In the basement of Double Knot | Photo via Double Knot
Summer is a tough time in the restaurant industry. Things get quiet and weird when the mercury climbs. People eat later. They leave town. They abandon their regular haunts for beer gardens, beach bars and rooftop decks. Autumn is solid. Winter is dependable–there’s the run-up to the holidays, and then the post-New-Year slump. Even spring has its own kind of rhythm, with reservations and walk-ins increasing in direct relation to the calendar ticking forward through March and April and May.
But summer? Summer is fickle. Summer is flighty. Summer is something that most restaurants just survive.
The good news? The season is almost over. We’re rolling inexorably toward September now, toward Labor Day and back-to-school. But before we slide into fall and all of fall’s new openings, this seems like a good time to look back over the past six (or seven) month’s worth of reviews and see where we stand. To measure what we’ve gained, what we’ve lost and where you should still get to (or get back to) before all the new kids on the block get up and running for the season.
Stray thoughts, random musings and extraneous details from this week’s review of Michael Schulson‘s new izakaya/cafe, Double Knot.
“This is one of the best restaurants in Philadelphia!”
That came from the comments on yesterday’s review, and the guy who wrote it is absolutely right. It is one of the best restaurants in Philadelphia. It’s one of the most ambitious, the most daring, the most exciting in a long time. So why didn’t it score 4 stars?
We have a wall at the office entirely given over to a Post-It Note snapshot of everything happening in the Philly restaurant world at this given moment. Hundreds of yellow squares, on which are written the names of restaurants, initials, arrows and mysterious heiroglyphs that only Art and I (and mostly I) can understand.
The Post-Its move. Get grouped, get broken up. The restaurants we love and the restaurants we hate are all represented (in wildly unequal numbers). Restaurants that are coming–addresses chosen, opening dates optimistically scheduled–have their own space, as do established and open restaurants whose reviews are in the works. Lately, that particular section of wall has been growing crowded. There are just so many goddamn restaurants coming (it’s spring, that happens) that it feels overwhelming.
So with six months of (mostly) weekly reviews behind me, and dozens of new openings incoming, I figured this might be a good time to look back and highlight the best moments of the past six months–places that you might’ve missed, places that you really ought to get to (if you haven’t already) before the lure of new-new restaurants becomes too overpowering.
On Thursday, a live recording of Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! was held at the Mann Center. Hosted by humorist, Peter Sagal, the podcast game show is a hilarious review of the past week’s current events. I braved the stormy weather for what turned out to be a highly educational experience. In addition to catching up on on my current events I also learned some fun facts about elusiveFresh Air host Terry Gross.
On Saturday night America’s fiancé–and Penn alum—John Legend, arrived at the Mann Center with a singular mission: to get Philadelphia laid. The silken-voiced R&B crooner played a tight 100-minute set attended by cool, late summer breezes that whispered sweet nothings into our ears.
Legend is touring on the strength of his three current love songs, “All of Me,” “Made to Love,” and “You and I,” all written for his model wife of eight months, Chrissy Teigen. He is as wholesome as an artist who is constantly singing about intercourse can get. In this respect, and so many others, Legend is the anti-Robin Thicke. The latter blew into summer 2013 with the monster hit “Blurred Lines,” and then spent the ensuing months on an extended musical bachelor party. And not a nice bachelor party, either. Like, a bachelor party with two groomsmen who have probably committed a misdemeanor held at a strip club where mobsters make deals in the movies. Meanwhile, with the success of this year’s singles, Legend continues his 10-year streak of cranking out mid-tempo jams and ballads in an effort to corner the market on making everyone pregnant.
I was talking with Philly mag restaurant critic Trey Popp the other day, and we were discussing (as we so often do) the state of the restaurant scene in Philly. More specifically, how weirdly awesome this past year has been for restaurants in general, but for restaurants in Philly in particular. It’d gotten so that he was actually concerned with the numbers of 3 star reviews he’d been handing down lately–not because any of the restaurants on which he’d bestowed the stars were undeserving, but because he was worried that, after a while, a whole lot of 3 star reviews in a row just become noise.
Any human person who can claim to write an objective review of the Phish is lying to himself, his editor and all readers. It is impossible to separate the concert-going experience in all its sweat and smells from the pure musicianship of the band themselves, now in their 30th year playing together.
To the uninitiated, the tie-dyed horde of “phans” that descended on The Mann Center for Performing Arts on Tuesday, July 8th may be indistinguishable from the crowds that used to dog the Grateful Dead, America’s original jam band. Though also characterized by an obsessive following of smelly zealots and songs that leap from composed, complicated arrangements into simultaneous free-form improvisation by all four members, Phish’s similarity to the Dead begins and ends right about there.
In 1967, Joan Rivers performed on The Ed Sullivan Show. Her act, although amazingly mild to today’s standards, was groundbreaking for a female comic in the ’60s: Women just didn’t talk about this sort of stuff:
Fast-forward to 2014: Joan Rivers is 81 years old and she keeps talking about things that most people wouldn’t dare think, never mind say. She hosts Fashion Policeweekly on E! and has her own reality show, Joan and Melissa: Joan Knows Best? on WEtv. She has her own line of clothing and jewelry on QVC. She’s won Emmys and has been nominated for Tonys. In other words, girlfriend has put in her damn time. She’s literally the reason why Margaret Cho, Kathy Griffin, and a host of other gay-loved comediennes, have careers. Read more »
Not all the wine comes in kegs
Much as there is to recommend kegged wine, sommelier Lauren Harris does right by bottles, too. Her trim list at Townsend offers some attractively priced, offbeat picks that complement Wentz’s cooking beautifully. Especially worth trying is Eric Texier’s “Rouletabulle,” a Chasselas varietal sparkler that makes a scintillating feint toward sweetness on its way to a bone-dry, mineral finish. And if you doubt the value of kegged wines in general, do yourself a summer favor and beat the heat with glass of the Gotham Project’s Finger Lakes Reisling being poured at Townsend (a wine which Tria Taproom is pouring at the moment as well; Pizzeria Vetri also often has a Gotham Project wine on offer).
On a rude March evening, with snow clinging stubbornly to the curb edges on South Eighth Street, the smallest dining room in town glowed like a sodium-vapor streetlamp in some nostalgic novel. Inside it was warm and yellow, and heavy coats hung on almost every chair. Forks clinked, voices rose and fell. A waiter shimmied past the two-seat bar, wended his roundabout way across the crowded room, and presented a table in the corner with two lowball glasses holding plain ice cubes—and a thought sprung involuntarily to my mind: Just like all Americans in Paris.
The Paris of South Philadelphia, I guess you’d have to say. But Bibou, Pierre and Charlotte Calmels’ BYOB has always felt like a bona fide French colony to the loyalists who bring their best Burgundies to drink with dinner here.