Sep 22, 2008

A Visit to Brasserie Perrier, Special Bourgeois Version

This is what passes for a restaurant review on my blog, my first ever, really.

Last Friday, John, otherwise known as the resident husband in the Dream Kitchen, met me at the 17th and JFK entrance to Suburban Station. We walked on over to Brasserie Perrier, where we had reservations. It was Restaurant Week, which meant that many Phila. restaurants offered economical fixed-price meals. Regional rail was free after 6:30, too. We decided to go to Brasserie Perrier because we can't afford its pricy sibling restaurant, Le Bec Fin, and wanted to go French. Plus I love the word "brasserie," which I imagine describes a small restaurant, a little noisier than one would like, intimate and friendly. Low warm lighting with a lot of brass. I don't know, it's just a cool word, and the word "brass" is already in it.

So we go in, and it's hopping by the bar area and beyond to the small tables in just the atmosphere described above, pretty much. We had early reservations, for six o'clock, just because we are creatures of habit from Stepford, and we always eat then. But the place is, as I said, really hopping. The hostess suddenly whisks us--where?--upstairs. Hmm. To a banquet room. A banquet room! What kind of brasserie is that? It had no windows and wall to wall carpet and bizarrely high ceilings and the kind of chairs you sit on at conventions. My heart sank. Perhaps we had been relegated to sit with all the other second-class Restaurant Week people, the chubby tourists and oldsters. Ew, I said "oldsters." I was feeling that what we were going to get was going to be a not very convincing simulacrum of a "normal" BP meal, away from the thin well-dressed, sparkling crowd below. Oh, and the dull department-store wattage lighting didn't make anyone look any more glamorous than we actually were.

All right, well, let's soldier on, we thought. I ordered a Caesar salad, a dish appropriately boring to the atmosphere, but in my defense, I wanted to get a vegetable appetizer if I was going to have fish for the main dish, and they didn't have any vegetarian entrees, how overly French of them. They don't have to be that French. But it wasn't French enough to have organ meat. Anyway, the Caesar salad. It was good, not enough anchovy flavor, just good in an ordinary way. But it did come with a delectable round crisp made of Parmesan, similar to something we had at Tinto in May. John ordered escargots because he had them once in his youth and fancies himself an escargots man. They were quite tasty in their buttery sauce.

John had scallops for his main course and I had salmon with brussel sprouts and bacon. The waiter asked me how I wanted my salmon cooked, and maybe I don't get out much, but I've never been asked that about fish. It was perfect, just barely done. Really a great dish; the brussel sprouts were "baby" and balanced out perfectly with the bacon and a littl mustard in the sauce. John's scallops were fabulous.

A word about the waiter. I found him a tad robotic. They bring out the robots for Restaurant Week? I had a question for him, "What is that lemony herb on my husband's scallops?" He said, "I don't know, but maybe it's chizzo." Now I've looked up "chizzo" and can't find it, so maybe he said something else. John suspects that the server got confused with an earlier version of the Restaurant Week menu, in which the scallops were served with "chorizo orzo." That would be a heinous error. So the hapless server goes on to say, "Or, it could just be something the chef threw in." Now this is the moment when Mr. Robot should have said, "Let me find out what it is," returning in a minute with an answer. But no. Not for the Restaurant Week people. We are left to wonder in perpetuity.

Dessert? We both got apple galette with caramel ice cream. It was a flat perfectly circular disk of pastry with razor-thin apple slices overlapping perfectly, topped with amazingly caramel-y ice cream. Real caramel has that addictive burnt taste. When I was child I used to make caramel by melting sugar in a spoon over a gas flame, and pouring it into a glass of cold water. This ice cream tasted like that. I may not be making it sound good, but it was. The galette itself was quite tasty, but you should know that I like desserts to be voluptuous, not thin disks. A galette, especially, should be free form.Leave it to the pies and tarts to be circular.

Finally, and I see that I'm sounding cranky, we were rushed along by the server, each course being brought promptly after we had finished the previous. We even had to order the dessert when we ordered everything else. We finished dessert at 6:55, which is pathetic on a Friday night. I think the moral of this is: Restaurant Week is Restaurant Week.

Sep 19, 2008

The Beauty of the Bean

With with all this talk of financial troubles, contaminated meat, an obesity epidemic, and the need to eat sustainably, it's time to consider the lowly bean.

It's beans and more beans here in the Dream Kitchen these days. They're cheap, very good for us, have no packaging if bought dry, and are generally liked by the whole family. I recently made Black Bean Chili with Butternut Squash and Swiss Chard. I used delicata squash and kale, and it worked very well. It was better the second day, as the spices "married" the other ingredients, as my mother used to say. Even Mr. Picky had seconds.

This weekend I'm making a double batch of Chipotle Pinto Beans from Simply in Season; we'll take it to a brunch for Swarthmore College students that my church has every month, hosted by members of the church. I'm hoping there will some left over for our family. Next on my bean agenda? I want to feed the organizers and volunteers at the Obama campaign office in Chester one of these days. Vegetarian chili sounds like a good idea for them. I can just send the crockpot along with my boarder, one of the Chester organizers. He works extremely hard but I fear he exists on a diet of pizza and Coke.

So, beans. What else? Every so often I use chickpeas to make hummus, zesty with fresh garlic and lemon juice. I will say that when I go through the trouble of soaking and boiling up a bunch of beans, I always make extra to have on hand. They're fine on a salad, or you can whip up a bean dip or make soup with them.

It's actually quite difficult to overpraise the humble bean. Have I succeeded?