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Petros rocks tradition with 'Afribean' fusion surprises
Funny that Petros, the name of a downtown Allentown restaurant that opened about a year ago, means ''rock'' or ''foundation'' in Latin. When I ate there recently, the restaurant shattered the foundation of what I've come to know as the Lehigh Valley's dining scene.
No cooking-as-usual continental cuisine here. Petros offers its own brand of fusion cooking serving up a combination of the elements of African and Caribbean fare that it calls ''Afribean'' cuisine.
As explained by our server, most dishes are not spicy, but rather intensely flavored with a mixture of dry African spices, then enhanced with fruits from the tropics.
This unique and skillfully prepared cuisine, coupled with the restaurant's trendy and cosmopolitan decor, created a dining adventure unlike most others I've enjoyed locally.
On the fifth floor of the Technology Enterprise Center building at 11th and Hamilton streets, Petros' setting is as unique as its food.
From our front and center table, we had a grand view through glass doors of the city's lights at night, complemented by the eatery's visually exciting vibrant blue walls punctuated with African-themed paintings in brilliant, vivid colors.
Tables of bare wood, partnered with black chairs with chrome legs, were accented with black cloth napkins, blue glass candle holders and blue bottles of Ty Nant natural mineral water fitting details that completed the cohesive and sophisticated look.
Chef/owner Rick Meekins, on his own now after cooking at the Apollo Grill, Pistachio's and other local restaurants, can be credited with raising the bar when it comes to culinary creativity in the Valley.
Most any menu selection will serve as a case in point. Consider the mocha crusted sea scallops appetizer with mandarin scented coconut sauce, for example, or the muscatel melon mélange salad tossed with fresh arugula, citrus Meade and green peppercorn vinaigrette.
Entrees, too, are treasure troves of interesting combinations and intriguing ingredients: drunken chicken soaked in dark rum and spiced molasses, then served over honey-lime millet and toasted barley pilaf, or a mélange of mushroom compote, heirloom tomato ragout and spicy-molasses-roasted squash served over gingered carrot sauce, curried saffron cream and Caribbean red curry sauce, then drizzled with cilantro black bean sauce and presented in fried rigatoni.
Petros' Afribean barbecue, similar to a Mongolian grill, offers salmon, halibut or tuna served with a choice of toppings, including Moroccan spices with pineapple barbecue sauce and a pecan crust with spicy molasses sauce.
I shouldn't have been surprised that dinner didn't start with boring rolls and butter, but I didn't expect Ethiopian m'bazzi. Nestled inside a sheet of unleavened bread baked in a bowl shape, we discovered warm and tasty garbanzo beans sauteed in coconut milk and fresh curry. A squiggle garnish of ginger carrot sauce touched the assertively flavored beans with a sweet zing.
Appetizers also were anything but boring. Cinnamon curry shiitake mushrooms, stuffed with enoki salad and drizzled with Indo-apricot black bean sauce, were a study in texture in a complex but satisfying dish. An intermezzo of tart lemon sorbet with candied ginger was an appropriate and refreshing palate cleanser that paved the way for our entrees.
Less intense in flavor than the appetizers, braised pheasant in pomegranate and Madeira reduction served over woodland jasmine risotto with mushroom ragout was just as good as the starter dishes, although more focused on subtlety and sweetness. The meal was a successful balance: Creamy, rich risotto was knowingly juxtaposed with a toothsome and savory mushroom ragout, along with the tender, browned meat and its sweet, fruity sauce that infused every bite.
Plank-roasted wild rainbow trout scented with spiced tea leaves, served with shrimp-
avocado butter, was a wonder. Pablano-boursin mashed potatoes and roasted vegetables rounded out this plate in fine form.
I have to say that after the explosion of flavors during dinner, the pedestrian dessert choices were a letdown: Red velvet cake, carrot cake, raspberry chocolate cheesecake and a few others. We expected sensual tropical concoctions like mango brulee, papaya crisp or guava mousse. Nonetheless, the banana cake we settled for and took home for later was simply fine dense, full of the fruit's flavor and not cloyingly sweet.
Dinner for two at Petros, including tax, tip and nonalcoholic beverages, totaled $70.
Susan Gottshall is a freelance restaurant reviewer for Go Guide. Gottshall, who tells it like it is, attempts to remain anonymous during restaurant visits. All meals are paid for by The Morning Call.
Features Editor Linda O'Connell