Two Bells for Charlie was a sinner.

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Craig LaBan reviews Charlie was a sinner. this week and gives the “plant-based” restaurant in Midtown Village two bells, though he does find more than a few things wrong.

Some otherwise beautiful dishes still need tweaks: The elegant sunchoke soup, pureed and poured over intricate garnishes, was spun off-kilter with too much sweetness from Asian pears. The potato gnocchi with favas were dense and doughy minus the levity of the usual egg. I saw more sweet-tart raisins than barley in the mushroom-barley toast.

Also of note, opening chef Michael Santoro has moved on, Max Hosey is now in charge of the kitchen.

Two Bells – Very Good

Call it ‘plant-based’ or vegan, Charlie is a winner [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Charlie was a sinner. [Foobooz]

Two Bells for CHUlicious in Mount Laurel

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Craig LaBan makes the reverse commute to Mount Laurel, New Jersey to find a Chinatown chef is now offering Taiwanese and Sichuan dishes in a South Jersey strip mall.

the real reason to come are the genuine Taiwanese and Sichuan dishes that earned Chu (a Taiwanese native trained under Sichuan chefs) his well-deserved reputation. Sichuan food, of course, has found mainstream popularity in the region, and CHUlicious serves excellent renditions of familiar bellwethers: Chu’s vegetarian ma po tofu is my favorite, the bean curd cubes patiently infused with the fruity heat of a sauce made with three different chilies, then dusted with a finely ground haze of Sichuan peppercorns that numbs the lips. The crystal wontons are another must, the same chicken dumplings as in the soup, but mounded over a bull’s-eye of earthy chili sauce and spotted with garlicky sweet black soy.

Two Bells – Very Good

CHUlicious: At a modest Mount Laurel BYOB, hard-to-find Taiwanese and Sichuan specialties [Philadelphia Inquirer]
CHUlicious [Foobooz]

Two for One Reviews by LaBan

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Dizengoff and Stock are both reviewed by Craig LaBan.

This weekend, Craig LaBan offered two reviews for the price of one Sunday Inquirer as he reviewed both Stock and Dizengoff. Each spot focuses on a single specialty with admirable results. 

Stock – Two Bells, Very Good

Where Stock truly excels, and the best reason to hang with Fishtown hipsters at the counter, are the small menu’s beef-free options. The mushroom pho packs an umami punch the beef pho lacks. The shredded green papaya starter is one of the most irresistible salads in town, the crunchy threads and roasted peanuts basking in a tart and funky fish sauce-lime dressing that flickers with chile heat. Of the daily banh mi hoagies, which included tasty chicken meatball and unexpectedly bland pork sausage, the surprising winner was filled with custardy tofu, bright with soy-garlic marinade, pickled cabbage, and creamy Japanese mayo.

Stock: The meticulous beef pho has depth, but is outshone by other offerings [Philadelphia Inquirer]

Dizengoff – Three Bells, Excellent

[T]his hummus takes on its magnetic powers thanks to chef Emily Seaman. The Zahav alum compulsively creates new garnishes daily based on what farmers deliver, with spot-on instincts for textures and flavor contrasts.

Summer corn took on the musky sweetness of fenugreek. Red peppers, simmered with pomegranate, went for a muhammara mood with crushed walnuts. Soft cannelinis were tinted yellow with Yemenite hawaj curry, dusted with smoky black flecks of Urfa chilies. Charred eggplants were cooked to a gloss, then tanged with vinegar and garlic. Fragrant ground lamb, one day topped with pickles, another stewed with orange and pistachios, hit a high with aromatic Persian spice.

Dizengoff: At this ‘hummusiya,’  the chickpea puree takes on magnetic power [Philadelphia Inquirer]

Junto Gets Three Bells

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Craig LaBan is full of praise for MacGregor Mann’s Junto in Chadds Ford, calling it the best suburban dinner he’s had in a long time.

But there were so many highlights, especially with seafood, that my quibbles were minor. Huge scallops were perfectly fried in a sheer tempura crust made from sweet corn, amped by an intense brown chip of dehydrated scallop and a creamy remoulade of pureed mussels and lovage. Tart sorrel granita and shavings of fresh horseradish enlivened briny raw Cape May Salt oysters. Beautifully steamed black bass fillets basked in anise-scented froth over poached fennel. A lemon verbena white wine butter glaze added a subtle herbaceousness to that juicy fillet of smoked sturgeon.

Three Bells – Excellent

Read Trey Popp’s similarly positive review of Junto from the September issue of Philadelphia magazine.

Junto: One of the suburbs’ top new restaurants [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Junto [Foobooz]

Turney and Safran 13th Street Update

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Valerie Safran and Marcie Turney at a still under construction Lolita | Photo by Jack Cotter

There’s always a lot of going on along the Thirteenth Street empire of Valerie Safran and Marcie Turney, although recently, it has been extra newsworthy.

Craig LaBan visited the post BYOT Lolita and rewarded the Safran and Turney’s original restaurant two-bells, though he predictably does gripe about the noise.

What’s happening at 13th and Locust » 

Treemont Gets Two Bells

Photo by Alex Tewfik

Photo by Alex Tewfik

This weekend, Craig LaBan reviewed Chip Roman’s The Treemont and wonders where all the diners are. Scared off by an unusual deadspot in Center City or dissuaded from the Cheesecake Factory construction site down the block? But for those who have made it in the doors, there are rewards.

If Roman has the financial fortitude to endure the leaner months, the Treemont has the ingredients to become, with refining (and maybe some noise-proofing), a reliable, fine-dining hideaway with quality entrees, fairly priced in the mid-$20s.

Two Bells – Very Good (93 decibels)

Treemont mystery: Good food, few eaters [Philadelphia Inquirer]
The Treemont [Foobooz]

Uneven Barbecue in Ambler

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Craig LaBan ventures to Ambler for the promise of barbecue and whiskey at the Lucky Well. What he finds is uneven at best. Chef/owner Chad Rosenthal has trouble with consistency.

I don’t doubt Rosenthal’s passion for BBQ. I could taste those good intentions on the St. Louis pork ribs, the bones dusted Memphis-style with spice, the pink-haloed meat clinging just right. The Lucky Well’s chicken wings also wore their smoke well enough. But I should have stopped there.

Food Network notoriety is no guarantee of culinary genius, a fact made abundantly clear by two meals in which virtually everything else fell flat.

One Bell – Hit-or-Miss

Dining Review: The Lucky Well [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Lucky Well [Official]

13 Diners You’ll Find in Philly

Illustration by Jessi Falcone

The Winos | Illustration by Jessi Falcone

We here at Foobooz certainly enjoy Philadelphia’s food scene but that doesn’t mean we don’t occasionally roll our eyes at some of the other dining room’s tables. Here is our list of the thirteen kinds of diners you’ll find in Philadelphia. Who do you recognize, what behavior are you guilty of?   

Compiled by Isabelle Gallicchio, Ela Torres and Alex Tewfik

Read more »

Two Bells for Crow and the Pitcher

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Craig LaBan enjoys the ampersand cuisine of Alex Capasso’s Crow & the Pitcher where Le Bec Fin’s gilded cheese cart meets up with small plates and burgers.

Capasso’s mussels are easily some of the best in town – clean, perfectly cooked, bathed in a creamy natural broth fortified with vermouth. The house-made charcuterie platter is also satisfying, its chicken terrine creamy with confit fat and leg meat, a heady lamb terrine piqued with olives & silky foie gras cured in Sauternes. Crisp nuggets of tender sweetbreads play against the bitter, roasty crunch of brussels sprouts in bordelaise.

Two Bells – Very Good

Crow & the Pitcher [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Crow & the Pitcher [Foobooz]

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]

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