Saturday, June 23, 2007

Langostinos, Philadelphia

A local friend of mine commented on the prospect of moving to Texas: "There isn't shit for Italian food down there." He's not Italian, but it goes to show how thoroughly dependent we all are on good Italian food in this area. It's just a mainstay for everyone.

It is no secret that there are some great small Italian restaurants in South Philly. One I've been to several times recently is Langostinos on front street. I'll let you in on a secret: they have the most tender gnocchi I have ever had. Served in a gorgonzola cream sauce, the dish is remarkably light. The restaurant is quite small, takes cash only and is a bring your own bottle restaurant to boot. Make a reservation and take advantage of the opportunity to bring your own wine: this is one of my favorite things about Jersey restaurants, and I'm glad to find small byobs in Philly as well.

Another thing to note: throughout dinner, I watched staff bring in fresh food throughout the evening. It left me wondering if they weren't running out to create new specials as orders came in: a testament to the freshness of all the food we ordered.

Places like this are my idea of heaven.

Reykjavic, Prague, Czech Republic

I had a really interesting and pleasant dining experience in Prague (Praha to natives). While walking from a conference site to my hotel, one of my local hosts suggested stopping at an outdoor cafe for dinner. We happened to sit at the restaurant Reykjavic, which , as the name suggests, features Icelandic cuisine. It is also notable as being one of the earliest foreign, private restaurants in Prague.

For dinner, I split some pickled herring with a friend, done in the nordic style. Now, I am a fan of pickled herring done this way, a passion I picked up after a week in Stockholm many years ago. The problem I have in the US is that until recently few local stores offered the sweeter herring characteristic of Sweden. I used to stop at Ikea on the way home from the Poconos to get some passable herring. I'm pleased to report the herring at Reykjavic was quite tasty. Being in Prague, I had a beer to go with the appetizer.

However, the main course was most interesting: salt cod. This is something I have never had before, though I have seen salted cod in its "raw" form: solid as a rock and looking rather unappetizing. The menu description included boiled potatoes and whole grain mustard. Altogether, it sounded like a risky and potentially bland dish.

I am pleased to report, that I could not have been more wrong. When the cod was served, it was to me reminiscent of fresh monk fish. It was tender, springy, flavored, and moist. The mustard was delicious, but I think this could have been served with almost any sauce. And to my surprise, the fish seemed salt free.

While I highly recommend sampling as much traditional Czech food as you can while in Prague, and I'll have a follow-up note on some great experiences, I found Rejkyavik to be a worthy departure from the local cuisine and a rather remarkable dining experience as well. If you are in Praha for a few days, give it the salt cod a try. I find myself wanting more, but not sure where to find anything comparable in New Jersey.