Thursday 21 July 2016

Philly This Summer

If you’re planning a visit to Philadelphia this summer (and you really should), here are some things to consider and inspire, courtesy of my friends at Visit Philadelphia.

It's a Well-Planned City:

Grid Layout: The directionally challenged can thank city founder William Penn for Philadelphia’s logical downtown, called Center City. Perpendicular streets run north-south (numbered streets) and east-west (named mostly after trees, including Walnut, Locust and Spruce). Pro tip: William Penn’s statue atop City Hall faces northeast, so he can help people get their bearings.

Credit: Photo by B. Krist for VISIT PHILADELPHIA®

Philadelphia’s Champs-Élysées: Cutting through the city grid, the diagonal Benjamin Franklin Parkway stretches from near City Hall to the Philadelphia Museum of Art at the edge of Fairmount Park. Planner Paul Philippe Cret and designer Jacques Gréber modeled the mile-long thoroughfare after the Champs-Élysées of their native country. Some of the city’s most important cultural institutions, including the Barnes Foundation, line the Parkway.

Credit: Photo by B. Krist for Visit Philadelphia™

It Really IS All About The Food:

Soft Pretzels: Introduced by early German settlers, this doughy pleasure serves as more than a snack. In the morning, locals can be seen dipping pretzels into cream cheese for Philly’s version of a breakfast bagel. Other times of day, mustard is the condiment of choice.

Credit: Photo by J. Varney for Visit Philadelphia™

Cheesesteaks and Roast Pork: Philadelphia is known for the cheesesteak. This meat-and-cheese icon is delicious and worth the praise. But there’s another sandwich that many locals consider to be the real hometown choice: roast pork. Like its more popular cousin, the roast pork starts with a quality long roll, then topped with roasted sliced pork, provolone cheese and broccoli rabe.

Credit: Photo by B. Krist for Visit Philadelphia™
Water Ice: Called Italian ice in other parts, water ice dominates the summer snack market in Philadelphia. It’s smoother than a snow cone or shaved ice, and the flavor is mixed right in, rather than poured on top. Lemon and cherry win the most-ordered contest, though the sweet treat comes in a variety of flavors.

Credit: Photo by J. Varney for Visit Philadelphia™

Hoagies: Outside of Philadelphia, they’re often called “subs” or “heroes.” Philly takes its hoagie game seriously: The bread has to be just right—slightly crunchy on the outside, and soft enough to allow a hungry eater bite through to the hearty supply of deli meat, cheese and toppings.

Credit: Photo by C. Smyth for VISIT PHILADELPHIA®

How To Drink In America’s Best Drinking City:

BYOB: Philadelphia’s difficult-to-acquire liquor licenses created a dining phenomenon: the BYOB, short for bring your own bottle. Diners bring their bottle of choice—wine, champagne, beer, even spirits—to the more than 300 BYOBs in the city, and chefs bring their best to the plate.

Credit: Photo by J. Fusco for VISIT PHILADELPHIA®


Liberty Bell: The cracked Bell served as a symbol for the abolitionist movement, and it also makes for a very American profile picture. 

Credit: Photo by D. Cruz for VISIT PHILADELPHIA™
LOVE Sculpture: Relocated to Dilworth Park during the renovation of JFK Plaza (a.k.a. Love Park), the LOVE sculpture is the perfect icon for the City of Brotherly Love.

Credit: Photo by C. Smyth for VISIT PHILADELPHIA®

Philadelphia Museum of Art: The majestic Art Museum tops the Ben Franklin Parkway. Its location and its massive Greek revival design provides a stunning sight, perfectly captured at various points along the Parkway.

Credit: Photo by M. Fischetti for Visit Philadelphia™
Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens: Weird and wonderful, indoor-outdoor space glistens with glass, tiles, found objects and even bike tires. 

Credit: Photo by R. Kennedy for VISIT PHILADELPHIA®

Getting Around:

On Foot: Locals like to walk. It’s the easiest way to get around. In fact, Philadelphia ranks fourth for most walkable cities in the country, according to WalkScore.

PHLASH: Fast, convenient and affordable. That’s the purple PHLASH bus. Riders pay $2 per ride or $5 for a day pass to get to 22 stops along its attraction-heavy route. 

SEPTA: Philadelphia’s public transit system includes buses, trolleys, subways and the Regional Rail. 

Indego: People can traverse the city’s 240 miles of bike lanes by using Indego, Philadelphia’s popular bike-share program. It’s easy to find one of the more than 100 docking stations. Single 30-minute rides cost $4, and the monthly pass is $15. 

It Sounds Like:

Philly Accent: Water is wooder. Many words that start with st- get more of a sht- treatment, so street sounds like shtreet. The pronoun “our” sounds like are, and “orange” gets the same sound at its start—are-ange. “Bagel” goes by beg-el (but soft pretzels are better; see above). And jeet? That’s how caring Philadelphians ask if a person has eaten.

Credit: Photo by B. Krist for VISIT PHILADELPHIA®
Courtesy of Visit Philadelphia. For more information on what to do in Philadelphia this summer, visit their website.

Thursday 14 July 2016

Halifax Foodie Haven

Halifax is a foodie’s delight, especially if your taste buds include seafood. With the Atlantic Ocean lapping at its doorstep, fresh fish, lobster, mussels, oysters, scallops (think Digby) abound. If you’re more of a ‘meat and potatoes’ person, no problem!

Let’s start with the seafood:

Question: What do the King of Siam, the Titanic and the Halifax explosion all have in common?    

              140 Argyle Street; 902-422-4421

I was anxious to dine at Five Fishermen, not simply because of its menu, but also because of the history behind the building in which the restaurant is housed. 

Located in a historical part of Halifax, it was constructed as a schoolhouse in 1817. When Dalhousie College took over the school, the Halifax Victorian School of Art, established by Anna Leonowens, occupied the space. Prior to opening the art school, Anna was the governess to the King of Siam’s children. She wrote a book and the rest, as they say, is history. The art school eventually moved, at which time the building was turned into a mortuary. During its stint as a funeral home, it accommodated hundreds of bodies after two major disasters: the sinking of the Titanic and the Halifax explosion.

Fast forward a good number of years, and presto, we have the Five Fishermen restaurant, which is consistently recognized as one of Halifax’s best dining experiences.

My Haligonian hostess and friend, Elaine, and I were immediately struck by the large stain-glass windows on the second floor. Lucky for us, our table was right next to a bank of such windows. It only got better from there.

Our dining experience began with appetizers. We ordered mussels in a creamy garlic sauce along with crab and scallop cakes. The mussels arrived speckled with bits of finely-chopped garlic and onion. They swam in a creamy-white sauce, which was so darn tasty, had there been a spoon available I would have slurped it up like soup. Perhaps a little uncouth, but so what?

The crab and scallop cakes were crispy on the outside and moist on the inside. They tasted as you’d expect a crab cake to taste. I didn’t find the scallops heightened the flavours. What was different, and very good, was the sauce accompanying them – a vibrant orange-coloured sauce with a hint of heat that built up in your mouth, rather than hit you square in the pallet with an explosion of fire. I learned later it’s made with kimchi.

For our main, Elaine and I chose the same dish – The Five Fish, and no wonder. It’s sautéed colossal shrimp, Digby scallops, pan seared local halibut and salmon served over lobster asparagus risotto. For good measure, we each ordered a lobster tail! Oh my!

Next question: How do you know you’re in a truly fine-dining restaurant?

Answer: The Caesar salad is made table-side.

This is exactly what you get at CUT Steakhouse (5210 Salter Street; 902-429-5120) -- order a Caesar salad, and a server in a crisp black and white uniform, wheels a cart to your table with all the 'fixings' on it. The egg is cracked into the large wooden bowl, the olive oil is poured just so, and on it goes, until your salad is done. It’s a practice long abandoned. Needless to say, it was a very pleasant surprise to witness this culinary performed treat right in front of me.

When it’s time to choose your steak, another cart is brought to your table. An explanation of each cut is offered. It’s a learning opportunity. For example, I learned that corn-feed adds marbling; grass-feed, results in less marbling. Maybe this is basic steak-knowledge, but I didn’t know.

Chef Luis Clavel, who has developed quite a reputation around this part of the country, thanks to his creativity and approach to food, had a few surprises stuffed into his chef’s apron for Elaine and me.

A white tagine was brought to our table. Lifting the lid revealed, among other things, two little towers of roasted corn and sliced octopus. When Elaine said, “The octopus is so tender,” we were told it had been cooked using the sous vide style of cooking.  I wrote the term down and made a note to Google it, not knowing a few hours later, Chef Clavel, would show us what it is.

Between the grilled-shrimp appetizer and the main course, a palate cleanser was presented by the Chef himself. In a clear-glass serving dish was a mound of flavoured ice crystals. A cream-coloured ball, about the size of a quarter, sat on top. Chef Clavel poured a liquid over it all, then asked us to bite into the ball. We did as instructed. It was an explosion of sweet effervescent liquid -- a white chocolate ball filled with Prosecco.  A surprise of the best kind!

Then came our steak and its accompaniments. All perfect! 

Elaine and I sat, ate, talked, ate, talked … for well over three hours. We were in no rush and no one seemed in a rush to get us out. At the end of our meal, Chef Clavel awaited our arrival in the kitchen to show us what sous vide is. He was cooking up lamb in a hot water bath.

Sous Vide Method of  Cooking

Elaine, Chef Clavel and me
Just when we thought we were done with food for the night, two small paper bags were handed to us, each containing a tiny banana bread loaf. Breakfast baby!

Also run by Chef Clavel is Shuck Seafood and Raw Bar, (same location as CUT (lower level)) and East of Grafton (1580 Argyle Street).

East of Grafton had not yet opened when I visited Halifax, and obviously, is on my list for next time.