Highlights:

Early Bird Special, Monday-Friday

5-7 p.m., buy one entree, get the

second half-price

BYOB

Drawbacks:

$12-$15 cab ride from campus

Price ranges:

Appetizers $5-$8

Entrees $14-$22

Despite its location in up-and-coming, though out-of-the-way Northern Liberties, those in the know flock to Aden. On a recent evening, the small Mediterranean BYOB was packed, with much of its space occupied by two large parties of Penn students. Aden's reasonable prices set this gem apart from its peers in Center City and Old City, and there's an early bird special to further shrink your check.

The brick-walled dining room, illuminated by scattered votive candles, exudes warmth. Sweet and spicy smells waft towards your cozy table from the open kitchen. Fortunately, soft mini-loaves of bread accompanied by a rustic squash and zucchini spread arrive almost immediately to sate you.

The menu draws from many Mediterranean cuisines and decision-making is difficult. Appetizers include a generous, sharing-size platter of hummus and pita, a refreshing and light Israeli salad of fresh tomatoes and cucumbers and the more indulgent Moroccan cigars, crisp rolls of phyllo stuffed with ground beef.

As if we needed any more tempting choices, a server came over to explain the night's specials in his charming Israeli accent. Three preparations of sauteed calamari were offered that evening. The primavera version, sauced with garlic, tomato and fresh zucchini ($10), was tender, not chewy as many botched calamari dishes tend to be. It was served in a ceramic skillet, which was returned as clean as an unused dish. What remained of the sauce was even more delicious when sopped up with bread, and we savored every last drop.

For something warm and comforting on a chilly night, choose one of the soup specials. The grilled vegetable soup ($5) was satisfying though simple, the tasty tomato broth loaded with squash, zucchini, peppers, fresh herbs and orzo pasta.

The list of entrees prompts more indecisiveness on the part of the diner. Highlights for lovers of seafood include a tuna steak with anchovies, capers and tomato ($17), or a seafood linguine in a choice of red or white wine sauce ($16). The fish specials were also intriguing -- Aden's whole fish are cooked in true Mediterranean style, simply grilled with olive oil and served with sides of rice and Israeli salad. A special of falafel-crusted tilapia rested on a bed of garlicky spinach. The combination of mild, meaty fish with the crunchy, nutty Israeli dish was unique and phenomenal. However, be warned, specials are not included in the early bird deal, nor are the ossobuco and rack of lamb.

Desserts aren't made in house, but the tiramisu was one of the best in the city, according to my Milan-born dining companion, a tiramisu connoisseur. Besides, the dessert added Italy to our culinary tour of the Mediterranean.


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