Thursday, January 31, 2008

Curry Veggie Burgers

My last attempt at making veggie burgers was also my first attempt – and my first experience with tofu. I was 14 and a vegetarian newbie, so I turned to Fantastic Foods' veggie burger mix on aisle two of the health food store. I don’t know anyone who has been successful with tofu on the first go round, and my first try was dreadful. Removing moisture from tofu is paramount to many recipes, but I didn’t know that at this time.

The recipe for veggie burgers in The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, a recent Christmas present, doesn’t use tofu, but, again, removing moisture from the bulgur wheat, lentils and cooked vegetables that go into the burger is crucial.

I did as the recipe said, and my mix was still too moist. I added more bread crumbs, and when I ran out of bread crumbs, I added flour until I thought the patties were firm enough.

I fried the patties as instructed. I baked another batch of patties. I enjoyed the baked patties better – less oil and the baking took away some of the moisture from the patties.

The flavor of the patties is mushroomy-meaty, but I thought they needed more kick. I added more garlic than the recipe called for, and also added curry powder and cumin, making them curry burgers.

They say you can freeze the uncooked patties for later, but I just ate them all this past week!

Curry Veggie Burgers
Adapted from The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook
makes about 12 patties

2 cups water
¾ cup bulgur wheat
1 pound mushrooms, sliced
2 onions, minced
1 rib celery, finely chopped
1 large leek, white and light green parts finely chopped
5 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 (15-ounce) can brown lentils, rinsed and patted dry
1 cup raw, unsalted cashews, finely chopped
1/3 cup mayonnaise (or vegan mayo)
pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons curry powder
2 teaspoons cumin
¾ cup breadcrumbs (more if needed)

  • Bring water and pinch of salt to a boil in a saucepan, remove from heat, stir in bulgur, cover, and let stand 15-20 minutes. Drain in a fine-mesh strainer, and press excess moisture using a spatula. Set aside.
  • Add mushrooms, onions, celery, leek, garlic, 1 teaspoon oil, and ½ teaspoon salt in a large skillet. Cover and cook over medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes, stirring often.
  • Uncover vegetables, turn up heat, and cook until liquid has evaporated. Spread vegetables out on a baking sheet to cool.
  • Combine the bulgur, vegetables, lentils, cashews, mayonnaise, pepper, curry powder, and cumin. Pulse half the mixture in the food processor 15-20 pulses, and transfer to a large bowl. Repeat with other half. Stir in breadcrumbs. If mixture is too tacky, add more breadcrumbs, so you can handle the mixture.
  • Form into ½-inch-thick patties, and place on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 350°for 30 minutes, flipping patties at the half way point.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


It's been two years today since I started this blog, and I'm gonna say the exact thing I said last year at this time I can't believe I'm still writing this crap on this blog! But I thank each and every one of you who reads, and, possibly, enjoys what nonsense I have to say. It's a lot of fun, if not time consuming.

The only real downside of the blog, besides the occasional attack comment coming out of left field, is that I weigh ten pounds more than when I started the blog (like how I transfered the blame?), but there are most definitely upsides. I'll leave the best 'til the very end, because those who know me know that I'm a huge optimist (guffaw) and like to leave things on a perky, happy note.

Without further adieu, the year in review...
Favorite Posts From the Past Year
The longer posts on Waffle House, ING Cafe, and the Riverfront Market are my favorites. Surprisingly, none of these locations are in Philly.

Favorite Restaurants Reviewed
There are lots of restaurants visited in the last year that I'd go back to in a heart beat Genelle's, Tiffin, Bar Ferdinand, Silk City, Chicks, The Ugly American, Talula's Table, and Giwa but here are the ones on the list that I actually have gone back to (it's a big city, and it's hard to choose between a favorite and the unknown) Meju, A Full Plate Cafe, Los Caballitos, and Royal Tavern. It looks like I prefer casual restaurants with good food, of course!Best Thing from a Restaurant That I put In My Mouth
Vegetable curry at Genelle's!!! It's in Wilmington. I can't believe it, either.

Best Non-Dessert Recipes From This Year
Kick it homestyle with the easiest biscuit recipe ever.
It's still chilly out. Cooks Illustrated's white chili and Thai-style "chicken" soup.To Die For Ice Cream
I got an ice cream maker and went bezerk, and I know you did, too. I command you to make Banana Pudding Ice Cream, and Basil Ice Cream with Chocolate Chunks.

Most Anticipated Dessert
I'm praying the grape vines don't get diseased, so I can make Green Grape Pie again.Vacation!
Went to a plush Jamaican resort in the spring to see my boyfriend's baby brother get married. No beer for me, but lots of girly drinks. Then went to Wichita, Kansas for the stateside wedding reception. Managed a peek at Botanica in Wichita. Fourth of July means lots of food, lots of drinks, fireworks, and driving cars in to ditches (not me!) at my sister's place in Charleston, SC. A weekend trip to DC is only two hours away. Don't miss the market at Du Pont Circle when in DC. A weekend at Delaware's beaches is also only a couple of hours away. I compulsively look for shells when on the beach. My boyfriend's granddad taught me a few things in Corpus Christi, TX. I also discovered paletas in Texas. A trip to Virginia for another wedding right at peek fall foliage. And, finially, Austin revisited.Philly Fun
How can you not hit up the Philly Italian Market Festival? The Mexican food at the fest is my fav, though. A bike tour of Philadelphia's urban farms was super sweet. I ended up meeting fellow blogger Jennie, who helped organize and lead the tour. Hit up Greenfest on South Street. Saw my friend Mark hawking his wares, Organic Mechanics Potting Soil. It's the shit, yo! You can get bags of his soil at Whole Foods and a bunch of other places. Participated in Center City's Restaurant Week and ended up with a reservation at Mantra. Research revealed that Restaurant Week is not a great bargain for vegetarians. They upped the price since then, and now it's like paying a hefty fine if you're a vegetarian.
New Projects
Did I hit you over the head with the urban gardening going on in the back yard? Let me do it again. I also decided to give Wilmington some love. Glad I did, or I wouldn't have found Genelle's.Brush With Foodie Fame
So, my Dad was featured on an episode of No Reservations! I had heard about the show, but didn't have access to The Travel Channel. When I got wind of my Dad's adventures with Tony, I ordered up some really expensive cable television to be sure not to miss it, and also read Kitchen Confidential. I'm a Bourdain fan now, like most of you out there. (Did you see the picture of Bourdain in My Last Supper? Naked with a hunk of meat in front of his hunk of meat? I did. Meat and old men never looked so good.) I waited in the long line outside the Free Library of Philadelphia last December when Bourdain came through on a book tour to get my Dad an autographed copy of No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach. When I told him to make it out to my Dad, he was startled and asked who the hell I was (in a nice way). I'm my Dad's spawn, Tony.
Photos by Foodaphilia

Best Thing Last
I'm excited to have connected with a bunch of Philly food bloggers that I drop comments on (pretty much every one over in the side bar under Philly Food Blogs) with the Philly Food Blogger Meetups that were organized this past year with the help of E. and Marisa after a long string of emails. I ran into E. at her place of work, I ran into Jennie on the urban bike tour, and I ambushed David after getting my hair cut around the corner from his place of work (sorry, David), so when I saw on a Foodaphilia post that Marisa and E. ran into each other out on the town , I thought, you know, we ought to just all run into each other on purpose. I'm glad we got it together. If you're still out there blogging about food in the Philly area, and haven't joined up, drop me a line. You never know what will come of it. I talked my way into a trip to Portugal with Jennie at the last shindig!

So, that was last year. Here's to next year!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Ugly American

This is how they suck you in.

I’m so excited that The Ugly American opened up on the corner of Front and Federal in Pennsport this past December. Why? Because it’s right around the corner from my Philly digs.

We went the other night for our first time (holidays delayed things), and our server was the friendliest server I’ve ever encountered, but walked the line of too friendly. She told us all sort of amusing personal tales – the male pattern baldness in her family, her trip to Chicago, and many other snippets relating to our group. We were in the mood for the stories and happily countered with our own.

A complimentary basket of biscuits landed on our table with a cheerful interjection, “Don’t you love us already?” Yes, we do love you. And we love the biscuits. The biscuits at The Ugly American are tender with a crispy, greasy crust, but sweeter than the biscuits you make at home. I loved their biscuits, even though I know biscuits are not supposed to be that sweet. Sugar is a powerful drug.

In our party of two omnivores, one pescatarian, and one vegetarian, the flesh eaters ended up ordering the two vegetarian mushroom ball entrees, so I don’t have many dishes to report on.

The two omnivores ordered the exact same thing – the potato and leek soup, and the vegetarian mushroom ball po boy with escarole, goat cheese, and side of macaroni salad.

They both enjoyed the truffle oil on top of the creamy potato and leek soup. One thought the mushroom sandwich could have used sauce; the other argued that the sandwich was just fine if you got a bit of goat cheese with each bite.

The side of macaroni salad that accompanied the mushroom ball po boy was generous, and my favorite dish of the night. Cold macaroni salad is one of my guilty pleasures, and The Ugly American’s version is sweet, creamy, and absolutely perfect. (Some pics missing; too sloshed to hold camera steady.)

You can also get the mushroom balls atop pasta with julienne vegetables and truffle cream. I’ve never had anything quite like these mushroom balls – dark, musty, and flavor packed. They are excellent, but I’m glad the dish comes with only three balls, as I find them a bit over powering. If you like truffles, you’ll love these mushroom balls.

I had to order the macaroni and cheese entrée. At $16, I thought this oversized side was a bit pricey, as was most of the food and drink menu. I found the creamy cheese sauce bland, and I don’t normally like vegetables in my mac and cheese, but was happy to find a little variety with peas and cauliflower in what could have been a very bland meal of cheesy pasta. Of course – duh – I’m picky about mac and cheese, but most of you will love The Ugly American’s mac and cheese.

The dessert list has a couple interesting items. We were torn between the apple pie with cheddar cheese ice cream and the cookie plate with root beer pudding. We went with the cookie plate with root beer pudding. There were four types of homemade cookies – sugar, peanut butter, chocolate chip, and ginger snap. All of the cookies were of the hard type, so if you’re a soft cookie person, this is not for you. The root beer pudding most definitely tasted of root beer, and was quite interesting, but root beer pudding just should not exist. This dessert is for die-hard root beer lovers only.

So, a little hit and miss for, mostly, me at The Ugly American, but I’ll definitely be back. Our friendly and forthcoming server says the grits are awesome, and she’s from the South, so knows good grits. I was torn – mac and cheese or grits – but had to get the mac and cheese out of the way first. Round two for grits is slated soon.

The Ugly American
1100 S. Front St, Philadelphia, PA, 19147
Mon.-Thurs., 5 p.m.-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 5 p.m.-11 p.m.; bar menu ‘til midnight; Sun. brunch, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


Still hibernating…

This is what happens when someone calls a cake a fruitcake, but should have called it cherry-studded boozy brownies, and you fill the batter nearly to the top, because real fruitcakes don’t rise that much, because there’s not a lot of batter to rise in a fruitcake, but there was definitely more batter than fruit in this cake. I blame him for the misleading name, and myself for not listening to my instinct.

Monday, January 21, 2008

I Told You Once. Now, I'll Tell You Twice.

I’m gonna take the quick way out of blogging here, because I’m just not in the mood. Winter is dragging me down, making me want to crawl in a hole, and not move or think.

Remember the post on the ornamental sweet potato experiment where I concluded with a recipe for sweet potato mash that the sweet potato vines you pick up at the garden center to grow in your containers and gardens are just as tasty as the sweet potatoes you pick up in the grocery store?

Well, the photo above is further proof that they’re edible and delicious. This sweet potato pie was prepared last Thanksgiving, not by me, but by someone I convinced to use the tubers in their garden, and was just as good as the usual orange pie. No one died, and everyone went back for seconds. Booyah!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Sabrina's Too

How dare an outsider come into our town, and put down our dining institutions!

I’ll be the first to admit that the popular weekend brunch spot in my hometown was a mediocre, piece-of-shit excuse for a restaurant, but I went there every other weekend, and would probably have taken you there as my guest, because that’s where everyone went – and it was the only place in town to get a tofu scramble and tempeh sausage breakfast. Looking back, I’d be ashamed to take you there.

Now, I’m not saying Sabrina’s is shame worthy like my local brunch hot spot. Sabrina's most definitely is not. I’ve been to the original Sabrina’s a few times, and, more often than not, it puts out some decent food. I’m just saying that Sabrina’s doesn’t deserve the devotion of so many Philadelphians lining up outside the door every weekend waiting for hours to eat a brunch just as good as many other brunches to be had around town.

To alleviate the lines, and possibly capitalize on their success, Sabrina’s opened a second location serving the same menu; Sabrina’s Too in the Fairmount neighborhood. Now, I’ll go to Sabrina’s if I don’t have to wait in a long line.

There was a line at Sabrina’s Too, but it wasn’t out the door like at Sabrina’s Bella Vista location, although I can imagine that if you hit Sabrina’s Too at the right time, it can extend to the street. The wait at Sabrina’s Too was only 15-20 minutes. Not bad.

I know the extravagant, dessert-like pancakes and French toast concoctions on the specials board are heavenly, but what happens when you order something uncertain and off the beaten ordering path?

Lots of folks hate egg salad, and would never think of ordering an egg salad sandwich from a restaurant. I usually think better of it, too, even though I like egg salad. The mouth-stretchingly large egg salad sandwich at Sabrina’s was beyond bland, and the dressing/binder was thin.

Sabrina’s signature sweet potato fries sprinkled with cinnamon and powdered sugar accompany the sandwich (can get regular fries instead), along with a dab of tangy coleslaw. The sides were the best things on the plate. The server asked how I found the sandwich in a knowing tone, and recommended the tuna salad sandwich next time.

How about an omelet filled with apples and cheddar cheese? Omelet and cheese – check. Apple and cheese – check. Omelet, cheese, and apple – not good. This combination sounded good, but left us saying, “Ew.”

I think a sharp cheese would have taken the sweet edge off the apples, and made this dish better. The melted white cheddar inside the omelet was mild, even though the menu described the cheese as sharp. Maybe the combo of apples and eggs were the problem. The toast was whole-grainy good, and the potatoes could have used seasoning.

With that last experience at Sabrina’s, I’ll stand behind my assertion that Sabrina’s is living and growing on undeserved hype. (I can feel the shit storm coming. This happened when I nay-sayed the holy Philly institution of Monks. How dare I?)

Sabrina's Cafe & Spencer's Too
1802 Callowhill St., Philadelphia, PA, 19130
Tues.-Sat., 8 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sun.-Mon., 8 a.m.-4 p.m.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

My New Favorite Snack

I’m not really sure what I did at the last Philly food blogger potluck, thanks to running around and pouring myself stiff drinks. I do know that all the food was good, and that I almost – yes, almost – didn’t sample my favorite dish of the night.

When my boyfriend yelled across the table, “You gotta try these. They’re…uh…something like...uh…kielbasa.” (If it weren’t for the fact that my Dad reads this blog, a bad Polish sausage joke would have followed that last sentence. You can thank my Dad.) Yeah, I didn’t rush over to sample the kielbasa.

What the confused boy meant to say was patra, or maybe colocasia. Patra are Indian rolls made with colocasia leaves (elephant ears, or taro leaves), and a spicy batter.

It wasn’t until the house was almost empty, and Tushar from PhillyFoodGuys started to pack up the leftover patra he brought, that I sampled one. I was in love.

I cleaned him out, and left him with nothing to take home (this is how I usually treat men). I ate them for a midnight snack, I ate them for breakfast, and then I went to International Foods and Spices in West Philly to stock up that very day.

You can make these at home, that is, if you can find patra leaves in ethnic markets. You can, also, find patra rolls in the frozen food section of Indian markets. They’re good right out of the box, but better if you do as Tushar says. He told me to heat up some oil with whole spices, sauté the slices, and then squeeze lots of lemon on top. Top with chutney, or leave plain.

I was trying my hardest at the end of the night to take in all the info, but under social situations (bourbon) my memory is worse than an amnesiac’s. Other than star anise, I missed what spices Tushar recommended to sauté the patra with. I went with whole cardamom, whole cumin, and whole cloves because that’s what I had on hand, but I’m sure star anise, mustard seed, and coriander seed would be nice, as well.

I hope you all got/get a chance to sample these. Had I sampled them earlier, you wouldn’t have gotten a chance.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Hey All You Vegans...

I just went through and tagged all my vegan recipes, and labeled the vegan recipes in the sidebar and recipe index with (V) to denote that they are vegan.

Why did I just get around to this? Because I’m not vegan, so don’t really think about it. But I know some of you who read this blog are vegan.

I’m surprised to see that a lot of my recipes are vegan. I’m also surprised to see that this last recipe, key lime-coconut cupcakes, is the first vegan dessert recipe on this blog. I'm sure there are also other recipes that could easily be made vegan, so check them out.

Anyway, hope that helps.

Key Lime-Coconut Cupcakes

I don’t own what is probably the most popular vegan cookbook out there – Vegan with a Vengeance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. Neither do I own Moskowitz’s Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. I like to think that it's not that I'm slow or cheap, but that I was just waiting for the big kahuna – Veganomicon: the Ultimate Vegan Cookbook.

Ok, I'm cheap. I was waiting for someone (Santa) to give me one of Moskowitz’s cookbooks.

The first recipe I made out of Veganomicon was mini key lime-coconut cupcakes for the last Philly food blogger meetup. Can’t find key lime-coconut cupcakes in the index of your Veganomicon? That’s because it’s not there.

I knew I was making non-vegan mini key lime bars, but wanted a vegan counterpart. When I saw the coconut-lemon bundt cake recipe in Veganomicon, I immediately thought of banana-lime bread with lime glaze that I used to make that also used coconut. Bingo! Substitute lime for lemon, put the batter in a mini-cupcake pan, and slap a lime glaze on those suckers!

I liked these guys a lot. They were sweet, but not cloying. If you want cloying, just add a lime and cream cheese-like frosting. Cloying is good, too.

Key Lime-Coconut Cupcakes

1 ⅔ cups granulated sugar
⅔ cup vegetable oil
1 14-ounce can coconut milk
¼ cup rice or soy milk
¼ cup lime juice, (key lime or regular)
3 tablespoons grated lime zest
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ cup shredded coconut, (sweetened or unsweetened)

Key Lime-Rum Glaze

¼ cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon rum
3 tablespoons lime juice, (key lime or regular)

  • For the cake, combine sugar, oil, coconut milk, rice milk, lime juice and zest, and vanilla in a large bowl.
  • Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into the wet ingredients in batches, mixing well after each addition. Mix in the coconut.
  • Pour the batter into a greased mini-cupcake pan, and bake for 18 minutes in a pre-heated 350° oven, or until the cake is done. Let cool.
  • To make the glaze, combine brown sugar, rum, and lime juice in a small pan over low heat, stirring constantly for about 5 minutes until a thin syrup develops. Brush tops of cupcakes with glaze.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Lies, All Lies

I was planning to write a Wilmington restaurant review this weekend. Next in line was Corner Market, a sandwich and gourmet grocery shop downtown. But, guess what? They closed this week, and are no longer in business.

These pictures were taken almost two months ago to the date. The place was so bare, I almost turned around and walked out, but when I’m determined to do something (check out Corner Market, in this instance), I do it. I actually asked if they were going out of business before placing my order. They acted like I was on crack. They even came up with a highly unbelievable story that a party had just been in the day before and cleaned the place out. Right.

I don’t understand why businesses try to cover up the fact that they’re going out of business? FoodSource, an upscale food market, also blatantly lied to me when I asked them if they were going out of business. Just admit it, and put your goods on sale!

Things at Corner Market just didn’t seem right, so I’ve been holding on to the review and the pictures, checking back when I’m downtown to see if the place ever re-stocked after the “party.” Nope. Things just got barer.

Anyway, the sandwich I ordered (goat cheese, pine nut, and honey) was a little sloppy, but not that bad. Goat cheese and honey is a classic, yummy pairing. But who cares? They’re closed.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Chili con Chocolate

Four new (to me) cookbooks arrived under my Christmas tree. I hope to cook at least one dish from each book before I put them on the shelf. First up is David Lebovitz’s oldie but goodie, The Great Book of Chocolate.

It took every ounce of will not to choose a sweet recipe, but I’m desserted-out from the holidays (polygraph arm just jumped), so it wasn’t too hard to choose the chili con chocolate recipe.

As I somewhat followed the recipe (see notes below), and tasted the chili during the hour-long simmer before the chocolate is added, I thought, “This chili is nothing special.” Once the chocolate was added, though, the chili transformed into something darker and richer, but still a hearty tomato-based chili that will please traditionalists.

Time wasn’t on my side, so I used canned beans. Tempeh replaced beef, and ancho chili replaced red chili. Dill didn’t make it into the pot.

Chili con Chocolate
Adapted from The Great Book of Chocolate by David Lebovitz

2 1-pound cans kidney and/or pinto beans, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 onions, diced
1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
1 tablespoon salt
8 ounces tempeh, crumbled
1 to 2 teaspoons cayenne
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ½ tablespoons ground cumin
black pepper
1 dried ancho chili, reconstituted and diced
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
4 cups water
3 ounces Ibarra Mexican sweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped (if can't find, use chocolate and a dash of cinnamon)
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

  • Heat oil in a large pot. Add onions, bell pepper, garlic, jalapenos, and salt, and cook for 10 minutes over medium heat.
  • Add tempeh, cayenne, oregano, cocoa, cumin, black pepper, and ancho chili, and cook for a few minutes to release flavors.
  • Add the crushed tomatoes, beans, and water, and simmer for 1 hour uncovered, or until thick. Stir in the chocolate and vinegar.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


At this point, it was too late to move to the bar.

I’ve been wanting to try Divan Turkish Kitchen and Bar simply because their building on the corner of Carpenter and 22nd smacks me up side the head every time I turn on to 22nd to head into Center City. Oh, yeah, there’s a Turkish restaurant down this way!

With a New Year’s Eve party two blocks from Divan, the time had come to check things out.

As we stumbled to find the entrance, we could hear lively music and could see the shadow of a belly dancer twirling on the other side of the curtains.

Oh, god! Belly dancers scare me, yet, if I were a belly dancer, you better believe I'd be shakin' my shit over your plate. Right as we walked in, though, the dancer exited. Phew!

We had reservations for seating at the bar, because that’s what happens when you make reservations at 5:30 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. The bar was full, but a tiny two-top plunked in the middle of the narrow, dimly lit room’s walkway next to the waiter’s station, and inches from a larger table against the wall was open. We took it.

I was very uncomfortable sitting at, basically, another party’s table. If the table beside us had left before we did, we would have had to have gotten up. And a mere eighteen inches on the other side, the server’s non-stop asses bumped into each other at the server’s station for the entire evening.

I was distracted and grumpy about the seating situation. It didn’t help that an accordion player started playing directly behind me, and a tip jar was passed around before we had even ordered drinks. Half a drink later, I settled down.

For variety, we went with an assortment of appetizers and a dessert:All appetizers come wearing one outfit - shredded lettuce, tomato slices, and herb sprinkles. (I'm getting a new camera soon. I hope it deals with low light situations better.)

Imam bayildi - Whole baby eggplant stuffed with sautéed onion, garlic, tomatoes, red peppers, green peppers, parsley, and dill. The eggplant was very tender, but cold from sitting in the fridge. A bland, unexciting dish.

Falafel with humus and tahini sauce – The falafel were a little too crispy on the outside, but the inside was very soft. As a vegetarian that gets humus at every turn, I'm disenchanted with this bean dip, in general, but Divan's not-ultra-creamy-but-not-chunky humus texture is more my style. The tahini sauce was sweet, not bitter, and that's what I love. More tahini sauce, please

Mucver – Oven-baked zucchini pancake with yogurt. So soft, you don’t need teeth!

Ispanakli borek – Spinach pie. Our server must have misheard our order, because we ordered another spinach appetizer. Oh, well. Or, damn. This was my least favorite appetizer. The dough was rubbery and lifeless – how I’d expect it to act after sitting a day in a take-home container.

Turkish cigar borek - Thinly rolled dough stuffed with feta and parsley. This was my favorite appetizer. Warm feta…mmm.

Firin sutlac – Baked rice pudding. With baked in the name, I expected this dessert to be warm. It was fridge-temperature. This dessert is more of a thick custard, and does not have individual rice grains. The top was very thick, as custards sitting around are apt to develop.

Highlights of the night were the Turkish cigar borek and the tahini sauce. Most memorable from the evening was sitting on top of a clapping and singing table of patrons with server’s asses in my face.

Our experience at Divan was hit or miss, and the seating arrangements are atrocious when the house is full.

Divan Turkish Kitchen and Bar, 918 S. 22nd St., Philadelphia, PA, 19146

Open Noon-11 p.m., 365 days a year

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The Road Not Taken

My life could be very different right now. I could be living in Austin, Texas.

Back in the mid-‘90s, I had a love affair with Austin. I visited a few times, stayed with friends, rode my bike along the urban Barton Creek Green Belt, traipsed the city, ate at loads of veggie-friendly restaurants, and decided that I’d like to move to this warm climate city (warm climate was a prerequisite).

I went back out there, found an apartment, put down a deposit, and came back to the east coast to pack.

I chickened out and ended up staying on the east coast. Why am I such a big loser? I had no job prospectives in Austin, and rent in Austin (thanks to their ‘90s dot-com boom) was 3-4 times what I was paying back home (I had ridiculously cheap rent).

It’s been about ten years since I’ve been to Austin, but I went last week – ‘cause it really is a great city!

My favorite restaurant from my previous visits is Thai Noodle House, which is tucked behind a 7-11 on the main drag near the University of Texas campus. I went back to see if I could find the dish I loved so much – a cold noodle dish with a tangy sauce. Ten years is a long time to hold on to the memory of a dish you’ve only eaten five or six times, and the dish I chose didn’t seem to match my memory. Oh well. Maybe it’s not me. Apparently the shop has switched owners, and not everyone is happy about it. Our meal was good.

I’ve had Indian in Austin, but never at The Clay Pit. This place has to be the largest Indian restaurant I’ve ever been to. And the busiest. We went on a Thursday night during UT winter break, and it was packed. The food is dubbed contemporary Indian, since it incorporates non-traditional ingredients like salmon and mussels. The Northern Indian food at the Clay Pit is solid.

El Soy y La Luna is a funky Tex-Mex joint in the artsy, indie SoCo area. The menu is extensive, and they even serve breakfast all day. I went with the black bean taco and the soy chorizo taco from the a la carte menu. One thing I love and remember from previous visits to Austin is the abundance of soy chorizo at restaurants. Austin is very veggie-friendly!

I’ve been on a “where’s a veggie hot dog” quest for many years, and the quest is surprisingly difficult. So far in my travels, the Midwest is a veggie hot dog hot spot. Dog Almighty in South Austin serves beef, turkey, and veggie hot dogs with a long list of toppings. Anything on the menu can be made vegetarian. (Did I mention that Austin is veggie-friendly?) I had The Classic with chili, onions, cheese, and mustard, and The Pflueger Dog with kraut, onions, and mustard. The dogs and buns were grilled to perfection. Almighty Dog made my day. Will someone in Philly take this idea and make it happen?

I’m back in Wilmington/Philly now. Back to my life that actually happened. Austin is great, but I’ve got a Philly love affair going on now – despite that it's cold as fuck here.