Sunday, April 22, 2007

Zocalo

The more Mexican restaurants in and around Philadelphia I try, the more I find my loyalty aligned to Taqueria Veracruzana down on 9th and Washington. Not that unique food experiences haven't taken place or that any were truly bad. But none have stacked up either. The most recent journey brought me and three friends to Zocalo in West Philadelphia. You can also check out their menu here, via Philadelphia MenuPages.
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Alison and I arrived an hour before our friends to sit at the bar and have an appetizer. I ordered a ginger margarita, pictured here in an earlier post. I loved this twist on a Mexican classic. Alison had a glass of Zocalo Sangria. Strawberries, blackberries and blueberries marinate in white tequila, then get spooned into glasses and filled with white wine. Not only is the presentation gorgeous, but it's a delicious light version of sangria, and much more suitable to my palate than Zocalo's Classic Sangria made with red wine, citrus, cinnamon, and clove.
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We decided to start with the Salsa Trio, a combination bowl of salsa mexicana, guacamole and xik-l-pak, a Mayan pumpkin seed dip. The salsa was terrible. A sad concoction of under-ripe tomatoes, white onion and practically nothing else. The guacamole was good, but Alison's is better. The xik-l-pak, however, was a very successful addition to the dish. The seeds were roasted, then ground with cilantro, garlic, onion and cumin into a paste. It's beautiful and delicious. Next time, I'll skip the Trio and just order the xik-l-pak.
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We were starving and still waiting for friends after about an hour, so I talked Alison into the Queso Fundido with mushrooms. The cheese was salty and beautifully brown and crisp on the top. Nestled inside of a warm flour tortilla with a dash of the habenero hot sauce provided on the table, the cheese and mushroom combination was perfectly coordinated. Our friends ordered a version with Poblano peppers soon after their arrival. It's a shame there isn't a mushroom and pepper version, because that seems like a fantastic combination.
Enchiladas Rojas Interior Shot
Shannon ordered the Enchiladas Rojas, one of the limited vegetarian choices on the menu. Spinach, caramelized onion and mixed cheese are rolled into enchiladas and baked in a traditional red chile sauce.
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I ordered the pechuga michoacana. Marinated boneless breast of chicken topped with chorizo, melted chihuahua cheese, then drizzled with salsa tomatillo. It was good, but due to the two appetizers we ordered, I could only eat a few bites and took the rest home for lunch the next day.
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I can't blame my friends for doing silly things like giving the finger to the camera, or bunny ears to the food, because they put up with my annoying habit of taking pictures of nearly everything we eat. Liz had the chicken fajitas. Chicken, bell peppers and onions served piping hot with fresh flour tortillas. Liz's complaint? No cheese or sour cream was to be found.
Enchiladas Verde
Finally, Alison ordered the Enchiladas Verdes. Three chicken enchiladas served in the same green tomatillo sauce that was spooned over my chicken dish.

We all enjoyed our appetizers and meals and especially the drinks. The final verdict was that Zocalo was expensive. We were there for a special occasion, so it was warranted, but the quality of the service was low and the food just okay in comparison to cheap authentic eats at some of South Philly's Mexican taquerias. So it really just depends on what atmosphere you're going for. If you're on a first date and trying to impress or intoxicate, take her to Zocalo. If you've been together for years and bond over your love of authentic guacamole, spicy salsa and cheesy tacos, skip Zocalo and head down to South Philly.

Zocalo
3600 Lancaster Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19014
215-895-0139
Zocalo in Philadelphia

Friday, April 20, 2007

Birthday Pie

Most of the Superfriends gathered last Sunday to celebrate the day of my birth. Awww, such sweet friends. They brought flowers and pie!
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The pie was awesome, filled with small, sweet, Maine blueberries and covered with a crumb topping instead of an extra crust, this pie was really really good. Even better still with a large scoop of raspberry chip ice cream. Thanks Marissa and Lauren!
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Alison also baked brownies! Amazing. They were really delicious too. She kept saying, "they're just from a box mix", but I've made boxed brownies that don't taste nearly as good as they ones she made. Unfortunately, due to wine consumption, I forgot to take a picture. But, earlier in the day I visited the newest addition to Liberties Walk, the new candy store. I got a nice selection of chocolate goodies and some watermelon fruit slices. This time, I remembered to photograph the treats, but clearly the wine impeded my ability to take a nice macro shot. Sorry for the blurry picture.
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The rest of the evening we spent eating the above pie and candy and playing apples to apples. Even Zoe helped by holding Shannon's cards. Awww, what a sweet girl. And a sweet birthday celebration.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Yesterday was my birthday, and I was terribly sick. Having worked at the cafe a little bit on the weekend, then all day on Monday after only sleeping for a few hours, waking up on Tuesday I was miserable. Luckily, my boss is a cool and understandable woman and I was able to stay home and sleep. And sleep I did. Till about 3 in the afternoon. At which point, I woke up, ate condensed soup (ick!) and watched a lame movie from Netflix.

But you know what makes a girl feel really special when she's sick as a dog on her birthday? When her friends insist on taking her out for spicy food to clear her sinuses and margaritas to sooth her sore throat.

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This was the best of the three I consumed last night at Zocalo in West Philly. The ginger margarita is traditional, white tequila and lime with a ginger twist, not overwhelming, but just potent enough to make your lips tingle. Loved it. And loved my friends for taking me out despite my runny nose and watery eyes.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Konak Turkish Restaurant

I'd been wanting to try Konak for a while, and then I saw another food blogger's review earlier this month. I hadn't experienced a Turkish restaurant before, but understood it to be Mediterranean/North African, both cuisines my roommate and I love. She was the perfect companion on this adventure.
Konak (9)
Located close to 2nd and Vine, Konak is easy to find, and even provides free parking to restaurant customers.
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I had a cocktail called a Seabreeze which I enjoyed a lot. Cranberry and Grapefruit juice are mixed with raspberry vodka. Yummy.
Konak (2)
Alison is a hummus connoisseur, she loves the stuff. On any given day there is a 99.9% chance of a tub of hummus residing in our fridge. I really only like the hummus we make at home, but I liked this hummus a lot. Unfortunately, we both agreed, no hummus has yet to compare to Dimitri's down on 3rd and Catherine. Konak's hummus is smooth and garlicky, but was a bit heavy on the tahini.
Konak (4)
We also started with the Sigara Borek, which I'd seen featured at Farofa and French Fries, a deep fried Fillo dough tube filled with parsley and Turkish feta cheese. In comparison to Greek feta, Turkish feta is smoother, creamier and a little less salty. We both loved this dish. Seriously, I could have eaten two whole orders by myself.
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I'd also read good things about the lamb chops, so I urged Alison to order them. They came with an odd looking potato, carved to resemble a pear. Other than the funny shape, there was nothing spectacular about the potato. The chops were cooked perfectly and tasted very good.
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I opted for a mixed grill of chicken kebab, lamb kebab with cherry tomatoes, gyro on pita, and rice. The chicken and lamb kebab were very good, moist, and not over cooked. The gyro was very dry and rather chewy. Quite possibly some of the worst I've had, and absolutely no competition to Katie's. The rice was also flavorful, and cumulatively, I enjoyed my dinner.

For the menu prices, I wouldn't expect to see leather coats and jewelry for sale in the bar, but hey, whatever.

I might venture back here for the hummus, or to have a drink in their attractive bar, but probably not for dinner.

Konak Authentic Turkish Restaurant
228 Vine Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106

Lunch Hours:
Tuesday–Wednesday: 11:30 am - 4:00 pm
Thursday-Friday-Saturday: 11:00 am - 4:00 pm
Dinner Hours:
Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday:4:30 pm - 10:00 pm
Friday-Saturday: 4:30 pm - 12:00 am
Sunday (Brunch): 10:30 am - 2:30 pm
Sunday: 2:30 pm - 10:00 pm
Monday Closed

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Villa di Roma

My good friend Andy was up from College Park last weekend. Friday night we did a little barhopping in Northern Liberties, then made our way down to the Italian Market area because I had never been to Villa di Roma and Andy was in the mood for some non-fancy red Italian food. Villa di Roma is a popular restaurant in South Philly known for it's no-nonsense waitstaff and authentic food. You can check out their menu here courtesey of Philadelphia Menupages.com.
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We started with the Fried Asparagus ($7.95). Oh man, this was phenomenal! I seriously could have eaten this whole plate by myself, and when I go again, I might just get two orders of it for dinner. The asparagus were fried perfectly, not overdone or soggy with oil. The spears were placed in a gentle pool of awesome butter sauce, but it was too viscous to just contain butter alone. The server wouldn't reveal any secrets, but I'm pretty sure there is a breadcrumb addition to the sauce that gives it body and texture. Try these asparagus when you visit Villa di Roma, I promise you will not be disappointed.
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The menu is large, with numerous vegetarian and multiple meat (chicken, veal, etc) choices, and I was truly at a loss for what to try. I asked the server what she likes to eat and she suggested the Chicken Bucca Bella. It sounded wonderful, and I knew it was going to be as soon as she put my dinner in front of me!
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I only got more excited as I made the first cut into my chicken. Two cutlets were stuffed with proscuito and provolone, then breaded and pan fried, served in a brown butter sauce with spinach. Oh dear! I'd like to say that after the fried asparagus appetizer that I couldn't finish my entree, but I totally did. This was one of those meals where my stomach hurt, but my mouth just couldn't get enough.
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Andy went for what he was craving, Eggplant Parmagiana with a side of meatballs. I didn't get a photo of the meatballs, but I had a little bite and then were nice, good texture and flavor, and served in a pool of their red gravy.
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As if that weren't enough, we had coffee and canoli too! Earlier this year I declared Vacarro's canoli as the best in the East, but I think they have a rival here at Villa di Roma. The shell was thick and crisp and the ricotta filling was sweet and spiked with anise flavor.

Villa di Roma
936 S 9th St
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 592-1295

Hours
Mon-Thu: 4pm-10:30pm
Fri-Sat: 11:30am-10:30pm
Sun: 2pm-10pm
Villa di Roma in Philadelphia
Cash Only!

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Somosas - Tiffin Store

What are you waiting for? If you live in Philadelphia or anywhere close and are disappointed with the bland and sometimes soggy somosas offered at other Indian places, go to Tiffin on Girard Avenue and 7th Street and eat one the best somosas ever. I haven't enjoyed a somosa more in my life. The filling is flavorful and moist, wrapped inside a thick and crispy shell. Served with a cilantro dipping sauce, this is seriously good food.
Tiffin in Philadelphia

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Chris is hosting Cooking to Combat Cancer over at Mele Cotte because April is Cancer Control Month. The emphasis is on healthy recipes. I thought I'd stretch my baking abilities a bit and alter an old standby into a healthier version. It also happens that blueberries were on sale when I went to Thriftway.
blueberry cobbler (4)
The nutritional benefits of blueberries are extensive. Recently, some research has shown that Pterostilbene, a compound found in blueberries, may prevent tumors from forming in the colon.

For the blueberry cobbler, you'll need:

24 oz fresh or frozen blueberries
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
2 Tablespoons sugar

Topping:

1 cup white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup white sugar
2 tsp kosher
2 eggs, slightly beaten
5 tablespoons Earth Balance, melted
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

Place the blueberries in a large baking dish. A 13 X 9 glass dish will do, I used a deep oval baking dish and it worked well. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of sugar and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice over the berries and stir. Let sit while you prepare the topping.

In a large bowl, mix together flours, sugar and salt. Add the beaten eggs and stir with a fork. Eventually, you have to get in there with your hands and combine until there is almost no loose flour left. Pour this mixture over the berries and pat down slightly, but not firmly.

In a small bowl combine the brown sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle this over the crumb mixture. Pour melted Earth Balance over the crumb mixture and sugar.

blueberry cobbler (7)

At this point, this is what your cobbler should look like. I put mine on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper for baking, as I didn't want to worry about the blueberry juice getting everywhere, but if you like to live on edge, you can certainly just throw the dish in oven as is.

After baking for 45 minutes in a 375 degree oven, you will have the most delicious blueberry dessert. Okay, maybe it's not as delicious as the white flour only, full sugar and full fat version, but this is pretty tasty too! And while it may not be a "healthy" recipe, it's definitely a healthier version of one I'd make and eat anyway, so every little bit helps, right?

cobbler crop

I took this cobbler to my friend Mindy's birthday celebration. We were at Shannon's house playing cards, and she had exactly one bowl and 3 spoons to feed 8 people. So I filled up the bowl, topped it with a huge scoop of Breyer's Double Churned Light Ice Cream and we all shared it family style.