The Dandelion Is Dandy

Craig LaBan fawns all over The Dandelion in his glowing three bell review.

I taste the lovely, gamy tang of lamb steeped into the ragu of crumbled meat tucked beneath the shepherd pie’s piped mash of cheddar-laced potatoes. Sublimely tender morsels of rabbit are a pot-pie delight in creamy gravy studded with mushrooms, cipollini onions, and bacon below a puff pastry lid. A pinch of curry adds sparkle to the deviled eggs. Beer and grain mustard perk up the cheesy smear of Mornay that gets broiled to a speckled brown glaze over Welsh rarebit toasts made from puffy buttermilk bread.

Three Bells – Excellent

Dandelion offers classic British food in a warren of cozy nooks [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Dandelion [Official Site]

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  • rory

    things that don’t surprise:
    -delays in opening restaurants
    -craig laban 3 bell reviews for Stephen Starr restaurants
    -craig laban 3 bell review for Jose Garces restaurants

  • rory

    to add, having read the review:

    Everyone and their mom knows Laban’s been identified by Starr. They know who he is. So this fawning over service is silly–it’s staged.

    and how do you start a 3 bell review with multiple dishes that were bad???

  • JK

    There’s an extra http in the link to the review, FYI.

  • buckethead

    Laban’s reviews of Starr places are a perfect indicator of the service and food you’ll get if you visit the restaurant.. and you are Craig Laban.

  • Jay

    Didn’t Philadelphia Magazine give a similarly good review? I haven’t read anyone, besides on this site, who DOESN’T like the Dandelion. This is what gets so annoying about haters on this site – Garces/Starr/Vetri/Turley sites get good reviews. It may be because they spot critics and work really hard at impressing those critics or it may be because those four have a lot of experience and know how to open a great restaurant.

    MOST of the time when someone opens up a 2nd restaurant that’s not a chain, it’s because a lot of people went to the first restaurant and enjoyed it. It shows that the owner has some skill in doing this. At some point a chef and/or owner gets overextended. I’m sure that happens. But it sure seems like there are haters that don’t like those people having success and are dying to call out at any (false) sign of perceived failure.

  • Jay

    Now that I think about it, why did Starr downgrade Stella at the end of the year? Did the servers not bother to notice him or figured their rating was secure? I doubt it. Laban had the food, didn’t like it as much, and said so. Did he receive any credit on the Philly foodie boards for doing so? Of course not.

  • rory

    I’m not a Turney or Garces or Vetri hater, and I appreciate what Starr brings, though I generally find myself underwhelmed by his places.

    I hate reviewers, however, who aren’t equitable, and Laban isn’t equitable here at all. I’ve NEVER before seen him give 3 bells to a place that disappointed him the first visit (and one in which he had negative things to say about more than 2 menu items). I’ve never seen him consider how Starr (and many others) have identified him and look out for him.

    One of the problems of the philly food scene is the criticism. Laban’s alright, but he’s not pushing the food scene forward with his reviews. I mean, he said the burger is ok, the pasta is oversalted, the fish cakes mealy, and the salads are fine but not up to snuff (I’m sorry, but if you’re going to get a great review, you better be able to feed someone not looking for heartiness on top of heartiness as well as someone looking for braised meat).

    That was blatantly a 2 bell review had there not been a big name behind it.

  • rory

    also, jay, it’s very common for starr places to fall off after a couple months, due to how starr (wisely) staffs and restaff places.

    Laban gave El Rey 2 bells. Suffice to say, i’ve heard no one I know say it’s any good. those places with famous people behind them get a 1 bell upgrade, it seems. i’m not a fan.

  • Jay

    I can see what you mean about re-staffing. That could be a definite point to consider when making dining plans.

    But having read Laban for 10 years, he’s anything but a big-name groupie (Would have used starr-fucker but didn’t think it appropriate). I think he’s giving you his honest opinion and really likes the food he’s having. I think his integrity is as strong as anyone else’s. I’d also argue that this familiarity you have is good for you. If you “know” you can subtract a * from a Laban rating for some of the bigger names, then that consistency is basically as good as someone else giving Dandelion the more appropriate (to you) two bell response.

    Finally, and this just purely comes down to perception, but I came away from that review DYING to eat there. It seemed like there were 10 or so different dishes I would love. You came away thinking it’s mediocre. I see the mistakes he mentions but most of them came with the earliest visit when you can’t really judge a place and then another prominent one regarded the pasta dish. I’d note that his feeling on the pasta dish was consistent, even with the throwaway joke, with what Philly Mag said. But like both of them said, why on earth would I go to Dandelion for pasta?

  • rory

    The problem isn’t for me, it’s for people who don’t know to internally adjust Starr reviews down a bell. It took me at least a year of reading him to start knowing how to read between the lines–what he’s particularly harsh on, what he doesn’t care about, what ways he can be tricked by a restaurant into a higher review, etc. Brilliantly, Starr caters to people who aren’t that deep into philly’d food scene–and there’s nothing wrong with that. In some ways, I shouldn’t object–I won’t be seeing those competing eaters @ the restaurants I prefer–but it does annoy me and it is inequitable.

    That other reviewers agree with Starr (besides, Philly Mag’s not really writing for me, to be honest. I live in the city, don’t make absurd amounts of money, and am not afraid of some grit), is just foray into how much i find myself disagreeing with reviewers…but at least those other reviewers don’t seem to delight in an (exposed) con of going unnoticed as a reviewer.

    I came away thinking you need to order correctly to get a good/great food experience. To me, that’s not normally three bells worthy (compare it to the 3 bells for non Starr/Vetri/Garces spots). Look at the other 3 bells he’s given recently. Bottomline, the menu has some serious misses on it. And why can’t Laban judge a place from his first visit? We don’t know when that visit was, and did he repeat those dishes later to see if they were actually better?

    honestly, it’s not that big a deal. i wanted to snark a bit. i think starr can handle it.

  • buckethead

    I actually really like Dandelion, though I’ve been twice and on my second visit had a couple dishes that were not very good, the welsh rarebit was one. I just don’t understand (as Rory doesn’t) how Laban can pretend to be objective about the service when he’s the biggest critic in the city and he KNOWS that the Starr organization has his photo plastered up in all the restaurants in case he comes in.

    If you do go, get the beet-cured salmon dish. The fries are very good, too.

  • Snake

    He 3 bells restaurants that he has multiple bad dishes at like here and 2 bells that awesome Taqueria Moroleon that he had nothing but glowing praise for.

    Is there an extra bell for being in town and/or a -1 bell for being in the hinterlands? Or does the extra bell just come because of the star chef cachet?

  • barryg

    What a lot of people on these food blogs and whatnot tend to forget is that going to a restaurant is not just about the food. It’s mostly about the food, but it’s also about the service and atmosphere. Starr consistently delivers on the latter two, and I think that is what pushes him up a notch.

    I agree with Buckethead that Laban should be factoring in his recognition, but a place with good food and great service and atmosphere is a three-beller for much of the population, especially those that don’t eat out that much.

  • CEF

    Barryg got it right.

    I was always notoriously tough on Starr when he was sweating the environment more than the experience (Parc and Butcher and Singer were all about a soundstage for me, service and food were mediocre at best, therefore I am not a fan), but for as cheesy as Dandelion looks, I loved the rabbit, the beet and cured salmon, the fish and chips, and the liver mousse is the absolute best version in town and I would lather in it, if it was socially acceptable (not sure how LaBan missed it). The service was excellent, as well. I thought Stella was his best restaurant since Blue Angel, and still enjoy the bold flavors at Alma De Cuba.

    LaBan is giving props to the environment and service as well as inspired food, even though there were some serious duds. No one has service under proper marching orders like SRO, except maybe Vetri. That’s where that bonus bell comes into play.

    If you’re strictly going food with LaBan, its easy to see which was his favorite of 2010: Han Dynasty. And that, I think, is something we can all agree on.

  • For Whom the Bell Tolls

    I don’t get it, Rory. You say one of the problems with the Philadelphia food scene is the lack of criticism that “pushes the food scene forward.” Okay. That’s a fine proposition — though an example of the sort of crit you yearn for might be helpful (or else Philly’s blog posting scene isn’t doing its full part to push the crit scene forward, right?). But even without an example, I’m down with this idea of higher-level, food-pushing-forward criticism.

    But then all you seem to be fixated on is the number of bells, and how bells should be adjusted depending on the owner of the restaurant, and how to correlate bells with the number of dishes that Laban criticized. What’s the obsession with the bells, man? Why not get your sweetheart to rip that little box out of the Sunday paper, so that you can focus on the actual review? That way this whole bell thing wouldn’t torture you so terribly. I mean, the review’s probably a thousand words long. I’m guessing that it will give you a fuller picture of the critic’s likes, dislikes, and reactions than his choice between two bells and three bells. Which, since there are no half bells, is the LEAST POSSIBLE DIFFERENCE. In terms of data richness, the difference between two bells and three bells can be described with a single word. Meanwhile, there are those thousand up there in the review.

    Two bells, three bells, blue bells, hell’s bells! Rory, dear, you’re looking in the wrong place! Maybe if you pull your eyes away from those confounded bells, you’ll realize that Laban is the restaurant critic you’ve been yearning for all along!

    And even if he isn’t, at least your ears won’t still be ringing so long after the infernal bells have tolled.

  • rory

    holy crap, a small amount of snark gets some anger out of it. Quick responses only:

    -Starr’s service. I’ve had my faults with it and this is exactly where I have my doubts re: Laban’s reviews. He DEFINITELY gets particularly exceptional service at restaurants that identify him. Especially at a Starr place. But he still gets swayed by that. And he presents himself as blissfully unaware of it. It’d be easy enough to ask others how their service was.
    -The bells as something I snarked. People look at the bells first. It’s a marker of quality (supposedly) and it’s easy to compare restaurants. Which should I go to, the one with 3 bells or 2? I’ll try the three bells one. Now, as I noted, I read between the Laban lines, but I’m not the typical reader of a Laban review (see: me arguing about them on a food blog!). As far as Laban pushing criticism forward, I don’t think he does. One significant part of that is that without even visiting some restaurants or knowing anything other than who owns it, I can tell what he’ll give it in terms of bells.

    Laban, as a critic, is about the experience and the success of each dish. Laban gives far too little credit, to me, to experimentation and novelty in dining. Authenticity always wins. Play it safe with Craig, and you’ll succeed. Whether he’s a victim of that or one of its creators, it’s part of why Philadelphia’s food scene doesn’t seem as diverse as it could be. And I know it’s diverse, but it could be more. Starr’s next project could be something new instead of something that someone else succeeded with down the block. Vetri could do an Italian place that’s from an area no one thinks about as a food destination. Someone–anyone–could decide not to make pizza on 13th street, etc :)

  • barryg

    Rory, why are you looking to large, successful restaurant groups to push the scene forward? Starr and Vetri have winning formulas that made them rich–why would they change that? You’re barking up the wrong tree, I think.

  • gil

    I hear Rory saying that the food press ought to have a more dynamic and rigorous approach to evaluating a spot. I completely agree. Remember how Philly food writers (except PSN) got all choked up over Adsum?

    @#17: I do believe that Vetri pushes ‘the scene’ forward. It’s right that Vetri should be singled out for a Beard award. That Starr gets nominated must make JB moan in his grave.