Friday, February 26, 2010

White Village (Elsternwick) 2/10

Last Friday night we chose a Greek tavern at 587 Glenhuntly Road for dinner. The place had a warm and happy atmosphere with a background of Greek music. We were greeted by Costa,
an ebullient and extremely friendly host who danced among the tables like a reincarnated Zorba. Apologizing for the lack of clientele on that particular night he offered us any free table we liked. The place was simply decorated with with white and blue paper covers over linen cloths. There were a few framed scenes and objects on the walls and over the servery a net with fish and symbols of the sea.
After a short time later we had the mandatory offer of something to drink. I chose a mild and inoffensive Greek beer called Mythos ($6.50)
while Sandra settled for a house white sav. blanc, which was pleasant and cheap ($5.50).
They offer two menus, a banquet ($38) which looked like very good value, and a a la carte menu with very reasonable prices. Starters included typical Greek dips such as tadziki, fried zucchini, pickled carrot, broad beans and tourmasalata and also dishes such as whitebait and saganaki , around $8 and dolmados, $2 each. Mains included whole fish, lamb, chicken and beef or combination platter.
We chose a variety of starters to get a taste of their cooking and a Greek salad
to accompany a whole barramundi and a meat platter.
The starters,
accompanied by a bowl of oil, they have no butter, and a basket of crisp crusty bread were all quite excellent. The saganaki
as good as we could get, and better than almost any that I've had before, the whitebait
crisp and warm, the dolmaidos
moist and the vine leaves tender and the dips
The meat platter was a large serve of flavorsome tender meats

accompanied by a few salad onions and a wedge of lemon. The barramundi were barbecued with a crisp skin,
the only flavour in addition to the natural flavour of the fish was provided by a wedge of lemon. Neither tartar saurce nor mayonnaise were available.
We were prtty full by now and did not have desserts, which are the classical Greek baklava or halva are only $3/ serve.
This is the essence of a Greek tavern. The menu is quite limited, basically dips barbecued food. The serves are large and the prices moderate. They have a modest very inexpensive wine list and a couple of Greek beers among others.
In conclusion a very nice place to eat
Score:13.5 /20

Monday, February 15, 2010

Chifa (Philadelphia) 02/10

Here's a trivial pursuit question for a foodie. What is a Chifa? And the answer is it is a sort of Peruvian cuisine created by a combination of Peruvian creole cooking and Chinese cuisine. It is very common in Peru where the restaurants serving this kind of food have become known as Chifas. This style of cooking has now spread to Ecuador and Philadelphia now has a Chifa, which is its name. The executive chef is the suddenly famous Jose Garces, an Ecuadorian born US chef. He has been winning awards for his innovative and attractive cooking for the last few years and became very well known when he defeated Iron Chef Bobby Flay in his Iron Chef America debut and has been described as "a compelling voice for America's thriving Latin food movement"
Garces is not only innovative but also entrepreneurial. He has five restaurants in Philadelphia serving different sorts of meals and all highly regarded. We could only go to one and chose Chifa.
This is an strangely decorated establishment with a Japanese influenced area downstairs

including a semi private area and an indefinable style ground floor area It has is a wall of pottery as you enter
and further on a wall of small empty bird cages.
Opposite is a wall of louvred wooden doors
behind which there is absolutely nothing! None of that matters to much because we came for the food and what food it was.
The menu for lunch is called the Hiram Bingham Express. Looks like another trivia question. Bingham was an anthropologist who rediscovered Machu Picu in 1912 but I could not find any closer explanation for his name being applied to lunch. Two courses and a glass of wine for $18 with side dishes $6 or $7 and desserts $3 is quite inexpensive even with the tax and tip to be added.
The menu descriptions were not especially helpful although they gave us an idea of what we would be getting. We started with an oyster ceviche described as 'leche de tigre', conch, lemon espusa.

There was an oyster in it and there was a lemony taste, among others. For me it was peculiar, interesting and, as with most of the dishes here, the tastes were unfamiliar and hard to describe. We followed this with a crispy empanada filled with jumbo lump crab decorated with shaved cucumber and served with a sweet chili reduction.
This was very tasty but rather small serve. We could have done with a couple more.
Next came a couple of soups. The first , called a hot pot

was described as glazed cod, Tianjin broth, bacon beech mushroom and tofu was delicious, as was the second,
a beef noodle bowl with sesame seeds, cilantro, red chili, Chinese white noodles and beef ribs but, beyond displaying a photo, we were both excited and surprised by the tastes. It is unlike any Chinese food we have eaten before and unfamiliar with Peruvian cuisine there is nothing with which to compare it. The only thing that was really familiar was a side dish of French fries served with a red chili mayo. Another very good tasting side dish was called scallion pancake
which had crispy peanut, ginger and cauliflower filling. We finished the meal with a beaut dessert of coconut sorbet with passion fruit curd, coconut meringue and young coconut.
It was a very strange meal. We couldn't really compare it to other restaurants and found it hard to give it a mark. We both enjoyed it and on another trip to Philadelphia we will certainly go to another of Garces restaurants.
Score:14 /20

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Cafe Maspero (New Orleans) 02/10

With no prior knowledge anyone walking in here off the street could not have high expectations. A rough sign informs that it it cash only, it's very dim, made lighter by fiddling with the camera's sensitivity.
and the dark wooden furniture
is heavily scarred.
I hesitate to think what a bacterial swab off a table might grow. Yet it has a reputation for muffaletos, an invention of a Sicilian resident, in the early 1900's.
A muffaleto is, originally, layers of ham, sausage and melted provilone cheese topped by various pickled vegetables and olives. All this packed between two large slices of round Sicillian bread. There has been quite a lot of interpretation and now days they are usually served in a large bun but they remain extremely large and are often shared. Together with po boys they are very commonly eaten for lunch in New Orleans and are affectionately referred to as a Muff!
We started with a French onion soup

which was topped with a cap of melting cheese under which there was a typical soup which was not as sweet as it should have been had the onions been a bit more caramelized. For variety we tried both a hamburger
and a muff.
Both served with masses of chips and a small salad including pickled gherkin. These both were extremely tasty and probably provided enough calories, protein, carbs, fat and vitamins for a good days work! I was pretty surprised at how good they were. The pickles in the muff gave it an unusual taste very different from the usual meat and cheese sandwich. Best eaten in New Orleans! Soft drinks tea/coffee are bottomless which is common in American restaurants. I'd certainly like to see that here.
This is quite an cheap place to eat. About $7.5 for the hamburger and $8.5 for the muff. As I recall the soup was a mere $3.5.
Service is friendly and quite efficient.
All in all it was not bad but the place really is a dump.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Magazine Street (New Orleans) 2/10

New Orleans is most known for the French Quarter but it has what I regard as a unique street running, in an almost straight line, from the Mississippi river for about eight miles, or 13 km,to the edge of the French Quarter known as Magazine Street.

At its far end is a golf course
and the Audubon Zoo.
It is a narrow street with cars parked on both sides making it impossible for cars to pass anywhere along its full length.
The footpaths are in serious need of repair
and the road itself is little better.
It is lined with a peculiar array of houses and shops. Most of the houses are small, known as ‘shotgun cottages, because a corridor runs from the front door to the back door through which one could shoot a shotgun without risk to anyone in the rooms which come off one
side. There are few larger houses which have are mostly divided into apartments for rent or for sale.
Although there are some better quality places including a Whole Food Supermarket,
with wonderful products, but at a price sometimes.
This rhubarb is selling at a take home bargain price of A$22 / kgm. The Vitamin Shoppe and doctors, dentists and other professional rooms, are more upmarket but by and large it is filled with dilapidated shops of every sort.

Numerous restaurants,
Po Boys a specialty, and coffee shops,
lots of antique (and junk) shops indeed there is hardly anything you cannot get there. A Po Boy is, originally, a piece of French baton smeared with lard or gravy for the deeply impoverished ‘poor boy’. Now days it is filled with meat, seafood, cheese or salad to make a sandwich and is sometimes even served between two slices of bread! It originated in New Orleans and is an extremely popular form of sandwich.

Signage can be rough and ready or quite professional, as are the numerous murals. There is an almost total absence of graffiti. This mural is a homage to New Orleans
as described in the unlegible screed in this picture.
This is on the side wall of an art school.
Despite the Police Station it is rare to see a policeman on foot but police cars are everywhere, nearly as common as taxi's, indeed I tried to hail one once! Sandra thinks it’s just a grotty run down street but I feel it has a spirit which makes it distinct from all other streets. I don’t need signs. Put me down in Magazine Street and I will recognize it instantly. I hope, somehow, to have captured a little of this spirit with these photo’s the quality of which is in keeping with the street itself - some good, some bad and some simply awful.