Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Fantastic Voyage Through Fine Dining

Restaurant week is a wondrous time. It's time when many of Philly's finest restaurants offer gloriously discounted prix fixe menus. A time when the city's plebeians can, for a moment, delight in pleasures normally reserved for higher society. A time I anticipate with the elated giddiness of a child marking the days till Christmas.

My first stop was Tequila's Restaurant at Locust and 16th for a taste of upscale Mexican cuisine. The meal began with complimentary fried corn chips, salsa and guacamole. I was at first slightly dismayed with such a cliche offering. But this simple starter was far from plain--Indeed, it was probably the best example of each I've ever had.

I ordered Sopes del Rancho as a first course, which consisted three small corn dough cups filled with chorizo, beef and chicken and topped with queso fresco. The sopes were flaky and moist and thier contents were perfectly succulent.

For my main course, I ordered their Mar Y Tierra, or surf and turf. It was comprised of a perfectly med-rare 6oz filet mignon and the largest (1/4 lb according to the menu) jumbo shrimp I've ever seen. I swear this thing was the size of a chihuahua--and, cooked in a garlic, tequila, lime sauce, it was way more delicious. The highlight, however, was the steak, and, more specifically, the sweet tamarind reduction with which it was paired. This was a completely novel combination for me; I wouldn't have guessed that a fruity sauce could compliment steak so mouth-wateringly well.

The next stop on my foray into fine dining was Fugo de Choa, a Brazilian steak house at 13th and Chestnut. Here, there's no limit to the amount of meat and sides you can consume. You don't place an order. Rather, you help yourself to an extensive salad bar, and when you're ready to gorge yourself on animal protein, you flip a red coaster on your table to it's green side.

Now it's game on. Waiters, seeing the green side, swarm your table with giant skewers of steaming, dripping meat, from which they carve slices right onto your plate. They keep coming, parading meat before you, asking with Latin-accents if you'd like sirloin, pork loin, lamb chops, chicken legs, tenderloin, bacon-wrapped filet mignon and so on. When you've had enough, or just need some time to catch up, flip your coaster back to it's red side.

While I've had meals of better quality, the sheer, gut-busting quantity of Fugo de Choa's meat procession was ample compensation. The side dishes they offered (garlic mashed potatoes, fried plantains, and fried corn bread) were very mediocre, but fitting in with the restaurant's devotion to gluttony, they kept 'em right on coming.

This is no place for vegetarians. But for incorrigible carnivores such as myself, it's Valhalla. I left feeling like quite the Center City fat cat, both because of the air of classiness that surrounds the place, and because I had just eaten my weight in steak.

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