Restaurant Review: Nicholas Elmi’s Laurel

Grilled maitake Nick Elmi's Laurel Restuarant

Laurel’s Grilled maitake. Photography by Jason Varney

Twelve years is a long sentence for someone who hasn’t committed a crime, even if you get to serve it in some swanky cells. Ask Nicholas Elmi. The onetime apprentice at Manhattan’s Daniel and Lutèce rose to become Georges Perrier’s right hand at Le Bec-Fin, then glided into the blue-blooded precincts of the Philadelphia Art Alliance as head chef at Rittenhouse Tavern. But in 2013, at long last, the golden handcuffs came off.

His coming-out party began on national television, where he competed on Season 11 of Bravo’s Top Chef. But that’s beside the point—not just for this cable-shunning critic, but for any food lover within taxi distance of East Passyunk Avenue. Because it’s there, in a 10-by-15-and-a-half-foot kitchen barely big enough to afford him the company of a single sous-chef and a culinary student, that Elmi is finally doing things his way. And what a way that is.

After a career spent “cooking other people’s food” and then chafing against his corporate leash at Rittenhouse Tavern, Elmi opened Laurel as a co-owner in November. Two weeks later, he cooked my favorite BYO meal of the year. Three weeks after that, my favorite meal anywhere. From the thimble-sized snowballs of frozen horseradish that bedazzled cubes of poached tuna to the tongue-tingling windfall of pink peppercorns clinging to a marbled foie gras terrine shot through with brown veins of cocoa, his plates took my table by storm.

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Han’s Dynasty

Han Dynasty's Han Chiang

Photograph by Michael Persico

In any serious food city in America, there exists a cadre of chefs and restaurateurs who are the Big Dogs. The guys (because, yeah, it’s almost always guys) who, by the weight of their presence on the scene, tend to define the scene—particularly to those from outside the scene, who don’t live and breathe the scene, who, maybe, just eat out a few times a month and don’t track, with OCD fanaticism, the movements of every chef and investor within the scene.

Think about Charlie Trotter in Chicago (RIP) and the upstarts who’ve been siphoning off his ink for the past decade. Think about New Orleans, with its deep reverence for tradition, age and Emeril Lagasse; Denver, with its magnetic pull on the young and wickedly talented; or Seattle, where they worship at the altar of the farm-to-table movement but still flock to the restaurants of Tom Douglas, who, with 15 spots in a city genetically opposed to chain restaurants, is like a mini-chain-emperor unto himself.

In Philly, we have Stephen Starr, Marc Vetri and Jose Garces—our culinary trinity, each of them big for different reasons, each of them representing an aspect of ourselves. There are chefs in town who have more restaurants than Vetri, but no one who has brought such high-gloss glory to our Italian roots. Jose Garces isn’t the most critically beloved of Philadelphia chefs, but he’s on TV. He’s Iron Chef Garces, and with his ever-expanding roster of addresses both here and elsewhere, he speaks to something in our immigrant hearts with his Cuban sandwiches, Irish whiskey, Spanish tapas, tacos, dumplings, noodles and Chicago deep-dish pizzas. And Starr? He’s got money. And connections. With his older places, he’s feeding tourists and rubes, keeping the flame of wasabi mashed potatoes alive in the hearts of the culinarily backward. And with his newer locations, he’s become our most brilliant producer—bringing in major talent, giving them a place to work, then sitting back and watching them go. He’s the Phil Spector of the Philadelphia restaurant scene, only, you know, without the crazy Afro and the murder.
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Beau Monde Guys Talk Tavern on Green

Philadelphia restaurateurs Jim Caiola and David Salama, owners of Creperie Beau Monde and L’Etage, are profiled in Crain’s New York, where they’re getting ready to revive the legendary dining spot Tavern on the Green. “It feels like we are cleaning up a mess rather than starting over,” says Caiola, whose sister is married to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s former deputy mayor. And while the men are not only facing attacks in the New York media, who are crying nepotism over them winning a 20-year lease from the city, they plan to open the restaurant late next year.

We hear about the logistic challenges they are facing, labor union disputes and what they have planned for the big reveal.

Click here to read the story.

Meet Shamus Moriarty

Photo by Courtney Apple

When did you first become interested in baking?

I have always had a strong connection to pastry. My closest friend growing up went to the Culinary Institute of America in New York around the time I got my first bakery job back in 2006. We would bake cakes when we found any excuse to in middle school and high school, and that tradition still stands every time I go back home to see her. So basically forever.

How did you hone your skills?

I did sculpture growing up. And my foot in the door for this industry was that I did some fondant work, which is really just edible sculpture.

What’s your signature item in the kitchen these days?

I’m in love with the Sweet Potato Duo on our menu, but it seems our most popular dessert is our gluten-free King’s Gateau, a chocolate, peanut butter and banana dessert. I’m also baking all of the breads that come out of Rex. I’ve got five desserts and seven styles of bread going on any given day.

What’s it been like as an out gay man in the kitchen?

I have been on the outskirts of boys’ clubs in kitchens before, but we don’t have any of that at Rex. It’s 2012, and my sexuality isn’t an issue to the other men on the line. I would say if you are a gay man trying to make it in this industry, just be yourself. If you’re a bit cheeky, run with it. If they’re vulgar toward you, be twice as vulgar back. Find common ground and explore it. If they play fantasy football, talk about your fantasy RuPaul’s Drag Race team. There’s lots of brotherly love to be found in this city. Being different is an asset. You get to change people’s opinions daily just by being you.

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Rhino Bar Opens in Gayborhood

Courtesy of Rhino Bar

We may miss Bump and Q, but now that Mike Stollenwerk’s Fish has moved around the corner (less than 100 feet into a smaller space), a new bar has taken over the corner of 13th and Locust in the heart of the Gayborhood.

Rhino Bar has officially opened today within the Independence Hotel – and it’s touting itself as a gastropub with raw bar. The sleek new space features a menu with “snacks” and “plates” – look for dishes like fried green tomatoes, chile verde and miso-glazed salmon.

In addition to eight beer taps – with lots of craft beers by the bottle – and a liquor list with no shortage of happy hour specials, Rhino also serves root beer floats. In fact, the gastropub will be catering to the late-night crowd with food served until 1 a.m. on weekdays and until 2 a.m. on weekends.

Rhino Bar, 1234 Locust Street, 215-557-4442.

Q&A: Marcie Turney on Food and Fitness

Courtesy of Barbuzzo

Have you visited 13th and Sansom lately—the block chef Marcie Turney calls home? She and her partner Valerie Safran practically own the neighborhood, with shops and restaurants up and down the block. Examples: LolitaBarbuzzoGroceryVerde, and their newest gem, Jamonera. With so much going on (how does she do it?), we wanted to know how Marcie finds time for herself and what healthy means in her crazy-busy world. Lucky us, she threw a few recipes our way, too!

Complete this sentence: “When I was 16, healthy meant … “

You did the latest gimmicks or diet. Well, that was 1986, so for me it was probably more about excelling at sports. I was on the field hockey, basketball and softball teams at my high school. But my mother, who always struggled with her weight, was eating Lean Cuisine, drinking TAB cola and working out with Richard Simmons.

To stay in shape I …”

Just got a personal trainer at 12th Street Gym. Like many other people, it’s easy for me to let work rule my daily routine; I don’t work out unless I treat it like an appointment.

What’s your favorite healthy kitchen tool?

Vita-Prep blender. This is a blender you would find in all professional kitchens. At home, I use it to make spinach, blueberry and apple juice or fruit-and-yogurt smoothies. You can put any combo into this machine and with a little filtered water you have yourself a custom blended healthy beverage that I might have paid $6 to $9 for at a cafe. Unlike a juicing machine, which separates the pulp from the liquid, you get all the nutrients and fiber. Also, for new mothers, you can steam veggies and blend to a super smooth puree for homemade baby food.

Click here to read the rest of the interview on Be Well.

Beau Monde Gets Tavern on the Green

Tavern on the Green (courtesy of Google)

Partners Jim Caiola and David Salama – the guys behind Beau Monde and L’Etage in Philadelphia – are now the proud owners of New York City’s legendary Tavern on the Green. The duo submitted a bid to win a 20-year lease on the Central Park landmark back in April and it was, as it turns out, the highest rated request for proposal received by New York’s Parks & Recreation department.

For those not in the know, Tavern was among the most famous dining spots for decades in New York’s Central Park – and a haven for the who’s who of Manhattan. But in recent years, the eatery – set along the bucolic West Side – turned into more of a tourist trap and went bankrupt.

But word is Ciola and Salama will renovate and reopen the fabled restaurant by the summer of 2013.

Click here to read more about who’ll run the kitchen and what happens next at Foobooz.

TODAY: A Big Gay Chick-Fil-A Kiss-In

Gay rights advocates are gearing up for a national same-sex kiss-in at Chick-fil-A franchises around the country today in protest of yesterday’s “Appreciation Day.” Record numbers of supporters turned out yesterday after one-time presidential candidate Mike Huckabee created the event on Facebook, advocating that those people who support the president of the fast food chain’s comments on LGBT rights and gay marriage show up to buy some meat.

But today, gay rights activists are asking same-sex couples to show up at restaurants to stage a kiss-in that can be photographed, filmed and shared on social media sites. If you’d like to share your images with us, email them to nmcdonald@phillymag.com or share them on G Philly’s Facebook page.

Here in Philly, organizers of the Philly Dyke March are holding a protest at the Chick-fil-A on Columbus Avenue (near the IKEA). “This protest will help us stand in solidarity with our gay, lesbian, trans, bisexual, and queer family,” says the group’s Facebook page. “So throw on your PDM shirt, grab a dyke and enjoy a revolutionary makeout session!”

And yes, guys, you’re also welcome to the public smooch fest.

Chick-Fil-A Ratings Plummet

As supporters of Chick-fil-A say they’ll head to the fast food chain to show their appreciation today, the numbers don’t lie. YouGov recently released details about Chick-fil-A’s brand approval, saying that prior to the president of the company’s controversial comments about homosexuality and opposition to same-sex marriage last month, the company scored a strong 65 on the index, well above the Top National Quick Service Restaurant Sector average of 46. But ever since the flap over Dan Cathy denouncing LGBT rights and reports revealing donations of two million dollars to hate groups that believe in reparative therapy and worse, Chick-fil-A’s popularity has been in a downward spiral.

In fact, the company’s score first fell swiftly to 47 – and then to 39 as of last week. Today, it’s at its lowest point since August of 2010 when Chick-fil-A first came under fire for supporting anti-gay groups.

Competitors like Taco Bell, KFC, McDonald’s and Burger King, however, are still ranking high, according to GLAAD, despite efforts by Mike Huckabee to celebrate the chain today. “We’re simply asking people to eat chicken and not to be one when it’s time to take a stand-our appreciation is not only for the views of Dan Cathy, but for his right to have them and express them freely,” wrote Huckbee on the Facebook page he created. But there’s a big difference between supporting free speech and supporting a company that funnels money to hate groups.

One of our readers had this to say about today’s Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day: “Eating at Chick-fil-A [today] is a way of saying, ‘I’m a homophobe and I’m proud of it.’ We should all be standing out front with cameras!”

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Chick-Fil-A Faces Lawsuit

Photo by Think Stock

Chick-fil-A can’t seem to stay out of these news days. First, the company started a firestorm when its president admitted that the chain’s against LGBT rights, and specifically same-sex marriage (Chick-fil-A has donated almost two million to hate groups).

Uncovered this week, Chick-fil-A is also facing a lawsuit from a former employee, according to GLAAD. Brenda Honeycutt is suing the company for what she alleges is gender discrimination. She says that she was fired by Jeff Howard, the manager of the restaurant where she worked in Duluth, Georgia, so that she could stay home and take care of her children. This, she says, came after receiving a solid review of her work there.

“Throughout her employment, the Plaintiff performed her duties in a satisfactory or above manner,” the lawsuit says. But during her tenure with the fast food restaurant, Honeycutt says the manager “routinely made comments to the Plaintiff suggesting that as a mother she should stay home with her children,” it continues.

She was replaced by a male employee. GLAAD says the lawsuit shows a pattern in which female employees – mothers – were all replaced by men at the restaurant chain.

Honeycutt would like to be reimbursed with back pay and for damages as the result of being discriminated against. Stay tuned as we follow the case as it goes to trial.

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