French Classics Prepared by a French Master


According to Craig LaBan, Pierre Calmels is hitting on all cylinders at his new Le Cheri. LaBan’s list of favorites appears to be most of the menu.

I can’t remember a better steak tartare than Le Chéri’s finely diced filet, edgy with Dijon and glossed with raw yolk, mounded atop the crispy potato lattice of fresh gaufrette chips. The onion soup is deeply sweet from onions caramelized for hours, but balanced with wine and stock, then sealed beneath the nutty tang of molten Comte. Familiar steak-frites gets an upgrade with earthy bavette (flat sirloin) and shallots soaked in Marchand de Vin gravy. The potatoes “Darphin,” crispy rails of shredded spuds in clarified butter, are the hash-brown sticks of my dreams. The choucroute is a classic crock of kraut beer-stewed to brown with bacon, foie gras fat, and house-made duck-pork sausage, then topped with a crispy blade of braised pork belly and mildly salted but flavorful duck confit.

Three Bells – Excellent

Calmelses’ Le Cheri: Back to Bistro [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Le Cheri [Foobooz]

Three Bells for Osteria Moorestown


Craig LaBan has tons of praise for Marc Vetri’s Osteria outpost at the Moorestown Mall in New Jersey. Not the least of which is the cheaper wine prices. But other dishes stand out as well.

My ultimate Osteria splurge, though, is the $36 lobster spaghetti, a dish so intensely infused with lobster-ness – the sauce enriched with tomalley and roe, plus a stock fortified with shells – that casual seafood pasta eaters might not love it at first. But with the tender meat from a 11/2-pounder twined up in the al dente strands, a flicker of spice, brandy, and basil lighting the sauce, it was soon impossible to resist. (Plus, it’s no longer available in Philly.)

Three Bells – Excellent

Osteria Moorestown: A Vetri marvel at Jersey mall [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Osteria – Moorestown [Foobooz]

Three Bells for High Street on Market


Craig LaBan is wowed from bread to cocktails at High Street on Market. And he’s similarly impressed by dinner, especially the dishes that are products of the kitchen’s obsession with fermentation.

A kimchi-style fermented parsley-mint vinaigrette adds punchy spark to the richly marbled Wagyu short rib, served as an irresistible sharing platter with a salad of roasted Brussels sprouts and crispy tater-tot-shaped rice cakes.

That rib was the best piece of beef I’ve eaten in months – and one of several unusual ingredients Kulp revels in serving. Another was a huge pork shank, a sharing entree served over a wooden bowl of cracked-corn porridge scattered with crumbles of liver sausage ragu. The cider-braised mallet of meat was so yielding, it shimmered with juice at the touch of a fork, then fell apart.

Three Bells – Excellent

High Street on Market: Veggie-focused, ambitious, bold cafe at former Fork Etc. [Philadelphia Inquirer]
High Street on Market [Foobooz]

Three Bells for Talula’s Daily

Photo by Jaeson Han

Photo by Jaeson Han

Craig LaBan checks out Talula’s Daily and finds that Aimee Olexy has another hit on her hands.

My favorite dish of all my Daily meals, though, was the paper-wrapped surprise of skate en papillote. Almost always seared, the flesh took on an unexpectedly luxurious quality in a tangerine-scented steam, and concealed beneath its butter-glossed wing a trove of root vegetable treasures. Each was cut and cooked to a unique shape and texture, from weird and squiggly little crosnes, to earthy soft Jerusalem artichokes, snappy shaved ribbons of multihued raw carrots, bittersweet marbles of tender baby turnips, and crunchy cubes of al dente kohlrabi.

Three Bells – Excellent

Talula’s Daily cafe & market is affordable Olexy excellence [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Talula’s Daily [Foobooz]

Three Bells for Main Line’s Fraschetta

Fraschetta, the Bryn Mawr BYOB from Rosemarie Tran and chef/husband Gianluca Demontis who gave us Melograno gets plenty of praise from Craig LaBan.

Delicate house-spun fettuccine arrives in a soulful ragu alla Romana that tastes like familiar ground beef Bolognese at first, until it turns exotic with clovey Medici spice, earthy with porcini, and richly gamey with fine bits of chicken liver and gizzard. The mezzi-rigatoni carbonara, glazed ideally in a not-too-heavy shine of egg and Pecorino, draws a musky savor from pancetta housemade from lamb belly instead of pork.

Three Bells – Very Good

Authentic Roman-style cuisine on the Main Line [Philadelphia Inquirer]

Jon Lachman’s Noord Gets Three Bells


Craig LaBan heaps three-bell praise on Jon Lachman and his Northern European BYOB, Noord.

The veteran chef’s innate skill, though, is evident in his ability to transform otherwise familiar foods into something memorable. The mussels, for example, come Amsterdam-style, infused with the haunting perfume of star anise. A pair of thin pork chops become irresistible with tangy apple gastrique and shatteringly crisp potatoes. Even mundane salmon is elevated by a creamy Norwegian lohikeitto, a chowder sauce redolent of leeks and coriander that was somehow flavorful without being heavy.

Three Bells – Excellent

Noord Eetcafe: A chef-owned BYO’s ode to the North Sea [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Noord Eetcafe [Official Site]

LaBan Pours Out the Praise for Fitler Dining Room


Craig LaBan visits Fitler Dining Room, the newest restaurant from the team from Pub & Kitchen and Avalon’s Diving Horse, and comes away impressed.

There should be no complaints, though, about Marzinsky, whose Philly debut as a head chef has been one of the year’s biggest revelations. His butter-poached oysters are such an elegant modern riff on stew that they’d make his muse, M.F.K. Fisher, consider the oyster anew. Ever-so-lightly poached, they’re placed atop brioche croutons with a fine dice of potato, fennel and celery root, then lavished with a froth of rich chowder cream poured tableside. His raw Beausoleil oysters, on the other hand, are transformed with just a few jewels of smoked trout roe and ginger mignonette, each gulp a three-part fade from tang, to smoke, then brine.

A clever new technique for gnocchi results in ethereal puffs of meltaway potato dumplings. But it is the elegant contrast of textures and vivid colors – snappy toasted hazelnuts, tender earthy snails, tart pickled snips of pink ramp, and a pale green gloss of Chartreuse butter – that makes the dish so memorable.

Three Bells – Excellent

Fitler Dining Room [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Fitler Dining Room [Official Site]

Craig LaBan Re-Reviews Fond


Craig LaBan decides to revisit Lee Styer’s Fond since it has moved and added a liquor license. What he finds is that the marginally bigger restaurant still delivers in big ways.

We had only one real clunker course: a thin and one-dimensional foie gras soup. The special just lacked spark – especially beside his stunning appetizer of crisply seared foie, warm and creamy over cool carrots in gingery caramel with cardamom-spiced cream cheese sauce.

That indulgence was in perfect contrast to the elegance of tuna crudo tiled over piquillo peppers with a white miso aioli, or the beautifully browned swordfish over ivory vichyssoise sauce with tart bursts of grapefruit, bitter watercress, and the salty pop of paddlefish roe. Big, gorgeous sea scallops channeled a Spanish mood over saffron paella rice with smoky chorizo. And the chicken, roasted on the carcass before being deboned and finished with duck-fat-braised Savoy cabbage, was excellent.

Three Bells – Excellent

Fond [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Fond [Official Site]

Craig LaBan Praises Eli Kulp’s Fork


Craig LaBan positively raves about chef Eli Kulp and the lastest chapter of Ellen Yin’s Fork.He even goes as far as saying the restaurant has four-bell potential.

The real “problem” here is that Kulp’s food is just so hauntingly good. For those who legitimately worried when proprietor Ellen Yin lost Terence Feury, the star chef who brought Fork its third bell, rest assured: His successor, a veteran of New York hot spots like Del Posto, Casa Lever, and Torrisi Italian Specialties, is a serious talent. And with his arrival, Yin has managed the improbable, taking a 15-year-old citywide favorite and reinventing it as something even better – current and fresh, yet sophisticated in a grown-up way so many new restaurants just can’t muster.

Three Bells – Excellent

LaBan Review: Fork [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Fork [Official Site]

« Older Posts