Saturday, June 16, 2007

Luscious LACROIX & gorgeous gelato at CAPOGIRO (Philadelphia)

The weekend took us to Philadelphia to celebrate Samuel's 4th birthday at Sesame Place with some of his friends. We had a great time in the fun waterpark, but I strongly suggest if you head there, to bring a bag lunch. The food is AWFUL; even worse than that!

Over the weekend we stopped in at CAPOGIRO, Gelato Artisans ( located at both 117 So. 20th Street (Rittenhouse Square) and 119 So. 13th Street (near City Hall) and this has to be one of the NOT-TO-MISS places around these days. We begged them to think about opening in DC! While the kids enjoyed the simpler MEXICAN CHOCOLATE and SWEET MILK called FIOR di LATTE(almost vanilla), Sam was adventurous with the STRAWBERRY TARRAGON. DULCE di LECHE was pretty good, while THAI COCONUT MILK was dreamy. The highlight however was my CUCUMBER VODKA Sorbetto that was truly amazing, creamy, tasty and heavenly!

Dinner on Saturday for the two of us was at LACROIX at the Rittenhouse where Chef Matthew Levin has taken over from the legendary and now retired Chef Lacroix. He has done a superb job and introduced many international styles of food as well as methods of preparation that joggle the mind and challenge the palate.

We opted for the tasting menu which can be done in 3,4, or 5 courses PLUS dessert for $69,$78 or $85 respectively. There are many categories to choose from and we were even allowed a substitution from the ala carte menu; a truly brilliant experience that was really VERY reasonably priced.

The dining room on the hotel's second floor in unmemorable with its tile and carpet floor, large pillars lit through holes in the ceiling and cushy green velvet chairs and booths. The crisp yellow linens at the large spacious tables and nice stemware, china and crystal and excellent service all add to the experience. The view facing one way is over Rittenhouse Square and the other (Will asked me to change seats halfway through dinner) is of a boring apartment building next door; but one goes here for the view on the PLATE not through the windows!

While the uneventful bread scared us, a seared HAMACHI Amuse with STRAWBERRY, JICAMA and BASIL got our palates tingling while we sipped a very citrusy CHATEAUNEUF du PAPE BLANC from Domaine du Pere Caboche (Jean-Pierre Buisson) 2005. Normally the Chateauneuf Blancs are creamier, but this vintage really was similar to a Sauvignon Blanc and delicious as well.

My first course came from the "RAW" category and was one of the most exciting things ever to hit a plate: SMOKED BLACK COD FISH, Edamame Puree, RED RICE BEER FOAM and POP ROCKS. The beautiful sashimi sliced fish was seared on the edge and had a tiny crust of the pop rocks making each bite give a tingling sensation that lasted for quite some time. The pop rocks here had a slight sweetness, but the overall effect was also salty from the Red Rice Beer. I can only describe it as Crunchy Rice Crispies going snap, crackle, pop IN your mouth AFTER you swallow!

Will chose from the VEGETABLE category for his first item: WILD EUROPEAN ASPARAGUS, SLOW COOKED QUAIL EGG, BLACK TRUFFLE ICE CREAM. It was like a gelee block with the asparagus beautifully assembled at attention and a dish he was thrilled with.

For the 2nd course I chose from the same category with the TASTING of FARMHOUSE BEETS:Salt-Roasted, GOLDEN with LEMONGRASS, RAW, GINGER ALE & Black Walnuts with Vanilla. This was indeed an odd dish, but fun. The Purple Beets were roasted in a cylinder, while the baby golden ones were halved with the lemongrass cream under them. A carpaccio- style of rose colored beets with salt was a highlight and the ginger ale beet shooter was on oddity. It actually didn't work the first time around and the beets gelled in the bottom, so they quickly brought me a replacement, AND offered a spoon to scoop out the bottom of the first one as well.

Will moved to the SHELLFISH category and had a MAINE SCALLOP RAVIOLI with CHANTERELLES, ASPARAGUS & SQUID INK. It was a nice dish, but the least exciting all night. The ravioli were small adorable (and I think had a small filling of scallop) on the side and the squid ink was more like a paint splash on the plate and basically not a sauce.

The ala carte item we next shared was the CRISP SOFT SHELL CRAB with BUTTERERD PEAS and JASMINE. There were two preparations each of a 1/2 crab, one simply sauteed, the other superbly battered with Oatmeal and fried to perfection.

At this time we moved on to our red wine selected by the wonderful sommelier Eric Simonis (from Alsace) who chose a MERCUREY 1er CRU "Les Champs Martin" 2000 from Domaine Menand Pere et Fils that at $79 was a great bargain, but started out quite light (with a huge nose), but quickly opened up to a huge mouth-filling Burgundy. Will had a small glass of Domaine de Monbazillac la Maletie 2002 Dordogne with his SEARED HUDSON VALLEY FOIE GRAS (from the Poultry/
Game category) with SOUR CHERRIES, PORT and SZECHUAN Pepper "Cookies" that really were slightly peppered shortbreads(yum). A wonderful combination of new ideas and I opted from the Fish category for a superb BLACK GROUPER with ASPARAGUS, Orange Sauce Maltise (think Hollandaise) and Crispy Bacon.

Course 5 came from the MEAT section and was a perfectly size dish for each of us. I must say that at no point did we feel overdone or stuffed; every portion was just right. I had the GASPOR FARM PIGLET with FAVA BEANS, Blis Maple and Smoked Steelhead Roe that was another wonderful and seemingly simple dish, while will had more excitement on his plate with the ETHIOPIAN Style BABY GOAT with Aromatic Air which consisted of a mini double rib chop, a medallion and a stew. It was a tasting within a tasting and came with a TAMARIND-AGED GOAT CHEESE SOUFFLE.

We could not resist the delicious cheese cart and we still had red wine left--so we ordered (one plate to split) and they offered many extras!
WABASH CANNONBALL (from Washington State) which Will described as "tasting like a homeless person"
AZEITAU (spelling)
MAHAJIERO de PIMENTO from the Canary Islands which reminded me of the Spanish Garroxta with a bit more pepper
UPLAND PLEASANT RIDGE Cheddar (from Connecticut) and it was mind-boggling to boot!

Dessert was no less confusing with so many tastes and things on each plate I hope I can get them all: The GIANDUJA BISCUIT COULANT was a Toasted Meringue, Banana Chip Praline and Curried Banana Ice Cream and the "TRIP TO THE BEACH" was Fudge Marquise, Citrus-Coconut "Creamsicle" with Macadamia "Sand" with Pink Peppercorns. This was an ingenious idea and a brilliant display --and tasted great to boot. A glass of superb BANYULS "Les Close de Paulilees 2005" for me and MUSCAT de BAUMES de VENISE for Will sent us home to our hotel very happy and looking forward to visiting LACROIX again!