It’s not every day that you come across a condiment that makes you do a double take. Heck, it’s not every year. But think about how it felt the first time you smeared wasabi on a sushi roll, or dolloped pepper jelly on a country ham biscuit—and then head to the corner of 9th and Arch immediately to get a jolt of that same rare giddiness at Xi’an Sizzling Woks, which opened as softly as a whisper in May.
A glass bell jar capped a pint-sized cupcake platform. A ceramic owl was also a cookie jar. Bone china plates painted with chameleons or honeybees alternated with stoneware bearing zigzags or abstract circles. Delicately etched wine goblets sparkled above the dull gleam of mismatched silver-plated utensils.
Best Milkshake, Best Bar Snack, Best Wine List at a Beer Bar, Best Homage To an Iconic Philly Food… It would be hard to argue that there weren’t enough awards in Philly Mag’s 2013 “Best of Philly” issue. We gave out 286 in all. But for me, the most interesting was the one I came to think of as number 287:
Best Evidence That God Looks After His Own.
Because isn’t that really what made Citron & Rose the most compelling restaurant opening of the past year? Sure, we could have slapped a Best Kosher Restaurant label on the place. But talk about a backhanded compliment. You might as well tell people, “Yep, if you’ve truly got no other option, that’s the place to go.”
No, what distinguished C&R was that it was good, period. Here was kosher food that anybody would want to eat.
This is not an oversight. Mims, a New Orleans native who has worked more or less his whole life in restaurants, has sense enough to keep some things between himself and his refrigerator. But if you were to sneak into the walk-in at his Narberth BYOB—located in the exact same digs he left in 2006—you’d see the containers that conceal the soul of this restaurant. They’re the ones labeled SWAMP WATER.
In a city thoroughly accustomed to restaurant turnover, it takes a lot for a renovation to stir up nostalgia. Even the final dismantling of Le Bec-Fin this summer drew a collective yawn from a large portion of the city’s foodies. But the dignified former showroom of florist H.H. Battles on South 12th Street is another story. Read more »
The door of Matyson’s lone bathroom was locked, and I was the only person waiting when a man walked up and joined me.
“I think I’m older than you,” he said, amiably.
I accepted the compliment.
He smiled. “So I think you should let me go first.”
“I’ll be quick,” I said.
“So will I,” he replied.
“Well it would seem that we’re at an impasse.”
Before he opened Noord, Joncarl Lachman shared a draft of his menu with a chef friend in New York to get an outside opinion. The feedback he received wasn’t exactly a huge surprise. “She told me I needed to take some of the mustard off,” he told me back in July, laughing.
Hard as it may be to imagine—considering an opening menu packed with dishes like mustard-laced pork balls, scallops in mustard soup, and trout with mustard three ways—Lachman actually followed her advice. Noord is actually less mustardy than he originally envisioned.
You make your way to Peter Serpico’s new home on South Street, among the head shops and tattoo parlors and neon entreaties for the purchase of gold, in a state of mounting wonder about what sort of restaurant Stephen Starr lured the Beard-honored Momofuku lieutenant to this particular corner to run.
Down from the anarchist bookstore and past Atomic Comics, you slip through a tinted glass door into a darkly radiant box. A stainless steel kitchen glimmers within the glossy skirt of a deeply stained wood bar. Black slate walls cast a sexy mood beneath a band of blond bricks glowing with straw-colored light. And your question resists a straightforward answer.
“I’m a restaurant romantic,” says Joncarl Lachman, and it’s hard to think of another label that would stick more tightly to the Southwest Philly native’s chef’s whites.
At Noord Eetcafe, the Northern European BYOB he opened in May, Lachman serves scallops in a traditional soup of mustard and vegetable puree, reminiscent of one of Vincent Van Gogh’s supper staples. When he isn’t manning the stoves, he’s tending his piece of trendy Passyunk Avenue the time-honored way: “I love to be the guy out cleaning the windows and sweeping the sidewalks.” And when he knocks off at the end of the night, Lachman doesn’t go far. Like an innkeeper of the old stripe, he lives upstairs.
In the cover story of the current issue of The Atlantic, David H. Freedman lays out an argument to soothe the stomach of every Bloomberg-hating, Pollan-weary fancier of Big Macs and 3 Musketeers bars: “How Junk Food Can End Obesity.”
“Demonizing processed food may be dooming many to obesity and disease,” the article’s subtitle posits. “Could embracing the drive-thru make us all healthier?”
Freedman’s answer is a hopeful yes. The gospel of local, organic, unprocessed whole foods may be fine for people who have enough money to buy them and time to cook them, but most Americans simply don’t. And for them, Freedman contends, the surest path to a healthful diet is likely to depend on food processing of a still higher order—using “ultra-high pressure, nanotechnology, vacuums, and edible coatings,” among other emerging techniques, to engineer food that tastes good but doesn’t turn you into one of those space cruise passengers from Wall-E.
I couldn’t help thinking about Freedman’s salvation-by-the-drive-thru thesis as I tucked into a hamburger at a curious new restaurant in Chadd’s Ford. It’s called Farmer’s Road Drive Thru, and man, would it drive Freedman half-crazy.