BLT Steak

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FACTS: Located in Midtown East, NYC

WHAT I ORDERED:

Tuna Tartare: Avocado/Soy-Lime Dressing

28-Day Dry-Aged Prime Porterhouse (for two)

Creamed Spinach

Potato Gratin

MY ANALYSIS:

BLT Steak is a modern and sophisticated steakhouse that also exudes warmth and comfort. In addition, their fabulous cheese popovers alone are worth the visit. They are large, flaky, and beyond delicious.

I ordered the tuna tartare as an appetizer and, despite its gorgeous presentation, it turned out to be somewhat of a disappointment. While not being able to pinpoint the exact problem, I was neither fond of the consistency nor of the taste.

Tonight, I was thoroughly in the mood for steak. Therefore, my boyfriend and I split a porterhouse designed for two. Oozing in herb butter, along with requested side of peppercorn sauce, my red meat desires have now been fulfilled. Of course, we also ordered sides of potatoes and creamed spinach. But, of the two, I definitely favored the creamed spinach.

Despite a few misses, I still highly recommend this place and feel as though it’s a wonderful venue overall.

QUICK TIDBIT: Be sure to check out all of ESquared’s restaurants/locations: http://www.e2hospitality.com/

Little Nonna’s

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FACTS: Located in Center City, Philadelphia

WHAT I ORDERED:

Garlic Bread: Sarcone’s Seeded Loaf, Roasted Garlic Butter, Sea Salt

Eggplant Parmigiana: Japanese Eggplant, Mixed Basil Pesto, Marinara, Burrata

Ricotta Cavatelli: Housemade Duck Sausage, Olives, Garlic, Broccoli Rabe, Smoke Ricotta Salata

Broccoli Rabe: Rosemary White Beans, Garlic, Chile, Lemon

MY ANALYSIS:

Tonight, we had the pleasure of dining outside in the backyard garden, which is quaint, romantic, and totally serene.

We started out with the garlic bread and eggplant parmesan as appetizers. The toasted bread, served with fresh-roasted garlic butter spread and sea salt, was fantastic, and I couldn’t think of a more fitting way to begin our Italian meal. As for their eggplant parmesan, it was beautifully presented, perfectly seasoned, and just the absolute best.

For my entrée, I ordered the ricotta cavatelli.   The combination of duck sausage, olives, garlic, broccoli rabe, and ricotta struck my fancy on this cool but mild evening, and I’m so happy that it did since I thoroughly enjoyed this dish and will be sure to order it again.

For a side dish, we ordered the broccoli rabe, which was bursting with flavor. Unfortunately, though, I found it to be somewhat bitter, due to the chili powder and lemon. But, regardless of my own personal distaste, it had no bearing on my overall impression, since I absolutely adore this place.

For a fabulous neighborhood restaurant, I highly recommend Little Nonna’s. The ambience is lovely, the food is fantastic, and it’s located on one of the most charming streets in all of Philadelphia.

QUICK TIDBIT: Garden seating is first come, first serve.

Ben’s

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FACTS: Kosher Deli located in the Garment District, NYC

WHAT I ORDERED:

Homemade Chicken in the Pot Soup: Matzo Ball, Noodles, Kreplach, Peas, and Fresh Garden Carrots

Pastrami on Rye

MY ANALYSIS:

Ben’s Kosher Deli is yet another New York staple which I’m happy to have experienced. And, despite not being very knowledgeable about Kosher law, I find the entire process to be somewhat fascinating.

Arguably, Ben’s is due for a modern-day face lift and/or makeover. However, doing so would also remove much of its character. More specifically, the signage and storefront resemble the likes of an old-time cinema and the bright interior design could easily be confused with one of Mr. Cosby’s infamous sweaters worn during the 80’s. But, in spite of all of its tackiness, gaudiness, and glory, this place would not be the same without any one of the above.

One of the best perks of visiting Jewish delis is their complimentary pickles (sour and dill) and coleslaw. So, if you like coleslaw, you will love Ben’s since their cabbage to mayonnaise ratio is spot on!

On this occasion, my boyfriend introduced me to “chicken in the pot soup.” Not only is this soup literally served in a pot, but it also consists of whole chicken parts. Between the matzo ball and noodles, I also had the pleasure of trying kreplach for the first time, and I will definitely order again. And, in all seriousness, who knew that the Jews could give Asians a run for their money when it comes to dumplings? As for the broth itself, it was beyond delicious, along with being the perfect remedy on a cold winter’s day.

In my opinion, ordering a pastrami on rye also goes hand-in-hand when dining at a Jewish deli. But, given the choice, I’m sorry to say that I prefer Katz’s pastrami over Ben’s since their slices are thicker, juicer, and more flavorful.

In summation, I highly recommend this restaurant, if just for novelty sake.

QUICK TIDBIT: Be sure to check out all of their locations: http://www.bensdeli.net/

Ess-a-Bagel

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FACTS: Located in Midtown East, NYC

WHAT I ORDERED:

Onion Bagel with Herb Cream Cheese

MY ANALYSIS:

Ess-a-Bagel is not only a neighborhood favorite; it’s also one of the most popular bagel stores in all of Manhattan.  In spite of lines out the door on a regular basis, I can attest that these bagels are completely worth the wait.  They are fresh, large, and the right balance of soft and chewy.  In addition, the store offers a wide variety of fish and cream cheese selections to choose from.  And, being one who completely despises cream cheese of any sort, I discovered that this shop actually offers a version that I absolutely love: herb.  While resembling Alouette Cheese spread, along with being an extremely rare commodity to find, the herb cream cheese is to die for and I always look forward to it.

I highly recommend starting your day off with a bagel or two from here.  However, with all that said, if only their customer-service skills were half as good as their bagels are….  Well, in this case, the quality of the product clearly speaks for itself, and it’s definitely what keeps customers coming back over and over again.

QUICK TIDBIT: Be sure to check their Stuyvesant Town location as well: http://ess-a-bagel.com/

Cuba Libre

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FACTS:  Located in Old City, Philadelphia

WHAT I ORDERED:

Cuban Pork Fried Rice:  Napa Cabbage Kimchi, Spanish Chistorras Sausage and Berkshire Pork Belly Fried Rice/Fried egg

Chorizo and Potato Omelet:  Fluffy Two-Egg Omelet/Chorizo Sausage, Roasted Potatoes, Sour Cream and Monterey Jack cheese/Watercress and Tomato Salad

Cobbano Salad:  Warm Roasted Pulled Pork, Sweet Plantain Salpicón, Hearts of Palm, Organic Grape Tomatoes, Avocado, Bacon, Cabrales Cheese, Hard Boiled Egg and Scallions/Watercress and Baby Spinach/Light Mustard Vinaigrette

Guacamole Cubano:  Avocado, Golden Pineapple, Fresh Lime Juice and Extra Virgin Olive Oil/ Crispy Plantain Chips.

El Cubanito:  Sour Orange Marinated Pork Loin, Genoa Salami, Ham, Provolone and Swiss Cheese/Yellow Mustard-Pickled Relish/Tropical Chips and Cuba Libre salsa

French Toast a la Cubana:  Vanilla Custard Soaked Brioche Bread/Maple Syrup and Panela Soaked Sweet Plantains/Whipped cream

MY ANALYSIS:

For starters, I really enjoyed stepping into Cuba Libre’s open, colorful, and authentic space.  In addition, they offer a $26 brunch special, which includes unlimited tapas.  So, wanting to take advantage of this amazing deal, we ordered a smorgasbord full of different items to share (some of which are not pictured here).  But, when all was said and done, my boyfriend’s favorite item turned out to be the French toast and mine the pork fried rice (go figure).

In summation, I found the food here to be good, but average overall.  While I still recommend a visit, there’s definitely better Cuban fare to be had elsewhere.

QUICK TIDBIT:  Be sure to check out all of their East Coast locations:  http://www.cubalibrerestaurant.com/

Dim Sum Garden

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FACTS:  Located in Chinatown, Philadelphia

WHAT I ORDERED:

Hot and Sour Soup

Shrimp Dumplings

Snow Pea Leaves

Shanghai Shao Mai

Shanghai Steamed Pork Soup Dumplings

Pork with Noodles and Sauce

MY ANALYSIS:

After coming across Dim Sum Garden’s new location, a more up-to-date, larger, and more mainstream location within Chinatown (appreciably better than its former vastly unappealing 11th Street location), we were extremely excited to try this place.  And, after ordering some of our favorite dishes, we were thrilled with the results.  In fact, I was completely dumbfounded at how fantastic the food was.  Without feeling the need to describe how fabulous each and every dish was, I would like to relay a few pointers instead:

1.       The snow pea leaves are not listed on the menu.

2.       Beware of heavy splattering before diving into the noodle dish.

3.       They are known for their soup dumplings; these are a must!

4.       Shanghai Shao Mai is quite different from Japanese shumai.

I highly recommend this place and can assure you that it’s definitely worth waiting in line for.  In fact, this has now become my favorite dim sum restaurant of all time, and I thoroughly look forward to returning.  Equally impressive was the speedy service, making up for the lack of fun rolling carts.

QUICK TIDBIT:  Be sure to check out their extensive menu selections:  http://www.dimsumgardenphilly.com/

El Vez

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FACTS:  Located in Center City, Philadelphia

WHAT I ORDERED:

“The Original” El Vez Guacamole

Queso Fundido Con Carne

Chicken Enchilada Suizas

MY ANALYSIS:

El Vez is a fun, lively, and casual place to dine.  Furthermore, the food is delicious.  As usual, I ordered my standard go-to’s, which also bear a strong resemblance to some of my favorite dishes at Rosa Mexicano (see posting).

El Vez offers a variety of guacamoles to choose from.  However, we played it safe and ordered their original version. Packed full of both flavor and spice, this guacamole turned out to be some of the best I’ve ever tried.  And, despite its usual mix of traditional ingredients, it completely exceeded my expectations and was beyond terrific.

Being of a huge fan of queso fundido con carne, I will be forever sold on this tasty trio of baked cheese, chorizo, and flour tortillas.  In addition, this savory and filling appetizer could easily pass for a meal in itself.

Another favorite of mine is enchiladas.  While there are certain meat and sauce combinations that I prefer over others (chicken/verde and ground beef/rojo), I was especially thrilled to see the chicken enchilada/creamy tomatillo-sesame sauce option on the menu.  In summation, I absolutely loved this dish and found it to be nothing short of perfection.

I highly recommend this place.  Not only is the food sensational, but it’s a great venue for large parties and celebrations as well.

QUICK TIDBIT:  Be sure to check out all of Stephen Starr’s restaurants:  http://www.starr-restaurant.com/