Tuesday, May 1, 2007


I just went back and read my other restaurant reviews, and I've got to say: it's time for an unconditionally good take on Philadelphia cuisine. I know I seem hypercritical sometimes, but it's only because I want to provide the most comprehensive take on wherever I eat. If I flipped my lid over every bite I take, then I'd feel as if I were doing a disservice to the ridiculously small - but loyal - Scrumptulescence readership. And for those of you that don't know me and think I'm impossible to please...well, you might be right. I have, however, have had a few excellent meals during my time in Philly, and this was one of them...

Okay, show of hands - how many of you like delicious, fragrant, slow-cooked meats and vegetables? All right, how about eating with your hands - any takers? Oh, and beer? No, not Miller Light or Lager, I'm talking Fin du Monde, Paulaner, really whatever your discerning, hops-loving palate might enjoy. Yeah, that's what I thought: EVERYONE likes those things. Now, imagine if you will a delicate combination of those three factors, and there you have it: Abyssinia. No, not the ancient empire, the Ethiopian place in West Philly!

Todd and I ventured to an otherwise kinda dodgy part of town in order to sample some of Philadelphia's most delicious and cost-effective cuisine. Well, I guess it's not all that dodgy - it's just a few blocks from Penn's University City. A few blocks over it might be dodgy, but I'm pretty sure the area is just mildly sketchy. All that aside, we rolled in around ten, which is usually when places around here started closing their kitchens and hustling customers out. Not Abyssinia, though; they serve food until two in the morning (or so we're told - we only stayed until nearly midight).

The first thing I noticed was that the place was full of hipsters. Normally people with tight-rolled jeans, military-style caps, and horn-rimmed glasses really put me off my appetite, but Todd and I were ravenous, so it was okay. We did catch some disdainful, hipper-than-thou looks from a couple patrons; I think it was my polo shirt (or the fact that Todd and I both made loud anti-hipster comments when we came in). You see, Abyssinia sits on the first floor of a multi-story establishment, the top part of which is a beer bar infested by said hip crowd. You know the place - dirty on purpose (grimy would be a better word, since they clean all the time), the strains of some obscure Miles Davis-Ani Difranco-Maria Callas-David Bowie bootleg from a concert in Budapest in 1977 echoing off black walls....people in hoodies with just the right amount of product to make their hair look awful...wow, I'm really letting this get away from me.

Anyway, Abyssinia. We selected both the meat sampler and vegetarian sampler so as to maximize our choices. If you didn't know, Ethiopian food is generally served family-style in a large bowl lined with a spongey flatbread called injera (it's like a pancake made of a dark sourdough-ish flour called teff and water). The plate comes with an accompaniment of other injera, which serves as the primary utensil for scooping up the delicious piles of collard greens, slow-cooked beef tips, lentils, carrots and cabbage, and any number of other delicacies. The meal ends officially when you eat the "plate" of injera, which makes sense, because it minimizes the amount of dishes you have to do, which is nice.

I'm not sure "ate" is an appropriate descriptor for what Todd and I did to the food. "Devoured" comes close, but "laid waste to" is probably most apt. It was, in a word, unbefuckinglievable. Now, I love Ethiopian food, and I might be biased, but when all was said and done, we paid fifteen dollars each for a true feast and tall bottle of Paulaner to wash it all down. That, my friends, is eating right. It's my birthday, by the way, and if you want to get me something, consider renting me my own personal Ethiopian chef. Or at least a gift certificate to Abyssinia. Yum!

Highly recommended. If you come to Philadelphia, I will buy you Ethiopian food.

229 S. 45th St.
Philadelphia, PA 19104
(215) 387-2424


So, I'm back. To be honest, I really haven't been anywhere out of pocket, but for some reason I haven't posted in what feels like ages. I promise I'm back...with a vengeance (although against what I'm not entirely sure). I've decided to write about events dating back to a month ago up to the present, and if I hadn't told you that, you wouldn't have cared...I just respect you enough to make you party to the fact that I didn't innovate the hell out of poached fruit and caramel, eat out at a handful of restaurants, and read about a hundred new ways to prepare food in one day. So, here goes.

My most recent new restaurant experience was one of Steven Starr's Tangerine. Nestled amidst coffee shops and independent art galleries, this Moroccan fusion venture sits on the cusp of Philadelphia's homeless chic Old City neighborhood. For those of you out there unfamiliar with Philly, this is a place where you can sample a thousand and one delicious beers at Eulogy (reviewed previously), eat your fill of quasi-Filipino goodness and maybe catch a glimpse of the local hiphoperatti (I just coined that term; watch for it in People magazine shortly) at Cebu, and get picked up by sketchy cougars in any of manifold dive bars...all within two blocks. Good times, right? Anyway, back to Tangerine.

As with most of Starr's locations, Tangerine is very much pro-sharing. In fact, I'm not sure it's possible to order independently, since dishes arrive as they come up. So, unless you like teasing your date by taking bite after bite of sumptuous comestibles in front of him/her, I suggest you start to love sharing as well. Dim lighting, low tables, and comfy, quicksand-like leather chairs make Tangerine an excellent lounge spot. It's also great people-watching; my date quipped, "Everybody looks good in 15 watts," which I'd like to believe.

Bucking my usual pre-dinner cocktail trend (Tanqueray and tonic in summer, Belvie white Russian in winter), I went for the special Rum Crush - an, um, interesting blend of crushed ice (not my favorite), rum, pulverized kumquat, simple syrup, and cloves. It was a nice idea, but it was mostly just rum with some kumquat and clove taste. I mean, duh.

We started with a grilled octopus salad, which unfortunately turned out to be heavy on a caesar-like dressing and light on the tasty, flame-kissed octopus (which was yummy - I love anything that, when grown to monstrous proportions, could make for a riveting deep-sea thriller a la Jaws or The Deep. A quick note: the bread basket was filled with delicious, heavy slices of a whole-grain sweet brown bread with sunflower seeds and large pieces of fig, as well as a novel take on a minature sesame soft pretzel (presumably as homage to Philadelphia's lasting pretzel heritage).

After the octo came the grilled za'atar chicken with white bean and mascarpone puree. Although truly delectable, my only complaint was that the half a chicken breast was hardly enough to satisfy my voracious craving for blackened poultry (which is pretty epic by most standards). From there was a rather uninspired shrimp and scallop dish with the seemingly out-of-place serrano ham ravioletti. It wasn't bad, but I admit I've been off scallops since my friend Morgan ate some raw ones in my presence and ended up in the hospital...

No dessert, just an espresso, but that decision was mostly out of my hands (those who know me know I never skip dessert...if only for research purposes). All in all, Tangerine was yummy, and I'd like to go back when I have a larger group, so as to sample a wider variety and maybe knock off a couple bottles of wine and loosen my tie a little.

Recommended. Look for more Starr restaurant reviews to come.

232 Market St.
Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 627-5116