Azure spices up NoLib

Catch the buzz on the Northern Liberties restaurant scene. Azure gives you plenty of spice at student-affordable prices. The restaurant is conveniently located at Second and Laurel streets, in heart of Northern Liberties next to

Catch the buzz on the Northern Liberties restaurant scene. Azure gives you plenty of spice at student-affordable prices. The restaurant is conveniently located at Second and Laurel streets, in heart of Northern Liberties next to Cescaphe Dance Hall and North Bowl. This Caribbean getaway offers a variety of vacation-style cuisine and plays an eclectic jukebox mix to keep the good times rollin’.

Open since 2004, Azure has settled in nicely to the middle ground of the casual-but-classy Northern Liberties. The restaurant has won a number of awards, including Philadelphia magazine’s “Best of Philly: Restaurant for Vegetarians in 2004” and City Paper’s “Reader’s Choice Award” in 2004 and 2005. In addition, Azure won honors from City Search under the category “Best Gay and Lesbian Nightlife.”

The place has outdoor seating and an intimate patio space in the back. If you want to take a bite elsewhere, you can utilize their convenient take-out option.

Overall, the food was excellent and the atmosphere created by the music and art was fun and laid-back. However, the drinks were weak and expensive, and the service people were inexperienced.

I called the restaurant on about five separate occasions to make reservations and inquire on a few particulars. Not once was I greeted by anyone especially cheery or even welcoming. Instead, each time, I was received by the lazy salutation of a rather unenthused receptionist. I kept my questions short so as to not further annoy whoever was on the other line. This did nothing good for my initial opinion of the restaurant.

My guest and I were greeted by a well-dressed, yet slightly flustered hostess, who hurriedly assumed “Table for two?” I didn’t have the chance to clarify whether or not we were just a party of two before she quickly lead us to our table.

On the front cover, the menu read “Azure, vacation cuisine.” The thought of eating “vacation cuisine” wasn’t exactly comforting, as “vacation food” often doesn’t carry the best of connotations. I don’t think anyone has particularly fond memories of the rip-offs typical of most resort getaways, but as a mood setter, it certainly fit with the character of place.

Along with an ample selection of wine and local beers, you can flavor your own frozen margarita ($7) with raspberry, mango, banana, strawberry or other flavors. I decided to try this. These margaritas were just like any other margaritas, but the flavored mixes gave them a note of distinction, offering something different than the average citrus flavor. After the margaritas, we ordered the Azure brain freeze ($7), a frozen drink containing Oasis mango, Malibu rum and Mt. Gay rum, topped with Bacardi 151, and the Blue Voodoo ($7), which is made with pina colada mix, ice cream, rum and Blue Curacao.

The Azure brain freeze was perfectly proportioned and had flavors that were sweet but not overpowering. As for the Blue Voodoo, a delicious blend of fruit contained in a creamy meld from the ice cream made this a winner. However, in none of the drinks did I detect a smidgen of alcohol. According to the menu, the drinks were packed with several different kinds of rum, and while the flavor of each was wonderful and unique, I didn’t feel I was getting my money’s worth. A Rolling Rock costs $5, if that’s any bearing on the rest of the drink prices.

Also, the wait staff never brought water to the table – kind of a standard nowadays unless you’re at Chili’s.

Curious to try at least one of the heralded favorites, we ordered their Mahi Mahi tacos ($12) as an appetizer. This dish was comprised of three tacos, each with a skimpy slab of Mahi tuna that couldn’t have weighed more than an ounce. The rest of the taco consisted of lettuce, fennel and a bit of sliced radicchio. They tasted OK, but each was only about two bites worth, bringing the price to $4 for each taco and $2 for each bite. Next time, I’d like to try something else – maybe the chicken chipotle quesadillas ($10) or the coconut shrimp ($8).

We decided to get the entrée specials since both sounded fantastic: a 14-oz. New York strip steak coated in a red wine demi-glaze served with broccoli rabe and garlic mashed potatoes ($25), and a soy vanilla demi-glaze swordfish steak with a cooked artichoke heart, diced tomatoes, spinach and mango chutney ($20).

I was unexpectedly aroused by the flora essences of the soy vanilla and what I believe was oregano – very fresh and well-portioned on the swordfish. Not only was it beautifully cooked, but it was moist and flavorful, and the combination with the tomatoes and spinach were incredible, since they had soaked up some of the glaze and acquired the essence of the oregano. The mango chutney could speak for itself.

As for the steak, it was voluptuously cut, tastefully seasoned and not filthy with glaze, making it juicy, savory and tender enough to meld comfortably with the side of garlic mashed potatoes, which were, sadly, a bit domestic, but didn’t deter from harmony of flavors and textures presiding. The portions were large and filling. It was worth every penny.

The choice of displayed local art fit the place well, as did the pieces that were their own, most of them colorful murals and vibrant collages textured with a rustic gloss. It gave the restaurant a tropical feel that was both fun and convincingly authentic. The music is provided by satellite, allowing for a limitless diversity of choice and taste that kept the waiting time interesting. No wonder they received “Best Jukebox 2005” by City Search.

Go to Azure for a good meal, and enjoy a drink or two if you please. Azure is a great place for get-togethers and has an eclectic selection of food and drink. If you can bear the sometimes spotty service, the rest of your experience will be pleasant and perhaps encourage a return.

Aaron Stella can be reached at

931 N. 2nd St.
(215) 629-0500

Don’t bother with:
– The weak cocktails
– The pricy beer
– The Mahi Mahi tacos

Go for:
– The chicken chipotle
– The coconut shrimp
– The entree specials
– The flavored margaritas

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