The Revisit: Serpico

Serpico photo courtesy the anagramatic Mike Persico

Serpico photo courtesy of the anagramatic Mike Persico

There’s only so much a clean bathroom can tell you about a restaurant, but every now and then they speak volumes.

To face the poster of Olivia Newton-John wearing her “Physical” gear in the Juniper Commons men’s room is to know, conclusively, that there’s no escaping the 1980s there. The inexplicably unflattering powder-room lighting at the late, unlamented Avance — which had inherited perfectly good illumination from Le Bec-Fin — encapsulated the misguided priorities that sank the place. Even the community chalkboards lining Crow & The Pitcher’s facilities testify to that restaurant’s yearning to be adopted by a neighborhood that’s never really rallied behind a tenant at that address. (And where else but Miami Beach could have a setup like this?) Read more »

One Bell for Fishtown’s Girard

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The burger at Girard was one of the things Craig LaBan did like.

Craig LaBan savages Girard, the BYO on Girard Avenue that made headlines before it even opened, with its no-tipping policy. LaBan found poor execution and something even more surprising, a line on the check for tips.

But too many dishes failed to connect good ideas to a plate of complete success. Oliveira’s signature omelet was textbook perfect, stuffed with avocado, creamy cheddar and bacon. But the side of charred grapefruit, grilled face down (letting the sugar fall off) instead of brûléed with a torch, was bitterly burnt. The lamb ragu had an intriguing daube-like inflection of olives and orange, but was literally braised to a mush that was poorly paired with doughy gnocchi. A torchon of foie gras, usually a luxuriously creamy disk of delicately poached liver, was an off-tasting smudge of tan butter on toast overwhelmed by a thicker smudge of fig jam for $13.

One Bell – Hit or Miss

Bold but confusing Girard Brasserie and Bruncherie in Fishtown [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Girard [Foobooz]

Two Bells for George Sabatino’s Aldine

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Photo by Emily Teel (who gets a great shoutout in the review)

There is more than one kind of two-bell review. The surprisingly good neighborhood joint, the disappointing debut of a big-name chef and in the case of George Sabatino’s Aldine, a two-bell review going in the right direction.

Craig LaBan’s review sees progress in several dishes over just a couple of months. And others are already there.

Dishes such as the lamb rillettes, its tender milk-braised meat shredded and formed into a crispy cake over silky Hubbard squash puree sparking with red chile heat, evoke both visual beauty and a deep satisfaction of soulful flavors. Sabatino’s clever crudo deconstruction of the ubiquitous sesame-crusted tuna – raw tuna sashimi brightened with blood orange, fennel crackers and sesame seeds – was like tasting Mediterranean sun.

Two Bells – Very Good

For George Sabatino, years of experiments paying off at Aldine [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Aldine
 [Foobooz]

Where We’re Eating: V Street, Tuk Tuk Real and Stock

Spicy Dan Dan Noodles from V Street | Photo by Chloe Berk

Spicy Dan Dan Noodles from V Street | Photo by Chloe Berk

V Street
126  S 18th Street
Rittenhouse Square
215-278-7943

Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby aren’t the first res- taurateurs to summon night- market memories with bare bulbs strung beneath a black ceiling. But the globetrotting vegans behind Vedge have uncorked an unusually pent- up desire for street snacks at this energetic offshoot of their stately mother ship.

But eat here and you can feel how long the pressure’s been building to yank every taco and noodle bowl into the meat-and-dairy-free realm. Read more »

Arde Osteria Gets One Bell

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Water buffalo mural at Arde Osteria in Wayne

It’s a high-stakes pizza game in Wayne on the Main Line. Craig LaBan notes ten spots within a few blocks in downtown Wayne that are serving up pizza. In LaBan’s review of Ardé Osteria & Pizzeria, he reveals that the Regina Margherita at neighboring Vecchia is one of the best now in the region. As for Ardé, things are a bit more dicey though the Inquirer critic sees potential.

My first visit to Ardé was odd in many respects, beginning with the fact that our pizzas were delivered unexpectedly as a late third-course between entrees and dessert. Either way, they were thoroughly scorched, the coveted leoparding of dark spots having swollen into a charry inner-tube of briquette-sized puffs crumbling black dust over every bite. The delicate harmony of tangy San Marzano tomatoes and sweet mozzarella was overwhelmed. A similarly burnt “mais” pie topped with incinerated corn had other issues, with half the crust refusing to rise and a noticeably salty afterburn.

One Bell – Hit-or-Miss

Craig LaBan visits Ardé Osteria & Pizzeria [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Arde Osteria [Foobooz]

Restaurant Review: Kensington Quarters

Kensington Quarters | Photo by Michael Persico

Kensington Quarters | Photo by Michael Persico

You walk by Bryan Mayer’s butcher case at Kensington Quarters, and you develop certain expectations about what awaits you in the dining room. These deepen as you pass the meat locker, a sauna-paneled light box punctuated by widescreen windows framing floodlit views of hanging hog carcasses. By the time you reach your seat (the chairs face butcherblock tabletops anchored to honest-to-God I-beams), there’s just no two ways about it: You’re in for meat haunches so stupendous, they apparently require structural-grade steel to hold them up. Read more »

Two Bells for Lo Spiedo

Murals by "Distort," the same artist who did the much more wild artwork at Alla Spina.

Craig LaBan reviews the Navy Yard’s Lo Spiedo. LaBan enjoys much of the menu but inconsistencies have him wondering if the South Broad Street restaurant can be the magnet that Marc Vetri’s Osteria is on North Broad.

The meats and seafood are obviously the main event, and each brimmed with a zest of the live-fire.

The spit-roasted octopus, in contrast to the roll, was magnificent undressed on the plate, its long, tender arms kissed with little more than olive oil, lemon and char. The spice-rubbed brisket was also superbly rendered, moist and infused with smoke. But I preferred it as a composed sandwich, chopped on toasted bread with slaw and horseradish, rather than as a lonely hunk in a pan, as it is offered in the entrée section.

Two Bells – Very Good

Lo Spiedo: Go for the wings, stay for the octopus arms [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Lo Spiedo [Foobooz]

Rubb: Good Old Fashioned Barbecue in Manayunk

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After much ado, Rubb, a beer, bourbon and barbecue joint in Manayunk finally opened. And now, Philadelphia Weekly’s Brian Freedman has visited the restaurant and is singing its praises.

 Rubb will win over plenty of fans as word gets out about this simply decorated yet inviting spot an easy drive from the city. The rub itself is a uniquely sweet one, yet not overwhelmingly so, and it’s plenty complex. When applied to the generous ribs and allowed to meld with the meat over the course of its stint in the smoker, an almost molasses-like texture develops on top, sticking to the teeth in layers with each bite and providing the slightest sense of crystalline crunch. Bumping up against the smoky-earthy meat, the result is a mouthful that’s rich in sweetness and savor in equal measure, and a seriously fine serving of ribs.

Rubb [Philadelphia Weekly]
Rubb [Official]

Three Bells for V Street

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The newest seats at V Street.

Craig LaBan visited V Street this weekend, three months after Vedge chefs Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby opened their Rittenhouse spot.

Vedge fans can get a more casual, globe-trotting taste of Rich Landau’s culinary magic at this affordable Rittenhouse Square ode to international street foods, which just happens to also be vegan. From Hungarian fritters to Latin-inspired carrot “asado,” borders melt away on these small plates, thanks to Landau’s inventive vision and uniquely wide-ranging command of bold ethnic flavors. The long and minimalist three-room space is an intimate and cozy haven to graze, watch chefs work the grill at the back kitchen counter, or sip an excellent cocktail at the airy front bar while 19th Street strolls by.

Three Bells – Excellent

V Street [Philadelphia Inquirer]
V Street [Foobooz]

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