Restaurant Review: Kennett

From restaurant website

I like when I find good restaurants in my neighborhood. It saves me a trip to Center City where I would either have to pay an arm and a leg for parking or risk a fight with a member of Philadelphia Parking Authority for returning to my car one minute after the meter expires (although then maybe I could be on Parking Wars. That might be fun).

Luckily, there are a ton of good restaurants around South Philly now, and I added another one to my list of neighborhood favorites over the weekend. Kennett (848 S. 2nd Street) is a fairly new gastropub in the Queen Village section of the city. Philadelphia Magazine named it as a “New and Notable” restaurant in March and recently recognized it as the “Best New Pub” on its annual “Best of Philly” list.

I didn’t really know anything about it until Chester and I saw it featured on a show on the NBC Nonstop Channel (I don’t understand why this channel exists, as most of the shows are really dumb, but it comes with our Fios package). Apparently, it used to be the Kennett Café, from the 1920s to the late 1980s and was something of an institution in the neighborhood. Now, like every other place in the city (or so it seems), the theme is sustainable, local, organic food and the current owners are hoping to become the first restaurant in the city to be certified by the Green Restaurant Association.

Kennett Cafe, back in the day. I love how the window advertises "Tables for Ladies." From restaurant website.

On Saturday night, we were planning to have people over with the hopes of grilling in the backyard. But, with the weather forecast being somewhat iffy throughout most of last week, and the potential for torrential downpours looking likely, we decided to check Kennett out instead.

As a note, the restaurant will only take reservations for groups of six or more, which worked out well for us, since we went with two other couples, (Hello to the Geragis and the Ironses). We would have been fine without a reservation, as it wasn’t too crowded when we arrived, but I hate to wait. It did fill up as the night went on, and the outside tables were all filled, since it actually turned out to be a nice night. Which just goes to prove that you can never trust the Philadelphia weather people.

The menu features salads, wood-fired pizzas, burgers/sandwiches and charcuterie and cheese plates. There are lots of vegetarian friendly options, if you are looking for a place to take your non-meat eating friends. Kennett also has a pretty decent wine, beer, and cocktail lists. The cocktails were Prohibition themed and gin, bourbon, and whiskey were the main ingredients. I was excited that they had Gewürztraminer on the wine list. We served this at this year’s Alumni Weekend wine tasting dinner at Drexel, and I loved it. It has a light fruity, floral flavor, and there’s just the slightest hint of fizz.

We shared a charcuterie and cheese plate to start. We chose a really sharp, white Cheddar from Lancaster County that went really nicely with slightly sweet oat cookies as well as a Doe Run Hummingbird, semi-soft cow and sheep’s milk cheese, from Chester County that we all really liked. It had a liquid center and a slight vanilla/citrus flavor. The salami and prosciutto were pretty standard, but if you are looking for something a bit different, there is a chicken liver mousse and pork belly terrine available too. The plate also included a bunch of different garnishes including, whole grain and Dijon mustards, honey, cornichons, and caperberries.

The boys all had the bone marrow burger, with pickled onions and anchovy mayo. Chester has eaten bone marrow before, and described its texture as “silky, soft, and gelatinous.” Yum? I actually wasn’t too grossed out by it when I tried it though, because the marrow was mixed in with the beef itself. And, while it did give the burger a different sort of flavor, I couldn’t pick up on a texture that was different from the ground beef. Chester says that texture is part of the experience of eating bone marrow, and he felt like it might have stood out a bit more if the marrow was sandwiched between two patties (a stuffed burger, basically). His assessment was that they could have left out the marrow, and still have had a pretty decent burger.

The girls all ordered pizzas. I had the special, which was a white pizza made with farmer’s cheese, peaches, and corn. The crust was a bit on the chewy side, but it tasted exactly like summer. I also sampled some of the Porchetta pizza that Bridget ordered, which was topped with slow roasted, shredded pork, honey, and whipped lardo. Lardo is cured fatback mixed with herbs, not straight up lard. It sounds a little gross, but it was really tasty. Lara had the margherita pizza, which I didn’t sample, but she felt that it could have used a bit more basil.

Service was a little spotty. Our waitress was pretty attentive with refilling drinks and suggesting new alternatives when they ran out of a particular kind of beer. But, there were problems with some pacing form the kitchen. For example, there was a really long wait for our appetizer, considering it’s not really that difficult to arrange meat, cheese, and some dabs of mustard on a board. The pizzas all came out at different times, apparently because they can only fit three pizzas in the oven at a time. Since this is one of their signature items, and the one that seems to be most talked about in other reviews of read, perhaps they need to consider a solution.

Overall, though, this is a solid neighborhood place, and one that I look forward to visiting again. They also do a Sunday brunch. Breakfast pizza with eggs, cheddar, and bacon? Yes, please.

If you are looking for a parking spot nearby, you can usually find something opened in the timed zone along Front Street. You don’t have to feed a meter, but just make sure you get back in time or, as Bridget and Bill found out, the PPA is on patrol in the area and they will get you.

Advertisements

Paris: Part II

Today, I’m picking up our France trip recaps on our third day in Paris, which was extra special, because we celebrated one year of wedded bliss! The year flew by so fast, and celebrating in Paris on an absolutely gorgeous day was the perfect way to mark the occasion.

We started the day out at Notre Dame Cathedral. The cathedral is considered one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture. It is extremely ornate and detailed—it’s no wonder that construction took about 200 years—and is probably best known for its stained glass Rose windows, the gargoyles that line the façade, bells and Quasimodo (have you ever seen the Disney version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame? It cracks me up how completely opposite it is from the book).

If you want to be able to go up into the tower, I would probably recommend getting there much earlier than we did. When we arrived around 11, the line stretched down the block and there was a 90 minute wait to go up. We decided to save that for our next trip. Instead, we stopped by the Crypte Archéologique de Notre-Dame, which is an underground museum that houses remnants of the early Roman tribes the settled in Paris long ago. It’s kind of eerie to see the ruins and the artifacts that have been preserved from those early civilizations, but it just underscores what a rich history the city has.

Our next stop was La Sainte-Chapelle. The chapel was built by Louis IX as part of the royal palace. The palace today house government offices, and the chapel has become kind of obscured as the complex was built up around it. Definitely put it on your list of things to see, because it’s easy to walk by without knowing what you are missing out on.

The chapel houses the most extensive collection of stained glass from the 13th century. Amazingly, the structural support is very minimal, so when you stand in the center of the upper chapel, you can feel all of the color and light just pouring in. It is an absolutely spectacular sight.

Upper Chapel in St. Chapelle

We stopped for lunch at an outdoor café. I don’t know if I mentioned the love of baguette sandwiches—particularly those made with ham and cheese—that I developed on the trip. I don’t even like ham and cheese that much in real life, but for some reason, I could not stop myself from ordering it when I saw it on a menu. There was just something about the whole combination—the fresh, crusty bread, creamy butter and cheese, and salty ham—that was so satisfying to me (Randomly, the best one that I had was one that Chester and I bought at a café and shared on our second day in France, while we drove from Rouen to Bayeux. I think I had just taken a big bite out of it when we got pulled over).

Anniversary Lunch. Ham and Cheese Baguette and Omlette

We rounded out our tour of churches with a stop at the Pantheon. Originally built as a church dedicated to St. Genevieve, who is said to have saved Paris from an attack by Attila the Hun, today it is the final resting place of many of the heroes of France, including Victor Hugo, Pierre and Marie Curie, Alexandre  Dumas, and Voltaire to name a few.

To commemorate our anniversary, we left a lock on the Pont des Arts Bridge, a pedestrian bridge that stretches over the Seine to link the Institute De France and the Place de Louvre. Hundreds of locks in all shapes, sizes, and colors have been attached to the bridge by husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, friends, (and probably random hook-ups too) to signify their undying love for each other. How romantical.

I’ve read a couple of things online that said that the city thinks that the locks are an eyesore and plans to remove them from the bridge. I really hope they don’t. It’s such a nice, sweet tradition. And, I’m sure even if they did, people would just continue on with the tradition and the bridge would be full of locks again in no time. In any case, there are police patrolling the bridge, probably to discourage this practice, so we just waited until they had their backs turned, picked out a good spot for our lock, attached it to the gate, and threw the key into the Seine. Now, Chester will really be stuck with me forever. Chester geotagged our lock with his phone so that maybe someday we can come back and find it. That would be pretty cool.

Defacing Public Property

After a quick trip back to the apartment to change (the mountain man left so we got to move into his room. Hooray for being able to shower whenever we wanted!), we headed out for a celebratory dinner at Paul Chene.

The restaurant is located in the Trocadero neighborhood, and has been around since 1959. It’s a favorite of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip; Jean Gabin (do I have any Les Mis fans here? He played Jean Valjean in one of the film adaptations of the book. Just a bit of trivia for you, should you ever be on Jeopardy), a popular French actor dined there often too. He has a mackerel dish named after him and his regular table, where we sat, had his picture above it.

The service was impeccable and typically French. The maître’d kissed my hand and flirted with all of the female customers (I thought it was funny that they gave me a menu without any pricing information included). The waitress expertly juggled refilling water glasses, clearing plates, and making Crepes Suzette behind the bar throughout the night.

This was easily the best meal that we had in France, if not one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten in my life. I started out with the fish soup. I thought it would be similar to the stew I had for lunch at Mont St. Michel, with whole chunks of fish. Instead, it was a velvety, flavorful puree, which was accompanied by bowls of croutons, cheese, and Dijon mustard to use as a garnish. The portion size—and in fact, all of the portion sizes for the evening—was extremely generous. I had to make myself stop eating it so that I could have room for the rest of the meal! Chester had the langoustine salad, which I didn’t try, but it must have been good because he decided that langoustines were his new favorite thing.

I don’t usually order steak when I’m out because I can never finish it. But, I figured it was our anniversary, and I hardly ate any of the steak that we had at our wedding reception (too excited to eat!), so that’s what I chose for an entrée. They brought out at least half of a cow, which was cooked to a perfect medium rare, and served with a rich truffle sauce. A ridiculously large plate of thin, crispy French fries, served with a ramekin of sea salt, accompanied the dish. They were as addictive as potato chips (needless to say, I couldn’t finish either dish). Chester had a porterhouse cut veal chop, served with a side of egg noodles. We hadn’t had a meal that was served with any type of starch but potatoes up until that point in the trip, so I thought was weird. But when they combined with the rich morel sauce that accompanied the veal, it reminded me of beef stroganoff.

Of course, I managed to find room for dessert. I ordered the profiteroles, which were served with vanilla ice cream (I was surprised, but glad, that they didn’t use pastry cream). The waitress doused the entire dish in a rich chocolate sauce. When I couldn’t fit any more of the puff pastry and rich ice cream, I just spooned that up like it was soup (I know, I’m classy). Chester had the Crepes Suzette, which as I noted were made to order, served with house made orange liquor.

The pacing between the courses was perfect. We didn’t feel rushed at all, but it wasn’t like some places where we waited and waited and waited for the check. When we left three hours later, it was raining, but the maître’d had already called us a taxi to take us home. And, luckily, that was the only time it rained on the entire trip.

After that meal, it was a good thing we had a lot of walking planned for Sunday, our last day in Paris! We started the day out at the Hotel des Invalides. This huge complex houses museums and monuments related to military history, as well as a hospital and a retirement home for veterans.

The main reason for our visit was to see Napoleon’s tomb. Chester was a history major in college, and studied Napoleon extensively, so this was one part of the trip he was really looking forward to.

Chester Channels Napoleon

Napoleon died in exile in Saint Helena and was originally buried there. But, in the mid-1800s Emperor Louis-Philippe decided to transfer his body back to France. A national funeral was held, and a grand sarcophagus, which is made out of Russian red porphyry and actually holds six separate coffins with Napoleon’s remains, was constructed under the stunning, gold dome of the Eglise du Dome Church.

Eglise Du Dome Church

Inscriptions detailing all of the great things Napoleon are etched around the rotunda. The tomb itself is surrounded by 12 statues representing his victories, and at the back of the crypt is a gigantic statue of the man himself in his coronation robes. A bit over the top, yes?

After paying homage to Napoleon, we walked over to the Eiffel Tower, since we had timed lift tickets. We grabbed a snack while we waited for 1:00 to roll around. A hot dog in a baguette is just wrong. Way too much bread!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I highly recommend buying tickets in advance. There’s a designated line for advanced ticket holders, and although there was still a bit of a wait to actually get into the lift, at least you get to bypass the crazy ticket window lines.

Self-portrait under the Eiffel Tower.

Our tickets just got us to the second floor, but that was high enough for me. I’m sure I would have freaked out at the very top. Be patient when you get to the observation deck. It will be crowded, but sooner or later there will be a break in the crowd and you’ll be able to appreciate the views around Paris.

View to the top, from the second level.

View from the Effiel Tower, looking towards Montemarte

When we were back on ground level again, we headed down to the Musee D’Orsay, which is housed in a beautiful building that used to be a train station on the left bank of the Seine.

We visited on the first Sunday of the month, when admission is free, so there was a bit of a wait to get in. But, it was nowhere near as crowded and overwhelming as the Louvre. It was definitely my favorite museum of the trip, and is not to be missed if you are a fan of Impressionism, as it houses an extensive collection of Impressionist artworks by Monet, Renoir, Degas, Van Gogh, and others.

After the museum, it was snack time, so we meandered over to Laduree, the birthplace of the double-decker macaroon. Wikipedia tells me that they sell 15,000 macaroons every day, which, based on the crowd which was lined up nearly out the door, and the pretty green bags that I saw every other tourist toting around during our time in Paris, seems pretty accurate.

Laduree has three locations in the city; we visited the one on the Rue Royale. Next door, to the shop, there is a tea room, where you can sit to have your snack, but we opted to get some to go (mostly because there was a Starbucks nearby and we were in the mood for full sized coffee). The inside of the shop looks like every little girl’s (well, at least this little girl’s) dream—light pinks and greens with gold accents everywhere, pedestals piled high with mouthwatering sweets, and the smell of sugar in the air.

I picked out ten flavors to sample. That little pink box of goodness wasn’t cheap, but oh my goodness, are they worth it. A chewy, melt in your mouth shell gives way to a sweet, creamy center. The vanilla, coconut, salted caramel, and chocolate flavor were my favorites–they tasted exactly what they were supposed to taste like.

Snack time!

Unfortunately, they only keep for about three days, so we weren’t able to take any home with us. Ever since, I’ve been wanting to make macaroons at home myself, but I know I’ll just be disappointed. Luckily, on August 26, Laudree is opening a shop in New York City, so you can bet that every time I visit, I’ll be stopping by.

For our last activity in Paris, we planned to go on a boat tour, a ticket for which was included in our Paris Pass (I told you it was a good deal!). Since we had time to kill beforehand, we ended up going to this random restaurant, overlooking the river beforehand. I do not recommend it. The only nice part about it is the view of the Seine. Otherwise, the servers were not very nice and the food is not very good.

The tour, however, was a nice way to end our time in Paris and provided a different vantage point to admire the monuments and bridges and to take in all of the activity—couples strolling, people walking dogs, dancing, and street musicians performing—on the banks of the river.

Au Revoir, Paris. One last view of the Effiel Tower, from a boat on the Seine.

Paris absolutely lives up to the hype. I cannot wait to go back (I just hope our lock will still be there!).

Next time I post about our trip, we’ll be heading to the sunny and hot South of France!

Happiness is a Nifty Fifty’s Milkshake

Nifty Fifty’s reminds me of my younger days. There used to be one on 10th and Reed Streets. Someone’s parents would drop us off there for dinner, and then pick us up again to chauffeur us to the movie theater. In high school, we would walk up there on early dismissal days. When Bridget, my aunt, and got back from a day in New York, someone would pick us up at 30th Street Station and we’d stop by for takeout.

The burgers and fries were decent but the milkshakes were the star of the show. They had every flavor imaginable, from basic chocolate and vanilla to the “exotic” concoctions like Strawberry Cheesecake and Peanut Butter Oreo.

What made these milkshakes so special? My 13-year-old self didn’t really think critically about it. I probably just liked having ice cream with dinner.

All I know is that after the South Philly location closed a few years ago (and became a Rita’s Water Ice, of all things. I’m anti-Rita’s, especially when there are so many real water ice places in South Philly), I could never find a milkshake to fill the void. Sure, there were some that I liked, but when compared to Nifty Fifty’s they would come up short. They were too icy, not thick enough, too sweet, or just boring.

I didn’t go to Nifty Fifty’s again until we were planning our wedding and stopped by the location on Grant Avenue, in the Northeast, after a visit to Glen Foerd Mansion to meet with our event coordinator. I was so excited to get one of my beloved milkshakes again. But, what if it wasn’t as good as I remembered? Was it just the nostalgia of thinking about being back in high school that made me think they were the best thing ever? Maybe it would be no better than the poor excuse for a milkshake that comes out of the machine at McDonalds.

I ordered the Oreo milkshake, which was always my favorite. It was just as good as I remembered.

Yesterday, when I needed a milkshake fix, we drove there again. I branched out and got chocolate chip cookie dough, but still helped myself to Chester’s Oreo shake. Happiness. It magically got rid of the dull  headache that I typically get from sleeping too late on Saturdays.

Now that I’m a grown up and I think more about the food that I eat, maybe I might be able to figure out what makes them so special.

Okay, I’ll try.

It could be the ice cream. I’m not sure what the brand is, but it tastes like it has a pretty high percentage of butterfat, it’s definitely good quality. Maybe it’s the fact that it comes to your table in a fun silver cup, and is blended to perfection. It’s not too thick to drink through a straw, not to runny eat it with a spoon, and the mix-ins are all distributed evenly so you get some candy, cookies, or fruit in every bite. Or, it could be that fluorescent lighting and loud music clouds your judgment and makes everything taste better.

Obviously, I still don’t really know.  It’s pretty much just the best milkshake ever. End of story.

Restaurant Review: Barbuzzo

Barbuzzo (110 S. 13th Street) is my favorite restaurant in the city at the moment. Along with Lolita and Bindi, Barbuzzo is part of the group of restaurants owned by Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran, who were responsible for a lot of the growth and great things happening in the Midtown Village neighborhood.

Barbuzzo has garnered national attention during the past few months, first with a 2011 James Beard Award nomination for Best New Restaurant and then with recognition from Frommer’s as one of the “Ten Best New Urban Restaurants in the Country.” And, Philadelphia Magazine just named it “Best New Restaurant” and “Best Dessert” in its annual “Best of Philly” issue. So, you will definitely want to make a reservation if you are planning to go. Or, you can take a chance and see if you can snag a table at the bar or chef’s counter, overlooking the open kitchen. Like most of the restaurants I’ve told you about lately, Barbuzzo is tiny, and you’ll be sitting quite close to your neighbor (maybe that’s why they chose a sardine for their logo).

The restaurant serves Mediterranean small plates, made with local ingredients.  I love this style of eating, especially with a group of people, because you can order a bunch of different stuff to share. Serving sizes are slightly larger than typical tapas places—the servers generally recommend two plates per person. Overall, it’s pretty reasonably priced, with snacks starting at $3, and the most expensive main course topping out around $20.

This past week, I had dinner there for the third time, and I came up with this list of the things I heart about Barbuzzo (in no particular order), based on my visits:

  1. PizzaMade in the restaurant’s wood burning oven, Barbuzzo’s pizza has a thin, crispy crust and unique toppings. I’ve had the Pear with gorgonzola sauce; the Fico, which includes fig, gorgonzola, prosciutto, arugula, and walnuts, and a drizzle of pomegranate molasses, and the Asparago, topped with asparagus, pancetta, truffle, and egg. There are a lot of flavors on each pizza, but they balance, rather than compete with each other.
  2. Meatballs—Made with a mixture of short rib and pork and stuffed with caciocavallo cheese. They are served in a rich tomato sauce and topped with more melted cheese. The sauce has just the right combination of garlic and oregano, and the meatballs are so tender they can be pulled apart with a fork. Tastes just like what we make in my family.
  3. Gnocchi—Pan-seared, light, fluffy dumplings, topped with crispy prosciutto. On my spring/summer visits, the pasta was served with a mushroom and tomato sauce; in the winter, the sauce had caramelized apples and truffles. It’s not overly drenched in sauce, so you can appreciate all of the flavors.
  4. Sheep’s Milk Ricotta—A cloud of ricotta, served at room temperature so it’s easy to spread on grilled bread,  topped with olive oil, herbs and course salt. Simple, but so tasty. This is one the “snacks and spreads” section of the menu, but I could make a meal out of this.
  5. Basil Lemonade—This is probably just on the summer menu, but I would drink it all year round. It’s exactly what the name says, plus vodka, served in a mason jar. Simple and refreshing. As a note, Barbuzzo is the only restaurant in Safran/Turney’s group that has a liquor license. You can BYOB, but you’ll be charged a corkage fee.
  6. Bronzino—Grilled, topped with pesto and wild mushrooms, and served on top of farro. Simple and delicious.
  7. Salted Caramel Budino—This is the dessert that Philadelphia Magazine singled out, and for good reason. It’s a velvety smooth butterscotch pudding, served over a dark chocolate crust, topped with a salted caramel sauce, tangy crème fraiche, and garnished with more sea salt. For me, it’s the perfect combination of salty and sweet. You will be ridiculously full after dinner, but I guarantee that somehow, you’ll manage to eat every last bite (in fact, you may have to stop yourself from licking the dish clean). I just discovered that you can order these for pick up by the half-dozen on the restaurants website.  That could be trouble. It even looks like the perfect dessert, see?

Hopefully, my two cents on what’s awesome about this restaurant will help you narrow things down if you go. But, if you want to make things even easier on yourself, maybe just to ask for one of everything on the menu, so that you don’t have to make any tough decisions.

Lemon-Blueberry Muffins

The only time I really like blueberries is when they are in muffins. More specifically, I enjoy the big, fat 5 million calorie blueberry muffins with the crumb topping that they sell at Starbucks. Fact: The Starbucks in the LAX airport has the best blueberry muffins. 5 a.m. flights back to Philly were always a bit better with one of those.

I had been craving blueberry muffins recently, and came across an easy recipe from Cooking Light. I had never made anything with buttermilk before, and was surprised to find that it wasn’t loaded in fat like the name suggests. It actually adds very little fat to the recipe—definitely less than what is in a Starbucks muffin—but produces an end product that is moist, rich, and soft. The blueberry/lemon combination is perfect for summer, and although they don’t have a crumb topping, the tangy lemon glaze on top is nice. If you aren’t a fan of nutmeg, you could omit that. I honestly couldn’t taste it,  though.

With a container of Chobani Greek yogurt, these made for a pretty satisfying breakfast.

Lemon Blueberry Muffins

From: Cooking Light

What you will need

Makes a dozen muffins

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 1/4 cups low-fat buttermilk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • Cooking spray (this would be used, if you are forgoing the muffin tin liners. I prefer to use the liners to make the clean up easier).
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice and 1/2 cup powdered sugar to make the glaze

Preparation

  • Combine flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg in a medium bowl; cut in butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse meal.
  • Combine buttermilk, egg, and rind; stir well with a whisk. Add to flour mixture; stir just until moist. Gently fold in blueberries (Tip: If you coat the blueberries lightly in flour, before stirring in, you an keep them from sinking way to the bottom of all your muffins. I did this, and there was a nice distribution of berries throughout each one).
  • Spoon batter into 12 muffin cups coated with cooking spray. Bake at 400° for 20 minutes or until the muffins spring back when lightly touched. Remove muffins from pans immediately, and place on a wire rack to cool.
  • Combine lemon juice and powdered sugar in a small bowl. Drizzle glaze evenly over cooled muffins (By the second day, the glaze had kind of soaked into the muffins and pretty much disappeared).

Restaurant Review: Village Whiskey

Source

In my last post, I gave you a glimpse into the standard conversation that we have when trying to decide where to eat. You can see now why I much prefer to have a plan, and on Saturday, we had did: lunch at Village Whiskey, another one of the restaurant in the Garces empire.

The restaurant does not accept reservations, and when we’ve tried to go at night, we’ve encountered a wait time of one to three hours. If you know me, you know that I don’t like to wait, especially for food. When we arrived at around noon, we were seated right away.

The place has kind of a speakeasy vibe. It’s tiny with just a few leather booths down one side, the bar down the other, and a counter built into the wall at the back with a handful of seats. Now I understand why there’s a wait most of the time. I’m sure that it gets very loud and crowded in the evening too (I probably would hate it at night. I’m old, okay?)

The menu is comprised of classic bar food, including burgers, fries, snacks, sandwiches. And, of course, there’s whiskey—about 80 kinds—and old fashioned cocktails.

Since I had already kicked off my weekend by eating a ton of Mexican food, I had talked myself into getting a veggie burger or maybe even the cobb salad. But seriously, you don’t want to get a veggie burger when you come here. Save up all of your Weight Watchers points, or red meat chips or whatever you are counting and just get the real thing. I caved, of course, and it was worth it.

Chester and I both got the Village Burger. Now, the slightly annoying thing is that this burger just has the basics—lettuce, tomato, thousand island dressing—and you can add additional toppings (I had cheddar cheese and truffled mushrooms; Chester had cheddar, carmelized onions, and bacon) to make it special. This also results in adding another $8 to $10 to the price, and before you know it, you have a $20+ burger.

They reminded us of the burgers at JG Domestic—they came out of the kitchen perfectly medium rare and were juicy enough to make the bun fall apart. We also had the deviled eggs (which had a heavy mustard flavor, but were otherwise pretty standard) and the duck fat fries with cheddar dipping sauce. The fries were crunchier and not as gamey as JG Domestic’s version, but that could be because the cheddar sauce was so yummy that even if they were terrible we wouldn’t have noticed. Cheese sauce makes everything awesome, right?

I’ve heard people say that Village Whiskey has the best burgers in the city (they may also be the most expensive when all’s said and done). I don’t eat enough burgers to know if this is the case (and I sometimes have trouble remembering what I had for lunch yesterday, let alone all of the burgers I’ve ever eaten), but it was pretty darn good.

Chester, though, as I’ve said before is a burger connoisseur, and the Village Whiskey burger caused him to seriously think about the list that he complied just a few short months ago of his top Philadelphia burger experiences. If you’ve been using that as your burger bucket list, please note it’s been revised to: 1) Deuce (honorary number one, because it’s now closed), 2) Village Whiskey (so that’s the “for real” number one spot, since it’s actually open), 3) Adsum, 4) JG Domestic 5) Eulogy 6) Bobby’s Burger Palace 7) PYT.

Chester knows his burgers, so you can take his word for it. Village Whiskey is the best.

The end.

Restaurant Review: Las Bugambilias

In case you haven’t caught on yet, going out to eat is one of our weekend pastimes. We cook at home during the week, but the kitchen (and Chester, who does most of the cooking) gets a break on the weekends.

We rotate between eating takeout at home and going out in the city. Sometimes, we decide what we are doing in advance, and make reservations somewhere. Other times, it’s a spur of the moment decision. I much prefer having a plan, because otherwise we’re indecisive and annoying. When we’re flying by the seat of our pants, there’s standard conversation that takes place. It goes something like this:

Chester: What do you want to eat?

Lauren: I don’t know. Whatever you want.

Chester: Well, there’s pizza, burgers, Chik-fil-A, Chinese…[and whatever other stuff comes to mind].

Lauren: I don’t know. It all sounds good.

Chester: Well, what do you want?

Lauren: I could eat anything. You pick.

This can go on for awhile. Sometimes, who says what is reversed, but eventually one of us caves and makes a decision.

This past Friday night, I caved first and chose pizza, but I wasn’t really in the mood for it. Halfway to the restaurant, I decided that what I really wanted was Mexican. I consulted my friend Google to figure out where we should go. We happened to be right near one of the suggested places—Las Bugambilias. Off we went.

Photo from restaurant website. I would like one of these outside my house.

The restaurant, whose name has something to do with brightly colored flowers, serves traditional Mexican food—like tortilla soup, chicken in mole sauce, and enchiladas—in a casual atmosphere. The décor is heavy on vibrant colors, traditional pottery, and tiles. It’s pretty tiny inside. We arrived around 6 and were seated right away. But, when we left a couple of hours later, it had become pretty crowded and very loud.

Our server brought out pico de gallo (kind of bland), (really) spicy salsa, and homemade tortilla chips (thick and crunchy), while we looked over the menu. Anytime there’s guacamole, I have to have it. Las Bugambilias’ version was a bit on the acidic side and had nice sized bits of avocado in it. It was good, but not as good as my favorite from Distrito. We also shared the empanadas. The ground beef inside was well seasoned, and the corn tortillas held up well—they weren’t heavily fried, but they weren’t soggy either.

For an entrée, I decided to branch out from getting something with chicken and ordered the Enchiladas del Mar. They could have been a little lighter on the cheese (I know, who says that about enchiladas?), but the filling, with sizable bits of fresh lobster, crab, and shrimp, was delicious and the smoky-sweet chipotle and almond sauce on top was a nice complement. They were served with grilled zucchini and rice. Chester had the Tampiquena Morita—grilled skirt steak in a morita chile sauce, served with a chicken enchilada in mole sauce, and a chile relleno. Chester thought that the mole didn’t have enough of the traditional cacao flavor, but the chicken and steak were both well seasoned and tender. The chile was very heavily breaded—I don’t think either one of us really loved it.

I wasn’t going to get dessert, but they had Tres Leches cake on the menu. I first discovered this at Café Habana, a Cuban restaurant in the Rittenhouse Square area that sadly doesn’t exist anymore. I had to have it. If you don’t know, tres leches is a dense sponge cake, that’s soaked in condensed milk, evaporated milk, and heavy cream. I ordered the chocolate version; then it was my turn to say that there wasn’t enough chocolate—there was a hint of cocoa flavor (I think in form of a chocolate liquor), but if it was served a long side of the regular pastel (white) cake, I don’t know if I would have been able to tell the difference. Still, the cake soaked up all the liquid just the way it should and was perfectly sweet.

The service was a bit spotty and became progressively more so as the restaurant became more crowded. This was odd to me, since there seemed to be plenty of people working. Our appetizers came out at different times and there was such a lag between our entrees being cleared and dessert arriving that I thought they forgot about us. This was kind of annoying, especially since we were sitting next to a group that got louder and more obnoxious by the second and just wanted to leave by that point.

The uneven service and the bad company kind of dampened the experience for us, but I would like go back—at an off time—because the food was yummy. It’s definitely not the Americanized Mexican food that you find at places like Mexican Post or the too trendy stuff that you find at El Vez. The prices were a little bit higher than I normally think of for Mexican food (appetizers between $8 and $10 and entrees hovering around $20 or a bit over), but the portions are huge. I liked that everything that we had was seasoned well, but not overly salted. That’s usually my biggest gripe when I eat Mexican food out.

Good job, Google. Maybe we should use you every Friday night to decide what’s for dinner.