1.31.2013

second YELPing

RER 1.10.13
Oh man. The Geno's Philly cheesesteak, a Philly phood disappointment. Check out my yelp review here. All the hype but no delicious results. A lot of talk and no sandwich. I should have known better (perhaps).
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RER 1.10.13
Take a look at my food porn FOOD-tography. It is my way of getting up close and personal with food, literally. Always something fresh and delicious; breakfast, second breakfast, lunch, dinner, and plenty of dessert (and everything in between...elevensies?).

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1.31.13 
RER 1.10.13

1.28.2013

oh SHUCKS : Oyster House

RER 1.11.13
They were glum that Friday night. Maybe it was because the weather was so dreadfully dreary. It was cloudy all day, warm, but ominous. And then it sprinkled, and then it rained, and then it was dark. Maybe it was because they were both realizing that their little sojourn was coming to an end, and this was one of their last adventures in Philadelphia, this time. It was probably the latter.


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They were a little soppy when they finally arrived to Oyster House, much like the boisterous bunch that had already gathered there. They got in the door right around when the happy hour including "1 Buck Shucks" and discounted featured drinks ended, but the crowd was still there, loud, lingering, and probably getting warmer and hungrier. There was a wait for a table in the dining area, outside of the bar as well as the oyster bar. So they stood there, taking in the sights; the dim lighting in the bar area lined with giant windows looking out onto the wet streets, the hostesses hovering over a tiny table, the hanging black and white photographs revealing a different time, the bright lights above the counters surrounding the shuckers. There was a lot to see, but the wait time allowed for observation.

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They finally were seated at a tiny table near the oyster bar. A perfect view for the daily special oysters and clams scrawled on a chalkboard, and the men in white aprons surrounded by oysters and ice. On the table rested a giant glass filled to the brim with what chewed like crackers, but were shaped more like knots, accompanied by a jar of tangy horseradish. The walls were heavy with plates that looked to be haphazardly hung up; different colors, different stories.

The menu appeared to be transitory, changing with the times and the catch of the day. It was only on a single sheet of paper, printed with the date, and the dishes. Their server revealed, after politely responding to the forever question “what do you recommend?”, that the proteins basically remain the same, but their preparation and side accoutrements change almost daily. This means fresh, innovative, and always moving. Though he gave insight into the vision and the method of the restaurant, his suggestions for food felt open and surface.

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To start, they landed on oysters, three ways. The small tastes of the sea animal that is the namesake of the restaurant, served as a method of procrastination. Neither could officially decide what they wanted to eat. The first of the three was topped with something like a pesto. It was herbaceous, and kind of buttery in the mouth. The second featured the strong flavors of ginger and scallion, described as Thai. This oyster was sweet and spicy, and fresh from the greenness of the scallions. And the last was surrounded by a jalapeno butter topped with a pickled radish. This radish gave a contrasting crunch to the smooth, chewiness of the raw oyster. In the end all of the disparate varieties were too buttery, disguising rather than enhancing the pearl within the shell. And they were still hungry.

Finally deciding on a scallop dish for her, and a meaty mackerel for him, they ordered and waited. Munching on the spherical crackers and the warm bread, they revealed expectations and raised concerns. When the plates came to their table, they were visions, perfected, and pretty, a slew of browns and oranges, accented by some moments of green.

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The mackerel fillet topped a bed of wilted kale, with a mound of pureed sweet potatoes just below, and was striped with loud red orange hot sauce. The presentation of the dish, invited them to combine the elements, demanding that each bite contained a morsel from each of the levels, blending fish with root and leaf. And that bite with all of the ingredients, mixing the rainbow, was almost perfect. The meatiness of the fish held up to the almost too sweet delicious sweet potato puree and earthy kale. It felt like a southern adventure, the kale and sweet potato staples and the heartier fish. Even the hot sauce was a shout out to a different style of cooking; hot, tangy and pungent. The hot sauce was just enough to cut the sweetness of the puree, while enhancing it, as well as bringing life to the kale. They only wished for another texture, something to counter the kind of sogginess on the plate. Though the fish was meaty, tender and textured, it was out numbered. Something crisp or crunchy would have elevated the dish and covered all the bases that the mouth longs for.


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Just like the mackerel dish, the scallop plate had a kind of textural monotony, and suffered from yet another uniformity, color. The scallops rested on a bed of root vegetables, parsnip, sunchoke and celery root. Both the scallops and the root medley, were dressed with a disguised grapefruit vinaigrette. This dressing was almost silent throughout the plate, until tiny pockets of pulp were stumbled on. And then, it was a raw burst of bitterness. The purpose of the grapefruit, was to usher in a counter point, a freshness to balance the heaviness of the earthy root trio. Unfortunately, it was too bitter and too strong, lingering on the tongue. The scallops, though pretty to look at, they decided, contained no flavor. The sponge like seafood, grasped on to no flavor, none of the oils that the roots were coated in nor the tart dressing. They did not even have any salt. Though the roots all tasted mildly different, some sweeter and softer, some more crunchy and sturdy, it was hard to discern much. It was a plate full of a lot of the same. Something green and lively could have made all the difference, something with a different chew and lighter to counter the heaviness of all the roots.

Mild disappointment and dissatisfaction, led them to think about ordering more food, there or somewhere else. They still felt hungry and deceived, like the warmth of the crowd and the lights, the abruptness of the hostess, and the various websites boasting the greatness, all let them down. They wanted more out of the Oyster House... Dessert, maybe?

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Dessert as always was a must for them, and hopefully some kind of redemption. After perusing the menu and hearing the specials with little indecision, but much time, the pair picked the special coconut rice pudding and one of the favorites, banana cake. A few green pistachios rested on the surface of the rice pudding. As rice pudding fans, they were anxious with anticipation, but the end results were not stultifying. It was wet, like the store bought variety. The rice in the interior was soft and soggy, and dissipated into the creaminess of the custard. There were mild, if any notes, of coconut. They were excited to taste the exotic and almost foreign flavor to rice pudding, but it was thin almost transparent. This was just run of the mill rice pudding for them, nothing magical or unexpected.

The banana cake, however was mildly more interesting, and they found themselves addicted. Though addictive, it was not fully delicious. The cake had the essence of banana, but it was dry and holey not the texture they were used to. And the cream cheese frosting did not have the pronounced bite of cream cheese, but was super sweet and fluffy. All the flavors were mild and almost excruciatingly sweet. The little chocolate cookie crumbles surrounding the cake on the dish, and on top of the slice, served as relief. It was a different texture a different flavor, something mildly bitter to break up the tooth wrecking, cavity producing sweetness.

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In the end, they paid for too much time for parking, and could not draw out their visit to the Oyster House any longer. It was the noise and perhaps a mild annoyance that drove them out. There was no contesting that the seafood wasn't fresh, and the ingredients were not top of the line. But there was something lacking. Maybe it was soul and spirit. There were plenty of those characteristics in the patrons, but the staff and food felt played out and tired,like they did not quite want to be there. The balance was also lacking, between creative, innovative and practical and satisfying.

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1.11.13
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1.25.2013

MangiaMore: Sweet Potato Squash SOUP


RER 1.23.13
It's a few weeks into the new year and everyone is still fighting to maintain those resolutions. You know the drill-- new year, new you. Like for many people around the globe January 1st means war. For some it is a project about getting fit and losing weight, while for others it's about chasing dreams and love and passion, and for some of us it is all of the above. For me, resolutions always tend to be losing battles; I start strong, and them bam, I fall off, and never pick it up again.

And winter weather and plummeting temperatures do not help. The cold does not make me want to take my behind to the gym leaving the comfort of the warm indoors or even eat light and healthy food. My body craves warmth, comfort and satisfaction, not deprivation.

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But who says you have to sacrifice to keep up with your healthy resolutions? Refinery29 (fashion, health, and beauty), revealed some great options for getting the things I long for in the winter months, while keeping balance and working on my health. In a article called "Soup Secret: 3 Recipes for a Healthy Cleanse," they list three soup recipes that can help you maintain your healthy new year resolution, while being satiated and sacrificing nothing. Each of these soups have a low calorie count, but large amounts of nutrients and super foods.

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I recently tried the Sweet Potato Squash soup. Not only was it easy to make, it turned out pretty delicious and hearty. The recipe is moderately low maintenance, considering so many other recipes out there, just some chopping, stirring, waiting and in the end, smashing (my favorite). What first caught my eye about this recipe was the sweet potatoes. I have never really though about sweet potatoes as healthy super foods, because of their innate sweet and delicious nature, so I thought, there was no way that this soup would feel healthy (like bunny food) to me. I was also struck by the combination of ingredients; butternut squash, onion, green apple, sweet potatoes, and a touch of olive oil. Nothing felt sacrificial about these ingredients, or that I was giving up any kind of comfort (just my kind of "healthy" recipe). And in some ways it made me feel skeptical. How could all these goodies create something labeled as a "detox soup," but whatever makes it one, I like it.

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But in the end, after it was all said and done; the skinning, the chopping, the cubing, the dicing, the pouring, the stirring, the waiting and the smashing (I know, sounds excessive), we ended up with a delicious soup. The soup was hearty and erred toward a puree. It was thick with pieces of the squash and sweet potato, and lined with remnants of granny smith apple. The sauteeing the onion and the apple in olive oil gave the soup a buttery feeling, and a sense of luxuriousness, without the less healthy elements of real butter. The butternut squash was not really perceptible in flavor, but the difference between it and the sweet potato in texture, was present and added interest.

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The recipe, however, called for no seasoning whatsoever. That, I found very odd 1. because I am all about seasoning, spices, flavors, add-ons, what have you... and 2. Just a few days later Refinery29 had another article "How To Eat Super- Healthy In The Dead Of Winter" which praises the additions of herbs and spices. So, we added some hot spices, mainly chili powder and hefty amounts of pepper, to our sweet potato squash soup. This gave our soup some kick, and added even more benefits (the benefit of extra deliciousness!). Also, when serving, we added a tiny bit of sour cream to offset the sweetness of the ingredients and add some tang. The creaminess added decadence, but also decreased its "healthy" perspective.

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This is a great soup to make to detox, or even when you are in a winter rut. It is super filling, nutrient and fiber rich, but also delicious and colorful for the colder months. It brings comfort and warmth while making your belly happy.
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1.24.13
RER 1.23.13

1.24.2013

worth the WAIT?: Honey's Sit 'n Eat



JAR 1.12.13
Honey’s Sit ‘n Eat was another quest to follow Guy Fieri on his Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives adventures, and try out some of the places he has visited. We get so excited while watching the show, but in real life, we are not always impressed or blown away (check out my review of the Liberty Elm Diner here ). Honey’s Sit 'n Eat in Philadelphia, did not prove to be much different. 

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There was a huge line at this place, but I guess it was a Saturday morning, during brunch time. So considering all of that, we did not wait that long. Once inside we were transported from the sunny unseasonably warm outdoors, to a darker, heavy, kitschy dinning space, equipped with a lunch counter, giant juicer, and many cramped tables.

There was a crazy long list of specials, ranging from pumpkin pancakes, to sandwiches, to soups, to Reuben chimichangas, to country fried bacon cinnamon rolls. It was hard to choose because there were so many different things, from classics to kooky. And our server was not very helpful when we asked the reoccurring question of what to eat. 

JAR 1.12.13
We finally decided and were beyond ready to chow down our choices (our bellies were rumbling).

The special sweet potato carrot soup flew out of the kitchen, which was exciting because we were hungry. But then there was a turn for the worst. The rest of our food took forever to come out. We saw people waiting, be seated, order, eat and pay their bill, all in the time it took for our meal to arrive to our table. There was high turn over there, but somehow we were forgotten. The wait was nice, because we could chat and reminisce, but somewhat unsettling, since everyone else was blowing in and out. After a good while, seeing those sitting next to us get their food within 5 or 7 minutes, we asked our server what the deal was. He didn’t know, but moments later, our food was finally in front of our faces, finally.

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Overall, the food was decent. I had the huevos rancheros, a brunchy classic. It came on top of two crunchy crisp tortillas and was piled high with the beans, jack cheese, tasty fried eggs, and the likely suspects of sour cream and a pico de gallo. I also opted for half an avocado instead of a breakfast meat, which was a wise and wonderful choice. The textures were expected, but also exciting enough for me to finish everything on the plate. It was pretty heavy on the beans (both refried and whole black beans), but it was filling and delicious.

The pumpkin pancakes, however left something to be desired. Normal maple syrup did not do the hotcakes justice. They required something more original, catered specifically to their unique flavors. The cakes were a little dry and sometimes not flavorful enough. It was a weird dynamic between the hint of pumpkin, fall spices and chunky, undercooked apples embedded in the batter. We were severely disappointed because we read such good things on our usual review outlets. Bummer! 

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We also ventured to taste the country fried bacon cinnamon bun. This was a bit over the top, but oddly enough not memorable or crazy good. It had all the elements for greatness; bacon, cinnamon roll, caramel sauce, fried goodness…bacon. But it fell short and like the pancakes, pretty dry.

Our server was nice enough and everyone working there seemed to pitch in. We got ample refills of coffee and customer service. But the wait for our food was discouraging. Also the kind of lackluster characteristic of the truly innovative dishes left an imprint on us, a stamp of sadness and lack of satisfaction. Something got lost in the execution of the flavor profiles. I would go again if I was in the area again, but perhaps I would stick to the classics.
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1.12.13 
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1.21.2013

second YELPing

RER 12.712
Another day, another review on yelp. Check out what I had to say about the Jersey City favorite, Skinner's Loft (though it is not my favorite...but you will see why). You can also see the experience I had more than a year before there here. The idea of Skinner's Loft is exciting and enticing, but somehow the service and food have fallen short on both occasions.

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I would love to hear suggestions for FoodFacts (yes, they will be coming back soon....), or recipes that I should MangiaMore, or even restaurants I should check out in the New York Metro area. Leave me a comment or even email me at foodiventures@gmail.com. It would make my day!
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1.21.13
JAR 12.7.12

1.18.2013

a grain of SALT: Brigid's


RER 1.10.13
After a fun day exploring some of the great museums of Philadelphia (well, looking at the sculptural masterpieces of Rodin and climbing the “Rocky” stairs of the Art Museum), a lunch out was well deserved. The night before in the hotel lobby we sucked up as much internet as we could and searched out places to eat by this museum district. Looking on my places app on my phone that day, we also came to some of the same conclusions. Scrolling through, our fingers landed on Brigid’s.

It was a little bit of a walk in and into unfamiliar territory, through quaint residential streets just seconds from some of the major arteries of the city. There was uneven pavement and churches, school children, all to add charm, but not to deter hunger and anxiety. This was one of my choices, so I was nervous. It almost felt like I was making the food, it is a big decision, especially with a gourmand dining partner.

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We finally arrived at the restaurant, self labeled a tavern. It was obscure, almost hidden, like the side entrance to a house, you know the one, from the driveway. There was a small sign, and a chalkboard singing welcome and dishes.

Walking through the narrow bar area, it felt like a neighborhood haunt, quiet at the odd hour. The yellow walls welcoming and not intimidating. Some of the details were extremely finished, while others were not. There were some oversights which were not purposeful like curtains to restricted areas, etc... It was a mix of high and low, some intentional and some obviously not.

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The dining room was super sweet, cheery, empty (it was just before the place closed for dinner prep). It was the first floor of a house, and it felt that way. There was a nice lady putting flowers on each of the tables for the dinner seatings, which added even more warmth.

Despite my usual disposition, I wanted a beer. Maybe it was because there was giant board hanging opposite me listing the special brews, or maybe it was because the place was a tavern and I was hoping to get the full experience. But very like my disposition, I did not know what kind of beer to get, and our server ventured a guess and brought me a tiny taste. I ended up ordering a pint of the stuff (Allagash White… if memory serves). It was light and refreshing, especially with my meal to come.

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The brunch menu was short and sweet, sophisticated twists on the classics, like burgers, mussels, other sandwiches and lasagna. This characteristic mimicked the decor, creating a safe, familiar space to try something a little bit different. The range was really nice with options for light to heavy lunches or even breakfast.

We opted out of appetizers, saving our bellies for the main and for our later dining foray. I ordered the cheeseburger mostly because it was topped by gorgonzola cheese, bacon and french fries (!!). The plate was like heaven. The heavy burger, on a beautiful bun, stabbed with a steak knife, set in the middle of a moat of french fries. It was messy and refined at the same time. Unfortunately, when I used the mondo knife to cut the aesthetic burger in half, the middle was less than cooked. Believe me, I like my red meat rare, but this was like that dangerous looking kind of rare. After begging for the attention of our server with my eager eyes, one of the cooks who we saw arrive, asked me what I needed. She graciously and wordlessly took my burger to give it another go.

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When I got it back, it was just right.

However, it was also unbelievably salty (something we had been experiencing in that part of the world). There was a heavy hand with the salty ingredients; the strong gorgonzola, fatty bacon, and french fries. You almost expect the saltiness from the gorgonzola and bacon, very different kinds of salty flavors. Gorgonzola most always packs a major punch, something acquired and different, something that takes skill and moderation to control to make pleasant to the typical mouth. But there was too much, or it was too much with the other elements. Bacon, delicious, is also salty but a great companion to burgers, fries and cheese. The fries were laden with a borderline obscene amount of salt. Sea Salt is beautiful, but to a certain extent. And there was no escaping them on the burger and all around the plate. Something had to give. The only thing that gave me some relief was the balsamic reduction, drizzled on the light bun. The sweetness was an effort in the right direction to ease the salt assault.

My other half ordered the day’s special, which was a tilapia sandwich topped with arugula and a roasted pepper aioli. It was also a pretty sandwich. It tasted good and it was simple. The roll it was on was lovely and light, but buttery and decadent too. The arugula gave a little bit of the bitter kick needed to spice up the sandwich with the mild fish and the mostly nondescript aioli. It was not a terribly heavy sandwich, which rendered a little disappointment for my hungry partner. He ate his fries, salt and all, but wanted more.  

JAR 1.10.13
Brigid’s is a sweet place, both a bar and dining experience. The menu has a note of complexity mixing with the classics we are all familiar with, creating the atmosphere of a gastropub. You can get a good brew and a filling meal, but you can also come and enjoy the special menu selections. We might have come at a weird time of day, getting the bottom of the batch and the end of resources before prep for dinner. I really enjoyed the space, and am curious as to what it would be like at a busier time. I feel there is room for growth with the food flavors, sophistication and execution, but Brigid’s is a good place to try off the beaten path.
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1.10.13
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1.17.2013

second YELPing

RER 1.9.13
Check out my review on yelp for Pizzeria Stella in Philadelphia. The pizza is beyond delicious; hot, cheesy, well endowed. It's fancy and fast at the same time.

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Don't forget there is always something new and delicious to see on FOOD-tography too!
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1.17.13
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1.15.2013

italian MY WAY: Modomio


RER 1.9.13
Unfortunately, extreme hunger is often times paired with extreme indecision, which only delays satiation. It was hard enough to decide on a place to go in an unfamiliar city, vibrant with choices and history. But the thick cloud of hunger and disorientation made things that much more difficult. Sure we had a late lunch, but thin crust pizza wears off quickly in our bellies, and that time came faster than we thought.

After a quick perusal of an outdated Phillymag.com “Top 50”  in Philadelphia, my travel companion blindly chose Modomio , known for its Turista prix- fixe, BYOB and the excruciatingly unfamiliar “Cash Only.” And a few recalculating attempts via GPS and a few blocked streets later, we finally found our way to the restaurant. A giant wine store across the road helped us with one of the anchoring characteristics of Modomio, but a tiny sign on the door startled us with the last (we had enough cash, whew).

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The menu is small, but dense, and changes with the seasons and availability. Each element is extensive and sounds exquisite from the ingredients and the luxury of technique. There are a lot of words on the menu, leading to lengthy descriptions that would suck all mystery from the dish. Instead, it created fancy images that in the end turned out to be far from correct.

Our server was extremely enthusiastic in helping us in our journey, recommending dishes and friendly conversation. She described what she liked best, showing us “her way” in Modomio, which we really appreciated. It was a kind of honesty and genuine interaction that we do not always encounter. With her guidance, we decided on the Turista tasting, four courses for $35; antipasto, pasta, secondo, and dessert. This gave us everything we wanted (times two). For each stage we picked at and tasted each other’s dish, giving a rounder experience of the chef, the kitchen, and the vision. 

JAR 1.9.13
The mussel appetizer, ordered white and hot, was delicious, the ingredients were fresh and whole. The white sauce was thin and wet, concealing the moderate spice and heat. It was the kind of spiciness that is subtle and sophisticated, present, but enough to ruin your mouth and the entire dish. It kicked at the back of the throat, and blended nicely with the meaty mussels.

The single scallop on the other hand, had no heat, but a richness from both the plump scallop and the heavy potato pancake. Between the perfectly cooked scallop and the dense potato, was a layer of mild radicchio smothered in a balsamic reduction with a thin line of crusty melted cheese. This whole combination was magical. All the different flavors melted into one, creating a beautiful and memorable dish. Although radicchio is bitter and unsavory at times, this usage was intended to break up the richness and add a little bite. The balsamic mildly concealed the abrasiveness, but I could have done with less radicchio, as it almost scars the mouth.

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For the pasta, I tried the recommended lasagna, topped with a perfectly fried egg. The addition of a fried egg adds richness and creaminess to most any dish. The melding of the yolk with the melted mozzarella and the creamy tomato sauce resulted in decadence. The layers of pasta embedded in the meat studded Bolognese, was fresh and limp, porous enough to be inundated with the sauce and egg accoutrement. It was cheesy and meaty on the inside, however the creamy tomato sauce surrounded the nice sized tranche of the classic pasta. This tomato sauce was almost surprising, smooth and chunky at the same time, acidic and cooling.

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The Agnolotti del Plin, was an obvious fresh made rabbit ravioli drowned in sage brown butter. The plate was not pretty, a few ravioli floating in a pool of glistening brown butter. Rabbit, mildly unfamiliar to me, is meaty and gamy, but at the same time stringy and light, a stark contrast to what I am used to. The ravioli were heavy and thick with pasta, drenched in butter infused with sage. The tastes were delicious but it was perhaps too heavy.

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The meat courses, unfortunately, took a downhill turn. The concepts were beautiful on paper and on the plate, but fell short in the mouth. The seared duck leg was striking, draped with a pretty fried egg, on mono-colored bed of goccia and an apricot gremolata. The duck along with the fried egg might have been too rich, especially following a heavy pasta dish. The duck was moist and fatty, but some of the components underneath were superfluous and messy. The apricots, however, broke the fat with tart sweetness, and revived the dish. 

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The Bistecca, also was a little overbearing. The seasoning of the steak was overwhelmingly salty. It was topped by vibrant colors—scallions and sundried tomatoes. Underneath the meat, drowned in its juices and other flavoring was a chickpea pancake, made thin and folded to create mass. Some how not all of the flavors came together nicely, making the magic of the dinner to that moment dissipate.

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Dessert, too, was not at the level of the first courses; scant and almost monotone. The warm apple tart as suggested by our server was a slim sliver, and left me longing more, more tart and more dynamic. The slender slice was packed with apple, not quite sweet, but mostly tart, though not surprising. A dollop of cool rosemary ice cream, which had more essence of the herb than the flavor, topped the tart. It was almost too delicate to stand up to the bold apple, melting all flavors into one.

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The bread pudding, dotted with cherries suffered a similar uniformity. The stiff chunk of pudding slid into obscurity with a healthy spooning of crème angalise. The cream on top only emphasized the creaminess of the custard, inflating that singular flavor, rather than the element of difference, the cherries.

The restaurant was cozy, reminding me of a few restaurants I visited during my stint in Bologna. Maybe it was the friendliness, exhibited by our server’s eagerness, or the little taste of bread topped with a kind of tomato pesto, or it was the complimentary shots of Sambuca, that emanated the warmth. Even the BYOB and cash only policies felt inviting in the small dim restaurant. The food was like comfort food, sometimes too heavy and too salty, but always warm. Despite the fall of the meal, it was really an enjoyable experience, like our own guided tour. 
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1.9.13 
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