That guy over there look familiar? If you’re the drinking sort, he likely does.
That’s Keith Raimondi, who has spent years slinging drinks at some of the best bars in the city. He was the GM at Lemon Hill, worked for years with Team Garces, putting in time at Tinto, Chifa, Distrito, Amada and Village Whiskey, and did the cocktails for Jose’s most recent book, The Latin Road Home.
Well, now he’s got a new gig which will put him behind the stick at Townsend Wentz’s eponymous new East Passyunk project, Townsend–the one opening in the (hopefully totally uncursed) space that formerly (and briefly) held Sophia’s. Raimondi will be head bartender (which is kind of a step back, but one he insists he’s looking forward to), sharing all booze-ly duties with GM and sommelier Lauren Harris.
How Sophia’s looked back when we all had high hopes
The Passyunk Post is reporting that the brown paper has gone up on the windows at the former Sophia’s on East Passyunk–a sign that work has started on the new restaurant being opened there by Townsend Wentz.
All we really know right now is that Wentz (ex of Lacroix and McCrossen’s Tavern, most recently) is going in with a modern French concept, heavy on the wine, and that the front bar is being redone. They’ve got a few more details over at the Post (plus a picture of the papered-over windows), so check it out if you’re hungry for some grist for the rumor mill.
Work Has Started On Replacement For Sophia’s [Passyunk Post]
So you guys remember the disaster that was Sophia’s on East Passyunk, right? What was supposed to be chef Christopher Lee‘s triumphant return to Philadelphia was crippled early by a completely ridiculous (and scattershot, and confusing, and ill-planned) concept, and then, later, by a total lack of focus (and a lack of a chef) in the kitchen. It was one of those openings that was seemingly doomed from the minute the first plate hit the first table, and, unsurprisingly, closed not long after.
But one of the big questions on and around East Passyunk has been who was going to take on the space. I mean, it’s a restaurant space. On East Passyunk. There was no way it was going to stay dark forever.
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There was a great deal of anticipation when it was announced that chef Christopher Lee was returning to Philadelphia with Sophia’s on Passyunk Avenue. But muddled names (Christopher Lee at 1623, Sophia, Sophia’s) and a confusing menu did not bode well for the restaurant. And now Michael Klein is reporting that Sophia’s has not returned from summer vacation.
Chris Lee’s Long Island restaurant, Huntington Social went under earlier this summer.
What’s up with Sophia’s [The Insider]
You know it’s a bad sign when a restaurant’s worst item offers its best food for thought.
Such was the case for the “cheesesteak soup dumplings” at Sophia’s when I reviewed it last month: a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad dish that articulated a vision of Philadelphia cuisine so beholden to kitsch that it made me feel embarrassed for the city itself. It wasn’t just that the dumplings were soggy on the bottom and heat-hardened on the top, or that their parmesan crust made them more like sad nachos than a sandwich, or that the whole sorry show was staged on an escargot plate. It was more the idea that the cheesesteak itself remains the lodestone of Philadelphia’s food culture, and that we, as Philadelphians, can still be counted on to lap up any homage to it, no matter how forced or half-witted, as though the entire last decade of culinary development never happened. As though everything from Paesano’s to Vedge, Taquitos de Pueblo’s Headhouse Market truck to Little Baby Ice Cream, Stateside to Bluecoat gin just never saw the light of day in this city.
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Trey Popp reviews Sophia’s, the East Passyunk restaurant of Philadelphia’s prodigal son, Christopher Lee. What he finds is that Lee is only kind of involved.
My dinners—all of them—were incoherent and error-prone. Dishes clashed rather than complementing one another. Most of the “fun”-sounding ones were flat and boring. Carelessness afflicted too many others. Brussels sprouts were overcooked (really half-carbonized). Ice creams came in pools of their own melt. There’s a lovely apple coffee cake from Fond’s Jessie Prawlucki—but one night it turned up fridge-cold, in a kiln-hot bowl, after an inexplicably long wait.
Sophia’s spent its first month tinkering with a menu the restaurant abruptly discarded. It’s hard to imagine this second take will last much longer. And who knows? A third stab could be the charm. But for Christopher Lee to resurrect the hopes some people had for his return to Philadelphia, he’ll need to do something to reverse the impression that he’s really just phoning it in.
One Star – Fair
Philadelphia Restaurant Review: Phoning It In at Sophia’s [Philadelphia magazine]
Sophia’s [Official Site]
In a city where some people track the comings and goings of chefs as obsessively as others do center fielders, nothing stirs more hope than the prospect of reeling in The One That Got Away. For Philadelphia, Christopher Lee must be at the top of that list. The alumnus of New York’s Oceana, Jean Georges and Daniel really made his name at Striped Bass, on Walnut Street, where in the mid-2000s he won a James Beard Rising Chef award and just about every other accolade you can think of. Then, after a couple years, he went back to Manhattan. So news of his return was the foodie talk of the winter. It looked like East Passyunk Avenue, which just keeps getting better, would soon get better still.
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Okay, so I really have no idea what to make of this.
I got the press release about the new concept at Sophia’s (Christopher Lee‘s bid for new relevance on East Passyunk) about two hours ago and have been staring at it ever since, trying to figure out just what in the hell it is trying to say. It uses a lot of words and phrases that are completely contradictory. It presents a vision for the restaurant that makes it seem like a place I would NEVER want to go to. And the menu itself is just dull and backward and weird in more ways than I can count.
So rather than trying to parse the whole thing and hack my way through all the PR-speak, I’m just posting the thing, in its entirety, below. There’ll be a few specific comments after, but if you don’t care about weird, insider-y restaurant PR bullshit then you can totally skip it and just know that Sophia’s on East Passyunk is now going to be some kind of strange small plate/anti-small-plate/family-style/neighborhood/destination restaurant mutant serving cheesesteak soup dumplings and paella.
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Noir is celebrating chef Marco DeCotiis‘ roots with the O’Canada, a Molson Canadian with a shot of Canadian Club for $5. The special is available during happy hour ( Tuesdays through Sundays) along with half-priced appetizers and other nightly specials.
And Christopher Lee at 1623 (or is it officially Sophia’s now) happy hour is being offered Tuesday through Friday from 5 to 7 p.m. Get $6 appetizers, $3 beers, $5 wines and $6 cocktails at Christopher Lee’s new joint.
Noir [Official Site]
Sophia’s [Official Site]
Our new friends at Philly-ism gave Chris Lee’s Sophia’s pop-up a go, and they seemed to fall in love. Right now, the space is aptly named Christopher Lee at 1623, and like Grub Street mentioned a while back, they’ll close again in February for some reconstruction and reopen again as Sophia’s when all is said and done.
But for right now, it’s Christopher Lee at 1623, and he’s apparently put together quite the tasting menu.
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