Brian Freedman reviews Avance for Philadelphia Weekly. Freedman is full of praise for the two-month old successor to Le Bec Fin and sees it soaring even higher.
But it’s a very good start. In fact, Avance as a whole is so much more than that: Just barely two months into its tenure at that famous address on Walnut Street, it has already done what many thought would be impossible: Staked its own claim on the space and drafted a brand new set of rules. If Avance is this good so early in the game, I can hardly wait to see the heights it eventually achieves. It’s already a standout.
Avance transforms Le Bec-Fin’s old space into brilliant dining magic [Philadelphia Weekly]
Brian Freedman reviews Nick Elmi’s Laurel for Philadelphia Weekly. Freedman calls the East Passyunk BYOB “stellar.”
Berkshire pork lavished in its triumvirate of treatments, and each one, from silky slices of belly to roasted loin to a crepinette of braised shoulder meat secreted inside a cocoon of crisped-up brioche enshrouded in caul fat, had me longing for it days later. Dragging one bite through the mashed chestnuts, dunking another into the shimmering huckleberry-kale vinaigrette, and leaving a third one unadorned became an in situ study in the range and vision of this kitchen.
New East Passyunk BYOB Laurel serves brilliantly imaginative seafood [Philadelphia Weekly]
Photo by Mike Persico
Brian Freedman reviews Meltkraft, the grilled cheese stand that’s part of the Valley Shephard Creamery in the Reading Terminal. The grilled cheeses are of course glorious, after all you can choose bacon fat or duck fat for the sandwich to be grilled in. Freedman aslo provides tips on how to resurrect the sandwich should you decide to get it to go.
Artisan Grilled Cheese at the Reading Terminal Market [Philadelphia Weekly]
Brian Freedman reviews Joncarl Lachman’s Noord and finds the latest addition to East Passyunk’s restaurant scene is another bright spot.
Though an entree of rabbit leg confit was too much to finish in one sitting—but what a lunch the next day!—I didn’t miss a drop of the creamy sauce at the bottom of the plate; floating with thyme-tinged aromatics, it was a distillation of all that Noord does so brilliantly. As for the rabbit, it maintained a moistness and delicacy that the notoriously difficult-to-cook meat rarely does. Forked with zuurkool (think of sauerkraut) as well as a coin of smoked pork sausage and maybe a tender carrot slice, this was as hearty as it was thoughtful.
Noord brings East Passyunk its first hub of Dutch and Scandinavian cuisine [Philadelphia Weekly]
Noord [Official Site]
Leigh Maida, Brendan Hartranft, and Brendan Kelly are the gastropub virtuosos of this city, and their transformation of the almost-cursed location is really quite impressive. Brian Freedman had some high praise for the Southern-esque beer bar in Washington Square West:
This is where Strangelove’s finds its greatest success: in its rendering of classics, often with a twist. To that end, fried catfish bites, all creamy and tender inside their crackly carapace, were lovely on their own and even better when dragged through a spicy-tart remoulade. Mushroom torta, constructed on a base of Mexican-style flatbread, proved to be a clever reworking of the more familiar ones that have grown so tired lately. And its topping, like the best of the dishes here, managed to be both restrained and rewarding: arugula, lemon, a truffle vinaigrette and a spread of butter-cooked corn pureed with honey. Even the fried green tomatoes, if their crown of crabmeat ravigote, tomatoes and cucumber was a touch too wet, ultimately won me over with the sheer pleasure of its flavors.
Strangelove’s takes bar food to a whole new, exciting level [Philadelphia Weekly]
It hasn’t been an easy time for Mike Stollenwerk. He once looked like he was heading for an empire with Little Fish, Fish and Fathom Seafood House. But today Little Fish has been sold and the other two have closed. Most recently, Stollenwerk has landed at Branzino, the Center City oldtimer that’s been solid but hardly revolutionary for a long while now. Brian Freedman discovers that there’s still talent in Stollenwerk and it is coming out at the Rittenhouse BYOB.
[H]he’s delivering on the promise of his talent. Branzino is the Rittenhouse stalwart that, if reliable, hadn’t been terribly exciting in some time. Stollenwerk arrived there a couple months ago, and the change is nothing short of astounding: The menu now reads like his own (minus desserts, which will be transitioned shortly), with line after line boasting dishes you really want to eat. And the flavors of the platings are excellent.
Chef Mike Stollenwerk is back, this time at Rittenhouse mainstay Branzino [Philadelphia Weekly]
Branzino [Official Site]
Brian Freedman extols the virtues of Fitler Dining Room, the most recent occupant of the charmed space that is the northwest corner of 22nd and Spruce.
For the short period of time that Fitler has been open, its food is remarkably confident: The distance between the intent of each dish and its execution is virtually nonexistent. And the way it straddles the line between higher-concept and comfort is something that many restaurants far further along in their evolution still struggle to achieve. Tagliatelle, hand-cut and tender, arrives all tangled around nettles, spring peas and ramps. Smoked chèvre melts when the hen egg nesting in the center of it all is broken and mixed into the noodles, creating a deeply flavorful sauce and providing a perfect framing mechanism for those bright spring flavors. Braised beef cheek arrived all shimmering black like some sort of lacquered jewelry box. For a chilly, early spring evening, it was perfect.
Fitler Dining Room opens in a charmed space, seems poised to succeed [Philadelphia Weekly]
Fitler Dining Room [Official Site]
Brian Freedman really enjoys his brunch at Hawthornes. He even enjoys the 90-minute wait to be seated.
French toast—really more of a thrice-cooked bread pudding—is a standout. Tucked inside the crisp edges is a dense-yet-light center that’s silky with a bit of every sort of bread the kitchen uses here: brioche, challah, multigrain and more. It’s hearty and elegant all at once, and calls out for a side of some sort of meat. (I’d go with the sausage, all snappy-cased and tender, over the thick-cut bacon, which could have been crispier.)
Other standards are just as carefully crafted, the waffles light and nutty, the omelets delicate, moist, and flavorful with ingredients that have actually been treated as integral parts of the whole as opposed to merely stuffing: Mushrooms and peppers had been sauteed, for example, as opposed to having been dumped in there raw.
The Brunch at Hawthornes is Worth Waiting For [Philadelphia Weekly]
Hawthornes [Official Site]
Brian Freedman dines at Baan Thai in Northern Liberties and finds dishes inspired by their homegrown ingredients.
Rad-nar—tender, slippery flat rice noodles—are listed as being topped with a homemade “gravy,” a word that I’ve rarely experienced having been used so accurately as it is here. This was a gravy in the old-school sense, meaty, glistening and built from a stock that’s boiled down each morning. A nuanced, clear-flavored tom yum, rooted in a homemade chicken stock, also benefitted from the kitchen’s DIY insistence.
Personal Touches Take The Dishes at Baan Thai to a Whole New Level [Philadelphia Weekly]
Photo by Felicia Perretti
Brian Freedman is the latest to dote on Will, Chris Kearse’s Passyunk Avenue BYOB. Freedman even goes as far as decreeing the new spot one of Philadelphia’s best BYOBs.
Those scallops wobble perfectly beneath their caramel-toned crown. Drag them through the “almond-milk” sauce and they’re taken to a different planet entirely—mouth-coating and delicate all at once. Fork them with a cloud of uni creme—like some kind of ocean-borne foie gras—and they turn into the mollusk equivalent of Ecstasy.
The pork belly appetizer could be the swine version of the drug. Like some kind of savory, thick-bacon candy bar, the belly was joined by a winter bean cassoulet that was actually a brilliant play on the classic stew. (Kearse’s ingenious, ringingly clear version involves a 12-hour sous vide braise of the beans.)
The Much-Anticipated Will, in East Passyunk, Joins the Top Echelon of BYOBs in Philly [Philadelphia Weekly]
Will [Official Site]
Photo by Felicia Perretti