Winter in Philadelphia

Between Christmas and New Year’s, Marnay and I spent a brutally cold 36 hours in Philadelphia exploring as much of the dining scene as we possibly could. We took Amtrak after work on Wednesday and then kicked things off with dinner at a.kitchen.

visit

a.kitchen

a.kitchen (that’s really how it’s spelled) is a cozy restaurant inside of the AKA Hotel, located at the ritzy Rittenhouse Square. Marnay and I shared the choucrute garnie, a platter of Alsatian pork done four ways—sausage, pork chop, pork shoulder and French pork belly, or what our server described as “French Super Bacon”. All this pork goodness sat on top of addictive Riesling-braised sauerkraut that had sopped up the pork drippings. The best pork items were the sausage and the pork belly, which tasted like a really thick piece of perfectly crispy bacon.

a.kitchen 2016 Domaine Schoffit Chasselas, an Alsatian white wine

Our server smartly recommended that we pair all this pork with a 2016 Domaine Schoffit Chasselas, an Alsatian white wine with a creamy mouthfeel that effortlessly cut through the meal’s richness. All of our servers (and it truly was server-by-committee) were professional, knowledgeable and enthusiastic.

Hungry Pigeon

We started our Thursday morning at Hungry Pigeon, an all-day café in the Queen Village neighborhood of South Philly. All-day cafes are a concept that has yet to gain traction in the DC-area but which has exploded in Philadelphia. At its most basic form, an all-day café as a restaurant that’s open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and for after dinner drinks. It seems like a lot of work for the restaurants, requiring many employees with different specialties, so I think that is why you do not see it that often.

Hungry Pigeon all-day cafe in Philadelphia

The chocolate croissant at Hungry Pigeon showed the marks of a great baker, with its dark golden brown skin that was crispy and flaky—sort of like the fried chicken of pastries. After our huge dinner the night before, I took it easy and ordered a vegan breakfast bowl, a really unique creation that had a brown rice porridge base, along with vegetables, avocados and kimchi. Marnay’s eggs and toast came with a crispy, square hash brown that I swear was created to try to replicate the McDonald’s hash brown. It tasted exactly like one! Eating it brought back happy memories of going to McDonald’s for breakfast and playing the McDonald’s Monopoly game.

Hungry Pigeon breakfast in Philadelphia

Walnut Street Cafe

After a few hours of truly frigid walking and exploring, we headed into Walnut Street Café, our second all-day café. Walnut Street Café is on the ground floor of a brand new skyscraper, one block south of 30th Street Station. The restaurant has floor to ceiling glass windows, great for looking out on Walnut Street towards the Schuykill River below.

Walnut Street Café in Philadelphia

On this cold day, butternut squash soup was an ideal start to the meal. The velvety soup is made richer with a drizzle of crème fraiche. Toasted seeds and diced squash add some welcome crunch. Marnay and I also shared the fried porgy, which arrived on our plate in the form of fish and chips. It was a bit of a surprise, since the menu just says “fried porgy”, but a delicious one! The batter was light and crispy but not oily and the porgy had a better, less bland (in my opinion) flavor than the traditional cod. Walnut Street Café also has an exemplary wine list, and Marnay enjoyed a glass of a white blend from a notable natural wine producer in the Finger Lakes.

Walnut Street Café fried porgy

Vernick Food & Drink

It seems to be nearly impossible to get a reservation at Vernick these days. Luckily, we were able to grab a high top table in the walk-in bar area, along with Marnay’s Mom. (A tip: The bar area opens at 4:30pm while the rest of the restaurant opens at 5:00pm.)

toast

The crab toast and roasted chicken were as incredible as they were during our last visit, impressive, since it had been almost two years. Still, the one thing that was not consistent was the service – this time it was a bit pushy, our server trying to get us to order more than we wanted. I am willing to give it a pass, if only because the food was so good, but it may be a while before we go back to Vernick.

We had so much fun with our winter adventure in Philadelphia! The all-day-café trend really needs to take off in the DC area, or we are going to be making more trips to Philly. In fact, we are returning in a few weeks. Stay tuned for more adventures!

Paul and Marnay Meyer in Philadelphia

Best Bite
Paul: Roasted chicken at Vernick
Marnay: Sausage at a.kitchen

Address
a.kitchen: 135 S 18th Street Philadelphia, PA 19103
Hungry Pigeon: 743 S 4th Street Philadelphia, PA 19147
Walnut Street Café: 2929 Walnut Street Philadelphia, PA 19104
Vernick Food & Drink: 2031 Walnut Street Philadelphia, PA 19103

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Full Key

Marnay’s Mom was staying with us, so we took her to Full Key in Wheaton on a cold, rainy Monday night. The restaurant is in a busy strip mall on University Boulevard with a number of other popular restaurants.

The place looks dated but inviting, and the staff is busy but friendly. We started out with an egg roll, just to tide us over. The roll was nice and crispy but otherwise unremarkable. We came, however, for Full Key’s iconic shrimp dumpling soup. Both Marnay and her Mom ordered it, while I got to try to try some of Marnay’s. (Don’t think I was going to go to Full Key and not at least get a taste of the shrimp dumpling soup.)

The dish seems simple: Egg noodles in chicken broth with bobbing shrimp, pork and mushroom (and probably some other things) filled dumplings. The dumplings would taste incredible on their own, but they get an added burst of flavor and richness from the chicken broth. The egg noodles, which are snipped by scissors tableside, are thin and allow the dumplings to be the star of the show.

I got the Sichuan (the restaurant’s spelling) Shredded Pork. It came at least 10 minutes after Marnay and her Mom got her food, so the pacing wasn’t great. I think you have to go in with the mentality that things are going to come from the kitchen when they come. There was also only one person servicing the entire restaurant, which was quite busy even on a dreary Monday night. When my food did arrive, it was very hot, so it clearly did come right from the kitchen to our table.

The dish consisted of thin pieces of pork sautéed with bell peppers, carrots, onions and possibly other vegetables. I was pleasantly surprised with how many vegetables were included. I feel like many Chinese restaurants skimp out on vegetables. Here, they felt like they were on equal footing with the pork. The pork was spicy but not mouth numbingly spicy. There was a healthy amount of sauce, although it wasn’t excessive. I would get this dish again.

We also got Sichuan green beans for the table. They were spicy, which I was not expecting. But they had a nice crunch to them, as well.

The part of Full Key that I found the most interesting and unique was the case of freshly roasted pork, duck and chicken displayed by the front of the kitchen. Judging by the amount of times the chef visited the case, I could tell that it was a big deal. When we come back to Full Key, we are definitely going to get some!

Address
Full Key: 2227 University Blvd W, Wheaton, MD 20902
Closest Metro: Wheaton

Peter Chang

We made a game-time decision on a Thursday night to go to Peter Chang in Rockville Town Center. Peter Chang is the former chef at the Chinese Embassy and has a history of opening a restaurant in the South and then disappearing. More about that here

The restaurant was crowded when we arrived, but we got a table right away. We started out with two of his signature dishes: scallion bubble pancakes and dry fried eggplant. The dry fried eggplant looks like thick French fries dusted with Szechuan peppercorns and herbs, along with a sprinkle of salt. The peppercorns are more than just spicy, they truly give off a numbing sensation.

The scallion bubble pancake is one of the craziest things we have ever eaten, a work of art. I’m just glad that we have visual proof of the thing, because it’s hard to do it justice through words alone. It tasted a little like fried wontons, but more doughy and more like fresh bread. Very addicting and very difficult to stop eating, especially when dipped in a warm curry sauce.

These were just our appetizers. We knew we were ordering more food than we could eat, but the food makes for great leftovers. Marnay got Golden Mountain Chicken, which is similar to a classic Sesame Chicken but much fresher. This is what Sesame Chicken wishes it could be.

I got the Szechuan Double Cooked Pork Belly, which was stir-fried with leeks, cabbage and Szechuan black bean paste. This was a very rich dish. It’s was not particularly spicy, although I don’t think it was intended to be. The leeks were the most prominent non-pork belly part of the dish. The white parts of the leeks felt more incorporated in the dish than the green parts. The black bean sauce was subtle and didn’t overpower the dish, it just added a little saltiness. Not too much, though, because the dish already had plenty of salt from the pork belly.

Overall, it was a fantastic Szechuan dinner. I am sure that we will be back to Peter Chang, and soon!

Address
Peter Chang: 20A Maryland Ave, Rockville, MD 20850
Closest Metro: Rockville

Zinc New Haven

We left early one Friday and took Amtrak to New Haven, CT. We were in town for my cousin Heather’s wedding. I had met some people on the MARC train who used to live in New Haven and who gave me some great ideas. I was told that Zinc was an excellent New American restaurant, so we made a reservation for our first night.

Zinc is a farm-to-table restaurant across from the historic New Haven Green. It has a cool, sophisticated vibe that you can feel immediately upon entering. We started the meal with drinks—I had a pear maple Old Fashioned with James E. Pepper ‘1776’ bourbon, spiced muddled pears and urban moonshine maple bitters. Marnay had a glass of Rioja—she is a big fan of Spanish reds.

We were given homemade pita squares with red pepper ginger dipping sauce. The dipping sauce had a distinctive Thai flavor, with the addition of lime, chilies and (likely) fish sauce.

The best bite of the meal was the braised pork belly with cucumber noodle pickles, tomato jam and a Calabrian chile glaze. The pork belly was so tender it just fell apart as soon as the fork touched it. There was a nice kick from the Calabrian chile glaze as well as sweetness from the tomato jam. I think that our favorite part of the dish was the cool, crunchy cucumber noodle pickle because of the contrast with the warm, tender pork belly.

For the main course, Marnay got a moist filet of pacific black cod with an absolutely perfect crispy skin, made even crispier with a wild rice crust. The cod was in a seasonally appropriate spiced squash broth with PEI mussels, caramelized Brussels sprouts and an IPA jam. The fish was far and away the best part of the dish. The mussels seemed like an afterthought and their addition made little sense but on the whole, it was an excellent dish.

I had grilled Yellowfin tuna with a Tamari cure, vegetable spring rolls, fried spinach wasabi oil and a chile-garlic sauce. It was a beautiful piece of tuna and it was fun to swipe in the wasabi oil for a little kick. The fried spinach was nice, but the addition of the spring rolls was baffling. Simply too much going on, and a piece of fish that good deserves to be front and center!

We had a lovely evening at Zinc with some delicious, high quality food and outstanding service.

Address
Zinc New Haven: 964 Chapel St, New Haven, CT 06510

Husk

The night that we flew in to Charleston, we went to Husk. Husk is probably the best restaurant in the South, and likely one of the best restaurants in the country! The restaurant is in an historic mansion which was owned by a member of the Pinckney family, who were very prominent in the history of South Carolina.

We had a reservation at 10:15, but we preferred to eat earlier. Husk allows a limited number of walk-ins, so we arrived at the restaurant at 4:30 for their 5:30 opening.

We were the only ones there. Turns out that lining up outside restaurants before they open is not really a thing in Charleston. Luckily, Husk bar, next door, was open. The bartenders were both extremely knowledgeable and friendly. I had an Elijah Craig 12 year and Marnay had a “Charleston Light Dragoons Punch,” with the recipe from the Charleston Preservation Society.

At 5:00, we left to stand outside the restaurant. There were two other parties, and we ended up talking with them. One guy was a flower wholesaler from California who sold to Trader Joe’s. Another guy was from Northern Virginia, although his parents lived near Charleston.

The “walk-in” section was the upstairs outdoor patio, and it really is the best seat in the house. Husk organizes their wine list by soil type, which is a great idea. Gives you an idea of the “terrior” of the wine, the indescribably quality that comes from the earth in which the grapes are grown. Husk also focuses on pre-Prohibition Southern dry ciders.

Marnay had one “volcanic” wine and one “limestone:” a chardonnay blend and a sauvignon blanc. The chardonnay blend was here favorite. I had two ciders, the second of which was combined with apple brandy and tasted almost like a port.

Once we received our drinks, the server brought us homemade benne seed rolls with pork honey butter. They were absolutely delicious, and actually one of my favorite parts of the meal. The salad we started the meal with was one of the best salads we’ve ever had-maybe the best. All the ingredients came together SO well. The freshness of the local grilled peaches and the blueberries were balanced by the crispy ham. The Cheerwine vinaigrette could have been overpowering with sweetness, but it was subtle.

On the other hand, the Benton’s bacon cornbread was disappointing. There was virtually no bacon.

Marnay’s main course was local grouper in a mushroom “tea.” Husk gets all of their fish from one fisherman. He goes out into Charleston Harbor in the morning, catches the fish, and the restaurant serves it that night. I had Heritage Spot Pork from a farm in Florence, SC. Husk specializes in pork, so I had to get it. It was delicious, and it came with pot likker, which is the liquid the collards are cooked it. That stuff was so smoky and savory.

We were too full for dessert, so after dinner we walked home and went to sleep after our long day. Overall, Husk lived up to expectations!

Address
Husk: 76 Queen St, Charleston, SC 29401