Ardiente: Dia de los muertos and brunch!

Dia de los muertos! The day of the dead is a holiday celebrated throughout Mexico that focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died, and help support their spiritual journey. We also in Philadelphia celebrate it with a few cocktails and toast our loved ones who have passed. I couldn’t think of a better place to celebrate dia de los muertos than at one of our favorite restaurants, Ardiente, in Old City.

They were having a celebration that night with specials and live music. It seemed perfect and it was. The festivities started a little later in the evening so we ate beforehand and stuck with cocktails. Have I told you how amazing the cocktails at Ardiente truly are? Yes I have! We started out with our favorite, a pisco sour. This is a very dangerous cocktail. It is so delicious. We could stick with this all night and be perfectly happy.

They were debuting a wonderful new drink that they were going to feature on their new brunch menu the next day, the diablo. It was amazing. Made with tequila, créme de cassis, lime and ginger ale, it was smooth and refreshing. Add this to the danger list! Okay, so we had a few cocktails that night but when you go to Ardiente, you’ll understand why it’s so easy to have so many. They are all so good.

As an added treat, we ran into a good friend and amazing musician at the restaurant, Pablo Batista. He is a fantastic percussionist and we were lucky enough to hear him and his band play at South a few months ago. He was at Ardiente with his wife and some friends celebrating dia de los muertos like we were and graciously invited us to join them. He will be back at South on December 27th so be sure to go and see him play. He is simply amazing! We’ll definitely be there.

We went back the next day for their new brunch debut and it was outstanding. We started with a wonderful cup of coffee followed by their Bayahibe 75, which is made with botanist gin, passionfruit nectar, simple syrup, fresh lemon juice and sparkling wine, and their Kir Royal, which is made with cassis de dijon, sparkling wine and lemon. Both were amazing! Fresh and refreshing, they were a perfect pick me up to start our brunch.

For food, we started with the chicken tinga dumplings, that are made with cilantro, cumin and garlic. They were outstanding. They steamed the dumplings which we prefer over frying them. The dumplings literally melted in your mouth when you ate them. They were perfect.

Next up was the Ardiente empenadas that were made with edamame, black truffle and shallots. Folks, these empenadas were simply stunning. You got the creaminess of the edamame and just enough black truffle to balance the taste without overpowering it. Absolutely amazing!

For our entrees, we ordered the chorizo congee, which is a rice stew, over easy egg and house made chorizo, and the steak and eggs, which is an adobo skirt steak, with a side of home fries and a hoisin aioli. The steak was cooked perfectly and melted in your mouth. The eggs were poached to perfection and looked more like whipped cream! Every element on the dish was perfect.

To finish up, we ordered a couple more cocktails. I got the Bloody Maria, which was made with tequila and was so good. Eric ordered their Pampered Moose, which was made with combier pamplemousse liquer, fresh lemon juice, bar spoon pavan and toso brut. Again, the balance of flavors and the freshness of each ingredient was perfectly balanced. Not only is Chef Nihad Hajdarhodzic a master in the kitchen, but the bartenders at Ardiente are masters behind the bar!

As we were getting ready to leave, the hostess stopped us and asked us to sit back down because they had a little surprise. They came out with a wonderful slice of lemoncello cake and a glass of champagne for each of us! We were speechless. The staff and owners at Ardiente are such amazing people. We feel like they are family. They truly go out of their way to make sure you are happy and bend over backwards to make sure every time you walk through their doors, you have a memorable experience and leave wanting more. We absolutely love coming here and you will too. Trust me!

 

 

 

Cooper’s Hawk-Oh How We Missed You!

Everyone should know by know how much we love Cooper’s Hawk Wines. They are located nationwide but the closest location to Philadelphia is in Annapolis, Maryland. It’s just a two hour drive and it’s always fun going there. We haven’t been there in several months and we needed to restock on our wines. Time to hit the road and head south!

Cooper’s Hawk in Annapolis is located in a beautiful town center location. It’s surrounded by upscale shops, restaurants, condos, you name it. It’s almost like you never have to leave the area. Everything you could possibly need is at your doorstep. Cooper’s Hawk has two floors. If you enter on the street level, you walk into their wonderful tasting room and wine shop. Upstairs is their fantastic restaurant. When we visit them, we usually do a wine tasting first, sample new wines, then head upstairs for a bite to eat.

After a wonderful wine tasting, we took the elevator upstairs and decided to have dinner. The food at Cooper’s Hawk restaurant is always excellent. We have never had a bad meal here. If they ever open a shop in Philadelphia, trust me when I say, they would rival the top restaurants in the city.

We started our dinner with their wonderful pretzel bread and a bottle of their “Origins” red wine. It is part of a collaboration with Lynfred Winery and it was delicious. It had hints of black cherry, raspberry, vanilla, baking spices and dark chocolate. It was a wonderful wine and would pair beautifully with our entrees.

We first started with an order of Asian ahi tuna sashimi which was so delicious! It’s served raw with a ponzu-ginger vinaigrette, avocado, radish, wasabi cream and Sriracha. It’s one of our favorites! The level of flavors you get in every bite is amazing and it just melts in your mouth.

For our entrees, we both went with the surf and turf. I ordered the sliced ginger soy glazed NY Strip with the Mexican drunken shrimp. The steak was cooked to perfection and was delicious. The shrimp was served bacon-wrapped, with a tequila lime butter sauce and fresh guacamole. The dish also came with potatoes and oven roasted vegetables. Everything was perfect. And Cooper’s Hawk doesn’t skimp on portions. There was so much food that I had to take some home.

Eric’s entree was their parmesan-crusted filet medallions and the soy ginger Atlantic salmon. Both were to die for! The filet was cooked a perfect medium rare and literally melted in your mouth. The salmon was perfectly cooked and tasted heavenly. The dish also came with potatoes and oven roasted vegetables. It was amazing!

For dessert, we split their key lime pie which we had never tried before. It was so good! It wasn’t too sweet or overly acidic. It was a perfect balance of citrus and lime. It was truly one of the best key lime pies we had ever tried. Once again, we were blown away by the quality of the food but considering how many times we have eaten here, we’ve come to expect excellence and we were not disappointed.

Annapolis is a perfect day trip or weekend trip if you’re looking for a quick getaway without the hassle of a long drive. If you ever decide to head there, promise me that you will stop by Cooper’s Hawk. You’ll be hooked instantly.

 

Ardiente: Perfection Repeated

If you haven’t heard about Ardiente or haven’t been there yet, I have one word for you, go! We were lucky enough to take part of their grand opening party a few weeks ago and had a fantastic time. Please check out my earlier article about them. The decor is stunning. The food and drinks are amazing. It’s a perfect blend of Asian-Latin cuisine and it is simply delicious. We’ve been meaning to go back since the opening and last Friday we headed down to Old City and back to this amazing restaurant. Would it be as good as we remembered? Absolutely!

Ardiente has quickly become one of our favorite restaurants. Let me start with the staff. You’ll be hard pressed to find a more energetic, dedicated and friendlier staff in the city. You truly get the sense that they really love working here and will go out of their way to make sure you have a wonderful experience.

On this night, I started out with their wonderful Szechuan sangria. It’s probably the best sangria I’ve ever had. It’s made with a blended red wine, Grand Marnier brandy, Chinese five spice-Szechwan peppercorn syrup, fresh apples, oranges and Asian pears. It is incredible. Eric ordered the Old City Sour. It’s made vida mezcal, house sour mix, agave nectar, angostura bitters, egg white and tempranillo float. Oh my God! This drink was out of this world. We love mezcal and this just knocked it out of the park. Eric said it was the best mezcal drink he’s had in the city. I whole heartly agreed!

We only put in an order for a couple of food items but Chef Nihad Hajdarhodzic wanted us to sample a few more. He is a wizard when it comes to food. We were lucky enough to talk with him when we first arrived. He is from Bosnia and has an amazing knack for mixing flavors. He was truly pleased that we loved the dished he prepared. The first dish that came out was a pickled jicama and fresh kimchi appetizer. It was the perfect way to start our culinary journey. It was delicious. It was perfectly seasoned and had a great balance of acidity. Next up was the fried shishito peppers that were so good! They were perfectly fried and had a beautiful smoke rub. We also were treated to their amazing fire roasted spicy edamame. Folks, it really doesn’t get any better than this. We’ve had really good edamame but these are just on another level.

Next up was one of our favorites, their traditional ceviche, which is the fish of the day, leche de tigre and tostones. You simply have to try this yourselves to see how incredible this dish is. You taste the freshness of the fish and paired with the saltiness of the tostones, it is a match made in heaven. We then tried their glazed filet mignon, served with tamarind teriyaki and plantain mofongo. Where to begin. First, you won’t find a better filet mignon in the city. Period. It is cooked a perfect medium rare and just melts in your mouth. You don’t even need a special knife to cut the filet, it is that tender. The mofongo, which is a classic Puerto Rican dish was absolutely delicious. Paired together, it was fantastic.

Our last dish was a chorizo fried rice topped with a perfectly poached egg and fresh herbs. How does the chef do it? It was delicious. The presentation was beautiful, the smooth texture of the egg and the saltiness of the chorizo was a perfect marriage. It was just a stunning dish.

Now, more about the drinks. Eric ordered the Hotel Nacional, which is made with Don Q anejo rum. He loves Don Q rum and has always told me, if you are from Puerto Rico, which he is, you drink Don Q! I ordered the Pisco Sour. Folks, the Pisco Sour was hands down one of the best cocktails I’ve ever had. It was so good that Eric finished his Hotel Nacional and quickly ordered it as well. It’s made with control c pisco, house sour mix, egg white, orange bitters, angostura and blue curaco garnish. Words really can’t describe how amazing this drink is. If you go to Ardiente, and you better, this has to be on your “must try” list. Trust me, you will love this drink! Just as the chef is a wizard with food, the bartenders are equally amazing when it comes to cocktails.

I just can’t stop raving about Ardiente. It’s located in the charming Old City area, the decor is stunning, the food and drinks are amazing. In one word, this restaurant is perfect!

Bluecoat: Sunday Cocktails for a Good Cause

Back in mid-October, we headed over to Philadelphia Distilling, home of Bluecoat Gin, for a wonderful event, “United We Create-An Artisan Collective”. They had several artists at their location featuring live demonstrations and giveaways. They also had food samples courtesy of Hungry Pigeon which were delicious. If you have never been to Philadelphia Distilling, I highly recommend you go. The decor of the distillery is fantastic. It’s rustic yet very inviting and the cocktails are to die for.

They had several new cocktails on the menu and they all sounded fantastic. We tried quite a few and love every one of them! We started with the Sparks Shot Tower and Elfreth’s Alley. Both were really good. Sparks Shot Tower was made with Bluecoat gin, beet, lemon, ginger and black cardamom and Elfreth’s Alley was made with Bluecoat elderflower gin, maraschino liquor, blanc vermouth and Peychaud’s bitters.

Next up, we tried the Clover Club and Intolerable Acts. Once again, both drinks were delicious! The Clover Club was made with Bluecoat gin, raspberry, lemon and egg white and the Intolerable Acts was made with Penn 1681 vodka, French oak orange liquor, almond orgeat and creme fraiche. It’s simply amazing that someone can come up with such unique, delicious drinks.

For round three, we tried Nevermore and Butler’s Raid. So far, all the cocktails were amazing and these were no different! Nevermore was made with Penn 1681 vodka, cantaloupe, lemon, star anise, vieux carre absinthe and sparkling wine. Butler’s Raid was made with Bluecoat gin, clementine, aperitif, sweet vermouth, fernet and toasted chai spice. Both were absolutely fantastic!

To end our drinkfest, we ordered the Blind Tiger which was made with Bluecoat gin, coconut, sesame, lime leaf, lemongrass, galangal and egg white. It was so good! At the end of our evening, it was very difficult to decide which cocktail we liked the best. They were all made exceptionally well and had a wonderful balance of flavor.

Besides the tasty treats provided by Hungry Pigeon, we also ordered from the kitchen, their Wellfleet oysters and 3 pierogis, potato and cheese, South Philly jawn, and truffle cheesesteak. Wellfleet oysters are well know for their fresh taste and these were delicious. The pierogis were also delicious. They came out hot and fresh. We loved them all.

Philadelphia Distilling is such a fun place to spend time with friends and enjoy good food and terrific cocktails. They have a small gift shop when you walk in and trust me when I say, you will more than likely leave with a couple bottles of their terrific gin, vodka, or both! Make sure you visit Philadelphia Distilling soon! I guarantee you will have a great time!

Porta-A New Brunch Hotspot

Porta is one of our favorite restaurants in Philadelphia. The food, drinks and service are top notch. How would they be able to top this? With a wonderful new brunch menu, that’s how! We recently were invited to try out their new brunch menu and we were pretty pleased with it.

Porta restaurant has multiple levels and we’ve never been to their upstairs restaurant area. It’s mainly reserved for private parties and events. They launched their new brunch menu in the upstairs area and we were so excited to finally get a glimpse of it. To say it was beautiful is an understatement. There is a really nice sized bars area and the total area looked to be able to sit 50 or so people. It was decorated in a French, rustic decor that was stunning.

As for the food, let’s get started. Brunch started with a wonderful cheese plate that included blue cheese, manchego, pickled cauliflower with a buffalo drizzle, blood oranges and baked pita chips. It was delicious and a wonderful way to start our brunch. Next up, we ordered The Maddie, which had mozzarella, tomato and basil. This too was delicious.

For our entrees, we ordered the Egg Cloud and the Mushroom Grilled Cheese. We also put in an order of the spicy maple sausage. The Egg Cloud was heavenly. The hollandaise was coating the perfectly poached egg and paper thin sliced potatoes. My only complaint would be that there wasn’t any bread to soak up the sauce. The Mushroom Grilled Cheese was good but it needed some tweaks. First, there was too much maple syrup. The sandwich was almost drowned in it and it tasted a bit too sweet. The syrup overpowered the truffle pecorino. The bread was too grilled. A little less time grilled and it would have been perfect.

To finish off brunch, dessert was a berry cobbler. Let me tell you about this cobbler. It was perfect. The crust was moist, the berry compote had a perfect balance of acidity and sweetness. The cannel of plain vanilla ice cream was the cold shock that one’s body needs after a hearty, hot brunch.

For drinks, we decided to order a carafe of their strawberry mimosa. It was wonderful. Not too sweet and not overly flavored with strawberry, it was a perfect mix of flavors. All in all, it was a wonderful brunch. It just needs a few minor fixes in my opinion but other than that, it was delicious.

I’ve come to expect perfection from Porta and overall they didn’t disappoint. This new brunch menu was fun and funky. I’d definitely go back for the decor, service and the food. Make sure you get to Porta! You’ll be happy you did.

 

Ardiente-New, Stylish, Perfection!

A few weeks ago, we were lucky enough to attend the official grand opening of a new restaurant in Old City, Ardiente. After previewing the menu online before the opening, we were really excited about going to this new restaurant. There cuisine is a fusion of Asian and Latin flavors, and boy did they nail it.

When you first walk into the restaurant, your eyes wander all over. The place is beautifully decorated. There is something to see everywhere. The decor and lighting, especially the lighting, plays a big part in the overall dining experience. Every part of the restaurant evokes a different emotion based on the lighting. There is subtle, sexy, intrigue and mystery depending on where you are in the restaurant. And I haven’t even touched on the best part. Downstairs, there is an amazing, cozy, sexy speakeasy setting that is to die for. The most difficult decision you will face is where you want to be seated, upstairs or downstairs!

The menu this night was chosen by the chef. We started with the spicy edamame that was roasted. It was delicious. As you bite through the skin to get to the seeds, the fire roasted taste was predominant and perfect. The next course was fresh burrata with fire roasted bread which again was delicious. The bread, even though fire roasted, was not over cooked. and the burrata was freshly made and just heavenly.

Our next course was a traditional ceviche that consisted of the fish of the day, leche de tigre and tostones. It was to die for! Eric, who was born in Puerto Rico, claimed that these were the best tostones he’s ever had outside Puerto Rico. The ceviche was amazing! It was so fresh and light and the paired tostones paired perfectly with it. Next up were their vegetarian dumplings which were so good. Perfectly cook, not too fried, not to doughy.  It was seasoned perfectly and with each bite, you got a full taste of vegetables. They certainly didn’t skimp when they stuffed the dumplings.

Next up was their spare ribs. These may have been the best spare ribs I’ve ever tasted! The meat just fell off the bone! It was so juicy and moist, seasoned perfectly, I could have eaten these all night. The next item served to us was the chilled soba noodles. Let me just say, everything up until now was perfect. Would they continue their streak? Yes they would and with flying colors! The sesame dressing, chilies, edamame and cucumber were such a wonderful paring. It was a nice, refreshing change and absolutely delicious. If you have as good a palate as me, tell me what the mystery ingredient was included on my Facebook page!

The food didn’t stop and we were next served shaved brussels sprouts which were absolutely incredible. Served with poached pears and preserved lemon vinaigrette, they tasted amazing. To break things up, they served a wonderful arugula salad with crispy wontons, pears and shaved parmesan. It was a wonderful pallet cleanser and tasted delicious. The bitterness of the arugula with the sweetness of the pear was a match made in heaven.

Onward, we felt we were borderline full, but the staff are master of pacing the meal. Never did they rush each course. They gave you enough time to digest your food without coming out with the next dish. And the food kept coming. Next up was the crispy Cornish hen. This is a tricky dish. It’s easy to overcook and if you do, it will be dry and tasteless. Undercook the hen, and you might as well toss it back with their living counterparts! This was cooked perfectly. How is it that the chefs here could continually cook everything perfectly? To this day, I don’t know but they did it. The hen was hot, juicy and tender. Served with baby greens, and a lemongrass sauce, you could see that Asian Latino fusion in every dish.

The next dish was one of my favorites of the night, a beautifully cooked cauliflower with pecans, lime and cilantro. Absolutely delicious! The level of flavor was just incredible. Mixing the salt of the pecans, the tartness of the lime and the punch of the cilantro is genius. This dish was like art on a plate. The final serving was a jasmine rice, scallion and crispy chicharron fried rice. It was simply brilliant. Chicharron can be salty but paired with the jasmine rice was just amazing. Trust me when I say, every dish was perfect. I had zero complaints.

Drinks! With all this wonderful food, how could I forget the amazing drinks! All night, they were serving Tattinger Champagne which was delicious! On top of that, we ordered their take on a classic cosmopolitan with Swedish Fish and white cranberry juice. Eric ordered the Hotel Nacional, mainly because it had Don Q Anejo rum which is one of the finest rums in the world. I also ordered the Szechuan Sangria which was amazing. It had blended red wine, Grand Marnier brandy, Chinese five spice, Szechuan peppercorn syrup, along with fresh apples, oranges and Asian pear. At nine dollars a glass, this will be the sangria to end all sangrias. It was the prefect balance of sweet, spice and smoothness. I could have ordered an entire pitcher and still not had enough.

Now for dessert. Yes, the food-fest wasn’t done yet. They brought out a sampler of mini-cakes and mousses. They consisted of passion fruit, chocolate and strawberry shortcake. All there were delicious. The perfect balance of texture, flavor and smoothness. It was the perfect size bites to end a perfect dinner. On top of that, I ordered a wonderful cup of cappuccino. It was delicious and paired perfectly with our desserts.

It’s not too often that I go to a restaurant and get totally blown away, especially if it’s a new restaurant. You would expect some glitches or mistakes on a grand opening. We call it growing pains but it’s to be expected. Ardiente has zero growing pains, zero mistakes, zero glitches. By the end of the night, we couldn’t wait to go back! The decor and lighting of the restaurant, the food, the service, everything was perfect. You have to go to Ardiente. What are you waiting for? Go now!

Suga: Delicious simplicity

The name Susanna Foo is very well known in the culinary world, especially in Philadephia. She has brought gourmet Chinese cuisine to our area and we are so lucky to have her restaurant, Suga, right in our backyard. A mere 10-15 minute walk from our apartment and we are inside this fantastic restaurant. Tucked away on 1720 Samson Street, it is well worth a visit.

We first went to Suga about a year ago during Philadelphia Restaurant Week. In one of my previous posts, I touched upon the age old argument having to do with Restaurant Week. Some don’t like it because they feel the restaurants don’t put their best foot forward. Other’s do like it because they can experience restaurants that may normally be out of their price range. When we last went to Suga, overall the food was good but we felt it could have been much better. And we were right! On this night, everything was perfect.

I was invited to visit Suga again by my good friend Molly, who handles their public relations. She asked me to have dinner and write another review. I was more than happy to oblige! When you first enter Suga, it is long and narrow but warm and inviting. The bar area is located at the front of the restaurant and there are tables to sit at across from the bar, as well as seating at the bar. When you walk past the bar area, you go up a couple steps into a lovely and cozy room decorated with wood throughout. We were seated here to begin what would be an incredible meal.

We started with a couple of cocktails. We ordered the blackberry mojito and the Suga sangria. The presentation on both was stunning and both drinks were delicious. They were incredibly refreshing and would pair very well with our food.

We started our meal with their dumpling sampler, which consisted of chicken, pork, lamb, vegetable, shrimp and wild mushroom. A fantastic sampler indeed and all of them were delicious. The chicken dumpling was probably my favorite because of the wonderful curry flavor. They all were cooked perfectly, not too much dough, not over fried, and stuffed graciously with the filling. Eric said he couldn’t decide which one he liked best, he liked them all! They came with a couple wonderful dipping sauces as well.

Our next appetizer was a chili crab and shrimp wonton. It was made with Maryland crab, crispy shallot and a spicy lobster chili sauce. It was wonderful! I fell in love with the spicy sauce. It had a good amount of heat and paired so well with the crab. It was outstanding! We also ordered the pickled English cucumber cold salad plate and this too was delicious. It consisted of pickled cucumber, edamame, sesame and jalapeño. It had the right amount of heat but was also cool and refreshing.

For our entrees, we ordered the Kung Pao chicken and the braised short rib noodles. Once again, Suga delivered. Both were served hot and delicious. The chicken was so tender and juicy. It was served with peanuts, Sichuan peppercorn and bell pepper. The braised short rib noodles was served with pappardelle pasta, eggplant, tomato, spinach and parmesan. It was so good! The short ribs just melted in your mouth and the pappardelle was cooked perfectly. I would absolutely order either of these two entrees again. It was a wonderful way to end a fantastic meal.

I have to thank Molly again for inviting us to try Suga again. My only regret is that we waited so long to come here again. The food was outstanding and the service was wonderful. Our host, Gabriel Foo was so incredibly nice. He and our waitress made sure we had everything we needed and checked on us periodically to make sure we were fine. Suga is certainly on my list of favorite Chinese restaurants in the city. If you haven’t given them a try yet, do so!