Last Thursday was a beautiful evening fit for sinful feasting at the Physick House in Old City. The night kicked off with cocktails in the garden. We paired our organic spirits with Jack Rudy cocktail mixers for a refreshing pre-dinner drink. Chef Alex Garfinkel provided tempting appetizers as the perfect teaser for dinner to come.
Throughout dinner we dinned on fresh local fare (provided by Philly Foodworks and 1732 Meats). Our guest of the evening, author and urban farming enthusiast Nic Esposito treated us to a reading of his recently published work Kensington Homestead about his life as a farmer in North Philadelphia.
2 parts RHUBARB Tea
1.5 parts Jack Rudy Elderflower Tonic
3 parts club soda
2 dashes of grapefruit bitters
Thanks to everyone who made this night possible!
Stay tuned for the next Sinful Feast on May 20th!
ROOT & Rudy
2 parts ROOT
1/2 part Jack Rudy Grenadine
1/2 part freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 part freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 part freshly squeezed orange juice
1 part sparkling water
2-3 drops Jack Rudy Aromatic Bitters
Garden SAGE & Tonic
2 parts SAGE
1 part Jack Rudy Tonic
4 part club soda
Garnish with a lime wedge
It’s that time of year to thank the mom in your life and our store in Old City has plenty of gifts to show your appreciation!
DS & Durga Fragrance ($98 – $145) – Handcraft perfume made in small batches using premium-sourced ingredients inspired from antiquated herbal wisdom and native ritual medicine.
Flynn & King all natural beauty products:
Good Candle ($30) – Made from 100% American grown soy wax, Good Candles burn for 50 hours and come in Americano, Sage, Fig, and Campfire.
In God We Trust Meridian Bracelet ($110) – Hand forged solid brass cuff.
Warby Parker Glasses ($95) – With a keyhole bridge and a vintage inspired shape, the Kimball glasses is an understated charmer.
Hand crafted for the urban gardener these hydroponic planters are made from recycled Art in the Age bottles, steel and raw wood. Designed and crafted by Philadelphia artist Rocco Avallone.
Single Plants – $100
Double Plant – $175
Available in-store only.
The cab comes to a quick stop.
I had given the address, but eying stenciled numbers while driving isn’t the smartest or easiest thing. And the part of Fishtown where the (fishy) placards jump from the buildings is several blocks over. We had traced the long arc of Frankford from Girard and were in lower Kensington.
We stopped in front of a row home in the middle of the block, the cab’s rear passenger window framing a Wes Anderson diorama shot: to the right, two gentleman in jeans, button shirts, and worn leather shoes huddled over a lighter, the eggshell plumes they exhaled followed by even easier words as I panned left to a wiry character whose expository words on the evening ahead—delivered via mobile phone to some friend, lover, or perhaps would-be mistress—quickly faded as my eyes shifted back to the middle to dive into the warm glow pouring from the open doorway.
“Is this a bar,” the taxi driver asks.
“It’s not a bar. No, it couldn’t just be that,” I say.
Or at least, maybe I would have, if it was a Wes Anderson movie.
But a flare for the dramatic is exactly what Chef Alex Garfinkel is aiming for with the private dinners he’s throwing in a row home in Kensington (let alone the ones he runs in two Old City locations and sites scattered about the countryside). He’s bringing his experience from Le Bec Fin, Lacroix, Morimoto, and Amada to four monthly dinners (two casual and two fine dining). While he wants to keep things relaxed, he aims to create singular experiences.
For the casual series, he’ll work with anyone from ambitious home chefs to unheard of line cooks. The fine dining series will feature big name chefs: Chef Yehuda Sichel of Abe Fisher will feature on May 5th; Chris Kearse of Will BYOB is on the bill on June 8th.
The dinner I attended on Wednesday, April 22nd featured deep flavors, perfect execution, and a creativity that didn’t betray the (deceptively) simple nature of dim sum.
I watched Garfinkel use a blowtorch to apply the finishing touches to a rack of ribs that he seared before throwing in a low oven (150 degrees) for hours to “get the same effect of a sous vide,” he says. A caramelized exterior gave way to a buttery, quickly deliquescent interior as my teeth easily dug and tore.
The other dishes that stood out amidst course after impressive course were three that I wouldn’t expect to find on a menu meant for a non-Chinese audience: pig ear salad, salt and pepper duck feet, and braised chicken feet.
Thin tendrils of pig ear lent a pleasant chew to a salad of shredded carrot, red onion, chilies and cilantro bathed in lime, sesame oil and a fish sauce with a perfect balance of sweet,tart, and spicy. The cartilage from deboned duck feet was an even softer bite under a perfectly spiced fried coating. And the braised chicken feet were much more approachable here, with Garfinkel’s collaborator and friend Huy Pham braising deboned feet in oyster sauce, fermented black beans, sesame seed oil, star anise, dried chili peppers, brown sugar, and white pepper.
Along with solid pork belly buns–that only needed crispier cucumbers–and deeply flavorful soup dumplings, this night provided the best dim sum I’ve ever had (and yes, that means it beat out Joy Tsin Lau, bus terminal Dim Sum Garden, and yes, Bing Bing Dim Sum).
We sat at two wooden tables stretching out in the small, yet hangar-like space, a certain openness provided by restricting the normal trappings of a Kensington row home to the two couches huddled by the entrance way. To the left of the front door, three quizzical portraits hung; hard to make out a first, they eventually settled into being as underwater shots of decorated storefront windows dancing with neon in the shadow of the nearby El. As the room pulsed with conversation and jazz played, Garfinkel and friends put their creativity to plate in the open kitchen behind us.
I sat down the next day to talk with Garfinkel about the dinner I experienced and the all the projects he’s currently working on.
Brion Shreffler: When was the Balboa dinner series launched?
Alex Garfinkel: I found the place off the market in January. I took it over at the end of January and it took us about a month to get it up and running. We only did an open house [dinner on March 15th]. This is our third casual series dinner for Balboa. We did Taco Tuesday, Fried Chicken Monday and yesterday [the 22nd] was dim sum. The goal is to have two casual series dinners a month and one or two high end series a month to kind of play across the full audience we’re trying to reach. We built the spot as a collaboration space not only for myself and my endeavors but also for other local small businesses, both culinary or otherwise to create this incubation space of creativity across all genres of art. It’s moving in that direction. I’m excited to see all the connections and relationships that will come of it.
You had two friends helping out, Huy Pham and Ryan Fitzgerald. How do you know them?
In regard to Ryan, I was reading an article that someone wrote and it mentioned Boku and I was like how have I not heard of Boku Supper Club. I researched, checked out his website and everything it said was aligned with what we already accomplished with Balboa. Gave him a call, left a message out of the blue. Turns out he knew my friendJack Goldenberg, you know who did these [other] supper clubs. After an hour on the phone, we were virtual best friends and since he didn’t have a space yet, he was very excited about using Balboa as a launching site for Boku and that’s part of what I want to do [help people get started]. Collaboratively, we’re gonna start working on more events. The other side of it is I’m gonna help him with marketing and we’re gonna see how that develops.
As far as Huy, he’s been an old friend in the industry. He loves to cook. He’s got a passion for dim sum and Asian cuisine. He’s always excited to get his hands dirty and with these kinds of casual events, I really find it better to bring in multiple culinary minds. It’s a lot of fun.
As a chef, what is the creative impact then of working with other people?
You’re getting the sum knowledge of an entire person’s lifetime with food when you bring in another mind. I myself learn things and my guests get to experience a broad range of culinary identities. I was speaking to one of the guests last night and he said he could actually tell the difference between the three styles of cooking. Even though Ryan did one dish, there’s still three distinctive—or so I’m told. I enjoyed it. I think it’s fun collaborating with people.
In addition to the casual series, you have the fine dining collaboration series where it’s just you and another chef. Have you done one of those yet?
Besides the three casual events, I did one collaboration dinner with my chef and mentor Hari Cameron from a(MUSE) in Rehobeth Beach, Delaware. So we did a 9 course tasting dinner. Our next one is on Cinco de Mayo with Yehuda [Sichel] from Abe Fisher.
So, for each event you’ve had a different collaborator?
I haven’t done a solo culinary event out of the house yet. Each time, I partner with someone. So, the Sinful Feasts series with Landmark and Art In The Age—that’s always me. When I go to a farm, that’s usually me. But at the house, I want that to be about collaboration.
After the dinner with Yehuda Sichel, you’re doing a dinner with Christopher Kearse. Have you known them both for awhile?
Chris Kearse, I’ve known peripherally just through growing up in the Philadelphia food scene. He’s always been that name that just stands out as an amazing chef. Jocelyn [Garfinkel’s fiancé] sold meat to him [through Debragga & Spitler]. I went to dinner there [Will BYOB] for our anniversary. I talked to him about the space and he was very into it. When I asked him if he would like to do a dinner, he said he’d be happy to, which I was very excited about.
When was that?
That was almost two months ago and we actually have to sit down in the next few days and plan the menu. But Yehuda was a friend of Jocelyn’s through her work. He was happy to do—actually he was the only chef to say he wanted to do the competitive version of it. So, we’re doing a heads up battle. I love competition, so I’m happy to do that.
How is the battle going down?
For the heads up battle, we each have four or five courses. I let Yehuda choose the theme for the battle and I was surprised when he said Mexico. He apparently has a lot of passion and creative drive coming from that cuisine, and I’m very excited to see what he brings. I lived in Spain for a year, so I’m very familiar with Spanish and Mediterranean cuisines, so I’ll try those flavors in a few directions and give it a Mexican twist. We’ll have Kelly Pipich from Shake Mixology DNA. She is starting to partner with us for our events to do drink pairings. We’re hoping to launch a few more alcohol sponsors, including a tequila partnership.
It’s both to keep the price down and it’s a savvy way for some of these brands to market themselves.
Yea, exactly. We sell ourselves as an extremely high end catering service. When we try to do partnerships, it’s very easy to attract companies that want to align themselves with a high end brand. There’s Rival Bros. Coffee, which I think is a fantastic product. I use it at the house. I want to support what they’re doing. ReAnimator is another great local company that is working with Felt+Fat [on a fundraiser for them; Reanimator has also bought plate ware from them]. Felt+Fat just launched their Kickstarter. They make plates and kitchen serving pieces.
What about you and Christopher Kearse? What are the two of you going to do?
We’re looking to do the most creative, avant-garde tasting menu that we can put together, between his lofty ideas and his dream journal and mine. We want to push whatever boundaries we can push. My own personal style of cooking fits his. We go local, we go seasonal and we let the food speak for us. So hopefully we come up with some pretty fun ideas.
Tell me about the dream journal.
I don’t know if every chef has it. All interesting ideas that I don’t get to carry out or write down somewhere. He has—I’m calling it a dream journal—but all the cool culinary tricks…you have a million ideas weekly and you’re not gonna execute them all.
That really ties into some of the things I really liked from yesterday. I don’t think a dim sum place outside of Chinatown would be serving up braised chicken feet, salt and pepper duck feet and…what was the other dish?
There was the pig ear salad which you loved.
I did. I took some of that home.
[Referring to his fiancé]. She wouldn’t eat it.
You had three things right there that some people would be like, no way.
When you have ten items on the menu and we do a tasting menu, you can push the boundaries because if, on any one dish, if I have enough components and there might be one thing you’ve never tried or you don’t like it, but the rest of the dish kills it, you’re going away with a positive memory of that dish. There might be a few things this person doesn’t like, but overall, if there are so many more positive things, you don’t remember the negative things. If you have a less than average experience, you’re gonna nitpick on all the things you don’t like. But, if it’s a positive experience, you’ll get away with a lot. If I want to serve frog’s feet, I’ll kill with seven dishes that I know people are gonna go crazy over. And then maybe I’ll turn a few people over to frog’s feet.
But you’re also bringing in people who are easier to please.
I want to target foodies or foodie wannabes, or people who want to have a culinary adventure. While sometimes I stay with safer flavor combinations or techniques that I know will please the group, I try to push boundaries here and there. I think it’s key to know just how far to push the boundaries. If it was just me doing this dinner, it would have been feet and offal. By bringing in three chefs, three minds, you’re getting a declarative experience that you wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. I probably wouldn’t have done that type of feet because I don’t think I can sell chicken feet to a crowd. That’s an example of Huy bringing depth to the game.
Huy told me that he’s always been a bartender and he loves cooking.
Yeah, he’s an amateur chef.
What’s Ryan’s background in cooking?
He never went to school and he never worked as a chef in a kitchen but he loves cooking, he’s loves food and he’s done a lot of reading. With Youtube and the internet today, it’s not hard for someone who loves it to learn.
My impression was that everyone back there had a load of experience because everything came out flawlessly executed. Besides that you were pushing it with feet and ears, there was amazing flavors all across the board.
Thank you. A, we’re blessed with a great kitchen space for that crowd. Huy’s got good enough experience. He knows how to turn out food. How to properly sear or cook something. I guess Ryan has the least service experience, but wants to learn and he’s very enthusiastic and passionate. With a three person team last night, we killed it. Everything came out in a very timely manner. We should have said, raise your hands when you can’t eat anymore. Is it too much food? Just say stop. Dim sum is about eating until you’re happy.
What about preparation. How much time did you guys spend working on the menu?
We talked about the menu. I said, what do you want to do. He [Ryan] said, I want to do my [pork bao] buns. Awesome, great, you got it. I said to Huy, what do you want to do.He had a list of like ten things. I was like, ok, we have to tone it back. I came up with my list of ten things and we tweaked it. We took four things from him and five things from me and we had a well-rounded menu. There was so much food, you guys didn’t even get two of the courses.
A Sinful Feast – Garden Party with Art in The Age, AG Catering, PhilaLandmarks & Nic Esposito!
AG Catering, Art in the Age Craft Spirits and the PhilaLandmarks invite you for a six course dinner welcoming the season featuring local produce from PhillyFoodWorks and guest host Nic Espotio, urban farming enthusiast and author of Kensington Homestead.
The evening will commence with a cocktail hour in the garden featuring Art in the Age cocktails paired with Jack Rudy small batch mixers and light Hors d’oeuvres. Following cocktail hour we’ll transition into the mansion’s dining room for a farm to table meal amidst a bouquet of seasonal floral arrangements provided by Petals Lane.
Nic Esposito is a Philadelphia native with a love for urban farming, sustainable agriculture and social change. He lives with his wife in East Kensington where they operate Emerald Street Community Farm. Aside from writing and farming Nic is the founder of The Head & The Hand Press and speaks throughout the area on urban agriculture and sustainability.
Date: April 30th, 2015
Time: Cocktail hour begins at 6:30pm with dinner to follow
Location: 321 S 4th St, Philadelphia, PA 19106
This year, I am going to be spending Mother’s Day early with my mother in New Jersey and I’ve decided to do a roundup of my favorite gifts and cards that you can buy locally in Philadelphia. I don’t think its just me, but Mother’s Day and Father’s Day always seem to slowly creep up on me and I find myself scrambling for a gift or the perfect card. I guess that’s why our parents love us regardless because my mom is just happy for me to come home for dinner with Scott, no gift necessary.
Good Candle – Made from 100% American grown soy wax, Good Candles burn for 50 hours and come in Americano, Sage, Fig, and Campfire. Art in the Age 116 N. 3rd Street
Real. Body Butter – My dear friend Jenea started making Real. Body Butter and as a faithful user, I love it. My mom is very into moisturizing her body and this all natural body butter makes a great gift. Real. has two limited edition scents for Mother’s Day (Blackberry-Sage and Coconut Citrus). Place your order by May 4th!
Flowers from Pure Design – Pure Design is easily my favorite flower shop in Philadelphia. They have gorgeous lush florals available for Mother’s Day that any mother with a green thumb would love. 500 South 22nd Street
Brunch or Dinner at R2L – For the foodie mom, you get a spectacular view and a multi course menu at R2L on Mother’s Day. The menu speaks for itself – definitely check it out and make a reservation. 50 S 16th Street
A Mother’s Day Card from Paper Source – This is my favorite card store in the Rittenhouse neighborhood. I can spend most of my breaks from work in this store reading each card front and back until I find the one I want to buy. I highly recommend going in! 1628 Walnut Street
Mint Julep Boozy Popsicles
BY CHAUCEE STILLMAN | MAKES 4 POPS
ROOT is a liqueur inspired by an early drink called root tea, a recipe that came from Native Americans to settlers in the 1700s and eventually evolved into what is known as birch or root beer. The spirit has a full, rich, smoky flavor made with North American herbs and pure cane sugar. The fresh mint in the popsicle brings out the citrus and spearmint notes in ROOT, while the demerara sugar adds to the earthy sweetness of the spirit. Popsicles have always been a perfect springtime cooler, and this recipe brings the complex flavors of a great cocktail to the simple treat.
Add the water and sugar to a medium pot over medium-low heat and stir until the sugar completely dissolves.
Once the sugar has dissolved, turn off the heat and add the fresh mint. Lightly muddle the mint with a muddler or wooden spoon. Let this steep until the mixture has cooled to room temperature (about 45 minutes). Once it has cooled, strain through a fine-mesh strainer.
Add ROOT and stir to combine. Then pour into your popsicle molds. Place in the freezer and check back after 45 minutes (or longer depending on the temperature of your freezer) and insert the popsicle sticks. Keep in the freezer until frozen solid.
If Wednesdays aren’t for dreaming of delicious cocktails and warm spring days spent outdoors I don’t know what is. With hump day in full swing and the weather outside being glorious, I can’t stop thinking about lounging out on our roof deck with a delicious speciality cocktail by my side. Surprisingly I’m not usually a big cocktail drinker, but that all changed when I recently had the pleasure of testing some of the unique spirits from Art In The Age. It all started when I stumbled into their store in Old City to try on some Warby Parkerglasses. Next thing I know I was testing all their spirits and picking on some pretty wild glasses. Not bad right?
Art In The Age is a organic spirits company inspired by the rich history of Philadelphia. They have four signature spirits that were developed to highlight a unique aspect of the Philadelphia areas roots. My particular favorite is the Rhubarb which was developed to highlight how Benjamin Franklin introduced the vegetable to America in 1771. It’s pretty much the perfect spirt to add into your summer cocktails, and it would be beyond delicious mixed with champagne. The four spirits they offer are rhubarb, sage, snap, and root, with each one having its own unique historical background & taste profile.
If you find this spirt company as amazing as I do, I recommend checking out their website. Each spirit has a breakdown on the history, tasting notes, and mixology recipes to help you get started.
Photo: Art In The Age
Another reason to hit Art in the Age this Friday! Grab a mug from @PilotandCapt