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]
City Tap House has been on a bit of a tear lately. For the past year or so — ever since chef Chad Vetter took over the kitchen — the beer bar has been showing new culinary aspirations. Sure, there are still nachos on the menu, and chicken wings and other snacks friendly to the 60-plus beers on tap. But those wings are rubbed with a house blend of 10 spices, and the nachos are crowned with pulled pork and topped with a Walt Wit white cheddar sauce. What’s more, Vetter does shrimp-topped fried green tomatoes, and chicken and waffles with honey-thyme butter. And as if all that isn’t enough to convince people this is a perfectly respectable place to settle in for dinner and drinks, he recently added a spread of new gourmet pizzas topped with everything from Cantimpalo chorizo to Benton’s ham, peaches and arugula.
Oh, and you know. There’s still beer, too.
City Tap House [Foobooz]
Suburban restaurants are often doomed by the difficulties they have to overcome: lack of foot traffic, low customer counts, competition with the big-box chains that spring up on every major corner. But the one thing they have going for them? Their neighbors. Because when a great restaurant comes to a place previously served only by the mediocre and the lame, it can become the center of a community the way no urban restaurant ever can. Forno Antico is one of those places — a sprawling BYO that opened in a terrible location behind a jewelry store a few months back, but that’s been working hard to win over every single customer who comes through the doors. The pizzas come out of a traditional Neapolitan oven brought over from Italy (the name means “antique oven”), the alfredo tastes nothing like what you’ll get at the Olive Garden (meaning it’s wonderful and rich and buttery and creamy in the way that only a scratch-made sauce is), and the meatballs are huge, perfectly textured and delicious, even when, like me, you just ask for two orders to go so you can eat one in the parking lot before driving home.
Forno Antico [Foobooz]
Originally published in the September 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine
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 »
If you’re going to open a Thai spot within walking distance of Circles — still the best Thai within city limits — you’d better bring your A-game. Unfortunately, the folks behind AmeriThai, a new spot next to Nick’s Charcoal Pit don’t have a clue what they’re doing. From gummy satays and the grease-oozing, undercooked slop pile they’re trying to pass off as a Thai corn cake, to the kind of service that will make your blood boil, to the flies swarming my plates, I couldn’t wait to pay my check and walk out the door. And when a cockroach scurried by my feet in the dining room, that walk became more of a run.
1244 Snyder Avenue
Consider the radish…
When I reviewed Vedge two-and-a-half years ago, that was my opening line. Sometimes I wonder how many people stopped reading after the third word. But I don’t regret it. Plenty of things on Rich Landau’s menu sounded more appetizing, but the black slate bearing his “fancy radishes” was a dish that changed my whole way of thinking—not only about that lowly stepchild of the brassicas, but about vegan cooking altogether.
Five varieties came five ways, from roasted to half-roasted to raw, with an artful precision and a cup of smoked tamari soy sauce that boldly begged comparison with top-shelf sashimi. It was a definitive dish: the last word on an ingredient nobody else was really even offering a first word about. So if anything was bound to stay on Vedge’s menu, it was the radishes. As an emblem of Landau and Kate Jacoby’s galvanizing approach to vegetables, it was too perfect to replace.
Yet not too perfect to improve upon, as I discovered on a recent, belated return to a restaurant that I’ve spent the last two years sending people to.
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Photo by Mike Arrison
There are two ways a restaurant can be and remain successful: It can stay relevant, or it can become a classic. Sometimes, when the planets align and the gods approve, the two happen simultaneously. Pumpkin has lived at 17th and South for what’ll soon be 10 years, the anniversary of the day when owners Ian Moroney and Hillary Bor grabbed hold of a space nobody believed in and created (and kept) the BYO atmosphere we all know and love.
Alas, with the surrounding restaurant neighborhood explosion — the fancy toasts, the small plates — tiny places like this can get lost in the scrum. But Pumpkin stayed true and stayed exciting. Fregola sarda (toasted beads of Sardinian pasta) risotto with an English pea salad on top was not only comforting, but a texturally fun play on popping peas and smooth risotto. And it was the succotash that brought the sweet, tang and heat (from Styer Orchard chili peppers) that tiny gobbets of snails reveled in.
It’s easy eating at Pumpkin — not dated, not too precious, not clinging to trends, but not losing sight of what Philadelphia wants, either. It’s a restaurant that’s both current and classic, and that still harks back to a day when Philadelphia began to do what we do best: bring our own.
Originally published in the September 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine.