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    Philly, yo.
  1. My wife and I enjoyed a belated Valentine's Day dinner last week at Bistrot La Minette and were very impressed. The "pichet" red wine was a rustic French red - a pinot noir, a little rough maybe, but with a sturdy body and not too much fruit. We shared the escargots, nine plump snails, each in its individual crock, with garlic-herb butter and a tiny crouton round. These were delicious, certainly the finest I've had in this style in Philadelphia. We also ordered the macaroni-and-cheese gratin as a first course, which was a terrific success, a great upscaled version with strozzapretti and a salty, tangy cheese sauce -- with bits of brie rind, even, a touch I appreciated -- baked in a porcelain crock to a bubbly golden brown tinge. As befit a cold February evening, we kept it hearty with the mains -- the rabbit in mustard sauce over house-made tagliatelle, and the cassoulet de Toulouse. Both were excellent and in ample portions. The mustard sauce especially pleased my wife, who is not always a mustard fan. It had all the character of a good Dijon but with just the slightest hint of bite, fading into creaminess. The rabbit was a half bunny, leg and saddle, which provided a nice mix of textures, the firm saddle meat a contrast to the meltingly tender leg meat. Not gamy at all, and perfectly sauced. I hold cassoulet to a high standard, and I was not disappointed. Two confit duck legs floated invitingly in the crock with little white beans (tender but with a bit of bite, a mark that is hard to hit with cassoulet), a hunk of garlic sausage, and a hunk of lamb. This cassoulet was the best I've had in a restaurant outside of France. We had the lemon tart with cassis sorbet and found it quite tangy and exciting on the palate -- no complaints there, either. Complimentary house-made chocolate ganache truffles capped a beautiful dinner in a beautiful spot. The service was attentive and unobtrusive, and the tab ran to $125 with tax and tip (though we didn't have much wine, just a small pitcher). Comparisons to Cochon, just a few blocks away, are hard to avoid. I'd say the menu at La Minette is less daring and more classic French -- there was no offal to be had at La Minette, though the chef was running a sardine appetizer as a special -- but the atmosphere and service are a bit fancier. Can't knock what appeared to be a reasonable French wine list, either -- we'll explore that more fully in the future, I'm sure. I for one welcome any and all new French restaurants in Bella Vista. Keep 'em coming.
  2. I've never seen a whole cow, but definitely whole goats, lambs, and pigs at several of the Ninth Street butchers. Esposito's is the biggest (leading me to think they deal in at least sides of beef), D'Angelo's the fanciest, and Cappuccio's the sweet spot of price and quality, in my experience. And if you want live poultry, simply wander down Ninth Street towards Federal...
  3. Devil's Den, on 8th & Ellsworth, has the best selection of German draft beer I've found since Ludwig's closed. The food there isn't particularly German, though, just decent upscale pub grub.
  4. Le Virtu on Passyunk near Broad in South Philly was hosting two 10-person parties when we went last night for dinner. They still had room to spare, and the food and service were excellent. A good value for high-quality Italian food, as good as I've had in Philly (with the exception of Vetri, but that's a different stratosphere). Dinner for two was $104 including a drink apiece and tip.
  5. gabe

    Arbol Cafe

    I wouldn't go that far... there's a great restaurant across the street!
  6. I just wanted to herald this off-the-beaten-path taqueria. The owner bought what was a Mexican joint last year and kept many of those classic dishes (tacos for instance) while adding dishes from her native Colombia. The result is something similar to the nearby 9th St/Washington Ave stalwarts but with some pleasant surprises, like crisp Colombian cornmeal empanadas filled with beef, chicken, or vegetables. Today my wife and I, both hungry, split a platter (the name of which escapes me) of fried pork belly (!), fried plantain cakes, seasoned ground beef, beans, rice, and a fried egg. Plenty of free, freshly made tortilla chips were available, and addictive. For me, the highlight was the fried pork belly -- the chef had cut almost all the way through the meat in a criss-cross pattern, then sent the belly into the depths of the fryer. What came to the table was cubes of delicious golden brown, crispy pork belly, held together ever so gently by a thin layer of crisped, melting pork skin. Wow. Washed that down with some horchata and we emerged completely stuffed and happy. This place is definitely worth a stop when the pork bug hits or when you're needing some simply seasoned but satisfying Colombian comfort food.
  7. My wife and I have been members in Greensgrow Farm's CSA for going on four years. It's been getting better every year. They bring in produce, meat, cheese, and other local products from a range of local producers (as well as the Lancaster auctions) in addition to what is grown there, so there is a good deal of variety available too. All top quality. I recommend it to friends all the time. Their website is greensgrow.org.
  8. Phew! I hadn't seen the Food and Drinq blog before, either -- thanks for the link, serpentine.
  9. I heard a rumor that Ludwig's is closing soon, to be replaced by (of course) luxury condos -- and that the upcoming Oktoberfest on September 29th is to be the last. Can anyone confirm/deny/elaborate? If true this will be sad news -- Ludwig's had a lot of beer and food I haven't found elsewhere in the city, and a pleasant atmosphere to boot.
  10. Thanks to all for the help tracking down tarbais beans. I was unable to find them locally this time, so I used organic Great Northerns from Essene. And lo, it was good: Though the crust looks pretty dark, even the blackest bits were pure succulence. The recipe I used is from Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook and made two pots that size. It was a rollicking success even with the Great Northerns. Hopefully next time I'll be able to get some tarbais.
  11. Vadouvan, thanks for the lead. I called Assouline and they are out of stock at the moment, so I'll likely have to settle for a substitute. I've read about the scarcity of tarbais, which seems kind of ridiculous to me, but I've also heard that the cassoulet that results from cooking with them is spectacular. The cassoulets I've had have been wonderful, but who knows whether they've been tarbais beans or not. Dark Horse Tavern in Philly? Probably not. Homey hole-in-the-wall on the Rue Condorcet in Paris? Perhaps.
  12. Well, Assouline is selling 11# bags of tarbais on their website (for $88) -- maybe they have smaller packages available retail -- I'll check them out Monday. Thanks for the recommendation. DiBruno's 9th St doesn't have them, but perhaps their Rittenhouse location does. They don't have them in their catalog, though, so I'm guessing they don't have them retail either. My duck legs are now simmering with thyme, rosemary, and garlic in a pot full of duck fat in the oven -- the house smells heavenly.
  13. I'm making cassoulet (have got the duck confit started today) and am looking for a Philadelphia source for either tarbais beans or the best locally available substitute for these rare beans. Flageolets are available at the Spice Corner on 9th St. -- that's my current front runner, but I've never cooked cassoulet before and would be grateful to benefit from others' experience. For the record, Sonny D'Angelo's place on 9th St. is a great source for most of the other tricky ingredients -- duck legs and duck fat for reasonable prices, as well as the requisite French garlic sausages. 9th St. will also serve me well for fresh pork rind and pork belly, but that's a few days away. Thanks in advance!
  14. My wife and I had a terrific meal at Meze restaurant on 9th & Catherine on a recent Friday night. They have the seating to accomodate a party like yours and the food and service were very good. Their concept of "sharing" menus for two+ people would work well with a large group, though they have an a la carte menu also. We brought a Keller riesling that went perfectly with their fish-centric set menu.
  15. Understatement of the year. It does not take a saint to pay your workers what they have earned, just an employer with the most basic sense of humanity. Jerks.
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