Two Bells for Cresheim Valley Grain Exchange

grain-exchange-interior-940Craig LaBan visits Cresheim Valley Grain Exchange in Mount Airy and finds a restaurant and bar that is elevating food and cocktails on Germantown Avenue.

For $18, a slice of sustainably raised Verlasso salmon, nicely seared over buttery barley risotto studded with diced sweet potatoes, is one of the best fish bargains I’ve tasted in a while. A handsomely roasted acorn squash, brimming with flavorful red quinoa sparked by hazelnuts and cranberries, was one of several hearty seasonal salads that anchor the menu’s starters. A hot skillet of Anson Mills grits came topped with tender shrimp, pickled cherry tomatoes, and house-made sausage, a satisfying $17 meal of Southern comfort.

Two Bells – Very Good

Cresheim Valley Grain Exchange [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Drink: Honey Bear at Cresheim Valley Grain Exchange [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Cresheim Valley Grain Exchange [Facebook]

Tale of the Tape: Steve’s Steaks – Center City

steves-prince-of-steaks-yotc-940

Whenever Pat’s and Geno’s Steaks are mentioned, undoubtedly someone will weigh in with the seemingly erudite argument that they don’t pick a winner between those geographic rivals, but rather they prefer Steve’s Steaks. The Philadelphia cheesesteak joint has been Northeast Philadelphia royalty since opening in the early 1980s. In March of 2013, Steve’s opened a branch of cheesesteak kingdom at 16th and Chestnut Streets in Center City Philadelphia.

Today, we measured how Steve’s Prince of Steaks stacked up against the best cheesesteaks in Philadelphia.

The tale of the tape »

Restaurant Review: Abe Fisher and Dizengoff

Photos by Jason Varney

Abe Fisher | Photos by Jason Varney

On the first evening of Rosh Hashanah this year, BuzzFeed posted a video called “The Jewish Food Taste Test.” In it, Gentiles sample iconic Ashkenazi dishes. Gefilte fish comes first. “It’s like a cold sausage with sour paste on the top,” one goy cringes. “I’m not quite sure what meat it is,” confesses a hoodie-clad Asian dude. A vaguely Nordic-looking hipster delivers the kicker: “It tastes like a grocery store smells.” Suffice it to say that these people were not eating the gefilte fish on offer at Abe Fisher.

Chef Yehuda Sichel, a longtime loyalist of Abe Fisher co-owner Michael Solomonov, stuffs rainbow trout with a delicately nutty forcemeat of striped bass, smoked trout, walnuts and matzo. After poaching the trout whole, he cuts them into what amount to three-inch-thick boneless steaks, crisps the skin, and glazes them with a sweet reduction of carrot juice and port wine. Smoked Hungarian pepper wafts from a slaw of carrot shreds and pickled raisins piled on one side. Underneath it all is a subtly mustardy puree of butter-roasted carrots, accented with horseradish—lest anyone complain that the “sour paste” is missing.

Read more about Abe Fisher and Dizengoff » 

Two Bells for Bardot

 

Craig LaBan heads to Northern Liberties to take in the cooking of Rhett Vellner atBardot, the French bar/restaurant from the Pub on Passyunk East’s Dennis Hewlett.

Vellner shows real delicacy in his take on the common beet, salt-roasted in coriander-fennel spice and paired with creamy onion soubise, goat cheese, and the crumbles of a walnut-rye bread streusel (de rigueur these days, as faux “soil”). A crisp fillet of arctic char was also spot-on, with an earthy duo of parsnips (pureed and creamy with ginger; crisped into ribbons) and the surprising fusion spark of funky kimchi.

Two Bells – Very Good

Bardot Cafe: Sophisticated, if a bit faux, French fare in Northern Liberties [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Bardot [Foobooz]

Where We’re Eating: Lloyd

lloyd rye old fashioned

The Rye Old Fashioned is $6 during happy hour.

happy hour
Philadelphia is getting a handle on destination cocktail bars. But neighborhood spots that can shake up a tight cocktail as well as pour a local craft beer are still a bit hard to come by. Lloyd does both quite well, especially during the 5 p.m.-to-8 p.m. happy hour, when a cocktail is always on special for $6 and the drafts are $4. Lloyd’s signature cocktails and its classics will have you nodding appreciatively at the skill of the bartender and the quality and price of the spirits. But happy-hour snacking? That was a miss. The ramp butter popcorn was way out of season in September — not to mention overly oniony and stale. And the impossible-to-resist (on paper) candied kielbasa was also a complete letdown — just disks of sausage sitting sadly in a pool of maple syrup. Lucky for Lloyd, the bartenders remained attentive, and the drinks were worth sticking around for even after happy hour ended.

Lloyd [Foobooz]

Originally published in the November, 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine

Where We’re Eating: Hattery Stove & Still

Photo via the Doylestown Inn

Photo via the Doylestown Inn

’burbs
Grilled octopus confit, vegetable bibimbap, steamed skate, beer-battered string beans — what the heck is going on here? We’re not entirely sure, either. But that’s not to say the Hattery Stove & Still, the new restaurant/bar inside the Doylestown Inn is bad. The menu’s just a little confused. That octopus and those string beans were great, and we loved the $12 burger. But really, this is more a place to hang with friends over some drinks (the bar list is one of the suburbs’ better ones) and snacks like the fried olives and hot potato chips.

Hattery Stove & Still [Foobooz]

Originally published in the November, 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine

Where We’re Eating: Bareburger

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new
Bareburger is a chain with most of its locations in New York. It’s expensive. (I paid $16 for a burger and fries without really trying.) And it’s a new burger place in a city that already has some pretty good burger places. And yet, Bareburger (so named for its organic bona fides) does have this one thing going for it. That expensive burger? It was good. I mean seriously good. It was a specialty burger called the Southern Caviar that consisted of a bison burger topped with pimento cheese, country bacon (read: ham), stout-simmered onions and a horseradish rémoulade, all leaking out of a great brioche bun. Messy, gooey, hot and delicious, it was up there among the best overloaded burgers on the scene right now. And the cool, fast-casual ambience of the shop itself doesn’t hurt.

Bareburger [Foobooz]

Originally published in the November, 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine

Two Bells for Bangles Indian Cuisine

bangles-indian-940

Criag LaBan heads to Bangles Indian Cuisine in Philadelphia’s suburban “Dosa Belt.” LaBan finds that chef Dhirendran “Dhiru” Paulraj has a deft touch with Southern Indian cooking.

Paulraj’s takes on traditional flavors, especially his dosas, are what really generate this menu’s resonance. I agree with my completely obsessed pal Jeff that the rava dosa is hauntingly good, its semolina-rice batter scented with curry leaves and ginger and griddled into a lacy crisp around roasty threads of toasty onions.

A more familiar dosa, rolled into an oversize crepe around curry-spiced masala potatoes, is unusual because its cuminy batter is tinted green with cilantro, chilies, and ginger. The spongier crepe for the paneer and peas variation is wrapped snug like a burrito around a garam masala-onion-spiced stuffing of grated fresh cheese.

Two Bells – Very Good

Bangles in Downingtown, melding South Indian flavors, American twists [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Bangles Indian Cuisine [Official]

Where We’re Eating: The Upper Darby Coffee Shop

NEW
You probably don’t have much reason to visit Upper Darby, but it continues to make me happy on the ethnic food front, from the all-Asian food court at H Mart to Little Saigon’s pho to the exceptional Thai menu at Sa Bai Dee. And while this newcomer’s name doesn’t make it sound promising, the Dominican offerings inside The Upper Darby Coffee Shop make it well worth a visit. Actually, repeated visits. The Dominican breakfast (eggs, mangu — a mashed plantain dish — and Dominican sausage) is my favorite new way to start the day, and the heaping island lunch plates, the empanadas and the steamy, salty hen soup are all delicious bargains, with full entrées ranging from $8 to $12. As for the coffee at the Coffee Shop? It’s Maxwell House.

Upper Darby Coffee Shop [Foobooz]

Originally published in the November, 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine

 

Adaptive Reuse Proves Difficult at La Peg

La Peg at FringeArts | Photo by Kevin Monko

La Peg at FringeArts | Photo by Kevin Monko

Rick Nichols checks in at La Peg, Peter Woolsey’s two month old French brasserie at the once-upon-a-time pump house that is now the home of FringeArts. Nichols finds that the transition from early 20th century high-pressure water station to present day restaurant has been difficult.

That its menu takes liberties with disciplined bistro classics doesn’t help matters. My bowl of Vietnamese beef-noodle pho consomme was cloyingly sweet. And while my wife was happy with her steak-frite, as was I with a small plate of roasted striped bass, my choucroute garnie – so wonderful when the sauerkraut is cooked long and slow enough to soak up the flavors of the sausage – tasted as if a bag of crunchy, coarse-cut kraut had been warmed up at the last minute, then layered with grilled sausage, entirely missing the point of the dish.

Reinventing pump house as eatery proves daunting [Philadelphia Inquirer]
La Peg [Foobooz]

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