Reflections on Stripmall Eating

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


Name: Little Marakesh
Location: 1825 Limekiln Pike, Dresher.
Personnel: Jesse, Me
What We Ate: Salad Platter (Carrot Salad, Eggplant, Hummus, Tomato, Cucumber and Peppers), Pita Triangles, Bastilla, Chicken Tagine, Lamb Kabobs, Couscous, Baklava, Mint Tea
Condiments: None
Bill Total: $53
Observations: On Little Marakesh's website there are goofily smiling servers wearing fezzes and bejeweled belly dancers peering dreamily out of veils but this Dresher restaurant is way less Epcot in person. As Jesse noted, LM was one of the few stripmall spaces we've seen that has actually been transformed into a charming, cozy and even alluring atmosphere. Sure, there's a little gift shop in the back selling tagines, tea sets and pottery, and menu of hookahs for smoking, which the two gossiping teenage girls across the room seemed to enjoy. But these are just touristy distractions from the food, which is authentic and transporting in its own right. It's worth visiting on the weekends to partake in a multicourse feast, beginning with a salad platter of sweet carrots, smoky charred eggplant and velvety hummus. The bastilla, phyllo pastry layered with cinnamon, shredded chicken, fluffy bits of egg and almonds, was delicious but it was the camel stenciled in cinnamon on top that really left me awestruck. Next is the Berber tagine: olives, preserved lemon, onions and chicken stewed in a clay pot until the meat falls off the bone. Then there are ground lamb kabobs, flavored with the hot chile kiss of harrissa, and sumptuous couscous, laden with sweet caramelized onions, plump raisins and chickpeas. In traditional Moroccan style you are expected to eat with your hands—the server will douse you in hot water at the beginning of the meal—but a plate of forks is also discreetly provided, no questions asked, for those that do not want to dive headlong into soupy tagine with their bare digits. After all, no matter how much hookah you've smoked, you're still in Dresher.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Strong and Hot

Name: Sila Turkish Restaurant
Location: 4313 Rte. 130, Edgewater Park, NJ
Personnel: Aubrey, Me
What We Ate: Humus, Babaganus, Haydari, Aciliezme, Adana Kebab, Yogurt Kebab, Baklava, Turkish Coffee
Condiments: None
Bill Total: $48
Observations: I live for Turkish food. My sister Aubrey and I visited Turkey in the late-’90s and ate baklava every day for three glorious weeks. Now, when I dream, it's of pide, pine nuts and raisins. Unfortunately there is very little Turkish food in Philly. Sila was written up in the Inquirer about a year ago, and I have been waiting for the right opportunity to get there. It's about 20 minutes outside the city, in what has to be one of the most strip-mall-tastic parts of New Jersey. (Yet I wouldn't be surprised if I were wrong about this.) Aubrey came along for the trip because she was as excited as I was to relive our experience. Park Plaza is an odd little enclave that also hosts a Curves and a ballet school. Sila itself is quite fancy, with murals, and a dance floor and an area where the food is laid out under glass for ogling. Our bread came out with a dish of butter and crumbled feta cheese. We shared a selection of cold dips, which included the usual garlicky suspects. The babaganus (Turkish spelling) was wonderfully smoky. For an entree she had the yogurt kebab, a classic dish with roasted lamb and rich tomato sauce slathered on buttery bread cubes. I had oblong lamb patties, which had nice charcoal flavor. These were accompanied by traditional accompaniments: raw onions and parsley, a grilled tomato and a grilled chili pepper. Over the baklava, which was sweeter, more syrupy and rosier-tasting than what we usually get around these parts, we learned that Sila had changed ownership recently. Our teenage server, clad in a tuxedo vest, is the new owner's daughter. Next door, she told us, there's a men-only cafe and they are also building another room for daytime gathering. She wanted to make sure that we knew what we were getting into when we ordered the Turkish coffee. People had complained, she said, because they didn't realize how strong it was. We knew, we told her, and we had no complaints.