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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Soo...Sampan

Restaurant: Sampan
Rating: 8.6 forks
Best dish: edamame dumplings
Price: $$
124 S. 13th Street
Philadelphia, PA

So as I stated in my previous post, tonight was my first adventure with restaurant week and big bro Jake and I decided to kick it off at Sampan. Why Sampan? Well, I looked at every menu of the participating restaurants for the week, and it just spoke to me. I know I really want to go somewhere when I start hyperventilating reading the menu, so the decision was easy. When we arrived, the place was packed. The hostess informed us that our wait would be about 15 minutes, my stomach growled. "Or you could sit at the bar over looking the kitchen?" When the suggestion left her lips I was stunned. WHY WOULD I WANT TO SIT ANYWHERE ELSE IN THE FIRST PLACE?!?!?! Literally, my smile lit up the trendy dim room. As we headed back to the kitchen bar I surveyed the space; chic and trendy with splashes of color, the restaurant had an upbeat and hip vibe. We were seated at the side of the bar, with a full view into the kitchen and an upclose and personal view of one of the prep stations. Needless to say, I was in heaven before I even tasted anything.
 For restaurant week Sampan was offering their special 7 course tasting menu plus dessert, which will usually cost one $45, for $35. There were seven courses, small plates, satay, cold and hot, meat, fish sides, and the daily soft serve for dessert. Jake and I jumped on that and as soon as we ordered, food started arriving. First came out the edamame dumplings. Served in a a golden colored sake broth, four edamame dumplings nestled around fresh pea shoots. They were divine. The perfect bite, literally eating a fluffy edamame pillow. The texture of the edamame inside was like velvet and the skin of the dumpling was perfectly cooked and still had that chewy texture. I secretly wanted to steal Jake's second dumpling and really had to restrain myself.


Next came the Korean BBQ Beef Satay. It was a thin rolled up piece of beef topped with a spicy kim chee and ginger slaw and it was UNREAL. The beef was sweet and savory, and yet the little cold kim chee and ginger on top gave it a spicy after taste. The richness of the meat really carried through and was so tender and delicate yet still maintained its hearty flavor. This was Jake's personal fave.

Then we were served the Rock Shrimp; crispy rock shrimp with pickled radish, yuzu, and a chili aioli. First of all, it was beautiful, but I set aside the beauty and dove in anyways. A good rock shrimp requires a few things: a crispy coating, a delicate yet flavorful sauce, and some other texture besides the shrimp itself. Sampan's rock shrimp boasted all of the above. It was light, airy, and the chili aoili was tangy and spicy yet didn't hide the natural flavors of the shrimp. The radish offered a great textural component and the pickled-ness contrasted nicely to the savory notes in the sauce.


After the shrimp came the much anticipated "Philly Cheese Steak," Schulson's modern Asian take on the Philadelphia classic. Served on a bao bun with sirracha, and shallots, braised shredded steak was topped with freshly grated cheese, (I believe parmesan?) It was a two biter, and was able to pack a powerful punch. The beef was tender and well seasoned and tasted like it had been marinated and slow cooked for hours. The cheese added a nutty bite that played off the richness of the beef. It was definitely a great interpretation of the traditional sandwich we all know and love, in a much lighter and refined form.

Then came the tuna. Seared pieces of tuna lay gracefully over chilled soba noodles with avocado and tomatoes. To be honest, this was both Jake and my least favorite dish of the night. The noodles were good and had a tasty flavor base, but the tuna was lacking and bland. I also felt that the tuna was cut too thin and that the textures of the noodles and tuna were too similar, as they both had soft chewy consistencies and it was sometimes hard to distinguish one from the other. Perhaps a thicker cut tuna with a crust of wasabi or sesame seeds could have added a little distinction.

Brussel sprouts are one of my favorite vegetables, so when I saw it on the menu as a side I picked it without a second of hesitation. Lucky for me, I was sitting in front of the prep station for the brussel sprouts and witnessed as the dish came together, from when they started as fresh sprouts to when they came steaming out of the wok, were tossed in a sauce, and then delivered to my table. The crispy brussel sprouts were coated in a light fish sauce, puffed rice, and chill. They had a great crunch and texture and really solid flavor but they were a little bit on the oily side. Regardless, that didn't stop me from licking the bowl clean.


Our last savory course was the Crispy Szechuan Chicken. Chicken tossed with chinese greens, garlic, and sesame heaped high on a plate came to our counter top steaming. The chicken was tasty and delicious, not too heavy or over sauced like many Asian chicken dishes can be, and truly captured that feeling of "light" modern Asian cuisine.

AND FINALLY...DUN DUNNA DUN...dessert. The chef's daily soft serve. When the miniature ice cream cones came out, I found myself getting short of breath. They were utterly delightful and simply lovely. I didn't want to eat them, I wanted to carry them around as acessories. But alas, I did eat them. And the flavors? Vanilla skittles and chocolate apple jack. Like, WHAT? I know! As a candy addict, this was music to my ears as well as to my taste buds. The vanilla skittles literally tasted like skittles, fruity and sweet, but not too sweet. And then the chocolate apple jack. UGH, this will be the subject of my dream for the night. It tasted warm. It tasted like warm cocoa apple cider. My tastebuds felt fooled when they were told they were eating ice cream because I experienced a warming sensation as if I were sipping a wintery hot drink. Kind of hard to describe unless you try, so try. TRY.


Basically, Sampan was delicious. And while I got a great deal of 7 courses plus dessert for $35, the regular $45 is definitely still worth it. I'm not just saying that to justify my future payments there either...Also, another thing I did learn: Sampan has a "happy hour" EVERY day of the week from 4-7 where favorites like the edamame dumplings ***THE FAVORITE****,  the korean beef BBQ satay (second fave) and many other small plates are offered for $2, $3, or $4. Plus, drink prices are also reduced. PERF for us college kids looking for a good time. So, if you're reading this and it's between the hours of 4 and 7, get your booty off wherever your sitting and go on downtown to Sampan, NOW.

holla for restaurant week!
xoxo
hungreegirl.

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