Can I talk about something really obvious in this space this week?
Like, how quality ingredients generally equal quality food. It's pretty true.
As you read through the details of our three dining destinations this week, you'll notice some mentions of specific item-buying that these restaurateurs believe makes their food stand out: a hoagie roll from the true source; expensive coconut cream that gives incomparable flavor and body; and even more expensive saffron from a point of origin felt to be superior to others.
We hear a fair amount of grumbling about our food scene inside a given year, but this city has a key ingredient: chefs who care, who clearly love food and the most ideal expression of it. So here's to the pinches and pours that make plates pop.
3043 W. Pikes Peak Ave., 520-9299, vietnamesegarden.net
Three-year-old Vietnamese Garden continues to produce superior menu offerings, like the essential yam fritter appetizer. But owner and chef Dung My Tram also rotates weekly specials, like gluten-free Vietnamese crêpes ($12.95; also available by request with 48 hours' notice).
They're constructed from rice flour with pinches of tapioca flour, corn starch and turmeric added to coconut cream, a pricey input that stars across Tram's menu, lending rich, mildly sweet authenticity. In that batter, jicama, carrot and charred yellow onion slivers meet pork and shrimp wedges. (A veggie version is also available.) To eat: Wrap crêpe pieces with lettuce leaves, mint and basil, then dip into Tram's house sauce, a fish sauce pleasantly enhanced by vinegar, garlic, chilies, and lime and coconut juices. Superb. — Matthew Schniper
Taste of Philly
1634 S. Nevada Ave., 471-1922, tasteofphilly.biz
Taste of Philly's been around as long as I can remember. Franchiser Ken Brown owns a group of 'em, but I bet none have that same grungy flair as the South Nevada Avenue location, which has been dishing its hoagies for 14 years. The lighting's dark, the lunch pacing fast, and the large mural of the restaurant's logo in the middle of the room pretty damn great.
The Works ($7.99, 12-inch) is, if not great, pretty damn decent. The mushrooms, peppers, onions and chopped sirloin steak (from Shamrock Foods) basically merge to become one salty glob, but the white American cheese pops, and the bread tears like it should — not that I, personally, can tell Philadelphia's Amoroso's Baking Co.'s stuff from any good French roll. And the whole thing only costs, like, 67 cents per inch. — Bryce Crawford
4375 Sinton Road, 528-1155, caspiancafe.com
Chef Daniel White's orange and saffron caramel cream ($5.95) has long been one of my favorite desserts in the city, and it's comforting to know that its consistency (both its literal perfect texture and its reliable execution) remains intact.
It's a basic cream-and-egg-based flan recipe, made marvelous by house-made caramel and fresh vanilla bean, orange zest and saffron infusions — that latter ingredient an homage to the eatery's Mediterranean roots. White says his Iranian saffron is far superior to the Spanish, and it shows up brightly. The dessert pairs well with the special house blend coffee ($2.25), which White painstakingly designed with his purveyor, Firedance Coffee Co. For it, Nicaraguan, Sumatran and Tanzanian beans are individually roasted to enhance each's characteristics, then ground together into a potent brew. — Matthew Schniper