Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Role Reversal: April's New Challenge

Wow. This comes out of nowhere. The best editor I've ever worked for left the Philadelphia Daily News recently, and now, thanks to Michael Klein's INSIDER blog for the Philly Inquirer, I know why.

April Lisante, besides being a terrific writer and editor, has always been a totally class act. Here's wishing her and husband Christian Gatti all the luck in the world.

Monday, June 8, 2009


Last week I had the good fortune to eat at TWO terrific new restaurants in Trenton.
Yes, Trenton.

There's been a bit of a culinary lull in the town, with the departure of several Chambersburg places for the outlying suburbs, but these two new places are very good news indeed.Last Sunday I joined friends for a great dinner at the new La Tropical, corner of Lalor and Centre Sts., in the place that was once The Corner Inn. The re-do is impressive, cream and pumpkin colored plaster walls, new large windows and some skylights. Spaces that were once in shadows at The Corner Inn are now inner porticos with romantic tables for two.

The food here is classic Puerto Rican, with pasteles, rellenos de papa, exquisite pernil and the best mofongo I have had anywhere, including 3 trips to Puerto Rico (and the mofongo landmark, Ajili Mojili).We ordered a plate of pasteles, pastellidos bistec and pernil, and relennos de papa, and they were all terrific, light, greaseless and filled with well roasted and seasoned beef and pork. The rellenos de papa are huge and as addictive as crack. Be careful with them, at just 2/$2.50, they are a huge bargain. In fact the entire menu is quite inexpensive.There were a half dozen aguas, and we tried them all; I liked the tamarindo and horchata myself. Kids liked them too.At the hearty recommendation of a friend who had been there several times already, I ordered the pernil as my entree, a heaping platter of roast pork and crispy skin, rice with pigeon peas and plantains, with soupy red beans in a dish on the side. 11 bucks. But the highlight for me was the mofongo. We ordered a mofongo with shrimp, and it was a huge ball of mashed plantain, overflowiong with good fresh shrimp studded inside and flowing outside of the mofongo. Moist, flavorful, with broth for dipping, though it was not necessary.Best I've ever had. Killer.

Grilled chicken and skirt steak with onions were the kids' dishes and they were both superb. The kids menu has some expected stuff, but I ordered traditional stuff for them from their menu and they, and I, enjoyed the platters. Portion are huge, even for the kids' meals. 4 adults and 4 kids, dinner check was around 90 bucks. Amazing.

THE VERY NEXT DAY, I found myself in an unfamiliar place: downtown Trenton, a wasteland of a downtown if ever there was one. But rounding the corner onto E. State St, I spied a large sign on a newer building that said "KEBAB HOUSE", and I had to find out more. Kebabs, felafel, hummus, gyros, salads on the menu in the window. It's at 226 E. State St. and they have a website: It was just past lunchtime and a patron exiting the place, says: "Good stuff, man. Gotta try the place."

And so we did. Nice enthusiastic staff, including the owner, a Turkish man who formerly owned a limousine service. A co-worker is dropping fresh felafel mixture into a bowl to make patties. I order a felafel sandwich and a doner kebab gyro platter. Lentil soup. Chicken kebab, too. Salads come with the platters, dressed a zingy lemony dressing. Lentil soup arrives and is pureed red lentils, redolent of mint and garlic. Fantastic. It's always on the menu, the waitress tells us. I can see why.All the other food arrives next and it's madness at the table, but fun, Good french fries, good hummus, good grilled pita for dipping.. Felafel and gyro sandwiches are huge. Chicken for the chicken kebab platter comes in large chunks, expertly grilled. Owner checks on us quickly, and we're too engagged to do anything put give thumbs up. Kids are munching on everything. All is right with the world. I'm a sucker for any felafel, but I must say that the felafel here does fall a bit short, oddly blander than any Ive had before. Everything else we're eating is as well made as any Turkish/Middle Eastern food we've ever had. And we've had a lot of those cuisines. On second inspection, the menu here is quite large, with baba ganoush, other salads, kefta and other Turkish and Middle Eastern dishes. Worth follow-up visits. MANY follow-up visits. I hope they attract the business to stay open. This one is a keeper.

Friday, June 5, 2009

How Cool Is THIS?

In Thursday's Philly Inquirer, Elisa Ludwig follows a gang of local mixologists, including dear friend and Mistress Bartendrix Katie Loeb on a trip to the Liquid Lab in the Bronx, where the Philly visitors get to play with "Liquid Chef" Junior Merino. It all starts to sound so serious, with the Philly barkeeps in white lab coats and all, but you know that had one hell of a good time. And Katie, always good for some good copy in the local media, got the best quotes!

Katie is helping to open up the much-anticipated Oyster House in Philly this week. Can't wait to see what she is planning for oyster shooters and cocktails and the beer selection there!
(photo courtesy of S. Wirtz)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

13 Places to Eat Before You Die

Anthony Bourdain has his fans and his detractors, but what you can't disagree about is the man's passion for food of every stripe. And in this month's Men's Health mag, he comes up with his own eating bucket list, "13 Places to Eat Before You Die", spanning everything from sushi to hot dogs to grilled eel to french fries cooked in duck fat.

Time to cash in those frequent flyer miles!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Twin Terrors Turn 4

And already they seem so much older. Happy Birthday Ben and Sophie! You're driving Daddy crazy.

Made waffles for the Terrors this morning, by request. And tonight it will be a small gathering of friends and family and neighborhood kids for some cake. The big party will be later in the month, once we get through all of the weekend graduation parties we have to attend, and once we find some kind of inflatable bouncy/water slide/kids amusement to rent for the backyard. There's nothing better than 15-20 sugar-and pizza- and hot dog- and fruit punch-fueled kids bouncing around in your backyard, is there?

Don't answer.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY BEN AND SOPHIE! Daddy loves you more than any words can say.