th St., 215-732-2647, amisphilly.com.

NEW GAYBORHOOD RESTAURANT: Little Nonna’s
Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran’s latest is a step back in time to the cozy kitchen of some little Italian granny—one who wants to put some meat on those bones. Loosen your belt and dive head first into the homemade meatballs sopped in “Sunday gravy” and a plate of the fluffiest gnocchi this side of Trastevere. 1234 Locust St., 215-546-2100, littlenonnas.com

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About Last Night: Open Stove “Uno de Mayo” Party

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There are a lot of considerations that go into the planning of an Open Stove night. We look at the two chefs, their kitchens, their mentors and their histories. We look at the assistants that they’re bringing with them. We examine ingredient lists and styles of cooking and try very hard to design challenges that will both flummox and terrify, while still allowing both teams to actually get food on the table. It’s a long, arduous process and we take it very seriously.

Most of the time.

Because sometimes, we just look at the calendar, realize its just a few days before Cinco de Mayo, buy up a bunch of supplies from the closest Mexican grocery, pull a bottle of tequila out of the liquor cabinet and assume that the party will take care of itself. And that’s precisely what happened last night for our First Annual Uno de Mayo Open Stove Challenge, which pitted Maciej Ciezki from Lacroix against Robin Niemczuk of M Restaurant in a culinary battle for honor, glory and bragging rights. Together, they cooked 8 courses for 20 people, used chiles and cotija and guava paste and chicharones and gummy bears and absinthe, fought against the clock and each other and, in the end, we chose a winner in what was one of the closest and hardest-fought battles we’ve ever had at COOK.

If you missed it, that sucks for you. Granted, you’re probably not as hung over as last nights lucky guests, but you also missed out on soft shell crabs and crab salad, a brilliant hash of pinto beans, edamame, cotija and greens, something which will forever be known as “Olga’s Breakfast” (Olga likes Greek yogurt with caviar and champagne jelly and now so do I) and more tequila than was probably healthy for the gang of blurry drunks that I spent most of my evening drinking with.

But the good news? We had loyal COOK photographer and Friend of Foobooz, Yoni Nimrod, in the house, and he, at least, stayed sober enough to work a camera. Check out his snaps from last night after the jump.

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New Chef, New Menu and “Changes In Store” at M Restaurant

Trey Popp completely fell for M Restaurant at the Morris House Hotel when he reviewed it back in August. He loved the outdoor seating and the bar, he loved the strange Southern garden vibe of the place and the unusual reach of the menu.

After an icy old-fashioned from the bar, a waiter delivers a rectangular plate of Kindai sashimi and hamachi tartare dotted with pickled and fermented radishes, ponzu marmalade and a block of puffed wild rice. Not bad. Next there’s a salad flanked by two-toned triangles of something as delicate as chilled flan. Only it’s not. The bottom layer is house-made split-yellow-pea tofu, the top a pale jade gelatin of pistachio cream—but somehow the whole thing works as a perfect foil for a pile of mixed local greens tossed in pine-nut-milk vinaigrette. And now you’re thinking, “What’s going on here?”

The food, at the time, was the invention of Michael Caspi–a veteran of the kitchens of Thomas Keller, Alain Ducasse and Daniel Boulud. And his high-end, left-of-center training showed through in virtually every plate.

Only now, we’ve gotten word that Caspi has left his post at M.

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