Ho Ho Ho!

Guess who I got to meet this Sunday?

Mmmmhm… Mr. Clause. Be jealous. He was definitely the real deal… like on his last visit from the North Pole before his week from (I can’t say hell can I?) begins. How could he miss a brunch with the munchkins at this awesome place on Gay Street in West Chester.

I am going to save all the adorable photographs for West Chester Dish to reveal, but for now I cannot stop gushing about how much of a picture perfect holiday morning it was. 

The room was full of the most adorable little kids, pancakes, parents, and of course the jolly man himself. 

The light definitely showed up for the occasion too..  It gave each picture that warm Christmasy feeling, right?

What a cutie!!

Merry So CLOSE Christmas!

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The Day My Camera Fell in Love.

 

 As promised, here at the photographs from this Saturday’s Food and Drink writer meet up at R2L restaurant. The restaurant itself is located on the 37th floor of Two Liberty Place on 16th between Market and Chestnut streets. A truly hidden gem, the luxury of your dining experience begins as soon as you board the single hidden elevator at the back of a corridor that takes you to the restaurant lobby. A unique experience in that way, but also a special one because of the endless views of the city that are at your disposal from any table in the place.

We were seated in one of their private rooms for the duration of the food photography chat. 

The natural light was ideal for photographs. I could only dream of having great exposure like that every day!

After Chef Stern spoke to us, and photographer Eric Mencher gave us a few tips and told us about his experience in the the food photography industry, out came the stars of the day. 

The Food. 

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We Love to Eat.

My Aunt Vera and I have this little thing we sing every time we are together at a dining table. 

It goes a little something like this … “Weee looveee to eeeeat”. 

If there was a way to combine that little song with Happy Birthday, we would’ve this week. All I did was e a t. And l o v e every minute of it.

It started with my favorite, a home cooked lunch by Tita.

It ended with a 3 hour dinner at Paramour in the Wayne Hotel.

There was…

Tita’s Arabic Chicken with Lebanese Cous Cous and delicious pearl onions. 

Tita’s most perfect hummus with warm pita and baby carrots.

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A Piece for Main Line Dish: Bake 425.

Today is the day…

My first piece for MainLineDish.com went live as the front page story!!

The opportunity to see my work published is really such a blessing.

I hope you all will support me as I begin this great partnership, as well as take the time to enjoy the hard work contributed by each of the other wonderful writers that are a part of the great team at the Town Dish!

Click to Read my Piece on Bryn Mawr’s Bake 425.

Daddy’s Doggy Bag: Isabella Conshohocken.

How beautiful is this day East Coasters? Seriously!

I have enjoyed every minute of the weather we have had recently, even with my runny nose and allergy eyes. Am I the only one that feels that this season’s headaches arrived somehow, fashionably late?

All night I was debating whether or not to introduce you guys to the newest idea I have come up with for a little feature on GtoG.

I’m calling it: Daddy’s Doggy Bag.

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West Chester Dining: The Pale Horse Gastro Pub.

There is something so enticing about the word NEW. New implies a sense of excitement, curiosity, and originality that no other adjective has the power of gifting to what it precedes.

Although new is not the first word I would use to describe The Pale Horse Gastro Pub on Gay Street in West Chester, it deserves all of the well wishes of that word. Open for 6 months, but just recently graced with a beautiful red sign on its historic facade, curiosity and excitement are definitely part of the vibe. But it is the originality that deserves a chance to shine too, if it doesn’t already just from the slightly morbid, but definitely different name. You aren’t going to find The Pale Horse just trotting into West Chester, it is cantoring, bringing the town that is quietly bubbling to a boil with some of the most delicious cuisines the burbs have to offer, a menu of dishes that stand apart from the other eateries in the neighborhood.

Credit to the owners, a young group of guys, all approaching 30, for adding a spin on what it means to be restauranteurs. The Pale Horse isn’t on its way to becoming just a neighborhood spot, it really could become a second dinner table for families, friends, couples, or beer and wine aficionados alike. The atmosphere lends to it, quaint and simple, but so does the menu and quality of the dishes… you feel like they thought them up just for you.

Tomorrow, the Spring Menu debuts for dinner.

If this beautiful season, signifying the epitdome of the word, new, wasn’t your favorite before…. it will be once you have your fork or spoon head on into some of these items. Fresh, colorful, and totally loveable…. from soups to sinful sweets!

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(47) Supper …. The Review.

Supper is served, every night!

Is it possible that Philadelphia Magazine’s #42 actually left me speechless… or shall I say it is a self-diagnosed case of chef got my tongue, seriously? I don’t think my taste buds have yet to walk out of the beautiful glass vestibule of this gorgeous, but understated eatery.

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(48) La Famiglia … The Review.

There is something about tradition and authenticity that is deeply engrained in me. Every holiday, every celebration, the memories surround the pure simplicity of sticking to what we know. And to digress from that? That just means that I did not do a good job as keeper of tradition in my family.

All of the memories of holidays, get togethers, and celebrations past cascaded through my mind as I entered the vestibule of Philadelphia Magazine’s #48, the archaeic Old City eatery, “La Famiglia”. Tradition spilled out from every corner of the room, clearly something this institution values probably more than I ever have.

8 South Front Street. Philadelphia, PA.

In an age of environmentally friendly efforts and decisions for restaurant revamps to keep up with the trends, La Famiglia is no participant. Dated with the stamp of pink marble flooring, ornate walls, proper table settings, and dim lighting, they only care about what has worked for their establishment for the last 30 plus years, believing that they are “Philadelphia’s Best Italian Restaurant”.

Best might not be a word that I would choose, but they certainly are, as Philadelphia Magazine boasts, “the last of a dying breed”.

As my guest and I carefully considered the chef’s offerings, which only came after refusing the Xeroxed version of a Center City Restaurant Week menu, I found myself realizing it had been years since I had eaten in a place that possesses so much history. Other Italian establishments, with their fake murals, tacky checkered tablecloths, and vases with wilted roses, are all just wannabes to the Sena family’s Philadelphia landmark.

Before I admit to my disappointment that all began with the plate of fried rice balls “on the house” let me admit that I have struggled to find my words for this review. I don’t have a proper reputation, and by no means do I want to discredit the hard work of an establishment with such strong roots in our city. However, although the experience was lovely, the food was not what I expected. Truthfully,I was nervous from the moment that the hard working, although slightly over attentive staff, poked and prodded our dish decisions, questioning our rationale.

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(49) Pizzeria Stella…. The Review.

As I approached the corner of 2nd and Lombard Streets, I found myself remembering the sights of last summer. A bustling sidewalk, polka dotted by little tables accented by the deep reds of tomatoes, and crispy edges of pizza crusts, glasses of wine and beer, bowls of salad greens and patrons enjoying themselves in the scorching temperatures we never seemed to be able to escape.

Pizzeria Stella. 2nd and Lombard.

The reality of the situation was however, that the tables that once added color to the sidewalk were tucked away in storage, and I quickly had to shiver my way inside and out of my summer time fantasy world. I was finally a diner for the first time at one of Steven Starr’s latest babies, Pizzeria Stella, located on the wonderfully historical Headhouse Square.

A prime location for Philadelphia Magazine’s,  #46 on the Philly Mag 50 best, where on a week night there is ample parking and on every night the charm of Society Hill’s magical cobblestones streets, and little alleys and ins and outs amp up the appeal. This “upper crust” of pizzerias shines warmly. Literally…

The establishment is a step closer to normalcy for Starr. You feel at home. Comfortable. You don’t have to dress up to fit in with the trendy crowd and the type of ambiance that usually exhibits something from another planet due to his usual choice of wacky lighting, strange seating arrangements, overly authentic wall art, and confusing menus at most of Starr’s other creations. The flashiest accessory in the place is the glowing brick oven graced with Miss Stella’s name. It is the centerpiece to the eatery, surrounded constantly by the dedicated faces of the pizza makers, focused solely on their perfectly crafted responsibilities rotating in and out of the oven.

Stella.

Sitting in the very back corner of the dining room, I could use my hawk eyes and owl ears to take it all in. Craning my neck one way I could peep into a back entrance to the kitchen… Something one may find undesirable but I find fantastic. And opening up my ears I could hear the opinions of my fellow customers as they crunched into their pizzas or enjoyed the small silver saucers of gelato. All of my senses were fired up that is, until the antipasti arrived, and I could focus on nothing other than the upward movement of my forearm and fork from the small simple plates to my mouth. This was it;  Stella’s arancini were finally at my fingertips.

Much anticipated but slightly let down. The breadcrumbs that should provide a substantial casing for the inner creamy risotto were a hint too fine, tasting mostly like oil and less like quality Italian bread crumbs. And once my fork found its way inside each golden fried tasting, the risotto was overcooked, stepping from the territory of perfectly manipulated riso to a hybrid between oatmeal and overcooked pasta. The flavors were certainly there, I loved the use of the ricotta to add to the creamy consistency, but nothing can be done to redeem something overcooked, not even the absolutely ridiculously flavorful tomato sauce that the arancini were bathing in.

Arancini at Stella.

Maybe I love these little golden masterpieces too much to not notice the imperfections, but luckily my guest and I also chose a few other dishes to begin our meal.

The grilled octopus. A must sample. Octopus with that unmistakably charred taste, further elaborated on at Stella by a little bit of heat from a salsa verde, a little bit of comfort from the crisped potato slices suctioned to the plate, and completed by a series of greens and hints of fennel. Just purely said, it is a well crafted dish.

 

Grilled Octopus.

As is the romaine salad. It is no mistake why they put “ricotta salada” as the first ingredient when describing this dish. It is the perfect cheese for a flawlessly light but satisfyingly small salad. Almost like a pseudo Greek Italian salad, each ingredient compliments the other and then with the added mix in of the fresh mint, your taste buds are pleased but they are also ready to bite into your entrée.

With twelve pizzas to choose from, and the restrictive rule that you are not allowed to add an ingredient to any one of them, deciding upon that entrée was less than easy. A slice of each please?

It’s almost more fun that way though. Knowing that any of the options would make you happy meanwhile, you have to choose between, god forbid, a combination of prosciutto, smoked mozzarella, and arugula belonging to the “San Daniele”  or meatballs, san marzano tomato, ricotta, basil, and Sicilian oregano, belonging to the “Polpette”… I mean geez, don’t you feel bad for yourself!

Our pizzas of choice were impressive. The Polpette and the Spinach.

Polpette.

Each with their own individual flavors married by the amazingly thin, just right crispy crust, and the smokiness of the wood fired womb they both come from. Stella has created its own style, and its own recipe that I have yet to taste coming from another pizzeria. Bravo!

 

Spinach.

May I not fail to mention that the house red, a fantastically easy to sip Montepuliciano d’Abruzzo went well with each dish that found its way to my table. The wine list, for the caliber of restaurant that Stella embodies, is legitimate and intriguing. As are the mixture of local and imported beers that most all of the other patrons were enjoying an endless flow of at their tables full of pizzas and tasting plates.

Along with a glass of wine or mug of beer, everyone certainly made a point to enjoy a little scoop of house made gelato and biscotti to complete their meals. The stracciatella and the hazelnut variations brought me back to the hillsides of Tuscany, no exaggeration.

 

Gelato!

Not icy, not overly sweet, and exceptionally velvety, it was the cherry on top of a very authentic meal, without the fake red food coloring of the sundae cherry.

When you find yourself feeling at home at a restaurant, it is usually the case that you are in no rush to leave. Pizzeria Stella has that charm. It is not flashy even though it comes with the Steven Starr seal, and it certainly is not a place where you leave feeling anything but comforted and satisfied. I know I found myself disappointed that my meal was over… and as I scurried out into the cold, in the back of my mind I was already trying to plan out a return visit. That’s a good sign. [A A A A]

Great For:

Group dining.

Shareable Plates.

Romantic Dinner.

Week night escape.

Quick in and out eat.

Affordable check.

Decent bar scene.

Picky eaters.

Girls night.

 

Mangia!