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]

Three Bells for Palladino’s

The Kobe Ribeye at Palladino's | Photo via Palladino's

The Kobe Ribeye at Palladino’s | Photo via Palladino’s

Craig LaBan finds that Luke Palladino has managed to find an unfilled niche in Italian-loaded South Philadelphia. At Palladino’s, there are excellent steaks, focaccia di Recco that LaBan predicts will become one of the most sought after plates in the city, and other dishes that stand out.

Among my other favorites were a juicy duck sausage roasted with pickled grapes over goat-cheese-whipped polenta; the baked crepselle rolled around wild mushrooms enriched with Taleggio; a refined casino take on oysters (instead of clams) that roasted those mollusks to perfection. A house-extruded pasta was the secret al dente weapon that elevated the spaghetti alle vongole with tender cockles in flavorful broth to another level.

Three Bells – Excellent

Palladino’s in South Philly: Northern Italian with a chop-house twist [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Palladino’s [Foobooz]

Three Bells for V Street

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The newest seats at V Street.

Craig LaBan visited V Street this weekend, three months after Vedge chefs Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby opened their Rittenhouse spot.

Vedge fans can get a more casual, globe-trotting taste of Rich Landau’s culinary magic at this affordable Rittenhouse Square ode to international street foods, which just happens to also be vegan. From Hungarian fritters to Latin-inspired carrot “asado,” borders melt away on these small plates, thanks to Landau’s inventive vision and uniquely wide-ranging command of bold ethnic flavors. The long and minimalist three-room space is an intimate and cozy haven to graze, watch chefs work the grill at the back kitchen counter, or sip an excellent cocktail at the airy front bar while 19th Street strolls by.

Three Bells – Excellent

V Street [Philadelphia Inquirer]
V Street [Foobooz]

Abe Fisher Gets Three Bells

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Photo via Abe Fisher

Craig LaBan is back on Sansom Street, just weeks after giving Dizengoff three bells, to test out Michael Solomonov’s Ashkenazic restaurant, Abe Fisher. LaBan is a fan of just about everything, from the pastrami smoked short rib to the bacon tinged take on the egg cream.

But Abe proved its worth in many ways. The uniquely creative menu is bolstered by outgoing, informed service. The excellent drink program was thoughtfully conceived, from well-crafted theme cocktails (the beet-stained and rummy Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition) to its $12 Cruvinet pours of intriguing food-friendly wines, from grenache blanc to bobal and negrette. This is easily one of the year’s most distinctive, well-rounded, and ambitious openings.

Three Bells – Excellent

Read Trey Popp’s review of Abe Fisher and Dizengoff from December’s Philadelphia magazine.

Abe Fisher [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Abe Fisher [Foobooz]

Bells Ring for Will BYOB

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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 »

Two for One Reviews by LaBan

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Dizengoff and Stock are both reviewed by Craig LaBan.

This weekend, Craig LaBan offered two reviews for the price of one Sunday Inquirer as he reviewed both Stock and Dizengoff. Each spot focuses on a single specialty with admirable results. 

Stock – Two Bells, Very Good

Where Stock truly excels, and the best reason to hang with Fishtown hipsters at the counter, are the small menu’s beef-free options. The mushroom pho packs an umami punch the beef pho lacks. The shredded green papaya starter is one of the most irresistible salads in town, the crunchy threads and roasted peanuts basking in a tart and funky fish sauce-lime dressing that flickers with chile heat. Of the daily banh mi hoagies, which included tasty chicken meatball and unexpectedly bland pork sausage, the surprising winner was filled with custardy tofu, bright with soy-garlic marinade, pickled cabbage, and creamy Japanese mayo.

Stock: The meticulous beef pho has depth, but is outshone by other offerings [Philadelphia Inquirer]

Dizengoff – Three Bells, Excellent

[T]his hummus takes on its magnetic powers thanks to chef Emily Seaman. The Zahav alum compulsively creates new garnishes daily based on what farmers deliver, with spot-on instincts for textures and flavor contrasts.

Summer corn took on the musky sweetness of fenugreek. Red peppers, simmered with pomegranate, went for a muhammara mood with crushed walnuts. Soft cannelinis were tinted yellow with Yemenite hawaj curry, dusted with smoky black flecks of Urfa chilies. Charred eggplants were cooked to a gloss, then tanged with vinegar and garlic. Fragrant ground lamb, one day topped with pickles, another stewed with orange and pistachios, hit a high with aromatic Persian spice.

Dizengoff: At this ‘hummusiya,’  the chickpea puree takes on magnetic power [Philadelphia Inquirer]

Junto Gets Three Bells

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Craig LaBan is full of praise for MacGregor Mann’s Junto in Chadds Ford, calling it the best suburban dinner he’s had in a long time.

But there were so many highlights, especially with seafood, that my quibbles were minor. Huge scallops were perfectly fried in a sheer tempura crust made from sweet corn, amped by an intense brown chip of dehydrated scallop and a creamy remoulade of pureed mussels and lovage. Tart sorrel granita and shavings of fresh horseradish enlivened briny raw Cape May Salt oysters. Beautifully steamed black bass fillets basked in anise-scented froth over poached fennel. A lemon verbena white wine butter glaze added a subtle herbaceousness to that juicy fillet of smoked sturgeon.

Three Bells – Excellent

Read Trey Popp’s similarly positive review of Junto from the September issue of Philadelphia magazine.

Junto: One of the suburbs’ top new restaurants [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Junto [Foobooz]

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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Three Bells for Petruce et al

petruce-940Petruce et al is the ninth three bell review for Craig LaBan this year, a number it usually takes a year to achieve. In La Ban’s review states that this effort by Justin and Jonathan Petruce is one of the best.

Petruce may well become best known for interpretations of some true basics – such as lasagna, roast chicken, and steak that are instantly among the city’s best. The hearty eight-layer lasagna, its fresh pasta ribboned with nutmeg-scented béchamel, is oven-finished to a crunch in cast iron. The simply roasted chicken brings parchment-crisp skin and juicy flesh, with creamy grits ringed by an electric-yellow sauce of slow-cooked yolk thinned by white soy and lemon.

Three Bells – Excellent

Wood-fired excellence at Petruce et al [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Petruce et al [Foobooz]

A.kitchen Gets a Second Look from Craig LaBan

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Not even a stolen purse from next door’s a.bar can put a damper on Craig LaBan’s opinion of the revamped a.kitchen.

[T]he grill’s true stars were whole fish for sharing that are different from any others in Philly. That aji, butterflied and grilled over a Japanese grill grate that blistered the skin over dusky, buttery flesh, is a new favorite. The regal Dover sole, vented for the grill with vertical slashes and served over brown butter-lime vinaigrette – will be a bone-in change-up for older diners accustomed to black-tied servers doing all the fillet work. But the crispy skin and luxurious, moist meat was extraordinary. Like the restaurant’s unconventional wines, this is an a.kitchen challenge worth embracing.

Three Bells – Excellent

a.kitchen: A city gem not undone by a city problem [Philadelphia Inquirer]
a.kitchen [Foobooz]

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