Great Expectations: Co-Op Reviewed

Here’s the thing that bothers me most about Co-Op, the restaurant inside the new Study hotel in University City. When I sit here and try to remember what the place looked like, I can’t. I can recall grayness and brownness, an open, airy, sunlit space with the same raw wood and metal that exist in almost every other restaurant in town of a certain era — signifiers of modernity, so ubiquitous now in their application as to be invisible—and, somewhere, a large painting of a rooster.

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Of Ramps and Riblets: Mistral Reviewed

Photo by Michael Persico

The only thing worse than a hotel restaurant is a mall restaurant. And the only thing worse than a mall restaurant is no restaurant at all. That’s just wisdom — a thing that’s been as true as anything for as long as it’s mattered.

But we’re in a different world now. Hotels in Philly have restaurants that are actually worth going out of your way for. Not all of them, certainly, but some. And the mall?

Well, the King of Prussia mall has been investing big in its restaurants. Philly-based Hai Street is in there rolling sushi burritos, there are two Shake Shack locations (one inside, one freestanding), plus several other reasonable fast-casual options. There are still terrible restaurants and boring restaurants and restaurants that exist only to serve deep-fried food in table-breaking volume. But in the strangest possible move, the KOP mall also snagged the second location for New Jersey’s lauded farm-to-table restaurant Mistral, which is where I’m sitting on a Saturday night, eating riblets and loving them nearly as much as I’ve loved anything in as long as I can remember.

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Deep Fried and Overstuffed: Puyero Reviewed

When you’re staring down the barrel of a pabellón arepa stuffed full of braised beef, black beans, and plantains like caramel, nothing else matters. You’re zoned in like you’re defusing a bomb because, from the looks of it, it’s all about to burst—the seams of the cornmeal bun holding it together, yes, but barely. And that’s how it should be. That’s how arepas often come: comically overstuffed.

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The New Gold Standard: Goldie Reviewed

Photo by Michael Persico

At Goldie, Cook and Solo’s new project on Sansom Street that’s situated above their charitable deli, Rooster Soup Co., the kitchen is an assembly line, turning out falafel, french fries, tehina milkshakes and … that’s it.

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On Island Time: Poi Dog Reviewed

Until recently, Philly had only one real option when it came to Hawaiian food: the Poi Dog truck run by partners Kiki Aranita and Chris Vacca. But now there’s also … well, now there’s the Poi Dog brick-and-mortar location, also opened by Aranita and Vacca.

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Do You Believe in Magic? Palizzi Social Club Reviewed

PALIZZI SOCIAL CLUB_DETAIL_0702 FINAL Credit Jason Varney

Photo courtesy Jason Varney

You know it’s open when the neon is on, glowing gently in the window of a rowhouse on 12th Street just off Passyunk Avenue. You know you’re in the right place when you see the door with no knob, the buzzer, the little window with the eyes behind it, and hear the voice asking if you’re a member.

This is the Filippo Palizzi Club, chef Joey Baldino’s experiment in a very intimate, very social, very (sorta) private kind of dining.

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What We Need Right Now: Veda Reviewed

Veda1

It started with the naan. With that crisp bite and barely risen chew, its weirdly rustic Rorschach shapes and delicate, lacy swirls of golden-brown clarified butter. The naan— that’s what won me over.

Admittedly, I already liked Veda a lot. From the minute I sat down, the minute I smelled it. But that naan? That’s what cemented it. So simple, so utilitarian and so right. I want it every day.

But caring so much about naan is pointless, I know. Naan is everywhere in Indian food. There isn’t an Indian restaurant anywhere that doesn’t offer one or two or 12 varieties, sometimes good, sometimes not. To go bonkers over naan is like going bonkers over the hamburger buns at McDonald’s.

And yet still.

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Next Big Thing: Res Ipsa Reviewed

Photo by Will Figg

Photo by Will Figg

“So, how was dinner?”

I get this a lot. Obviously. Life that I live, things that I do, people I know, it’s the most common question I hear. Or second most, maybe, behind You want another drink? or What’s that stain on your shirt?

“So, how was dinner?” From friends, colleagues, editors, 10,000 servers, my mom. Always the same. And seeing as how it’s my actual job to answer precisely that question all the time, you’d think it would be easy. That I’d always have a fast and ready answer.

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Aiming For The Middle: Cinder Reviewed

Cinder1

I go to Cinder on a gray afternoon, looking for comfort and distraction, and find it at the bar—two giant TVs showing football on one side, talking heads silently shouting about sports on the other. It’s quiet because I’m there between services—too late for lunch and too early for a meal to reasonably be called dinner—but I’m not alone. A two-top in the corner is occupied, as are a couple tables on the floor. At the bar, some beer nerds are taking advantage of owner Teddy Sourias’s unapologetic ode to the newest retro-fad among drinkers: cider. Sourias already has BRU, which focuses on beer and sausages, U-Bahn (his Berlin-subway-theme bar) and Uptown Beer Garden (which, obviously, is a sushi bar). In other words, he’s got beer covered and has always put together good lists of interesting brews, generally braced by the things people like to eat while drinking.

Cinder falls solidly inside that bull’s-eye. Everything about it, from the highly polished bar and hi-top tables to the orange glow coming from the mouth of the big oven in the open kitchen, speaks to this moment in Philadelphia’s edible history. It’s an efficient and highly designed concept restaurant masquerading as a neighborhood bar and aiming for that sweet spot of two-notches-better-than-you-expect—the benchmark level of acceptable quality in Philly these days.

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Have You Eaten Here Yet?

In the basement of Double Knot | Photo via Double Knot

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.

And the most obvious place to start is…

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