Upstairs, in the second-floor lounge at Maison 208, everything is a disaster. Beautiful, sure. With the retractable roof peeled open in a way that seems to defy possibility and the room’s pale colors and decorative birdcage chandeliers all arranged like something out of an unreleased Wes Anderson short, it looks lovely. The most Manhattan-as-designed-by-someone-who-has-only-ever-been-to-Los-Angeles space imaginable. The most sleekly modern in a city that wears modern like an ill-fitting pair of shoes.
This is what you have to ask yourself before coming to Little Fish: Is paying $15 for a single bite worth it?
There’s something about fried chicken that speaks to the obsessive streak in certain people. Like barbecue, like soup dumplings, fried chicken is one of those things that dedicated eaters can spend a lifetime cataloging, going further and further afield, chasing after some sweet and mythical epitome like all their breath and future happiness depend on it.
And those who cook it? Particularly among those who do it for a living, fried chicken becomes not just a food—not just an edible object whose preparation requires a certain set of discrete steps—but a vocation. A passion on which they can spend an inordinate amount of time, sweat and treasure.
On a steamy Wednesday afternoon, I eat steamed mandoo dumplings with metal chopsticks and pork soondubu with a raw egg bobbing in the center, poaching slowly in the chili-spiked tofu broth. On the big flat-screen hung at one end of the room, the Food Network is showing an old episode of Pioneer Woman. She makes some cheap-jack garlic bread mounded up with cheese while I pierce the yolk of my egg and watch it leak yellow into the stew, while a radio somewhere plays Fleetwood Mac and tables of locals mix with high-school kids filtering up from the stalls downstairs, looking for something more substantial than rolled ice cream and bao.
The dumplings are excellent—salty and squishy, packed with minced pork and vegetables. The soondubu is as filling and comforting as it should be, smooth and heavy on the tongue, the egg adding a richness that makes it taste like I’m drinking an old-school French sauce, only razored up with heat and the competing savory/sour flavors that define so much of East Asian cuisine.
The only thing worse than a hotel restaurant is a mall restaurant. And the only thing worse than a mall restaurant is no restaurant at all. That’s just wisdom — a thing that’s been as true as anything for as long as it’s mattered.
But we’re in a different world now. Hotels in Philly have restaurants that are actually worth going out of your way for. Not all of them, certainly, but some. And the mall?
Well, the King of Prussia mall has been investing big in its restaurants. Philly-based Hai Street is in there rolling sushi burritos, there are two Shake Shack locations (one inside, one freestanding), plus several other reasonable fast-casual options. There are still terrible restaurants and boring restaurants and restaurants that exist only to serve deep-fried food in table-breaking volume. But in the strangest possible move, the KOP mall also snagged the second location for New Jersey’s lauded farm-to-table restaurant Mistral, which is where I’m sitting on a Saturday night, eating riblets and loving them nearly as much as I’ve loved anything in as long as I can remember.
When you’re staring down the barrel of a pabellón arepa stuffed full of braised beef, black beans, and plantains like caramel, nothing else matters. You’re zoned in like you’re defusing a bomb because, from the looks of it, it’s all about to burst—the seams of the cornmeal bun holding it together, yes, but barely. And that’s how it should be. That’s how arepas often come: comically overstuffed.
Until recently, Philly had only one real option when it came to Hawaiian food: the Poi Dog truck run by partners Kiki Aranita and Chris Vacca. But now there’s also … well, now there’s the Poi Dog brick-and-mortar location, also opened by Aranita and Vacca.
You know it’s open when the neon is on, glowing gently in the window of a rowhouse on 12th Street just off Passyunk Avenue. You know you’re in the right place when you see the door with no knob, the buzzer, the little window with the eyes behind it, and hear the voice asking if you’re a member.
This is the Filippo Palizzi Club, chef Joey Baldino’s experiment in a very intimate, very social, very (sorta) private kind of dining.
“So, how was dinner?”
I get this a lot. Obviously. Life that I live, things that I do, people I know, it’s the most common question I hear. Or second most, maybe, behind You want another drink? or What’s that stain on your shirt?
“So, how was dinner?” From friends, colleagues, editors, 10,000 servers, my mom. Always the same. And seeing as how it’s my actual job to answer precisely that question all the time, you’d think it would be easy. That I’d always have a fast and ready answer.