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Archive for January, 2009

I don’t even know where to start.

I’ll try to keep this post brief so I don’t get all emotional.  The restaurant in question is Balasia, located (for the next 3 or so weeks, anyway) at 500 Chestnut St. in Emmaus.  It is the best food I have ever had in my entire life.  It’s exotic vegan cuisine, the produce organic and local, and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.  Balasia opened my eyes to flavor, spice, and the combining of ingredients I never thought possible.  But Balasia is about so much more than food – it’s about love, community, health, LIFE, I could go on and on.  And now, due to some perhaps questionable circumstances, the love that is Balasia will be moving to a yet-to-be disclosed location.  As of mid-February, the 500 Chestnut St. location will be no more (I’m trying hard to keep my mouth shut, here).  So I suggest each and every one of you take this opportunity to drop what you’re doing and go there, immediately.  I know I will be soaking up the Balasia goodness for the next few weeks while I can.  And then, come mid-February… well, there will be a giant tofu-shaped hole in the Lehigh Valley and I have yet to figure out how I will survive the hiatus.   

Tofu Dill Burger

I’ve taken millions of pictures of Balasia food over the past 2+ years.  Wendy Landiak, the genius chef, is such an artist with her presentation that I felt the food just had to be photographed.  Above is the Tofu Dill Burger, it was a special that particular day, and never seen on the menu again.  It was outstanding.  Layers of crispy fresh greens, spicy karachi dal, brown rice, and spice-infused oil topped with that beautifully caramelized mound of tofu, crusted with mustard and cumin seeds, with some sort of tomato chutney and caramelized onions on top.  Chickpeas, boondi, cashews, carrots and who knows what else were also sprinkled through the dish.  Each bite was a complex taste explosion, and every element of the dish complimented everything else so perfectly.

West African Peanut Soup

The West African Peanut Soup.  I’ve attempted recreating this soup on my own many many times, as I tend to crave it every day of my life, and I’m thrilled to say my latest attempt came pretty darn close.  Nothing can compare with the original though.  It is a perfectly smooth sweet potato puree, nutty, a little sweet, with hints of garlic and ginger, topped with maple syrup, dried roasted red pepper flakes, sunflower seeds and sesame seeds.  Don’t shy away from the red pepper flakes; they’re not hot, they’re delicious (they’re bell peppers not hot peppers, a huge misconception).  Every time I get this soup, I fight the urge to lick the bowl afterwards.   

5 spice tofu

One of the amazing things about Balasia is Wendy will make you whatever you want.  If you’re feeling adventurous and want to go off-menu, just tell her what you’re in the mood for and she’ll create it.  This delicious mound of goodness pictured above was one of my crazy requests; I asked her for some 5 spice tofu (I don’t know what’s in that 5 spice peanut sauce but it’s freaking extraordinary) crusted with mustard seeds, on top of a bed of rice noodles drenched in a slightly tangy miso sauce, coconut flakes sprinkled throughout, and an Indian samosa on the side.

Indonesian Salad

This was a SALAD a friend of mine ordered once… so in case you were wondering, the soups and salads here are full meals in themselves.  This was a simple and delicious dish, fresh, crisp and light, hints of miso and ginger in the dressing.  I can’t remember what the little side dish contained but I’m sure it was good.

Indonesian Stew

Speaking of soups being full meals in themselves, the Indonesian Potato Stew offers up so much bulk and yumminess that you probably wouldn’t be able to squeeze in an entree after eating it.  The lemongrass-infused coconut milk broth provides a flavorful base for the huge chunks of veggies and rice noodles, and the coconut flakes and bean sprouts on top give the soup a perfect little crunch.  Hearty and satisfying!

Eggplant Masala

This was the Indian-inspired Eggplant Masala dish, with karachi dal, crisp methi crackers and a samosa covered in sweet mango chutney.  Clearly this was enough food for at least 2 meals, and I enjoyed it very much for lunch the next day.  If possible, the food gets even more delicious after stewing for a day or so.

Curiyaki Tofu

The Curi-yaki Tofu, a blend of curry and teriyaki-marinated tofu, crusted with fennel, cumin seeds and red pepper flakes, on a bed of brown rice and kale so incredibly flavorful and tasty you’d never know it was kale. Now I am all about incorporating dark leafy greens into my diet, but greens don’t exactly taste wonderful, and somehow Wendy makes them delicious. If she ever has kale or cabbage somewhere on the menu, I promptly request she lay it on me. Who knew healthy food could be SO GOOD!

I’m still in a bit of denial that 500 Chestnut will soon be no more, but I know whatever Wendy does in the future will be better for her, better for the restaurant and better for her followers. I’m excited and nervous for Balasia, and I can’t wait to see how this whole thing will turn out. In the meantime, however, I will be eating at Balasia every minute of every day until it closes, soaking up the experience while I can. I suggest you all do the same.

One last note – I know people are used to fast food for dirt cheap prices in this silly day and age, and that’s not the type of establishment we are talking about here. Wendy creates complex, time consuming, high quality meals and serves you portions large enough to feed 2-3 people, so you won’t be paying $5 for lunch here. Expect to pay around $9-$15 for lunch, and $20-$35 for dinner. But also keep in mind that Wendy wants people to experience her cuisine, and if you’re on a budget, just let her know and she’ll make you something in your price range. That’s the kind of restaurant Balasia is, and it’s a beautiful thing.  

-Carolyn

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I met up with my awesome friend Denise on Saturday for the beloved Gallery Walk throughout the West 20’s Streets in Manhattan’s art district, Chelsea. We spent all day looking at amazing art, and working up an appetite which we really needed for our reservation at Vatan. But more on that later.

Metro Pictures Gallery
This was part of David Malijkovic’s exhibition “Retired Compositions” in the Metro Pictures Gallery. The entire exhibit involved films, collages and sculptures relating to the history of modernistic projects in Croatia. It had a very Star Trek feel to it.
Susan Inglett Gallery
Eric Fertman’s exhibit at the Susan Inglett Gallery. Taken directly from the press release:

“Drawing upon the Russian Suprematists and Philip Guston, film noir and the Sunday comics, the work gallops through time on Olive Oyl’s oversized shoes. Seamlessly mixing high and low culture, the artist assigns equal value to Malevich as to Raymond Chandler. Working in wood and metal, Fertman inflects these inert materials with humor and humanity, charming both object and viewer in the process.”

Mike Weiss Gallery

Martin C. Herbst: part of the “Ariodante” exhibit in the Mike Weiss Gallery

the crazy toys
I don’t remember the name of this gallery or the artist… but it reminded me of a toy store on acid.

don't remember where this was

the EYE!
the EYE!

Max Protetch Gallery
This bonze sculpture, Contemporary Terra Cotta Warriors, by Yue Minjun was featured in the lower level of the Max Protetch Gallery along with a ton of Chinese art and photography.

the mirror
Now since I do share this blog with three other people, I’m not going to overload it with pictures.  For more gallery pictures and a bit more detailed descriptions check out http://www.carolyndesign.net/blog.html

And now on to dinner! (and our only meal of the day by the way). We ate at Vatan, Gujarati vegetarian food, located on 3rd Ave between 28th & 29th. The deal here is, it’s a fixed-price menu AND all you can eat. They bring you about 50 tiny portions of different things, then anything you want more of, just say the word and it appears.
the Appetizers
Above is the appetizer course. For one person. The top right cauliflower concoction was amazing, and the only thing all night that I ordered seconds of. Don’t get me wrong, I probably would have ordered more of everything if I had room. But I literally left the restaurant in pain, I was so full. The mini somosas (top and center) were interesting, I think they used phyllo instead of a puff pastry, and it worked. They were perfect little crispy bites. But honestly, if anything is bite-sized, chances are I’ll like it. The top left was some sort of dal/potato ball, under that a yogurt dish, and the bottom right was cold lentil/raw onion ordeal. The center featured a fried hot pepper, a rice cake and 2 fried potato balls. The chutneys off to the left of the table need mentioning too, they were fantastic. Included was the standard cilantro, tamarind, and a sweet pickled something chutney.
the Main Event
Then the main course came. Here you see (clockwise from the bottom right) a smooth and creamy lentil soup, an incredibly fragrant (I’m guessing cardamom) rice pudding, chickpeas, cauliflower, spinach and corn, and a thick potato stew of sorts. Everything was amazing.  Even the puff bread and the papadams were stand-out good.  We were also served two kinds of rice and an insane yogurt stew.  The yogurt stew wasn’t the greatest thing I’ve ever eaten, but the yellow lentil rice was outstanding.  We also received mango sorbet and a cardamom chai tea for dessert, but apparently I was too focused on eating to get a picture of that.  Dinner at Vatan is one of those dining experiences that I will be (and have been) thinking about for days.  If I didn’t have such a long list of “Restaurants to try in NYC” I’d be back at Vatan in a heartbeat.

-Carolyn

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I really don’t know why it took me so long to make it over to Cali Burrito, everyone kept telling me wonderful things about this place. I guess my reason for taking so long is that it’s way across town for me. Well, I finally ventured over there a couple weeks ago and was excited to finally try this place out.

From what I hear the building use to be a Wendy’s so when you pull into their lot you’ll notice the drive thru window but it’s not in use. Walking into this place you can definitely tell these guys lived in California with the warm vibe and the colorful surfboards adorning the walls.

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I ordered the Cambria burrito which has grilled veggies, black beans, brown rice, guacamole & cheese all stuffed in a soft tortillia. Jaime ordered the Santa Cruz taco with smoked tofu, cheese and cabbage wrapped in a hard and soft corn tortilla. I couldn’t believe the vegetarian choices on this menu with different tofu tacos and burritos. We were both pleased with what we had ordered and it made me want to try some of the other burritos on their menu. Jaime loves smoked tofo (I’m not a huge fan) and she said it tasted wonderful!

They have some items you can add on for free (pickles, cabbage, jalapenos, cheese) and other ones (guacamole., sour cream) are a little extra charge. I’m going back to school and I can’t really spend a lot when I decide to go out to eat sometimes so if you are in the same boat and only looking to spend $5 – $7, I would stay clear of the bottle drinks. Some of them are $2 and some change. You can ask them for a small cup for free water which was totally fine for me. Once you order your food you can step on over to their salsa bar which they have a few different ones to choose from.

Another thing I love is if you are in the mood for breakfast at 6pm they have a great Huevos Grande burrito that includes eggs, potatoes, homemade ranchero sauce, black beans, and cheese or the Arcata with curried tofu scramble, potatoes, homemade ranchero sauce, black beans and cheese. My second trip there I ordered the Huevos Grande and it really hit the spot for my breakfast craving. The only odd item on the menu to me is their Nepenthe burrito which has falafel, rice, black beans, pickles, tahini sauce. Not that falafel by any means is odd but it seemed odd on their menu as if didn’t fit with the other items they have. But my friend said it tasted delicious and i’ll just have to take his word for it.

Santa Cruz taco

Santa Cruz taco

The other thing to mention is the people that work here are really friendly and accommodating to people’s odd requests. I heard a family say they didn’t want any protein on their burritos, what does that even mean? I totally didn’t get it and the girl at the counter kind of grinned and bared their request. You can sometimes even combine certain items from one burrito onto another and they will do it! It’s really great service.

Please excuse our lack of photos for this entry but give this place a try and trust me when I say they are not skimpy with their burritos! I have

-Mundania

*The surf board photo is courtesy of Cali Burritos website.

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Mas Cafe

*Just so you know, I do work at Mas Cafe a couple days a week and it might be said that this review is one sided but it’s really good and I know you won’t hold it against me if you try one of their lattes.
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Sometimes people mistake the name Mas Cafe for Ma’s Cafe. But this really is not your mother’s cafe. The name is Spanish for “more coffee” which was inspired by Ray and Courtney’s travels to Costa Rica. When you walk into the shop you have your choice of tables to sit at in the middle, cozy chairs if you feel like relaxing or a bar area set up near the window where you can sip your latte while looking outside. Everyday they feature two different single-origin coffees and their house blend. The coffee they feature could be from Ethiopia, New Guinea, Panama, Indonesia, etc. They rotate these every week so you’ll be sure to always find something different and the coffees get brewed every two hours so it doesn’t have a stale taste to it. The great thing about working here is how many coffees I have the chance to drink and the way each of them have their own unique flavors.

But if you are in the mood for a latte or chai you won’t be disappointed! They have a full drink menu featuring double espresso, cappuccino, lattes, lattes with flavors, frozen or iced drinks. They time each espresso shot between 26-28 seconds and if it doesn’t come out right the first time they will do it over again. That usually doesn’t happen but they like to make sure that no one gets a crappy tasting latte.

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The other thing that drew me into Mas was how friendly Ray and Courtney are. They never act like coffee snobs when you have a question or just don’t understand something on the menu. They make everyone feel welcome and never give off an attitude that you might find in other coffee houses.

I could go and on but you really should stop in and try it out if you haven’t just yet or if you are fan I’m sure they are glad to have you aboard. Even on my days off I love bringing my friends here because its a nice place to hang out and I’m sure to get a great cup of coffee.

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-Mundania

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We ate at Sette Luna for some fantastic Italian food (and some really strange service.)
Butternut Squash Ravioli

Balsamic Pizza
I ordered the Butternut Squash Ravioli and Josh had the specialty balsamic/mushroom pizza. The ravioli was perfection. It tasted fresh and hand-made, the filling was creamy with a touch of sweetness, and the pine nuts on top were just enough to add a little textural contrast and nuttiness to the dish. Even that little piece of bread they threw on the side was excellent. Overall a really, really good dish. I am definitely not a fan of Italian restaurants in general, but I’d go back to Sette Luna anytime. The pizza was also good… but ordering it was a bit of a strange ordeal. Josh asked our waitress if he could get sauce on the pizza (it originally comes without) and she must have misunderstood what he was asking, because she gave us an agrgessive “No! We cannot do half orders.” Confused, he tried again, trying to make it clear that his question had nothing to do with half orders. But again she firmly told us there is no way they can put sauce on half of the pizza. He asked if she could put sauce on the whole pizza (his original question anyway) at which point she agreed yes, they could do that. Um… ok. Some more strange waitress dialogue regarding the check coming up, stay tuned.

-Carolyn

Terry Bianca Pizza

 

When I went to Sette Luna my taste buds were not doing so well since I had a pretty bad cold. I ordered their Bianca pizza. From what I saw and what I could taste it was delicious. When I took a bite of Carolyn’s Butternut Squash Ravioli I could really taste it and thought how I should have ordered that instead. The place has a really nice feel to it with it’s brick walls, decorations and the open kitchen.

I have to agree that our waitresses actions were odd and aggressive at times. In fact I did a quick review on another site which the manager saw this and he was kind enough to email me right away. He said he would look into this matter. Once I read his email and spoke with him I felt good about this issue and thought that he was really sincere. Well I open my inbox to find an angry email from our waitress! Who spoke in the third person and was saying how my review got her fired.

This was the most bizarre thing EVER! I emailed the manager again telling him my intentions were not to get anyone in trouble or fired. He explained that he couldn’t discuss employee matters with me but they would never fire anyone over one review.

I assured him I would be back to Sette Luna and looked forward to trying more things on their menu. I can’t fault them for one waitress. Also, Josh had informed me that he went again and his experience was the total opposite of ours. His waitress was attentive, polite and the food was still fabulous!

-Mundania

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Now that it is a new year and the holidays are over I feel like I can get back to normal. With that said I promise to be more active on the Lehigh Valley Eggplant.

I have to say that my experiences with the Bethlehem Brewworks never left me wanting more. I love their decor and the beer but the food is always just OK. It was never ever consistent for me. For my 30th birthday this year we decided to go to the Allentown Brewworks. This would be our second time to the Allentown location.

Our first visit was pretty amazing. We had a great waitress and our food was pretty outstanding. I ordered the Daddona Shrimp pizza and Jaime ordered a giant Ceasar salad. The salad was pretty basic but delicious and my pizza had grilled tiger shrimp, baby spinach, sun dried tomatoes and gorgonzola cheese. Even after I was full I couldn’t stop myself from eating more.

For our second visit we decided to go on my birthday. We warned our waitress in the beginning that we would be there for a while and our friends were meeting up with us in an hour or so. She was fine with that. We started with their beer sampler which is only $8 for 6 sample glasses. You get to choose any of the beers that they have including their special holiday ones! I love getting the sampler when I go to a brewery, and this is the first place I’ve been to that lets you select the beers.

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I had been craving the Daddona Pizza again and for some reason they didn’t have it on their menu. They only had one similar to that with chicken. So I decided to get the Iron Workers Fish n’ Chips dish and Jaime went with their Pear Bleu Cheese pizza. Jaime’s pizza had crumbled bleu cheese, walnuts, pears, prosciutto (which she told them to hold ) and they drizzle the pizza with bleu cheese dressing. I wasn’t sure what to make of this until I tasted it. The bleu cheese and the sweetness of the pears really work well together.

When I cut into my fish I found it to be a little tough. Like it wasn’t that fresh or had been microwaved. I really was looking forward to it and hoping that perhaps my first bite was decieving me. But no, the whole fish was tough. The beer fries that come with it were great and we were finding that our beer sampler was hitting the spot.

After our friends arrived they ordered some sort of nachos dish and after they finished we just sat in our booth and ordered a round of beers, then another and another. After a couple rounds or so our waitress seemed to be getting anxious. My friend asked her if she was about to leave and that we had no problem settling up our tab with her. She said no, no but then at one point gave us the check without asking us if we were done.

I didn’t leave that night feeling like everything was amazing but it was good and I am going to return very soon. They have some great specials and events happening through out the week that I’m looking forward to checking out. I know on Fridays from 5-11pm they have $6 pitchers! You really can’t beat that. I think that this place is a great addition to the Allentown area.

-Mundania

 

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