Agiato.

If I could tell you about only one restaurant in Philadelphia, it would have to be Agiato.
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Located in Manayunk, Agiato takes you to the heart of Italy, where the food is simple, but flavorful and the atmosphere  is quaint, cozy and filled with conversation.
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I have been to Agiato three times and every time I return my experience is consistently outstanding.  Although the menu may be a little difficult to understand at first (most of it is in Italian) the servers go out of their way to explain, translate and suggest what you’re craving. 
And you can navigate the menu any way you like.  Maybe you’ll have a salad and some cheese, some meat and cheese, an appetizer and a sandwich…the options are endless.  There are no rules or expectations when it comes to ordering because you eat how you want to – as little  or as much as you like.
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At first we thought these little morsels were candy? Marshmallows?  But they were actually sugar!
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During this time dining at Agiato we tried nocerella olives with balsamic pistachios.  I loved how simple this appetizer was and yet it was satisfying and fun to eat.  And I didn’t feel stuffed because an appetizer is supposed to be light after all.  Plus, olives are always fun to eat!  And for only $3 you may feel inclined to try several appetizers.
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A wide  variety of cheese is also served.  Each cheese is only 1 oz. and served with unlimited bread and honey for dipping.  Cheese + honey = an amazing combination regardless of what cheese you are eating.  And you can create a cheese platter with 1, 3, 5, or 7 cheeses, so the options are unlimited! 
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And you can’t beat unlimited bread.  Especially when it is rustic and  light.  It is easy to eat a ton of it.
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This panini has prosciutto, truffled leeks, and walnut pesto.  The flavor combo is unlike any sandwich I’ve ever had.  It is salty, aromatic and as the warm meat melts in your mouth you get a big crunch from the bread.  It is seriously unreal.  I have also tried the panini that has gruyere, caramelized onions and calabrian chili, which tastes like a french onion soup sandwich!  You really can’t go wrong with any of the paninis. 
There are also salads, assorted meats and tramezzini, which is similar to a tea sandwich with the crust cut off and is a light, delicate sandwich.
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And of course the cappuccino is perfect and the homemade gelato is something to splurge on. 
The experience you will have at this restaurant is unlike any other you have had.  You may go to  Agiato for the food, but the service and atmosphere will make you want to stay – and the return again and again.

Vacation for Brunch

The morning Lisa and I went to Cuba was one I will never forget.  It was slightly humid but a perfect summer morning regardless.  We wore dresses and casually walked through the streets with hungry stomachs.
No, I  we did not really go to Cuba.  But step foot in Cuba Libre, located in Philadelphia and you will feel like you just set foot in downtown Cuba.
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The beautiful trees, cultural decorations and open windows create an ambiance like no other.
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We were lucky enough to be invited to enjoy brunch and try the new menu celebrating Cuba Libre’s 10th anniversary which was created by chef Guillermo Perno (James Beard Award for Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic Region & Best Single Subject Cookbook ) and inspired by his trip to Cuba. 

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At first we though we might be experiencing brunch with other bloggers.  Maybe we would sit at a large table together.  Maybe there would be a brunch style breakfast.  Instead we were completely spoiled and sat at a table for two and were given the opportunity to order anything on the menu.   Anything?  Such dangerous words for food bloggers.

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So we decided on the brunch without borders, a tapas style brunch where you pay $25 per person and order as much as you like.
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We both started with the Café Cuba Libre which was exactly what I was looking for.  Sweet, foamy and smooth.
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Each table is given an assortment of bread:
Warm banana bread, guava cream cheese hojaldre, crispy churro and orange-ginger muffin.
Accompanied by mango butter and guava marmalade. Star Note to self, make mango butter.
And then the rounds of food began.  I’m not kidding when I say “rounds”
Round 1:
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Atún Africano
African adobo-rubbed charred tuna, pickled cucumber salad
and avocado salsa. Preserved Meyer lemon-curry oil
Cóctel de Camarones
Cuban style shrimp cocktail. Latino cóctel and avocado salsa
Camarones a la Parrilla
Cuban pesto-marinated grilled shrimp, boniato chip
and arugula salad. Pimentón-lemon vinaigrette
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Round 2:
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Torta de Cangrejo Benedict
Jumbo lump crabmeat and potato cake, poached egg,
avocado mash. Tomato Hollandaise sauce
Frituras de Bacalao
Salted cod fritters. Homemade lemon mayonnaise
Pulpo con Berenjenas
Truffle and citrus marinated grilled baby octopus,
Haitian eggplant salad
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Round 3:
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Cesar de Oriente
Crispy spring roll of Cortez chorizo and shrimp.
Shredded hearts of romaine. Roasted garlic-Caesar
dressing and Cotija cheese
Ensalada de Pollo Rancho Luna
Citrus marinated pulled chicken salad, Napa cabbage,
romaine lettuce, sweet grapes tomatoes, red onions,
cucumbers and crispy wontons. Chinita mustard dressing
Albondigas Camagüey
Chino glazed beef, pork, and pine nut meatballs.
Pickled carrot-cilantro slaw
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Frituras de Malanga
A traditional Cuban appetizer of purple taro root,
garlic and culantro fritters. Tamarindo ketchup
Buñuelos de Espinaca
Spinach and Manchego cheese puffs.
Goat cheese-ranch sauce and organic olive oil
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At first we considered doing a “dessert” round:
Torreja
Hazelnut and almond encrusted brioche French toast.
Frangelico-Mascarpone cheese,
drunken strawberry-honey drizzle
Waffle de Chocolate
Cuban chocolate waffle, chunky banana-sun dried
cherry-vanilla syrup
Which was pretty hard to turn down but our stomachs had all the amazing food they could take.
Our experience went above and beyond what we were expecting.  Between the food, the atmosphere, the great service and fun we had…it isn’t if I will  be back, it is when!  And the brunch deal is just too great to turn down.
Why not take a vacation to Cuba this weekend?  I hear there’s a mojito with your name on it.

Lunch with Linny

It should be known that I just might get in trouble by calling my Mom Linny, even though it is her nickname.  We grew up only being allowed to call my parents Mom and Dad, (and other parent related terms of endearment) but anything that came close to saying their adult names was off limits!
Lunch with my Mom is something special.  She is a teacher so her time is often limited during the school year.  And I’m a server, which means that when she has off on the weekend, I am at work.
But somehow we found time in our schedules to get together for lunch at a place we were both dying to try, Tarantella, located in Medford, NJ.
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Tarantella is an Italian restaurant that has received rave reviews from many friends and family members.
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The restaurant’s recipes reflect those from Naples, Italy and everything from the décor to the service is friendly.
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And it is another great BYOB, so naturally we thought it was even better Winking smile
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Each table is given complimentary bruschetta which was a perfect way to start our meal.  The bread was still warm and crispy and the bruschetta was perfectly seasoned.
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On top of the bruschetta there is a fresh bread basket given to each table.
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I loved that there was a choice of salad dressing although we weren’t quite sure what type of dressing was in each container.  With a few tastes we figured it out.
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As we were eating the desserts kept taunting us.  We were dying to know what types of delicious treats were in there!
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My Mom and I wound up ordering two of our favorite  dishes.  I had a special…sea bass!  It was served over penne with spinach and sundried tomatoes and a cream sauce.  I will admit that I prefer sea bass served with Asian flavors but it was still the same melt-in-your mouth fish!
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Linny had chicken picatta, a lemony chicken dish served with angel hair pasta.
And then…it was time to reveal the dessert.
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We were both surprised to find that the dessert menu was actually a little book put together of detailed descriptions and photos of each item.  When we asked where the desserts were made we found out that they are imported from Milan, Italy!!
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Although it was a hard decision I finally chose a lemon sorbet.
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When I studied abroad in Italy this was my favorite dessert.  They had all different flavors that were served in their respective fruit shells.  I think this is a brilliant idea because what better way to serve a dessert that tastes like a specific fruit than in the fruit itself.  The sorbet was creamy, cool, refreshing and a perfect way to end  my meal.
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And my Mom is a brilliant woman so naturally she had a piece of chocolate cake/mousse, which was rich, decadent and the perfect chocolate fix!
We had a great time, as anyone does when there is great food served.  But most importantly, we embraced the Italian culture by having lunch together and taking time to talk and really enjoy ourselves.  With that said, I think we really need to remember how great of a daughter I am and that I realize calling my mother by her first name is not appropriate.  Let’s hope I don’t have any long lost mob family members that will be sent out to teach me about being respectful to my mother.

Pinkies up… for a winner!

I hope everyone had a great Memorial Day weekend!  Did you try anything new and delicious?  Please  share if you tried anything different.
First, I would like to announce the winner of my Blogher Food 2011 giveaway!  Congrats to Chelsey of Clean Eating Chelsey!  I’m pretty sure I have your address somewhere in my archives but email it to me again just to be sure.
I wish I could have mailed all of you some of the goodies.  Better yet, I wish you would have been there with me.  Hey,why don’t you come next year so we can spend the whole weekend eating and being blog buddies.
But since the next Blogher Food won’t be for a year, how about I tell you another way to treat yourself?
I recently went for tea with some friends at Amelia’s Tea and Holly in Mullica Hill, NJ.  I had been several times with my Mom, sister and Grandmother but this was the first time I was bringing friends.

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Now, I know what you might be thinking.  Tea?  For adults?  Isn’t that what little girls do while playing?  Of course it is.  But why can’t we play as adults?
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Having tea makes you feel fancy, elegant and poised.

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You get to use sugar cubes, tiny tea cups and floral tea pots.

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You sip instead of slurping.  And soup tastes better when you eat it slowly. (Actually I think Amelia’s soup is really that amazing.)
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Most tea places will do layers of an assortment of food such as this one.
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Tea sandwiches are so delicious and simple.
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A scone, pound cake and fresh fruit.
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And assortment of small dessert bites.
But most importantly, having tea is about enjoying the company you go with and actually taking time to slow down and relax.
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You deserve to be treated like a queen!  And I was under the impression that queens didn’t have to pay. Winking smile

Pod Philadelphia.

If you live near Philadelphia or have ever visited, you most likely know who Stephen Starr is.  And if you don’t or live nowhere near here, well let me tell you.  He is the creator and mastermind behind a slew of amazing themed restaurants in the city.  Starr restaurants are not only amazing places to dine, but are so aesthetically pleasing and make dining out feel like an experience.
Or you could just say he is my hero.
I have dined at many Starr restaurants and it seems like every month more pop up! ( I told you this guy was awesome.)  But so far, my all time favorite is POD!!!

Pod is described as a Contempory Pan Asian themed restaurant that serves a wide variety of dishes from main courses to sushi.  Most of the food is served family style, which I love!  And the food is brought out as it is ready.  The restaurant is decorated very eclectically and is futuristic looking.  Even the bathroom is funky!  And if you’re really lucky and happen to snag an actual pod, you and your party can sit inside the pod where you have the ability to change the lighting and have an intimate dining experience.

I went to Pod with some friends for lunch because we all have such different schedules and knew that we would be able to spend less money than at dinner.  We all started off with some martinis, which are described by color.  I had a red martini which is Soho Lychee Liqueur, Smirnoff Vodka and White Peach Puree.

Because I had been here before I suggested we start off with the Tempura Rock Shrimp which is battered shrimp in a delicious sauce with pineapple and walnuts.  The combination is unlike anything you’ve ever tried!!

The crispiness of the shrimp, the creaminess  of the sauce, the tart bite of  the pineapple and the nutty crunch of the walnuts… I think this dish is simply amazing.
Our entrees varied widely!  I made sure to capture what everyone had because it was all so interesting.

Rockin Spicy Tuna: 8pc. spicy tuna roll topped with tempura rock shrimp and spicy aioli

Maki Combination: 6 pc. each spicy tuna roll, eel-avocado roll and California roll
Lettuce Wraps: Wok Charred Beef, Chicken or Tofu Lettuce Wraps Thai peanut sauce
My friend Nichole and I both got the lunch special which came with miso soup, pickled vegetable salad and white or brown rice.
Macadamia Chicken Stir-fry.

And I had…Miso Glazed Chilean Sea Bass. Oh the sea bass.  This is actually the first place I ever tried sea bass and where I fell in love.  While this version does not compare to the dinner version which is served over mashed sweet potatoes and mushrooms, it was delicious, buttery and melt-in-your-mouth good.
I also had some green tea after my martini.

As if we didn’t eat enough amazing food, we all decided that dessert was necessary.  At a place like this where everything is fabulous, it is the kind of thing you just can’t miss.

Mocha Brownie: cappuccino ice cream, dark chocolate sauce, toasted macadamia nuts
Fluffernutter Spring Rolls: spring rolls with warm chocolate peanut butter dipping sauce
Creme Fraiche Cheesecake: black sesame brittle

Butterscotch Brown Sugar Cake: crumbled gingersnaps, butterscotch panna cotta
My dessert was the Ice Sculpture Sorbets: chef’s selection of assorted flavors.  I thought it was the perfect ending to a delicious meal.  I’ll do my best to remember what the flavors were… black berry, mango, coconut and some kind of mint.  The coconut was definitely my favorite!  And it was served on a really cool block of blue ice!!
But I will admit my absolute favorite dessert was the brown sugar cake!!! It was definitely a memorable dessert and quite possibly the best dessert I’ve ever had.  I will definitely be ordering this next time I return!
I really can’t say enough good things about this place.  From the food to the atmosphere, you’ll quickly want to become a regular at Pod.  And maybe Stephen Starr’s BFF…or maybe that’s just me.

Kitchen Consigliere

I often am asked if I like blogging and what it is about blogging that keeps me going.  The answer is quite simple and I can answer in one word.  Sharing.  I love sharing everything from my experience at restaurants and recipes to my photos of my friends and family eating something delicious.  Food is something more than just fuel; it is something I am passionate about.  And why not share something that you love?
So when others recommend recipes or restaurants, I usually take the advice pretty seriously.  Which is why when I was recently in Collingswood, NJ (one of my favorite little towns!) in my favorite little jewelry store (Aenigma) and an employee recommended Kitchen Consigliere , I had to go.
Jay and I had attempted to bring friends here one night and when we decided to call last minute, there was no available space!  It made me want to visit even more.  If it was so loved that we could not even get in for dinner…this place had to be good.

When we first walked in on an unusually cold night in April, the temperature in the room was not the only thing that felt warm.  We were greeted with open arms and sat a perfect table where I knew I’d be able to get some great photos.

Collingswood is a dry town which I think is a great thing for those dining. It helps to lower the bill and you can bring that favorite bottle of wine.  But at Kitchen Consigliere you don’t even need to BYO (unless you’re really thirsty that is) because a complimentary glass is served with dinner.  And a really good glass at that!

After browsing over the menu for a few minutes we realized that the menu was rather simple but included all of the Italian favorites.  Little did we know, the list of specials was incredible.  So for those who desire something more unique than a classic Italian dish, listen carefully because you might just miss what you’re craving.

At this point in the meal Jay went to the bathroom and came back giving me a weird look.  You see, the most research I do about a restaurant is checking out their menu.  But little did we know, the executive chef and owner, Angelo Lutz, is a former criminal who was involved with the mob.  There is an article posted on the wall inside the restaurant that further explains Angelo’s story, or you can check out his cooking show, where he talks about his experiences in each episode.  Since serving time, Angelo has proven now more than ever that he really is a “cook, not a crook”.
Most meals included the house salad which is dressed with an olive oil and vinegar dressing.  I was really excited to see that there were chickpeas on the salad.  I always feel like they had an extra meaty flavor that just makes the salad come together.   I thought it was the perfect size and everything was very fresh and crisp.   A perfect start to the meal.

And what kind of Italian meal would it be if there wasn’t bread?  A basket was served along with olive oil and vinegar, as well as butter.

I wound up choosing one of the specials which included tortellini, shrimp and sundried tomatoes in a creamy sauce.  The pasta was cooked perfectly and the creaminess of both the cheese in the pasta and the sauce melded flawlessly with the bite of the sundried tomato.  And texture of the shrimp was just right, firm but not chewy, which is especially important.

Jay had chicken parmesan which was served with a side of pasta.

As we were eating we kept watching other tables eat ginormous slices of cake so once the idea was planted in our head, we knew that dessert was most definitely on the menu for us that night.  I started with a cup of coffee while we talked and digested a bit.

Then we had a piece of homemade chocolate cake.  Holy delicious.  It was rich, moist, chocolate cake with a melty chocolate middle and garnished with white chocolate chips and a chocolate candy.  It was mouth watering and big enough to feed a family of 5, or maybe the mob.

There was even some left over.

Coming from an Italian family, I would say that I am a bit judgmental when it comes to good Italian food.  But Kitchen Consigliere really exceeded my expectations with not only the food, but the hospitable atmosphere.  It is a place where I feel like I could come back week after week, try something new and really feel at home.  And I wasn’t even threatened by the mob to say that.