I consider myself extremely lucky to be able to eat at high class spots, hole in the wall joints, and everywhere in between on a regular basis (and to the immense detriment of my financial funds). This week I ran the gamut of eating locales, from a modest Philadelphia Cambodian spot, a beach-and-car-consumed treat, an outdoor barbecue and two excellent, although vastly different, New York restaurants. Summer is a time for jaunts of all kinds, and as it threatens to end, I'm thrilled that I've been able to enjoy such a variety of eating experiences.
1. Mussels -- Khmer Kitchen (Philadelphia, PA)
I'm not always a big fan of mussels, in fact, after about three I'm usually out for the count. A former musselhead, I usually go for other bivalve mollusk on offer, leaving these thin-shelled Bearded creatures in the dust...or rather grit. My foodie fanatic partner in crime lives in Philadelphia, and when she recommends a place, I agree no questions asked. We arrived at this down home south Philly joint ready to get after some Cambodian goodness and get after it we did. When my friend insisted on ordering mussels (read: had been talking about them for hours prior) I nodded and graciously agreed, expecting to sample only a few. However, when the dish arrived, the smell was so intoxicating and the sight so fascinating that I wasn't nearly as judicious with my mussel consumption as I'd thought. The sauce, a bright mustard colored yellow with a coconut milk base, filled each shell as did an array of herbs. The taste was completely unique, richly curried but with a delicacy often missing in coconut curries. It was unbelievably nuanced with strong notes of basil, hints of citrus, and many spices I couldn't identify, and kept me coming back like a Bravo Real Housewife promised a record deal. The mussels were tender with no grit to speak of, bursting with flavors of the heaven sauce in which they luxuriated. I'll eat any mussel now, as long as it's covered in that sauce. Don't expect me to get crazy with some white wine garlic shenanigans. Sorry.
2. Sticky Bun -- Kermit's Bake Shoppe (Philadelphia, PA)
What's a car ride without inordinate amounts of snacks? After crushing some Banh Mis from Nam Som (about which I've rhapsodized in the past), we brushed the bread crumbs off our laps, and stopped off at this new bakery for some much needed carbs. I spotted one lone sticky bun, resplendent in its solitude and thick brown coating of sugarcrack syrup, and my heart leapt with an almost romantic longing. As a digestif to my Banh Mi, I cracked into the bun immediately, unfurling it slightly and encountering its tacky outer coating, hard to the touch but luxurious when chewed. The cinnamony goo slipped out of the sides, as the tender sweet dough wrapped around it. We resolved to keep it for later, although the stress of traffic came close to diminishing my willpower. Many listenings of Blurred Lines later (hey, hey, hey) , we arrived at the beach and required a sweet snack mid-bronzing. Squishing my toes in the sand while stuffing my face with such luscious manna of the heavens was an extra sensory experience only dampened by my slightly constraining bathing suit and the resulting combination of sugar and sand beneath my nails. Buns on the beach!
3. Grilled Peaches and Plums (Margate, NJ)
Who doesn't love stone fruits? My love for them, especially in the summer when at their peak, is equal only to my love of the phrase "stone fruit" (which I'll be repeating frequently in the following passage.) For a homemade dinner, we decided to be both seasonal and classy (how else does one live?) and threw some, ahem, stone fruits on the grill alongside corn and barbecue shrimp. Battling some mild grilling mishaps due to a slight overuse of honey and balsamic, our stoned wonders emerged relatively unscathed, softened and caramelized by the grill's heat. While the plums were tasty, the peaches were particularly sublime, their florally flavor gaining a roasted fiery quality, and their flesh practically melting off the spoon. The tang of balsamic cut the sweetness slightly and added depth. The occasional accidental swab of barbecue sauce was a welcome addition in trace quantities, balancing spicy, savory and smoky in a bite that epitomized summer flavors. S-T-O-N-E F-R-U-IT. Peace out, strawbz.
4. Crab Toast -- ABC Kitchen (New York, NY)
It is an unequivocally true fact of existence that mayonnaise and bread make anything better...unless you're lactose intolerant and gluten free, which, luckily, I'm not. At ABC Kitchen, every ingredient is exemplary, and their food doesn't require the usual additives of gratuitous amounts of fat (and a slice of gluten) that many do. However, it sure as hell doesn't hurt. Enticed by almost every offering on the menu, I knew I couldn't leave without sampling the crab toast. The crab was soft and flaky, with a delicate flavor accented by spikes of aromatic dill. The creamy aioli played off the crab both in texture and taste, its richness holding together the shards of meat, and the tangy lemon flavor creating contrast with its springy acidity. The crusty, country bread was a sturdy foil for the shellfish, and it gained enormous flavor as the liquids seeped into it from above. An added squeeze of fresh lemon brought the bite together even more fully, and the fish sang brightly as rivulets of the tart juice coated each piece. Thanks to this delightful meal pre-amble, every appetizer since has seemed a bit, well, less than.
5. Brisket -- Fette Sau (Brooklyn, NY)
I know it's shocking that this was my first visit to legendary BBQ spot Fette Sau, but it was, and ensured many more meals there. Our tray overflowed with 'cued goods of all kinds -- ribs, pulled pork and brisket (and, of course some sides.) The brisket's was well marbled, the glistening fat making each bite that much more succulent, and the flavor that much more decadent. Long hours of smoking in high heat created a rich and intense flavor pleasantly complicated and enriched by a slathering of the unbeatable house barbecue sauces. The charred outer crust provided a textural contrast and even more smokiness. Following extensive forays into saucy pulled pork and crisp spicy broccoli salad, I returned with a vengeance to the thick rashers of brisket, unearthing new beefy flavors each time. With my impending move to the neighborhood, I anticipate many such evenings.