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“Behold the truth before you: A clean life, an open mind … an eager intellect … a courageous endurance of personal injustice, a brave declaration of principles, a valiant defense of those who are unjustly attacked …” How’s that for dogma? So goes the philosophy at Philadelphia’s White Dog Cafe. The inspired talk about principles and injustice should appeal to legal professionals as much as the savory food there. The quote above hails from Madame Helena P. Blavatsky, the apparent muse of White Dog owner and president Judy Wicks. Blavatsky resided at 3420 Sansom St., the current home of The White Dog Cafe, in the 1800s. The spirit of Blavatsky, “scholar, teacher, spiritualist and uninhibited eccentric,” as she is described by Wicks, can certainly be felt at The White Dog. The story goes that Blavatsky was threatened with losing a leg, but for a white dog that laid across it and cured her of the malady. Happily, we found a meal at The White Dog to be as soothing as Mme. Blavatsky’s faithful pooch. I have more than a little hippie in my soul and have long been attracted to the restaurant for its firm “mother earth” stance on agricultural and cultural issues. Even if you don’t agree with her politics, you’ve got to stand in awe of Wicks’ pure energy. The White Dog is far more than a mere restaurant. Wicks has turned the cafe into a cultural enclave since its humble beginnings in 1983, scheduling enough talks and special events throughout the year to keep any venue busy. Additionally, the building housing the restaurant is adjoined to a gift shop she runs, called The Black Cat. Oh yeah, and she also runs a restaurant with some of the most amazing food you’ve ever tasted — food so creative and good you’ll forget all about the law, even though the restaurant stands in the shadow of Penn Law School. The restaurant features an elegant but relaxed setting, and in season, one can dine al fresco. Since most of the outdoor tables were taken, we opted for the rear dining room, an intimate Country French room with lace curtains, candlelight and blue-and-white checked tablecloths. My guest started out with the toasted Parmesan foccacia topped with roasted plus tomatoes stewed in olive oil, a generously portioned appetizer with ricotta salata and baby arugula ($7.50). While she enjoyed that, I opted for the Furnace Creek nova salmon topped with horseradish mousse, salmon caviar, cucumber-chive salad, capers and toast points ($9), an adventuresome choice, since I am generally not a caviar fan. But I liked it — and found the horseradish mousse addictive. The appetizers were fresh, delicious and beautifully presented, a trademark that ran throughout the meal. Some other intriguing appetizer selections were classic vichyssoise sprinkled with chives ($6), corn-crusted lump crab and rock shrimp cake with creamy herb sauce ($11), and the French bistro platter with pistachio-studded duck pate ($9). I ignored my toast points, figuring I had already consumed more than my share of bread for the evening. The White Dog offered two kinds in its basket, both peasant-style breads with heavy crusts and a wonderfully chewy texture beneath. I quickly became enamored of the bread that contained giant black Spanish olives. The other bread was a plain peasant-style loaf and good for those watching their salt intake, I imagine. But who could choose that when faced with the fancier bread? I wasn’t about to. The restaurant also offers a small but interesting selection of white, red and blush wines by the glass. My guest selected a 1998 Andre Colognes Beaujolais, while I had a 1998 Omaka Springs Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand (both $6.50). Other choices included a LaTerre Cabernet Sauvignon ($5), Freixenet Cordon Negro ($5.50), and of course, a 1998 Chateau Chien Blanc Chardonnay ($6). More extensive choices are offered by the bottle. Our main courses arrived with lightning speed, a pleasant surprise for a Center City restaurant on a Friday night in summertime. When we asked the waitress how they pulled that off, she said it was a slow night compared to what they’re used to at The White Dog. We assumed it must have been due to the Memorial Day weekend. Partner and executive chef Kevin von Klause showed that you can teach an old diner new tricks, demonstrating a menu flair I didn’t expect. Klause has been with the cafe for 11 years and has a proven ability to turn out continental and nouvelle cuisine — wok-seared striped bass filet with shiitake sweet pepper glaze with sunflower sprouts, $19.50; Oven-roasted Atlantic salmon fillet with sorrel salsa verde, $20.50; grilled honey-mustard basted lamb tenderloins with sherry-cumin glaze, $21.50; St. Peter’s fish baked under a deviled crabmeat and herb crumb crust, $21; grilled sirloin from Niman ranch with red-wine, cracked-peppercorn glaze, $21 — but thankfully for me, there are also a few selections where he unabashedly shows his Texas roots. Imaginative, flavorful dishes like pan-crisped soft shell crabs with spicy red pepper sauce ($22.50) and Mexican seafood stew of ocean scallops, mussels, baby octopus, rock shrimp and chicken in a carnelian-red saffron and tomato sauce ($20.00) caught my eye, and I chose the latter. I grew up a seafood snob, my Dad insisting we stop at Hatfield’s for that day’s catch and making his own creations. Klause’s unique approach to the seafood stew, which included fresh peas, green olives, artichokes and rice, created a flavor and texture that was simply delicious. My guest chose the juicy duck steaks barbecued with New Mexico red chili and honey ($19.50), which featured a sun-dried cherry glaze and saut�ed snap peas with scallions and sage. She commented that the steaks were wonderful and that she liked the cherries, but didn’t care much for the prairie grains, which looked like wild rice. Klause’s servings are generous (both my guest and I could have used, um, a doggie bag, but indulged and ate almost everything on the plate). Then the waitress came and asked us if we wanted dessert. By this time, had my guest and I had tails, we’d have been wagging them. Feeling the need to sample something uniquely White Dog, I ordered the Philadelphia-style churned cappuccino ice cream with the trademark “pup and bone” cookies ($4.50), while my guest had a trio of sorbet mini-scoops, coconut-lime, raspberry and dark chocolate ($5.75). I savored the ice cream and the not-too-sweet trademark cookies, while my guest waxed poetic on the sorbet. “The chocolate is really intense,” she said. “You really should try it.” I really would have. But I was too stuffed. Klause knows how to do presentation. Both plates were sprinkled lightly with powdered sugar, and each was garnished with a large, fresh mint leaf. Other dessert selections included organic sugar plum and apricot pie with cinnamon crumb topping aside caramel hazelnut praline ice cream ($6.25), rich flourless chocolate cake with raspberry coulis and vanilla-bean ice cream ($6), classic cr�me brul�e with lemon-almond sable “pup” cookie ($6.25), milk-chocolate cream pie in a chocolate cookie crust with peanut caramel, whipped cream and chocolate curls ($6.50), and fresh lemon cream tart with organic blueberries, raspberry sauce and chantilly cream ($6). I make no apologies for taking five minutes to choose from these. The White Dog offers a free newsletter, Tales from The White Dog Cafe, which chronicles its upcoming events and activities. The cafe will feature a “Noche Latina” Block Party July 28, a sunset cruise and soul-food dinner in August, and a “Dance of the Ripe Tomatoes” party in September. (And those are just the food-related events.) If you prefer the online version of the tri-annual newsletter, you can always fetch news at the restaurant’s Web site www.whitedog.com for information. My recommendation? If you’re lucky enough to have someone dangle their keys and ask you to go for a ride to The White Dog, make a running jump into the car. The White Dog Caf�, located at 3420 Sansom St, (215) 386-9224, is open for lunch Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., for brunch Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m to 2:30p.m. and for dinner Monday through Thursday 5:30p.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5:30pm to 11 p.m. Sunday 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Reservations and credit cards accepted.

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