Tuesday, June 29, 2010

My Birthday Celebration

I normally go out to dinner for my birthday locally, but this year I wanted to go out with a group of my friends and it HAD to be in the city. I was craving the city! I knew I wanted to go to one of Jose Graces’ restaurants. He is an awesome and creative Iron Chef that has a bunch of restaurants in Philly. Basically I’m a big fan of his, oh and as a plus he’s very veg friendly! Side note here: A lot of chef’s HATE vegetarian’s period. Take this quote from Anthony Bourdain “Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food. The body, these waterheads imagine, is a temple that should not be polluted by animal protein. It's healthier, they insist, though every vegetarian waiter I've worked with is brought down by any rumor of a cold.” They think we are void of any fun, but personally I think I have to be more creative as a veg cook than some of these Chef’s are. Since I’m allergic to soy and will not eat processed fake meat junk, I have to come up with fun creative recipes that I like. I also have to be creative because I like to make dishes that are substitutes for meat dishes I loved in the past. Ok I’ll get off my soapbox now! Back to Jose Garces. I’m so impressed with his creativeness and his care for vegetarians. I mean we’re in philly, there is not a HUGE veg movement out here, so kudos to him and his restaurants. I really appreciate a good restaurant that caters to everyone, so I made up my mind and it was either Amada or Chifa. I was leaning towards Amada, but I ate at Chifa when I was a meat eater and the pork belly bao buns were calling to me. So when I learned that they had a tofu version, I decided on Chifa. When I called and made a reservation, I asked if they still had the tofu version of the pork belly buns and they said yes and that they had a full veg menu. Yay!
We had a group of 8 people and there was a lot of variety so I have some pictures, but not all because we were hungry! Oh and the presentation may not look great in all of the pictures because some of us, including myself, dug in before I could take pictures. For the meat dishes, I will provide the commentary I overheard by the meat-eaters of the night.
The menu is basically a tasting menu although, there are a few larger dishes. The waitress recommended 2-3 plates per person. I thought we were all pretty big eaters, but a lot of people were struggling with 2-3 per person and the dishes were staggered well. The veg menu was pretty extensive and it doesn’t come out automatically, so ask for it. Also, when ordering say the dish you want is off the veg menu because a lot of the dishes are adapted from non-veg items on the menu. One of the most exciting menu items for me was the veg ceviche. Sadly, I didn’t get to try it this time.
A great thing about Chifa is that they welcome you by bringing out warm yucca rolls with a sweet and spicy butter. They are one reason Chifa is a must when your in Philly. The warm soft rolls with the butter just melt in your mouth…yumm!
My first dish was the Tofu bao were amazing they actually got better with every bite!  The tofu was firm and coated in hoisin, the pickled veg made a great contrast to the hoisin and togarashi mayo, and the buns that held the tofu were soft like pillows.  I would come back here just for these. 

 Tofu Bao Buns
To my amazement no one got the pork belly buns, the must have dish at Chifa. I was actually a little relieved because I loved them so much. It would have been like watching someone eat the last chocolate bar in existence in front of you. Anyway, my friends got the duck bao buns and they liked them. I was too busy eating my own to get anymore commentary on that dish, but it looked good if you like duck.
 Duck Bao Buns
One of the big hits with the meat eaters was the Thai Beef Salad. It had kobe…enough said… They said it was great with the herbs and the dressing. They would all highly recommend this salad.
 Thai Beef Salad (one of the dishes with a few bites missing) 
Another salad was the House green salad with the sweet chili vinaigrette. I actually got to try this and it was great. It was sweet and then it finished with a kick in the back of your throat.

The Chicken wings are not red flaming wings you get a sports bar. Apparently I should have warned the guys that got them, but they should have read the menu and realized they would be an Asian style wing. From my experience Asian wings are normally fried and are lightly sauced. Domenick enjoyed them, but there was A LOT of garlic on them so if you are planning on kissing anyone or having a romantic evening I would not recommend getting them. Out of the 3 people that got these only 1 would recommend them.
 Chicken wings
A friend was deciding between the squid and the mussels and I had read on a few blogs that the mussels were to die for. He said they were too small for his liking, but the broth was good.  
Unfortunately, the yuca fries came out with so much red chili mayo that they looked and tasted like cheese fries. I totally forgot they came with cilantro chimichurri until my friend said hmm there’s green stuff on this one. Then I tried the chimichurri and it was AMAZING. I was very disappointed that I was saving room for my entrée at this point so I couldn’t eat anymore with the chimichurri. Next time I would get the mayo on the side since it overpowered even the fries.  Everyone else enjoyed these though. Oh and there’s enough to split between 4 or more people
 Yuca Fries
Four people ended up getting the Lobster bowl, which I remember being amazing from my meat-eating days and they all agreed it was one of the best dishes of the night, if not the best. It’s basically like Fettuccine Alfredo with bacon, peas, and lobster. Now how can that EVER be a bad thing? Well unless you’re a veg of course!
 Lobster Bowl
When the Pho came out I was very jealous. It was basically a noodle bowl if anyone has been to the noodle shops in Hawaii, but it had Kobe! The Kobe was placed on top and it was raw. Then when mixed in with the broth it cooked. So you could “cook” the Kobe to your liking. If I was a meat-eater I would have to try this dish. I really wish there was a veg version of this… I actually may try to replicate this soon because I’ve been craving Ramen.
The Pork Bowl was very similar to the pho but with cooked pork, once again I was envious of this dish. I really need to find a place that offers veggie ramen and not the crap out of the packet! 
 The Pork Bowl
I got the veg version, but the “meat” version comes with jumbo lump crab. It was very sweet and spicy like a red curry but I LOVED the addition of edamame and eggplant which I’ve never had in a curry before. 
 Red Curry
I don’t remember the name of the dish but it was a veg version of a tamale with mushrooms. It was a little too bland for me but it was still really good. If you are a veg and do not like spicy, this dish is for you.

A big hit with the guys was the Allagash on draft. It happens to be one of my favorite beers but I was in the mood for cocktails.
My favorite and the collective favorite cocktail of the night was the Yuzu & Thai Basil Caipirinha. It was simply amazing. Light and refreshing, it was the perfect summer drink. 
 Yuzu & Thai Basil Caipirinha
I also tried the Freseca. It was like a gin mojito, it was also really good but nothing could compare to the Caipirinha.Then I saw the Spicy Margarita. I love spicy and I love margaritas. Unfortunately, this was worst decision I’ve made, probably in my whole life. It honestly tasted AMAZING, but after two sips I had the WORST heartburn I’ve ever had in my life. Between three people we could only choke down ½ of this drink. Please do yourself a favor and avoid this drink at ALL COSTS!!!! You’ve been warned!
 The Drink from HELL
After the fire in my throat, esophagus, and stomach, I didn’t really want dessert but I figured maybe it would cool the fire down. I had the Banana-Passion Mousse. It was alright but I probably wouldn’t get it again. It was a waste of calories.
 Banana-Passion Mousse
Domenick had the Captain Crunch Donuts. Everyone made fun of him for getting them, but they were AMAZING! When it comes to dessert don’t try to do light and refreshing because you will be disappointed like I was. 
  Captain Crunch Donuts
Two people had the Turron De Chocolate. I don’t remember what they said about it and I didn’t try it, but my advice is, get an order or two of the donuts and pass them around the table!
 Turron De Chocolate
Chifa is a great restaurant and I will be back!
After a stop at Walgreens for Tums because I was still hurting, we went to APO because it was closer than Franklin Bar. I wish we wouldn’t have stopped here because Franklin was so amazing. At APO, the drinks were alright. Actually the best drink there was non-alcoholic. Since I was still feeling the burn after eating a ton of Tums, they mixed me up some ginger ale with bitters. It was very yummy and I would recommend it.  As for the alcoholic drinks my advice would be the Whiskey flight. It was a decent price for what you got and it will get your drunk fast, which is critical because of the high drink prices in the city. 
After the disappointment of APO and after I was feeling better, we decided to leave and go to Franklin Mortgage & Investment. Unfortunately, we only had little over an hour to get there and get drinks, well a drink. The damn train’s latest departure to Lansdale is at 11:20…grr…way too early for the city!
Franklin Mortgage & Investment is named after the largest alcohol ring in the country (during the prohibition). It is also modeled after a speakeasy and it was the best bar I have ever been too. But you have to know my style. I was born during the wrong time period….
When we got to the bar which has a very small sign (we actually passed it since it was below a salon) we were asked how many and then the bouncer went down to clear it with the people inside the bar. Our ID’s were checked and then we were led down the stairs into the bar. They seated us at a large table with a comfy booth and chairs. They’re menu is quite extensive, but they are all classic drinks with a new-age twist.  The best part is that they are all made with fresh juices, fresh ice, and REAL ingredients. You won’t get Cranberry Cocktail and Vodka here folks. The drinks we had were all wonderful and unfortunately I do not remember their names, but there are some pictures below.

For the drinks that were like manhattans the waitress came out lit an orange peel on fire and then rubbed it around the glass. It was a pretty amazing show.
I’m so disappointed we only had an hour here and only 1 drink, but I will definitely be back!

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