Photo by Jim Graham
Craig LaBan’s Year in Bells came out last weekend. The annual feature includes some revisits to restaurants reviewed earlier and the announcement of a Chef of the Year award.
The Saint James in Ardmore, which was skewered a year ago in its initial review has now been upgraded to a single bell (hit-or-miss). Citron & Rose, which lost its partnership with Michael Solomonov and his Zahav team maintained its two-bells, based on the strength of new chef, Karen Nicolas.
Tiffin Bistro and Red Owl Tavern rounded out the revisites. Each managed to hang on to their one bell ratings but frankly, each sounded lucky to have done so.
Chef Eli Kulp, who came to Fork and High Street on Market from New York’s Torrisi Italian Specialties was named Chef of the Year. LaBan said of Kulp’s cooking, “his knack for unexpected combos and rustic techniques (offbeat pastas, fermenting, charcuterie) produced grand presentations like his whole-duck feast – a multi-part poultry masterpiece that was among the best birds (and meatballs) I’ve ever eaten.”
Craig LaBan’s Year in Bells [Philadelphia Inquirer]
We have done a lot of these Foobooz Open Stove Nights. Almost twenty of them now, by my count.
And we’ve had good nights and bad nights. Nights where we messed with the chefs a lot, and nights where we more or less left them alone to do their own thing. We have taken away tools and ingredients, made them cook with gefilte fish, SPAM and gummy bears. We haven’t made anyone cry yet, but we’ve come close.
Never before though have we had an Open Stove Night like last night’s Open Stove Night at COOK. While we have, by necessity, developed a kind of what-happens-at-Open-Stove-stays-at-Open-Stove kind of mentality, I can say that we messed with our contestants last night in some truly remarkable ways. We made them switch sous chefs. Then we made them switch back. We f’ed with the clock, threatened them with a dance battle, made them cook with Kraft macaroni and cheese and a selection of truly awful junk food picked up from the fanciest 7-11 in all of Rittenhouse Square. We made them do shots. We made the crowd do shots. And in the end, despite all of that, Jonnathan Yacashin from Noord (who won the night by one of the closest margins we’ve ever seen), Mack Horebe from the Saint James and their sous chefs performed with amazing restraint and aplomb, cooking some of the finest dishes we’ve had at any Open Stove since the games began.
And yes, I am saying that Pringles-crusted steak, macaroni-and-cheese-stuffed squash blossoms and Swedish Fish demiglace are some of the finest dishes we’ve ever had. Don’t believe me? Get yourself a ticket to next month’s Open Stove and come see for yourselves.
Or, you know, you could just check out the pictures from last night after the jump and pretend like you were one of the lucky few who joined us for our Junk Food Rumble…
Show me the pictures
Good news for fans of former Tashan chef Sylva Senat. Michael Klein reports that talented chef has landed at the Saint James in Ardmore. We feared the chef might head back to New York City but hadn’t considered the connection between Senat and the Saint James’ Michael Schulson. Senat cooked for Schulson when the energetic Schulson was Buddakan New York’s executive chef.
No word yet on a new menu but we’ll be following carefully.
Chef Sylva Senat lands on the Main Line [The Insider]
Photo by Yoni Nimrod
The Saint James in Ardmore has been plagued by a number of poor reviews since it opened just a few months ago. Critics complained about weak service and even weaker food, to which owners Michael Schulson and Rob Wasserman responded by purging some of the opening staff (including chef Matt Moon) and reworking little things like Happy Hour menus.
But now the St. James has made a big menu change. A few weeks ago, they rolled out a new board which is much more limited than the opening menu, with the daily specials and flat breads sections cut entirely along with a number of smaller revisions. Having eaten there several times over the past few months, I saw a significant uptick in the quality of the food when I dropped by on a quiet Thursday night (less than a third of the tables were filled at 7 p.m.) after the recent change. There’s a solid raw bar, bowls of mussels, a pork belly sandwich and sides of English pea risotto and brussels sprouts with bacon. I enjoyed a simple cheeseburger that was not overdone and served on a soggy bun like the others that I had failed to enjoy on previous visits. And now, with this tighter, more focused menu, the St. James may even start producing food good enough to make folks forget about the terrible reviews handed down by both Craig LaBan and Foobooz’s Trey Popp and get some customers back through the doors.
You can check out the St. James’s new menu here.
Saint Or Sinner? [Trey Popp's Review]
St. James [Official]
Trey Popp reviews the Saint James in Ardmore. What was once the culinary hope of the Main Line gets savaged.
Gnocchi with braised brisket featured the meat in puzzlingly large hunks, too dry to shred apart. The “juice” of a flat-iron steak had all the umami of water squeezed from cardboard. There was a properly cooked salmon fillet (sauced, in December, with pesto), and I liked a crispy clam-and-bacon flatbread. But not enough to offset the watery mushroom soup.
No Stars – Poor
The Suburban Sins of Saint James [Philadelphia Magazine]
Saint James [Official Site]
The appetizer plates were 45 minutes gone from our table when the manager of the Saint James restaurant leaned over our banquette. His gray suit struck an odd note against the family-dinner feedlot vibe, but his timing was exquisite. Our entrées were still MIA, but our wineglasses were full. What better moment to simper an apology, then ask us if there was something we wanted?
Read more »
Craig LaBan smashes The Saint James in Ardmore with a stinging no-bell review. Plates were dropped with regularity,the meat was over-cooked and salads were under seasoned. Is the problem, the location?
Finding skilled restaurant workers in the burbs is “painful,” says Schulson, whose Saint James kitchen had an 85 percent turnover in the first three months. But the problem is as much economic as geographic, he concedes, with line-cook wages only barely above what some say they’d receive in unemployment compensation. The culinary passion that drives many young chefs through that rite of passage is especially scarce outside the city. But given that Moon told me “only the sous-chef and a dishwasher” remained in his kitchen since my final visit, just a week before our conversation, I’d suggest that a pay increase is in order. Or perhaps these owners just aren’t cut out for multiple restaurants.
No Bells – Poor
The Saint James [Philadelphia Inquirer]
The Saint James [Official Site]
Or boom-neighborhood, I guess. Or boom-region?
Over on the Insider, they’re reporting that yet another “Center City operation” is looking at branching out into the ‘burbs. Following in the footsteps of Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook (who opened Citron & Rose in Bala-Cynwyd last year) and Michael Schulson and Rob Wasserman (who brought The St. James to Ardmore), it looks like Nick Pashalis (of Estia and Pietro’s Coal-Oven Pizzeria) has his eye on a former Buca di Beppo on Lancaster Avenue in Wynnewood.
The project is a long way off (and will, eventually, become two projects, with the massive space being divided up between another Pietro’s and a casual version of Pashalis’s Estia), but what’s important here is that this now makes three large operators who’ve taken a look at the situation in Center City, then taken a look at the long-neglected scene out on the Main Line, and decided that maybe it was time to make the big jump. And the reason I find this mini-trend so interesting? Because it’s something we were talking about more than a year ago, when Philly mag’s Neighborhoods issue hit the stands.
Read more »
On Saturdays and Sundays beginning at 11 a.m., the Saint James will be serving up brunch. While its tempting to stay cozied up at home on weekends, you should probably roll out of bed because these new offerings will put your bowl of cereal to shame. The brunch features classic fare as well as flatbreads, sandwiches, soups and salads.
Standouts include a Challah French Toast with maple syrup and cinnamon apples and an Asparagus & Crab Egg White Omelet. Round out your meal with hearty sides like cheddar biscuits and Lancaster ham. And to wash down this new brunch fare? Try sipping one of their new brunch cocktails like the Grapefruit Sparkler with sparkling wine, grapefruit and Campari. Sounds like your weekends about to get that much more delicious. Don’t worry, it’s already Friday. Only 24 hours until you can test it for yourself.
The Saint James [Official Site]
Photo by David Joseph
Rouge‘s Rob Wasserman and Sampan‘s chef Michael Schulson are opening their spacious American bistro The Saint James tomorrow at Suburban Square in Ardmore.
Schulson has created the menu with Matt Moon who has previously worked with Schulson and will oversee the menu as executive chef. The menu will include everything from chicken noodle soup to a special lobster risotto on Mondays.
Check out our video walkthrough and the menu »