Monday, June 13, 2011

Review: Opa

As delicious as Greek food sounds, I must admit that I've never been to a Greek place that truly blew me away and made me eager to come back. I was hoping that Hellenic newcomer Opa on Sansom Street would buck this trend. Despite everything being pretty decent, I'm afraid the food ended up not being anything worth smashing plates about.

The interior of the place, situated right off the now-bustling 13th Street corridor, is neat and contemporary: a blue-painted ceiling with exposed ductwork, one wall covered in a decorative metal structure in the shape of hundreds of circles, and a modern bar in the middle. From this bar came the Portokali, a cocktail of vodka, blood orange and ouzo. Though the anisey flavor of the ouzo came through, it didn't dominate, and the cocktail had a nice balance, even if it could have been served a bit more chilled.

The menu is broken down into mezedes (smaller plates) and entrees. We decided to make a meal out of four of the mezedes. First to arrive was the Horiatiki, basically a Greek salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, olives and feta. The feta was the highlight – very creamy and not too crumbly or salty. The rest of the salad was fine, but a fairly deep puddle in the bottom of the dish told me it was way overdressed. Unfortunately much of the surplus dressing made it onto our plates, where it remained, since we didn't get our plates changed out following this drippy course (really the only misstep of the otherwise very nice service).

In contrast, the grilled octopus suffered from the opposite problem in my opinion: too dry. Though served with a "chickpea fondue" (really stewed chickpeas in tomato, studded with coriander seeds and other spices), the octopus itself just didn't have enough moisture to be truly enjoyable. The charred flavor was nice, but a drizzle of olive oil and/or a squeeze of lemon would have really made it more pleasurable to eat.

The "Spread Pikilia" was a trio of three dips: hummus, tzatziki, and tirokafteri, served with pita triangles, olives, and oddly enough, spears of raw zucchini for dipping. The very thick hummus was initially interesting thanks to the addition of some smoked paprika to the dip, but it quickly grew somewhat boring to eat. The tzatziki was fine, with a nice dill flavor, but I think the standout was the tirokafteri. Made with feta cheese, this thinner dip came on strong with a pronounced sharp, salty flavor, then revealed some red peppery sweetness and hot-pepper spiciness as it lingered in the mouth. I found this to be the most interesting thing we ate at Opa.

Lastly, three mini-gyros, presented wrapped in paper. The only thing to note about these is that the meat is grilled lamb and not the usual shaved-log-of-ground-meats.

We didn't have time for dessert, which is just as well because they were already out of baklava at around 7:15 on a Saturday night.

Though I'm not really eager to go back to Opa for dinner, it might be an interesting place to have a drink and a few bites. There were some other attractive cocktails on the menu, and their list of almost exclusively Greek wines, including the pine-scented Retsina, would make for unique drinking. Though it's not Greek, I'd have to say if you're looking for cuisine from that general part of the world, you'd be better off a few blocks southeast at Kanella, where a bit more passion comes through in the cooking.

Opa on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The With Love Beer Garden

The With Love Beer Garden furnished two beer tickets and a food ticket to this reviewer.

In case the throngs of suds-addled folks ambling down the street haven't tipped you off, it's Beer Week here in Philly. The problem I find with Beer Week is that it's all so overwhelming. Wouldn't it be nice if there was a place to take your mind off all this stress, a place where you could, well, relax and have a beer?

Thankfully, there is such a place now, and it's in the courtyard of just about the swankiest hotel in town, the Four Seasons. Nestled between the hotel and an office building just off of 18th Street, the With Love Beer Garden is a welcoming spot with cold brews, hot food, live music, and a friendly vibe. I had the chance to stop by on opening day to check it out.

A most pleasant scene

First things first: the beer. Monday's featured brewer was Victory. To be honest, their very hoppy, sometimes very alcoholic beers are not always to my taste, but luckily their lighter Summer Love Ale was available. Though it still packed a flavorful punch, it didn't overwhelm with too much alcohol or hoppage, so it was a nice thing to drink on a warm June day. For me, the highlights of the upcoming schedule seem to be Thursday and Friday, when the Garden will play host to Sly Fox and Yards/Stoudt's, respectively.

On the food side of things, there's a nice array of large-snack-size offerings, from a "Philly slider" (featuring a slice of Taylor pork roll) to wings and shrimp tacos. I tried the "Port Richmond Kielbasa", a substantial piece of grilled sausage served on a slightly bready roll with grilled onions and mustard.

Another treat was furnished by one of the fabulous Berley brothers of Franklin Fountain fame - a (local) strawberry ice cream further enriched by the addition of some of the unfermented wort from the Summer Love ale. Maybe it was because I had just had a few of the Summer Loves myself, but I didn't taste much beery flavor in the ice cream, though I will say it was delicious nonetheless (and free!).

Oh, and what's this? An appearance by the star of Beer Week, the Hammer of Glory itself. Some people posed for photos with it, but I didn't feel right disturbing it. Shhh!

So cute! ^_^

If you're in the area, the weather is cooperative, and you're looking for a relaxing place to enjoy an al fresco bite and a brew, check out the With Love Beer Garden. You can tell everyone you dined at the Four Seasons, but without the expense or the embarrassment when the waiter informs you that wings are not on the Fountain's regular menu, and could you please put away that beer cozy.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Cheese Experiment

UPDATE: Unfortunately, we're not going to be able to make it. But you should still go and check out the event and have a cheesy good time.

Attention, fans: we will be participating in this Sunday's Philadelphia edition of the Food Experiments. The theme is cheese, and we have been hard at work in the I'll Eat You kitchens trying to perfect our highly experimental recipe, which attempts to violate the Principles of Science Themselves. Will we taste the creamy yet sharp tang of victory, or will we wallow in the rubbery, bland Velveeta of defeat? Come on down to the World Cafe Live at noon and find out!