Sunday, October 15, 2017

Ariana Restaurant Media Event

This past Wednesday, I was invited to Ariana Restaurant for a media night. The ignorance clearly lies with me as this restaurant is an Old City stalwart with almost 20 years of service under its belt. 'Ariana' is the old name of Afghanistan and the Hashmi family along with owner Beheshta have been serving Afghan cuisine to Philadelphia since 1999.

Bottom Right: Belly Dancer Ewelina | Bottom Left: Owner Beheshta & the always lovely Kate of Philly PR Girl

A big part of Afghan culture is hospitality and it clearly shows though Beheshta's passion and cooking. A melting pot of eastern European influences impart flavor and soul into the dishes, with Persian, Indian, Asian, and Mediterranean cultures all playing their part. Think less spicy then Indian, but with the familiar flavors of the Mediterranean. 

Clockwise from Top Left: Aashak Dumplings | Sambosa Pastries | Bulanee Gandana Turnovers

Along with wine (Ariana is BYO!!!) to start, we enjoyed several Afghani appetizers. Aashak are steamed scallion-filled dumplings topped with a spicy yogurt and mint sauce, with fresh mint sprinkled on top. Delicious and a definite must order. Sambosa were deftly fried and stuffed with chickpeas, ground beef, and a tempered hit of spices, served alongside a cilantro sauce. Bulanee were crisp turnovers filled with scallions and herbs - perfect to top with the accompanying yogurt sauce. I'd definitely recommend starting off your meal with a few of these bites. 

Clockwise from Top Left: Chalow Sabzi, Kadu, & Palow | Bread | Chicken Kabob | Kabuli Palow 

With our mains came fresh bread that had a nice crisp texture on the exterior, yielding to a light, fluffiness within. Slightly sweet, it was perfect to sop up the vegetarian sides that accompanied our entrees. These sides included spinach sauteed with sun-dried lemon and garlic (sabzi), pumpkin cooked down and topped with yogurt (kadu), and seasoned eggplant with tomatoes (palow). For my main, I opted for Afghanistan's flagship dish - the Kabuli Palow. Lightly seasoned chunks of lamb were interspersed throughout a lovely mix of brown basmati and topped with almonds, pistachios, carrots, and raisins. A delightful mix of savory and sweet. 

Firnee - Afghan pudding with ground pistachios, almonds, and rose water

To end our meal, we were treated to two desserts. I've never had firnee before, but I enjoyed the texture that was slightly firmer than flan but just as enjoyable. The rose water permeated throughout with some texture coming from the ground nuts. 


And who can say no to baklava, with the thin layers of pastry dough housing plenty of syrup and walnuts. 

In addition to being a BYO, Ariana also offers late-night hookah and they're able to hook(ah?) you up for private events, including entertainment. On this particular night, we were treated to a performance by Ewelina, a local belly dancer. She had most of the patrons up and dancing by the end of the night, including yours truly (I'll spare you shots of that). And while I'm sure we all have a favorite spot in Old City, if you've never had Afghan cuisine or are looking for great food beyond your typical haunt, be sure to hit up Ariana. 

FTC Disclaimer: Special thanks to Beheshta of Ariana Restaurant & the Philly PR Girl team for hosting me. Regardless, my opinions are mine alone and, therefore, unbiased. 

Ariana Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Choolaah Indian BBQ: King of Prussia Review

The GF and I were recently invited to check out Choolaah, the sleek Indian BBQ fast-casual concept that opened in King of Prussia. Choolaah highlights ingredients with a pedigree, sourcing all of their ingredients from some of the cleanest and most abundant locations, including the Faroe Islands and Ohio Amish country. And with huge tandoor ovens in full display, they ensure that everything is authentically prepared. Recipes are from centuries-old Indian kitchens, but made fresh and with modern takes. 

What does Choolaah entail? Every day in ancient northern India, people gathered around a communal oven known as a "sanja chulha" to share stories and break fresh-baked bread. Choolaah is a fresh spin on this tradition, promoting communal and collective enjoyment of great food. 

Their custom-built tandoor clay ovens seek to cook the meats and cheeses at very high temps to seal in the juices and lock in that flavor. They're marinated in a variety of Indian spices, but don't expect to be taken aback. You can customize the spice level, with a variety of chutneys and sauces to cool or amp up your heat index. 

Pav Bhaji [$6.99]

Pav Bhaji was a clear winner in our book. The street snack's origins trace back to Mumbai textile mill workers who needed something quick and filling. Expect buttery, toasted sweet buns - perfect to house the accompanying mix of vegetables cooked down with tomatoes and spices.  

Topped with a bits of chopped pepper and onion, just hit it with a squeeze of citrus to allow for an explosion of savory and hearty flavors. Easily eats like a meal and clearly a standout menu item. 

Veggie Croquette BBQ Meal [$9.99]
Choice of BBQ, White or Brown Rice, Wheat or Regular Naan, Masala

The GF went the BBQ bowl route, choosing crisp veggie croquettes, with a nice blend of chickpeas and spice. This sat atop a bowl of rice, perfect to drench with the accompanying tikka masala. And the naan here is pretty perfect - crisp and slightly buttery on the outside, with enough give within so it was perfect to sop up any remaining masala. 

Chicken Biryani [$9.99]
Chicken or veggie, layers of basmati rice, herbs, and spices

For my main, I went with what Choolaah labels "biryani meets chicken pot pie." Housed in a crisp, thin, puffed shell that takes a whack or two to crack, layers of basmati rice are melded with a blend of spice that's nicely tempered by sweet raisins. I chose chicken as my protein - marinated and moist. 

It came with an accompanying yogurt sauce that I couldn't help but mix with some of their spicier sauces available on tap. Delicious and highly reminiscent of several of the delicious street carts I tend to frequent - just executed on a higher level. 

Mango Lassi [$3.49]

Overindulged in spice? No fear - be sure to pick up one of their mango lassi's. Tart, cooling, and subtly sweet, this is the perfect palate cleanser. 

So if you're shopping by KoP, seek out something better than your typical mall eats. Head over to Choolaah and prepare yourself for an explosion of flavors. A Center City location needs to open up - stat. 

Choolaah Indian BBQ
155 Main Street Ste. 120
King of Prussia, PA 19406
(800) 459-8860

FTC Disclaimer: Thanks to Choolaah and Cashman Associates for arranging this visit. Regardless, my opinions are mine alone and, therefore, unbiased. 

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Deck: Fall Aboard [Media Alert]

This fall, The Deck is debuting four fire pits to keep you warm during the cool nights. Better yet, their fall menu will include a s'more kit for $25. The kit will provide marshmallows, graham crackers, and Hersheys chocolate so you can hand-craft ten of your own s'more's aboard the boat!

Credit: The Deck Philly

They're also offering a new cocktail menu with warm drinks. Look out for their tipsy hot chocolate or mulled ciders! And "Oh Ship It's Cold Out" will feature Bacardi Banana, Bailey's, Kahlua, and Hot Chocolate. It's then garnished with Reese's Pieces, peanut butter powder, whipped cream, and a Bruleed Marshmallow Skewer. At only $12, it's a steal and sure to be easy drinking! 

Credit: BestFoodPhilly | PhillyFoodGal

Fall Aboard at the Deck will be open through November 1st. Weekdays from 3-10PM, Saturdays, noon to midnight, and Sundays from 10:30AM to 10PM!