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.

Read more »

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]

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
 [Foobooz]

French Classics Prepared by a French Master

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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

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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 Laurel

laurel menus

Craig LaBan finds that Nick Elmi is doing more than just turning out fantastic plates at his BYOB, Laurel. It appears the chef has also found serenity.

His albacore starter may be the best raw tuna dish in town, firmed ever so slightly in tepid olive oil before being dressed with the delicate sweetness of shaved Asian pears and a powder of frozen horseradish and yuzu “snow” that melted in mouth with a cooling sparkle. A bracing edge of mustard oil, chile-spiked ponzu, and fermented daikon cubes were the perfect foil to assertive Spanish mackerel seared crackly warm on the skin side and sashimi raw on the reverse. A study in Berkshire pork – loin roasted, belly braised, tender shoulder pulled then formed into a patty – was memorable for its elegant necklace of huckleberry, kale, and chestnut sauces.

Three Bells – Excellent

A “Top Chef” champ returns to his roots [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Laurel [Foobooz]

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