Friday, December 31, 2010

The Amazing Technicolor Epic Feast of the 7 Fishes 2010

I've been attending, and more recently preparing a course for, the annual Attanasi Feast of the 7 Fishes in Cranford, NJ for almost 15 years now, and I continue to be amazed at the sheer volume and quality of the seafood dishes we enjoy every year, commandeered by the family patriarch, Joe Sr., who carries on the decades old tradition of his Italian family.

We arrived early this year in order to help with the meal prep, but as usual, Joe Sr. had everything ready and under control, an amazing feat, given the 20+ guests he was anticipating. His son Mark, Mark's wife Christine and stepdaughter Brooklyn flew in from Oklahoma for the second straight year to join the celebration, and Christine did her level best to chronicle everything in real time with her iPad, camera, cellphone, mobile uplink and and ESPN video crew in a trailer in the back yard, I think.

We munched on salumi, cheeses, crackers, beer and white Lambrusco in the kitchen, and Joe Sr. opened a package of really fine Nova lox he received as a Christmas present (!), toasted some mini bagels, pulled out some cream cheese and onion, and we had our first fish---deli-style! Joe Sr. decided to try some Nova himself, assembled a bagel and cheese and Nova, and in a quirky accident, broke off a crown from one of his teeth! A man of quiet dignity, he spent the remainder of the evening as tight-lipped as he could, as the hillbilly/goober/Deliverence/banjo music jokes peppered the rest of the evening. I know Christine sneaked a pic of the big gap tooth, but I'm not, nor is she, posting it anywhere. I mean, Joe IS from Newark after all, and you don't mess with Newark Italians. Period.

The dishes, as every year, were utterly top-notch, and this time the meal reprised a few favorite fishes from last year's feast.

I'll let the photos below tell the rest of the story. The food porn, as last year, is courtesy of Christine Attanasi.

OK, , take a deep breath, get ready, here we go:

Shrimp cocktail

Linguine with clam sauce, still the very best version I've ever had.

Eggplant parmigiana

Flounder baked with soy, ginger, garlic and parsley

Panko-crusted tilapia

Huge coconut prawns

A coconut prawn plated with a warm raspberry sauce

Spice-rubbed, maple glazed saddle of salmon

Exquisite scallops wrapped in prosciutto, topped with dill

Fiery, garlicky bacala salad with hot peppers

Scungili (conch) salad

Octopus salad

Ceviche of mahi-mahi

Gorgeously garlicky roasted venison loin, from the, uh, deerfish!

Fresh mozzarella, because, you know, after a dozen fish and venison, you just want some creamy fresh chesee....

A really impressive fruit tart

Creampuffs, eclairs, sfogliatelles and other pastries from the famous Carlo's Bakery in Hoboken

Really good cannolis, from the famous Carlo's Bakery in Hoboken.

A towering dark chocolate cake, which paired well with a Trader Joe's Vintage Ale, actually.

Oh, just one more thin morsel, some strawberries and cupcakes, no?

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Philadelphia Christmas Card

(courtesy of the Greater Philadelphia Tourism and Marketing Corporation-GPTMC)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Christmas Mix

First let me say God Bless Scoats, right off the bat, for keeping a beloved holiday tradition alive. Mike "Scoats" Scotese, owner of the Grey Lodge Pub and Hop Angel Brauhaus, orchestrated the return of any beer lover's holiday fantasy: a variety case of winter seasonal, Christmas and otherwise big beers for 24 lucky beer geeks, including yours truly. Last night we descended upon the Grey Lodge to pick up our most special of Christmas presents.

It was a wintry December night in 1998, bitterly cold and sleeting, and Scoats, my (now dearly departed) friend Gary Bredbenner and I, were hurtling through slush and ice on the Pennsylvania Turnpike toward Downingtown in an old and battered Chevy Suburban that I had borrowed from a housemate. We had been invited to participate in one of beer writer Lew Bryson's early experiments in beer cameraderie, the Bryson Christmas Mix. Bryson had selected 24 winter/Christmas/holiday/big beers and scheduled the assembly of these 24 variety cases for 24 lucky folks at the Victory Brewery and brewpub in Downingtown, on the same night that the brewery would be holding its annual Christmas party, a nifty beer segue of sorts.

I had known Scoats about a year or so by that time, and had become a Wednesday night regular at the Grey Lodge. We had decided to carpool to Downingtown, and Gary, who rarely drove anywhere, asked for a lift as well. It was a scary 90 minute drive in miserable weather.

But we got there, met the group of Christmas Mix participants, and Lew directed traffic as we assembled our variety cases on the loading docks of the brewery. It was a little bit Keystone Cops, but a lot of fun, and the selection of beers for the Mix were, for the most part, new to me, and that made it an extra special adventure.

The Christmas Mix plugged along over the next few years, but began to sputter a few years ago, as schedules got busier, lives more complicated, a lot of different reasons. So that why I heap praise upon Scoats for bringing our little beery tradition back. He, like many of us, can get sentimental that way.

He also worked hard to make this year's Mix really interesting, with classic winter beers that have always been a part of the Mix, and new beers that many of us haven't tried or even seen before.

Here are the beer treasures he assembled for the 2010 Christmas Mix:

21st Amendment Fireside Chat (the first can in the Mix!)

Abbey of Christ in the Dessert Monk's Ale

Anchor Our Special Ale

Breckenridge Christmas Ale

Brooklyn Winter Ale

Cape Anne Navigator Double Bock

Great Divide Hibernation

Great Lakes Christmas Ale

Gritty McDuff Christmas Ale

Kumbacher Eisbock

Lancaster Winter Warmer

Samuel Smith Winter Welcome

Saranac Season's Best

Scaldis Noel

Sierra Nevada Celebration

Summit Imperial Pumpkin Porter

Troegs Mad Elf

Victory Storm King

Wachusett Winter Ale

Weyerbacher Quad

Weyerbacher Winter Ale

Yards Poor Richard's Tavern Spruce

Geants Bier de Noelier

Stegmaier Winter Warmer

I can't wait to start sampling.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

RUBEN AMARO, JR. FOR PRESIDENT!'s John Heyman broke the story at 12:08 AM this morning, revealing that the "stealth suitor" in the Cliff Lee sweepstakes, the Philadelphia Phillies, had in fact landed the powerhouse pitcher for 5 years and roughly $1oo million, with incentives and vesting options.

I'm thinking Amaro gets us out of Afghanistan, trades Iraq to Saudi Arabia, and gets rid of North Korea completely. Just for openers.

Hey, it could happen. Just ask the New York Yankees.

Seven Fishes, Restaurant Style, Parte Due

More restaurants are joining this Christmas tradition movement. OK, well, it's not exactly a movement, but it sure is taking place at a LOT of restaurants this Christmas season, and we mean to bring you the very best of the best menus that we can find.

Mike Stollenwerk, Chef/Owner of FISH, at 17th & Lombard in Philly, is serving up a spate of festive and delicious dishes this holiday season with a Seven Fishes menu, available from December 20-24, according to his publicist, who was kind enough to forward us a menu, and it is, as one would expect, a doozy. $60 per person for seven courses, with an option for wine pairings with each course, an additional $20:


Baby Romaine, white anchovy vinaigrette

Clams and Capellini

Preserved tuna caponata with arugula

Shrimp piperade, polenta-kale galette

Octopus, chick peas and artichokes

Cod brandade, bardolino reduction

Chocolate-orange Pannettone

As with most of Stollenwerk's cooking, this is elegant simplicity and eye-opening combinations. Reservations required.

1708 Lombard St
Phila, PA
Dinnerm Mon-Sun, 5PM-close

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Just about a mile south of Casa Lawrenceville is one of my favorite places, ENZO'S LA PICOLA CUCINA, a tiny BYOB with a surprisingly large, ever-changing Italian menu. Known for their monthly family-style Sunday dinners, they are serving up a formidable Feast of the 7 Fishes dinner on Sunday December 19, with 2PM and 6PM seatings, and priced at $70 per person, tax and tip included. Reservations are a must:



Bacala Salad

Clams with pancetta and scallions, vermouth sauce

Mussels Livornese

Pan-fried smelts

Stuffed calamari

Pasta with Italian tuna

Bacala with potatoes, olives and plum tomato sauce

Scallops Florentine

1906 Princeton Ave
Lawrenceville, NJ

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Share the traditional Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes with the Big Talker 1210's Dom Giordano, Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ron Castille and His Eminence Cardinal Justin Rigali from 6 to 10 p.m. Dec. 21 at POSITANO COAST by Aldo Lamberti. Tickets are $75 and they are limited; find out more at

Besides the traditional Christmas Eve feast, there will be a radio broadcast, special guests and other dishes. The menu, courtesy of, will be served buffet-style:

Feast of the 7 Fishes

  • Seafood Salad (calamari, scungigli, baby shrimp, octopus)
  • Baccala Salad
  • Crudo Station (mahi crudo on the spoon, Clams, Oyster in ½ shell)
  • Fried Calamari
  • Fried Smelts
  • Baccala Pizzaiola – Olives, Tomato oregano
  • Aldo Mussels
  • Vegetable Focaccia
  • Fried Zucchini
  • Prosciutto, Salami
  • Grilled Fennel• Artichokes
  • Grilled Mixed Vegetables
  • Insalata Caprese
  • Roasted Peppers
  • Eggplant Caponata
  • Assorted Cheeses
  • Olives
  • Rigatoni Pescatore – calamari, baby shrimp, mussels, clams
  • Farfalle Boscaiola – asparagus, artichokes, mushroom, tomato, baby shrimp, pesto cream sauce
  • Beef Short Ribs
  • Herb Crust Fish of the Day
  • Chicken Marsala
  • Broccoli rabe and Potatoes

POSITANO COAST by Aldo Lamberti

212 Walnut St, 2nd floor

Philadelphia, PA


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Seven Fishes, Restaurant Style

Besides winter beers, Beaujolais Nouveau, menorahs, kinaras and Christmas trees, at this time of year there are some wonderful meals to be had. Many of them are enjoyed at home, of course, but some restaurants go to great lengths to create family style repasts, such as the Christmas Eve ritual of the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Here's my annual look at some restaurants that are composing Seven Fishes feasts for every palate and budget.

AVALON restaurant in West Chester, PA has created a rustic Italian menu, served family- style, for the Christmas Eve feast, replete with kid-friendly options for those who need them. It can also be prepared for takeout. This menu, on sheer quantity and creativity, is a steal:

Seven Fishes Feast

(Served family style)


Fried Smelts, White Anchovies, Preserved Tuna & Fried Calamari


Linguini with Shrimp, Mussels & Crab in San Marzano Red Sauce


Fluke Piccata with Capers, Lemon and White Wine, Risotto Style Toasted Orzo

Insalta Digestivo

Organic Mixed Greens with Honey Broken Balsamic Vinaigrette


Fresh Fruit and Cheese served family style (or sweet dessert from regular dessert menu may be substituted). Take out order will be Chocolate Cake that can be baked at home.

This feast, which is designed to be ordered by the entire party, is $45 per person; $15 for children under 12. Child-friendly options will be available. Pricing is the same for eat in and carry out. Reservations/Advanced orders necessary at 610/436-4100. For those who prefer, a limited a la carte menu will be available on Friday, December 24 as well.

Avalon Restaurant
312 South High St
West Chester, PA 19382

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In Conshohocken, PA, TRATTORIA TOTARO has also created a Seven Fishes menu bursting with creativity and earthy, homey flavors, priced at $47 per person. Reservations required. They offer this feast on December 23 and 24, and it is also available for takeout.

Thursday December 23 and Friday December 24, 2010

First Course
Seafood Sampler – A sampling of fried smelts, clams casino, garlic shrimp cocktail and bacala (codfish salad)

Second Course
Fruta di Mar (Cold Seafood Salad)
Shrimp, scallops, mussels, clams and calamari tossed with celery and onion with a garlic, olive oil, vinegar and herb dressing, served over greens
Crab and Seafood Bisque

Third Course:
Pescatore – Sauteed shrimp, scallops, mussels, clams and calamari in marinara sauce over pasta. Also available in aiola sauce (garlic, olive oil, white wine sauce)
Flounder Porto – Flounder stuffed with lump crabmeat and spinach in a port wine cream sauce, then baked.
Calalmari Yolanda – Vince’s mothers traditional recipe: calamari tubes stuffed with sauté of vegetables, bread crumbs, herbs, pistachio nuts and raisins in marinara sauce or garlic, olive oil and white wine sauce

Dessert Sampler
Cannoli, Biscotti, Pizzelles and Cookies

Trattoria Totaro
639 Spring Mill Ave
Conshohocken, PA 19428
Phone 610-828-7050 /Fax 610-828-7052

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Ambler, PA's TRAX CAFE, housed in the town's historic train station, takes a deft spin on the traditional Seven Fishes feast with a $45 per person menu crafted by Exec Chef Steven Waxman that squeezes at least seven seafoods into just 4 courses (and thankfully not dessert!) Waxman will serve this menu the entire week before Christmas, from Tuesday Dec. 21 through Dec. 24:

Seven Fishes Feast

Crab & Shrimp Mornay

Bouillabaisse with Anchovy Crostini

Flounder Stuffed with Smoked Salmon Mousse with Vin-Blanc

Choice of: Chocolate Mousse with Cognac or Poached Pear with Raspberry Sauce

The restaurant will also serve its regular A la carte menu from December 21 - 24. Reservations are necessary.

The restaurant will be closed on December 25. A gala New Year's Eve dinner is planned for Friday, December 31.

Trax Café & Restaurant
27 West Butler Pike
Ambler PA 19002

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Closer to my neck of the woods, RISTORANTE BATTIBECCO, a warm and homey Italian in Ewing, NJ is serving a very traditional family style Seven Fishes dinner that your table can design from a huge menu of possibilities. That makes the menu pricing flexible, ranging from $30-45 per person, less for kids under 12 (kids menu available too, if yours aren't ready for fried smelts). The menu here ranges from shrimp fra diavolo, bacala salad and calamari fritti with hot peppers and olives, to the aforementioned smelts, grilled langoustines, mussels, escarole and chick peas, clams casino and swordfish piccata. The meal is served from 1-8 PM on Christmas Eve. Reservations needed

Ristorante Battibecco

71 West Upper Ferry Rd

Ewing NJ 08628


Friday, December 3, 2010

A Nice Winter Dozen

One of my perennial holiday favorites has just landed in my beer fridge: Saranac's 12 Beers of Winter, and it's the first time in memory that each beer in the box is a personal palate pleaser. This year's half dozen pairs include their Bohemian Pilsner, Rye IPA, Vanilla Stout, Big Moose Ale (an American pale ale), and two new creations, Lake Effect Lager and India Copper Ale.

So far I've sampled a few of them: the pilsner is nice and crisp, with enough malt to prevent one's teeth from chattering; the Big Moose is a good cousin to a Sierra Nevada pale ale, a good balance of big hop bite and malt in the back; the lager is nice enough, a bit darker than a Yuengling, but missing the nutty finish of Vitamin Y; I like the Rye IPA most of all so far, with a decent hop bite and an earthy rye flavor that makes it a good choice for a hoagie, cheesesteak or burger pairing.

I'll be sampling the Vanilla Stout tonight in our weekly beer chat, The NO BULL INN, on at 11 PM EST, Tonight's get-together will be all about stouts. Hope you can bring one to our chat and join in! It's a blast, with beer drinkers from coast to coast.

Grab a couple of these Saranac 12-packs this winter. It's their strongest holiday lineup in quite a a few years. Cheers!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Returning To Scranton's Coney Island

Thanksgiving at Mom's in Moosic was an especially enjoyable, stress-free family day. Stress stayed home, if you know what I mean.

The kids and I joined my sis and bro-in-law and my Aunt Mary for a terrific meal orchestrated by mom. It was as traditional as it gets, and as good as any in recent memory: sausage stuffed mushrooms, a tasty fresh turkey, Mom's killer stuffing, carrots and green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, and bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau to wash it all down. Mom made a special pumpkin lush in addition to her amazing mini-cream puffs, and we brought a Terhune Orchards apple pie. It was all just Norman Rockwell perfect, and I definitely needed that.

But the real fun was on Black Friday, when the kids and Grandma and I ventured into downtown Scranton to check out Don Clark's huge, elaborate model train display, "Minature Memories" at the Steamtown Mall, which came with a twist of tragedy at the start of the holiday. The kids enjoyed it somewhat, but I marvelled at Clark's recreation of so many Scranton landmarks, including even the fictional Dunder-Mifflin Scranton office from the sitcom, "The Office".

After the kids played a while at an indoor playground at the Mall, we huddled them off to lunch, to a true Scranton food landmark, Coney Island Texas Lunch, an 87-yr. old hot dog emporium nested under a railroad trestle a few blocks away from the Mall. The cozy luncheonette recently reopened after a devastating fire, expanded to more than triple its original size, and it really looked great. And best of all, its one-of-a-kind Texas weiners were as tasty as ever. They're not what you expect; these Texas weiners are made with short fat weiners, split and grilled and served on an airy, barrel-shaped roll that is a specialty of the area, baked for CITL by National Baking Co. in Scranton. The pictures above and below tell the story better than any verbiage. Above, Ben jumps around oustide the freshly repainted exterior, built on a steep slope next to that railroad trestle.

Just some of the many vintage soda bottles collected by the owners.....
....including my favorite (2nd from left), a locally made grapefruit soda called Kickapoo Joy Juice (I'm not making this up)!

The new dining area, nearly triple the size of the original row of tiny wooden booths.

Ben in one of the booths, built to resemble the original booths from 1923.

The regular menu. Weiners, burgers, fries, soup, rice pudding, pie. They do offer a few specials each day, including a couple of soups and desserts.

The short, fat, Texas Weiners on the flattop grill, split and grilled on both sides. The weiners are specially made for Coney Island by a local butcher, Gutheinz Meats, in South Scranton.

Two Texas Weiners with the works: mustard, chopped onions and a meaty chili sauce on that light, barrel-shaped roll.

This place is one of the great hot dog emporiums in America, hands down. Eating here brought back a flood of memories, especially from the many vintage photos on the walls. A must-visit for any hot dog lover, or anyone heading to Scranton. Can't wait to get back there. I'm glad my mom suggested it!

Coney Island Texas Lunch
100 Cedar Avenue
Scranton, PA 18503

Thursday, November 18, 2010

"Le Beaujolais Nouveau 2010 Est Arrive!"

Well Beaujolais Nouveau Day has come and gone. This year's bottling is quite enjoyable, dryer and crisper than previous years' bottles. I've read that this year's Nouveau is a more concentrated quaff than in previous years, owing to a smaller harvest. Well, at least it's a refreshing kind of hype from the King of Wine Hype, Georges Debeouf. I do not deny that I really enjoy this wine, especially on Thanksgiving, when its light, fruity, slightly vegetal taste and lightly fizzy mouthfeel pairs very well with all the foods on Turkey Day. I think of it like this: Session Wine. Light, quaffable, flavorful, bouncy, and very food-friendly, no different than the growing crop of session beers out there. It's a fun drink, nothing more, nothing less.
UPDATE: TASTING NOTES for the 2010 Georges Debeouf:
Very earthy, aromas of mascerated strawberries, figs, cocoa. First gulp says it all: you can taste the earth, the vine and the grape, almost in that order, with a snappy finish that tastes a little like sour cherries, hint of chocolate. Just enough tannin bitterness to stand up to stuffing and gravy, and to play off the cranberries and yams. Should drink nicely with all the traditional Thanksgiving flavors, even buttery mashed potatoes.

When I lived near Washington, DC in the 80's, the hype for this day was absolutely incredible. It took over the District, and there were parties at dozens of bars and restaurants. Philly had similar festivities, but the enthusiasm seemed to wane in the past few years. But this year, the parties are back, especially at the bars, restaurants and shops of Midtown Village, the area bounded by Chestnut St to Locust St, 12 th St to Broad. Their exciting details can be found HERE. Even the venerable achor of Midtown Village, McGillin's Olde Ale House, is involved, with special $5 glasses of Nouveau and half-priced famous French Onion soup, a nice lunch/after work repast.

Bistro St Tropez is also pulling out all the stops with an inviting Nouveau dinner tonight (and maybe through the weekend if you ask nicely). And Liberte, the new restaurant/lounge at the French-owned Sofitel in Center City is pouring and celebrating Nouveau all day and all weekend. Art Etchells at Foobooz has the most comprehensive rundown of the day's events, and it's a pretty impressive list. Who knew there were Beaujolais chocolates and soap! Pretty encouraging excitement for Philly.

Here's what the folks at Debeouf have to say about thois year's bottling:

"Generous notes of strawberry and black currant dominate the nose, with silky tannins that bring smoothness to the palate. The long finish has subtle touches of sweet Griottine cherry. "

Ok, I'm in.

For those of you who read me and are unfamiliar with the wine and the excitement all around it, here's a little history, reprinted from last year's musings:

At one past midnight on the third Thursday of each November, from little villages and towns like Romanèche-Thorins, over a million cases of Beaujolais Nouveau begin their journey through a sleeping France to Paris for immediate shipment to all parts of the world. Banners proclaim the good news: "Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!(The New Beaujolais has arrived!)" One of the most frivolous and animated rituals in the wine world has begun.By the time it is over, over 65 million bottles, nearly half of the region's total annual production, will be distributed and drunk around the world. It has become a worldwide race to be the first to serve to this new wine of the harvest. In doing so, it has been carried by motorcycle, balloon, truck, helicopter, jet, elephant, runners and rickshaws to get it to its final destination. It is amazing to realize that just weeks before this wine was a cluster of grapes in a growers vineyard. But by an expeditious harvest, a rapid fermentation, and a speedy bottling, all is ready at the midnight hour.
Beaujolais Nouveau began as a local phenomenon in the local bars, cafes, and bistros of Beaujolais and Lyons. Each fall the new Beaujolais would arrive with much fanfare. In pitchers filled from the growers barrels, wine was drunk by an eager population. It was wine made fast to drink while the better Beaujolais was taking a more leisurely course. Eventually, the government stepped into regulate the sale of all this quickly transported, free-flowing wine. In 1938 regulations and restrictions were put in place to restrict the where, when, and how of all this carrying on. After the war years, in 1951, these regulations were revoked by the region's governing body, the Union Interprofessional des Vins de Beaujolais (UIVB), and the Beaujolais Nouveau was officially recognized. The official release date was set for November 15th. Beaujolais Nouveau was officially born. By this time, what was just a local tradition had gained so much popularity that the news of it reached Paris. The race was born. It wasn't long thereafter that the word spilled out of France and around the world. In 1985, the date was again changed, this time to the third Thursday of November tying it to a weekend and making the celebration complete. But wherever the new Beaujolais went, importers had to agree not to sell it before midnight on the third Thursday of November.

Get out and grab a bottle or two. It's pretty inexpensive. And there are other labels besides the well-known Georeges Debeouf: Drouhin, Labour Roi, and others. Enjoy the day!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Brunch: Kid-Friendly For Real

I've managed to avoid the brunch whirl for over 5 years, coincidentally (and not accidentally) the span of time during which Ben and Sophie have been front and center for almost every dining decision in this house. There was an extended family brunch after the kids' first birthday party and a memorable review visit to the original Meridith's in Berwyn (now moved and renamed Aneu Bistro), and that was pretty much it. Over the past 5 years, I've found the regional brunch culture to be decidedly kid-unfriendly. Hotel-style brunch buffets are certainly doable, but the food is typically mediocre and uninspired; okay, they're almost always godawful. And despite the underwhelming food, the pricing for kids trends to the too-expensive-to-be-worth-it price point. Heck, I've actually worked at hotels that purposely priced brunch for "kids under 12" to discourage serving kids. I think that philosophy still exists at finer hotels, where the hope of a subtsantial, creative brunch still flickers.

So, hey, PJ'S Pancake House in Princeton sounds good, dunnit?
Well, I've had my eyes opened recently by Le Castagne in Philadelphia, Anthony Masapollo's sophisticated Northern Italian restaurant in Center City. I once interviewed Masapollo for an article I did on restaurants that served Christmas Eve Seven Fishes Dinners, and he really impressed me with his passion for family, eating together, relaxing together and I could tell that his philosophy was an important cornerstone in his life. And as a father of four young ones, he is no doubt aware of the dichotomy between fine dining and kid-friendly dining.
Masapollo has decided to open elegant Le Castagne for Sunday Brunch, with a menu of dishes priced mostly in the teens (and a half dozen dishes priced in the single digits), ranging from yogurt and granola to frittatas, a salumi plate, sandwiches, pastas and an earthy Eggs Benedict made with toasted pane rustica, prosciutto and truffled hollandaise. But Masapollo is also offering an elaborate buffet with the usual breakfast suspects and additions like smoked salmon, chicken cacciatore, veal porcini, mussels oreganata, and pastas priced at just $20 for adults and just $10 for children. He also slashes the price of brunch entrees in half when ordered with the buffet. God bless him.
I'm blogging all of this because I think it's a refreshing (and pretty damn bold)move on his part. It's not always easy to find a restaurateur who understands the challenges of dining out with kids, both social and financial, and Masapollo is making a culinary and business decision that favors the family. Because Masapollo gets it. He's all about family. And he's putting his money where his mouth is.
Le Castagne
1920 Chestnut St

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Soup's On (recipe included)!!!

When the weather stars to chill, as it recently has done around here, I really get into making soups and stews. Especially soups. Yesterday I made a chicken soup for the ages, if I say so myself. Several folks have written me for the recipe, and so here it is. This was a quick and easy recipe, start to finish, it should take about 90 minutes or so. Use a big pot and freeze some if you want, as I have already done.

Ok, here we go:


(serves a dinner party, house party, tailgate

or just a few folks with lotsa leftovers)

1/2 bunch celery, trimmed, cleaned and chopped

1.5 lbs yellow onions, chopped

2 lb carrots, peeled and sliced

2lbs rutabagas, peeled and cut into small cubes

2lbs. white yams, peeled and cubed

4 tbs olive oil, seperated

1 bunch cilantro, stems removed, leaves chopped

3/4-1 lb arugula, stems removed, leaves chopped

3 lbs boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into 1/2 in. cubes

32 oz canned low-salt chicken broth

96 oz water, or more if needed

salt and pepper to taste

In large stew pot or Dutch oven, heat 1-2 tbs olive oil and add celery onions and carrots, stirring and sweating the vegetables until lightly browned. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Remove veggies with a slotted spoon to a large bowl and add rutabagas and yams to the pot. Stir frequently until the second batch of veggies are lightly browned. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Remove with slotted spoon and add to cooked veggies in the large bowl.

Heat remaining 2 Tbs of olive oil and brown cubed chicken breasts, working in two batches if necessary. When chicken is nicely browned, add chicken broth and return cooked veggies to pot. Add enough water to cover chicken-veggie mixture by at least one inch or so. Reduced heat to medium and cover until soup heats to a steady, low boil. Add chopped cilantro and stir. Adjust salt and pepper if needed, to taste. Add chopped arugula and stir to circulate through soup. Reduce heat to simmer and cover. Simmer for at least 30 min.

Cook a pot of rice or small dried pasta according to package directions if desired. Do NOT add to soup. Rather, place a few large spoonfuls of rice or pasta in a soup bowl and ladle soup over top, stirring gently to combine in bowl. Serve with a green salad or warm crusty bread or both!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The End Of Tomatoes

When I visited Honey Brook Organic Farm on Sunday for our weekly share of veggies, it was the first time in months when tomatoes were not available. The volunteer working the farmstand let out a soft sigh and said, "Yep, that's the end of tomatoes..."

On my drive into the farm, the fields in which just two weeks ago I had been picking fat, penguin-shaped "sauce tomatoes" and egg-sized Roma varieties, and sweet, sweet cherry tomatoes in hues of yellow. orange and bright red, were all plowed over. My heart sank.

What had become a Saturday/Sunday ritual for me, chopping up the previous week's crop of bright red beauties, adding them to a large dutch oven of sizzling chopped garlic and olive oil, stirring and smelling, simmering and bubbling, salt and pepper, and then torn leaves of basil, and cooking down to a bright orange sauce, and replacing all of that with a new bounty of ripening fruit in wire baskets on my kitchen counter, was over. I do have a freezer full of plastic containers and freezer bags of summer sauce, but I am a guy who loves his life rituals, and I will miss this one.

Now the crop was fall lettuce (still the best on earth), cabbages, radishes, rutabagas and turnips, sweet potatoes and yams, cauliflower and Swiss chard, green peppers and arugula.

Yesterday came a solemn, matter-of-fact e-mail from the farm, detailing the last days of the season for farm share pick-up; Sunday will be the last day for us. There will a few days in the following week for gleaning of the fields, and then it will all be over for the year. Sigh.

I love the fall season, its colors and flavors, the crisp cold mornings and breezy afternoons, but I am always sad when the Honey Brook farm season end, and I am sad now. And I have way too many sweet potatoes, rutabagas and arugula.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Amazing Green Apple

I had the very good fortune to join the friend of a friend and a lively gang of her co-workers for an impromptu lunch at a restaurant whose fame has been growing on foodie websites usch as eGullet and Chowhound. North Brunswick's Green Apple restaurant is situated in a partially hidden shopping center just off Route 130 South, about a quarter mile south of Adams Road, as unlikely a location for authentic Chinese food as one could imagine. But isn't that the true fun of discovery? And isn't that the joy of making new friends?

I walked in as lunch was being served family style, ordered by one of my dozen new lunchmates, a Chinese chemist for the pharmaceutical company at which the group all worked. My eyes quickly caught sight of an abundance of fiery hot dried peppers in several of the dishes. Oh boy. Sechuan style.

There were heaping platters of Chung King Spicy Chicken, tossed with onions, green pepper, brown sauce and those dried chilies; the same dish served with shrimp in place of chicken; julienned beef with long hot green peppers (a favorite dish of mine at other Sechuan restaurants); green beans tossed with garlic and shallots; small bowls of airy pork stuffed wontons in chili oil; two Sechuan-style seafood "hot pots", one called "Boiling Fish," a huge spicy bowl filled with filet of sole, a cascade of vegetables and Sechuan peppercorns, and a darker, incendiary bowl called "Dancing Fish", with sole, a similar mix of vegetables and a truly painful amount of dark red dried chilies. There were bowls of white rice to help soften the spice attack, but these plates were skillfully done, eminently delicious and searingingly hot!

Green Apple also serves sushi, with a large sushi bar and the requisite serious sushi chefs behind it. We were offered a couple of sushi rolls, arranged elaborately on large platters, to counter the vibrant dishes we had all just consumed. One such roll was dubbed a Hawaiian roll, with tempura shrimp, cucumber and avocado. Another was a special Halloween roll, with spicy yellowtail, shrimp and jalapenos. Both were grorgeous presentations, but it's unlikely any of us could really appreciate the subtle artistry within after the assault our taste buds had just taken.

After just this lunch, I'd rank Green Apple among the very best Chinese restaurants in the state; it can take its place proudly alongside Sechuan House in Hamilton, Tiger Noodles in Princeton and China 46 in Paramus. You've gotta get to this place. It will not be long before this new place is a destination restaurant.

Japanese & Chinese Cuisine
432 Renaissance Blvd. East
North Brunswick, NJ 08902

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Capogiro Katie's Crazy Cocktail Planet

Who knows from where inspiration springs? For famous bartendrix Katie Loeb, from Philly's Oyster House, she draws her muse from ingredients and a very wry sense of humor. Her latest collaboration with the Penn campus outpost of Capogiro gelateria seems to have pushed all her creative buttons. For her excursion into gelato cocktailing she took familiar flavors and well know known tipples and twisted them up a bit. Maybe even more than a bit.

"The products that Capogiro puts out are just so good, it was pretty easy to play with them," said Loeb in an e-mail. This past Friday night, a bunch of us got to watch Katie play.

Her Tiramisu (above) messes with your senses, putting all the familar tastes from the dessert (lady fingers, espresso, cocoa, mascarpone) into a silken sip built around Capogiro's mascarpone gelato, rum and truaca. It's a stunner.

She even playes with the traditional Planters Punch (above), using the tang of Capogiro's lime and grapefruit sorbetti to create this airy potent punch

Loeb's famous Corpse Reviver is brought to life here as the Mr. Disney (above), using gin, Lillet, Triplum and absinthe (!!) and Capogiro's lemon sorbetto. All that's missing are a frozen paior of mini mouse ears or a tiny severed head garnish.

And Katie Loeb takes her recipe for the Aviation cocktail and turns it into Ice On Wings with more lemon sorbetto, Creme de Violette and gin. "Capogiro's audience here is primarily college kids, "said Loeb. "They might not know what an Aviation is, but that's a pretty good 'Intro to Gin' cocktail." Just one word of caution: WAY to easy to drink.

Spend about five minutes with Katie Loeb at the helm of the bar at Oyster House (or vicariously at the Penn campus Caporgiro) and one can't help but feel creatively inspired. And her crazy cocktail creations take you to a very happy place, her very own cocktail planet. No place like it in Philly.

3925 Walnut St.
Philadelphia, PA
Mon-Thurs & Sun 7am-12pm
Fri-Sat 7am-1am
Oyster House
1516 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA
Mon - Sat 11:30am - 11pm

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

He Was Gastropub Before Gastropub Was Cool.

Just got an e-mail from Lew Bryson that told of the passing of a mutual friend of ours, the very talented chef Larry Melissen. Larry toiled as a baker for Jamison's Bakery and for the famous chef Paul Roller at Roller's restaurant in Philadelphia's Chestnut Hill, and used to join Roller for a late night after work beer at McMenamin's Tavern in nearby Mt Airy, and came to know owner PJ McMenamin and the crew there. Larry was a baker at heart, and eventually, as PJ was refining and upgrading the food at McMenamin's, asked Larry if he could bake some desserts for the place. And when the tavern lost its chef, Larry stepped in and never looked back, taking McMenamin's for nearly 10 years where it never could have imagined itself, upscale dining in a neighborhood tavern setting. We call it "gastropub" food now, but back then there wasn't a term for it. But it was some spectacular cooking. Brilliant, multiple-award-winning hot wings. Deftly done pastas, surprising seafood creations, even petit filet mignon, alongside fish & chips and Irish lamb stew and burgers.

But I remember stopping in one night with our friend Bob Rescinito, who was visiting from Oklahoma City, and there on the specials menu were "Beggars's Purses in Sage Cream," pasta stuffed with wild mushrooms. "Just something I threw together at the last minute with some leftover dough," Larry said when he stopped by our table to chat. They were exquisitely delicate pinched pasta bundles in a light toss of sauce. It was a loud, raucous Friday night in Mt Airy, and the airy pasta played perfectly off the bitter IPAs we were drinking. The juxtaposition made no sense at the time, but it made perfect sense to Larry, and his instincts were spot on. I had one of the most intensely creative, memorable meals I've ever had in a pub that night, several years before it would become trendy. Lew Bryson had a similar, eye-opening experience, and he recalls Melissen's work on his blog.

I wrote about Larry online on Prodigy and eGullet back then, and profiled him and a couple of other chefs for an article in the Philadelphia Daily News in 2006, about chefs who work in tiny kitchens.

But Larry was so much more than a big burly chef who worked in a tiny kitchen (but it was an amazing sight to see, Larry and a staff of 3 dancing in just under 70 square feet of space!). Larry was a quiet, confident visionary. A big friendly bear. And a very generous and talented man.
Godspeed, Larry.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Rare Plug

Today is the occasion for a very very rare plug from me, and believe me, I don't plug. I try to use this blog to clue followers to events and beers and the important things in my kids' lives, but here is as enthusiastic a recommendation as I can give:

Buy Lew Bryson's book.

This time around, Lew Bryson's book is the FOURTH edition of his landmark first tome, Pennsylvania Breweries, and it's a dramatically revamped and revised version of what has always been one of the best beer reads ever written. Bryson's writing, to me, has always been compelling stuff, and Pennsylvania Breweries proves it with crisp writing, insider info on many of the state's breweries and excellent travel and food tips. And best of all: his beer descriptions will have your thirsting for the brews he writes about. Impressive stuff. And you can follow his book signing travels right on his blog, Seen Through a Glass.

Here's hoping you'll catch one of his appearances and join him for a beer.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Hop Angel Has Its Wings

After an enthusiastically tweeted soft opening last week, Hop Angel Bruahaus officially opened yesterday for dinner only, with lunch service to follow in a few weeks. The place looks pretty sharp, too, a clever mix of new and old Teutonica (photos courtesy of

The authentically titled menu is a lean but well chosen overview of German munchies and platters, and the pricing makes the Hop Angel an easy night out for dinner, with appetizers from $5-14 (for a variety plate of hams, sausage, salami and cheese) and entrees from $14 (Wiener schnitzel and meatloaf)-$22 (a platter of bratwurst, pork shank and smoked pork chops!).

Oh, and the beer: 12 taps of German and German-style micros, meticulously updated daily on the Hop Angel's website. I counted 3 Oktoberfests, an altbier from Manayunk Brewpub, a rauchbier from Sly Fox and (oh baby) Kostrizer. Prices might look higher than Center City, but read the list carefully: you're getting a half liter of brew in most cases. Keepin' it real in Fox Chase.

They're already planning an Oktoberfest celebration on October 2. Knowing co-owners Scoats and Pat, it will be a blowout bash. See you there!

Hop Angel Brauhaus

Philadelphia, PA 19111-2285

Monday, September 20, 2010


This year's Great American Beer Festival (GABF) has just concluded in Denver, CO. It was the 29th year for GABF and it hosted the largest number of brewers (455), served the largest number of beers (2,200) and welcomed the greatest number of attendees (49,000) in its history.

Both a festival and a competition, GABF awards medals in 79 categories. I always look foreward to the list of winners, and especially for the terrific names that brewers give some of their beers. This year I came away disappointed for a couple of reasons. The Philadelphia area, with exception of a gold medal for Stoudt's Brewery, two medals for Triumph Old City and several for Iron Hill Brewpubs in the region, didn't have a great showing this year, medal-wise. And the names of the medal-winning brews this year were not very clever or imaginative. Ah well, creativity was spent on the beers, I guess.

Here is the list of winners from this year's competition. Hope some of your favorites took home some metal.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Kindergarten Kids

Summer has come and gone so quickly this time around. Despite my heavy but inconsistent workload, I still managed to stop by most evenings when the twins took swimming lessons at the local community pool. I was even able to watch as they "graduated" with medals and jumps off the diving board into 12 ft. water, utterly fearlessly. Daddy so proud.

Last week Ben and Sophie started kindergarten and I've never seen them so excited. I think even they had started to tire of the sweltering summer days, and were searching for something new to stimulate them. My kids actually like going to school!
Daddy even prouder.