Food Book: Philadelphia Chef’s Table : Extraordinary Recipes from the City of Brotherly Love (2012) by April White
By Brette Sember
Philadelphia conjures notions of freedom and American spirit. I visited Philadelphia once years ago and have a few memories of the city that are rather different. The hotel fire alarm malfunctioned in the middle of the night, which did not create a restful trip. The Liberty Bell was extremely underwhelming (MUCH smaller than you might expect) and the famous “Rocky” stairs (at the Philadelphia Museum of Art) were indeed daunting. The cheesesteak was pretty good. The best memory I have is of a meal we had at the restaurant school. So, Philadelphia and food are wedded in my mind.
Philadelphia Chef’s Table (Lyons Press, 2012), by April White, has just solidified this connection for me. This little gem is a collection of recipes from more than 50 of the city’s best restaurants. If you cook from the book, you can visit the city without leaving home. The book is organized by course, and within each it is organized by restaurant. First you get a great introduction to the restaurant and the chef (with a photo also): why it’s hot or well-known, their history, their specialties, and how they think about food there. Then you get at least one of their best recipes – often more (with photos!).
I find that a big part of the character of a city is determined by its restaurants, and this book hands you Philadelphia on a plate. Unlike most of the books I review for this column, this one does not combine text or photos about the city with the recipes, so you’re not going to see cityscapes (other than the two on the front and back pages!) or descriptions of its deep and wonderful history. The focus here is just on the restaurants and their food, but it is an excellent way to virtually travel to and taste the flavors of this remarkable city.
No, there’s no recipe for cheesesteak (although there is a page devoted to discussing its history and popularity) and you won’t find any recipes using Philadelphia cream cheese. What you will find are creative, inspiring recipes, such as Grilled Veal Tongue with Pepper Mostarda, Spaghetti with Green Tomatoes and Razor Clams, Chicken Freekeh, Pumpkin Pancakes, Roasted Maitake Mushroom with Celery Root Puree and Glazed Carrots, Chicken Tikka Kabob with Chickpea Curry, and Squash Blossom Cupcakes. You’ll also find more standard recipes, which are done well, including Oyster Stew, Fish and Chips, Chicken Pot Pie, and Lasagna. And there are a few pages discussing the best places to get pizza in the city too.
If you’re tuned into the foodie world, you will recognize the names of many of the restaurants featured in this book: Morimoto, Buddakan, Parc, Vedge (rated as the third best restaurant in the city by Philadelphia Magazine), Sbraga, Osteria (considered by some to be one of the top Italian restaurants in the country), Zahav, and more. It’s a star-studded collection. It’s a bit thrilling to find recipes for wonderful restaurant dishes at your fingertips, such as this inventive dish from Morimoto.
- ½ pound dry soba noodles
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 slices bacon, chopped
- 1/2 cup boiled edamame, shelled
- 24 bay scallops
- 2 tablespoons white wine
- ¼ cup water
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 1 /4 cups heavy cream
- 3 large egg yolks, beaten
- Dash of truffle oil
- Kosher salt and white pepper, as needed
- Parmesan cheese, as needed
In a large saucepan of boiling salted water, cook soba noodles for 1 minute less than the package directions. Drain well. Toss with olive oil and set aside.
In a large sauté pan over medium heat, cook bacon until fat renders. Remove bacon and drain on paper towels. In the same sauté pan over medium heat, cook edamame and scallops until heated, 2 to 3 minutes. Add bacon. Turn off heat.
In a saucepan over medium heat, cook white wine to evaporate alcohol. Add water, soy sauce, and cream and heat to 155 degrees. Add egg yolks and truffle oil. Season with salt and white pepper. Turn the heat to low and whisk until smooth, being careful not to let the egg yolks cook through. Add reserved bacon, edamame, and scallops and stir. Add soba and stir quickly.
Divide between four pasta bowls and sprinkle with cheese.