Three Bells for Mainland Inn

Courtesy the Mainland Inn

Courtesy the Mainland Inn

Craig LaBan finds a much needed wake up to the farm-to-table trope at chef Ezra Duker’s Mainland Inn in Harleysville. La Ban finds lots to praise in Duker’s use of Quarry Hill Farm, the farm two miles away that is owned by Sloane Six, who also owns Mainland.

The extraordinary lamb dish, meanwhile, was a snapshot of two farmyard generations on one plate. A roulade made from a yearling, its braised neck meat shaped into a disk glazed coal-black with olive puree, anchored one end, while the long bones of two amazingly tender chops from a milk-fed baby arced over a spring montage of new onions, favas, and a salsa verde piquant with sorrel and boquerones.

Three Bells – Excellent

Mainland Inn: Direct from the farm, with flair and flavor [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Mainland Inn [Foobooz]

Bells Ring for Will BYOB


Craig LaBan has been promoting and demoting restaurants almost weekly in his online chats and Thursday food columns. Today, the Inquirer critic sings the praise of Will BYOB. He promotes Chris Kearse’s BYOB to three bells, stating:

[E]very intricate touch amplified the central themes, rather than distracting. Foie gras mousse enriched a bar of rabbit rillettes accented by wine-poached figs. Citrus-caramelized Belgian endive and licorice called out Sichuan spice on the duck. An entire hen of the woods, meanwhile, was cooked to two striking textures – buttery-crisp across a pan-roasted face of flattened fronds scented with sumac and rose hips, lusciously fleshy and moist at its heart, beneath which a Madeira caramel and smoked ricotta smear amplified its earthy savor.

Read more »

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.

Read more »

Three Bells for Eli Collins and Pub & Kitchen

Photo via Pub & Kitchen

Photo via Pub & Kitchen

Craig LaBan revisits Pub & Kitchen at 20th and Lombard and finds that the corner hot spot has gone from gastropub to restaurant with a bar. And a mighty fine restaurant at that.

A perfectly seared fillet of fluke came over a sweet dice of yellow rutabaga with lentils and whole-grain-mustard crème fraîche. Tiny, tender calamari were stuffed like sausages with spicy house-made chorizo over a milky almond-anchovy puree with grilled celery stalks that had been tanged with lemon. Giant head-on prawns, brushed with a tangy spring barbecue glaze of rhubarb and aji amarillo chiles, paired with toasted farro and a vivid green puree that also snapped with whole fresh sweet peas.

Three Bells – Excellent

A second look at Pub & Kitchen [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Pub & Kitchen

La Calaca Feliz Lands Three Bells

Craig LaBan declares that chef Tim Spinner is owning it, making a statement of his own when it comes to his Mexican food at La Calaca Feliz.

Spinner’s latest inspirations, though, mostly caught my eye with striking, and often unexpected, pairings. Huge Barnegat Bay scallops, seared with one side clinging to a crispy round of salty queso, had the perfect sweetness to echo the spring delicacy of white asparagus soup that had been pureed into ivory silk. Cubes of melon, meanwhile, compressed and infused inside a vacuum bag with La Calaca’s Garcia margarita (with Espalon reposado), had a distinctive firmness and fiesta flavor that further heightened the already fruity character of pristine diced raw tuna, a creamy green scoop of avocado sorbet melting richness into the mix.

Three Bells – Excellent

La Calaca Feliz Reviewed [Philadelphia Inquirer]
La Calaca Feliz [Official Site]

Photo by Courtney Apple

Three Bell Review for Vegan Vedge

Craig LaBan reviews Vedge and puts us all on notice, chef Rich Landau’s vegan cooking will be garnering national attention as he is one of the best chefs in Philadelphia, meat or no meat.

A heat-crisped cluster of feathery maitake looks like a pouf of mushroom haute couture bursting off a creamy pedestal of mashed truffled turnips ringed by electric-green kale jus. Tender sheets of roasted eggplant are rolled braciole-style around a pureed stuffing of smoked eggplant, cauliflower, and jasmine rice. The delicate snap of honshimeji mushrooms starred in a hearty chowder of saffron-and-fennel broth that had a whiff of the sea from a dusting of Old Bay.

Three Bells – Excellent

Vegan cooking to please the omnivorous [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Vedge [Official Site]

Craig LaBan Adds More Favorites

As if Craig LaBan’s Four Bell mania wasn’t enough, today he highlights a number of his favorite restaurants in different categories.

  • New American (Full Service)
  • New American (BYOBs)
  • Distinctive Italian
  • Updated International
  • Gastropubs
  • Great Restaurants Deserving More Buzz
LaBan also uses the revisits to bestow a third bell on both Pumpkin and Fond. And a special shout out to the Feury brothers who both appear in the list, Terence for Fork and Patrick for Nectar.
Craig LaBan’s other favorites [Philadelphia Inquirer]