Tag Archives: Philadelphia

American Spirits Bartender Competition

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Last month, I had the pleasure of attending the American Spirits Bartender Competition, hosted by the National Constitution Center and the Hotel Monaco. The event was, in part, to celebrate the National Constitution Center’s exhibit, American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of the Prohibition, which perfectly portrays the dynamic history, trends, and sprit of the Roaring 20s.

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The competition took place at the Hotel Monaco’s Stratus Rooftop Lounge, a posh yet cozy venue with terrific views of the city.

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The competition featured bartenders from XIX, 10 Arts, Square 1682, and the Stratus Lounge, all showcasing a different Prohibition-themed cocktail.  Nate Churchill of XIX (pictured above) won the competition with his Orange Blossom cocktail, featuring Bluecoat gin, fresh lemon and orange juice, honey, and bitters, served up in a mason jar.

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Chauncey Scates, of Square 1682, offered the Powder Room Punch, which mixed Bluecoat gin, cointreau, Jasmine Tea, lemon, grenadine, and dashes of Peychauds and Angostura bitters on the rocks.  The cocktail was very earthy and fruity, with a pretty coral color.

Bess Gulliver (pictured at top) represented the Stratus Lounge with the Jazz Baby, made with Bluecoat gin, Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth, Pierre Ferrand Dry Orange Curacao, and Averna Amaro, garnished with a flamed orange peel.  The drink reminded me of an Old Fashioned, but with gin instead of whisky.

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Stephen Diaz of 10 Arts served my personal favorite cocktail of the evening.  Featuring Bluecoat gin, St. Germaine, fresh raspberry syrup, and a splash of Dry Brut champagne, the drink tasted like an effervescent raspberry sorbet.  The St. Germaine, an elderflower liquor, added a lovely floral finish.

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The competition was certainly a success.  Thanks to the National Constitution Center for inviting me.  And be sure to check out their exhibit, American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of the Prohibition, where you can learn all about the history and culture of the Prohibition era and channel your inner flapper!  The exhibit runs through April 28, and admission is free on Sundays.

Guinness Believer Tasting Lands in Philly

My friend Tarun and I were lucky enough to attend the Guinness Believer Tasting last night at the World Cafe in Philly.  When I first received the press release for the event, I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical.  Described as a “unique multi-media event led by a Guinness ambassador,” I wasn’t sure what to expect.  But after attending the packed  event, I can wholeheartedly say Guinness has made a believer out of me.

The evening began with a lesson in pouring, in which the audience got to pour their own pints of Guinness Draught.  We learned that it takes one minute and 19 seconds to pour the perfect pint.  For the perfect pint, tilt the glass at a 45 degree angle and fill the glass about halfway, pulling the handle towards you.  Once the foam settles, straighten the glass and fill it to the top, pushing the handle away from you, until the head is proud of the rim (meaning that the foam curves just over the glass, but doesn’t spill over).

Following the pouring lesson, our Guinness ambassador came out to start the show.  Both he, and the show, were quite entertaining and informative.  We raised (several) pints, chanted slàinte!, and learned about the history of Guinness.  Some interesting facts: Arthur Guinness, the founder, signed a 9000 year lease for the brewery at St. James Gate in Ireland, which is still the location of the Guinness brewery today.  And to those who’ve heard that Guinness is like a meal in a glass, apparently 12 oz of Guinness only has 125 calories.

We also sampled 2 other Guinness brews.  The Guinness Foreign Extra Stout was rich with a decadent chocolate flavor, reminding me of a more refined version of chocolate sodas from an old-fashioned soda fountain.  The Guinness Black Lager was lighter, with a heavy coffee flavor and slight bitterness from the hops.  Both were new reincarnations of the classic Guinness Draughts that I’d never tasted before, and I really enjoyed both brews.

The Guinness Believer Tasting was certainly a success in Philly, and it may be coming to a city near you soon!  Next week, they will be heading to Washington, DC, and to Chicago the following week.  Best of all, this event is free to all; just make sure to RSVP in advance.  Join Guinness enthusiasts and rookies alike to raise a pint in your city–slàinte!

Beaujolais & Burgers Really Are A Perfect Pair

I was lucky enough to attend the press tasting for last week’s Beaujolais & Burgers event, hosted by renowned wine merchant Georges DuBoeuf and wine writer Mark Oldman.  The event was quite a success, proving that Beaujolais and burgers really are a fantastic pairing.

The press tasting was very comprehensive, as we sampled 6 varieties of Beaujolais, paired with burgers from 4 excellent Philly restaurants: Alfa, 500 Degrees, Rouge, and Spiga.

Mark Oldman began the tasting by explaining Beaujolais’ flavor profile, describing it as  a white wine straddling a red, meaning it has a lighter mouthfeel than most reds because it has less tannins. Beaujolais also tends to be very fruit forward, with notes of raspberry, cherry, strawberry, and black currant.  Unlike most reds, Oldman also recommends serving Beaujolais chilled, further highlighting its similarity to whites.

Of the 6 wines we tried, my favorites were the Georges Duboeuf Brouilly 2011 (pronounced broo-ey, $14.99) and the Georges Duboeuf Morgon Domaine Jean Descombes 2011 ($15.99).  Both are examples of affordable yet high quality wine.  The Brouilly was on the lighter, refreshing side, while the Morgon was full to medium bodied, with more pronounced red and black fruit flavors.  Both the Brouiily and Morgon paired nicely with the burgers, cutting through the richness of the meat.

And now, onto the burgers.  My two favorites of the night were 500 Degrees and Spiga.  500 Degrees cooked their burger to perfection, leaving the thick patty a lovely pink in the middle.  Topped with arugula, bacon, tomato, and a sunny side up egg, it was definitely very decadent and not for the faint of heart.  Spiga’s burger offered a completely burger experience.  With a much thinner patty, topped with herbed goat cheese, a sweet caramelized onion mostarda, applewood bacons, and sauteed spinach, Spiga’s burger was a success.  I was surprised that all of the accompaniments worked so well together, and did not overwhelm the flavor of the burger.  For more detailed descriptions of all the burgers, see Two Eat Philly and Burger Eaters‘ takes on the evening, who frankly, might be better qualified to evaluate these burgers than me!

Many thanks to Georges Duboeuf, and CRT/tanaka for organizing such a great event!  I definitely left with a much deeper knowledge of the wonders of burgers and Beaujolais

Win Tickets to Beaujolais & Burgers in Philly!

Attention all Unpaid Gourmet readers, burger and Beaujolais lovers in Philly!  On Monday, September 17, Georges Duboeuf, the renowned “King of Beaujolais,” will host a fabulous event in Philadelphia that is sure to excite foodies and winos alike–Georges Duboeuf’s Beaujolais & Burgers: A Night of the Perfect Pairing.  Wine expert and prolific writer Mark Oldman will lead the tasting at The Walnut Room, which will feature handcrafted gourmet burgers from 500 Degrees paired with different Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais wines.

While tickets for the event are $15, with all proceeds benefiting the hunger relief organization Philabundance, ten lucky readers of The Unpaid Gourmet can win tickets right here!  How can you win a coveted ticket to the event?  Join my Facebook page between September 7-10, and you’ll be entered to win.  Winners will be notified via email or Facebook message on September 11.

For more information about Georges Duboeuf’s Beaujolais & Burgers: A Night of the Perfect Pairing or to purchase tickets, click here.  Start liking The Unpaid Gourmet on Facebook to enter the giveaway, and I look forward to seeing all of you at the event!

  

 

The Boilermaker Goes Beyond Beer & Shots

I suspect that many people will go to The Boilermaker for its extensive beer list and its namesake drink.  For the uninitiated (like myself before last Wednesday), a boilermaker is a shot paired with a beer.  But it’s not the pound-on-the-table-and-chug kind of drink you’d find at your local dive bar; rather, the shot and beer are meant to complement each other, and are best enjoyed sipped slowly.  I was intrigued by the concept, and admit that was a partial motivation for attending The Boilermaker’s VIP opening party last Wednesday night.  Though I enjoyed the drink, I was pleasantly surprised to find that The Boilermaker offers much more than beer and shots.

(Photo courtesy of The Boilermaker)

Headed by the folks at The Farmer’s CabinetThe Boilermaker also offers a small but appealing (and expanding) comfort food menu–think hand carved roasts, mac and cheese, and housemade kimchi-topped hot dogs.  Thanks to the management, I was able to try most of the menu at the party, and was very impressed with all of the dishes.  Favorites included the cheeseburger, served on a buttery brioche roll ($12); mac and cheese, a decadent dish lightened with a sprinkling of lemon zest ($8); and the roasted lamb shoulder ($11), which arrived at the table rosy and tender.  But the real standout, surprisingly, was the baked beans ($7).  Sweet and smoky, the beans had a pleasant bite to them, showing they were clearly not from a can.

There are currently no desserts on the menu, but we got to preview the freshly fried zeppoli, which should be making an appearance soon.  Zeppoli are Italian donuts, typically served in a paper bag and shaken up with powdered sugar.  The Boilermaker’s version stays true to the classic, and are as light and airy as can be.  They’ll definitely be a welcome addition to the menu.

While the food is definitely a draw for me, The Boilermaker, of course, is first and foremost a bar.  Featuring 28 rotating drafts and 12 local drafts, its beer list is quite extensive.  And for those who are not fans of beer or boilermakers, there is also a cocktail menu with “simple American cocktails”: Sazeracs, Cobblers, and Juleps.

I sampled the sherry cobbler, California boilermaker, and a classic mint julep (pictured above).  These drinks are definitely not for the faint-hearted, as the bartenders are certainly not stingy with their pours.  The cobbler, an old-style cocktail muddled with fresh fruit and sugar, was refreshing and garnished with a large straw, which was perfect for sucking up the fresh blueberries at the bottom of the glass.  The mint julep, topped with a bushel of fresh mint, was heavy on the bourbon and reminiscent of the Kentucky Derby.  And finally, the infamous boilermaker.  Though I can see the appeal, and the effort it takes to pair the liquors with the beer, I can’t say that I’m a fan.  I enjoyed the beer, light golden-colored Saison that lends itself well to springtime drinking.  I enjoyed the shot, a surprisingly fruity pear gin.  But I can’t say that I really enjoyed them together.

Nevertheless, I did enjoy my overall experience at The Boilermaker.  I will definitely be back for a mint julep, and perhaps a side of those delicious baked beans.  And with everything on the menu under $20, The Boilermaker seems to be a welcome and affordable addition to the Philly bar/restaurant scene.

The Boilermaker
216 S. 11th St.
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 922-3247

Legendary Korean Fried Chicken Back at Meritage

Holy sh*t!  That was my dear friend Pauline’s reaction when I told her that Meritage, a charming restaurant and wine bar near Rittenhouse Square, is bringing back its now infamous Korean fried chicken.  Since Chef Ann Coll debuted this wondrous concoction back in 2010, it’s become somewhat of a cult favorite in Philly, especially given its sporadic appearance on the menu.

Perhaps to keep up its elusive reputation, Meritage will only be offering the chicken on Thursday nights.  The deal includes a platter of the sesame-ginger-garlic-onion-marinated, twice fried free range chicken, plus two sides, for only $16.  To wash it all down, cans of Sapporo will be on special for $5.  And if you’re still hungry, Korean short rib tacos will also be available.

Full disclosure: I have yet to try the chicken that I’ve written so glowingly about in this post.  But I’ll definitely be heading to Meritage soon, before this tantalizing special disappears (again)!

500 S. 20th St. (20th & Lombard)

Philadelphia, PA 19146

(215) 985-1922

Meritage Philadelphia on Urbanspoon

(Photos courtesy of Meritage)

Audrey Claire Lives Up To The Hype

It’s been over a month since my Restaurant Week meal at Audrey Claire, but I still find myself reminiscing about it, even now.  I was skeptical going into the meal, convinced that Audrey Claire would not live up to the high praise it had received from foodie friends of mine.  But, I will happily admit that I was wrong, and that Audrey Claire did, in fact, live up to the hype.

Located on a quiet corner near Rittenhouse Square, Audrey Claire appears low-key and unassuming.  There is no sign displayed outside; just a small, nondescript white building, usually with a line of people waiting to score one of the coveted tables.  Despite the minimalism, Audrey Claire still manages to be warm and inviting.  Large bowls of green granny smith apples provide a touch of color to the otherwise monochromatic interior, and low-lit candles give the small dining room an even more intimate feel.  And every now and then, a burst of flame or a loud sizzle will come from the (tiny) open-air kitchen, located in the back of the dining room.

Given the tiny kitchen, I was impressed by the quality and volume of food turned out by Audrey Claire.  Almost every dish was presented beautifully and executed perfectly, a testament to the skilled cooks manning the kitchen that night (and if I remember correctly, there were only 2-3 people in the kitchen).

Because I went with a large group for Restaurant Week, I got to sample several dishes (restaurant week 3-course prix fixe, $35).  All of the appetizers were outstanding.  Grilled tiger shrimp with baby arugula was certainly a crowd pleaser, as was the baby arugula salad with fresh berries, french lentils and warm goat cheese.    Though simple in preparation, both dishes really showcased the freshness and quality of the ingredients.  Bosc pear and gorgonzola flatbread with toasted sunflower seeds was very pungent from the gorgonzola, but balanced out nicely with the sweetness from the pear and crunch from the seeds.

But my favorite starter had to be the seared haloumi with candied dates and sesame seed compote.  Haloumi is a hard Mediterranean cheese made from sheep’s and goat’s milk, and is very similar to Indian paneer.  The exterior of the cheese was crisp and golden, while the interior was pilllowy and soft.  I especially love anything with dates, and here they imparted a nice fruitiness and sweetness to the dish.

The award for prettiest entrees of the night definitely goes to the chicken milanese topped with arugula and the potato crusted ahi tuna with crispy beets and black truffle vinaigrette.  As with the starters, both entrees really highlighted the high quality of the ingredients and excellent execution in the kitchen.  The chicken milanese was lightly breaded and lemony, and I loved taking a bite of the cold arugula after a bite of the hot chicken.  The tuna was seared to a perfect medium rare, served atop a bed of Israeli cous cous.  Though I was skeptical of the crispy beets and black truffle vinaigrette, they provided an earthy flavor that accentuated the tuna.

Desserts, unfortunately, were uninspiring compared with the rest of the meal.  Maybe I was expecting too much–that I would be blown away by the dessert, just as I had been by the previous dishes.  Regardless of my high expectations, I was disappointed with both the warm chocolate cake and white chocolate bread pudding.  Neither was decadent or very memorable, and both seemed a little dry to me.

Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly recommend Audrey Claire.  Its understated elegance, congenial atmosphere, and refreshingly simple cuisine have won over legions of fans.  And now, they can count The Unpaid Gourmet as one of them.

Audrey Claire
276 S. 20th St.
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 731-1222
Open for dinner 5pm nightly, BYOB, cash only
Audrey Claire on Urbanspoon