Of Ramps and Riblets: Mistral Reviewed

Photo by Michael Persico

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.

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Deep Fried and Overstuffed: Puyero Reviewed

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.

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The New Gold Standard: Goldie Reviewed

Photo by Michael Persico

At Goldie, Cook and Solo’s new project on Sansom Street that’s situated above their charitable deli, Rooster Soup Co., the kitchen is an assembly line, turning out falafel, french fries, tehina milkshakes and … that’s it.

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On Island Time: Poi Dog Reviewed

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.

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Do You Believe in Magic? Palizzi Social Club Reviewed

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Photo courtesy Jason Varney

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.

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Next Big Thing: Res Ipsa Reviewed

Photo by Will Figg

Photo by Will Figg

“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.

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Chaos Theory: At The Table Reviewed

Photography by Stuart Goldenberg

Photography by Stuart Goldenberg

We forget sometimes that every night at a restaurant is the worst night ever.

Not for us, the diners. Not most of the time, anyway. But for the cooks, the chef, the servers, every night is a constantly evolving disaster. Every day starts out perfect—tabula rasa, a clean slate. The tables are all laid. The book is full, with reservations from open to close. In the kitchen, the mise en place is set. The cooks have backups waiting in the cooler, and then backups for their backups.

But when the doors open, everything becomes triage. Table full of vegans, a dropped steak, oven won’t heat past 250 degrees, the sous-chef sneezed in the soup—every minute, it’s something. A chef’s primary job during service is containment—managing the chaos, mitigating the hundred things that can (and will) go wrong and making goddamned sure that no one in the dining room suspects a thing. Dressing up a catastrophe to look like the best night ever.

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Not Built For Love: 24 Reviewed

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Photo courtesy Ted Nghiem

On the floor at 24, the servers moved like they were on rails, following paths just a couple months old but already worn into the floor. They worked with pass-coverage eyes—heads up, eyes on their zones—and they were quick with the water-pour, the plate-clear, touching each of their tables, huddling on the kitchen’s open line and then rolling back out again, laden with plates.

On the tables, no cutesiness. The silverware all matched. The glassware was all polished, simple, plain. The plates were white. Each thing was designed for its purpose, including the (almost winking) old tomato cans used as rustic lifts for pizza pans. At 24, the Garces Group’s new all-day cafe (just downstairs from its also-new company headquarters), everything has been thought of in advance. Every possibility has been gamed, every solution tested, every problem solved before it occurs. This is the strength of being the 16th restaurant in a string of restaurants– designed for maximum efficiency, even if dressed for casual Friday. Though nothing remarkable is being attempted here (nothing approaching the level of a Volvér or Amada), 24 Wood Fired Grill is what happens when a restaurant group really knows what it’s doing.

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Aiming For The Middle: Cinder Reviewed

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I go to Cinder on a gray afternoon, looking for comfort and distraction, and find it at the bar—two giant TVs showing football on one side, talking heads silently shouting about sports on the other. It’s quiet because I’m there between services—too late for lunch and too early for a meal to reasonably be called dinner—but I’m not alone. A two-top in the corner is occupied, as are a couple tables on the floor. At the bar, some beer nerds are taking advantage of owner Teddy Sourias’s unapologetic ode to the newest retro-fad among drinkers: cider. Sourias already has BRU, which focuses on beer and sausages, U-Bahn (his Berlin-subway-theme bar) and Uptown Beer Garden (which, obviously, is a sushi bar). In other words, he’s got beer covered and has always put together good lists of interesting brews, generally braced by the things people like to eat while drinking.

Cinder falls solidly inside that bull’s-eye. Everything about it, from the highly polished bar and hi-top tables to the orange glow coming from the mouth of the big oven in the open kitchen, speaks to this moment in Philadelphia’s edible history. It’s an efficient and highly designed concept restaurant masquerading as a neighborhood bar and aiming for that sweet spot of two-notches-better-than-you-expect—the benchmark level of acceptable quality in Philly these days.

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Dinner At The Fish Riot: Royal Sushi And Izakaya Reviewed

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There are restaurants you go to because you’re hungry, and restaurants you go to because they’re cool. There are restaurant you go to because they’re close—the old soldiers of your particular block, with rooms as comfortable as faded blue jeans and a bartender who knows your name. And then there are restaurants you go to because they make you feel better about your neighborhood, your city or yourself. That’s what Royal Sushi and Izakaya is for me.

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