September 30, 2015

Same Same but Different in NoLibs

There are so many hot new restaurants in Philly, it's tough to know which to try next. On the top of our list was Same Same in Northern Liberties... and it should be on yours, too.

We first met Chef Chad Kubanoff and his wife Thuy in London during our inaugural Chowzter/FoodieHub blogger trip and spent an entire day with them food hunting through various markets. Proving how small our world really can be, it turned out Chad was from Bucks County but living in Vietnam at the time, cooking at a top restaurant and running motorbike street food tours with Thuy, who was born and raised in Vietnam. For FoodieHub, they represented Saigon, offering expert recommendations for where to get the best banh mi, noodles and more around the busy city.

They moved back to the U.S. last year to fulfill Chad's dream to open a restaurant here at home. Same Same shows off some of the best street food Saigon has to offer. You'll barely recognize the former Koo Zoo Doo space turned casual, with a small courtyard and local street signs on the walls.

Definitely check out Same Same for lunch or dinner. Pho will be added to the menu soon, just in time for winter. In the meantime, here's what we ate...

For a main dishes at Same Same, choose between a banh mi sandwich, noodle bowl or lettuce wraps, and then pick your featured meat/vegetable. Our banh mi was with pho-spiced pork confit, made with a dry rub of star anise, cinnamon, black cardamom and black pepper. The pork is marinated overnight, slowly braised in pork fat for 8 hours and seared to order. The bread comes from Ba Le Bakery on Washington Ave. Loved it! Really rich, fresh flavors on an excellent roll. If we lived Northern Liberties, stopping in often for a banh mi lunch would be a no brainer.

For something to share, grab an order of vegetable spring rolls and Thuy’s delicious chicken salad. The latter is a very light and fresh dish made with shaved cabbage, pulled poached chicken breast, toasted peanuts, fresh herbs and lemon. We cleaned the plate. The simple spring rolls are delicately fried, adding the perfect little crunch to your meal.

Lettuce wraps come with fresh mustard leaves, green lettuce, lots of herbs, pickled daikon radish, pickled carrot and rice noodles, plus a bowl of house made fish sauce dressing for dipping. We loved this sauce, which Thuy said is mixed with a little water and sugar to make it slightly less pungent. Delicious. The staff at Same Same will also show you how to properly roll a lettuce wrap, including the green lettuce inside a mustard leaf to make it stronger. Who knew?! We ordered the tender chicken thighs marinated with lemongrass, ginger, fish sauce and a bit of chili.

Overall, the food at Same Same was light, tasty and very fresh. We ate a lot but never felt stuffed and trust that Chad and Thuy make sure the experience/ingredients are authentic to the streets of Vietnam.

*Kid-friendly? Absolutely. Casual atmosphere, colorful finger foods and smoothies, and a resident baby (Chad and Thuy's own 3 month old!) make it a great place to bring along the kids. Our little guy tried really hard to get his fingers on a spring roll but he'll have to grow some teeth first.

August 30, 2015

Gennaro's: Is this Pizza Better than Pizzeria Beddia?

Philly has taken center stage in the nation's Pizza Wars with Bon App├ętit naming Pizzeria Beddia the best in America. Sadly, we have not been there yet, and with the lines now reaching preposterous levels, I am not sure we will at all. Anyone want to wait in line and deliver us a pie?

That leaves us chasing the best of the rest, which are probably just as good, like Pizzeria Vetri, Pizza Brain and Square Pie (our current favorite). An overlooked place to throw into the mix is Gennaro's Tomato Pie in South Philly.

Mike Giammarino's cash only, no reservations BYOB serves Philly a little slice of the old NYC Italian pizzerias such as Patsy's or John's of Bleecker Street. It makes sense, considering his family owns Lombardi's in Brooklyn and he ran the Center City spinoff that closed in 2005.

Giammarino returned to Philly in 2013 to open Gennaro's and we're glad he did. His thin crust pies are on par, if not better than, many of the new joints popping up everywhere. Gennaro's low key, neighborhood vibe is enjoyable as well.

We ordered two styles - the white pizza with mozzarella and ricotta cheese and our favorite plain tomato pie with mozzarella, crushed tomato and olive oil. Both were fresh with the distinctive thin crust providing a nice crisp bite.

Old school NYC pizzerias are known for delivering delicious charred taste out of coal-fired ovens. Lacking its own coal oven, Gennaro's suggests cooking their pies a little longer to mimic the flavor. Our pies tasted more burnt than charred so we'd skip that step.

Gennaro's has a new spot on Passyunk Square called Grace & Pat's that serves up "Grandma Style" pies. If the thicker, but not Sicilian thick pizzas, are anything like my Italian grandmother's then I will be a regular visitor. Craig Laban is a big fan. Has anyone been yet?

*Kid-friendly? Yes, Gennaro's is very casual and a fine place to bring kids. There are fun, vintage photos and decor on the walls, and of course the food is right up any kid's ally. It's not huge and the tables are tight, though, so you might want to leave the stroller in the car or by the door.

August 23, 2015

Celebrate the Seasons with Dinner at Townsend in East Passyunk

The Fountain at The Four Seasons may have closed, but its legacy lives on in the next generation of great Philly chefs, for whom restaurants like the Fountain served as training grounds.

Townsend Wentz started his journey to greatness at The Fountain, and after stops at Lacroix, Twenty21 and a few NY restaurants came back to Philly to run McCrossen's  (which we loved while he was there). Last April, Wentz opened his namesake Townsend on East Passyunk Ave. 

We got to experience the summer menu this July and it was one of the most delicious meals we've had in a while. Start to finish, Townsend delivered on delicate flavors, beautiful presentation and great service. The photos below speak for themselves. Our three-course meal plus one shared dessert was plenty filling but well paced so it didn't leave us stuffed. 

Clockwise from top left: Pan Roasted Magret Duck Breast with summer white bean cassoulet and port reduction; Jumbo Lump Crab Risotto with truffle-asparagus salad; Rabbit Pot-au-feu with roasted loin roulade, braised rabbit, carrots and potatoes; Potato Gnocchi with sweet corn, mussels, wax beans and pickled fresno chilies. These were all second and third courses. As appetizers we also had the Andalusian Gazpacho with basil oil and brioche croutons and the Marinated Hamachi with cucumber, sesame, lime, cilantro and furikake. Each bite was better than the one before, though if I had to pick a favorite it would be the risotto. 

Townsend is a French restaurant nestled in a Passyunk rowhouse with seasonally inspired menus. Get there soon to try what we had. I can't wait to see what Townsend offers for fall. There's a bar just inside the door, seating in the back and more upstairs. We lucked out with the front bay window seat upstairs and a lovely view of Easy Passyunk Ave at dusk. Great idea for Valentine's Day, a birthday or other special occasion. 

*Kid-friendly? It is feasible to bring a child to Townsend, probably best during earlier hours, but it is such a nice experience that we'd recommend calling up the babysitter and making Townsend a night out just for mom and dad. 

... and for dessert, chocolate souffle. Just do it. 

August 17, 2015

Four Spots for a Quick Lunch in Philly

Having a baby in the spring or summer means having a couple weeks off  - or more if you're lucky - to get outside and enjoy the beautiful weather in between feedings, naps, laundry, etc. I did my best during my maternity leave to get out of the house each day and do something, whether it was meeting a friend for lunch, picnicking in different parks, or simply walking the Schuylkill Trail. 

Here are a few favorite things I grabbed for lunch. They'd make great weekday lunch spots during work or outings on the weekend. 


We are in love. That's all there is to it. We've been to Dizengoff three or four times now, and each time loved whatever hummus inventions were offered that day - chicken, eggplant, cucumber, beet pistachio, all great. One hummus order per person is plenty for lunch. It comes with a little veggie salad and pickles, too. Tip: You might be surprised to only get one pita per order but it goes a long way. Maybe order one extra, but that's it.

*Kid-friendly? Dizengoff has limited seating but it's easy enough to roll in with a stroller on slightly off hours and enjoy a meal at one of the indoor picnic tables or sidewalk seats.

Dos Tacos

We became Sylva Senat fans after he cooked our Underground Supper Club dinner last year. Dos Tacos is his new tiny taco joint in Center City. Senat's traditional and more creative tacos are fine, not great, but get the job done. MY favorite bite at Dos Tacos is the elotes - mexican corn grilled just right with a blend of lime aioli, smoked paprika chili and cojita cheese that will quickly distract you from the tacos. For only $3, it's a must order.

*Kid-friendly? Let me go back and stress tiny. The narrow shoebox location has a few high tops and stools to munch at, if you don't mind the ordering line on top of you. Strollers and children not advised unless it's really off peak hours. The music is also really loud. Only you know if that will wake up a little one or drown them out...

Hai Street Kitchen

Last year we included Hai Street Kitchen in another lunch round-up post.  The recently-added So California roll, which is basically a giant California sushi roll, brought us back for another visit. A crowd pleaser for anyone who is unnecessarily nervous about the other menu items, the So California is simple enough that it's hard not to like. I still prefer the "Crunch" with shrimp tempura but might borrow the avocado salsa from the California next time as an add-on. 

*Kid-friendly? The Center City location of Hai Street Kitchen requires going up a few steps and is small, but the newer University City spot is much bigger, flat and easier to navigate with kid in tow. And you can eat outside there. Kids that eat real food might enjoy Hai Street as something fun and different to eat, too.  

So California roll at Hai Street. House lemonade is also good and not too sweet. 
Cute outside tables at Hai Street's University City location give you a spot to enjoy the outdoors.

Metropolitan Cafe

Metropolitan Cafe has been around for a while but we just recently started grabbing food there en route to Rittenhouse Square. Important to know: they have disallowed carry out orders during peak lunch hours in order to focus on the seated customers. Seems like a silly move given the small number of seats and amount of money they could make on carry out, especially on weekends. But that's that so you should plan to sit down during lunch hours. Anyway, I really enjoy their chopped vegetable salad, crushed almond and lemon pesto panini, and short rib, caramelized onion and taleggio cheese sandwich. And all the desserts, of course. You can't really go wrong there. 

*Kid-friendly? Inside Metropolitan Cafe is tight to sit with a stroller but it's doable to roll in and grab take out for a picnic in Rittenhouse Square, or to sit at one of the outside tables with your babe. Mid-summer, the outside tables are not shaded, however, so keep that in mind. 

August 2, 2015

You Have to Eat This Before Summer Ends: Gelato at Gran Caffe l'Aquila

Gran Caffe L'Aquila opened last January as Philadelphia's first "grand Italian experience:" a fancy coffee and wine stand up bar, a pastry counter, a complex menu of meats, cheeses and entrees in the dining room, wait staff with Italian accents and chic fedoras, bold decor shipped directly from Italy and more. 

Ever since our honeymoon in Venice seven years ago, we've wished the U.S. had more (if any) drop in, stand-and-sip/socialize wine and coffee bars like we frequented in Italy, so Gran Caffe drew us in several times during winter and spring. The espresso did not disappoint, the pastries were delicious and the uber thick, rich hot chocolate made from chocolates found only in L'Aquila, Italy, was excellent. A little taste of of the motherland, found! Keep that in mind this winter. 

Come summer, what really stood out at Gran Caffe L'Aquila, though, was the gelato. Dare I say that it rivals - if not surpasses - Capogiro?! My first bite of regular chocolate was so creamy it stopped me in my tracks. Combine with pistachio for sweet bliss. The selection of traditional and unique flavors - including blends spiked with alcohol! - will have you salivating to try them all. No wonder it just won Best of Philly for 2015. Gran Caffe's owners have also won the World Cup of Gelato. Michael Klein has more on that and how the devastating 2009 earthquake in L'Aquila, Italy, destroyed their original cafe and motivated them to reopen in Philly. 

The rest of the food at Gran Caffe has been met with mixed reviews, but definitely take a break from your regular gelato or ice cream shop and give this one a try before summer is out. 

Beautiful coffee and almond croissant...

This delightful pastry below is called a Sfogliatelle, a "shell-shaped filled Italian pastry native to Campania. "Sfogliatella" means "small, thin leaf/layer," as the pastry's texture resembles stacked leaves." And it had chocolate inside. Winner!! To the right, Italian hot chocolate. Thick, rich and perfect on a winter day.