Event: Slow Food Columbus/Nida’s "Off the Menu"

Author: swampkitty05  //  Category: Ethnic, Events, Food Porn, Slow Food Columbus

Say what you will about Slow Food Columbus (or the Slow Food movement in general, for that matter), but their events are never boring. When I learned they were starting a new event called “Off the Menu”, which would allow chefs at local restaurants to serve dishes they traditionally eat or make for their staff but that you don’t usually find on their menu, I knew it was something that I’d be interested in. Then when I saw that the inaugural one would be held at Nida’s Thai on High, a place that I haven’t been to yet, but have been wanting to try for ages, that sealed the deal for me. I decided to go alone to this one, because after discovering Paul’s shellfish allergy, we wanted to err on the side of caution.

I was greeted at the bar with a choice of complimentary cocktail – their brilliant bartender Vivian Loh (who I’m familiar with from CU and Twitter) comes up with some inventive combinations, and these were two of the new summer drinks. I could have chosen a gin and tonic made with cucumber and cilantro, or the one I went with, which I don’t remember the name of. I remember that it had Cointreau, cardamom syrup, almond liqueur, and a couple of things that slip my mind – it was sweet, strong and GOOD.

New Cocktail at Nida's Thai on High

The menu for this event focused primarily on two regions of Thailand that are different than we’re used to – none of the curries that usually show up on Thai menus were included, which is sort of the point of the event – to go outside the comfort zone of both the restaurant and the diners. A nice bit of information about the cuisines of the different regions was also provided.

Slow Food Columbus/Nida's Thai on High "The Flavors of Thailand" Dinner

First up was the Soup Nor Mai (Spicy Bamboo Shoot Salad). This course was one that I wasn’t expecting to enjoy, but I ended up being pleasantly surprised. It didn’t taste anything like it smelled, thankfully. 🙂 It had a nice layered complexity to it, where each bite brought out a different aspect of it – a bit fishy, a bit vinegary, mint in this bite, cilantro in the next, but all around good stuff. I would order this regularly.

Soup Nor Mai

I think the next course was the overwhelming favorite of the entire room. The Kor Moo Yang (Grilled Pork Collar) wasn’t the most tender cut of meat, but it was definitely one of the most flavorful. It was brilliantly seasoned, was served with sticky rice and a sauce that you spooned over (that reminded me a bit of the vinaigrette usually served with Vietnamese dishes) and was hands down my personal favorite. If this ever made it to the regular menu, Nida’s would be a frequent stop of mine. Hell, it just may be a frequent stop anyway, but this would be a bonus.

Kor Moo Yang

If the Kor Moo Yang was a universal favorite, the Namm (Preserved Pork) was the most divisive dish (it is the larger slices on the top right). The taste was great, but the chewy texture was a bit offputting for some. To me, it reminded me a bit of the tendon meatball one finds in pho, so I didn’t mind it one bit. Others had differing opinions. Most everyone seemed to enjoy the Sai Grog Isaan (Isaan-Style Sausage), though.

Sai Grog Isaan and Namm

The first set of dishes were all from the Isaan region of Thailand, and before embarking on the specialties of Central Thailand (where Nida’s hometown, Bangkok, is located), we were served a palate cleanser of Nam Ta Krai (lemongrass juice). It had an almost savory quality to it even though it was highly sweetened. Delicious in small quantities (I would buy a cocktail that had this as a mixer in a hot second), but cloying as a large glass.

Nam Ta Krai

The Kai Pa Loh (Hard Boiled Egg with Pork in Soy) was also pretty universally enjoyed across the board. Pork shoulder was braised in a cooking liquid redolent with five spice, and then served with a hard boiled egg half. The pork was incredibly tender, and the dish was incredibly flavorful without being overly so. And although I’m not usually a fan of tofu, I really liked it in this dish, because it gave the tofu a creamy texture that was extremely pleasing.

Kai Pa Loh

The Gang Pa (Spicy Soup with Tilapia) was probably the spiciest dish of the night, which is the greatest surprise to me because I always assumed that all Thai food was super-spicy. The heat was fairly understated, though (it only hurt if you breathed in while eating), but built up after a while. The whole dish was super-light, which is a nice change from some of the heavier dishes.

Gang Pa

I love bean thread noodles, so I really enjoyed the Pad Woon Sen (Stir Fried Bean Thread Noodles with Tomato and Tofu), even though others at my table found it a bit unremarkable. With the addition of a bit of meat-based protein (I’m not a fan of fried tofu), I could see myself eating this as a main dish. I just wish more restaurants in town would offer it as an option.

Pad Woon Sen

Unfortunately, I was not a fan in the least of the Gra Pow Moo (Ground Pork with Chicken Gizzards in Basil), but I owe that completely to my aversion to chicken gizzards rather than the chef’s preparation. It’s a textural thing for me, others at my table seemed to enjoy it, though.

Gra Prow Moo

And I was also pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed the Num Kang Sai (Thai Fruit with Coconut Milk on Ice). I couldn’t identify what the original fruits are (the most I got from our server was that it was some sort of melon jelly), but I liked what the sweet coconut milk did in combination with it. I understood the purpose of the ice in there (to keep the whole thing ice cold until you were done eating it), but it got a bit confusing trying to figure what was ice and what was fruit. And I would have enjoyed it more with a different ratio of fruit to coconut milk – the coconut milk was rich (and sweet) enough that I ran out of fruit long before I finished the dessert and ended up leaving most of the coconut milk behind.

Num Kang Sai

I really respect the team at Nida’s for being the first to be willing to go “off the menu” and give diners a new experience. I particularly liked that this was an opportunity for me to try new things without any real pressure, which allowed me to discover new things about my own likes and dislikes. It also allowed me to experience the beautiful Nida’s space for the first time, which has given me the impetus to want to go back again for a meal.

I can’t wait to see which restaurant they focus on for the next “Off the Menu” – with all of the culinary talent we have in Columbus, I’m looking forward to see what our local chefs come up with.

If you’d like to join Slow Food Columbus (members can go to events for a substantial discount): Slow Food USA (make sure to specify the Columbus convivium as the one you’d like to join)
If you’d like to go to the restaurant: Nida’s Thai on High, 976 N. High Street, Columbus, OH 43201, 614-219-9199

Event: Taco Truck Tour Spring 2010

Author: swampkitty05  //  Category: Columbus, Ethnic, Events

The folks over at Taco Trucks Columbus have been doing some great things for the food scene in Columbus – between that project and it’s sister project, alt.eats.columbus, they’ve taken the mystery out of ethnic eats in Cowtown. Over the last year, they’ve hosted a handful of taco truck tours in different parts of town – each one seeming to be more successful than the last. In the process, they’ve been an asset to local taco trucks, fostering an interest in taco truck culture that spans across just about about every demographic. I’m heartened to see them, in more recent months, evolving to taking a more active role as an advocate and liason for taco truck owners.

We were thrilled that this one was taking place in our part of town – all of the taco trucks involved are just a couple of miles away from us, so it only took us about 5 minutes (driving) to get over to the staging point. If the line at Little Mexico when we got there promptly at 4 was any indication, the turnout for this one was massive. What makes it more impressive was that it had been raining all morning, and there was the threat of more rain for the entirety of the day. About 50 bicyclists took a gamble with the elements and biked in from all different parts of the city.

Line at Little Mexico

We grabbed a map, and decided to start at one of the other trucks, hoping to beat the crowds. The organizers were kind enough to list the specialties of each truck and helpful Spanish terms for communicating with the taco truck owners.

Taco Tour 2010 Map

We started out at Las Delicias II, a truck that has opened in the past couple of weeks by the same owner of Las Delicias, just a stone’s throw away.

Las Delicias II Taco Truck

Las Delicias II specializes in seafood – different types of ceviche and cocktails. Since I love seafood (P. does as well, but has to be much more careful because of a shellfish allergy), this was probably the truck I was looking forward to the most.
I hope to work my way through their menu.

Menu at Las Delicias II

But knowing that I still had other taco trucks in front of me, we decided to just get a ceviche tostada each. It was quite refreshing, and it was only after Bethia mentioned it that I realized that the reason that it tasted so familiar was that the woman making it used to run the Marisco Mi Chula taco truck that was on Sullivant Avenue at one time. I loved that place, and am glad to see the seafood tradition carried on at Las Delicias II.

Ceviche Tostada from Las Delicias II

After leaving Las Delicias II, we headed over to one of our favorite taco trucks, Los Potosinos. We’re honored to also be able to consider the taco truck’s owner, Lidia, among our friends – even though her food is unbelievably good (try her pollo al carbon, it’s absolutely wonderful!), we like to come here because we enjoy her company.

Paul at Los Potosinos

Ever the smart businesswoman, she hired live entertainment, in the form of a young man playing cover tunes on a guitar.

Live Entertainment at Los Potosinos

She had been wiped out of her signature pollo al carbon earlier in the day, and was in the process of making more when we got there, with it still having about an hour to go. So we decided to try a couple other dishes this time around. Her chile rellenos are poblano peppers filled with both chorizo and cheese, and then batter dipped and fried. It was among one of the better preparations of this dish that I’ve had, although the next time around I’d forgo the rice and beans and just get a second relleno.

Chile Rellenos from Los Potosinos

I wasn’t quite as crazy for the Enchiladas Potosinas – deep fried shells filled with what I believe to be a spicy bean mixture. I could see how this would appeal to someone else, though.

Enchiladas Potosinas from Los Potosinos

And I finished up there with a small coco nieves, which is like a coconut sorbet. Definitely refreshing!

Coco Nieves from Los Potosinos

We’re regulars at the next taco truck, Los Guachos. It’s not unusual for us to eat there 2-3 times a week, every week. They are one of the few taco trucks to offer a weekly special (buy one get one free al pastor tacos on Tuesday nights, which makes them a steal at 75 cents each!), so it makes an already reasonably priced meal a downright steal!

Los Guachos Taqueria

So what is so special about Los Guachos, you say? Their spit roasted al pastor pork. They stack highly seasoned pork on a spit, and then cook it to order. It’s fun to watch the person manning the spit cut the meat off, and then with a flick of his wrist, putting a bit of pineapple on top. We usually get ours with extra pineapple – it adds something amazing to the mix.

Spit Roasted Al Pastor from Los Guachos

The tacos are delicious enough on their own (topped with onion, cilantro, some lime juice spritzed over top, maybe a little salsa verde), but the standout here is the gringa, a flour tortilla topped with Oaxacan cheese which is then grilled on a flat top until browned (think halloumi!), and then topped with some of that wonderful al pastor and the rest of the usual taco fixins’. It is hands down our favorite taco truck item anywhere in town, and if we ever move away from Columbus, it is something I will miss and crave like crazy.

Al Pastor Tacos & Gringa from Los Guachos

When the Big Bass Brothers reviewed (mp3 file of the broadcast here) the local taco trucks a couple of weeks ago, Corby complained that the meat didn’t have much flavor at the taco trucks – although I disagree completely (especially at this particular taco truck), I just wanted to point out to anyone that listened to that and let it affect what they order (or whether they visit), that most (if not all) taco trucks have a condiment bar where you load up on the flavor/texture, etc. This, for example is what Los Guachos offers:

Condiments from Los Guachos

and just about all taco trucks offer a choice of red or green sauce (I prefer green, since it’s usually not as hot as the red). The point is, experiment with different combinations of flavor to see what works for you, and if in doubt, ask – the taco truck owners are all super friendly, and more than happy to answer any questions you have.

Salsa Verde and Roja from Los Guachos

By the time we were done at Los Guachos, we were stuffed, and shuffled off to head home full and happy. I hope that the event introduced a few new people to the joys of taco trucks, cleared up any misconceptions about them to area neighborhood associations, and showed local business associations what a diverse group of people enjoy them. I heard rumblings of someone wanting to organize a Taco Truck Festival at Westgate Park, and I think it’s an awesome idea! As a resident of the west side, I think the trucks and the culture they offer Columbus is something to be proud of and something that could draw other people to this side of town. I hope that Taco Trucks Columbus organizes many more of these this year. My goal this year is to try every active taco truck at least once. 🙂

Pork Meatball Banh Mi Sandwich

Author: swampkitty05  //  Category: Ethnic, Food Porn, Recipes

Somehow, in the past couple of years, I developed a love for Vietnamese sandwiches – the Banh Mi at Mi Li Cafe on the North Side are a staple for me whenever I can get up that way. When I saw this recipe, I knew I’d have to try it. Don’t get the wrong idea – this isn’t anything like a traditional banh mi, with it’s pate and two kinds of pork. That sort of banh mi is better left to the professionals. This does have a bit of the vibe, though – because it uses many of the same ingredients and condiments.

Personally, I felt it was a bit too spicy for my mild tastes – but your mileage may vary. Paul absolutely loved it at is, although he did say it set his ass on fire.

Pork Meatball Banh Mi Sandwich

Pork Meatball Banh Mi Sandwich
recipe courtesy Bon Appetit magazine

Hot Chili Mayo:

* 2/3 cup mayonnaise
* 2 green onions, finely chopped
* 1 tablespoon hot chili sauce (such as sriracha)


* 1 pound ground pork
* 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
* 4 garlic cloves, minced
* 3 green onions, finely chopped
* 1 tablespoon fish sauce (such as nam pla or nuoc nam)*
* 1 tablespoon hot chili sauce (such as sriracha)
* 1 tablespoon sugar
* 2 teaspoons cornstarch
* 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
* 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt


* 2 cups coarsely grated carrots
* 2 cups coarsely grated peeled daikon (Japanese white radish)
* 1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
* 1/4 cup sugar
* 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
* 1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
* 4 10-inch-long individual baguettes
* Thinly sliced jalapeño chiles
* 16 large fresh cilantro sprigs

Hot Chili Mayo:
Stir all ingredients in small bowl. Season with salt. do ahead Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

Line rimmed baking sheet with plastic wrap. Gently mix all ingredients in large bowl. Using moistened hands and scant tablespoonful for each, roll meat mixture into 1-inch meatballs. Arrange on baking sheet. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

Toss first 5 ingredients in medium bowl. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour, tossing occasionally.

Preheat oven to 300°F. Heat sesame oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add half of meatballs. Sauté until brown and cooked through, turning meatballs often and lowering heat if browning too quickly, about 15 minutes. Transfer meatballs to another rimmed baking sheet. Place in oven. Repeat with remaining meatballs.

Cut each baguette or baguette piece horizontally in half. Pull out enough bread from each bread half to leave 1/2-inch-thick shell. Spread hot chili mayo over each bread shell. Arrange jalapeños, then cilantro, in bottom halves. Fill each with 1/4 of meatballs. Drain pickled vegetables; place atop meatballs. Press on baguette tops.


Author: swampkitty05  //  Category: Ethnic, Recipes

I’m a real sucker for Greek food. I first had this dish at Anna’s a few years ago, and was spending so much money getting her version that I decided to find a recipe and give making it here at home a try. This recipe is very close to hers.

Galaktoboureko is an interesting dessert – crispy filo above (although my latest attempt was not so crispy), chewy filo below, and in between a slightly grainy (from the semolina) custard. Delicious.


recipe courtesy Allrecipes

6 cups whole milk
1 cup semolina flour
3 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup white sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 eggs
1/2 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup butter, melted
12 sheets phyllo dough
1 cup water
1 cup white sugar

Pour milk into a large saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium heat. In a medium bowl, whisk together the semolina, cornstarch, 1 cup sugar and salt so there are no cornstarch clumps.

When milk comes to a boil, gradually add the semolina mixture, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Cook, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens and comes to a full boil. Remove from heat, and set aside. Keep warm.

In a large bowl, beat eggs with an electric mixer at high speed. Add 1/2 cup of sugar, and whip until thick and pale, about 10 minutes. Stir in vanilla.

Fold the whipped eggs into the hot semolina mixture. Partially cover the pan, and set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Butter a 9×13 inch baking dish, and layer 7 sheets of phyllo into the pan, brushing each one with butter as you lay it in. Pour the custard into the pan over the phyllo, and cover with the remaining 5 sheets of phyllo, brushing each sheet with butter as you lay it down.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes in the preheated oven, until the top crust is crisp and the custard filling has set. In a small saucepan, stir together the remaining cup of sugar and water. Bring to a boil. When the Galaktoboureko comes out of the oven, spoon the hot sugar syrup over the top, particularly the edges. Cool completely before cutting and serving. Store in the refrigerator.

Taste & Create: Strapatsada

Author: swampkitty05  //  Category: Ethnic, Food Blogging Event, Food Porn, Recipes

Taste & Create Logo

I was lucky enough to be paired up with Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska for this month’s edition of Taste and Create, which gave me a ton of choices. I must’ve printed out a dozen or so recipes before deciding on this one. And they all sounded so awesome that the only reason I ultimately decided on this one was because I happened to have all the ingredients for it on hand. We had been toying around with the idea of making something similar for a while, but to actually have a recipe to work from? Bonus!

Strapatsada is a quintessential Greek dish, which is basically just scrambled eggs with tomato and feta. The flavor combination was incredible, and this is one we’ll make over and over again. 🙂 Maybe as early as tomorrow with some lemon potatoes on the side?

Scrambled Eggs and Tomatoes (Strapatsada)

Scrambled Eggs and Tomatoes (Strapatsada)
recipe from Mediterranean Cooking in Alaksa

2 cups diced tomatoes (1 pound tomatoes) or 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup diced yellow onion, 1/8” dice (optional)
1/4 cup olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, grated or minced (optional)
1 tsp. sugar (use only if needed)
3 – 4 eggs
1/2 cup crumbled feta (optional)
1 Tbsp. minced fresh mint (or oregano, dill, basil, or parsley) (optional)

If starting with fresh tomatoes and you want to skin them, cut a shallow “X” on the bottom of the tomato. Drop the tomatoes in boiling water for 20 seconds. Remove the tomatoes and drop them in cold water. Drain and slip off the peels. Cut the tomatoes in 1/2” dice.

Peeling Tomatoes: Sauté the onions, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, in olive oil until they soften and start to turn golden. Stir in the diced tomatoes, bring to a boil, turn down the heat to medium, and cook for 15 minutes or until most of the water in the tomatoes has evaporated, stirring regularly to prevent scorching and to break up the tomatoes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 5 minutes. Taste; if the tomatoes are too acidic, add 1 teaspoon sugar.

Whisk together the eggs. Stir eggs, cheese, and mint into the cooked tomatoes, and continue to cook over medium-low heat, stirring regularly, until the eggs are cooked and form small curds; the eggs should be served when they’re still a little juicy. Eggs cook faster at a higher temperature, but taste better if cooked over lower heat for a longer time.

– Use grated kefalotyri, kasseri, or parmesan instead of feta.
– Add chopped sausage, smoked pork, or ham.
– Add diced green peppers.
– Substitute puréed roasted red peppers for half the tomatoes.
– Substitute green onions for the yellow onion.
– Add Aleppo or crushed red pepper flakes.
– Add cinnamon stick to the sauce and omit the herbs.
– Add cumin or allspice to the sauce and omit the herbs.
– After mixing in the eggs and tomatoes, quit stirring and let the eggs set, then flip and cook on the second side (as for a frittata).
– When the tomatoes are cooked and saucy, turn the heat to low, make indentations in the sauce, crack an egg into each indentation, cover, and cook just until the egg whites set and the yolks are still juicy.


Author: swampkitty05  //  Category: Ethnic, Food Porn, Healthy, Recipes

I know, I know…I’ve been neglecting my little blog. But May has been a month of one activity after another with little time to breathe in between, let alone blog. I have so many things to talk to you all about – the farmers markets, the Apron Gala, a bunch of restaurant reviews and events I’ve gone to, but it seems as if each day is over before I have time to get started. One day this week, I’m going to have to set aside a day to do nothing BUT catch up on my writing.

So I wanted to share something that I made recently – after having some really good ceviche at a couple of Mexican restaurants/taco trucks, and having an awesome mixed seafood ceviche at the Slow Food pig roast, I wanted to try my hand at making it here at home. I never realized it was so easy! I got all of the fish/scallops/shrimp I needed at Trader Joe’s, and got the limes and lemons at the Mexican grocery down the street for a song. Simple, delicious, healthy. Perfect summer dish, that’s for sure!


adapted from Simply Recipes

1 lb. bay scallops
1 lb. medium (20-24 ct) raw peeled and deveined shrimp, tail removed and cut into 1/2″ pieces
1 lb. orange roughy or other firm white fish, cut into 1/2 inch pieces, completely deboned
3/4 c. fresh squeezed lime juice
3/4 c. fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 small red onion, finely diced
1 jalapeno chile, seeded and finely diced
1 1/2 cup of fresh peeled, seeded, and chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp. salt
Dash of ground oregano
Dash of Tabasco or a few grains of cayenne pepper
Tortillas or tortilla chips

In a non-reactive casserole dish, either Pyrex or ceramic, place the seafood, onion, tomatoes, chile, salt, Tabasco and oregano. Cover with lime and lemon juice. Let sit covered in the refrigerator for an hour, and then stir, making sure more of the fish gets exposed to the acidic lime and lemon juices. Let sit for several hours, giving time for the flavors to blend.

Serve with chopped cilantro and slices of avocado with heated tortillas for ceviche tacos or with tortilla chips.

Event: Columbus Taco Truck Tour ’09

Author: swampkitty05  //  Category: Columbus, Eating Local, Ethnic, Events

When the folks over at Taco Trucks Columbus announced that there would be a tour of the west side taco trucks, my husband and I were stoked – after all, this was our side of town, these are all trucks that we visit regularly, and how often does it happen that a fun event happens around here? I’ve long been of the opinion that in a lot of ways, the west side is underrated, and that is especially true when you consider the great food these taco trucks are putting out. So if taco trucks are our claim to fame, so be it. 🙂 And that was one of the things that I was most looking forward to happening during this tour – others falling in love with this food and these people as much as I have.

The tour started at the Little Mexico taco truck on Sullivant, where at least 80 people gathered. The organizers were smart, and gave everyone different maps, which would keep the trucks from all getting swamped at one time. My husband, in his infinite wisdom, decided that even though I was driving the route, he wanted to bike. Even joked about, how with the detour (because of the construction on Clime Rd) and all, he’d even get there before me. Fast forward to about an hour later, when everyone else had moved on to their next destination, and I’m sitting there getting sunburned, with the sound of crickets all around. Bethia and I decided to head next door to the Mexican bakery, and we spy Paul pushing his bike down the road. Apparently, the biking contingent had some really fierce headwinds to deal with, which made bicycling west rather unpleasant. So off we go to Las Delicias, his bike in the trunk. 😉

I had a variation of two tacos at almost all of the trucks we tried (with the exception of Los Potosinos, where we ordered a whole pollo al carbon to go). Here are my asada tacos from Las Delicias:

Taco Truck Tour Columbus Spring '09

The day was extremely hot, and both Las Delicias and Los Potosinos had Nieves, a Mexican shaved ice that was quite refreshing. I tried out the coconut at both, with Los Potosinos having a slight edge.

Taco Truck Tour Columbus Spring '09

The biking contingent of the group and most of the organizers seemed to end up at Los Potosinos, where we spent a good amount of time joking around with Lydia, one of the proprietors of the truck. My husband and I are Los Potosinos regulars, and absolutely love Lydia and her husband. The fun really started when she broke out the sombreros.

Taco Truck Tour Columbus Spring '09

Witness the two amigos, aka Jim and Zach, aka Columbus Foodcast.

Taco Truck Tour Columbus Spring '09

I think amigo #3 was too full to stand. 😉

Taco Truck Tour Columbus Spring '09

Even though I didn’t get to make it to all six trucks, I had a wonderful time. Even (thanks to Jim mentioning it), discovered a pink all-seafood truck named (I think) Muy Chula (loosely translated to ‘very cool’ in Spanish) on Sullivant (in a gas station lot between Wilson and Demorest) that has the most wonderful fish/shrimp empanadas ever, and really good and spicy ceviche and octopus.

Looking forward to the taco truck tour of the east side!

Review: Cafe Ephesus

Author: swampkitty05  //  Category: Columbus, Ethnic, Restaurant Review

How is it that I could have lived here as long as I have and not noticed the abundance of Middle Eastern eateries that we have here in Columbus? Recently, I became aware of a new restaurant, Cafe Ephesus, that had opened in Dublin, started by a chef who had formerly worked at Cafe Istanbul and Cafe Shish Kebab and wanted a little more creative control.

Located by the Giant Eagle in the shopping center at Perimeter Loop, Cafe Ephesus is fairly non-descript from the outside, easily missed if someone isn’t looking for it. However, once inside, it’s fairly easy to forget about the location and just settle in and enjoy one’s meal.

We were presented with a basket of complementary soft pita, along with some flavorful oil-based dipping sauce.

 Pita Basket from Cafe Ephesus

For his appetizer, my husband chose a bowl of their vegetarian Red Lentil Soup ($4), a hearty mixture of red lentils pureed with various other vegetables and spices, which turned it into a thick, flavorful soup that he thorougly enjoyed.

Red Lentil Soup from Cafe Ephesus

Since we were joined by one of his former co-workers for lunch, we opted to get the Large Meze Platter ($16), which is a selection of several different appetizers that they have on the menu. Although this selection is nearly identical to that offered by similar restaurants, it was executed beautifully. In other restaurants, there were small issues that prevented us from thoroughly enjoying every item, but that was not the case here – everything was done exactly as it should have been. The baba ganoush was exceptionally good.

Large Meze Platter from Cafe Ephesus

Since I opted to go with the lunch special ($8 for 3 courses), I had to choose a separate appetizer, and I went with the soslu patlican since it is one of my favorites. The chunks of eggplant, sauteed and then tossed with a tomato sauce, was extremely delicious.

Soslu Patlican from Cafe Ephesus

For my entree, I chose the Chicken Kebabs, mainly because I wanted to compare it with kebabs I had elsewhere. Their version was especially tender and juicy, flavorful and served without all the extraneous grilled vegetables that detract from the dish elsewhere. Instead, one gets a small “salad” that is dressed nicely and paired beautifully.

Chicken Kebabs from Cafe Ephesus

My husband went with the Iskender Kebab platter ($13), which is garlic pita covered with a mound of doner kebab (think gyros, only grilled after it’s sliced), topped with a tomato sauce redolent with Middle Easter spices, and served with yogurt on the side. He said it beat the Iskender kebab from the others hands down, and was easily one of his favorite dishes anywhere. In his mind, this restaurant requires a return trip for this dish alone.

Iskender Kebabs from Cafe Ephesus

Service was very friendly, with our needs attended to before we even a had a chance to realize that we needed anything. We left with a good feeling, looking forward to our next trip. While it is a bit of out of the way, it’s an excellent choice for those who live or work in Dublin, and a wonderful addition to the neighborhood.

If you’d like to go: Cafe Ephesus, 6720 Perimeter Loop Road, Dublin, 614.798.8091

Cafe Ephesus on Urbanspoon

Review: Lavash Cafe

Author: swampkitty05  //  Category: Columbus, Ethnic, Food Porn, Restaurant Review

By now (based on how many reviews I’ve done for restaurants in this particular vein), it should be readily apparent that I’m a sucker for good Mediterranean/Middle Eastern Cuisine. I hadn’t been introduced to it until almost a decade ago, when I visited a (now gone) Firdous location in Upper Arlington that had, in my opinion, the best schwarma and hummus platter that money could buy. I was absolutely crestfallen when they closed up shop.

Imagine my delight when I found out that Firdous’ former owner, Nasir Latif, had opened up a new venture called Lavash Cafe, a fast casual (think in the realm of Aladdin’s, but locally owned) restaurant smack dab right there in Clintonville. Not only would I get the opportunity to taste my favorites once again, but another restaurant in a place that’s sorely hurting for restaurants? There are no losers in this equation.

Lavash Cafe Sign (Clintonville, OH)

The space is very wide open and well-decorated, with great use of textures and fabrics (especially lining the one wall). Upon entering, you’re greeted with the smiling faces of the employees, an overhead menu board, and a two huge display cases – one of a dozen or more types of Middle Eastern pastries, another with kebabs and keftas just waiting to be grilled to order. It took us a few minutes of craning our necks to decide, but ultimately we decided to get several different dishes to try as much as possible, leftovers be damned.

We started with an order of Kibbeh ($2.50), which is a cracked bulghur wheat and meat shell surrounding nicely seasoned meat. This is as good as any variation on this dish I’ve tried, and the homemade lebneh (very thick strained plain yogurt) served with it was a nice touch.

Kibbeh from Lavash Cafe (Clintonville, OH)

Wanting to have an opportunity to try as many of their appetizers as possible, we ordered the Lavash Combo ($8.25), which pairs their hummus, tabouleh, falafel and stuffed grape leaves on a single plate. Their hummus is smooth and flavorful, and just as I remembered. The falafel are exceptional – on my next visit, I’ll be ordering them for sure (and at 6 for $2.50, it’s quite the deal). I was indifferent about the tabouleh and stuffed grape leaves (personal preference – I prefer kisir to tabouleh because I like more wheat than parsley, and I prefer my grape leaves to be more sweet than these were), but my husband who is a purist said that both were quite excellent and a good interpretation of a classic dish.

Lavash Sampler from Lavash Cafe (Clintonville, OH)

Of course, a huge basket of fluffy pita was provided, and refilled quickly and with friendly service when we ran low.

Basket of Pita from Lavash Cafe (Clintonville, OH)

The Baba Ganoush ($3.50) was out of this world – nice and smoky in flavor, and with a superb smooth texture and wonderful mouth feel, we scooped this up quickly and happily and quickly declared it the best we’ve had so far in Columbus.

Baba Ganoush from Lavash Cafe (Clintonville, OH)

I’m not one to usually get beverages with my meals (I’m almost exclusively a water drinker), but a smoothie sounded too good to pass up. This Strawberry Smoothie ($3.85) was a bit smaller than I expected, but refreshing nonetheless.

Strawberry Smoothie from Lavash Cafe (Clintonville, OH)

One of the great things about Lavash Cafe is that they allow you to modify entrees slightly to suit your needs. They let me add lamb and chicken (for an additional $2.50) to an otherwise vegetarian dish. Their Mojadara ($7.25), aka lentil rice, had spot on flavor and texture, and was even better than most I’ve had with the addition of wonderful caramelized onions on top. It was served with a Lavash salad, which is a refreshing combination of cucumbers and tomatoes in a tahini dressing. The addition of the meat was just what this dish needed. The lamb was mildly spiced, whereas the chicken was a little more in your face, but in a good way (I think I detected ras el hanout as the spice blend, but I’m not positive). My only complaint is that the chicken was a bit on the dry side.

Lentil Rice from Lavash Cafe (Clintonville, OH)

My husband went with the Chicken Schwarma platter ($8.50), which paired the same type of chicken I had added to my dish with a serving of saffron rice. We’re not exactly sure what kind of sauce it was paired with, but it complemented it nicely.

Chicken Schwarma and Saffron Rice from Lavash Cafe (Clintonville, OH)

His entree also came with a side salad, nice and fresh and chock full of crunchy vegetables.

Salad from Lavash Cafe (Clintonville, OH)

We love the pastries, so we got a few to take with us – pictured here ($1.50 each) are the bassma, cashew finger, and one which we didn’t get the name of, but is basically a honey soaked cake.

Desserts from Lavash Cafe (Clintonville, OH)

We’ll definitely be back – Lavash Cafe fills many voids for us: the return of fresh and fast Mediterranean, a place to eat when we’re hanging out in Clintonville, and lots of friendly faces. They haven’t been open long, but I’m predicting that precisely because they do what they do so well, they’ll be one of the few success stories that manage to perservere despite this being a really tough time to open a new restaurant.

If you’d like to go: Lavash Cafe, 2985 N. High Street, Clintonville, 614.263.7777

Lavash Cafe on Urbanspoon

Review: Los Galapagos

Author: swampkitty05  //  Category: Columbus, Ethnic, Food Porn, Restaurant Review

We’re always on the lookout for reasonably priced ethnic “blink and you’ll miss them” restaurants, so we were surprised to find out that we had one such gem right here on the West Side of Columbus.

Los Galapagos

Located well off the beaten path (if you’re coming from downtown head down West Broad until you see the Home Depot right past 270, and then hang a left there at Grener Road and it’s about a half mile down on your left side), it’s hard to discern that it’s little more than a Latino supermarket from the outside. But inside, most of the space is occupied by tables, with grocery items being only a small part of this operation. The cuisine at Los Galapagos is primarily Ecuadorian, and as far as I know, is the only one of its kind in Central Ohio.

There were so many things to choose from, we had a hard time deciding. Take a gander at the menu board and you’ll see what we mean:

Los Galapagos Menu Board

And if that wasn’t enough to choose from, there’s another one just as long:

Los Galapagos Menu Board

We knew for sure that we wanted empanadas ($1 each), which were not exactly what we expected, but good nonetheless. Cheese empanadas I have had in the past have been filled with melty cheese that oozes out when you bite into it, but with this one the cheese seems to be attached to the dough itself, causing it to puff out and the center to be sort of empty.

Cheese Empanadas at Los Galapagos

We filled the center a little bit with some of the spicy sauce on the table – not quite a salsa, nor a chutney, it seemed to be sort of a combination of both. The spice and heat complemented the cheesy dough well, though – we could have easily munched on these all afternoon. And at that price? Why the heck not?

lSpicy Sauce at Los Galapagos

We also decided to share a plate of maduros ($3), which are ripe plantains fried until caramelized. These were absolutely amazing, much better than the other restaurants in town who make these, simply because they were sweet but not greasy. Sprinkled with a little bit of salt to contrast with the sweetness of the fruit, these were perfection on a plate.

Maduros at Los Galapagos

It took a little bit longer to decide on an entree, which I’m sure drove our poor waiter nuts. He was kind, attentive, and quite forgiving of our butchering of the Spanish language when trying to order. I finally decided on the Churasco ($12), a huge platter with a nicely seasoned flank (or perhaps skirt?) steak, saucy and flavorful sauteed onions, peppers and tomatoes, hand-cut french fries, white rice, salad and avocado, all topped with 2 fried eggs. The portion size was way more than I could ever imagine eating in one sitting. The food? Absolutely fantastic. I’m a sucker for just about anything topped with fried eggs, and this was no exception. I’d order this again in a heartbeat.

Churasco Platter at Los Galapagos

My husband went with the Pescado Frito ($12), lightly fried tilapia filets (you can also choose to have it served to you as the whole fish with head and tail attached, if that’s your thing) that are as good as any we’ve ever had locally. Served with rice, lime, tostones, and avocado salad, it was a completely satisfying meal at a price that can’t be beat.

Fried Tilapia at Los Galapagos

We liked Los Galapagos so much, we plan on going back regularly to try to work our way through the entire menu. Bear in mind the limited hours if you decide to visit – they’re closed on Tuesdays and only open until 8:30PM the rest of the nights. The West Side is hurting badly for good restaurants, and I’m thrilled to have found one so close to home. It’s definitely worth the trip, no matter where you live in the area. We got out of there, full beyond the telling of it, for about $35.

If you’d like to go: Los Galapagos, 378 S. Grener Ave, Columbus (West Side), 614.878.7770

Los Jalabagos on Urbanspoon