Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Road Trip: London Grill in Philadelphia

I know I've been M.I.A. for awhile.  Real life has taken its toll lately, and between grad school, being sick, a huge work project, and being out of town to celebrate my birthday, I haven't really had time for much else.  But things are starting to get back to normal, and I have a few good  posts coming your way, including a guest blog about food in Buffalo, an awesome dinner in, all you can eat meat, and my trip to Asheville this coming weekend.  But first, let's talk about my amazing birthday dinner.

A few months back, I was feeling a bit on the homesick side, so I looked at my calendar and my budget to see when I could possibly take the time to make a trip up to my mom's house just outside of Philadelphia.  Between her schedule and mine, anything over the summer was out.  I was itching to get home, because, well...I really just missed my mom.  Then I happened to get an email about a concert that was coming up in her area - I fully credit my excellent taste for music to my parents, who always made sure I appreciated the classics - that happened to fall, conveniently, right around my birthday.  Perfect, I thought, as my sister's birthday, my birthday, and my mom's birthday all fall within a week of each other.  Plus the show featured two of my favorite bands, so it was bound to be awesome. Speaking of which, get yourself out to see Jackie Greene and/or Truth & Salvage Co. if you ever get the chance. Trust me, you won't regret it.  Right.  Back to the point.  I called my mom to run this trip by her, she jumped on board (apparently she missed me too), we made plans for to visit my sister while I was there, I booked my flight, and we were set.

A couple of weeks ago, I hopped on a plane in Columbia, and 4 hours and a brief stop in Atlanta later, I disembarked in Philadelphia.  As I exited the plane and started walking through the terminal to meet my mom, my nose was assailed with all the smells of home - old timey pizza joints (I promise, your local chain pizza place will never be able to create this smell), frying sliced steak and onions - and it really upped my appetite.  Mom picked me up, and on the way home we stopped for a cheesesteak, not at one of the famous tourist traps in South Philly, but a quiet, out-of-the-way place in the suburbs that makes phenomenal cheesesteaks.  The key to a good cheesesteak is in the bread.  I've tried my share outside of the Philly area, and there's always something just not right.  Either the bread is too soft, the cheese is wrong, they add mayo (WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS?!?!?!?) or green peppers, or try to turn it into a cheesesteak hoagie with lettuce and tomato.  But this was just perfect.  I was a very full and very content lady.

The rest of the weekend flew by in a total blur - the show was awesome, a quick trip to see my sister resulted in us eating at the Olive Garden (sigh) instead of one of the zillion fabulous restaurants in Baltimore, I did some football watching with my dad, saw the extended family when we went to see my cousin's band play, and then, finally, it was Sunday, and I was being treated to dinner for my birthday.

Mom and her boyfriend, B, made the mistake of asking me where I wanted to go.  I told them that since I didn't live there, they could make the decision, since I like anything.  They decided to take me to the London Grill.  So we got in the car and headed over to Fairmount section of Philadelphia.  I fell in love pretty much as soon as we walked into the restaurant.  It's a tiny place, with a handful of tables set up outside.  I'm not 100% sure about this, but it seemed like the restaurant is in a converted row house or two.  It's pretty tiny, with a bar area as you first walk in and then a small dining room, most of which was in a glassed in porch type area, with a fabulous view of Eastern State Penitentiary. Don't let that freak you out...the prison hasn't been open in years, and is now a huge tourist attraction, especially at Halloween. See, the prison is rumored to be haunted, so during the Halloween season, they do "Terror Behind the Walls" every night.

We were seated immediately (it was pretty early on a Sunday may want to check about a reservation for other days of the week).  We took our time with the menu (which changes daily!), but eventually we each settled on a different salad and entree.  I, of course, couldn't make up my mind, so I asked the hostess for some recommendations.  In the end, I went with one of the things she recommended, and I was exceptionally thankful that I did.

B started with the beet salad.  It was simple, it was plain, but it was tasty.  If I remember correctly, it was fresh beets and goat cheese, garnished with cranberries, walnuts and cherry tomatoes.  Beets aren't normally something I think to order, but I'm glad B did.  I tried it, and while I don't think I could have eaten the whole thing, the few bites I had were perfect.

Not only did it taste good, but it looked pretty too.
Mom decided to be a little on the boring side and just order a Caesar salad.  It was good, the croutons especially, but a Caesar salad is well...a Caesar salad.  

Since the entree I ordered wasn't served with veggies, I decided to order the Vegetable Antipasti to start.  Thank God I got the small version, because the large version probably would have fed our table for a few days.  As it was, I didn't finish the small platter, though I did my best.  The antipasti had five different components: fennel & wild mushrooms, grilled parmesan polenta, roasted red peppers & broccoli, roasted eggplant, and bread pudding.  I tried a bit of everything, but my absolute favorite thing on this plate was the eggplant.  Let it be known that normally, I don't eat eggplant.  This was so good that I asked one of the many staff members who checked in on us over the course of the evening how the eggplant was prepared.  She told me, but she also said that she had tried it at home and could never get it right.  So much for this hungry lady learning how to make it.  The flavors were amazing - it was seasoned with some sort of Moroccan spice combination (I think), and it was flawless.  Everything else was pretty high ranking on my list, but nothing topped the eggplant.
Clockwise from top left: Fennel & mushrooms, polenta, roasted red peppers & broccoli, eggplant, bread pudding.
Despite leaving half of the polenta and half of the bread pudding, I was still pretty full by the time my entree was brought out.  I gave it my best shot, but still only managed to eat half of my duck.  Our hostess had recommended the duck, and I took her advice.  It was perfect.  The skin was crispy, the meat was tender, and the berry flavored sauce brought all of the flavors together.  I was a little wary of ordering this at first, since it was served with a foie gras creme brulee, but I went for it anyway.  The creme brulee was exceptionally rich, and I only managed a few bites of it, but it was jam packed with flavor.  It's amazing what happens when you take two things you don't normally care for and put them together.  Really well done here.
That wasn't just one piece of duck.  There was another hiding underneath.
Despite our having been to the Olive Garden just two days before, Mom decided to order the homemade fettuccine alfredo with pancetta and broccoli rabe.  Wow.  This dish had a nice heat to it, and the pancetta really helped to bring the flavors together.  She didn't finish it, but I know it made an excellent lunch for B at work the next day.
This doesn't look like an overly large bowl of pasta, but it was so filling.
Finally, B ordered the pulled pork barbecue with mac & cheese and collard greens.  Maybe it was in honor of me being home from the South, or maybe it was really just what he wanted.  At any rate, it entertained me.  The pork was good...not really what we get in SC, but not too shabby for Philly.  The mac & cheese was great.  It was rich and creamy and could give Paula Deen a run for her money.  The best thing on the plate though, were the collards.  Personally, I would have added a little bacon, but these were seasoned with  what had to be cayenne pepper.  Not a lot, but just enough to leave an awesome taste in your mouth.  

By the time we were finished with our entrees, we were all pretty well stuffed.  But as I have a rule that there is always room for dessert, and because it was my birthday, we all ordered something sweet.  Mom isn't a big dessert eater, so she kept it simple with some caramel swirl ice cream (at least I think that was the flavor).  It was sweet and delicious and a great meal closer.  B went with the Flight of Sorbets: strawberry, blueberry, and cherry.  Nice and light, but still packed with flavor.  He said the blueberry was definitely the best.

As it was my birthday, I indulged in a little Dulce de Leche Cake.  This was like heaven to my taste buds.  It was soft and creamy, and the caramel on top and chocolate drizzle were the perfect pairing.  An absolutely excellent way to end a meal.

Overall, I couldn't have asked for a better birthday dinner.  The food was amazing, the service was outstanding, and the company was some of my favorite.  Plus, London Grill uses all sorts of fresh and local food, which automatically earns points in my book.  An incredible experience, and one that I will try to repeat (maybe on a slightly less indulgent scale) the next time I'm in Philly.

Final Rating:

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