Aden Restaurant

614 N. 2nd Street
(Northern Liberties)
(215) 627-9844

You'll recognize this neighborhood oasis as you approach it. Two potted palm trees adorn the sidewalk (protecting parking spaces) out front, accompanied by copper-topped tables under huge green umbrellas. One may circumvent this make-shift outdoor mini-cafe by entering to the left of the shebang into a proper restaurant. First glances expose a funky interior which is lively with crusty, rustic Roman murals. Togas are painted on funny-faced men, replete with their enlarged eating utensils, sundry pets and ancient articles of edibles. Portraits of women are also depicted, half-draped and liminally annoyed by the men's posturing.

A heightened "stage" is to one's right where window seatings for three tables exist. Ahead is a battered bar behind which is suspended a half-room-sized copper cooking vent. It draws smoke from ovens and grills below. The bar serves merely as the barrier between diners and chefs, this being a BYOB establishment (corkage: $1.00 per bottle).

The ceiling is a virtual pale blue sky dominated by cumulus clouds and two overhead white spinning fans. Tables are varnished brown, daisies-vased, with empty water and wine glasses readied.

Almost immediately after being seated, you are approached by Hadar or Nurit Nisim, the hierophant-proprietors, bringing a breadbasket of sesame-seeded loaves along with a "gratis" tapinade of mottled eggplant, parsley, olive oil and cheese. The mixture is extraordinary on the tongue, mollifying and mesmerizing: just what one desires to begin the beguine.

Hadar and Nurit are from Netanya in Israel. They bring a confident vitality, wizened warmth and industrious exuberance to their restaurant, which they categorize as "a perfect yet imperfect place in the Loving Heart of Northern Liberties." No other couple could bring their neighbors the rudimentary, yet often elegant, tastes of Israel, Morocco, Greece, Sicily, Spain, Tunisia and France's Camargue.

The patrons dress informally, as if in an eatery on a Greek Isle, or on the banks of Lake Tiberius. Conviviality pervades with voices and accents from around the world. Denim is not out of the question here, but women's hips may be out of the denim.

There are a few appetizers that are grand. Moroccan Cigars ($6) are four ultra crispy phyllo dough scrolls stuffed with spiced ground beef, served with a tahini dipping sauce. With this, you might wish to order its complement: Warm Pita ($5), a medley of heavenly heated pitas, roasted pepper humus, cucumber and tomatoes. The cigars crack at your bite, then they emit the fragrant aromas of chopped meat which has been spiked with hot peppers and Hungarian paprika. You can almost blow "O's" of smoke. Placate your palate with creamy cool tahini and pita quarters, crunching cucumber rounds topped with humus. Surprisingly, and without explanation, your lips begin to silently mouth Hebrew words, until your larynx explodes from the meeting of the hot and cold, into a lightening torrent of lacerating but innocuous linguistics: "Shecket B'Vakasha!," you blurt.

Regaining your senses is easy, if you've also requested the Mediterranean Tapas ($8), a melange of a platter dauntlessly replete with assorted grilled vegetables, artichokes, mini-cubed feta, curried carrots and assorted pelagic mousses in halved eggs or mussel shells or other hollowed purveyors.

Your stomach speaks in groans of delight, at the novelty of the combinations of its emigrants. Chef Steve Wade, formerly of the Cafe Flower Shop, and sous chef Edward Brewer bring ingenuity and citric flamboyance to every plate.

Entrees are "made from scratch." The Pan Seared Tilapia ($16) which is St. Peter's Fish, is served with delectable vegetable cous-cous in a sesame beurre blanc sauce. Tilapia is a filet of pearly white; flaking and dividing at fork's touch without need for knife. It steams above the grains of cous-cous and enters your mouth with a wisp of buttery ease. The flesh is soft, melting and marvelous.

For meat-lovers, a double Mediterranean Strip Steak ($19) is grilled with hash-marks as proof. "Medium" brings you best results for a carnally chewy but satisfying large portion (two steaks). This cut is typically served in Israel as a rare luxury. My beef was set beside yellow pattypan squash, roasted red peppers and cous-cous. Aden's new menu for August advertises a side of crisped jicama and herb butter. No matter, if you've had any appetizer, you'll not be able to finish one of the steaks. Your next night's dinner is secure.

There's likewise an overwhelming plate of Roasted Rack of Lamb ($19) which brings six thick chops, grilled asparagus, sauteed new potatoes and miraculously carved specs of diced tomatoes. "Medium-well" is my suggestion for these chops' doneness, to ensure no near-the-bone raw rareness, with entities this thick. The new menu portends accompaniments of grilled ratatouille, potatoes au gratin, with a hot curry demi-glaze.

The Tiramisu dessert ($5) provides sweet lady's fingers lying palm down, bathing in chocolate creams, with hints that the lady had sipped champagne or rum or both.

At the end of the evening, you may want to place a message upon a slip of paper into the crevices of the candle-lit brick western wall that spans the restaurant's length. You will not have to wish for a more hearty, heartfelt meal.


Copyright 2004 Richard Max Bockol, Esq. Back