Sunshine and snacking at Varga Bar

I swear that I’ve been cooking – I really have. And there will be some nice Spring recipes up soon. But on a beautiful sunny day last week I decide that it was time for a “mental health” day and played a little work hookie. I love to just wander downtown, stopping in at old favorites for little things (charcoal pellets at Verde and black pepper soap at Duross & Langel), lusting after things I can’t afford at Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction and Williams Sonoma, and picking up little snacks along the way. Varga Bar has been on my “to-eat” list since it opened, mostly due to my great love of Varga the pin-up artists. While I’d heard so much about their black truffle mac & cheese, it seemed a little heavy for such a warm afternoon. Instead I had the pickle pot, pictured above. I have to say, the pickles were a little too sweet for me, and many of the vegetables came out overly limp, but the fiddlehead ferns were a revelation – the perfect texture with just a little snap and sour. Varga Bar makes a decent bloody mary, but a few of these fronds would up the stakes!

My waitress promised me a light and healthy veggie burger, and if you skip the dense white bun, that’s about what you get. Homemade (thank goodness) with big chunks of corn and veggies, the heirloom tomato, English cucumber, cheddar and truffled ailo got me excited. I should have gone with the original house greens, but you can see I had a hankering for fries. As served, this burger is big enough to make two meals – certainly not a snack, and has nice, fresh flavor.

Here’s to playing hookie. Where do you go when you’re sneaking off for the day?

Varga Bar on Urbanspoon


Get the Goods and help the Hungry

I love Support or Strength, which supports programs that fight childhood hunger across America. This Saturday the 17th, perhaps before you hit-up a great Earth Day celebration, stop by The Full Plate Cafe in Northern Liberties and pick-up some goodies baked by local bloggers for a good cause. Mama Gautsche’s Zucchini Raisin cookies are making an appearance, as well as all kind of less-healthy delectables.

Garces Trading Company with the girls

Sometimes you just need a girls afternoon – a sunny day with maybe an out-of-town friend on a surprise visit and nothing to do but play. I got one of these delightful days and it corresponded to the opening weekend of Garces Trading Co., the new casual dining/gourmet food store by Jose Garces. The line was long, and you can’t call a reservation in, but I arrived early, put our names in, requested a long window table, and browsed. First the olive oils and vinegars, then the cheeses and pastries, and finally the PLCB boutique insidethe restaurant. A revelation. Specialty selected bottles from $10 – $200 that go directly from the glass enclosed display area to your table. And if, like me, you happen to pick up a blush bubbly for the fun of it, the host will chill it for you until your table is ready.

I can’t say enough of about the blushingly good service, the olive oil, baguette and flake salt on the table, the casual but clean design of the space. Unfortunately, we devoured our chef’s selection of cheeses with condiments before I could take a photo. The piquillo peppers, with sherry and olive oil pictured above, were suitable, but nothing special.

Alongside antipasti, pasta, grill, soups and salads and more ambitious plates du jour, Garces Trading Co. offers a brief pizza menu. Wood-fired on stone, the pizzas have the crispy, thin crust that you would expect, and a slightly sweet sauce. Though I longed for the Funghi with maitakes, royal trumpets, taleggio,
black truffles, I was among mushroom haters (why do I hang out with these people!) so we settled on a classic Margherita with fresh mozzarella and basil. Surprising light, among three people it made for a perfect snack, not a hearty meal. But we had our blush bubbly, our long afternoon, our wonderful service, and it was a certain kind of heaven.

Garces Trading Company on Urbanspoon

Cauliflower and Mushroom Potpie with Black Olive Crust

Though this week in Philadelphia has felt more like Summer than Spring, it’s the early lettuces, peas, and rhubarb that are starting to appear in our farmer’s markets. Cauliflower, staple of the long hard winter, will find itself in the shadow of more colorful veggies. Why not make one more big cauliflower dish before you get distracted by our upcoming fresh produce abundance? I’ve flipped past this cauliflower potpie in Veganomicon numerous times, but until recently I never had all the ingredients in the house at the same time. While the recipe seems a little bit long and complicated with three separate parts, it comes together quickly. And if you’re a fan of salty, cheesey mustardiness with your veggies like I am, you’re sure to love it. Throw it with a green salad, a nice bottle of red and some rich chocolate dessert and you can knock your dinner party’s socks off.

The Vegetarian goes French

I admit that, as a vegetarian, French food can be a bit difficult for me. Not food in France, made at home with wonderful bread and vegetables and cheese and herbs, but the kind served in French restaurants. Nevertheless, I’m always up to try something new, and when some friends wanted to go romantic French for Valentines day, I was game. Could I make a meal? Yes, yes I could. If you don’t eat cheese, your options are severely reduced, but I do, and this is what I had a wonderful little spot called Bistro La Minette. Pictured above is the Gnocchi GratinĂ©s au Fromage, gnocchi so pillowy and soft they disappeared into the Comte, caramelized onions, and wild mushrooms. Heaven.

For my main course, I ordered the Charlotte au Morbier, a stacked-style bread pudding with morbier cheese, served with a cold beet salad (which seems to be leaking all over my plate). I like the flavors, but would have preferred a moister, more traditional bread pudding.

Dessert? It was Valentines day, and the black current sorbet paired with this lemon tart got me all excited.

This Mille Feuille aux Framboises, while it had the more exciting name, didn’t quite line-up in the flavor department. Caramelized puff pastry, baked crisp, just isn’t the best vehicle for creme, and the overall flavor was a little bland. The restaurant was lovely, though, and we had a wonderful night with carafes of serviceable house red, a charming waiter, and romantic decor. Try it again? Yes, I would.

Bistro La Minette on Urbanspoon