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Happy 4 Years SFTS + A Review of Alihan’s

6 Oct

It’s a big day at SOLE For The Soul!!!  I’ve been keeping this blog for exactly FOUR YEARS today – that’s pretty crazy if you think about it!  We’ve come a long way together, me and you.  We started out trying all the best restaurants in Pittsburgh, talking about sustainability, and going on adventures.  Then, when we started making healthy changes and getting fit together.  I like the new us, don’t you?

thanks-for-the-feedback-bye

Seriously though, I’m so appreciative of all you guys who consistently come back and check out what I’ve got going on, share my recipes on Pinterest, and stalk my Twitter.  Love you guys! ♥


 

It seems appropriate to get back to our roots on such a big day, so I’m happy to do a little restaurant review today of a new-to-me place called Alihan’s in Pittsburgh’s Cultural District.  I didn’t take very many pictures when I was there on Friday night, but that’s because I was busy catching up with my favorite cousin.  We don’t get to see each other very often, so we had plenty to talk about – and wine.  So, yeah.  Little known fun fact about where I’m from (New Castle, PA): it’s an unexpected little pocket of Middle Eastern/Mediterranean culture.  When I’m craving the tastes of home, lamb on the rod is probably the first thing I start talking about so when my cousin found Ailhan’s on Yelp we didn’t hesitate to make a reservation.  (I would strongly suggest making a reservation because they get pretty busy if there’s a show nearby.)

The space is small but charming and not overly kitsch-y.  There is an outdoor patio with a gorgeous view of the Roberto Clemente bridge if you’re into that sort of thang.  The 20 mile an hour winds on Friday didn’t make that very inviting, though!  Inside, there was an unexpected water feature that I was impressed with.  We knew it was BYOB, so we had each brought a bottle of wine and were happy to find out that there is only a single corking fee per table.  We ordered the cold appetizer platter and WOW.  It was basically heaven in my mouth.  From left to right, the plate offered feta, tabbouleh, char-grilled eggplant salad, stuffed grape leaves, yogurt sauce (I didn’t try this), hummus, and baba ghanoush.  Everything was so delish.  The stuffed grape leaves were absolutely perfect, so many places don’t take their time on so they end up rubbery and tasteless.  I was impressed!

Not sure about grape leaves?  I say try them – they are low calorie, high fiber dark veggie that are full of calcium, iron, and vitamins A&K. One cup of grape leaves actually provide you with an entire day’s worth of Vitamin A!  Also, the char-grilled eggplant salad was not something I even thought I would like but I could not stop eating it!  Mixed cold platter for the win guys.

alihans-mixed-cold-appetizers

We decided to split an entree – neither one of us wanted to take home any leftovers since we both had plans for after dinner.  Of course we ordered the lamb shish kebob with white rice.  I’m not going to lie, I am a lamb snob.  I can’t help it, I’ve been eating it all my life and it’s one of my favorite proteins.

alihans-lamb-shish-kebob

This may not look like a very large portion, but the pieces of lamb are bigger than they look.  They use a pepper and tomato marinade before they char-grill this lamb on a rod.  Let’s just say I was kind of regretting the decision to share.  They weren’t over-seasoned, and you could taste the caramelization from the marinade.  They were cooked perfectly with a great char and a tender inside.  The rice was so fresh, we both were surprised at how good it was since it’s kind of an afterthought.  The whole time we just kept saying that we would come back again and again.  I will not be sharing next time, I will say that.

What else can I say?  Our server was helpful, attentive, charming, and knowledgeable (that can make or break a place for me).  It’s right next door to a parking garage, but there is plenty of on-street parking.  And, if you want to know anything else leave me a comment I guess!  As far as I’m concerned, this place is a little hidden gem in downtown Pittsburgh.

Like 1 Sentence Per Picture

11 Jun

On Sunday, I headed over to my friends’ house bright and early to do the T25 abs DVD.  It was…hard.  That’s about all I have to say about that!  Oh, and that yes I know it will get easier if I stick with it.  After we were done, they loaded up their bikes and we all headed downtown.

I don’t currently own a bike that has gears (or hand breaks), so in order to make the experience enjoyable for myself I decided to rent a bike.  Pittsburgh isn’t the most bike friendly city, but we sure are getting there.  Did you know that you can rent bikes downtown, right along the Great Allegheny Passage?

Golden-Triangle-Bike-Rentals-Downtown-Pittsburgh

They have hourly and day rates, which I found very affordable.  The hybrid that I rented was $8/hr or $24/day.  Since I am just an occasional biker, this option seemed reasonable to me.  We followed the GAP Trail all the way to Hot Metal Bridge and into South Side.

Biking

fluorescent cyclist alert!

Hot-Metal-Bridge-South-Side-Pittsburgh

We decided to make a pit stop for lunch and I insisted that we eat at Pita Pit so that I could have their falafel.

Lunch-Break

I am obsessed with the falafel on whole wheat pita.  I load mine up with spinach, onions, green peppers, cucumbers, feta, tzatziki, and hummus.  I saved half of it for dinner!

Falafel-Pita-Pit

Pita-Pit-Nutrition-Information

While we were stopped for lunch, it started to torrentially downpour.  Then, about 5 minutes after we were done eating, it just completely stopped.  We wiped off our bike seats and kept it moving!  We looped back towards downtown on the South Side (side?) of the river through Station Square and headed toward Smithfield Street Bridge.

GAP-South-Side-Station-Square

It was a fantastic little loop of the city and with lunch it only took us 1.5 hours. That meant a $14 bike rental tab for me, which I view as totally worth it.  I would’ve wanted to keep going but my friends had to scoot to a Pirates game at 1:30.

Bike-Ride-Map

Plus I took my first bike selfie!

awko taco

awko taco

Pittsburgh Restaurant Week: Habitat

13 Aug

Last night, we were out and about in the city taking advantage of 2013 Summer Pittsburgh Restaurant Week!  Their website is really interactive and it allows you to narrow your restaurant search down using options like “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” or “Special Diets.”

Surprise, surprise…we picked a participating restaurant that proudly supports local growers (and also happens to be an old favorite) – Habitat.  Since their menu is seasonal and changes periodically, it was completely unrecognizable to me!  Luckily, it didn’t matter because for PRW they offer a 3-course fixed menu.

PRWMenu.Habitat

Since there were 3 of us and we all ordered different variations, I got to try everything on the menu!

Salads

Christina and her mom both ordered the Arctic Char Salad:

PRW.ArcticCharSalad

Those are pickled cucumbers, smoked sour cream (very interesting taste!), squash blossoms, and onion crumble (a nice twist on the cruton).  The Arctic Char was very mild, but tasty.

On the other hand, my Caesar salad tasted fishier than the salad with the fish!

PRW.CaesarSalad4

The salad was excellent – the bed of Romaine was placed on marscapone cheese, which also filled the lemon garlic croutons.   It served as an interesting variation from the traditional creamy Caesar dressing.  Each crouton was topped with a salty fried anchovy.  It was honestly the perfect portion considering the salty bitterness of the salad.

Entrees

Christina’s mom ordered the Grilled Ribs

PRW.GrilledRibs2

One word: Bazinga!  The cherry BBQ sauce was no joke, especially when you tasted the tangy cherry with the pork puffs.  We weren’t really sure what to expect from the menu’s claim of “pickled vegetables and black rice gel.”

PRW.PickledGel

Well, its exactly what it sounds like.  It had the exact consistency of gelatin, which I’m assuming was used along with pickling liquid to make this nugget.  I am a lover of tart, salty tastes so this was right up my alley.  I have honestly never seen gelatin treated this way before!  It was the strangest thing I think I’ve tried recently buy man was it good.  Also, I don’t think its coincidental that the only two times I’ve ever had black rice was at Habitat.  Both times I found it to be phenomenal!

There was also cornbread with whiskey butter:

PRW.Cornbread

This dish was a delightfully new twist on a savory, home-style favorite!  I preferred my dish, however.  The Alaskan Halibut was PERFECT.

PRW.AlaskanHalibut

It was seared to perfection and plated over a summer bean salad.  The fish was the total star of this plate, I wanted there to be endless amounts of it.  The burnt squash were so good that Christina asked why I don’t make her burnt veggies!  (To which I replied:  “Honey, I do make you burned food all the time.  It just doesn’t taste as good as this.”)  The menu said a leek puree, but I swear our server said this was an arugula puree and it tasted more peppery than oniony.  I’m going to go out on a limb here and say this was an arugula puree.  No matter what it was, I am in love with it.  I would have traded in my salad and my dessert for a double portion of this – it was that good.

Dessert

Let me backtrack for a second.  I would have traded in my dessert for more halibut BEFORE I tasted dessert.  Once I had a taste, I doubt I would be willing to trade.  I mean, COME ON.  Is this real life?

PRW.Blueberries2

The bottom layer is a blueberry panna cotta, topped with a blueberry compote, jasmine ice cream, and then had a piece of blueberry crunch and vanilla meringue sticks.  I wanted to cry.  I suddenly felt like I needed to eat this exact thing every single night of I would die.  I got up this morning and ate a handful of blueberries.  Just wow.  I tried to get a little bit of each aspect on the spoon with every bite.

If you haven’t yet been to Habitat, you are honestly missing out on one of Pittsburgh’s best restaurants.  Each time we visit there, I love it more and more.  Each dish I’ve had is better than the previous and for the $35 price tag, you would be absolutely crazy not to have this meal.

Cauliflower, Potato & Cheese Bake

7 Nov

A few weeks ago, I made a Cauliflower, Potato & Cheese Bake that was a hit.  I just love when that happens.

Since then, I’ve been getting a lot of requests for the recipe.  This is the ultimate fall comfort food, easily sourced as SOLE food by even an inexperienced locavore.  I’ve tried a few variations since the original, but the original is surprisingly better.  I think I got a little too creative, trying to find the best cheese pairing.  Here is my best variation:

Cauliflower, Potato & Gouda Bake

Prep:  Preheat the oven to 450ºF.

1 1/2 lb. (6 med.) Yukon Golds, peeled & sliced into 1/2″ pieces
1 small head cauliflower, 1/2″ slices
1 1/2 c. (6-8oz) shredded Gouda – I bought mine from the Cheesemonger at the Market Square Farmer’s Market
1/3 c. chicken broth
1+T. butter
salt & pepper

Place the potato slices in a 10″ skillet, covering the potatoes with 2 inches of salted water.  Bring the potatoes to a boil, and add the cauliflower.  Rapidly simmer the vegetables, UNCOVERED, until the potatoes are just finished and the cauliflower is crisp-tender.  This takes around 10 minutes.

While the potatoes and cauli are cooking, butter a 1 1/2 qt. – 2 qt. baking dish.

Then, drain the potatoes and cauliflower in a colander and let cool for at least 5 minutes.  This helps the veg keep their shape and continue cooking just a little bit longer.

In the prepared baking dish, place half of the potato mixture and top with pepper and cheese.  Place another layer of potatoes, pepper, and cheese on top of that.  Pour 1/3 c. chicken broth over the top of the casserole, then place 4 pats of butter on top.  Trust me, don’t skip this step.

Then, bake uncovered for 15-20 minutes, until the cheese is browned and bubbly enough for you.

Wordless Wednesday

13 Jun

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