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]
Coren at Vedge. He called Vedge, “the best vegan cooking I have ever had.”
Times of London restaurant critic Giles Coren was in Philadelphia this spring filming his TV show Million Dollar Critic for Canada’s WNetwork. The show visited five Philadelphia restaurants in order for Coren to bestow one of them with his million dollar recommendation (because the review could be worth more than a million dollars in business).
Coren visited Vedge, Cheu Noodle Bar, Avenue Delicatessen, The Mildred (now closed) and Kanella. In the end, Coren heaped the most praise on Kanella, the Cypriot BYOB by Konstantinos Pistillides.
Kanella is the sort of place I wish I could review every week: a buzzing local taverna on a lively city corner, people of all ages and ethnicities sitting at outside tables, simply decorated inside, full of laughter, friends and family, and charming staff serving a cuisine rooted deeply in a foreign culture rather than just ripping it off, with a deadly serious chef at the helm.
Read the full review of Kanella on Huffington Post’s Canadian edition.
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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]
La Peg at FringeArts | Photo by Kevin Monko
Citypaper’s Adam Erace recently reviewed the Philadelphia brasserie, La Peg, praising the restaurant’s architectural aesthetics, comfortable energy, and window view. However, while Erace enjoyed various classical options at La Peg, he was critical towards any diversions from the traditional French cuisine offered on the menu.
“At La Peg, there’s a freewheeling spirit you don’t get at the beautiful and severe Minette, but a little of the latter’s discipline could help sharpen the experience here. Sriracha turned up a lot, which felt like a trick of a lesser restaurant,” he said.
“The picnic-friendly Parisian sandwich could use ham with more character (and smoke) than the timid French import filling its buttered baguette,” Erace criticized. However, when the last course of the evening, the apple tart, was served, he said he forgave all other imperfections: “I savored the last bite and view. Perfect, both of them.”
French Fares Well at La Peg [City Paper]
La Peg [Foobooz]
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]
Adam Erace weighs in on the cocktails at the Yachtsman and happily reports, the tiki drinks are fun and good. But most importantly, fun.
Making cocktails has been elevated to such high art, at times they can elicit a why-so-serious backlash, but with Yachtsman’s menu of high-octane punches, sneaky frappes and colorful rum coolers, Phoebe Esmon and Christian Gaal have managed to weave together drinks that feel joyful as well as thoughtful. Like the Bird of Paradise, a frothy cross between a Clover Club and a Ramos gin fizz with a subtle orange blossom perfume, or the grass-green Missionary’s Downfall, a frosty, refreshing rum, peach-and-pineapple situation whose color comes from a jungle of blended-in fresh mint. The velvety Tree Frog, a Don Q banana daiquiri mix with an undercurrent of galangal, allspice and star anise, is flat-out delicious; I want to make it a part of my daily breakfast routine.
Also revealed in Erace’s review, his high school AIM username.
Review: Tropical breezes and tiki reimagined at the Yachtsman [City Paper]
Craig LaBan enjoys much of what he eats from chef Yun Fuentes’s menu at Society Hill Society. In particular he enjoys brunch and the fresh Pilsner Urquel.
His ode to pierogi are delicate, their handmade sour cream dumpling skins stuffed with truffled mashed potatoes over molasses-sweetened Vidalia onion jam. He tapas-izes chicken pot pie, tucking a creamy velouté of leg meat, carrots, and peas into croquette sticks that would please even the toughest Amish Spaniard. His summer peach soup is simply a gazpacho-good tribute to ripe local summer fruit, the sweet pureed peaches tanged with a hint of vinegar and garlic, sparked with salty bits of shaved ham and tiny floating spheres of creamy goat cheese.
Two Bells – Very Good
For another opinion on this Society Hill restaurant, read Trey Popp’s review of Society Hill Society from the October issue of Philadelphia magazine.
Society Hill Society inspired by the past [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Photo by Michael Persico
Pity the Philadelphia hotel restaurant. City dwellers will flock to food trucks, night markets, pop-up gardens and pizzerias with no seats, but just try getting us to eat in a building full of minibars. For every A.Kitchen, there are five Winthorpe & Valentines (a place that really exists, no joke). With Bank & Bourbon, the downtown Loews is now targeting the ground in between.
As the successor to the awkwardly named SoleFood (again, not kidding), which merged corporate decor and loads of dead space under Miami Vice lighting, B&B clearly yearns for some kind of contemporary relevance. Its whiskey-bandwagon name and predictably rustic trappings—now dominating restaurant design so utterly that Fortune 500 conglomerates are doing it, too—are enough to make a cynic roll his eyes and sigh, “Here we go again.”
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Photos by Jason Varney
By the time Gary Cattley maneuvered his tuba into Paris Bistro’s basement, Drew Nugent & the Midnight Society had been ragging Tin Pan Alley curios for an hour already. The bar was full, and every table was taken. At the tip of the arrowhead-shaped room, wearing a brown double-breasted suit, Nugent faced a vintage 1935 Shure microphone lashed to a Walmart towel ring with springs and a bootlace, warbling into a miniature teakettle through a trumpet mouthpiece jammed in its spout.
Cattley, who’d concocted the microphone getup, smiled. Snaking past servers bearing crocks of French onion soup and parfait glasses of chocolate mousse, he squeezed onto the postage-stamp bandstand to join the unlikeliest recent development in Philadelphia nightlife: the Prohibition-era vocal jazz scene in far Chestnut Hill.
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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]