Saturday, June 6, 2015

Audrey Claire Cook: Del Frisco's Review

If you're looking to see what the Philly food scene has to offer, there's plenty of restaurants from famed Iron Chefs, Top Chefs, restaurateurs, and of course, all things Marc Vetri. But what if you want them to come to you - to offer a private dining experience? With that in mind, if you're a proper Philly foodie or simply looking for a great evening out, you need to check out COOK.

From the mind of Audrey Claire Taichman of the Rittenhouse stalwarts of Audrey Claire & Twenty Manning Grill, COOK is the ultimate foodie heaven. Philly's state-of-the-art 16-seat kitchen-classroom is where chef tastings and demonstrations can be enjoyed, granted at somewhat of a pretty price. The tickets are pre-purchased and fully inclusive of drink and service unless otherwise noted (a la Alinea). But where else in Philly can you creep into the mind of a chef as you watch them cook your meal? It's not just a setting for gourmands either. It's a great environment for a date or those with curious minds!

So as an anniversary gift earlier this year, the GF decided to grab us a pair of tickets to the Del Frisco's COOK event! Having been to both the NYC and the Philly Del Frisco's outposts, coupled with my obvious penchant for a proper steak, I was excited to say the least!

As Executive Chef of Del Frisco's Philadelphia, Chef John Strizinger is at the helm of a location that seats 600+ patrons a night. His youthful 33 years of age belies a culinary foundation that spans over a decade at Sullivan's Steakhouse in Delaware, before making the leap to his current station. Cool, and collected, it's clear that he's a calm, yet commanding presence in the kitchen. While cooking up a mean meal, he regaled us with quite a few tales. But on to the food!

Bread Service

While we waited for the other diners to arrive, we were served some freshly baked bread, along with some olive oil.

Capostrano Verdicchio di Matelica 
Italy 2013 

Did I mention that most of the COOK events are inclusive of wine and drink? This Verdicchio had wonderful citrus notes, with nice acidity and good body. Easily quaffable, the glass was never empty and this wine was enjoyed by all.

Tuna Tartare 
Citrus oil, wasabi cream, red onion, capers 

Tuna tartare was marinated for 24 hours in citrus oil, then topped off with a tempered wasabi cream. This was nicely balanced by the addition of red onion and the brininess of capers. A wonton crisp was provided to serve as the scooping vessel. 

Shanghai Fried Calamari

The #1 best seller at Del Frisco's and one of our favorite appetizers? The Shanghai Calamari, which features a 24-hour buttermilk marinade, with the cephalopod then deep-fried in seasoned flower, along with cherry peppers. Tossed with fresh mung bean sprouts and pickled jalapenos, texture, tang, and taste were all there. The sweetness of the black sesame helped to accentuate the delicious sauce. Highly recommended! 

Cajun lobster sauce

The crabcake was one of the better iterations I've had. Whole chunks of Indonesian lump crab with minimal filler came dressed with reduced lobster broth - a simple preparation of cream, lobster base, and butter. Each bite was luscious, sweet, and rich. Pro tip from Chef Stritzinger? When making crab cakes, make sure to pat your crab dry before molding and cooking!

Arugula and Kale Salad
Goat cheese, shallot vinaigrette, cranberry 

Another tip? Apparently most homemade salads aren't dressed properly. Make sure to toss the vinaigrette well - you can always add more vinaigrette so don't over-dress! And finishing with a bit of salt, pepper, and lemon can really make each bite. This was a fairly standard preparation, but certainly well-executed. The bright sweetness of the cranberries helped to cut through the richness of the tart goat cheese. The peppery arugula and substantial kale really stoop up to the vinaigrette and seasoning.

Philip Schell Malbec 
Argentina 2014 

But now, it was time for the steaks. A nice malbec was brought out to pair well with these thick-cut steaks. Bright, fruit forward, but with some light spice and a smoky finish.

The beautifully marbled USDA Prime steaks were brought out to highlight the differences in the cuts. Meanwhile a fair dozen steaks were being marked and grilled in the back kitchen. I thought we would just be enjoying a nice ribeye. But we were going to get a taste of the big 3 - filet, sirloin, and my favorite - the ribeye.

Prime Steak Tasting
Sirloin, ribeye, filet mignon

From bottom to top, we had the sirloin, ribeye, and filet. The sirloin showcased great beefiness and perfect seasoning. The ribeye? Unabashedly fatty and luscious. And as expected, the filet was nicely tender and cut like butter. The portions? Repeatedly replenished lest you think the above plate was all that was offered. Without getting into the specifics, let's just say that I'm not embarrassed to say that even I couldn't handle all this beef.

Garlic Butter & Green Peppercorn Sauce

The steaks were accompanied by two sauces. The garlic butter was rich, with bits of garlic floating about. The green peppercorn was my favorite as it had a nice kick, which was perfect to offset the richness of the beef.

Lobster Mac & Cheese

Oh and wait. There's more! Del Frisco's is well known for their lobster mac and cheese. Chef Stritzigner jokingly cautioned that one bite contained more calories than he'd care to share. But I threw caution to the wind and went in for a second helping. Creamy, rich, and with the pure essence of lobster, this is the right argument for a shellfish and cheese marriage.

Shaved Brussels Sprouts

On a slightly healthier note, shaved brussels sprouts were on offer. But of course, tossed in bacon fat to support the savoriness of the greens. Caramelized onions helped to round out the richness of each bite.

And with that, it was time for dessert. 

Lemon Doberge cake, strawberry cheesecake, chocolate mousse cups 

A troika of sweet confections were presented to each diner. An off-menu favorite, the lemon Doberge cake was simply stellar. Easily my new favorite dessert, it was rich, moist, and with plenty of lemon zest to punch up the brightness. If you're ever at Del Frisco's - save room and ask for this to round out your meal! The strawberry cheesecake featured a crumbly cookie crust. And the chocolate mousse had some bitter niceties that helped to break up the richness of the dessert course as a whole.     

And with that, we were given complimentary app cards to Del Frisco's along with some sweet chocolate-based candies to take home, courtesy of COOK. Pro tips? Arrive early and grab seats on the far side from when you enter to get the best seating and views. The entry end-seats are fine as well, but the faucet can slightly get in the way of the demonstration and foodie pics if that's your fancy. Make sure to get on COOK's mailing list to get a heads up before the tickets are released monthly. The good ones sell out quickly! And be sure to ask questions and engage your fellow diners. The food was amazing, but the conversation and night was even better.

Audrey Claire Cook
253 South 20th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 735-2665

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