Where We’re Eating: The Fat Ham

The Fat Ham | Country fried chicken lobster

Country fried chicken lobster | Photo by Vanessa Beahn

Despite the insane amount of development in UCity in the past decade, the area’s dining scene has lagged behind. There are plenty of just-decent restaurants and some notable ethnic choices, but not many spots for a truly memorable meal. Kevin Sbraga’s second restaurant, though, is a big step in the right direction. It’s also a welcome Southern dining addition to a city that, inexplicably, still has few. On your first visit to the Fat Ham, go for anything fried, with the hot chicken (a Nashville staple) and fried oyster sliders on the must-have list. After that, you’re on your own, but there are very few wrong paths to choose here. My party of four tried something like 18 dishes, and there was only one we didn’t like. But then, why the heck did we order hummus at a Southern restaurant in the first place?

The Fat Ham [Foobooz]

First appeared in the March, 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine.

Where We’re Eating: Chris’ Jazz Cafe

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I don’t look for much in a jazz cafe—a stiff drink, a solid menu and, hopefully, good music. But at Chris’ Jazz Cafe, when I had to clarify that my Negroni needn’t have salt on the rim—and when it arrived watery, with a few bobbing ice cubes and no garnish—I realized this place was, still, only about the music. New chef Laurent Leseur’s menu ranges from Asian spring rolls to escargot and frog legs to pasta primavera to jambalaya to a four-course chef’s tasting that I, unfortunately, took a chance on. A dry field greens salad was a bed for chewy confit chicken gizzards, topped with a knob of foie butter that made no sense. My “boneless” frog legs came bone-in, with nothing resembling the promised potato-stuffed choux pastry. The duck parmentier’s salt seared my tongue; the dish was crowned by mashed potatoes browned and piped in the 1970s. This city is crying for a good jazz cafe, but with its dated food, nonsensical menu and I-can’t-believe-there-are-still-teal-tablecloths, Chris’ just ain’t it.

Chris’ Jazz Cafe [Foobooz]

First appeared in the March, 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine.

Where We’re Eating: Stateside

stateside-header-medI somehow managed to not eat at Stateside until this year—totally missing its (admittedly brief) reign as the restaurant this magazine once called the best in Philly. Unfortunately, those glory days under chef George Sabatino are long gone. He left a year ago this month, and Stateside is now just another dimly lit bar with a big whiskey list and slow service. If you go, the poussin with burnt-honey-glazed cornbread and the octopus with chickpeas and fennel are worthy dishes. But with Noord, Fond, Laurel and Will just down the street? Maybe wait for Sabatino to get his next restaurant, Aldine, up and running in Rittenhouse.

Stateside [Foobooz]

First appeared in the March, 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine.

Where We’re Eating: The Bar at Avance

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Once upon a time, Le Bar Lyonnais was a sexy hideaway beneath Le Bec-Fin. But that time has passed. Le Bec-Fin has given way to Avance. And beneath Avance is its bar—still clandestine, still sexy, but now modern rather than hung with blue velvet drapes and mirrors. The space shares the same theme as the dining room upstairs—black-walnut-topped bar and high tables—but downstairs, the gray walls and low ceilings combine for a darker, more intimate space, ideal for pre-dinner drinks or a late-night rendezvous. The drinks are creative and playfully named; “A Roll of Quarters in a Clutch Purse” and “See You Around the Bend” are among the most clever. Besides the signature cocktails, drinkers can peruse the long menu of liquors, wines and beers. Diners can order from the regular Avance à la carte menu or try one of the bar-only dishes, including the lamb burger—a two-handed sandwich featuring Border Springs Farm lamb topped with red onion marmalade and feta cheese. Ordered at medium-rare, this juicy burger teases at just what chef Justin Bogle has in store upstairs. 

Avance [Foobooz]

First appeared in the March, 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine.

Tale of the Tape: SPOT Gourmet Burgers, Steaks, & Pork

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As we continue the Year of the Cheesesteak, we’ll be taking a look at cheesesteak spots that are new, been flying under the radar or been suggested to us. Today, we visit the SPOT Burgers truck at The Porch at 30th Street Station. Yes, SPOT Burgers has gotten plenty of rightful ink for their hamburgers but you cannot sleep on owner Josh Kim’s cheesesteaks.

The Tale of the Tape » 

French Classics Prepared by a French Master

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According to Craig LaBan, Pierre Calmels is hitting on all cylinders at his new Le Cheri. LaBan’s list of favorites appears to be most of the menu.

I can’t remember a better steak tartare than Le Chéri’s finely diced filet, edgy with Dijon and glossed with raw yolk, mounded atop the crispy potato lattice of fresh gaufrette chips. The onion soup is deeply sweet from onions caramelized for hours, but balanced with wine and stock, then sealed beneath the nutty tang of molten Comte. Familiar steak-frites gets an upgrade with earthy bavette (flat sirloin) and shallots soaked in Marchand de Vin gravy. The potatoes “Darphin,” crispy rails of shredded spuds in clarified butter, are the hash-brown sticks of my dreams. The choucroute is a classic crock of kraut beer-stewed to brown with bacon, foie gras fat, and house-made duck-pork sausage, then topped with a crispy blade of braised pork belly and mildly salted but flavorful duck confit.

Three Bells – Excellent

Calmelses’ Le Cheri: Back to Bistro [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Le Cheri [Foobooz]

Having a Ball at Le Chéri

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According to Trey Popp, the Art Alliance may have finally found its restaurant in Pierre and Charlotte Calmels’ Le Cheri. Popp bestows three stars on the French bistro, despite being served testicles under the guise of “pistachio fries.”

Calmels cuts his boudin noir—another “Bizarre” selection—with extra flour, pushing the sometimes-crumbly texture of that blood sausage into the realm of dense chocolate cake. Best I’ve ever had.

And if there’s ravioli on the menu, get it—even if it sounds boring, like the delicate cream cheese ones whose tangy fillings turned out to be infused with truffle peelings one night.

Three Stars – Excellent

Restaurant Review: Le Cheri [Philadelphia Magazine]
Le Cheri [Foobooz]

Living in Left Field: High Street on Market Reviewed

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Eli Kulp at High Street on Market | Photo by Jason Varney

Trey Popp thoroughly enjoys High Street on Market, Eli Kulp’s follow-up to Fork.

Kulp likes to say that if Fork is “one step left of the mainstream,” High Street is meant to be another step or two to the left of that. Even some of the simplest things on offer here push the envelope on farm-to-table fare—which, let’s face it, has been sorely in need of a little pushing for a while now.

One of my favorites was a bowl of flash-fried broccoli florets battered with such a thin coating of rice flour that the resulting shell was barely visible, then tossed with a “chowchow” subjected to a lacto-fermentation that bent the tangy relish halfway toward spicy kimchi. Think tempura toned down from flavor-dominating crunch to tongue-tickling crackle, with a condiment kicked up from one-note quick-pickle to a full chord of funk.

Three Stars – Excellent

Restaurant Review: High Street on Market [Philadelphia Magazine]
High Street on Market [Foobooz]

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