Friday, May 30, 2008

Soybean Asian Grille

Look at me! Back on the Pad Thai and Massaman curry hunt so soon.

Soybean Asian Grille, a new Thai place in Pike Creek Shopping Center outside of Wilmington, recently opened. I took one of those miserable, all-day-downpour days off from work (working in the rain sucks) to check things out.

Tucked in a large strip mall between Wilmington and Newark, Soybean Asian Grille is quite nice inside in that brand-spanking new, clean walls, crisp lines, dark lighting, I’m-trying-to-be-a-real-restaurant way. They need some wall hangings, though.

There’s a tiny bar right when you open the door that’s partitioned from the main dining room. Not sure why it’s separated, but it is. At 12 noon the lights were low, and gave an intimacy to the room and the impression of dinner dining.

If you dine in for lunch, a nice little side salad is included with your entrée. My salad came with tofu. Not sure if tofu is standard. I figure that the server astutely deduced from my two orders with tofu (one for there and one to go) that I would not be eating meat. The dressing was described as a peanut sauce. This dressing was thick and sweet – really the same sauce you get when you order saytay – not the lighter, tangier peanut sauce on some Thai salads. Either dressing suits me fine.

Confession: I eat fish sauce in Thai food when I’m dining out. I prefer not to, and I don’t like the taste or smell of it, but I can’t resist Thai food. It’s my one little vegetarian concession – a few micro milliliters of fish essence a year. Yep, I’m going to hell.

Fish sauce smells like wet dog to me, and I can easily detect it’s presence in dishes. Soybean Grille’s pad Thai reeked of fish sauce when it was set in front of me. I would say it was moderately heavy on the fish sauce compared to all the pad Thai’s I’ve eaten. The good thing about fish sauce is that after the first couple of bites, the smell disappears. Or maybe you just get used to it.

The noodles were too saucy; the sauce dripped off the noodles. The sauce also was too sweet. I like sweet pad Thai, but this crossed into the realm of too sweet. Ultra sweet could be your thing, though. Not mine.

There was a myriad of vegetables mixed throughout the noodles of the vegetable pad Thai: baby corn, carrots, broccoli florets, broccoli stems, button mushrooms, black mushrooms, red pepper, bok choy, green beans, and mung bean sprouts, not to mention two types of tofu. The variety of vegetables was a little overwhelming, but I didn’t mind too much. If you’re a purist and only like scallions and mung bean sprouts in your pad Thai, speak up.

Even though the pad Thai was enough for two sensible meals, I ordered the massaman curry to take home for dinner. A side salad does not come with your take out lunch orders.

Amazing! Light + camera = decent photo

Hey, look! All of those vegetables in my Pad Thai are in my massaman curry. I don’t like it when restaurants do this. It smacks of cheapness. It’s a one-size-fits-all solution, and means I can expect all of my dishes to be similar.

Usually only potatoes, onion, and peanuts, sometimes cashews, and your protein of choice accompany massaman curry. There were a few potatoes and peanuts in there, but only a few.

The sauce was not as thick as I like, but not thin enough to complain. It was a happy medium of thickness. The curry tasted good, but ever so slightly like a cross between massaman curry and penang curry. If the curry didn’t have the mélange of vegetables, I would have been pretty darn happy. But that’s not to say that I didn’t eat all of it.

In conclusion, I would not order the pad Thai at Soybean Grille again, but I would order the massaman curry. In reality, though, Soybean Grille is not conveniently located in my usual travels, so I don’t see myself returning. If I worked in one of the stores in Pike Creek Shopping Center, I would certainly order take out once a month, though.

Soybean Asian Grille
4702 Limestone Road, Wilmington, DE 19808

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Strawberry Bay Leaf Jam

A nagging desire to make jam hit me the other week when I finished off, yet, another jar of store bought jam (a pb&j every other day for lunch will do that).

I haven’t made jam since I was little when my mom would go to the farmer’s market and purchase a large basket of peaches, and make dozens of jars of peach jam to put up in the pantry for the coming year. Mmmmm. I love homemade peach jam, but, for some reason, could care less about store bought peach jam...but that's another story.

Well, it’s not peach season, but it is strawberry season! I got up first thing Saturday morning to hit the Headhouse Market for local strawberries, purchased three quarts, and got to cooking.

Along with the nagging desire to make jam, I also had a notion to pair bay leaf with strawberries. I looked around to see if strawberry and bay leaf jam had been done before, and came up empty handed. Maybe that’s not a good combination?

But I had to try it any way. I split the batch of jam into two – one with bay leaf, and one without – just in case bay leaf and strawberries was not a good combination.

And the results? Quite good! It’s still strawberry jam, but with a spicy, mysterious flavor. If you like intrigue in your food – What is that spice? I just can’t place my finger on it. Oh, yeah, it’s bay leaf! – then you’ll like this combination.

I sort of followed the cooking guidelines of this simple strawberry jam recipe from Martha Stewart, but I had no idea how many pounds of strawberries I had. I took a guess at how many pounds my three quarts of strawberries weighed, and then adjusted the lemon juice and sugar amounts.

We also couldn’t find the candy thermometer. So, how were we to determine when the jam reached 220° and the jam was set? Plate test!

Plate test (or gel test) is a fail-proof way to determine when your jam has set up enough. Place a saucer in the freezer at the beginning of your jam making session, cook your jam for just a little under the amount of time specified in the recipe (this is important because "things" happen quickly towards the end of cooking), place a teaspoon of jam on the frozen saucer, then stick the saucer with jam back in the freezer for 1-2 minutes. Remove the saucer from the freezer after 1-2 minutes, and if you push your finger through the jam, and the skin wrinkles, you’re done! If not, boil longer.

Seriously, this worked!

Strawberry Bay Leaf Jam
makes about 2 pints

3 quarts fresh strawberries, washed, drained, and halved
3 tablespoons lemon juice
4 cups sugar
2-3 fresh bay leaves

  • Place two saucers in the freezer (in case you need to test the jam again).
  • Cook strawberries and lemon juice in a large stock pot over medium-high heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until juices from the fruits have release.
  • Add sugar and bay leaves to strawberries, turn heat up to a rapid boil, stirring occasionally, and cook for 30-40 minutes, or until jam thickens. Remove foam off the top of cooking berries with a spoon during the cooking process.
  • To test jam for doneness, place a spoonful of jam on the frozen saucer, return the saucer to the freezer for 1-2 minutes, remove saucer from freezer, then push finger through jam. If jam wrinkles, the jam is done.
  • Remove bay leaf from jam. Ladle hot jam into sterile jars. Refrigerate and eat within four weeks, or process for canning.

Monday, May 26, 2008

It's Unofficially Summer...

Pulled "pork" barbecue sandwich and coleslaw!!

And I’m officially happy! Summer rules, and this is why…

skirts, tank tops, flip-flops, high humidity, sweaty arms, ice cream, grilling, veggie kabobs, white wine, lemonade, glass condensation, late night bike rides, river-wading, swimming, Frisbee, the beach, bare feet, smell of sunblock, picnics, shenanigans, watermelon seed-spitting, garage sales, Slip-n-Slide, coleslaw, porch-sitting, thunderstorms, tree-climbing, hammocks, water guns, game of spotlight, warm nights, long days, gardenias, trampolines, fireworks, homegrown tomatoes, fireflies, spontaneous car trips…

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Onion and Goat Cheese Puff Pastries

I’m in a puff pastry phase. Not a major one. I’m not obsessed. But the three packages of puff pastry I’ve gone through in the past couple of months probably number more than I’ve used in my entire life (used, not eaten).

So, I like the stuff. Turnovers with soft, fluffy puff pastry dough any day, over baklava with thin, crispy phyllo dough!

I also like how puff pastry dough turns me quickly into the hostess with the mostess. You can top or fill puff pastry dough with just about anything and have an instant dessert or appetizer – great for unexpected guests! (I don’t have any of those, though, unless you count the stray cats that invite themselves in my back door, and they’re helping themselves to Science Diet for fat cats.)

So, I don’t make the dough myself! It's frozen. Big deal. Homemade is time consuming, and I couldn’t do any better than the frozen stuff, any way.

Oh, and these caramelized onion and goat cheese puffs are really good; I just got hungry uploading these pictures!

Onion and Goat Cheese Puff Pastries
Makes about 24

2 sheets frozen puff pastry
2 medium onions, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons butter, or margarine
pinch of salt
pinch of pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
goat cheese

  • Preheat oven to 400°
  • In a skillet over medium heat, sauté onions in butter until caramelized, about 10 minutes. Add pinch of salt, a pinch of black pepper, and teaspoon of sugar to onions while cooking.
  • Let frozen puff pastry thaw 10 minute. Cut sheets into, roughly, 2 ½ x 2 ½ squares (in order not to waste pastry, mine were more rectangular). Prick pastry with a fork multiple times.
  • Place individual puff pastry squares in the bottom of an ungreased, nonstick muffin tin, pushing down the pastry so it conforms to the shape of the tin. Place ½-1 tablespoon of goat cheese in the middle of each puff pastry square. Then top with about 1-2 tablespoons of the caramelized onions
  • Bake at 400° for 15 minutes, or until puff pastry is golden brown.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


A dinner date at Salento fell through about six months ago, when this Italian BYOB on the western edge of Center City was still fairly new. But here I am now, cashing in my rain check.

Because of my lack of enthusiasm for Italian food, and disappointment at Italian restaurants that, for the most part, dish out heavy tomato sauce and cream sauce pastas, Salento’s olive oil-based, simple dishes hailing from the Puglian region and Salentine peninsula on the heel of Italy’s boot piqued my interest. Perhaps I just need to try Italian food from another region of Italy!

Warning: bad photos ahead! The lights were very dim during the dinner service. I’ve read other reviews liken the white washed, sparse interior of Salento to a basement, but it was the dim, intermittently flickering wall sconces (electrical problem, not intentional), that really made the dining room feel like a basement – a boisterous basement of diners, though; I could barely hear anything by partner sitting across from me at our tiny two-top said all night long.

Our dinner started with complimentary bread and olives. I generally stay away from bread, or else I won’t have room for the actual meal. I pinched a corner of the bread, and ate an olive. Yep, bread and olives. Nice if you need it, but I didn’t.

We started with the pan seared artichoke in garlic and vegetable broth. These lemony flower buds floating in mild broth were tender with crispy, fried tops – quite good.

When this grilled radicchio with gorgonzola, and balsamic reduction hit the table, the first thing my partner said was, “It smells burned.” The balsamic drizzle was not sweet enough to cut the bitterness of the overly charred greens – the radicchio itself was not even that bitter. Bitter greens, carbon char, and pungent cheese do not make a good combination, in my opinion.

The boy had the grilled butterfish with shrimp (shrimp were left off per his request), roasted broccoli (you can’t see it; it’s under the fish), and roasted potatoes. The flavors were simple, with just a touch of olive oil and garlic.

Salento marks the dishes hailing from the Puglian region of Italy on their menu with an asterisk, and I did make an effort to try those dishes. Once the meat dishes were ruled out, I think there were two pasta dishes from the Puglian region to choose from, and I did choose one of those vegetarian Puglian pastas.

I ordered the linguine aglione with roasted tomatoes, roasted garlic, and shaved ricotta – a simple pasta tossed with a few roasted tomatoes, but, to my delight, many roasted garlic cloves.

Again, the flavors were simple, but good. Although, I felt like I could replicate this pasta dish easily at home, and while this is not a sign of a bad dish, I usually expect food in restaurants to exceed my own cooking abilities. Is this Salento’s fault, or the fault of a cuisine that is inherently simple?

Seeing as I ran out of steam before I could finish my generously portioned pasta, we skipped dessert.

The service at Salento was attentive, if not a little too thorough. We had a server; many different kitchen/floor boys ushering plates and filling water glasses; and a managerial-type stopped a couple of times to ask how things were.

Other than the radicchio appetizer, Salento did not disappoint; it just did not excite. But if you enjoy Italian food more than myself, have a palate for simple flavors, and are looking for something other than red sauce-topped pasta, do check out Salento.

2216 Walnut Street
, Philadelphia, PA 19103
Tues.-Thurs., 5-10p.m.; Fri.-Sat.,
5-11p.m.; Sun.,

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Vanilla Ice Cream

Really? Vanilla? That’s so…vanilla of me!

This vanilla ice cream was a birthday request from the boy, and who am I to deny birthday requests? I did ask him what he wanted, after all! His reply was vanilla ice cream with some sort of warm chocolate cake. The vanilla ice cream turned out fabulous; the Aztec chocolate lava cake only turned out alright.

Vanilla ice cream is America’s favorite ice cream flavor, with vanilla garnering 29% of the votes, and chocolate coming in second with 8.9%. If you had told me these results when I was younger, I would have called the masses crazy; chocolate is sooo much better than plain old vanilla. Now that I’m older, I do see the appeal of vanilla ice cream; it’s beautifully simple.

Because of vanilla ice cream's simplicity, you can top almost any dessert with vanilla ice cream and make it exponentially better. Apple pie is great, but add a scoop of cold vanilla ice cream to warm pie, and it makes people swoon.

Want to make some crazy ice cream concoction, or new flavor? Start with vanilla ice cream. Vanilla can take fruit, chocolate, jimmies, cookies, candy, wine, beer, tea, flowers, herbs, vegetables, and even meat (?). Anything, really.

The lesson here is that if you memorize a basic vanilla ice cream recipe (with or without the vanilla bean), you can make just about any ice cream flavor you can imagine – even chocolate.

The following recipe is a custard-style ice cream, meaning that it has egg yolks and requires cooking for the mixture to thicken before you churn the ice cream. Custard-style ice creams are rich and creamy.

A simpler type of ice cream to make is Philadelphia-style ice cream (Philly loves to claim things I've got a whole book on things that happened first or originated in Philly It's quite amazing), which does not have egg yolks, so does not require cooking. Philadelphia-style ice cream is lighter and chewier than custard-style ice cream. Simply remove the egg yolks from the recipe below, skip the cooking to thicken, and you’ve got Philadelphia-style ice cream; great for when you’re in a hurry.

As I type this, I am making another batch of ice cream. I can feel ice cream coming on strong like it did last summer, so forgive me, and bear with me. I have a list a mile long of ice creams I want to make, including the one I meant to start this season off with, and a vegan ice cream that fell through the cracks last year. I'm (not seriously) thinking of changing the name of my blog to something like Cream Queen, or maybe I Scream, because, believe it or not, I do know that Mac & Cheese is a really stupid blog name. Meh, I’m horrible at coming up with names.

Vanilla Ice Cream
makes about 1 quart

1 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
¾ cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 vanilla bean
5 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • Warm milk, cream, sugar, and salt in a medium sauce pan. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise, and scrape the seeds into the warm milk, and also add the bean. Cover, remove from heat, and steep for 30 minutes.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Remove the vanilla bean from the warm milk, and slowly pour the warm milk into the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Return the egg and milk mixture to the saucepan.
  • With a heatproof spatula, stir the mixture constantly over medium-low heat until the mixture thickens, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan . This is a “slow and low” process, to avoid cooking the egg and getting cooked egg bits in your custard.
  • Pour the custard through a mesh strainer. Add the vanilla extract, and cool before churning.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Urban Gardening 2.0 - Mid-May

This is how our jumbled, tight-for-space garden is looking right about now. Not everything is labeled in the above photo, because the bed really is jumbled. There's a basil hiding between this and that, and a few tomatoes in the back, and even a watermelon over yonder. The watermelon is an insane idea for such a small spot, but we're going vertical with it, or, at least, hope to.

The empty space along the front of the bed used to hold cute, yellow violas that were an impulse buy waaay back when the first flowers were hitting the market, tempting saps like myself. The violas had to go to make room for the veggies.But I'm notoriously cheap (or you could say economical), so the yellow violas got a second life in containers.

Yeah, yellow violas and white geraniums together make my inner designer and outer hort snob retch, but the geraniums were free, and, like I said, I'm cheap! I'll tolerate this combination until something else free comes along. Plants are expensive!

Little baby celery stalks. Aren't they cute?

Bad flowers - mizuna (L) and arugula (R) are bolting. These annual greens are on their way out. Sad face.

Good flowers - tomatillos are in our future. Happy face!

Urban Gardening 2.0 - Late April
Urban Gardeining 2.0 - Late March
Urban Gardening 1.0

Monday, May 12, 2008

Chabaa Thai Bistro

We met a couple of friends on Main Street in Manayunk for dinner at the highly praised BYOB Thai restaurant, Chabaa Thai Bistro. This was my first time on Main Street, Manayunk, and I have now seen firsthand the drunken frat boy stereotypes that are rumored to rule these parts. The rumors are true!

Duck into the tiny, warm Chabaa Thai to forget the world around you, but get a reservation first! The downstairs of Chabaa Thai is tiny. A slightly larger, but still small dining area is upstairs.

Our server was friendly, and even recognized our friends who have dined there maybe four times previously. The white wine we brought along was plunked in a tableside ice bucket, which we only appreciated a week later when we did not get such a luxury at a couple of other BYOB’s.

For a starter, I wanted the shrimp and tofu fresh spring rolls (sans shrimp), but the rolls are pre-made, and cannot be made to order. Boo, hiss!

Instead, I ordered the garden salad with crispy fried tofu, dressed with a light, tangy peanut sauce. This salad is large and should be split. The salad consisted of tomato, cucumber, shredded cabbage, shredded carrot, broccoli, lettuce, and tofu.

I’m still on my quest (it’s slow going) for a Thai restaurant with Pad Thai and Massaman curry made to my liking. Chabaa Thai does not have Massaman curry on the menu, so no matter how good their Pad Thai is, Chabaa Thai can never be my regular Thai place for those times when I waver between my two favorite Thai dishes.

A large pile of noodles hides behind the veggies.

How is their Pad Thai? It’s a damn shame they don’t have Massaman curry, because their Pad Thai is my favorite so far.

I ordered the garden Pad Thai, beautifully presented with a wedge of lime, mango, lettuce, scallions, shredded carrots, purple cabbage, and red pepper to the side of a generous pile of perfectly sweet and tangy noodles.

If I had known that the vegetarian Pad Thai came with so many veggies, I would have skipped the salad starter. I also should not have eaten the entire dish, but it was just too good to stop at pleasantly full!

Our friends also ordered the garden Pad Thai and the crab Pad Thai. I think Chabaa Thai knows their Pad Thai is good, because they have many to order – chicken, beef, shrimp, seafood, salmon, scallop, king prawn, crispy duck, vegetarian, and one particularly interesting Pad Thai wrapped in an egg crepe.

The boy ordered the Penang curry with fried tofu, onions, and peas. While not Massaman, Penang curry might be my next favorite Thai coconut curry, and Chabaa Thai’s Penang curry is medium bodied (I hate thin sauces), and comes with a nice heat.

Not sure how often I’ll be in Manayunk, but if you find yourself on Main Street, Chabaa Thai is not to be missed!

Chabaa Thai Bistro
4371 Main St., Philadelphia, PA, 19127
Mon., 5-9 p.m; Tues, 5-9:30 p.m.; Fri. 5-10 p.m.
Sat. 1-10 p.m.; Sun. 1-9 p.m.


Sunday, May 11, 2008

Thanks, But No Thanks

Whoa! There are two vegetarian dinners this Tuesday, May 13 in Philly. It’s like a dream come true…except I’m not going to either one because, well, I’m a snot.

First, there’s the vegetarian beer dinner at Jose Pistolas, but I hate beer with a capital H! Swallowing beer evokes the same gag reflex as breathing deeply whilst standing inside a festival port-a-potty. Thanks for thinking of us veg-heads, but next time make it a tequila dinner!

Then there’s the wine dinner at Horizon’s (scroll down), the vegan fine dining heartthrob of Philly. They’re serving wine from Chadsford Winery, my least favorite Southeastern PA winery. Were they to serve Va La wines , I would have been there two weeks ago camping out for tickets. Plus (this is where I really become a snot), the label on the featured wine has the mug of some long-haired dude (WMMR's Pierre Robert, who's a vegetarian, and probably a nice guy) on a tie-dye background. Men with long hair and tie-dye also evoke the same gag reflex as beer and overflowing port-a-potties.

So, thanks to everyone thinking of me, and sending me the links to these events, but I’m bowing out.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Fakin' It Like A Local

Everyone proudly yammers on about eating locally produced food. Well, here are a couple of local foods expressly for the fake-meat lovin’ vegans in the Pennsylvania area.

When friends told us about Ray’s Seitan, a locally produced seitan that they buy in bulk off the back of a truck in some sort of illicit street deal, I wanted a hook-up. First, they said to go to Essene, my regular Queen Village health food store , to buy a container to see if I like it (also sold at Whole Foods and elsewhere). Pushers!

Yes, I do like it! Can I get five kilos street side, ‘cause $4.49 a tub is pricey compared to the canned Chinese blow I’ve been getting.

If you’re not from Pennsylvania (I’m not), you probably have no idea what scrapple is. Let's just say it’s pig parts and cornmeal, usually sliced and fried up for breakfast. Kinda like liver mush if you’re from the South (eaten it!), or pâté if you’re French (eaten it, too!). Ain’t never had scrapple, don’t know what it’s supposed to taste like, but the PA people love it.

Vrapple, a locally made vegan version of scrapple, surprised the hell out of me flavor-wise (this is a good thing). It’s subtly sweet and nicely spicedlike a spicy sausage with a bit of maple syrup mixed in. The texture is a bit grainy from the cornmeal. Is this what scrapple is supposed to taste like?

I would not be mad if all the Philly brunch spots decided to get PA-proud and vegan/veggie vigilant and offered Ray’s Seitan and Vrapple on their menus.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Raw Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Apple

I won Jamie Oliver’s cookbook, Cook with Jamie, from Serious Eats, and it arrived a few weeks ago! (Yes! Won! I can't believe it! This calls for one more exclamation point!)

This cook book, a couple of concert tickets, and a bouquet of Tootsie Pops are the extent of what I’ve won in my life from entering contests and playing bingo. I’m not the luckiest person, so I won’t be buying a lottery ticket anytime soon, and this recent winning guarantees that I won't be winning anything for the next three years at least!

I think Serious Eats is, hands down, one of the best food sites out there, but I’m a little concerned about the state of their office space (my cookbook was covered in thick dust when I pulled it out of the padded shipping envelope), and wonder if a janitor made it into this year’s budget . No matter the filth, can’t beat free!

I’ve never watched Jamie’s cooking show, but I’ve caught him a few times on The Today Show before heading off to work, and he seems to be a very likable, chill dude that doesn't have a whisk up his ass. Cook with Jamie is a cookbook that covers the basics of cooking, and sticks to simple, fresh dishes. As Jamie states in the introduction, he thinks this cookbook should have been his first.Sliced beets before getting matchsticked.

My first dish from Cook with Jamie is the raw beet salad. Can you believe that I had never eaten a non-pickled beet until six years ago? It turns out I adore cooked beets, and eat them every chance I get. Now, can you believe I’ve never eaten raw beets until I tried this recipe? Turns out, I love raw beets, too.

This raw beet salad is very similar to coleslaw, which is up there at the top of the list of my favorite comfort foods. If you like the tang and crunch of coleslaw, but want to wow the crowd with color, I’d pull this recipe out.

Just like Jamie recommends in his book substitutions, and a bit of this and a bit of that to suit your taste I altered the recipe according to what I had on hand and my taste. It still turned out fabulous!

I used goat cheese instead of feta, green apple instead of pear, omitted the sprinkling of pine nuts, and changed the dressing to suit my love of tang and dislike of oil. (If you must know, the original dressing called for 3 ½ tablespoons lemon juice, 10 tablespoons olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste)

Raw Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Apple
Adapted from Cook with Jamie by Jamie Oliver
Serves 4

4 beets, different colors if possible, washed, peeled, and cut into matchsticks
2 green apples, peeled, cored, and cut into matchsticks
7 ounces goat cheese
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
5 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
small bunch of fresh mint

  • In a small bowl, mix lemon juice, vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper to make the dressing
  • In a large bowl, pour the dressing over the beet and apple matchsticks.
  • Individually plate the salad, and crumble goat cheese on top, and sprinkle with mint leaves.

Sunday, May 4, 2008


Edit: Sonam has gone out of business.

I participated in 8 Days of Eats, South Street’s version of Restaurant Week, by visiting the unfortunate pharmaceutical-sounding Sonam, a self-proclaimed “global dim sum” restaurant (read eclectic small plates) on the east end of South Street.

Previous participation in such restaurant weeks has proven that vegetarians don’t get that much of a break during what is meant to be a money-saving way to dine at restaurants. This is because vegetarian dishes are usually the cheapest on the menu. The same rang true for our experience at Sonam. We saved $7 between the two of us (one vegetarian and one pescatarian), or the equivalent of one of Sonam’s cheaper small plates. The fact that Sonam is BYOB is what really saved us money!

On to the dishes…

We started with the S’mores, three wheat cracker sandwiches filled with fig reduction and goat cheese marshmallow. These were awesome! The goat cheese marshmallow is really just a nub of goat cheese mimicking a marshmallow. Sweet, but not too sweet. I’m stealing this idea at some point in my hors d’oeuvre-making life.

Naan bread with a bright and tangy roasted red pepper dip (my fav), and an earthy sunflower seed dip (the boys fav). Not the most exciting dish in the bunch, but besides the edamame and the cucumber noodles, which we didn’t order, we were running out of vegetarian and fish dishes on Sonam’s small, but thoughtful menu.

Hamachi nachos with avocado puree, pico oil, and mixed sprouts. The boy felt the fish could have been sliced a little thicker.

Cold soup duo of white gazpacho and crème fraiche in a cucumber cup, and Asian pear and sake soup in a pear cup. Loved these! I wish I had eaten the ginger spiced pear cups before popping the cucumber cups, because the unexpectedly spicy gazpacho ruined my palate for a brief bit.

Baramundi in rice papillote with artichoke puree, orange segments, mint, Myer lemon vinegrette, and a crispy fish chip. The boy loved this dish! The rice papillote is akin to a dumpling, and is an edible play on paper-wrapped fish. The acidic Myer lemon vinegrette made the dish.

I had to order the Mexican mac and cheese with queso blanco, pico de gallo, diced avocado, corn tortilla crust and sour cream. I’m a mac and cheese purist, and this is not really mac and cheese, but noodles coated lightly with a mild cheese sauce and topped with a taco salad crust. A nice Mexican-flavored interpretation of mac and cheese.

These bread pudding waffles topped with vanilla ice cream and strawberries sound ho-hum, but they might have been the best and most filling thing we ate all night! The waffles are made out of bread pudding which is made out of croissants. Enough said!

The crème brulee duos at Sonam are changed out nightly. On this particular night, lemongrass and coconut crème brulees were on the menu. When I mentioned to our server that I’m not a huge fan of coconut, she offered that the kitchen would make the next day’s white chocolate and espresso crème brulee duo. The creme brulees had a grainy texture, one more so than the other, and the white chocolate crème brulee had a bitter caramelized sugar top.

All in all, we enjoyed sampling the menu from Sonam, with about half of our dishes coming out real winners.

I like the fact that Sonam leisurely staggered our plates, and took notice of when we finished each plate. We never had more than two plates on our table at once.

After our one and a half to two-hour dinner, we paid our bill, and lingered about ten minutes to finish the last sips in my wine glass. We were then offered complimentary limoncello by our ever pleasant server, if we would vacate our table and sit in the lounge area so a waiting party could have our table. I found this odd, but, having never worked in a restaurant, I really don't know why this happened. The dinner was long not by our doings, but the kitchen's. The party beside us was there longer than us, and was at the same point in their meal. There were other open tables. Who knows? We took the limoncello!

Sonam’s site says they change their small menu seasonally, but they’d be wise to change it more frequently. We pretty much went through all of the vegetarian and fish plates, and even a party of three or four omnivores could sample Sonam's entire menu in one sitting.

The small plates may leave you hungry, though, if you don’t order at least the number of plates the two of us did. I woke up at 5 a.m the next morning when my stomach tried to eat itself!

223 South Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147


Sun., Mon., Wed., Thurs., 5-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 5-11 p.m.; Tues., closed

Friday, May 2, 2008


Could everybody's brother and mother's brother not schedule festivals, sidewalk sales, garage sales, barbecues, concerts, and other fun events in May. I can't get to them all! And I want to. There're like six more months of pleasant weather ahead of us (and, no, it does not get hot here). Spread the fun out, people!

Alright, rant over. I'm getting my party started!