Thursday, May 28, 2009

Effie's is...Iffy?

With all the attention that Cypriot BYOB Kanella has been getting in Washington Square West, we thought it would only be fair to try out Effie's, an unassuming Greek BYOB just a few blocks away. Effie's has a reputation for courtyard seating and decent standards, like octopus and lamb, so we stopped in on a Wednesday to sample the offerings.

They were a little jammed up and grabbing a courtyard table, which seemed relatvely easy for 8:30PM on a Wednesday, was out of the question. As we waited to be seated in a two-top along Pine Street we amused ourselves watching the cooks tackling orders while grill-smoke pouring out of the tiny open kitchen.

The first course of calamari was perfectly done. This was some of the best calamari we've had in a long time; if you've read some of our other reviews, you know that we use calamari as the baseline for judging how much care and attention a kitchen puts into the food.

At first glance, it should be an easy dish to make...pull it from a prep dish, batter/bread and deep fry, then serve...but so many kitchens really blow this one, through bad pre-made ingredient, poorly mixed or seasoned coating or due to innatentively over cooking the calamari into fried rubber bands...oh let me count the ways that you can ruin thee.

Effie's calamari was a perfect balance of light, crispy coating, just salty & seasoned enough with tender squid rings beneath. Served still warm, this was a sign of good things to come.

The sampler platter was a decent smattering of bulgar stuffed grape leaves, an eggplant dip, soem hummus, cheese and peppers...consistency of the dips were smooth and flavors pronounced...a well-done, if not basic, appetizer. Served with pita points, a decent way to pass the evening over a glass of wine.

Mains brought both great grilling and gritty greens. The lamb rack was perfectly seasoned & grilled, albeit a little on the medium side of medium rare. Resting on a bed of mac & cheese orzo, this was Greek comfort food...except for the sand.

The dish was ruined with the ring of gritty greens that had not been throughly wife's first bite into them yeilded that 'tween the teeth crunch that kills your appetite...she asked me to try another piece to see if it was a fluke, but after one or two more bites from different bunches of greens the slack-luster prep was apparent. She picked her way around the sides while enjoying the lamb.

I ordered Lamb Lemonato, the lemon potato and lamb dish...basically cubed, grilled lamb & roasted potatos drenched in an lemon-oil sauce. The potatos were hit or miss due to their irregular sizes...some over-cooked & withered, other larger chunks on the edge of doneness, an occasional well-roasted wedge...Seems like short-cut prep strikes again.

The lamb mostly appeared in small scraps and was a little gristly..however, those sizeable chunks that could be found amongst the potatos were decently seasoned and cooked...I found myself digging through the cubes of spud in search of those few remaining lamb chunks that were hiding shadows of my plate created by the al fresco street lighting.

Final verdict? Great place for appetizers. They had actually 86'd two of the apps we wanted to try (tomato tart and the grilled octupus, a favrotie from what I can gather), so we may be back to try those and get some more calamari.

We're staying away from the entrees though...seemed like the poor prep went by unnoticed by the chef making it to the plate. Those sides sabotaged what could've been some great lamb dishes.

Most of the other customers leaving seemed happy though, so maybe it was just a fluke or that fact that we ordered at the end of a busy shift and were left picking through our entrees looking for the delicatable bits...but Effie's stuck us as Iffy's.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

S&H Kebab House for Lunch

It's no secret that the S&H Kebab House, on P'Unk just off South St., has opened to rave reviews for the grilled skewers & all around well-done Turkish food.

It was a gorgeous summer day when we decided to have lunch at S&H...the part of P'Unk isn't heavily traveled, so you can actually enjoy your meal w/o the car exhaust.

Plus, for $8 you get plenty of satisfying food...both a platter and an accompanying salad or appetizer.

We started with the Tabbouleh salad & the Haydari, a dip made with yogurt, garlic, dill and walnut pieces. The Tabbouleh was well seasoned and full of veggies...diced red pepper, scallions, tomato & parsley. The Haydari, slathered over warmed pita slices, was addictive...the yogurt+dill is a familiar flavor, but the walnut pieces gave the spread a pleasing bite.

The main attraction for us was the news that the lamb kebabs were's a close-up of the Sis Kebap, marinated lamb cubes. Each platter came with grilled pepppers & tomato, two kinds of rice( a spiced short-grain rice and a buttery medium grain) and a slaw of cabbage & carrot.

The lamb Doner combines hearty char-grilled lamb flavor in delicately sliced portions. The balance of marinated meat flavors and accompanying veg made for a great summer lunch.
Although the desserts looked just as summer-ready, we were stuffed.

As we lunched, passers-by commented to one another about S&H, either pointing out that they had eaten there or needed to drop in soon.

Posted by Picasa

Zucchini Flowers are in Bloom

The first crop of zucchini flowers have begun to open up in the garden.

For a recap of how we cooked these last year, check out our post:

Although these blooms don't have a little fruit connected to it, you can still fry them up with some cheese stuffing all the same.

Actually, I prefer to deep fry these blooms because they have the stems, which make perfect handles for dipping them in and out of the oil without breaking the stuffed bloom.
Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Varga Bar Grand Opening

First off, I should warn you, I'm a WWII history fanatic...and the perfect fusion of art, erotica & history is the nose art on the bombers of WWII planes. Varga Bar is a gastro-pub tip of the hat to the 'Greatest Generation'.

Varga is evocative of the's a snapshot of the coasters...proof enough? Finger bowls of Chex Mix for snacking.

Foodwise, Varga's a pic of the crab & cheese fries; freshness of the crab meat was noticeable...sprinkled in parmesan & white cheddar, these fries avoided the gloppy mess you can run into with cheese topping...perfect pub-grub.

'Battleship Row'...the business end of Varga Bar. I read earlier that VB's shtick was 'ALL-AMERICAN' food and beer and the tap list was a decent balance of west-coast/east-coast/local beers.

Look up for Heavenly Bodies

Here's a shot of the ceiling..I felt like I was in the barracks of a WWII bomber crew...all these lovely ladies smiling down on the crush of opening night patrons. Bonus...the mixed drinks are seasonal and tote the title 'Miss May', 'Miss June' & 'Miss July'...I just hope Miss December is a hot toddy.

Speaking of custom libations, Flying Fish brewers were there to open the's a shot of my IPA being poured straight from the firkin.

Varga has invested heavily in the retro B&W they've got TONS of outside seating, as well as comfy booth seating, as pictured here.

Oh, and for the beer-hounds out there, they do growlers. Tria has company...Varga is two blocks closer to our abode and a little heartier on the food angle...looks like Washington Square West denizens have yet another gastro option to call their 'local'.

Another shot of the IPA & stylized coasters...I saw two hand-pumps as well on the bar, but I was so focused on the firkin that I neglected to find out what was on pump.

Cutesy touch...the tab was served in a mini Silver Bullet can...and yes, if you want a REAL silver bullet or PBR they've got you covered too.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Italian Market Festival - Bebe's BBQ

Here's a great sight to see at the Italian Market Festival...a BBQ'er hawking the product.

BBQ is the latest Philly fad for pork-based sandwiches. My wife is a BBQ lover and Southern native, so her BBQ taste-profile is fine tuned...disclosure...she's a South-Eastern BBQ aficionado...which means vinegar-vinegar-vinegar...and a hint sweet sauce.

Here's the final result...BBQ with crunchy smoky bits served on a soft bun...for a brief second we thought we were back in the home.

If you want a run-down of the sides at Bebe hop over to vegetarian blogger Mac & Cheese.

If you want to know what the deal with the main attraction at Bebe's is, then look no further...since moving up to Philly from southern Virginia, we haven't found a BBQ sandwich with the same vinegary-spicy combo. Bebe's is certified southern BBQ pork.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Flea Market Food Gadgets

This is a mug

Posted by Picasa

Pastry-Wrapped Lamb Lollipops w/ Shitake & Salsify Hash

Ok, I didn't quite get the best angle in this thing, but what you're supposed to be looking at are a pair of pastry-wrapped lamb chops resting on a bed of Shitake mushroom and salsify.

The chops we did like any other night...seasoned & seared on all sides, then wrapped in pastry sheets that have had herb de provence pressed into the dough. Popped into a 375 oven until 140-145 degrees in the center, these little guys are like flaky, meaty lollipops...reminds me of an upscale corndog.

The real star of this dish was the mushroom & salisfy saute.

We were in Reading Terminal Market and found some great organic watercress and some fresh Shitake mushrooms from the Fair Farm stand, then we spotted some cigar-like salsify root at another veggie stand. The salsify is called the "Oyster Plant" because it has an oyster like taste, with a tinge of sweetness, like a white yam.

We peeled and cut the salsify into biased wafers, chopped the mushrooms and commenced to cooking.

I had bought some ground lamb, which I mashed into tiny bits and then browned in some olive oil, along with a dash of some mushroom dust I bought at the Spice Corner; this is quickly becoming my crutch for creating instant gravy-like heartiness in a dish.

Next, the salsify goes in to begin cooking down...I've never cooked this before, but it resembles carrots in the way it sweated off...finally the mushrooms and a splash of water to deglaze any of the lamb bits.

Here's yet another bad angle on what turned out to be a decent dish...I should've bought another 3 or 4 salsify roots to keep experimenting with the mushroom/salsify combo.