Eating Out

This morning Al and I had brunch at Cafe Lift for the second Saturday in a row. Al had stopped in for lunch there after a meeting in the warehouse district a couple weeks ago, and he fell in love. It reminded him of the kind of place that's common in South Park, San Francisco—in other words, an industrial, arty, high-ceilinged-yet-homey space where you can get upscale salads and panini—but much rarer in Philadelphia.

@ cafe lift with sleeping boopster

While I like the space a lot—it's roomy without feeling cavernous; has nice lighting, big windows with sheer, billowy curtains, and a variety of seating options; and offers artists wall space from which to display and sell their works—I'm still not completely sold on the food. The brunch menu has many options for a fishitarian like me, including several meat-free fritatas, salads, sandwiches, and specials, but I've yet to hit on something I can say I really enjoy.

The first time we went I was jonesing for protein, so I ordered the smoked salmon fritata. First problem: it was more like a soufflé or a french toast than the denser-than-a-quiche dish I think of when I think 'fritata'. Second problem: SALT. Oh my, was the smoked salmon salty, and the capers only made things worse. (Normally I'm a giant caper fan, especially with lox.) I'd thought that ricotta was a strange topper when I saw it listed on the menu—sour cream or cream cheese would have been more expected—but it turned out to be the one part of the dish I liked. I ended up scraping it off and eating it on the panino bread that was served as a side.

I couldn't stomach the fritata, but I did eat the potatoes that came with it. They were sort of a homefries version of the garlic fries we used to get at PacBell (now SBC) Park in San Francisco, only (of course) saltier. Aside from the extreme saltiness, they were pretty tasty. (I suspect the amount of salt is tuned to the Philadelphia palate, which is particularly desensitized to the stuff.) Another plus was Al's choice, the daily special salad of mixed greens, grilled shrimp, cranberries, goat cheese, and pine nuts in a balsamic dressing. I'd actually considered ordering the salad myself, but the NO SUBSTITUTIONS sign scared me off (I'm allergic to pine nuts). As it turned out, the waiter agreed, after a short pause and a glance at the specials board, to hold the pine nuts at Al's request. Because Al was willing to share, I didn't go entirely without protein at this meal.

This morning I decided I'd go with salad, since Al's had been a success. The shrimp and goat cheese was no longer on the board, so I got a Niçoise... even though the lack of potatoes, haricots verts, and even niçoise olives in the description gave me pause. (The salad was served with roasted red peppers—of which I'm not a giant fan—the ubiquitous capers, and gaeta olives instead.) The seared tuna and boiled eggs over mixed greens sounded nice, however, so the Niçoise got the nod over the spinach salad, which offered only gorgonzola and pistachios for protein. I ordered a side of the garlic homefries with the hope that they'd make up for the missing boiled new potatoes in the salad.

The mixed greens with balsamic part of the salad was very nice—just like the salad Al had last Saturday. The peppers, capers, and olives, luckily, were arranged around the outside of the plate, making them easy to avoid. The tuna wasn't what I'd pictured when I read "seared", though I may be the only customer who expected rare to medium-rare slices rather than a grilled slab of well-done fish. It was seasoned well (if a tad on the salty side), however, so I have no other complaints there. The eggs were poached rather than boiled (and therefore hot rather than cold); the yolks were runny enough that I ended up eating them on the panino bread that accompanied the meal (and which I otherwise would have left untouched).

The potatoes were, again, extremely salty, which suggests that this is their normal state. I wish Lift would let diners salt to taste, as the potatoes are otherwise very good, and the side portion is large enough for two people to share. I shared them with Al, of course, who had the Grilled Chicken Panino (a repeat of the lunch that had captured his imagination). Three good meals on his part means, I suspect, that he'll suggest we go there again. Luckily, there are still a couple things on the menu that I'd be willing to try before I give up entirely. After all, the space is nice...

Posted by Lori in food and philadelphia at 7:04 PM on June 17, 2006