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. 

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Restaurant Review: Petruce et al

Whole grilled sea bream | Photo by Jason Varney

Whole grilled sea bream | Photo by Jason Varney

Philadelphians have a lot of things to be thankful for, and one is that Justin and Jonathan Petruce aren’t trying to sell them pizza. There’s been some confusion about this. “When people hear that we have a restaurant with a wood oven and grill, the first thing they ask is if we make pizza,” says one of the brothers. “Actually, they’re more like, ‘What kind of pizza do you make?’” says the other.These are understandable assumptions. The Petruce brothers in fact wanted to open a pizza parlor. They even went to Italy, in 2010, to learn how.

“But then everybody in Philadelphia decided to open a pizza place,” Justin says.

So they just kept on cooking for other people. Between them, the Petruces have worked — occasionally together — at Mémé, M Restaurant, Fish and Little Fish. In March, they hung out a wooden shingle etched with their own name.

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Restaurant Review: The Gaslight

Chips with charred eggplant salsa | Photo by Courtney Apple

Chips with charred eggplant salsa | Photo by Courtney Apple

If you’re comfortable looking a bartender straight in the eye and asking for a Sex Panther, then girl, does Jason Cichonski have the bar for you.

That Granny Smith-and-cranberry cosmo isn’t the only cocktail on offer, of course. You could also order a Red Hot Mama (black cherry margarita) or a Mr. Muffin (gin and tonic with strawberry and sage) — though, as with the Pirate Hooker (red currant Bellini), propriety would seem to dictate tacking a “for my friend” onto such requests.

But then, hitting Old City for the propriety is like going to Thailand for the cheese.

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The Revisit: Rex 1516

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Restaurant chefs sure ain’t what they used to be.

Once they were stalwarts who manned the stoves in obscurity, if not outright anonymity, cooking for customers who expected a restaurant’s personality to come from somewhere else: a gregarious owner, a schmoozing maître d’, a head waiter who knew the table you wanted and the drink you always wanted on it.

Now they want to be the center of the show, these chefs today. They cook for creative fulfillment, for celebrity, for adoration. Sure, they cook for customers, too. But only as a means to an end: an invitation to Top Chef, a book deal, a restaurant empire of their own.

At least that’s what everybody says.

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Philadelphia Restaurant Review: The Fat Ham

Blackened Catfish - Photo by Jason Varney

Blackened Catfish – Photo by Jason Varney

It’s not the sort of thing a food critic is supposed to say, but my favorite bite of the year might just be a piece of fluffy white bread soaked with ranch dressing on the Walnut Street Bridge.

That wasn’t everything my fork found on one plate at the Fat Ham. There was a refreshing sprig of dill, and a thin slice of cucumber pickle that was as cool as, well, you know. But there you’ve got the sum total: bread, ranch, dill, cucumber. So I know what you’re thinking: Should I even keep reading this column, or quit while I’m ahead?

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Philadelphia Restaurant Review: Pizzeria Beddia

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Photo by Courtney Apple

Joe Beddia would’ve flunked out of Wharton for sure.

Consider the pizzaiolo’s business plan. He offers three pies, whole only, in a Fishtown storefront that’s legally prohibited from seating customers. There are no logos on his takeout boxes and no takeaway menus on the counter, and the restaurant has no phone.

And a year after he opened, Beddia is a veritable pizza superstar.

At first it was just the neighbors coming — which was all he really envisioned. But then people started schlepping in from Center City to line up outside his door. And then from Delaware and D.C. And soon, Bon Appétit “Foodist” Andrew Knowlton was horning in on the action.

So how does this happen to a place that is open four evenings a week, routinely reaches hour-plus waits less than three minutes after unlocking the door, and requires takeout orders to be placed in person?

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The Revisit: A.Kitchen

a.kitchen-signYou know those people who go to new restaurants purely to order the same dish they order everywhere else? Because the “litmus test” of a good place is how well it makes a roasted chicken—or guacamole, or steak frites, or chocolate mousse, or whatever that person has arbitrarily determined to be the whole point of eating out?

It’s a dwindling species these days. Fewer and fewer chefs want to cook what the other guy’s cooking; straight-up comparisons are harder to find. And I’ve never counted myself part of that tribe anyway. Meals out are too ripe with potential adventure to waste them looking for litmus tests.

But there’s no need to be dogmatic about it, so today I’m going to nominate one anyway: stuffed squid.

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