Restaurant Review: Junto

September_Junto_ Credit Courtney Apple

Junto | Photos by Courtney Apple

“Do you know of any deserving young beginner lately set up,” members of Ben Franklin’s mutual aid society would ask one another, “whom it lies in the power of the Junto any way to encourage?”

They’d ask the same thing about “deserving stranger[s] arrived in town since last meeting.” And while neither description exactly matches MacGregor Mann, who’s cooked in Philadelphia for more than a decade, they’re close enough. Before naming his solo debut after Franklin’s eclectic club, the Garces vet went on a culinary walkabout ranging from an Idaho fly-fishing lodge to a stage at Denmark’s Noma­—often named as the best restaurant in the world. And when he returned, he was bent on digging deeper into his home turf.

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Restaurant Review: Charlie Was a Sinner

Charlie Was a Sinner | Photos by Jason Varney

Charlie Was a Sinner | Photos by Jason Varney

Just how much sinning do you like to do over dinner?

That’s a good question to chew on at Nicole Marquis’s mysterious new bar on 13th Street, where you can drink bourbon and absinthe beneath a looming hardback edition of In Cold Blood, watch sultry projections of Marilyn Monroe flicker upon the ruffles of a diaphanous wall curtain, and soak up your alcohol with food completely untainted by animal products.

In an era abounding with culinary hobgoblins—gluten for him, fructose for her, GMOs for the guy down the street—veganism still reigns unrivaled as the diet of the ethically upright. But the plant-only jawn feels a little racier at Charlie Was a Sinner, and not just because it’s next door to the last surviving porn shop on this once-seedy strip. Marquis, the woman behind HipCityVeg, named her lounge the way Elmore Leonard started crime novels. Who’s Charlie? Has he—or she—repented? Exactly what sort of sin are we talking about here?

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By The Numbers: A Fantastic Year For Philly Restaurants

Never did this finely wrought food feel fussy.  | Photo by Jason Varney

Photo by Jason Varney

I was talking with Philly mag restaurant critic Trey Popp the other day, and we were discussing (as we so often do) the state of the restaurant scene in Philly. More specifically, how weirdly awesome this past year has been for restaurants in general, but for restaurants in Philly in particular. It’d gotten so that he was actually concerned with the numbers of 3 star reviews he’d been handing down lately–not because any of the restaurants on which he’d bestowed the stars were undeserving, but because he was worried that, after a while, a whole lot of 3 star reviews in a row just become noise.

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The Revisit: Amada

Amada | Courtesy of Garces Group

Amada | Courtesy of Garces Group

When he opened Amada nine years ago, Jose Garces had two visions for his debut restaurant. Only one survived—succeeding so lucratively that it suffocated the other.

You can still visit the latter’s burial place, though: just ask for one of the best six seats in the house.

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Restaurant Review: CoZara

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Photos by Courtney Apple

We here at Philadelphia magazine decided last month to start debuting restaurant reviews early on Foobooz. We had reasons. And we discussed them here. Welcome to the new world.

If restaurants are like fishermen, constantly angling for customers, CoZara is that guy at the end of the pier who keeps changing his bait as fast as he can reel in the line.Hiroyuki “Zama” Tanaka’s sophomore effort (following his eponymous sushi den in Rittenhouse Square) opened with a 60-item menu patterned after a Japanese izakaya. Small plates were grouped into nine categories, with sushi notable for its absence. A few weeks later, CoZara added lunch: rice bowls, ramen, and gluey alt-burritos whose delicate soy-paper wrappers struggled to contain heavy cargoes of soggy rice entombing the likes of teriyaki salmon or BBQ eel. Then the dinner menu, which had already been tweaked, changed again, shrinking by about half in response to what chef de cuisine Chris Paulikas called the “deer-in-the-headlights look” of customers who found the original one “ominous.”

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Restaurant Review: Townsend

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Photos by Jason Varney

We here at Philadelphia magazine decided last month to start debuting restaurant reviews early on Foobooz. We had reasons. And we discussed them here. Welcome to the new world.

Townsend Wentz was an analytical chemist shifting toward genomics research when he got a chance to cook at Philadelphia’s Four Seasons for a day. It was 1996, he’d just wrapped up a second bachelor’s degree in biology, and recombinant DNA was calling his name. But Jean-Marie Lacroix interrupted, and fate took care of the rest.Wentz, who’d cooked his way through college, had a great day in the French chef’s kitchen. It beat testing canola oil acids, and it was more social than laboratory bench work. When one of the restaurant’s line cooks quit that very day, Wentz’s lark in Lacroix’s kitchen, and later Lacroix at The Rittenhouse, turned into nearly 10 years.No wonder the Riverton, New Jersey native’s sauces are so good.

Philadelphians wise to Wentz’s transformation of McCrossen’s Tavern in Fairmount have known that for three years already. In May, he opened a place of his own—really, truly his own. From the salvaged cherrywood he planed to cap a rebuilt bar to the floors he refinished with his sous-chef and sommelier to the furniture they stained and reupholstered by hand, his fingerprints are all over the place. Before Wentz became a chemist, he built racing sailboats.

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The Revisit: Lolita

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“You can drink as many of these as you want,” our server said brightly. “They’re good for you!”

The concoction in question, a Green Garden Margarita, featured what Lolita’s new menu called “green stuff” and our waitress had likened to a “juice cleanse, only with tequila in it.”

So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen! The reason Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran, after ten years running Lolita–every Center City twenty-something’s favorite modern Mexican BYOB–went out and got a liquor license: to dole out Mason jars of juiced spinach, kale, celery, basil, cucumber, ginger and Cozadores Reposado.

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Checking In At Bar Volver

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People go to bars for all kinds of reasons. To hang out with neighbors over three-dollar lagers. To knock back Beam-and-Pabst specials while stomping their feet to liquor-drinking music. To find out what happens when an eccentric teetotaler mixes a vast booze library with grapes juiced to order. To be quiet and get drunk.

In other words, to escape. And if Philadelphia is what you want to get away from, you need travel no further than to the bar at Volver.

Like the ticketed-entry dining room it abuts in the Kimmel Center, Jose Garces’ champagne-and-caviar lounge is in Philadelphia but not quite of it. Look one way and your eyes fall on a marbled white bar lit by the glow of four sleek halos that could have been commissioned by Starfleet. Look another—at an ultra-saturated blue textile mural crafted by local artist Conrad Booker out of 4,000 buttons and 200 yards of deeply dyed burlap—and you feel like you’ve warp-tunneled your way into Pedro Almodóvar’s Madrid. Meanwhile a soft-footed fleet of servers patrols the ebony-stained floorboards wearing black quasi-judo jackets trimmed with Jupiter orange, like a squad of acrobatic assassins waiting for Roger Moore to request a shaken martini.

It is a very, very cool place to sit down for an hour.

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Restaurant Review: The Treemont

Photos by Courtney Apple

Photos by Courtney Apple

If a tree falls in a forest with no one to hear it, is there a sound? That may be the question for the Treemont. Or, rather: If nettle and ricotta gnudi this exquisite hits a table on 15th Street, will people put down their pint glasses and chicken wings long enough to take heed? Hemmed in between pub central, a bike-messenger dive and the downtown Applebee’s, Chip Roman’s Center City debut sits on a corridor of middling expectations. And no sooner did it open than a demolition began clearing space for a giant Cheesecake Factory a block to the north—stanching the flow of pedestrians past the Treemont’s understated awning.
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Restaurant Review: Volvér

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Photos by Jason Varney

Editor’s Note: Beginning this month, Trey Popp’s reviews for Philadelphia magazine will be running first on Foobooz–weeks ahead of their appearing in print. And what better way to kick off this new arrangement than with the first four-star ranking that Trey has ever given–of his near-perfect experience at Jose Garces’s remarkable new restaurant, Volver.

Halfway through dinner at Volvér—after the scallop that was seared while still living, after the duck-liver mousse in a trick egg white conjured out of goat milk and orange-blossom water, after the puffed pork rinds with smoked-buttermilk dulce de leche and the bacalao takoyaki’s crepe-edged crackle—a savory course arrived in a pair of cupped hands. 

Read the rest of the review » 

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