James Beard Award Finalists Announced

james-beard-semisThe 2015 James Beard Award Finalists were announced this morning. Philadelphia area chefs Marc Vetri, Joe Cicala (Le Virtu), Rich Landau (Vedge), Greg Vernick (Vernick Food + Drink) and Alex Bois (High Street on Market) all moved onto the final in their respective categories.

Vetri is a finalist for Outstanding Chef. He is joined in the category by Michael Anthony, Gramercy Tavern, NYC; Sean Brock, Husk, Charleston, SC; and Suzanne Goin, Lucques, Los Angeles.

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Two Bells for Capofitto

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Craig LaBan reviews Capofitto, the new artisan pizza spot in Old City from the team behind Capogiro. He finds the new pizzeria is just what the historic neighborhood needs.

I know, I know. More pizza. Just what Philadelphia needed. But if it’s created with as much dedication to craft as Stephanie and John Reitano bring, one as good as Capofitto can represent a quality-of-life improvement. And these two bring the same commitment to the details of authenticity that elevates the gelati at their Capogiro chain far beyond mere ice cream.

Two Bells – Very Good

Capofitto is a welcome addition to Old City [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Capofitto [Foobooz]

One Bell for Fishtown’s Girard

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The burger at Girard was one of the things Craig LaBan did like.

Craig LaBan savages Girard, the BYO on Girard Avenue that made headlines before it even opened, with its no-tipping policy. LaBan found poor execution and something even more surprising, a line on the check for tips.

But too many dishes failed to connect good ideas to a plate of complete success. Oliveira’s signature omelet was textbook perfect, stuffed with avocado, creamy cheddar and bacon. But the side of charred grapefruit, grilled face down (letting the sugar fall off) instead of brûléed with a torch, was bitterly burnt. The lamb ragu had an intriguing daube-like inflection of olives and orange, but was literally braised to a mush that was poorly paired with doughy gnocchi. A torchon of foie gras, usually a luxuriously creamy disk of delicately poached liver, was an off-tasting smudge of tan butter on toast overwhelmed by a thicker smudge of fig jam for $13.

One Bell – Hit or Miss

Bold but confusing Girard Brasserie and Bruncherie in Fishtown [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Girard [Foobooz]

Two Bells for George Sabatino’s Aldine

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Photo by Emily Teel (who gets a great shoutout in the review)

There is more than one kind of two-bell review. The surprisingly good neighborhood joint, the disappointing debut of a big-name chef and in the case of George Sabatino’s Aldine, a two-bell review going in the right direction.

Craig LaBan’s review sees progress in several dishes over just a couple of months. And others are already there.

Dishes such as the lamb rillettes, its tender milk-braised meat shredded and formed into a crispy cake over silky Hubbard squash puree sparking with red chile heat, evoke both visual beauty and a deep satisfaction of soulful flavors. Sabatino’s clever crudo deconstruction of the ubiquitous sesame-crusted tuna – raw tuna sashimi brightened with blood orange, fennel crackers and sesame seeds – was like tasting Mediterranean sun.

Two Bells – Very Good

For George Sabatino, years of experiments paying off at Aldine [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Aldine
 [Foobooz]

Arde Osteria Gets One Bell

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Water buffalo mural at Arde Osteria in Wayne

It’s a high-stakes pizza game in Wayne on the Main Line. Craig LaBan notes ten spots within a few blocks in downtown Wayne that are serving up pizza. In LaBan’s review of Ardé Osteria & Pizzeria, he reveals that the Regina Margherita at neighboring Vecchia is one of the best now in the region. As for Ardé, things are a bit more dicey though the Inquirer critic sees potential.

My first visit to Ardé was odd in many respects, beginning with the fact that our pizzas were delivered unexpectedly as a late third-course between entrees and dessert. Either way, they were thoroughly scorched, the coveted leoparding of dark spots having swollen into a charry inner-tube of briquette-sized puffs crumbling black dust over every bite. The delicate harmony of tangy San Marzano tomatoes and sweet mozzarella was overwhelmed. A similarly burnt “mais” pie topped with incinerated corn had other issues, with half the crust refusing to rise and a noticeably salty afterburn.

One Bell – Hit-or-Miss

Craig LaBan visits Ardé Osteria & Pizzeria [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Arde Osteria [Foobooz]

Two Bells for Lo Spiedo

Murals by "Distort," the same artist who did the much more wild artwork at Alla Spina.

Craig LaBan reviews the Navy Yard’s Lo Spiedo. LaBan enjoys much of the menu but inconsistencies have him wondering if the South Broad Street restaurant can be the magnet that Marc Vetri’s Osteria is on North Broad.

The meats and seafood are obviously the main event, and each brimmed with a zest of the live-fire.

The spit-roasted octopus, in contrast to the roll, was magnificent undressed on the plate, its long, tender arms kissed with little more than olive oil, lemon and char. The spice-rubbed brisket was also superbly rendered, moist and infused with smoke. But I preferred it as a composed sandwich, chopped on toasted bread with slaw and horseradish, rather than as a lonely hunk in a pan, as it is offered in the entrée section.

Two Bells – Very Good

Lo Spiedo: Go for the wings, stay for the octopus arms [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Lo Spiedo [Foobooz]

Three Bells for V Street

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The newest seats at V Street.

Craig LaBan visited V Street this weekend, three months after Vedge chefs Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby opened their Rittenhouse spot.

Vedge fans can get a more casual, globe-trotting taste of Rich Landau’s culinary magic at this affordable Rittenhouse Square ode to international street foods, which just happens to also be vegan. From Hungarian fritters to Latin-inspired carrot “asado,” borders melt away on these small plates, thanks to Landau’s inventive vision and uniquely wide-ranging command of bold ethnic flavors. The long and minimalist three-room space is an intimate and cozy haven to graze, watch chefs work the grill at the back kitchen counter, or sip an excellent cocktail at the airy front bar while 19th Street strolls by.

Three Bells – Excellent

V Street [Philadelphia Inquirer]
V Street [Foobooz]

Two Bells for Blue Duck Sandwich Co. in Northeast Philly

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Craig LaBan ventures to Northeast Philadelphia this week and finds Kris Serviss (COOK Masters alum) and Joe Callahan’s Blue Duck Sandwich Co., a BYOB that’s waking up the neighborhood.

[W]hile Serviss plays with ingredients that would be at home on any trendy Center City menu – black garlic, sunchokes, crispy tri-color cauliflower (very loosely inspired by Zahav) – the core items here are simply the kitchen’s whimsical updates to familiar comfort flavors. They up the savor quotient on the classic blue-plate special with meatloaf made from wild boar (delicious, though it could use a little more softness) and earthy, sweet mashed parsnips. Tender gnocchi play sweet on spice, swapping sweet potatoes for the usual white spuds, and adding the hot spark of shaved jalapeño rings to the nutty gloss of sage brown butter.

Two Bells – Very Good

Blue Duck Fills the Bill in N.E. Philly [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Blue Duck Sandwich Co. [Foobooz]

Two Bells for La Peg

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Craig LaBan reviews La Peg and finds that the restaurant it heading in the right direction after a rocky start. But along the way, at least there were some naked performers and a great view of the Ben Franklin Bridge and Delaware River.

By my final visit in December, though, a shift to a more traditional app-entree menu format, and a subtle reversion to a more classic French repertoire, seemed to have smoothed out most kinks in chef de cuisine Nicholas Bazik’s kitchen.

Two Bells – Very Good

La Peg, pumping up the polish [Philadelphia Inquirer]
La Peg [Foobooz]

Abe Fisher Gets Three Bells

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Photo via Abe Fisher

Craig LaBan is back on Sansom Street, just weeks after giving Dizengoff three bells, to test out Michael Solomonov’s Ashkenazic restaurant, Abe Fisher. LaBan is a fan of just about everything, from the pastrami smoked short rib to the bacon tinged take on the egg cream.

But Abe proved its worth in many ways. The uniquely creative menu is bolstered by outgoing, informed service. The excellent drink program was thoughtfully conceived, from well-crafted theme cocktails (the beet-stained and rummy Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition) to its $12 Cruvinet pours of intriguing food-friendly wines, from grenache blanc to bobal and negrette. This is easily one of the year’s most distinctive, well-rounded, and ambitious openings.

Three Bells – Excellent

Read Trey Popp’s review of Abe Fisher and Dizengoff from December’s Philadelphia magazine.

Abe Fisher [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Abe Fisher [Foobooz]

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