Where We’re Eating: Chops

Photo by Alex Tewfik

Photo by Alex Tewfik

For years, Alex Plotkin’s Chops steakhouse in Bala Cynwyd was an exercise in mediocrity. It didn’t have to be great, because it was the only place to get a rib eye and filet in the eastern half of the Main Line. But once Plotkin moved the operation to the old Table 31 space inside the Comcast Center — the most important corporate headquarters in Philadelphia — he needed to step up his game. Fortunately, he has. The kitchen delivers pristine cuts from Creekstone Farms and Gachot & Gachot, and a stellar shrimp cocktail and sides (though we are so over lobster macaroni and cheese). And if you think steaks and shrimp are hard to screw up, you obviously haven’t been to Del Frisco’s or Ocean Prime.

Chops
1701 JFK Boulevard
215-567-7111

Originally published in the December, 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine

Where We’re Eating: My Thai

My Thai at 22nd and South | Photo via UWISHUNU

My Thai at 22nd and South | Photo via UWISHUNU

revisit
A year ago, a typical night at My Thai might include a single occupied table — usually a Penn professor and friend — plus one or two people standing by the entrance waiting for their to-go orders, the door and vestibule still proudly displaying decade-old accolades from Zagat, AOL City-Search and Philadelphia magazine. It had the feel of a restaurant whose best days were behind it.

On a recent evening, though, the majority of the tables were filled. The Penn professor was still there, as were the customers standing by the door awaiting their orders. But there were also tables of neighbors sitting down to dinner. There was an energy in the dining room, and it was picked up by the kitchen. The Thai basil chicken was better than ever. The curry was punched up. Even the Singha beer tasted fresher. The always-polite Thai waiter was joined by an equally polite sidekick. When he noticed I’d devoured everything on the plate but the broccoli, he suggested that next time, I substitute a vegetable I like better. I will, and that next time will be coming up soon.

Details »

Abe Fisher Gets Three Bells

abe-fisher-banquette-940

Photo via Abe Fisher

Craig LaBan is back on Sansom Street, just weeks after giving Dizengoff three bells, to test out Michael Solomonov’s Ashkenazic restaurant, Abe Fisher. LaBan is a fan of just about everything, from the pastrami smoked short rib to the bacon tinged take on the egg cream.

But Abe proved its worth in many ways. The uniquely creative menu is bolstered by outgoing, informed service. The excellent drink program was thoughtfully conceived, from well-crafted theme cocktails (the beet-stained and rummy Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition) to its $12 Cruvinet pours of intriguing food-friendly wines, from grenache blanc to bobal and negrette. This is easily one of the year’s most distinctive, well-rounded, and ambitious openings.

Three Bells – Excellent

Read Trey Popp’s review of Abe Fisher and Dizengoff from December’s Philadelphia magazine.

Abe Fisher [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Abe Fisher [Foobooz]

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]

Laban Gives One Bell To The Gaslight For Its “Flicker Of Hope”

Gaslight07

Ouch.

Over the weekend, Craig Laban finally dropped the hammer on Jason Cichonski’s Old City tavern, The Gaslight, giving serious consideration to handing out zero bells, but finally offering the arguable mercy of a single bell in recognition of the fact that Cichonski apparently already knows how badly his restaurant sucks.

But chef-owner Jason Cichonski is the one here with the jittery hand. The poor fellow’s nerves have gotten the best of him as we speak on the phone, and his voice oozes the dread of self-recognition – without any prompting on my part – that things have not gone as hoped with his second restaurant, even nine months after opening: “I’m going to have to take this one on the chin.”

1 Bell – Hit Or Miss

The Gaslight: A flicker of hope for this Old City pub with the cool chef {Philadelphia Inquirer]
Sex Panther! Gaslight Review [Philadelphia magazine]
All of Craig Laban’s Zero Bell reviews, 1998-2013 [f8b8z]

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

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