Thursday, September 13, 2012

Cheesesteak Challenge: Geno's v. Pat's

We're not afraid to be the ultimate tourists when we travel.  Sure, it's great to go off the beaten path, but, when you're in a place for a really short time, sometimes it's fun to do the expected.

When you're in Philadelphia, you're expected to visit Geno's Steaks and Pat's King of Steaks.  Most people will agree that they are not the best cheesesteaks in the city, but nobody can deny that they are absolute Philly institutions.

And, lo and behold!  They are right across the street from each other!  My friends Laptop and Mrs. Beagle joined us for the challenge.  First stop: Geno's.
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Luckily, I spoke perfect English when ordering.

Whiz wit ($9.00).
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That's abbreviated-speak for a cheesesteak with Cheez Whiz with onions.  The sliced steak was quite bland.

Cheese fries ($5.00).
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Much better than the cheesesteak but still nothing special at all.

Would Pat's disappoint, too?
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Our first impression of Pat's was instantly better.  Instead of being bombarded with scary Speak English signs and stickers, we were greeted with friendly, hearty hellos from several employees, not to mention the instructions clearly posted were pretty helpful.

Whiz wit ($9.50).
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When you're conducting a cheesesteak challenge, you have to order exactly the same thing!  While Pat's doesn't compare at all to the magnificent John's Roast Pork, this sandwich completely kicked the Geno's sandwich's ass.  It wasn't even a contest.  The chopped steak made all the difference -- more char, more flavor, more everything.

Cheese fries ($5.50).
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Again, better than Geno's.  More crisp!

Bonus sandwich pic.
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Mr. Beagle got Provolone.  Mmm.  Provolone.

It was an easy choice between these two historic cheesesteak competitors.  Team Pat's!
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But, really, the Monkeys are Team John's Roast Pork.  That is, until we return and sample some more cheesesteaks the next time we're in Philadelphia.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Superb Sandwiches: John's Roast Pork

John's Roast Pork doesn't look like much.  In fact, it looks rather unimpressive.
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But, hey!  Look on the wall!  What?  This little shack won a James Beard Award?  Your eyes do not deceive you.  Yes, this little shack really did earn that vaunted medal.

Eating at John's Roast Pork is not particularly easy.  It's on the outskirts of town.  It has odd hours.  And it sometimes runs out of food.

However, it sure is worth it if you're lucky enough to make it here.

There is an art to ordering.  If you're not getting something off the grill, you can cut in front of all of the people waiting on grill orders.  Thus, if you just want a roast pork sandwich, you can get served nearly immediately.  I assure you, though -- the cheesesteak is worth waiting a few minutes more!

Small roast pork sandwich with sharp provolone ($5.50).
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An absolutely wonderful sandwich!  So juicy!  So generous!  The shack's namesake sandwich is a must!

Steak Milano ($7.75).
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Outstanding!  This was a variation on a traditional cheesesteak with provolone and grilled tomatoes instead of onions, which was ideal for the onion-hating Mr. Monkey.  We loved this!  Chopped and charred and packed with flavor!

Good call, James Beard Foundation, on John's Roast Pork!  Wow!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Best Lamb of Our Lives: Zahav

When we're traveling, I like to try things that I can't get at home.  Mrs. Beagle and Laptop both recommended that we go to Zahav for our anniversary dinner in Philadelphia.  I was sold as soon as I learned it was an Israeli restaurant.  I think this may have been my first full Israeli meal ever, and I'm not aware of anything comparable in Los Angeles right now.  Readers, are you?
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It is dark at Zahav.  Really, really, really dark.  It was so dark that we requested an ever-so-slightly better lit table in a feeble attempt to aid my photography.

We chose to do the Mesibah, described as a "party time" menu with "limited availability."  It is apparently "the ultimate Zahav experience."  For just $48 per person, you get "a full tour of the menu" below.

Salatim -- a selection of salads.
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It's like banchan, Israeli-style!  Well, except there weren't unlimited refills by Korean ladies.

Hummus with laffa.
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Outstanding hummus.  I could eat it by the spoonful.

Amuse bouche.
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A bacon-like bite with hot mustard.  Yum.

Crispy haloumi, peach-amba puree, local corn, almonds.
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Fried cheese!  Yes, please!

Fried cauliflower, labaneh with chive, dill, mint, and garlic.
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This is how you make veggies tasty.

Roasted zucchini, Kashkaval cheese, hazelnuts, anchovy.
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No, really, they don't mess around when it comes to vegetables here.  Fabulous.

Whole-roasted lamb shoulder with pomegranate and chickpeas over crispy Persian rice.
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While our meal at Graffiato was my favorite meal of the weekend, my favorite singular dish of the weekend was this one.  It completely blew us away.  It was the best lamb of our lives.

People.  People!  Did you read that?  The! Best! Lamb! Of! Our! Lives!

And it was gigantic.  We felt like we ate our own weight in delectable, crisp, tender, juicy lamb, and yet there was still at least half of a humongous mountain left on the plate.  Not to mention, the bed of crispy rice was crazy good, too.  I wish I could've hauled the remains all the way back to Los Angeles.  Seriously.

It was so phenomenal that we just had to ask our server how it was prepared.  First, the lamb is whole-roasted.  Second, it is grilled over coals.  Third, it is braised in pomegranate juice.  There are probably other steps, but the entire labor-intensive process takes three days.  Three days!  No wonder this lamb was so incredible!

Chocolate almond cigars, chocolate mousse, stewed cherries.
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Aww, look at the candle for our anniversary!  This was perfect for a chocolate lover (i.e., not me), but the bite I had was rich, dark, slightly tart, and lovely.

Vanilla semifreddo, pistachio cookie, strawberry, blueberry.
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Now this was perfect for me!  My favorite base ice cream flavor!  My favorite nut in cookie form!  And berries to which I'm not allergic!  Woohoo!

Zahav met and exceeded our fairly high expectations.  I will dream fondly of that lamb.  If you're ever in Philadelphia, you should make your lamb dreams come true.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Phantastic Philly Digs: Hotel Palomar

After our phenomenal brunch at Graffiato, we continued our short road trip to Philadelphia.  Our home for our anniversary night was the Hotel Palomar for a splurge of $141.  Ok, that's not really a splurge, but it was certainly more than what we usually pay with Mr. Monkey's travel ninja ways.
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As you already know, we love most Kimpton hotels and are especially big fans of the Palomar brand.  See, e.g., where we stayed in Phoenix.

Philadelphia's Hotel Palomar did not disappoint.  The service we received from start to finish was wonderful.  And, because it was our anniversary, the hotel upgraded us to quite the large suite.  What a great way to celebrate!
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Mr. Monkey has now racked up so many Kimpton points that he is elite enough to have a rider, not unlike his father does at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.  (Remember the crazy V8 and papaya overload?)  Now, every time we visit a Kimpton hotel, we are greeted with Red Vines, cashews, beef jerky, premium ginger ale, and water.

I had no say in this rider, as Mr. Monkey often travels alone.  Hmph.  But I do enjoy the ginger ale.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Eggsellent Brunch: Graffiato

My favorite meal during our anniversary weekend in the Northeast was brunch with Mr. and Mrs. Yeah4Me at Graffiato in D.C.
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Graffiato is Chef Mike Isabella's ode to his Italian-American heritage, sprinkled with Mediterranean and Latin notes from his previous life as executive chef at Zaytinya and sous chef at Alma de Cuba.  Some of you may recognize Chef Isabella's name from Top Chef.

Consider me a huge fan now.  Huge.  Every single thing we had was absolutely fantastic.  If Graffiato had existed back when I lived in D.C., maybe I wouldn't hate D.C. so much.

Housemade five-spice ginger beer and housemade watermelon and lemongrass soda ($5 each).
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I love when places have fresh juices or homemade sodas.  These were the best of both worlds.

The four of us decided to do the "booze and bites" deal.  For $25, you choose any three dishes and/or cocktails.  We opted for three dishes each and added drinks and desserts on top of that.  Prices listed are what you'd pay without participating in "booze and bites."

Burrata, Heirloom tomatoes, melon, saba ($12).
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Fresh and sweet and creamy.

Hand-cut spaghetti, olive oil poached cherry tomatoes, basil ($9).
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A fancy childhood favorite.

Risotto, soft egg, pancetta, mushroom ($12).
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Rich, starchy, eggy.

Crab scramble, arugula, ricotta salata ($13).
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The eggs were ever so light and mixed wonderfully with plenty of crab.

Meatballs, creamy polenta, farmed egg ($10).
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So tender and meaty and cradled in a sunny egg-infused, grits-like porridge.

Crispy potato gnocchi, summer squash, pine nuts ($11).
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This dish convinced me that all gnocchi should be fried golden brown. Crunchy!  Pillowy!  Yummy!

Skirt steak, potatoes, corn, ricotta salata, salsa verde ($13).
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Meat!  Meat!  Meat!  Yeah!

Wood oven baked eggs, spicy sausage, tomatoes, peppers ($12).
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Underneath those beautiful yolks were delectable, spicy, juicy sausages!

Crispy lamb, yogurt, cucumber, tapenade ($13).
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Easily the best meat at the table.  Perfectly charred.  Just fatty enough.  Luscious.  Wondrous.

Sweet corn agnolotti, Chanterelles, pine nuts ($11).
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Everybody's favorite non-meat dish!  We got two of these!  Sweet, delicate, and dreamy!  Must get!

Roasted chicken thigh, braised Romano beans, tomato, Parmesan ($10).
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I feel like this is something that an Italian-American grandma might make.  Good job, Grandma.

Market berry pizza, ricotta, hazelnut ($8).
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I had only a tiny bite because there were blackberries in the mix, but the one tiny bite I had was very good.  If I'm ever in town again, I'd love to try the actual non-dessert pizzas here.  I bet they're awesome.

Cinnamon knots, Nutella ($6).
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We didn't actually order these, but fried dough drizzled with Nutella is always a welcome complimentary error.  It should be noted that the service at Graffiato is quite impressive.  Our server was really friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful.

Pistachio cake, cherries, balsamic, orange gelato ($7).
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Tiny but dense, moist, and lovely.

I highly highly highly recommend that you visit Graffiato when you're in D.C.  Better yet, grab two happy, hungry friends like Mr. and Mrs. Yeah4Me, so you can try as much food as you possibly can.  Thanks for sharing this meal with us!
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