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]

Two Bell Review for CoZara

Photo by Kyle Born

Photo by Kyle Born

Craig LaBan reviews Hiroyuki “Zama” Tanaka’s CoZara in University City. LaBan finds some misses in the izakaya’s very large menu but he finds a bunch of hits as well.

CoZara excels in those simple Japanese comforts done right – a griddled rice ball lacquered in teriyaki, a hearty braised beef and potato Niku Jaga stew (which I’d return for – in winter), the thick chunks of velvety white salt-braised pork belly posed over dark ponzu. And there was something so soul-satisfying about the purity of the ochazuke, a chunk of broiled salmon over rice that almost turned to congee when the server poured dashi broth from a teapot overtop, that I could understand that taste of home Tanaka is going for here.

Two Bells – Very Good

At CoZara, chef puts sushi aside and turns up the heat [Philadelphia Inquirer]

CoZara [Foobooz]

Cafe Ynez Has Adam Erace Longing for More

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Adam Erace notes that you can’t have a vibrant neighborhood in 2014 without a good Mexican spot. And with the addition of Cafe Ynez at 2025 Washington Avenue on the Graduate Hospital/Point Breeze border, both neighborhoods can boast they have their Mexican restaurant.

Erace’s only complaint, he wants more. “More food, more hours. Fortunately, both are in the works later this summer.”

A new Mexican place comes to GradHo and Point Breeze [Foobooz]
Cafe Ynez [Foobooz]

Where We’re Eating: Entrée

10426775_297268180436020_6488720356301115488_n One recent evening, after picking up a four-pack of Allagash at Cambridge — the go-to place in this ’hood for quality takeout beer — I wandered with a friend into Entrée, a BYOB that opened in September. We weren’t expecting much. It was prime dinnertime, but the restaurant was empty, and the chef and his lone server were sitting out front. As things turned out, even if our expectations had been moderately high, they would have been exceeded. From the perfect calamari with slivered sweet peppers (one of my favorite versions in a city with many great calamari plates) to the pan-seared cornish hen to the pan-roasted halibut, everything was meticulously executed, yet presented simply and unpretentiously. Another win for the western end of South Street.

Entree Bistro [Foobooz]

Where We’re Eating: Sancho Pistola’s

sancho pistolasIt would be worth visiting Joe Gunn, Casey Parker and Adan Trinidad’s sequel to Jose Pistola’s purely to read the beer menu. The Pabst Blue Ribbon is described as “Frank Booth’s favorite. F’ Heineken.” The Allagash White is a “way worse dancer than Allagash Black.” It’s a fun list to read, and indicative of the time you can have at Sancho Pistola’s even if you skip the beer list entirely and settle in with a margarita or smoked piña colada. But Sancho’s isn’t just a place to drink; Trinidad is putting out serious food. The tacos that make up half the menu are a good place to start; they’re broken up by land and sea. On land, the spicy pork tacos are on point; on the sea side, you can’t go wrong with tuna — or, expand your taco horizons with the scallop version. Trinidad is at his best with sea creatures, and nowhere more so than the whole fish. Wash it down with a Berber stout, which, according to the beer menu, is a “dark gift from Mexico, like Adan.”

Sancho Pistola’s [Foobooz]

Restaurant Review: CoZara

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Photos by Courtney Apple

We here at Philadelphia magazine decided last month to start debuting restaurant reviews early on Foobooz. We had reasons. And we discussed them here. Welcome to the new world.

If restaurants are like fishermen, constantly angling for customers, CoZara is that guy at the end of the pier who keeps changing his bait as fast as he can reel in the line.Hiroyuki “Zama” Tanaka’s sophomore effort (following his eponymous sushi den in Rittenhouse Square) opened with a 60-item menu patterned after a Japanese izakaya. Small plates were grouped into nine categories, with sushi notable for its absence. A few weeks later, CoZara added lunch: rice bowls, ramen, and gluey alt-burritos whose delicate soy-paper wrappers struggled to contain heavy cargoes of soggy rice entombing the likes of teriyaki salmon or BBQ eel. Then the dinner menu, which had already been tweaked, changed again, shrinking by about half in response to what chef de cuisine Chris Paulikas called the “deer-in-the-headlights look” of customers who found the original one “ominous.”

Read more »

Restaurant Review: Townsend

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Photos by Jason Varney

We here at Philadelphia magazine decided last month to start debuting restaurant reviews early on Foobooz. We had reasons. And we discussed them here. Welcome to the new world.

Townsend Wentz was an analytical chemist shifting toward genomics research when he got a chance to cook at Philadelphia’s Four Seasons for a day. It was 1996, he’d just wrapped up a second bachelor’s degree in biology, and recombinant DNA was calling his name. But Jean-Marie Lacroix interrupted, and fate took care of the rest.Wentz, who’d cooked his way through college, had a great day in the French chef’s kitchen. It beat testing canola oil acids, and it was more social than laboratory bench work. When one of the restaurant’s line cooks quit that very day, Wentz’s lark in Lacroix’s kitchen, and later Lacroix at The Rittenhouse, turned into nearly 10 years.No wonder the Riverton, New Jersey native’s sauces are so good.

Philadelphians wise to Wentz’s transformation of McCrossen’s Tavern in Fairmount have known that for three years already. In May, he opened a place of his own—really, truly his own. From the salvaged cherrywood he planed to cap a rebuilt bar to the floors he refinished with his sous-chef and sommelier to the furniture they stained and reupholstered by hand, his fingerprints are all over the place. Before Wentz became a chemist, he built racing sailboats.

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Three Bells for Petruce et al

petruce-940Petruce et al is the ninth three bell review for Craig LaBan this year, a number it usually takes a year to achieve. In La Ban’s review states that this effort by Justin and Jonathan Petruce is one of the best.

Petruce may well become best known for interpretations of some true basics – such as lasagna, roast chicken, and steak that are instantly among the city’s best. The hearty eight-layer lasagna, its fresh pasta ribboned with nutmeg-scented béchamel, is oven-finished to a crunch in cast iron. The simply roasted chicken brings parchment-crisp skin and juicy flesh, with creamy grits ringed by an electric-yellow sauce of slow-cooked yolk thinned by white soy and lemon.

Three Bells – Excellent

Wood-fired excellence at Petruce et al [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Petruce et al [Foobooz]

The Revisit: Lolita

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“You can drink as many of these as you want,” our server said brightly. “They’re good for you!”

The concoction in question, a Green Garden Margarita, featured what Lolita’s new menu called “green stuff” and our waitress had likened to a “juice cleanse, only with tequila in it.”

So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen! The reason Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran, after ten years running Lolita–every Center City twenty-something’s favorite modern Mexican BYOB–went out and got a liquor license: to dole out Mason jars of juiced spinach, kale, celery, basil, cucumber, ginger and Cozadores Reposado.

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