Archive for December 2007

Las Bugambilias

December 22, 2007

Let me start this review with a disclaimer… I am not extremely versed in Mexican or Southwest-style cuisine. Many of the ingredients are unfamiliar to me, though I recognize them and generally know what they are, I don’t personally use them very much in my own cooking. That said, I will stand on the fact that I can recognize good food, service, and ambiance when I experience it, so I don’t think I’m at all unqualified to offer my opinions about the relatively new addition to the “Mexican restaurant scene,” Las Bugambilias, located between Front and Second Streets, on South Street.

First of all, you may want to note that they do not take reservations, so if you’re thinking of going there on a peak evening (i.e. a weekend), you should plan accordingly and show up expecting that there may be a bit of a wait. My friends and I went on a Tuesday and it was surprisingly crowded, this may have been because it’s the holiday season and means that more larger groups of people are getting together to enjoy festive meals. I would say that the kitchen seemed a little slow that night (though not unbearably so) and this may have been because of the full dining room.

So now to the restaurant itself. Tucked away in a little house on South St. the ambiance is bright and sunny, with lots of yellow tones that certainly liven up the general feel of the place. I particularly liked the life-size figurine on the sidewalk outside, it seemed very Mexican folk art / Day of the Dead inspired. There’s a separate bar area immediately as you come in where you can just have a seat to order if you want to have a more casual meal. Their drinks menu includes both your standard tequila-based cocktails and bottles of wine. There are a large cocktails to choose from, all of which sounded fabulous, but I can’t vouch for their actual taste, we went for the wine.

We started with thick and crunchy chips served with two kinds of salsa, a pico de gallo and a spicy salsa picante. We also ordered some of their house guacamole, which came in a lava bowl. I thought the serving was a little small for the price, but it was definitely fresh and refreshing. The salsa picante was a great condiment to add to the other two dips, upping their intensity and bite, but it was also great on its own.

The food we ordered was all delicious and well presented. I apologize if the descriptions are not entirely accurate, but you should be able to get the general feel and the pictures will help as well. I had the pork tenderloin which was stuffed with whole almonds, roasted red peppers, and olives, served with fried plantains, in a tomato-based sauce, alongside some rice (though I do believe it was supposed to be sweet potatoes according to the menu) and corn on the cob which had lime juice and some chile sprinkled on it (delicious). The flavors in this dish were powerful and well-matched to each other. I think it’s unusual to find the saltier olives and peppers with the sweeter plantains, but this was a great success!
img_2592.jpg
One friend ordered the salmon with sundried tomatoes, lime, cilantro, and scallions, served with whipped sweet potatoes that had a hint of coconut in them from coconut milk (ingenious!) and corn on the cob.

Anoimg_2591.jpgther friend had a filet mignon, cooked to absolute perfection, in a dark brown sauce, and here’s where my vocabulary will really fail me. The sauce was similar to what I think of as a mole, but I don’t believe that’s what it was called on the menu. The filet was served with rice, corn on the cob, guacamole, pureed refried beans, and tortillas.
img_2589.jpg
I have one friend who makes it a habit of ordering a couple of appetizers rather than an entrée, following the trend of many restaurant-goers these days (see the recent New York Times article here). She had a crepe filled with “Mexican mushrooms” and guacamole topped with cheese and a salad with strips of cactus served on a trio of little tortillas. Both of these were extremely flavorful and generous portions for appetizers.
img_2590.jpg
For dessert we had one of their tres leches choices, this one was a chocolate and Amaretto version served swirled with fresh whipped crème and strawberries, parfait style. We also tried a custard with Grand Marnier topped with caramel and fresh fruit. Where many restaurants seem to fall down on the dessert offerings, Las Bugambilias definitely did not. These two options were both light and sweet, the perfect ending to a relaxing and satisfying meal, and the other choices on the menu were worth going back for.

Overall, though the restaurant is new on the scene, the food they are bringing out of the kitchen is wonderfully on point and the service, though a bit lagging at some points (I would attribute this to the rush on a Tuesday night) was both friendly and helpful. I would highly recommend this place to anyone looking for a night out on the town with a bit of Mexican flare, you’ll find it in spades at Las Bugambilias!

Crème Brulée Adventures – Episode 1

December 13, 2007

A short while ago Philadelphia’s Citypaper published a list of the “Top 5” places to get Crème Brulée in the city. (See the article here http://www.citypaper.net/articles/2007/11/15/creme-brulee) This, I thought to myself, must be done, my friends and I must assign ourselves the arduous task of eating these wonders of the dessert menu. Now I know that you can make crème brulée at home and it’s not all that difficult and you don’t even necessarily need to have that little kitchen torch in order to do it, but I’ve never really had the inclination to try it at home. This is a dessert to let the restaurants excel at and you sit back and enjoy. I’ll stay away from the handheld flames for the moment, thank you very much.

This little blurb is just the first installment in the series of our bruléed adventures. We chose to go to Brasserie Perrier for the first foray. They were serving a chocolate caramel crème brulée, yum.
img_2450.jpg
Now to the dessert itself… I have no complaints really. It was a fabulously executed sweet ending, the chocolate layer on top was definitely distinct from the caramel layer on bottom and they were both lusciously smooth. The one thing that didn’t come through in this version of the crème brulée (and it remains to be seen if this is a function of the ingredients or the execution) was that it lacked that real crunchy burnt sugar layer on top. There was some thin, as in “do not walk on this ice you’ll fall in,” layer of melted sugar, but not enough to satisfy the inner crème brulée fanatic in me. It was served with a lovely cinnamon and chocolate biscotti that was a nice counterpoint to the smoothness of the crème. So if you don’t mind losing a little of the crispness on top in order to experience different flavor combinations in your crème brulée, then I would definitely recommend heading over to Brasserie Perrier, as I said, the dessert in and of itself was really nice, just lacking in some of the classic crème brulée characteristics. Stay tuned for the next episode of our adventures in the land of desserts…

Quotes

December 5, 2007

Just wanted to share a couple of recent quotes I’ve found inspiring:

“If you take away from food the wholeness of growing it, or take away the joy and conviviality of preparing it in your own home, then I believe you are talking about a whole new definition of the human being.”
– Wendell Berry The Unsettling of America: Culture & Agriculture (1977)

“Enchant, stay beautiful and graceful, but do this, eat well. Bring the same consideration to the preparation of your food as you devote to your appearance. Let your dinner be a poem, like your dress.”
– Charles Pierre Monselet (1828-1888) “Letters to Emily”

Ginger Jam

December 4, 2007

Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say. I am obsessed (need to come up with a new word, sorry) with the Trader Joe’s Ginger Spread. I probably go through a jar of the stuff a week (I put in on that infamous peanut butter and banana sandwich every morning, getting more interesting by the minute, and there are other variations as well, stay tuned I’m sure I’ll write it all down at some point). But, as with, it would seem, everything that I fall in love with at Trader Joe’s, they’ve taken it away! =( It may very well be that it is a seasonal spread and they’ll be bringing it back next year some time, that’s what happened last year, but I am so disappointed that I can’t get it anymore and what am I to do in the interim? Well, I will just have to make my own! This is really the simplest recipe you’ve ever come across, I am not kidding! I came home on Saturday this weekend and decided that I had had enough of the bland sandwiches sans ginger and I was tired of ripping up the crystallized ginger I have and trying to artfully distribute it across the bread. Too much work! So I did an internet search for ginger jam. I came across a couple of recipes and they all required a lot of peeled fresh ginger, something I definitely don’t enjoy doing (though I suck it up for my carrot ginger dressing, I mean you can’t live without that stuff, I swear!). It takes a lot of time and it’s rather messy. The recipes also called for adding in an apple, which sounds good, but I wanted to replicate the ginger spread from TJ’s as closely as possible and theirs is definitely ginger through and through. These few recipes I was looking at all called for boiling down the ginger and apples with sugar and water. Well, I thought, the crystallized ginger already has the sugar in it and what if I just add water to it and boil it for a bit on the stove? That might be just what I’m looking for. So here’s what I did.

Easiest Ginger Jam Ever!

~ ½ lb crystallized ginger
1 cup water

Put crystallized ginger into cuisinart and pulse / puree until it starts to form balls on the sides and is well chopped. I tried to aim for about a cup of chopped up ginger at this point, but it all depends on how much of the spread you want to make. Add this to a small saucepan with 1 cup of water on medium heat. Bring to boil and then simmer for approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour until the spread has reached a much thicker consistency. The longer you boil it the thicker it will be. This doesn’t have exactly the same smoothness as the commercial spreads, it still has small chunks of ginger in it, but it’s wonderful, and perhaps most importantly for my purposes and perhaps yours, it’s spreadable. Enjoy!