Two Bells for Volver

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Craig LaBan weighs in on Jose Garces’ culinary return to Philadelphia. The Inquirer critic calls the cooking at Volvér “egocentric” though he does call many of the dishes three-bell worthy, if he could order them a la carte.

The plates, without doubt, were still camera-ready gorgeous: ember-seared cubes of Wagyu beef posed beside crimson swipes of beet puree; nasturtium leaves floated atop lubina sea bass in a composition of rice and shrimp evocative its own ecosystem; epic salads tweezered into perfect still lifes by talented chef de cuisine, Natalie Maronski. Those dishes were examples of Volvér at its best, in which the inspirations were prime ingredients, not biography. The intricate salad was a naturalistic playground of delicate greens, creamy cauliflower panna cotta, and sublimely sweet carrots drawn from the garden at Garces’ Luna Farms, lifted by tangy Meyer lemon puree and the faux “dirt” of goat-cheese crumbles tinted black with squid ink.

Two Bells – Very Good

Garces’ Volvér overdoes the culinary performance art [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Volvér [Foobooz]

Trey Popp’s four-star review of Volvér [Philadelphia Magazine]

Two Bell Review for CoZara

Photo by Kyle Born

Photo by Kyle Born

Craig LaBan reviews Hiroyuki “Zama” Tanaka’s CoZara in University City. LaBan finds some misses in the izakaya’s very large menu but he finds a bunch of hits as well.

CoZara excels in those simple Japanese comforts done right – a griddled rice ball lacquered in teriyaki, a hearty braised beef and potato Niku Jaga stew (which I’d return for – in winter), the thick chunks of velvety white salt-braised pork belly posed over dark ponzu. And there was something so soul-satisfying about the purity of the ochazuke, a chunk of broiled salmon over rice that almost turned to congee when the server poured dashi broth from a teapot overtop, that I could understand that taste of home Tanaka is going for here.

Two Bells – Very Good

At CoZara, chef puts sushi aside and turns up the heat [Philadelphia Inquirer]

CoZara [Foobooz]

Guide To the Jersey Shore Guides

Photo by Jason Varney

Diving Horse | Photo by Jason Varney

It’s Friday, the ocean is calling your name, it’s going to be absolutely beautiful both today and tomorrow. Leave work now. The Internet has spoken, and here’s all you’ll need to know about where and what to eat this weekend. Read more »

Three Bells for Petruce et al

petruce-940Petruce et al is the ninth three bell review for Craig LaBan this year, a number it usually takes a year to achieve. In La Ban’s review states that this effort by Justin and Jonathan Petruce is one of the best.

Petruce may well become best known for interpretations of some true basics – such as lasagna, roast chicken, and steak that are instantly among the city’s best. The hearty eight-layer lasagna, its fresh pasta ribboned with nutmeg-scented béchamel, is oven-finished to a crunch in cast iron. The simply roasted chicken brings parchment-crisp skin and juicy flesh, with creamy grits ringed by an electric-yellow sauce of slow-cooked yolk thinned by white soy and lemon.

Three Bells – Excellent

Wood-fired excellence at Petruce et al [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Petruce et al [Foobooz]

A.kitchen Gets a Second Look from Craig LaBan

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Not even a stolen purse from next door’s a.bar can put a damper on Craig LaBan’s opinion of the revamped a.kitchen.

[T]he grill’s true stars were whole fish for sharing that are different from any others in Philly. That aji, butterflied and grilled over a Japanese grill grate that blistered the skin over dusky, buttery flesh, is a new favorite. The regal Dover sole, vented for the grill with vertical slashes and served over brown butter-lime vinaigrette – will be a bone-in change-up for older diners accustomed to black-tied servers doing all the fillet work. But the crispy skin and luxurious, moist meat was extraordinary. Like the restaurant’s unconventional wines, this is an a.kitchen challenge worth embracing.

Three Bells – Excellent

a.kitchen: A city gem not undone by a city problem [Philadelphia Inquirer]
a.kitchen [Foobooz]

Two Bells for the Good King Tavern

lights-good-king-tavern-400Craig LaBan finds that the Good King Tavern does a heck of a job channeling Southern France, even if chef Paul Lyons might be better served by honing his menu than expanding it with specials.

“Eggplant “3 ways,” though, was my favorite, a multi-technique display that didn’t forget to showcase the ingredient. Baby eggplants were tenderly cooked sous-vide before a finishing pan char. Pickled cubes of eggplant added tangy little bursts. And a silky “eggplant caviar” puree at the base of this colorful medley (which also crunched with shaved raw sunchokes and purple rounds of watermelon radish) had a Mediterranean richness and a sneaky prickle of spicy heat.”

Two Bells – Very Good

A taste of Southern France in South Philly [Philadelphia Inquirer]
The Good King Tavern [Foobooz]

Two Bells for 9th Street Mexican Restaurant

mole-poblanoThe search for Super Bowl frijoles led Craig LaBan to Mole Poblano in the Italian Market and his latest review for the Inquirer. 

The weekend specials, though, distinguish this tidy tiled storefront from the many others. Chief among them is the barbacoa, made here with traditional goat (instead of the more common lamb) braised for hours with avocado leaves in a garlicky guajillo chile marinade resonant with oregano and ginger. Served with a chickpea-studded consommé made from the braising juices, the platter was especially soul-satisfying when I shredded the tender meat back into the broth with rice for a hearty soup.

Two Bells – Very Good

Mole Poblano: True Mexican flavors, and some of the city’s best tamales [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Mole Poblano [Foobooz]

Three Critics Walk Into a Chat Room

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Craig LaBan’s online chat this afternoon will feature LaBan talking with City Paper’s Adam Erace and Philadelphia magazine’s Trey Popp. Stop by Philly.com at 2 p.m. to ask the trio about restaurant criticism, anonymity or what their favorite restaurant is (because we’re sure they never get that question).

UPDATE: Here’s the direct link to the archived chat.

Craig LaBan Restaurant Chat [Philly.com]

Two Bells for Rosa Blanca

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Craig LaBan finds that Jose Garces’s Rosa Blanca may suffer from a split personality but is worth it when it comes to Cuban classics.

Rosa Blanca is at its best when embracing its Cuban comida soul. The ropa vieja was stewed to brisket silk, profound with a subtle molasses sweetness and sneaky red fresno chili spice. Flavorful cubes of pork-shoulder masitas were intense with savory adobo seasoning, practically melting on the tongue. The garlicky roast chickens, meanwhile, are among the most flavorful in town, dripping oregano and achiote-tinted essence down from the spit onto baby potatoes that turn yellow with flavor. With a crock of perfect black beans and rice on the side, it’s a satisfying value for $18.

Two Bells – Very Good

Rosa Blanca still seeking an identity [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Rosa Blanca [Foobooz]

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