Right Here, Right Now: Walnut Street Cafe Reviewed

Photo by Andrea Behrends

Walnut Street Café is supposed to be a Very Big Deal.

When it was first announced, people spoke about it like it mattered. Like it would mean something, one way or another. Everyone breathlessly speculated about how it would fit into the neighborhood, our scene. What it would bring with it (beyond, you know, food), and what would come in its wake. It was important because it was being opened in the FMC Tower, the shiny new skyscraper in University City with a shiny new AKA hotel, by a New York group wearing a freshly polished Michelin star for Rebelle — their modern French restaurant in Nolita. It was important because it was going to be beautiful. Because the team behind it was a four-headed beast: Branden McRill in front, Daniel Eddy in the back, a hip wine list by Patrick Cappiello, and pastries (more on that later) by Melissa Weller — all of whom would be shuttling back and forth between Manhattan and their new homes in Philly to keep an eye on their disparate operations.

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Fast Food: Barcelona Reviewed

Photo by Michael Persico

There’s a way to do Barcelona right, and there are a dozen ways to do it wrong. You don’t camp at a high top or table for hours but move in and out quickly — fingers sticky with balsamic vinegar, head buzzing with sherry. It’s not a place to plan the night around, but the place you go when all other plans go awry.

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Out Of The Clear Blue Sky: Maison 208 Reviewed

Photo by Will Figg

Upstairs, in the second-floor lounge at Maison 208, everything is a disaster. Beautiful, sure. With the retractable roof peeled open in a way that seems to defy possibility and the room’s pale colors and decorative birdcage chandeliers all arranged like something out of an unreleased Wes Anderson short, it looks lovely. The most Manhattan-as-designed-by-someone-who-has-only-ever-been-to-Los-Angeles space imaginable. The most sleekly modern in a city that wears modern like an ill-fitting pair of shoes.

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Obsession: Love & Honey Reviewed

Fried chicken is the star at Love and Honey (Photo: Facebook)

There’s something about fried chicken that speaks to the obsessive streak in certain people. Like barbecue, like soup dumplings, fried chicken is one of those things that dedicated eaters can spend a lifetime cataloging, going further and further afield, chasing after some sweet and mythical epitome like all their breath and future happiness depend on it.

And those who cook it? Particularly among those who do it for a living, fried chicken becomes not just a food—not just an edible object whose preparation requires a certain set of discrete steps—but a vocation. A passion on which they can spend an inordinate amount of time, sweat and treasure.

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A Room With A View: Dae Bak Reviewed

Photo by Michael Persico

On a steamy Wednesday afternoon, I eat steamed mandoo dumplings with metal chopsticks and pork soondubu with a raw egg bobbing in the center, poaching slowly in the chili-spiked tofu broth. On the big flat-screen hung at one end of the room, the Food Network is showing an old episode of Pioneer Woman. She makes some cheap-jack garlic bread mounded up with cheese while I pierce the yolk of my egg and watch it leak yellow into the stew, while a radio somewhere plays Fleetwood Mac and tables of locals mix with high-school kids filtering up from the stalls downstairs, looking for something more substantial than rolled ice cream and bao.

The dumplings are excellent—salty and squishy, packed with minced pork and vegetables. The soondubu is as filling and comforting as it should be, smooth and heavy on the tongue, the egg adding a richness that makes it taste like I’m drinking an old-school French sauce, only razored up with heat and the competing savory/sour flavors that define so much of East Asian cuisine.

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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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