A Little Too Civilized

We really wanted to like Civilization. Really. We tried.

But you know how you have that one friend that is super nice, and has never said a bitchy thing about anyone, ever. That girl that genuinely likes even the biggest ass in your circle of friends. The girl that’s probably not a virgin, but no one is quite sure. The one that you try to like because she is so sweet and truly nice, but you never know what to talk to her about because you’re afraid of offending her in some way. And she won’t laugh at juvenile jokes.

That’s how I felt about our time at Civilization. We wanted to like it. We tried very hard. But it just didn’t happen.

Months ago we had gone for the first time with two friends. I was still mourning the loss of 2nd Street Bakery. It was like driving past a house you lived in as a child and seeing the new owners painted it a really trendy shade of green. But I sucked it up and walked in there with my big girl panties on. We did have a decent meal there, and the neighborhood cat was panhandling nearby. But we weren’t impressed enough to go back.

Another friend absolutely adores the place with the zeal we adore The Top, and she begged us to give Civilization another try. There’s not much else open on a Monday night on the Northeast side of town, so finally we grudgingly wandered over there for dinner.

It was one of the first cool nights of the year, and the dining room was quite full (there’s a minor acoustic problem because of the one big room), so we asked to sit outside on the patio. The hostess clearly thought we were insane but was too gracious to let it show.

We started with some delish craft beer. Then the Utopian Salad; one to share between us because they are HUGE. I had the Fettuccine della Casa because the housemade pasta and creamy tomato sauce sounded yummy. The Man went for the Thai Shiitake Mushrooms w/Asian Greens. Nothing was particularly bad, although I was trying to get him to switch with me because I liked the flavors of the cilantro and scallions in his dish.

My dish was passable, except for the slightly gritty texture of the pasta and the over-abundance of roasted ‘in season’ veggies on top. This month ‘in season’ meant eggplant, zucchini, and yellow squash, all of which make me nervous. I couldn’t escape the heavy butter flavor in the creamy tomato sauce, which is what chefs use to punch up a weak sauce… add more butter. It wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t $14.00.

The Man had more to say about his dish. Some things I wouldn’t necessarily type here. I liked it better than mine, but again, it still wasn’t all that fabulous. The rice was a touch undercooked. The shiitakes were there but the flavor was not. The greens were nicely done, and again, I liked the balance of cilantro and scallions with the coconut milk. But it’s never a good sign when mere hours after eating out, your stomach starts to make sounds you only hear coming from the bathroom stalls at a booty dancing club after 1AM.

On the other hand, the salad was perfection. The dressing, the toppings, the flavors and textures. Possibly the best salad in G’ville. And of course it’s nice to get good beer with your meals.

This visit didn’t change our opinion of Civilization very much. Our first time there, the general consensus from the four of us was that the salads were perfect, appetizers were tasty, the desert was yummy, but the meals were questionable. Of the four of us, one had a special which was a weak thumbs-up, two were so-so, and my Stroganoff was far too oily to finish eating.

But the staff were painfully nice, knew the menu and the food, were gracious and timely, and obviously cared a great deal about their patrons. And Civilization is another of those true Gainesville businesses, where a lot of emphasis is put on the provenance of the ingredients, support of small business, and deep community roots.

So how could we feel so lukewarm about this place? The food just misses the mark. Punches are pulled. People are playing it safe. Everything is too nice. Aimed at being inoffensive to everyone. And you feel it. This vaguely nice personality that doesn’t seem quite real. A lack of depth or life experience that makes it uninteresting.

I’d rather sit next to that weird older guy at the bar that drinks Negronis and talks about his worst days as an EMT, than sit with the very nice girl who always smiles politely but refuses to laugh at fart jokes.

We’ll probably go to Civilization again. There’s not a lot of choices on a Monday and on the Northeast side of town. It wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t remarkably interesting. We’ve heard better things about the carnivore meals, but are not overly impressed with the veggie selections so far.

Civilization
1511 NW 2nd St
Gainesville FL 32601

352.380.0544

WelcomeToCivilization.com
(Okay… a pet peeve of mine is when restaurant websites have their menu only as a PDF download: Menu)

Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner Monday through Friday; Saturday brunch and dinner; closed Sunday. Also home of Terranova catering.

Our meal of two craft beers, a salad, and two entrees (plus tip) was about $60.

[Girl21]

Lentil Bulger Salad

Lentil Bulger SaladNot only am I a vegetarian, but I live in the south. Why am I bringing this up? It’s hard to get a good protein in every meal. And it’s equally hard to get interested in cooking on a hot day. So what to do?

I’ve been fine-tuning and evolving my lentil bulger salad recipe, a solution to both issues. Frankly, this recipe will probably continue to evolve for years to come, but this is how it stands at the moment. Easy to make, since it involves very little cooking or technique. Yet full of flavors that make your mouth happy about salad.

First you need to get about 4 cups of water boiling in a medium pot, and set a half cup of bulger in a heat-friendly bowl with some kind of lid (I’m such a slacker, I use a bowl with a plate to cover it). Really, this is the most actual cooking you’ll be doing, so don’t complain.

Once the water comes to a boil, scoop out a half cup and pour that in with the bulger. Stir up the bulger a bit and plop the lid on, and leave that for 30 minutes. Hard work so far, right? The rest of the water in the pot should still be boiling. Put a half cup of dry lentils in the water, and a half teaspoon of salt (check your lentils to be sure they’re the ones that don’t need to be soaked overnight). Bring the lentils back up to a boil then turn down to a fast simmer for 30 minutes or until they get to chewable consistency. I like the lentils a bit al dente, but some people prefer them soft.

Meanwhile, on your chopping block…

You need to gather and dice, chop, grate, press:
1 small thumb ginger, grated on a microplane
2 medium carrots, grated
4 or 5 cloves of garlic, pressed
1 medium onion, diced small
1 1/2 cups parsley, chopped fine

I personally don’t like all of the stems of the parsley in my mix, so I take the time to pinch off the leaf bunches from the major stems and chop up just the leaves pretty small. A good medium-size bunch of (Italian!) parsley will make up a loose cup to cup-and-a-half.

Usually I toss all of these ingredients into a bowl and set it aside. You also want to get your seasonings together. I love having little glass ramekins around for this. Not because I look like I’m on TV, but because it keeps me organized and I don’t forget an ingredient so easily. Anyhow, in a small bowl or ramekin, you’ll need:

1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon curry powder
(or 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning if you hate curry… boo!)
dash of cayenne

And don’t forget to get out the two most important things… lemon juice and olive oil. If you’re feeling luxurious, fresh lemons are always preferred, but I’m usually not, so I use a good quality pre-squeezed juice. Olive oil is also up to your preference. A good friend who is kind of OCD about this advised me to look for ‘first press’, ‘cold pressed’, and ‘organic’ when choosing olive oil as you’re getting the better stuff (but more on that later).

Also a word about curry powder (I can go on for pages but will not), I highly recommend going to a specialty store for curry powder, and trying different kinds until you find what you like. Traditionally, every family in India has their own blend of spices to make up their curry powder (kind of like plaids in Scotland). So, all curry powder is not the same. It varies in spiciness, sweetness, and strength. And that yellow stuff you buy in your grocery store might do in a pinch (pun intended… haha, I kill me!), but it’s not something you want to have as your go-to curry. In this instance, I’m using a somewhat mild curry blend, but if you have a strong one you like, maybe pull back to a bit less than 1/4 teaspoon or it might drown out all other flavors.

Okay… so that’s all of the cooking out of the way and your kitchen isn’t boiling hot. You might be a bit sweaty from all of the chopping, but that just means you need to work out more. And here’s how…. mixing!

Un-lid your bulger and fluff it up a bit. I have a lovely wooden spoon I spent way too much money on at one of our local arts and craft fairs, but it’s so sexy and sleek, I love to use it for most mixing situations (yes, I’m also a kitchen geek). Drain your lentils and mix them into the bulger with about 1/3 cup of olive oil. Add your seasonings, and mix some more.

Add your carrots, parsley, garlic, ginger, and onion here, and mix up a bit more. I notice the pressed garlic and the grated ginger tend to clump up, so it takes a bit of trying to get these mixed in evenly. Then add in about 1/3 cup lemon juice (I sometimes also add a few tablespoons of balsamic vinegar if I’m feeling fancy). And… yes, continue mixing. Firm but broad strokes so you mix everything up instead of turn your lentils and bulger into paste.

I like to set this aside for about a half hour to marinate and get all yummy. This gives me a minute to lay down a bed of lettuce on a plate, dress it with a little pepper and lemon juice, and grate some feta cheese (optional). Do what? Those dense blocks of salty feta you can get are delish but what do you do with them? I love to gently grate it instead of get the crumbled version.

Easily the most complicated part of this dish is plating it. You have to very carefully plop a pile of your lentil bulger salad on the middle of your lettuce bed and drop some grated feta on top of that. For an added flounce, I like to add some green olives on the side, or maybe some flatbread toasted up in the oven for a few minutes. Voila! Yum for the tum, protein, and no overheated kitchen.

The other bonus of this is that it’s one of those fabulous dishes that actually gets better after sitting in the ‘fridge over night.

Yes, yes, yes… you might be poised to comment about the lack of tomatoes like in a traditional tabouleh salad. Keep your pants on and step away from the comment area. I get a rash from fresh tomatoes so don’t ever look for them in any of my recipes. If you want to add tomatoes to this, I’d suggest cutting back on the lemon juice a bit and using about half of a tomato, diced small. And don’t tell me about it.

[Girl21]

Salad Days

“So what do you eat?”

Lord, if I had a buck for every time I heard that, I’d be driving the tricked-out Beemer I’ve been wanting. Admitting to being a vegetarian seems to elicit a reaction comparable only to a child finding a jellyfish on the beach for the first time. Suddenly you go from being a fellow human to something tentacled beamed down from Sirius.

I’ve been a vegetarian my whole life…including those formidable years in school, which is partially responsible for me being the well-adjusted optimist I am today. It’s kind of like A Boy Named Sue. Growing up as a vegetarian with an odd name has certainly earned me the Self-Confidence Badge in life. And of course, I’m fluent in Sarcasm as a result as well.

Later on in life, when going out to restaurants with non-vegetarian friends, you get the usual… “I’m sure you can eat here. They have salads. I think.” Yup. Because that’s what we eat. Salads.

Never mind that there as many kinds of vegetarians/vegans as there are individuals committed to their choice of diet. I don’t need to go there. I did try to break the stereotype when I could though. A little gentle education by example goes a long way. Maybe a few less people in the world think vegetarians eat only salads.

My big secret is that I really love salads actually. Not because I’m a vegetarian. But because they’re a yummy meal that can be ready in five minutes and cover all of the food groups and nutritional requirements you feel like owning up to. And since it’s all fresh ingredients limited only by your mood and creativity, you’ll never eat the same salad twice.

In public and with non-veggie friends, I try to make a point of NOT eating salads all of the time. Maybe I have a little chip on my shoulder and need to prove a minor point. But in the privacy of my own home, drapes closed to the world, I do partake of salads often.

Salad DaysSpinach and lettuce, with a little chopped curly parsley. Dried cranberries, blue cheese crumbles, white corn, and a drizzle of pesto Italian dressing. Maybe a light snow of pecorino or asiago cheese. Well that was just today. Tomorrow it will be a little different. Depending on my mood and what’s handy in the kitchen.

My salad habit will have to stay at home for the most part though. I dream of a world where vegetarians don’t have to squelch the urge to punch people every time they hear that question. Its a small dream and a tiny mission. But we can’t all be Mother Therese I guess.

[Girl21]