i started a thread looking for suggestions to narrow down some options for 4 nights in philadelphia and thought i'd share my experiences in your lovely city. the original thread can be found here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/633872 my final destination line-up did change as my work demanded it but i think i got in what i really wanted to. i'm going to write-up a post for each day/night in the hopes that it will be more useful... and still not cluttering.
TACOS DON MEMO - 38th and Sansom
i don't know if i ate them correctly, so bear with me!
i found the truck with relative ease though it is very much dwarfed by other trucks on the street and the tall buildings along the sidewalk. there was only one person perched on the grassy bank waiting for their order at noon which would've normally concluded to me that this might not be a worthwhile truck. it would be a cheap mistake should they turn out to just be ok, so why not! and really could it be that bad considering the atrocious state of mexican food in toronto? not likely. the menu listed all the options for tacos with a $2 marked above and so i got a carnitas and al pastor. they were quickly assembled and passed out of the window after a couple minutes wait and i headed over to where my coworkers were dining.
opening the foil package i noticed that two tortillas were layered on top of each other with filling running down the center for each type that i picked. a tight bundle of lime pyramids also came in the bag. the meat was all very moist but certainly no excess juices running out of either of them. unfortunately i didn't take pictures and so i'm a bit hazy on what exactly each were topped with, but the overall blandness of them even with the request of medium heat is what i noticed most. the textures were spot on but the flavour of the meat was so mild and unpronounced that it was just sort of porky. the cilantro onion mix on top added a bit of flavour but most was contributed by my generous squeezes of lime. the guacamole on top of the other was utterly useless. why so stingy on the spices!? is this typical?
the shining moment of these tacos were actually the tortillas, just the right thickness for each and so soft. they had corn flavour but appeared to have been made with a flour blend to achieve the lovely flexibility and smoothness they had. can anyone confirm how they are made?
my confusion lies with the two layers of tortillas... were they mending a broken tortilla? was i supposed to split them apart and have 4 tacos in total? do philadelphia mexicans like tortillas a lot? what was this about!? at $2 a pop if i ever make it back i will try them again to find the answers to the taco mystery and definitely get high heat, in the meantime i'll easily be sated with making my own pork and guacamole at home though i do regret not bringing back a pile of the tortillas.
should you have read my other postings and disagreed with my assessments, you will surely disagree with me now.... matyson is at best mediocre and at worst... kind of terrible. let me explain.
one of the most lauded byobs in the city would obviously be the best option for a client dinner that included a couple of less experienced palates, especially considering the dining tour i was attempting to do the rest of the week. the timing was a bit of a last minute decision and so i had to secure us a table for about 5:30 or so. calling the restaurant, there was no hesitation to deny me anything past 5:15pm, it was just impossible they said. not even 15 minutes later would do. this sent us into a rush and with traffic being what it was going down market st we were 10 minutes late... and the only ones in the restaurant.
it was empty, it was the start of the dinner service so i understood but expected it would fill up as we continued our evening. the bunch of beers i had brought were whisked away to be chilled and we sat down to peruse the menu. perhaps this is where it went all wrong. perhaps the tasting menu was the direction to go down. but the sweetbreads always call to me and so i ditched the tasting and went a la carte. and this is where the disaster began.
service was sweet and helpful, i will say that to start. they were going to bring out each beer one by one and then presented a pail with ice and water to leave them on the table for our own selection. they offered up suggestions which we took for the most part and brought out dishes very timely. but the food, oh that food. my dining companions are significantly less critical of food and considering the situation no one was going to complain aloud about anything they ate. i'm sure that for the most part, they actually did enjoy their meals but i cannot say the same.
sweetbreads arrived overcooked and laced with a mellow smokiness that worked well with the natural richness of the offal. the light breading around it was a touch overwhelmed with spice and made even stronger with the chili mayo accompanying it on the plate. when i had originally glanced at the dish i mistook the discus item to the right as a potato pancake of sorts and entirely neglected to note the menu lists a zucchini and crab frittata. there was crab in this thing? zucchini even? it tasted like wet eggy onions and by no means had any place beside sweetbreads. in a separate dish it could have stood out as being tasty but here it was an utterly confusing pairing. looking back at the menu i likely picked the worst dish of the bunch, but being so easily swayed by anything involving sweetbreads is one of my dining downfalls.
next was the five spice duck breast that i had specified to be cooked to a medium rare appearing absolutely grey and not a second under medium-well. the trouble i had chewing on this piece of meat with it's vague asian spicing wasn't worth much of the hassle and so i left all the ends on the plate. the duck jus that trickled out distinctly reminded me of pho broth with a heavy dose of anise and i was thankful for the blueberry jam to at least liven it up a bit even if the ginger was completely unnoticeable. a swipe of yellow mirrored the blueberry sauce, the amount of spicy chinese mustard dressing the plate was surprising... a very potent condiment indeed. it paired poorly with everything in the dish. the accompanying springroll was definitely full of mushroom flavour and greaseless but the foie gras didn't even make it in for a supporting role, it was no where to be found. i wish i could say at the very least the mushrooms provided a tasty filling, but in the end it just felt like a sad attempt at fusion with flavours completely out of whack. the only shining moment in this dish was the red onion marmalade.... sweet, perfectly soft and slightly tangy it was oozing with great flavour, too bad a meal couldn't be made of this. when i first read it on the menu i just simply felt like duck but, again, looking back it reeked of nostalgia and in a bad way.
i like a little sweet to finish a meal and being on company dime i figured why not, i had little to lose besides stomach space for an evening i intended to end early anyways. ordering the coconut cream pie, i was a bit hesitant about the use of ganache. it was a tasty and smooth chocolate layer matched very well with the crust but as suspected it overtook the rest of the dessert. the coconut cream with roasted flakes of coconut was subtle but tasty and texturally nicely contrasted. i could only hope that the filling would tie the two layers together but in the end it was thick, starchy and flavourless so i ate around it after making a few attempts to include it with the better components.
what else can i say? did i simply pick poorly? was this a case of having to be more careful with menu descriptions? more than likely. but i expected that such a well reviewed place wouldn't have such large missteps. and to add a little insult to injury, 3 tables sat empty during our meal and no one walked in for the 10 minutes or so we waited around to get our car across the street. though i obviously can't tell you how quickly they filled up, it just seemed unnecessary to squeeze us by 15 minutes. i guess we turned up late anyway, so oh well.