Tag Archives: Philadelphia

{ El Vez } *****

 Chicken Chopped Salad1
 
121 S 13th Street (on corner of Sansom)
Philadelphia, PA 19107
215.928.9800

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No one enjoys Mexican food more than I do. I know it’s a bold statement, but I dare to make the claim and stand behind it. I could literally eat a taco for every meal, each day, for the rest of my entire life….and be perfectly happy about it!

Naturally, being a Philadelphia resident and a Mexican food slut, I was very anxious to try Stephen Starr’s trendy El Vez restaurant, located on the corner of 13th and Sansom. The décor is fitting for a place located in the heart of Philly’s Gay-borhood; the colors are loud, bright, and fun with retro wall hangings, and uniquely structured booths. The bar is certainly a scene, drawing quite a noteworthy crowd throughout the evening (Charles Barkley was there the last time that I visited!).

elvez

I suggest that you grab a margarita at the bar before your meal but then head to a booth for your actual meal. Personally, I like to be out of the public eye when eating Mexican food, so I can get my grub on shamelessly. …Although sometimes I do get caught!

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#I’mNotPrettyWhenIEatMexican

My two favorite cocktails on the menu are: (1) Perfecto Margarita made with el jimador blanco, Cointreau, grand marnier, and fresh lime juice (on the rocks with salt, of course!)

Skinny Marg

(2) Guava Mojito made with Bacardi, Cruzan guava rum, pink guava puree, lime, and mint. El Vez is quite famous for their Blood Orange Margarita, but I not a fan of frozen margaritas, and it cannot be served on the rocks so I have yet to try it for myself (Yelpers rave about it though!).

Guava Mojito 

I have also tried the Pina Especiada with jalapeno-infused tequila and pineapple puree, as well as the Granada Margarita, which is their version of a pomegranate margarita. The pineapple one was too acidic and the pomegranate was very generic.

Pomegranate Marg

As far as food orders go, you MUST try the Taco Tasting Platter if you want to experience a variety of flavors in one convenient and satisfying plate ($25).

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It comes with an assortment of 5 soft-shell tacos, including: seabass, beef, chicken tinga, carnitas pork, and mahi mahi. The Mahi tacos are my absolute favorite and I usually ask for two of those, in place of the one seabass taco. The Mahi fish taco is life-changing, I kid you not!

Carnita Pork Steak Spicy Chicken

I also like their guacamole, which is an enormous portion to share for a table of 3-4 people. The Bazooka Limon with goat cheese, pistachio, chile flakes, and roasted tomatoes was recommended by my server on my first visit to El Vez, and it has remained my favorite. The creamy goat cheese offsets the acid of the roasted tomatoes and the pistachios add a lovely crunchy texture to the otherwise smooth Guacamole.

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Next on my list of suggestions are the Macho Nachos with shredded steak, black beans, smoked chili salsa, sour cream, white cheddar cheese, and monterey jack. These can be ordered in a half portion for just $6!!! It is a steal because the portion is still massive. If you are dining on a budget, this is the best bang for your buck!

Macho Nacho Upclose

If your looking to keep your figure, try the Mexican Chopped Salad with Blackened Chicken, which combines romaine, watercress, pumpkin seeds, tomatoes, chayote, corn, and black beans with queso fresco, crispy tortillas, and both chipotle ranch and cumin-lime vinaigrette. It looks pretty straightforward when it arrives at the table, but the layers of flavor are complex and delicious. I like to switch between the two dressings with each forkful!

Chicken Salad

Lastly, I recommend the Creamy Poblano Corn Rice as a side dish. It is similar to a rich and creamy risotto, and it packs a tiny bit of heat. Ultra decadent, but delicious.

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This is a great place to celebrate a birthday, or go in a large group because the atmosphere is fun and loud. There is also a great little photo booth near the stairs to bring home memories of your experience!

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Filed under Brunch, Buck's County, Cocktails, Dessert, Gluten Free, Lunch Spots, Mexican Restaurants, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Restaurants, Take-Out

Domani Star – BRUNCH! *****

Jessica Omelet #2

215.230.9100
57 West State Street 
Doylestown, Pa 18901

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As I mentioned in my review of Cafe Lift, I am highly critical of brunches served in restaurants. Not only is it my favorite meal of the day, but I also have become quite good at cooking it, so my standards are set pretty high. But Domani Star is one place that I can confidently go for a consistently amazing breakfast…and now that I come to think of it, I do go almost every Sunday!

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The menu features brunch classics like eggs benedict, pancakes, and 2 eggs any style, but it also features unique and memorable dishes like a Bolognese Omelet with asiago cheese, and a Carbonara Scramble with bacon, onions, and parmesan cheese. 

Italian COuntry Scramble.

My personal favorite is the Italian Country Scramble with crispy polenta, fontina cheese, and baby arugula. This dish is to.die.for.

The Jessica Omelet

I also like the Jessica Omelet with avocado, cherry tomatoes, goat cheese, and baby arugula. I get mine with egg whites and a large side of hot sauce and call it a day!

Open Face Sandwich

Another Domani specialty is the Open Face Sandwich with 2 over-easy eggs atop whole wheat toast with avocado, tomato, bacon, and Vermont cheddar cheese with shaved romaine hearts! My dad is a huge fan of this one.

Cappuccino

If you go for brunch, please do not forget to try a cappuccino because they serve one of the best that I have ever had. And if you are a mimosa with breakfast kind of person–which we all know I am!–then feel free to bring a bottle of bubbly (BYOB) and they will supply the OJ. Can’t beat that!

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Filed under Breakfast, Brunch, Buck's County, Italian Restaurants, Lunch Spots, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Restaurants

Cafe Lift ***

Cafe Lift French Toast
 
428 N. 13th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19123
215.922.3031

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Breakfast is my FAVORITE meal of the day. But it is not just an indulgence for me, it is a necessary ritual. God forbid I don’t eat my four-egg omelet before leaving the house in the morning, and I am like Atilla the Hun for the remainder of the day—just ask any of my friends.

Having spent almost all of my life with a passion for both breakfast and cooking, you can imagine that I have become quite talented at preparing 5-star omelets, fluffy pancakes, hearty oatmeals, and fresh yogurt parfaits (or at least I think so!). That being said, I am highly critical of breakfasts served outside of my own kitchen. Every now and then though, I venture to a restaurant to check out their version of breakfast and I did so this weekend at Café Lift.

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The restaurant is a modern loft space, decorated as if Pottery Barn and Crate & Barrel had a love child. It is verging on the edge of hipster, but it is comfortable and cozy to patrons of all ages (and there is a wide variety!).

Inside Cafe Lift

I ordered the Plum Tomato Frittata with Asparagus, Roasted Plum Tomatoes, and Fontina Cheese, drizzled with Homemade Basil Pesto ($8).

Frittata 1edited

The basil pesto was so fresh and summery, and the frittata was executed very well, without being overcooked or hard. The parmesan-crusted home fries were tasty, but a bit overcooked and consequently mushy for my liking (I told you I was critical!). The multigrain toast was god awful, but I’m watching my carb intake so I’ll consider that a blessing in disguise!

To accompany my enormous frittata, I also ordered a Lemon Ricotta Pancake topped with Fresh Strawberries ($3).

Lemon Ricotta Pancakeedited

It sounded amazing, but fell a little flat for me. I thought the batter could have benefitted from some and/or more lemon zest. I just didn’t get that bright citrus flavor to compliment the creaminess of the ricotta. It did photograph quite lovely though. #pancakefoodporn

My friend Sara ordered the Special Eggs Florentine served with Jumbo Lump Crab Meat, Spinach, and Truffle Hollandaise Sauce ($11.50).

Crab Eggs Florentine2edited

Normally, the dish would be served on an English muffin, but Sara is Gluten-Free so she had it open-face instead. She enjoyed it, although we both agreed the hollandaise was lacking a bit in truffle flavor…aka the best part.

All in all, the food was good but is it better than my own version of breakfast?

Nope.

I will definitely say that it is an awesome value for what you get though, and if you’re not as high maintenance about breakfast as I am, you will probably love it!

Here’s a look at what I would serve if I could have my very own brunch spot…

……..someday!

Black Bean and Corn Omelet

garden omelet

Omelet with Goat Cheese

Huevos Rancheros KB

Brocoli and Gruyere Quiche

Veggie Omelet ad Hash Browns

Mushroom Spinach and Goat Cheese Oetitie Quiche

Mexican Scramble

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Yogurt with Berries and Granola

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Filed under Bakery, Breakfast, Brunch, Buck's County, Cafe / Bistro, Coffee Shop, Lunch Spots, Pennsylvania

XIX – Nineteen *****

bellevuephilly
 
200 S Broad Street #19
Philadelphia, PA 19102
215.790.1919

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I was in desperate need of a getaway, so this Friday night my friend and I got a last minute hotel deal at the Hyatt Bellvue in Philadelphia and made plans for an 18 hour girls retreat. We packed up the car after work and headed out to enjoy our mini “staycation,” which was to include a beautiful dinner at XIX Restaurant on the 19th floor of our hotel.

XIX is known for its luxurious dining room and incredible views overlooking the Philadelphia city skyline. Sara and I were lucky enough to snag a table outside on the balcony—along with 3 other couples, who were clearly in the early stages of dating, as we listened to the men desperately attempt to impress their female companions. I have never rolled my eyes so many times while simultaneously being grateful for my single status. This being said, it is a beautiful place to take a lady on a special occasion!

Kentucky STraight Orangeedited

We got started with a round of cocktails called the Kentucky Straight Orange, made with bourbon, orange bitters, and elderflower liquor. It was much sweeter than I was expecting a bourbon-based cocktail would be, but I attribute this to the elderflower liquor, which did grow on me as I sipped it down. I tend to prefer straight manhattans, but this is a great way to work your way into bourbon, if you’re just starting to experiment with it!

Mussels with Fenneledited

Next we ordered the Steamed Blue Bay Mussels in white wine and garlic sauce with fennel ($12). I would definitely have to rank these in my top five mussel experiences. They were meaty, and the sauce was obnoxiously good with thinly sliced fennel garnishing the top of the dish. The grilled sour dough bread served alongside the pot of mussels was perfect to soak up the remaining sauce. The only complaint I can find with this dish is that ¼ of the mussels in the pot were closed shut—and everyone knows you shouldn’t eat those suckers!

Grilled Spanish Octopus

As I began coming down from my euphoric mussel experience, the waiter arrived with our second appetizer: Grilled Spanish Octopus served on top of a bed of baby arugula with sweet peppers and fingerling potatoes, dressed in a sherry vinaigrette ($14). I would consider myself an octopus/calamari connoisseur because I order it out whenever possible, and this was the second best I have ever tasted, ranking just behind Mario Batalli’s grilled octopus with limoncello vinaigrette. For those of you that don’t know, Chef Batalli is famous for his grilled octopus, so that is saying A LOT! The meat was not rubbery and the delicate balance of acid in the vinaigrette was perfect.

Scallops2edited

Finally it was time for our entrée, and I just didn’t know if it could even compare to the appetizers, but it certainly did! We split the Pan Seared Diver Scallops with spicy poblano chili polenta, carrot puree, and mango ginger chutney ($32). The scallops were so perfectly cooked and the flavors of the mango, ginger, and carrot were very interesting and brightened the whole dish with a fresh taste. The polenta cake was definitely spicy and just the perfect size portion to compliment the scallops.

Bottom line, I would definitely go back to XIX for dinner and I hope to one day go for their brunch, which I heard was out of this world (I can only imagine based on last night’s meal!). I thought the price point was completely reasonable for the atmosphere and quality of the food. My only gripe with the restaurant was the service, and that is primarily because our server got way too involved in our ordering decisions and side conversations. At times, we actually thought he was promoting other local restaurants because he seemed to be trying to recommend we go everywhere else in Philly for similar food. It was bizarre and quite annoying. But I will be back….hopefully sooner than later!

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Filed under Bars, Cocktails, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Restaurants

Cuba Libre ***

cuba libre
 
215.627.0666
10 S. 2nd Street (2nd & Market)
Philadelphia, PA 19106

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This past month featured Restaurant Week here in Philadelphia, and I had the opportunity to check out Cuba Libre with a couple of friends. The beauty about restaurant week is that you get to sample multiple courses from a  prix fixe menu at a reduced price. In this case, we were each allowed to choose two appetizers, one entree, and one dessert for $35. But before we even had the opportunity to look at the food menu, we were distracted by the longwinded cocktail list, which includes 14 uniquely flavored mojitos!

Feeling pressured to try at least one of these specialty cocktails, we decide to order the Classic Mojito and sample it amongst the table. The mojito was  fabulous but definitely not something that should be in conjunction with a heavy meal, and so we opted for a pitcher of Red Sangria to drink with our dinner ($37.50 and we got 8 glasses from it). The sangria was good, but nothing extraordinary (it is also not very strong, as 3 full glasses did not get my 100-lb self even remotely tipsy!).

Cuba Libre Red Sangria

But onto the food, which is what we came for in the first place! To start, our server brought us a nice basket of bread with an o-u-t-r-a-g-e-o-u-s mango butter. This light, almost whipped, butter transformed the bread into a sweet french toast-like dessert. Honestly, the flavored butter was probably my favorite item brought to the table all evening. It was memorable and unique.

Cuba Libre Bread and Mango Butter

For my first appetizer, I ordered the Pulpo con Berenjenaswhich is a truffle and citrus marinated baby octopus that is then grilled and served atop a Haitian eggplant salad.  The octopus was cooked perfectly and wasn’t rubbery in the least bit. The flavors were all well-balanced and the portion size was perfect, leaving me wanting one more forkful.

Cuba Libre Octopus

The Eight Hour Guava BBQ Ribs, on the other hand, were not as good as I had hoped they would be. I had high expectations for these “award winning” St. Louis cut pork ribs, glazed in a Guava BBQ Sauce with jicama-Sambal salad, but they were VERY fatty with hardly any meat at all. Very disappointing. Sad face.

Cuba Libre Guava BBQ Ribs

Others at the table ordered the Empanadas stuffed with pulled pork, roasted poblano pepper, and charred tomatoes;

Empanadas

as well as the Sopa de Frijoles Negros, which was sweet rather than spicy; and finally the signature Cuban Tostones, which are twice-fried green plantains with a garlic-mojo dipping sauce. I thought the tostones and mojo sauce were both bland compared to those I’ve had at other Cuban restaurants.

Cuba Libre Tostones

Sensing that the Cuban food not up to par with what I had grown accustomed to in Miami, I decided to deviate from a traditional Cuban dish for my entree. Instead, I ordered El Pollo del Solar, which is a lime-garlic marinated chicken breast with caramelized onions & steamed kale, served with a black bean croqueta and a sweet and sour mango gravy.  Technically, the chicken was cooked perfectly–juicy and succulent, but flavor-wise the dish was really lacking. I didn’t think the chicken was well seasoned, in fact I couldn’t detect any garlic notes and the black bean croqueta was very, very dry. Not even the mango gravy could restore it’s moisture content. The kale on the other hand, was very soft and delicious, as well as the mango gravy that bathed it.

Cuba Libre Pollo del Solar

Everyone else at the table ordered the traditional Arroz Con Pollo, which is saffron-scented rice, combined with boneless chicken thighs, wild mushrooms, green peas, Manzanilla olives and a hard-boiled egg. Garnishing the dish was an asparagus, palacio chorizo, and roasted Piquillo pepper salad, finished with a splash of Estrella Damm beer. The dish was enormous, and had beautiful presentation with the bright yellow color of the saffron, and the contrasting green of the peas and asparagus. I stole a couple of forkfuls from my friend Liz, and enjoyed them thoroughly, although it is not a traditional Cuban Arroz con Pollo. It was much lighter but very tasty in a unique way.

Cuba Libre Arroz con Pollo

For dessert, I (predictably) ordered the Tres Leches de Caramelo, which is a vanilla sponge cake soaked in three-dulce de leche flavored milks with a mocha moose.  I am a tres leches connoisseur, and this one was right up to par.

Cuba Libre Tres Leches

The other dessert that was ordered was the Dulce de Leche Ice Cream. Ice cream is ice cream. It was good!

Cuba Libre Dulce de Leche Ice Cream

Overall, I’m not in a hurry to go back to Cuba Libre for dinner. But, I am very interested in going back for a night of salsa dancing and mojitos (and maybe some bread with mango butter?!?!). Having spent 5 years living in Miami, I got accustomed to traditional Cuban food that was priced insanely cheap. This being said, I find it difficult to spend an exorbitant amount of money on Cuban cuisine that doesn’t satisfy my craving for the classic dishes. The restaurant atmosphere was very cool though and the mojitos are worth the trip.

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Filed under Bars, Buck's County, Cocktails, Dessert, International Restaurants, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Restaurants

Felix’s Caketeria ****

Cupcake Assortment

Cupcakes became sort of food craze over the past couple of years, with several “cutesy” bakeshops opening up all over the country in a very short period of time. But but very few of these bake shops have managed to survive into 2013 because their ridiculously over-priced, miniature offerings, were just trendy items and not actually quality desserts. Felix’s Caketeria on the other hand, is going strong and even expanding because they are a phenomenal bakery that has mastered the art of exquisite cakes. Fortunately, for consumers like myself, they offer their indulgent cakes in miniature sizes (dare I call them cupcakes?!) to be enjoyed on days that aren’t specialty occasions. No birthday, no problem!

Doesn’t mean you can’t sneak a cupcake on your lunch break!

Cupcake Display

My personal favorite is the Chocolate Salty Caramel, which is a chocolate cake filled with salty caramel, topped with chocolate buttercream and a caramel drizzle. 

Chocolate Salted Caramel

I also love the traditional Carrot Cake, which is made with pineapple, coconut, pecans and topped with a cream cheese icing. 

Carrot Cupcake

The only thing that you must remember is that Felix’s Caketeria uses REAL buttercream to frost their cupcakes, so the cupcake MUST be brought up to room temperature before they are enjoyed. If your impatience gets the best of you, you will be eating a rock hard cupcake and you won’t get the most of your miniature cake experience.

Ohh, and one last cupcake special that they occasionally have is the Eclair Cupcake, shown below:

Eclair Cupcake

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Filed under Bakery, Baking, Cafe / Bistro, Philadelphia Restaurants

Honey ****

Spring Chicken Flatbread with Asparagus, Melted Leeks, Preserved Lemon, Goat Cheese, Fresh Mozzarella, and Black Truffle Oil

215.489.4200
42 Shewell Avenue
Doylestown, Pa 18901

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To say that fine dining options are fairly limited in Doylesytown, Pennsylvania–my hometown consisting of about 9,000 people–is an understatement. And as I routinely complain in my blog, the only fine dining is Italian food, so you’re shit-out-of-luck if you aren’t in the mood for pasta. When my parents told me to pick a restaurant to celebrate my 22nd birthday this week, I found myself completely stumped on places to go. In fact, I ended up just eating at home to avoid the inevitable restaurant disappointment! But my parents didn’t think that the backyard BBQ was celebratory enough, so they surprised me and took me to Honey restaurant the following night.Although Honey isn’t new to Doylestown, it is new to me. Obviously, I wasn’t been able to keep up with the food scene in Philly while at school in Miami, and when I was home on holidays and breaks, I was too busy eating my mom’s cooking to get out to restaurants.

Honey is a modern and trendy little spot located right off of main street in Doylestown. It’s actually so elegant and chic that I completely forgot I was in Doylestown once inside (which was nice!). We got started with some drinks from their eclectic and creative cocktail menu, including their Black Cherry Mojito ($13) and the Alma Calma ($12). The mojito was made with Black Seal Dark Rum, Spiced Cherry Puree, Mint, Lime, and Wishniak Cherry Soda. I was nervous about ordering a mojito in hickville Pennslyvania after spending the past four years living in Miami (the mojito capital), but I was very pleasantly surprised after trying the drink, which even included a nice stick of raw sugarcane in the glass. The Alma Calma includes Maker’s Mark Bourbon Whiskey, Ginger Infused Brandy, Fresh Lime, and Elderflower Essence…also delicious!

Before we even placed our order, the server brought out a complementary Tuna Melt Bite for everyone at the table, as a “gift” from the kitchen. It was Tuna, Melted Manchego Cheese, Kalamata Olives, and Cherry Tomato backed on top of a Petite Toast. I would have ordered this delicious sampler as a meal if I could of but sadly, it wasn’t on the menu. This salty started certainly got my appetite going though!

Complimentary Tuna Melt with Manchego Cheese, Kalamata Olives, and Cherry Tomato

Next the server brought out some Popcorn with 15 Spices as a snack while we waited for our food. 15 spices sounds very flavorful, but I was unimpressed by the popcorn and oddly, thought it was bland (especially for having 15 spices!!)

Popcorn with 15 Spices

Since Honey is a tapas styled restaurant featuring small plates, my family and I decided to order 3 different dishes and share them equally. We started with an order of Fried Catfish served with Remoulada Sauce and Crab Meat Succotash ($18). The Succotash was ridiculously good (as well as abundant) and I loved the spicy remoulada sauce on the fried fish. The fish was a nice portion with two large pieces on the plate, and it was cooked to perfection.

Fried Catfish with Remoulada Sauce and Crab Meat and Corn Succotash

Next came the order of Spring Chicken Flatbread with Smoked Amish Chicken, Asparagus, Melted Leeks, Preserved Lemon, Goat Cheese, Fresh Mozzarella and Black Truffle Oil ($14 – photographed at top). It was more like a pizza than a flatbread in my opinion, because the crust was pretty doughy and thick, however, it was tasty. I just don’t think that I would order it again though since the other two dishes were more inspired and delicious. Also, I don’t think that the flavors of the truffle oil came through in the dish, which was a little disappointing.

The last plate to come out was the Tuna Ceviche made with Sushi Grade Yellowfin Tuna, Breakfast Radish, Ruby Grapefruit, Cashews, and Chilled Green Tea Noodles ($18). I really liked the combination of the acidic grapefruit with the tuna, and thought that the green tea noodles were a very fun accompaniment to the dish.  They had a nice soy flavor and the cashews added a great little crunch to each bite! This is something I would order again, but I didn’t think that portion size qualified an $18 price tag, which was my only complaint with the restaurant.

Tuna Ceviche with Ruby Grapefruit, Cashews, Radish, and Chilled Green Tea Noodles

Overall, I thought that the food was very good, but that there wasn’t any dish in particular that I would specifically crave again–besides the Tuna Melt Starter perhaps! My parents did warn me that the best thing that they have tried on the menu was the Black Tea Glazed Spare Ribs with Pine Nuts, Toasted Sesame, and Spicy Ginger Ice Cream (yes, ice cream and pork….together!), but we didn’t order it because they wanted to try some new things. I regret not ordering this dish, because had I liked it as much as they do, it would have been a dish that would call me back in the future. I mean how many places do you know serving meat and ice cream in one dish?! It is a very unique and specific menu item like this that keeps a crowd returning because they can’t satisfy their craving elsewhere. Tonight, I didn’t have anything that was extraordinary or unavailable elsewhere…so I suggest ordering the most unique menu items here rather than playing it safe like we did!

Black Tea Glazed Spare Ribs with Spicy Ginger Ice Cream – Taken from Honey Facebook Site

This being said, I must now say that I have never EVER had better restaurant service in my life. The service and the atmosphere at Honey was absolutely impeccable from beginning to end. Our server knew the menu by heart and was able to talk about the food at length, and he was just a genuinely nice guy. Although I only gave Honey 4 stars for food, the service gets at least 15 stars!!

The Front of Honey Restaurant – Taken from Honey Facebook Site

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La Stalla ****

La Stalla from the Outside

215.579.8301
18 Swamp Road
Newtown, Pa 18940

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The thing that I take most for granted living in Miami, is the abundance of incredible restaurants. This is not to say that I don’t eat at them enough—because I do eat out a lot—but I just have become so accustomed to there always being a delicious food option of any variety at every price point. You want French food? There is a hole in the wall French bakery that can satisfy you with the best croissants and brie sandwiches for less than $5 (Le Royal). There is also a little brasserie in the grove that serves the best ceasar salads for $12 (Le Bouchon du Grove). Or you can splurge and enjoy a truely memorable foie gras and braised short rib burger for $30 (Db Bistro Moderne). And Cuban food? Well you can get that delicious anywhere, for either dirt cheap, cheap, or accurately priced. The only type of food that I believe Miami lacks in variety is Chinese. It’s weird, Miami only does upscale Chinese. There is no greasy, grungy, make you feel sick to your stomach (but all at the same time delicious) kind of Chinese food. Then again, this could be a great step in the evolution of American eating habits, so I won’t really complain—although I do crave my oil-drenched Lo Mien from time to time!

But enough of my tangent and back to the point! It wasn’t until this spring break that I realized just how fortunate I am as a foodie to be living in Miami. I’m back in Philadelphia for break and when my parents asked me to pick a place for dinner tonight, I suddenly realized that all the options were Italian. I love a good pasta dish and marsala sauce, but I also like to switch things up a little, and I just had Italian with Jen last night. But faced with choice of Italian or Italian, I chose my second favorite Italian restaurant (after Domani Star, where I ate last night) and decided on La Stalla located in Newtown.

La Stalla is more conducive than Domani Star for large parties, so we usually eat all of our special occasion meals here. Both the food and service are predictable and consistently good, and the atmosphere is cozy and elegant. Wednesday nights are a fun night for people watching, since all the divorcees have their big “off night” from the kids and tend to post up at the bar, decked out in their most cougar-ish attire. It’s dinner and a show.

To start, my family always orders the Tuscan Table which is an antipasti spread complete with Sharp Aged Parmesan Cheese, Grilled Asparagus, Roasted Portobello Mushrooms, Roasted Red Peppers, Marinated Hot Peppers, Kalamata Olives, Marinated Artichoke Hearts, and Beans in Vinaigrette. This plate is also accompanied by warm Tuscan Bread and herbed dipping oil. It is usually the highlight of the meal for me because I can pick at all the different flavors while I sip my first cocktail and read over the dinner specials for the evening. My mom and I have even come just for drinks and the Tuscan Table before, because it is that good! My family’s other favorite appetizer is the Mussels in Spicy Red Sauce, which are killer…enough said.

My Selections from the Tuscan Table

Tonight I ordered one of my favorite pasta dishes here—the Penne Puttanesca, which is Penne Pasta sautéed with Kalamata Olives, Capers, Onion, Parsley, and Cherry Tomatoes in a White Wine Pomodoro Sauce. I typically like to switch out the penne pasta for a linguine, because I like twirling my pasta (silly, I know), but tonight I had the penne and it was just as delicious. The sauce is a light red sauce and the capers and olives add just the right saltiness to the dish. Bets of all, the food at La Stalla is always burn-your-mouth hot! Even the dishes are blistering hot, so there is no pressure to eat in a hurry before your food gets cold.

Penne Puttanesca – Penne Pasta sautéed with Kalamata Olives, Capers, Onion, Parsley, and Cherry Tomatoes in a White Wine Pomodoro Sauce

My dad also ordered a pasta dish for his entrée and got the Farfalle e Gamberi, which is Bowtie Pasta sautéed with Shrimp, Grape Tomatoes, and Garlic in a Blush Pomodoro Sauce. I would never order a seafood pasta as my own entrée, but I had a few bites of his and loved it. The sauce was simple and delicious and they certainly weren’t scant with the shrimp either! My dad and I also split a side order of Broccoli Rabe with Sautéed Garlic, which was phenomenal. They added a ton of garlic which took away from the bitterness of the legume, and it wasn’t weighed down with oil so it felt nice and light.

Farfalle e Gamberi – Bowtie Pasta sautéed with Shrimp, Grape Tomatoes, and Garlic in a Blush Pomodoro Sauce

Broccoli Rabe with Sauteed Garlic

My mom dared to be different and ordered the Pork Chop Special, which was served with Roasted Potatoes and Broccoli Rabe. She was disappointed because the meat was well over-cooked and after a few bites decided to send it back and order a pasta dish as well. She ordered the Farfalle Mascarpone, which is Farfalle pasta sautéed with Mushrooms, Asparagus, and Grape Tomatoes tossed in a Creamy Mascarpone Cheese Sauce. The dish was rich, as expected, but the flavors were spot on and the pasta was perfectly cooked. It was an upscale macaroni and cheese, and it certainly delivered the same comfort. I was also impressed by how quickly they managed to get her new dish to the table. She waited no more than 8 minutes, and they gladly took the Pork Chop off the bill.

Pork Chop with Broccoli Rabe

Roasted Potatoes

Overall, La Stalla is a great place for a romantic date or a large group celebration, a cozy indoor meal or a relaxing meal out on the garden patio, and the outdoor bar scene is great during the summer with bocce ball courts not far off. I would recommend the pastas, and note that you need to specify that you only want a half order if you choose not to do the meal family style. My family is not good at sharing food and so we never do family style!

 

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Domani Star *****


Chocolate Pudding Pots

215.230.9100
57 West State Street
Doylestown, Pa 18901

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Spring break—it is the time of year where college students across the country descend upon vacation resorts such as Cabo, San Juan, Miami, Cancun, and other sunny locales to partake in much debauchery, which usually results in wicked hangovers, unsafe sex practices, interesting photographs (which usually inhibit ones ability to obtain employment post-college), peeling and splotchy skin, a burning sensation when urinating, post-spring break alcohol withdrawal, and of course, great memories! Everybody does the aforementioned spring break at least once while in college, but only the crazies desire to do it twice. Instead, I decided to head home for spring break this year, back to freezing cold Philadelphia. Rather than packing swimsuits and tanning oil, I packed my wool sweaters and suede boots. It sounds a little miserable to most, but you have to remember that I go to school in Miami…I’m on spring break all year!! I need this time to relax and recover, and that’s exactly what I have been doing. I got home a few days ago and my schedule since has been sleeping, waking to eat moms home cooking, napping due to food coma, mid-day cocktails with my best friend, napping due to mid-day drinking, blogging, and eating out at my favorite restaurants. I am living the dream, while most other college kids are being served watered down sugary drinks at all inclusive resorts where they can’t drink the water or eat the food due to sanitation problems. Not jealous one bit!

Not only am I eating while at home, I am eating like a queen! After a few martinis yesterday, my friend Jennifer and I decided to go out for dinner. We were a tipsy and decided to splurge on a good meal, as food is never too expensive when you’re drunk! We headed over to Domani Star located right in the center of Doylestown. It is an Italian restaurant that has been one of my favorites for years. They serve both lunch and dinner, and now more recently even brunch (although, I think dinner is their specialty!). They have a small indoor dinning room, with bar seating available, as well as outdoor side-walk seating for when the weather is nice (which it is not yet!).

In light of the recession, Domani Star now offers a pre-fixe dinner menu on weeknights, which includes your choice of an appetizer, entree, and dessert. Unfortunately, the pre-fixe menu items are not the same as the regular menu, but there is a very decent selection. Jen and I both ordered from the pre-fixe menu, which has a set price of just $24 (thank you Domani for the recession prices!). We both ordered the Bruschetta, which is grilled Tuscan bread rubbed with fresh garlic and extra virgin olive oil topped with fresh diced tomatoes and herbs. The portion is enormous, more like half a loaf of Tuscan bread and the flavors are incredible. My only suggestion is do not order this if you are on a date because the garlic will repeat on you for the rest of the evening. Even if you brush your teeth? Yes. Not even Listerene will get rid of the taste. But it is delicious and worth eating if you are spending a night alone or just with friends watching a movie, as I did.

Bruschetta – grilled Tuscan bread rubbed with fresh garlic and extra virgin olive oil topped with fresh diced tomatoes and herbs

For the entrée we also ordered the same thing—we are best friends so we are a lot alike. We got the Chicken Francese, which is boneless chicken breast dipped in egg batter and then cooked in a white wine lemon sauce, served over top golden Yukon whipped potatoes and grilled asparagus. The portion was just perfect and the food was piping hot, even the plate was burning hot! The chicken was tender and juicy and the sauce was fairly light on butter, which was a refreshing change for franchese. The asparagus were super delicious and all the stems were already cut off and the Yukon potatoes were to die for. Domani Star has by far my favorite mashed potatoes. They are incredibly rich and laden with butter and calories, but they are simply delicious and worth the calorie splurge. I actually order my entrees here based on whether or not they come with the potatoes. Sadly, it is generally the deciding factor!

Chicken Francese – Boneless Chicken Breast Cooked in White Wine Lemon Sauce, Served with Yukon Whipped Potatoes and Grilled Asparagus

For dessert, we ordered the Warm Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream and Homemade Whipped Cream and the Warm Bread Pudding served with Bourbon Sauce and Fresh Berries. Jen and I both agreed that the bread pudding was the star of the two, but it was certainly rich and the two of us didn’t even finish the one small piece. Of course, this is because we were also sharing the chocolate cake, which was good but not exceptional. If you are luck enough to go on a day when they are serving the Chocolate Pudding, you must order it because it is the most incredible dessert ever for a chocolate lover!

Warm Bread Pudding served with Bourbon Sauce and Fresh Berries

Warm Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream and Homemade Whipped Cream

Although the menu changes seasonally and frequently at Domani Star, the one item that never comes off the menu is their Polpettine dei Bacaro di Venezia, which are their famous homemade meatballs made with beef and veal meat, served lightly breaded and fried golden brown with lemons, herbs, and Parmigiano cheese. This is the menu item to try at Domani Star and it gets it’s name because it is served the same way that meatballs are prepared in the wine bars of Venice.

Polpettine dei Bacaro di Venezia – Homemade Meatballs made with Beef and Veal, served Lightly Breaded and Fried Golden Brown with Lemons, Herbs, and Parmigiano cheese

 

My other favorite appetizer from the regular menu is the Polenta e Gorgonzola, which is an oven roasted polenta cake with creamy Gorgonzola sauce, and fresh rosemary. It is a little bite of heaven. It is rich but the portion is small so it is not overwhelming or too filling to have with an entrée. My mom and I usually order one to share before our meal!

If you do go for lunch, I recommend ordering one of Domani’s sandwiches, which are always served on grilled Tuscan bread and accompanied by with either pasta salad, mixed greens, or french fries. I usually order the Grilled Vegetable Sandwich or the Pork Tenderloin Sandwich. If you are in the Doylestown or Bucks County area, I would highly recommend Domani Star for a great Italian restaurant, which is also BYOB!

Breaded Pork Sandwich served on Grilled Tuscan Bread with French Fries

 

 

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Modo Mio *****

Bucatini All’Amatriciana with Pancetta and Parmesan Cheese

215.203.8707
161 W Girard Avenue
Philadelphia, Pa 19123

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Although the streets of South Philly do not have the glamour typically associated with Rome, the ethnic neighborhood definitely boasts some of the best Italian food in America. Several generations of Italian immigrants have settled in South Philadelphia, sharing their cuisine and selling their groceries on the curb of 9th street, which is known as the Italian Market. On this narrow and crowded street you can find stores such as Di Bruno’s Bros. for the best cheeses and olives, Sarcone’s Bakery for freshly baked breads, and Isgro’s Pasticceria for cannolis that are literally, to die for! Of course, there are also some truly amazing and authentic Italian restaurants too! Since I am always on the hunt to find great Italian food (as it is my favorite kind of food to eat), I was very excited when my mom told me that we would be trying Modo Mio on Girard Ave for a family dinner. It was highly recommended by one of my mother’s Italian friends and it also had really great online reviews.

Upon arriving at the restaurant, we walk in and find that we are the first diners of the evening. But when we asked to be seated at different table, we quickly found out that we would not be the only diners of the evening; every table had already been reserved. So we took our seats and got to interrogating the waiter, which is what my mom and I do at every meal (of course, while my dad rolls his eyes in annoyance!). We ask what dishes are most popular and which ones are house specialties. We ask about the business and the background of the owner and/or chef. And we also try to find out the best way to order at each restaurant. Our waiter at Modo Mio suggested doing the “La Turista Menu,” which is a four-course meal composed of an appetizer, pasta, entrée, and dessert. And for the price of just $33, none of us could resist! The best part was that it was not a pri fix or limited menu. You got to order off of the regular menu and select one item of your choosing from each category. But before we even had the opportunity to order, food was already being brought to the table. We received a plate of complementary Bruschetta Toasted topped with Grilled Eggplant and Cinnamon as well as Fresh Grilled Ciabatta Bread with Homemade Ricotta Cheese and Olive Oil infused with Porcini Mushrooms. My mom always says that you can judge a restaurant by the quality of its bread, and you better believe that we all got pretty excited for our entrees after trying this stuff. It was amazing! The ricotta was as creamy and smooth as butter and the olive oil had a tremendous earthy flavor from the mushrooms. The bread was also fantastic with a nice crispy crust and a soft warm center. The eggplant bruschetta was unique because of the cinnamon spice, but I thought it was a nice touch that rounded out the flavors well.

Grilled Bruschetta with Eggplant and Cinnamon

Now that our appetites were going, we got to ordering our courses. For my appetizer I had the Creamy Potatoes with Lump Crab and Sweet Roasted Red Peppers. I was unsure as to how it was going to be served, and I was pleasantly surprised when it came out on top of more of that delicious bread!! It was definitely a rich appetizer, but it was too good to leave any behind. The crabmeat was abundant and not overshadowed by the potatoes. The roasted red peppers were perfectly placed atop the whole dish, and they added a great sweetness to every bite. I also tried the Mussels in Spicy Red Sauce, which were so tender and the best that I have ever had out! The sauce was great with salty capers and just the right amount of red pepper flakes for heat. My sister ordered the Egg Dipped and Fried Mozzarella Grill Cheese Sandwich with Lemon Caper Sauce, which I thought would be the grand-daddy of all grill cheeses, but I was disappointed by the strength of the lemon sauce. I thought it was too pungent and overwhelmed what could have been a really great dish. My other sister, Hannah, ordered the Calamari Stewed in Red Sauce with Capers and Olives. I thought it was good, but still prefer crispy fried calamari (call me unrefined…but at the end of the day they taste better to me!). I also had a bite of my dad’s Seared Scallop atop Fried Chickpea Pancake. The chickpea pancake was fabulous and so was the scallop, but the portion was rather small for my liking.

Calamari in Red Sauce with Capers and Olives

Fried Mozzarella Grill Cheese Sandwich with Capers and Lemon Sauce

My favorite course of the meal was the pasta! The next time I go to Modo Mio, I am going to ask to order two pasta dishes instead of an entrée. I ordered the Buccatini Amatriciana, which is a thick homemade spaghetti with pancetta in a spicy red sauce. The pasta was actual perfection, from texture to cook time, and the sauce was very nice. It was rich (and a bit oily) because of the pancetta, but worth every calorie! The Gnocchi with Porcini Mushrooms, Peas, and Pancetta in Gorgonzola Sauce was also rich, but undoubtedly the best gnocchi I have ever had the privilege of tasting. They were soft delicate pillows of potato and pasta that melted in your mouth. I was also pleasantly surprised by the gorgonzola cream sauce, which in some miraculous way tasted light! The purses of gnocchi were not swimming in sauce, but lightly coated in it, which was nice. I think that this is the must-try menu item at Modo Mio. My other favorite pasta dish was the Carmelli Pasta Purses filled with Taleggio Cheese in a truffle-rosemary butter sauce. This dish was probably the richest of all the pasta dishes, but also really, really, good. Taleggio cheese is very strong (sometimes called the “stinky cheese”) but when it is melted and gooey, it is delicious. My least favorite pasta was the Lasagna topped with a Fried Egg. I thought it was too rich to even taste good. The plate was covered in oil and the fried egg was just too much. I only had one bite and found that I couldn’t get the greasy feeling out of my mouth, so I would have been disappointed to have ordered this as my meal.

Homemade Gnocchi with Peas, Pancetta, and Porcini Mushrooms in a Gorgonzola Cream Sauce

For my entrée I ordered Skirt Steak with Green Olives and Fried Chickpeas. Although it was cooked perfectly, and tender and juicy, I thought it was way too heavy after all the previous food that I had eaten. I enjoyed the finely chopped green olives atop the steak, but the fried chickpeas, which were done in little flattened strips (an Italian version of the French Steak Pomme Frites) were far too oily. I only had a couple of bites of my entrée, and would have been satisfied without it. I would definitely recommend ordering a fish as an entrée, because it is on the relatively lighter side. My dad ordered the winning entrée, which was Grilled Swordfish with balsamic caramelized onion, golden raisins, pine nuts radicchio, smoked mozzarella, and rosemary pangrattugiato. This flavor packed entrée, just seems to melt in your mouth. It was by far my favorite entrée.

Grilled Swordfish with balsamic caramelized onion, golden raisins, pine nuts radicchio, smoked mozzarella, and rosemary pangrattugiato

Grilled Skirt Steak with Green Olives and Fried Chickpeas

And last but not least, DESSERT! The four courses add up to a lot of food, but please make sure that you save room for dessert because it is worth stuffing yourself uncomfortably for. My family decided to sample 1 of every dessert rather than each ordering our own, so that we could have a greater variety. We had Flour-less Chocolate Cake (very dense and tasty), Torta Della Nonna (with orange flavor and shaved caramelized apple topping), Chocolate Hazelnut Pie (dense, rich, deep nutty flavor, delicious), Panna Cotta with Cranberries (the panna cotta had no vanilla flavor and was dull, the cranberries were too sweet and too syrupy), and Tiramisu (one of the best tiramisu’s that I have ever tried, fabulous!). If I were to go back again, I would order the Torta Della Nonna or the Tiramisu and definitely stay away from the Panna Cotta.

 

Assorted Desserts at Modo Mio

I honestly think that this is one of the best food deals to be had in the city. Not only is it a lot of food for a reasonable price, but it is also incredibly delicious! I would love to go back, and would highly recommend it to others.

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