Hot Dog, Hot Dog, Hot Diggity Dog

I love weiners.

That’s SO what she said.

Therefore, when I had a chance to go to Hot Diggity, I knew I had to take it.

more pix 092 I mostly knew this place from its cool artwork on Serious Eats. It’s known for its all natural hot dogs with outlandish toppings that include everything from Cincinnati chili to guava mustard to a deep fried fishcake.

more pix 093 It also includes specials that incovle local produce, cheeses, and other products. This shop is all about supporting the community in delicious ways.

more pix 094 Just order at the front then sit at one of the long tables and wait for your dog.

more pix 096 There are even handy little holes in the counter if you get fries served in a paper cone.

more pix 097 Saigon Fusion with cucumbers, cilantro, and shredded vegetables in a sweet chili vinaigrette

This is good. But that’s it. It’s not as good as it could be. The dog is juicy and pleasantly savory, but it lacks the crispy char of a really well grilled dog. The pickles aren’t quite sour enough and the bun is a little cottony for my tastes. The vinaigrette is excellent – sweet,. sticky, and a little spicy. The fresh jalapeno slices add another layer of flavor. However, the whole dog is just short of…wow. A smear of funky pate or a crustier roll or something could have brought it to the next level.

more pix 100 Seasonal pickle plate

The best plate of the day, no question. Salsify, carrots, asparagus, tomatoes, and more are all pickled in a lightly garlicky brine that lets the sweet, grassy or creamy, savory notes of the vegetables shine through. They are snappy and fresh without too much salt or sugar – it’s really about showing off the vegetables. These are awesome and as the selection changes according to fresh vegetables, you can get a different selection almost every time you go.

more pix 103 The Windy City with tomatoes, relish, onions, mustard, and a crispy pickle spear.

Once again, underwhelming. Not enough celery salt, no sport peppers, that bun that I’m not crazy about. It’s fine but not worth seeking out.

Unfortunately, that’s how I felt about this place in general. Fine. Not great. Not really worth the money or time. It’s too bad because I love the setting, the waitstaff, and the way that the menu sounds. But they need to up their game before they get me back their again.

That’s also what she said.

The Latham Hotel and Other Philadelphia Gems

Time to do a good ole’ fashioned round up of Philadelphia.
First up: The Latham

Philadelphia’s own diamond in the rough. This boutique hotel, right on Rittenhouse Square and walking distance from many major tourist attractions, including Reading Terminal Market, is an absolute gem. The hotel is undergoing a major renovation, with a new restaurant and bar set to open later this year. In the meantime, all the rooms have been redone in a sleek, modern style with premium linens and flat screen televisions. The rooms are not large, but they are decorated stylishly and manage to feel luxe and plush. The rooms are quite soundproof, and housekeeping comes as frequently or infrequently as you desire. The free wifi is a huge boon to this hotel’s draws – so many luxury hotels don’t offer this amenity, though these days, everyone needs it. Also, there is an ipod docking station.
The marble bathrooms, complete with Neutrogena toiletries, are utilitarian and come with plenty of towels. The shower head could be more powerful, but the bathroom is well lit, with a magnifying make up mirror and an outlet for shaving or hairdressing use.
The small lobby is light and well designed, with a nook offering coffee and juice in the morning and water the rest of the day.
Perhaps most notably, the staff at The Latham is as gracious and knowledgeable as the staff at any major hotel. Helpful, congenial, and ready to answer a question about directions or offer a suggestion for breakfast at any turn. This hotel is not a 5 star resort, but it is an excellent example of a boutique hotel. It is small, with luxurious rooms, a few special amenities, and a location that simply can’t be beat. I would not hesitate to return to The Latham or to recommend that my friends and colleagues stay here.One of the best places they pointed us was Little Pete’s.

This is where you head when you want something greasy and cheap, served to you by a middle aged harried waitress who at turns snaps at you and coddles you.

Right near Rittenhouse Square and just a stone’s throw from The Latham, Little Pete’s is a cash only 24 hour diner, serving up the greasy, filling meals that weekend mornings practically require.

Get a large omelette and a pile of homefries for a pittance. Order some turkey sausage alongside – homemade and juicy, it will fuel you for hour to come.

For an afternoon snack, also near Rittenhouse square, head to the sleepy little cafe, La Creperie.

The sweet crepes are standard, but the savory crepes really shine. This one, with creamy eggs, light creme fraiche, meaty mushrooms, and woodsy herbs de Provence is a treat that is both light and rich. It is the perfect snack before a tasting menu, when you have to curb your hunger briefly but not become too filled.
Philadelphia is a hell of a town, and a fabulous overnight trip from NYC.
For more information on Philadelphia, please contact Visit Philly.*Note: I received a press rate for my hotel stay.  I was not paid or required to write a review, and my opinions are my own and, I feel, impartial.*

Vetri – The Best Italian Restaurant In America

Rule No. 1 of once-in-a-lifetime dining: If you can drive there within 3 hours, go there.
Rule No. 2 of once-in-a-lifetime dining: If by some miraculous chance someone cancels a reservation at what Mario Batali calls the best Italian restaurant in America, you lie, cheat, steal, and do whatever you must to get to that restaurant and try that food. Because who knows when you will be able to score a reservation there again?
That’s pretty much what brought me to Vetri.

Vetri, run by Philadelphian and James Beard nominated chef Marc Vetri, is housed in an old brownstone, with a decor not unlike the house from Under the Tuscan Sun. From the moment you walk in, the hostess will ask your name, then know all sorts of things about you – the occasion you are celebrating, where you are from, if this is your first time dining here. Vetri’s team works hard to find out about its diners so when you arrive it is like you are arriving at an old friend’s home, filled with candles, rustic furniture, and intimate tables.

Every tasting menu (and the only menu here is the tasting menu) at Vetri starts with prosecco. This isn’t the cheapo stuff so often served at happy hours. This is a rounded, deep prosecco, with fruity and crisp, vegetal flavors. It is so delicious that I ordered another glass for my second drink, though there is an exceptional wine and liquor list from which to choose.

Amuse Bouches
This plate of delicacies is the first taste every party gets. From the upper left hand corner there is:
Calabrese Salami – smooth, plesantly fatty, with a hefty kick of Calabrian chiles against the sweet pork.
Salami – more peppery and slightly thicker cut, with more of a chew. Meaty, with a kick of fennel.
Vegetable Patty – incredibly savory, dense patty filled with vegetables, garlic, and onions, topped with an intensely nutty Parmesan cracker.
Pastrami Cured Foie Gras – thin, lucsious layers of foie gras torchon cured with pastrami spices. At first, the taste is pure foie gras – buttery and dense. Then, there is a smoky taste that plays against the foie’s natural richness and finally, hints of garlic and pepper that are undeniably reminiscent of pastrami. What is unreal is how well this works – rather than overshadow the foie, the spices compliment it, make it richer and more foie-like. The dollop of sweet peach mostarda is the perfect touch of sweetness.
Marinated Apples with Balsamic and Parmesan Cheese – an ideal palate cleanser, tangy and tart.There is also a beautiful bowl of crudites served with a balsamic creme so rich and sweet it might have been confused for honey.

The bread, both white and foccacia, are baked in house and excellent – airy, pliant, with well seasoned crusts. Served with a bowl filled with sweet Italian olive oil, it is difficult not to fill up on bread.
But you will be glad you didn’t.

Louisiana White Prawn with Zolfini Beans
A single prawn, so buttery and rich that it tastes like lobster. Easily the best prawn I have ever eaten. It cuts with a knife, but isn’t at all mushy – merely tender. The beans, al dente, burst in my mouth with the tastes of pancetta, rosemary, and the sea. The use of woodsy herbs like rosemary lends an unexpected earthiness to the dish, rending it irresistible.

Persimmon Salad with Arugula
How can something so simple hit the palate in so many ways? The persimmon is soft and very sweet – almost like dates, but with a bit more brightness. It is so sugary that the arugula tastes positively savory and even bitter by contrast. The Parmesan shavings on top adds the perfect salty, fatty touch to anchor this salad. This is a surprise winner of the menu.

Zuppa di Parre with Pecorino Romano, Swiss Chard, and Poached Quail Egg
This light vegetable soup is reminiscent of Spring, with its tender Swiss chard, flavorful broth, and delightfully salty cheese melting into the soup. The quail egg is the crowning touch to this soup, its  fluorescent yolk spilling into the broth, making it rich and thick. There are toasted polenta sticks at the bottom of the soup, soaking up the broth and the creamy yolk.

Sweet Onion Crepe with White Truffle Parmesan Fondue
This is one of Vetri’s signature dishes. The onions are caramelized for 10 hours before being layered into a crisp pastry shell, topped with Parmesan cheese, then placed on a bed of cheesy, truffle infused sauce. This is so delicious, it should be a crime. The onions are almost otherworldly sweet. They taste deep and sugary, just barely this side of burnt caramel. The pastry is crisp, and when dragged through the fondue, the bite becomes layered – heady, sweet, soft, melty, cheesy, and incredibly umami. When you go, please request this dish.

Spinach Gnocci with Brown Butter 
Another of Vetri’s signature dishes, this was my boyfriend’s favorite dish of the night. Simply spinach, egg, and cream are used to make these delicate little dumplings. Firm but not dense, they simply fall apart in the mouth, mingling with the smoky ricotta on top and the browned butter underneath. This showcases Vetri’s stellar technique – each pasta morsel is incredibly light and uniform, as if it were made by machine. But, of course, no machine could make pasta this well.

Squash Carmelle with Mostarda
This pasta is the one that still has me waking up in the night, reaching for it. Tender morsels of pasta surround pureed squash so sweet that it’s almost like piefilling. The mostarda sauce is piquant and tart, playing against the sugary aspects of the filling. A touch of fried sage on top adds some crunch, and the whole dish is so playful, so interesting, and so wildly delicious that it is-literally-the stuff of my dreams. The pasta perfectly straddles the line between savory and sweet, surprising the tastebuds at every bite.

Almond Tortellini with Truffle Sauce
Perfectly al dente pasta parcels hide cheesy, nutty, creamy, crunchy filling. Mild, and all about the texture, the truffle sauce was incredibly aromatic, light, and heady. It manages to be intense without being at all heavy. Topped with crushed amaretti cookies, Vetri again shows his exceptional palate, dancing between sweet and savory all in one bite.

Malloreddus with Bone Marrow, Fennel, and Orange
These shell shaped noodles are cloaked in a viscous sauce of fatty, rich bone marrow, sweetly caramelized fennel, and a heavy kick of tart orange zest. The combination of the hearty bone marrow and the fresh orange zest might be the best flavor pairing of the evening – it brings the marrow to life with a brightness that is not often seen in Italian food. The pasta, thick and served al dente, are the perfect shape to capture the meaty sauce in all its ridges.
Chestnut Fettuccine with Boar and Cocoa
By this point in the meal, it becomes clear that Vetri’s specialty is pasta. This fettuccine is the most incredible I have had anywhere, including in Italy. It is light and supple, retaining its chewy texture as it slides between the lips. The ground boar is hearty and very rounded – not at all gamy. It is really like a very robust pork, and mixes well with the earthy cocoa and the sweet mirepoix. This is pretty much bolognese on porky crack.

Bollito Misto
This is mixed boiled meats in a light, pungent, herbaceous broth. It sounds so mundane and even depressing – boiled meat in broth? But this is a subtle, carefully prepared melange of meats that is anything but boring. There is capon, fatty and wild tasting. There is delicate, soft lamb’s tongue, tender veal breast, and juicy veal loin. The meat is all flavorful, but none of it is overly seasoned – this is all about the pure tastes and textures of the different types of meats. Served in a very light, herbaceous broth that brightens the dish, this is something I am so glad I got to try. This is the whole point of a tasting menu – to get to try foods you would never ordinarily taste. It is trusting the chef to make the right decision and, then sitting back and enjoying the wild ride. 

Gin and Tonic Sorbet
This light lime sorbet, infused with gin, is a delightful palate cleanser – creamy and tart, with more than just a kick of pine-y gin, it is a natural segue from savory to sweet.

These came after a lovely dessert course featuring passion fruit filled beignets and a chocolate potlenta cake. There are gooey toasted marshmallows, sweet and tart pate de fruit and two macarons – cinnamon and gianduja filled. It is an elegant way to end a spectacular meal.Vetri is a perfect restaurant. It is very expensive, and a treat to be sure – as much as I might want to, I, nor anyone I know, could not afford to eat here very often. But it is worth the price. The service is absolutely sensational – we had two main servers during our meal, and each came by to chat with us and ask us about NYC and about how we were enjoying the food. They weren’t patronizing us to get a tip, they were chatting with us because they honestly want to know the people who come to their establishment. They clearly want to be there, and their enjoyment increased ours tenfold. The food was absolutely incredible – that butternut squash pasta was better than any I have ever had in Italy. The atmosphere was incredibly romantic.
All of this leads me to believe Batali knows what he is talking about.
And Marc Vetri has, unequivocally, the best Italian restaurant in America. 

Vetri on Urbanspoon

Devon Seafood Grill – New England in Philly

When I hear Philadelphia, I think cheesesteaks. I think scrapple. But classic New England inspired seafood? Not so much.

When I sat down at Devon for brunch, I had no idea what to expect. The dining room, fairly empty at 11 AM, was positively buzzing by the time we left two hours later. Reservations are a must for later in the day. The dining room is upscale casual, with high ceilings, dark wooden tables, and a few flat screen TVs at the center bar.

Cinnamon Roll
I ordered savory for brunch (as I always do), but these cinnamon rolls almost made me change my order. Brought to each table, these prove that the kitchen knows how to make sweet items, and make them well. This crescent roll, served from a baking pan still hot from the oven, has a thin golden crust that bursts to reveal steaming, doughy, stretchy insides. The dough is not sweet, so it contrasts with the sugary, cinnamon-y insides. The filling is ample, which is important – nothing like too much roll, too little cinnamon. 

Smoked Salmon Flatbread with Roasted Garlic White Sauce, Red Onion, Caper, Watercress, with Lemon Infused Olive Oil
The kicker here is how incredibly mild the salmon is, both in taste and texture. Not overly oily or sinewy, the salmon is thinly sliced and so delicate that it almost melts into the warm, crispy flatbread. It has the barest hints of smoke and salt, and retains enough ocean brininess to stand up to the creamy garlic sauce, the sharp red onions, and the pungent capers. The drizzling of lemon oil is the final touch to add some acidity to the dish – a light and delicious starter. 

Oscar Quiche with Crab Cake, Asparagues, Hollandaise, and Fruit Compote
This brunch-only dish is called the Oscar because a steak topped “Oscar” style means one topped with crab and asparagus covered in hollandaise sauce. That said…this isn’t really an apt name for this dish.
An apt name for this dish is “The creamiest omelette on the face of the planet.”
And, of course, that is a good thing.
The eggs are actually mixed with the hollandaise, then gently baked until they are incredibly lush and creamy – the eggs are cooked as loosely as possible while still being thick. It is almost like an omelette over easy. It is topped with a small citrus scented crab cake, made with large pieces of fresh, sweet crab. The vegetables served alongside are excellent – thick stalks of grilled asparagus, juicy tomatoes, a light salad dressed in a tart vinaigrette, and a small, fresh fruit salad. The eggs really blew my mind. I can’t wait to recreate this dish at home.

Orange Cream and Chocolate Tart with Pistachio Ice Cream
Following the awesome cinnamon rolls, the pastry chef again impresses. A thick layer of semisweet chocolate breaks through to reveal a tart orange cream. Though the shell is too soft and lacks sugar, the nutty, smooth ice cream is a perfect break from the sugar and richness of the tart. This is what I crave in a chocolate dessert – decadence, sweetness, and balance.

Devon is a place I would frequent again and again if I lived in Philadelphia. Though the service is a bit slow, it is perfect for a relaxed brunch. The prices match the decor and the food, and the food itself shows how well Philadelphian chefs spin New England cuisine. 

Devon Seafood Grill on Urbanspoon

Pod – More than Meets the Eye

I am that rare breed of woman who really enjoys being proved wrong.
Like I was about Pod, a trendy restaurant in West Philadelphia.

The vibe inside this hip place is bachelorette party-anime cartoon-Jetsons chic. Think changing LED lights, a revolving sushi counter, and namesake “pod” booths along the windows. The joint was jumping on a Friday night, but it seems very sceney – not really the type of place that would have great food. 
Being wrong can be so awesome. 

Lychee Margarita with Spicy Salt Rim
One of the best drinks I have had in recent memory. Smooth, high quality tequila with fresh lime and the sweet, almost velvety taste and mouthfeel of the lychees. The lychee erases the need for sweet syrups that give me sugar hangovers, and the spicy salted rim cuts through the burn of the tequila and the sweetness of the lychee. It is balanced and light – a perfect way to start the meal. 

Chicken Potstickers with Mustard Aioli
Crisp, thin wrappers surrounding juicy nuggets of chicken, onion, and ginger. Sweet and savory, there is another layer added when the crisp morsels are dipped into the zippy mustard sauce. There is a good kick of horseradish there, and the taste is far more mustard-y than mayonnaise-y, letting the taste of the chicken shine through.

Spicy Tuna Crispy Rice with Serrano Chili
Similar to the dish at Koi, with creamy, fresh tuna, the heat from a sliver of Serrano chiles, and that rice. That incredible rice – sweet, sticky, and salty with steaming insides and crunchy edges, crackling pleasantly next to the smooth texture of the tuna. It could have been a tad spicier, but, then, what couldn’t be spicier in my book?

Rockin’ Spicy Tuna Roll – Spicy Tuna Roll Topped with Tempura Rock Shrimp and Spicy Aioli

This is top notch sushi. Don’t let the flashing lights and admittedly frou-frou cocktails distract you – this sushi is excellent, on par with many serious sushi restaurants. Each grain of rice is perfectly al dente, slightly sweet with rice vinegar. The seaweed is nutty and crisp surrounding the smooth, fatty tuna. Crunchy rock shrimp, sugary and meaty within its light batter, drizzled with a spicy, not to say hot, aioli. Spicy, sweet, soft, and crunchy. With a quick smear of wasabi, this didn’t even need soy sauce. It is a fantastic sushi roll. 

Cauliflower Robata with Balsamic Teriyaki Glaze
The most surprising dish of the night. This totally vegan dish is incredibly meaty! The combination of balsamic and teriyaki is a double dose of umami, and paired with tender, almost creamy cauliflower, it’s an undeniably decadent tasting dish. Yet, it’s so light that it could be a diet food. Cooked on the robata, which is a Japanese charcoal grill, the outside is charred and crisp while the inside becomes soft, though not mushy. The glaze is sweet, sour, and piquant, and the result is memorable in every way.

Fluffernutter Spring Rolls with Dark Chocolate Sauce
Fried eggroll wrappers filled with marshmallow cream and melting creamy peanut butter. Dipped in a thin dark chocolate glaze, it’s bitterness cutting through the sweetness and richness of the eggroll.

It was warm and it was sensational.

Pod really proved me wrong. Though the vibe is kind of trendy, the food is anything but. It is expertly prepared, served by knowledgeable waitstaff, in a gorgeous, upbeat setting. I really can’t think of any place in NYC that matches food of this caliber with such unpretentious service. Nor can I think of anywhere serving better cauliflower.
And, trust me when I say that any woman would love to be proved wrong by dining here and enjoying it. 

Pod on Urbanspoon

A Lunchtime Tour of Reading Terminal Market

When I found myself in Philadelphia a few weeks ago, I had a tough decision to make. 
No, I didn’t have to decide which child to give up(we can’t ALL be noble like Sophie, okay?). I had to decide where to have lunch, and in a town like Philadelphia, that is not an easy decision. Should I go for a cheesesteak? An Italian meal? A lunch in one of the city’s many fine restaurants? Ultimately…I made the best decision of all. 
 I headed to Reading Terminal Market, a huge indoor market with hundreds of food purveyors and restaurants serving everything from pizza to sushi to those famous Philly Cheesesteaks. 
 The building is gigantic and can be overwhelming at first, but it is actually well laid out. If you grab a map near one of the many entrances, it is easy to find the spots you want to try from the clearly labeled aisles. 
 And, despite it seeming like there were more people here than at Disneyland, there was ample seating – no need to hover over small children, glaring at them till they finish. 
Of course I do that…don’t you?!
 The first place on my list was DiNic’s pork . Everyone I talked to and everything I have read said that this place, specializing in roast pork sandwiches would offer me the gustatory experience of my life. 
 The line was long, and, as I have learned in NYC – if you see a line, get in it!
 Though the service was incredibly efficient, I was still dying looking at these pork roasts just sitting in the window…taunting me cruelly…
 The bread looked pretty damn great too. 
 There are any number of sandwich combinations you can order, but we went with the classic: Roast pork with provolone and sauteed broccoli raab. 
 The sandwich looked fantastic and tasted…well, quite frankly, it tasted a little disappointing. The pork was extremely mild, and though the cheese was sharp and gooey, the bread was exemplary (soft and dense with a light crust) and the broccoli raab was wonderfully garlicky with just a touch of bitterness, the sandwich was…missing something. It was a bit dry, and though it didn’t lack salt, it did lack something. This might be because I grew up eating French Dip sandwiches, but I REALLY think some au jus would have made this for me. 
 Undeterred, we headed to the Dutch Corner for some Pennsylvania Dutch food. These are foods that are derived from the Amish community that still thrives in Pennylvania. 
 Think hearty, fresh and porky. 
My three favorite adjectives. 
 There were several restaurant stands offering traditional Pennsylvania Dutch fare but we settled on Smucker’s Grill for a scrapple sandwich. Scrapple is(According to Wikipedia) “traditionally a mush of pork scraps and trimmings combined with cornmeal and flour, often buckwheat flour, and spices.” The scrapple we ordered, topped with sharp cheddar cheese, was…
 Like romance on a roll. That intoxicating, that surprising, that totally delicious. The scrapple was crispy on the outside and positively airy on the inside, less creamy than melty. It was like a sausage flavored hashbrown, with the sweet taste of pork and a bit of spice from onions, peppers and other seasonings. It was steaming hot, and as my teeth crunched through the outside, strings of incredibly pungent and sharp cheddar cheese broke up the fatty taste of the scrapple. I took the server’s advice and poured a bit of maple syrup on it, and…of course…it was even better. I wish I could comment on the roll, but really…I can’t remember it. The scrapple and the cheese totally took my attention. This was outstanding and I can’t recommend it enough. 
 We hit up The Rib Stand next, mostly because my sister wanted BBQ.
 It didn’t look too impressive.
 But it tasted GREAT! Pulled pork was tender but not mushy, and though the taste was not as deep and smoky as I like, it was still delicious and cloaked in a sweet and tangy North-Carolina style BBQ sauce. On a soft roll, this reinforced my belief that I need some sauce on a sandwich. 
Stopped at Miller’s Twist next for…
 Some Smoky Cheesers. They are hot dogs filled with cheese wrapped in chewy, light, slightly sour pretzel dough. 
 When dipped in some nasal-clearing mustard, they might have been the best things I ate all day. 
 Of course, I didn’t get to try any of these. 
 Or any of the many fresh cheeses on offer.
 Or any of these awesome by-the-scoop pudding desserts. 
I did try some Peking duck, but it was a little greasy and salty for my taste – not enough crispy skin. 
Reading Market had a couple misses but far more hits. It was all extremely economical and made for an awesome lunch and shopping trip. And I didn’t even get to check out any of the seafood stalls or the other Pennsylvania Dutch stalls. And I need to get that pudding!
Guess I have to head back.
It’s a hard life, but someone has to live it.