Sunday, May 30, 2010

Arena District: Park Street Cantina

Park Street Cantina is the latest addition to the Park Street social scene here in Columbus.

Located in the building formerly inhabited by Spice, Park Street Cantina is a breath of fresh air to the street.  And by breath of fresh air, I mean you don't have to dress up like Sarah Jessica Parker in "Sex and the City" to fit in.

Park Street Cantina opened up several weeks ago, and I went and checked it out last week with a friend who was scouting for a good location for a birthday party.  I felt like I was in Scottsdale when I walked in; Spanish tile roof and stucco-esque walls (I mean, they didn't demo the building and correct me if I am wrong, but Spice was just a slab of concrete, right?). 

We sat at the bar and I noticed something right away: swings, really? There are swings at this bar.  Two person wooden swings strung up by ropes.  I can only imagine those are popular on Park Street's "College Nights..."

Anyway, we were there to try the food and see if it was a good spot for this party, so we ordered some snacks.  The hostess brought over a large basket of house made chips and some salsa.  There were several types of salsa, a garlic, a tomatillo, a basic tomato based salsa, and my personal favorite, the mango salsa.  I am surprised that Park Street Cantina had a decent mango salsa considering mangoes are quite pricey for a bar operation, but it was really tasty, and had some nice green chilis to complement the sweetness of the mangoes.

We ordered a cheese quesidilla, fish taco, and the seven layer dip.

Cheese Quesidilla:

Since this is a new spot, I figured that Park Street Cantina would jazz up the menu a bit.  Well, this quesidilla was nothing to write home about (not like I would anyway, my mother would probably not approve of this food adventure).  This was seriously two flour tortillas stuffed with shredded cheese, pressed together in a panini maker or some other form of compression that caused the cheese to melt.  It was served with a side of salsa and sour cream.  I felt like Taco Bell puts in more effort to its quesidillas.

Fish Taco:

Did I say fish taco? The taco that the waitress billed up to be AMAAZZHHZINNG?  Well whoops, we were given a shrimp taco.  Guess the waitress didn't want us to try the famous fish taco.  The shrimp was seasoned well, with a light spice.  However, it was served with a less-than-sub-par-uncle-ben's rice-is-better tomato rice, and the standard salsa and sour cream.  Next time I'll order a fish taco, but I'll probably be given something cow-ridden instead because the waitress forgot to pay attention to me.

Seven Layer Dip:

What's in a seven layer dip? Refried beans, sour cream, cheese, guacamole, cheese, black olives, tomatoes? Well this one had green onions too.  I'm not a math genius, but clearly that adds to 8.  And although there were supposedly all of these wonderful ingredients in this bowl of supposed deliciosuness, all I could taste was sour cream.  Which wasn't delightful.  Rage.

I forgot to take pictures of this -- but before I showed up to Park Street Cantina, my friends had ordered two pizzas, a shrimp pizza and a barbeque chicken pizza (which, if you have eaten with me before, you know my love of barbeque chicken pizza, especially from Milano's in Dayton).  These items are from the "gringo" section of the menu (no joke, the menu says gringo).  I am not too sure what that says about a place when the honky themed food is more appetizing than the culture the restaurant is supposed to be representing...

CONCLUSION:  If you're hungry before you go out, go eat somewhere else in the Arena District or Short North before going to Park Street Cantina to make yourself feel 5 again and swing in a swing all night.  Or, if you're really craving Mexican food, just hike it to your nearest El Vaquero.

Victorian Village: Katalina's Cafe Corner

Cafe Corner is one of those feel good, local, neighborhood spots that you'll want to keep coming back to.

Recently under new ownership, Cafe Corner has kept much of its original menu the same while adding some new perks.  Known for its breakfast tacos (recent winners of a North Market challenge and recently featured in Columbus Alive) and delicious sandwiches, Cafe Corner has a lot to offer for the vegetarian, non vegetarian, soup lover, salad muncher, and now, cookie cruncher.

I ventured to Cafe Corner today to have breakfast with a friend.  When I go to Cafe Corner, I normally get a breakfast sandwich, but today I decided to branch outside of the box and spring for the Swedish Pancakes.

Well, I am sure glad I made that bold, wise decision.

These Swedish pancakes are a little slice of heaven.  Cute, small pancakes (my aunt in India would call them "pediatric size), stuffed with your choice of Nutella or strawberry jam.  Obvs I sprung for the Nutella filling.

What is Nutella, you ask? Have you been living in a cave? Nutella is probably the best spread out there.  Made from chocolate, hazelnuts, and milk, Nutella is a delicious spread on breads, crackers, waffles, or eaten out of the jar by the spoon full.  Unfortunately, it is not nut-allergy friendly (sorry, White Ninja)

Cafe Corner serves up these little pancakes from heaven with your choice of breakfast meat (bacon, sausage, and ham), and a serving of homemade syrup and homemade whipped cream -- although I felt that that I didn't need either since the pancakes were so decadent:

My friend ordered an omelet.  I think the sign on the menu board says "big omelet" and it really is.  They have to seriously put in 3 or 4 eggs to make this omelet. And the omelet is overflowing with goodies -- cheese, your choice of veggies, and/or your choice of meat.  My friend opted for ham and American cheese.  Doused in habanero hot sauce, my friend's plate was clean so I feel like it was a success.

CONCLUSION:  Despite its new name, Cafe Corner is really delicious and a great staple in the Victorian Village neighborhood.  At lunch time, the tomato-mozz sandwich is delish,  but if you're going for breakfast and you love Nutella, you're crazy not to get these little pancakes.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Clintonville: Lavash Cafe

Lavash Cafe is probably one of the best additions to the Columbus scene.  Well, I guess I should say "returns" as the owner of Lavash used to have a restaurant in Columbus, closed it, and recently re-opened this spot.

Fresh, authentic, and casual, Lavash is a great place to go with family, friends, or just by yourself, with an extensive menu to choose from.  The interior is very welcoming.  Wooden tables, including two long family style tables in the front window, provide a plethora of great seating.  The walls are covered in beautiful patchwork fabrics that really brighten up the space.  When you enter Lavash, you order at the counter, kind of like a cafeteria.  The food is made for you, and your name is called out and you pick it up.  It is very unpretentious, and definitely a breath of fresh air to places that have bad wait service.

And when I say that there's something to eat for everyone, I mean everyone.  My mother loves Lavash.   My mother is a strict vegetarian, and often times has trouble finding food to eat when my parents come to visit (we usually end up going to Panera, or Macaroni Grill for the make your own pasta).

I went to Lavash last week with my friend Andy (see Press Grill post) for his inaugural Lavash visit.  Andy and I have both been trying to watch what we eat, so what's better than some home made hummus?

I ordered us the vegetarian platter to start with.  A delicious assortment of falaffel, hummus, tabouli salad, and stuffed grape leaves.

Lavash gives you nice, big baskets of fresh pita to scoop all of the deliciousness with.  I like making little tabouli, hummus, falaffel sandys with my pita.

Hummus: the hummus is definitely fresh made.  It's not like the store bought hummus that is packed with salt and preservatives.  You can taste each ingredient in every bite: chick peas, garlic, olive oil, tahini.

Falaffel:  At home, my dad makes a type of falaffel (called a bonda) with green lentils.  He fries them up all delicious like, but my mother commented they don't come up poofy-like like Lavash.  Lavash's falaffel are smaller than most in town (Happy Greek's are ginormous) but they are small and crispy.  Very good.  Andy commented that he could eat a whole basket of them (and I could too)

Tabouli salad: the national salad of Lebanon.  Pretty standard here.

Stuffed grape leaves: At first, I never liked grape leaves.  The texture of the leaf itself reminded me of paan, an after-meal digestive aid that's served in India after meals.  But these grape leaves are pretty good, filled with rice and other spices. 

Now onto the main meals.  Lavash has a very good selection of sandwiches, salads, and entrees on its regular menu.  However, every day there are different specials which are incredible.  I would definitely recommend going on Fridays for the muncef (delicious lamb with rice and a special yogurt sauce, all wrapped in a thin pita), or on Sundays for the biriyani.  Lavash does a pretty good job of keeping its facebook page updated, so you can find out what the daily specials are very easily.

On Tuesday, the specials were a variety of kebabs, rice dishes, and mousakka (the lasagna-like dish, but it was made with lamb).  I opted for a lamb biriyani like dish, and Andy went for the spicy chicken kefta.

My dish:

Lamb is my guilty pleasure and I really don't eat it that often.  Here, the lamb on the rice dishes is awful Fred Flinstone like.  I feel like that picture above is very caveman, yes?  Anyway, this dish was pretty good.  The rice was a lot like my mom's, spiced with cardamom, garlic, and black peppercorns.  It made for nice leftovers for the next couple of days.

Andy had the special chicken dish for the evening, spicy chicken kefta.  I kind of wish I would have gotten this instead.  The chicken had the perfect spice and was so very flavorful.  A nice side of basmati rice complemented the dish.  The chicken had a nice char from the grill.  I would definitely get this again.

CONCLUSION: If you haven't gone to Lavash yet you're really missing out.  You should probably go today and get a biriyani special.  Quit denying your tastebuds from deliciousness.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Short North: Basil

Two summers ago, I lived in apartment at the corner of High and 4th Avenue -- the current site of the Jackson development.  When I was there, the happenin' place to go was the Surly Girl (which is still awesome), Skully's (Ladies 80s-- holler), and the creepy-now out of business-potential molester's-goody boy drive through.  I always hoped that this side of High street would develop, and with the Jackson finally being developed it's really coming into fruition.  Now, across the street from my old place and next door to Skully's, is Basil.

Columbus does have its fair share of Asian restaurants.  And, on High Street, there are plenty (Lemongrass, Haiku, Nida's and now Basil).  However, Basil has really given the space a face lift.  Deep, dark wood floors, a beautiful bar, and intimate seating.  I had read in the Dispatch that the owners of Basil had very successful restaurants in Chicago, so I have always been eager to go.  I think Basil has been open for quite some time, but I just haven't made it up there, even though it's several blocks away from my apartment.

I went to Basil for lunch to partake in the lunch special (I am such a sucker for lunch combos).  A choice of soup, an appetizer, and a lunch special for $7.50.  Since this is was my first time, I decided to make it more special to decide whether or not I'd return.  I took a friend of mine that also enjoys Thai food, and we ventured up to try it out.

I started with the Tom Ka soup.  A coconut broth, with mushrooms, lemongrass, onions, and cilantro.  I was afraid that the flavors wouldn't be pungent but this broth was delicious.  I could really taste all of the flavors in the soup, and the lemongrass was delicious.  I really enjoyed the soup, and it would be the perfect cup of comfort on a cold day -- I'd say that it compares to/is on the  same level as the Lemongrass soup at Lemongrass, which is my standard for soups.

The next lunch choice is an appetizer.  I looked around what other people were getting, and there was a variety of food out on the floor.  I asked the waitress what was the best choice to make, and she recommended the crispy roll.   A crispy rice wrapper with chicken, vermicelli noodles, sprouts, in this tangy vinaigrette.  The combination of flavors really worked.  And, the ground nuts on top added a nice contrast.  

(on a side note, it's interesting how many items are used in Thai and Indian cooking...the vermicilli noodles, cilantro, ginger, garlic...)

For my entree, I ordered the pad kee mow, aka, the drunken noodle.  My first experience with drunken noodle was in Bethesda, Maryland.  I worked on Capitol Hill for a summer, and my sister was in DC at the same time as well.  She loved this restaurant in Bethesda for the drunken noodle dish and introduced me to it.  It was pretty fantastic, and that really set the bar in my mind for drunken noodle.  Drunken noodle is composed of wide noodles in a spicy-sweet-basil sauce, and a variety of vegetables, and meat or tofu.   I had mine with shrimp, and ordered it spicy.  It was still pretty sweet, but the spice really hit at the end.  As far as drunken noodles in Columbus go, it was one of the better I've had.  And the portion size was excellent, perfect for lunch, although I was really stuffed after two bites of my crispy roll.

My friend had the red curry with chicken.  It is his standard at Thai restaurants, so he always orders it when he goes to a Thai restaurant for the first time.  Basil also offers the option of brown rice, which is great and refreshing for people trying to eat less white rice.  My buddy thought that the curry got better with time; at first bite, it was very chalky, but after several minutes of sitting it improved.  I thought that corn starch may have been added to make the curry thicker, which is unfortunate -- why add a thickening agent?

CONCLUSION: Basil is excellent and a nice addition to the neighborhood.  Although the service was a little slow, the presentation was beautiful and the flavors were great.  Also, Basil is this weekend's Groupon, $10 for $20 worth of food, and it goes until Sunday.  Go buy it!