FOOD & DRINK > RESTAURANT REVIEWS

La.Va Café

By Phyllis Stein-Novack
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 16 | Posted Jun. 13, 2013

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South of South’s La.Va Café offers patrons cafe and BYOB menus, as well as cozy seating to enjoy a hot cup of Joe and some small bites.

Photo by Kathryn Poole

Last week, my friend Howie told me he enjoys reading the South Philly Review over coffee at La.Va Café. He is a fine theater critic and was my favorite editor when I covered ballet and dance for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

However, La.Va is more than a coffee shop. It offers BYOB dinner and serves as a gathering place for its neighbors.

It’s a marvelously funky space with exposed brick walls, crystal chandeliers, ceiling fans, tie-back drapes that may have been confiscated from Grandma’s parlor, a large Victorian sofa set near a window and colorful artwork painted by local artists.

In short, this was no Starbucks.

The owner is from Israel, so I was not surprised to see a Mediterranean-inspired menu with a touch of Morocco.

Edward and I took a roomy glass-topped table next to a window. Our server opened our Malbac and brought us wine glasses.

A number of small appetizers I enjoyed in Israel were on offer along with entrées. We began with homemade hummus ($6), a glorious rendition of that tasty spread that has become a restaurant staple. The chickpeas were pureed to perfection along with the right dousing of fresh lemon juice and olive oil. We each received a small bowl filled with warm pita triangles.

We chose among the “mazot” offerings ($2 each), which I liked since we could build our own appetizer of grape leaves, mushroom salad and baba ghanoush.

Stuffed grape leaves are served throughout the Eastern Mediterranean. Four plump, little bundles were filled with seasoned rice, topped with olive oil and served cool.

I should have asked about the mushroom salad. I assumed it would consist of mushrooms dressed in olive oil and lemon juice. It was a mix of chopped, hard-cooked eggs and sliced mushrooms tossed with mayonnaise. It was underseasoned and needed some salt.

I make chopped eggplant all the time but never add tahini, which is a thin paste made from ground sesame seeds. This version of baba ghanoush was light and luscious, the addition of tahini imparted a nutty flavor.

I have never seen burekas on a Philly menu, but I enjoyed these savory pies in Israel. They are fashioned from flaky phyllo dough formed into a round shape and stuffed with anything from ground lamb, beef, mushrooms or vegetables.

Vegetarians will enjoy this version ($7) since it was filled with mashed potatoes and topped with mushroom sauce. Although the pie was tasty, I found the mushroom sauce made the pastry soggy.

Unfortunately for us, the entrées fell desperately short in eye appeal, flavor and texture. I chose the traditional couscous ($18) while Edward decided on the Moroccan-style braised spicy salmon ($14).

My dinner consisted of a boney chicken leg set atop a mound of couscous, along with big chunks of sweet and Yukon gold potatoes, a large dark vegetable that turned out to be a mushroom and a piece of what I thought could be eggplant but Edward claimed was zucchini.

This tagine should have been vibrant with spices and fragrant herbs. I took a few bites but could not eat it. Two small side dishes came with the platter. One was a mix of cold mashed carrots and sweet potatoes. The other consisted of raw red pepper slices and carrots topped with olive oil.

Edward received a 4-ounce, slightly overcooked salmon filet set on couscous with cooked carrots and red bell peppers. Adding salt and pepper did little for the fish and vegetables.

We shared chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream ($7) that turned out to be a dark chocolate cupcake with not-at-all-sweet chocolate icing and two small scoops of ice cream topped with chocolate sauce.

When we received the check, my dinner was deducted from the total.

It was an uneven experience, but La.Va provides a place for patrons to plug in their computers, have a bite to eat or just a cup of coffee and enjoy the atmosphere.

Two tips of the toque to La.Va Café.

La.Va Café

2100 South St.
215-545-1508
lava-cafe.com

Contact the South Philly Review at editor@southphillyreview.com.

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 16 of 16
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1. Fred said... on Jun 13, 2013 at 10:44AM

“"Two tips of the toque"? What does that mean? Why don't you explain how many total toques there are in your rating system?”

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2. Fred said... on Jun 13, 2013 at 03:42PM

“Oh. Ok. A "Restaurant Review" chart has now been put up. I wonder why the page layout manager can't just do this weekly without being pestered.”

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3. Amanda said... on Jun 13, 2013 at 05:15PM

“I wonder whether you expect your readers to follow your habits:

1) Should they complain and hope for an entree price deduction every time they don't like what they ordered?
2) Should they complain that a dish is not salty enough or just reach for the shaker and shake it?”

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4. aesop33 said... on Jun 13, 2013 at 05:21PM

“where is sandy? did she really have a fling with edward?”

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5. Marty Medals said... on Jun 14, 2013 at 08:05AM

“Interesting.
I always wonder exactly what kind fo wine to drink with a badly prepared boney chicken leg set atop a mound of couscous, now I know, Malbac.
What year was the Malbac?

Perhaps Phyllis could tell us when a place that she reviews is a candidate for Restaurant Impossible with Chef Irvine.
ALso, there is no mention about just how fast the WiFi is in this place.

Broad Street Diner has no WiFi but the food is always consitant and the waitresses call me hon!

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6. MS said... on Jun 14, 2013 at 10:50AM

“To the reviewer:

No arguments or comments...just a question.

You gave this two tips of toque which according to the rating system means it fair.

Yet when I read and then re-read the review I see so many negative issues and comments I would like to know how this rated as fair.”

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7. Anonymous said... on Jun 14, 2013 at 03:50PM

“Why do you care, MS, why do you care? You dislike the woman's writing and then come back to tell us you still dislike it.

Go read the New York Times and check the Inquirer and PW for Philly food reviews. Leave us alone.”

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8. Perfessor said... on Jun 14, 2013 at 05:45PM

“Why is the restaurant name written as "La. Va" with a period after La? Is this Hebrew? What does it mean?”

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9. Phlem said... on Jun 15, 2013 at 12:40PM

“Response to comment #3 (Amanda). Hon, this is a review and the lady can say what she wants about her experience. She doesn't suggest any particular rules that you should follow. She's being herself, so you be yourself. As a longtime restaurant-goer I'd suggest you simply use common sense. No, don't complain about your entree unless it's not what you ordered or is under/over-cooked or -heated. And use the salt shaker if needed without comment.

It appears you're out to diss the reviewer as much as you are seeking information. I'd say chill on that, unless she comes to your house for a free meal and starts rolling her eyes or noisily shoving her unfinished plate aside.”

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10. Louis Kessler said... on Jun 18, 2013 at 11:42AM

“In the La.Va review (6/13/13), 2nd column 3rd full paragraph opens: "I have never seen burekas on a Philly menu ...". Although not on its menu, Café Olé (215.627.2140, 147 N 3rd St., Sun 8:30-7 M-Sat 7:30-7) often displays excellent large triangular ones with chese and spinach. They are on the menu of Hamifgash (215.925.3550, 811 Sansom St., Sun-Th 10-8 F 10-3) but those are small like puff-pastries.”

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11. Türk Adam said... on Jun 18, 2013 at 12:52PM

“You're right, Louis. And the reviewer once did a piece on a Turkish restaurant near 5th & South without even mentioning börek, a staple ot Turkish appetizers, that is really the same thing.”

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12. Anonymous said... on Jun 18, 2013 at 04:51PM

“So what DOES La. Va mean?”

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13. Marty Medals said... on Jun 18, 2013 at 06:29PM

“"La. Va" means the Virginia.

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14. Barty Bedals said... on Jun 18, 2013 at 08:14PM

“"La. Va" means Louisiana goes.”

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15. Anonymous said... on Jun 19, 2013 at 01:13PM

“All kidding aside, what does La. Va mean?”

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16. Louis Kessler said... on Aug 12, 2013 at 02:52PM

“To Perfessor, etc.
"La. Va" is from the first names of the couple that own the joint.”

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