Where We’re Eating: Han Dynasty

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Han Chiang has graduated, shutting down his beloved (if small) Han Dynasty in Old City and moving the Szechuan restaurant across the street into the enormous, opulent 180-seat space formerly occupied by Reserve steakhouse (among other operations). The bar manager from the University City location has come over to craft a cocktail program for the new space. The menu is roughly the same burn-your-face-off-spicy Chinese food that’s served at all of Chiang’s other locations (at the same price point, despite the upgraded digs), but he’s added a late-night menu inspired by Taiwanese street food, served fast and cheap across a small second bar on the main floor. Highlights include the dry pepper fried chicken wings and the pork belly buns, but be on the lookout for frequent changes as Chiang tinkers with the new board.

Han Dynasty [Foobooz]

First appeared in the December, 2013 issue of Philadelphia magazine.

Where We’re Eating: SoWe in Graduate Hospital

sowe-bar-400I’ve gotten better service at the DIY froyo place off South Street than I did at SoWe. One Saturday night, I made a reservation for 8:15. The table wasn’t ready then, so our party of four was ushered outside, where we waited five minutes for a server, and then another 10 minutes for the drinks she forgot to bring us. The cocktails were comped, which almost made up for the fact that it was nearly 9 p.m. when we were finally seated—at a hastily arranged table outside the dining room, next to the bar, with broken hinges that kept knocking big flanks of wood against our knees. After the move, our food was brought out at random. My mussels and mac-and-cheese gratin were delivered simultaneously, while my friend’s starter soup came after her tuna tartare. Oh, and then our waiter decided to argue with us when we raised objections. If the food had been exceptional, the nonstop horrific service might have been forgiven. Alas, it was not.

SoWe [Foobooz]

First appeared in the December, 2013 issue of Philadelphia magazine.

Where We’re Eating: Cerise in Bryn Mawr

spaghetti clams guanciale cerise

Chef Ben Thomas and his wife, Elena, have taken a big risk opening Cerise, a BYOB in Bryn Mawr. If you want to have dinner here, you have to buy into a $47 four-course prix-fixe menu (a $39 three-course is available Wednesday and Sunday), and at that price, proper Main Liners are going to balk at the lax (though very friendly) service, the too-bright room and the lack of table linens. And though the menu can be a little hit-or-miss, the French-trained Thomas, who has worked at Lacroix and Sycamore, does have some real skills, which he best shows off with his perfect chicken liver mousse and house-made pastas. It’s just too bad you can’t order them à la carte.

Cerise [Foobooz]

First appeared in the December, 2013 issue of Philadelphia magazine.

Great Expectations: Pizzeria Vetri Reviewed

Rotolo | Courtney Apple

Rotolo | Courtney Apple

Trey Popp comes to Pizzeria Vetri with great expectations but too many of the pizzas literally flopped.

The further away I got from the pizza menu, though, the better Pizzeria Vetri got. There are lovely salads: arugula and roasted fingerlings slathered with killer pesto, and a “wood oven” salad that’s a belly-filling medley of corn, chanterelles, blistered green beans and top-drawer ham, studded with ricotta salata. There’s exceptionally fresh-tasting kegged wine from the Gotham Project, and bottled sloe-gin fizzes and Americanos that serve two for $12. The rotolos are instantly the best savory pastry in town: crispy pizza dough coiled Cinnabon-style around mortadella and ricotta, doused with pistachio pesto.

Two Stars – Good

Restaurant Review: The Best Food at Pizzeria Vetri Isn’t the Pizza [Philadelphia Magazine]
Pizzeria Vetri [Official Site]

Little Nonna’s Takes Comfort Food To the Next Level

Spaghetti and meatballs at Little Nonna's | Photo by Jason Varney

Spaghetti and meatballs at Little Nonna’s | Photo by Jason Varney

Trey Popp finds that Marcie Turney has breathed new life into red-gravy Italian at Little Nonna’s.

Just to be safe, though, order the polenta and meatballs to share; Turney packs her cornmeal with enough cream, taleggio, fontina and parmesan to put the most shameless cheese grits to shame. And you’ll want to have room at dinner’s far end for pastry chef Sara May’s spumoni, which ditches the usual neon palette in favor of a moody sundae richly muddled with roasted cherries, chocolate pizzelles and pistachio-olive oil.

Three Stars – Excellent

Restaurant Review: Next-Level Comfort Food at Little Nonna’s [Philadelphia Magazine]
Little Nonna’s [Foobooz]

Mistral in Princeton Gets Two “Very Good” Reviews

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Mistral in Princeton lands reviews in the New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer this week. Scott Anderson and business partner, Stephen Distler who also on Elements in Princeton, opened the BYOB in May with Ben Nerenhausen as the chef de cuisine. Both the Times’ Fran Schumer and the Inquirer’s Craig LaBan gave the Mistral a “very good” rating. Both highlighted the octopus and scallops. LaBan definitely had problems with service (they lost his reservation on one occasion) or he might have even rated it higher.

Small Plates, and a Taste of Many Cultures [New York Times]
Mistral helps put Princeton in culinary Ivy League [Philadelphia Inquirer]

Mistral [Philadelphia Magazine]

Talula’s Daily Reviewed

talulas-daily-review-courtney-apple-940

Late Summer Farmstead Collection | Photo by Courtney Apple

Trey Popp says it’s a shame that Talula’s Daily’s chef Scott Megill’s dinner was interrupted by a sales pitch.

But somewhere before dessert and the individually tailored cheese course, our cheerful waitress broke the enchantment of Aimee Olexy’s ode to homespun coziness by delivering what you’d have to call a sales pitch. Everything on the table, she divulged, was a product for sale by Anthropologie.

Two-and-a-half stars – Good to Excellent

Philadelphia Restaurant Review: Talula’s Daily [Philadelphia Magazine]

Talula’s Daily [Philadelphia Magazine]

Pizzeria Vetri Is Serious About Pizza

pizzeria-vetri-reviewed-margarita-pizzaAdam Erace reviews Marc Vetri’s temple of pizza, Pizzeria Vetri, and comes away impressed.

They all begin with a dough that eschews oil, per Neapolitan doctrine, and cooks up with a crisp crust and soft but structured center. Most follow with an aurora of the bright, tangy tomato sauce, then a collection of toppings, like house-made sausage, mozzarella, roasted fennel and fennel fronds. That pie, the Salsiccia, was great, but I liked the straightforward Margherita even better.

The shiniest new addition to the Vetri Family is turning out serious pies [City Paper]
Pizzeria Vetri [Foobooz]

Execution Woes Doom Tiffin Bistro

tiffin-bistro-sloppy-joe

Indian Sloppy Joe sliders were another hit

Craig LaBan has problems with the service and execution at Munish Narula’s Tiffin Bistro in South Philadelphia.

[T]he Bistro has an air of the unattended stepchild, with a menu executed by line cooks whose efforts seem adequate for takeout, but not much more.

There are definitely some worthy highlights, especially with the starters. The chaat of fried baby eggplants drizzled with yogurt and multihued chutneys is a novel twist on the crunchy-creamy-tart chaat salad craze that’s finally taking hold locally. The cauliflower bezule, florets crisped in chickpea batter, then glazed in creamy coconut and mustard seed, are a hearty taste of South India.

One Bell – Hit-or-miss

Dining Review: Tiffin Bistro [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Tiffin Bistro [Facebook]

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