By The Numbers: A Fantastic Year For Philly Restaurants

Never did this finely wrought food feel fussy.  | Photo by Jason Varney

Photo by Jason Varney

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.

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PHOTOS: Phish at the Mann Center, Night 1

Photo by Scott Harris.

Photo by Scott Harris.

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.

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Joan Rivers Can Say Whatever the @$%* She Wants!

Joan Rivers

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 Police weekly 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 »

Leftovers: Stray Thoughts From My Review Of Townsend

townsend wentz at cook

A few additional musings about my meals at Townsend

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).

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The Revisit: Bibou

10_Bibou_Mike Arrison

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.

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A Second Look At High Street On Market’s Brunch

high-street-on-market-prep-940

In my recent review of High Street on Market, I wrote that brunch there set my spouse on a “tirade” charging the restaurant with “Brooklynizing Philadelphia comfort food” via its “inhospitality to non-foodies” at that tender hour.

Later, Eater posted a summary of my review, remarking: “Oh, what we wouldn’t give to read a full companion review by Popp’s wife.”

Which made me laugh out loud, because I’d actually tried—fruitlessly—to get her to write one.

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REVIEW: Opera Philadelphia’s Ainadamar Underwhelms

opera philadelphia ainadmar

Photo by Fernando Daniel Fernandez.

Five actors shoot three characters at point-blank range on a stage. Then the executioners break into a choreographed flamenco number immediately after, firing their guns to the beat of the music.

You might think I’m describing some sort of variation on the “Springtime for Hitler” sequence in Mel Brook’s The Producers, where we are supposed to laugh at the absurdly developed (on purpose, mind you) theatrical production about the Nazi regime.

But you’d be wrong.

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Spencer’s Burgers Are All About the Toppings

Brian Freedman took a trip on over to Drexel‘s campus to check out Spencer ETA Burger, brought to campus by the team behind Sabrina’s (the brunch spot’s West Philly locale is in the same building). What he found there was “drunk-food par excellence” and patties with scene-stealing toppers that’ll make the biggest carnivore love Spencer’s veggie burgers.

The homemade toppings here take center stage, not just over the meatless burgers but over the beef as well. The meat is fine, mind you—plenty juicy and seasoned with a deft hand—but the toppings tend to be so generously applied, and occasionally so baroque in their constituent combination of components, they simply steal the proverbial show.

The Toppings Are What Stand Out At Spencer ETA Burger [Philadelphia Weekly]
Spencer ETA Burger [Official Site]

Photo by Felicia Perretti.

Erace Reviews Blue Belly BBQ

Over at Meal Ticket Adam Erace has taken a look at Blue Belly BBQ and likes (some of) what he sees. It seems Gene Giuffi’s meats and Blue Belly’s sandwich toppers are sending some mixed and muddled signals.

With no rules to curtail the over-embellishment of the sloppily built sandwiches, you wind up with lime-splashed jicama, crunchy radish, chile vinegar and crispy tortilla strips all clamoring to be heard atop that lamb barbacoa. The unfortunate result: None is heard, and some very fine protein suffers.

Smoke and Cheerers [City Paper]
Blue Belly BBQ [Official Site]

Photo by Neal Santos.

Observations from the Last Dinner Seating Ever at Georges Perrier’s Le Bec-Fin


Since I broke the news that Georges Perrier was selling Le Bec-Fin, I knew I had to eat there, having never had the pleasure. So on Saturday night at 9:30 p.m., I joined scores of other anxious diners at Philadelphia’s most storied restaurant for the final seating of the final service ever under the ownership of founding chef Georges Perrier. There was the blue-blooded Main Line crowd. There was plenty of representation from the food-and-beverage intelligentsia, from Kevin Sbraga to Shola Olunloyo to Hop Sing Lee. There was the New York Times. There was Champagne, gratis. There was a little cocaine (hey, people were longing for the 1970s glory days of Le Bec). And, of course, there was Georges Perrier and new Le Bec owner Nicolas Fanucci.

Some thoughts from the last evening at Le Bec-Fin

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