Dinner At The Fish Riot: Royal Sushi And Izakaya Reviewed

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There are restaurants you go to because you’re hungry, and restaurants you go to because they’re cool. There are restaurant you go to because they’re close—the old soldiers of your particular block, with rooms as comfortable as faded blue jeans and a bartender who knows your name. And then there are restaurants you go to because they make you feel better about your neighborhood, your city or yourself. That’s what Royal Sushi and Izakaya is for me.

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Endless Summer: Tiki Reviewed

Mural at Tiki | All photos by Chelsea Portner

Mural at Tiki | All photos by Chelsea Portner

It’s way too early to be writing this review, and I don’t care at all. Best thing about being a critic? That moment when you find something that’s best only in that moment. That, for whatever reason—despite calendars and schedules and plans and rules—demands to be paid attention to now.

That’s Tiki.

There’s nothing to the place. It’s so stupidly simple that I love it in stupidly simple ways—without thought, just on pure reflex and lust for fried dumplings, acid-tinged surf rock and Bacardi 151.

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Buying Cool: Wm. Mulherin’s Sons Reviewed

Woodfired oven at Wm. Mulherin's Sons | Photo by Michael Persico

Woodfired oven at Wm. Mulherin’s Sons | Photo by Michael Persico

Wm. Mulherin’s Sons is the best-smelling restaurant I’ve been to all year.

It’s pretty, sure. Big, new, shiny, polished, fitted out with rich woods, artisan tile and carefully preserved architectural flourishes. But when you’re playing at this level, who isn’t pretty? Packaging matters. Every crack in the walls, every scuff on the floor or scab of tarnish on metal is as deliberate as the gleam on the walnut tables (as though the trees were grown to no other purpose than to be made into them, arranged in this order). There’s a big new skylight that lets brilliance spill in like water. The bar is long, brick-backed and achingly well stocked. The tall windows don’t rattle when the El snaps past, but you can feel it—roaring like a memory of dinosaurs and catching you right below the heart. This place has the design culture of second-gen hipsterism in its bones.

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What Lies Beneath: Double Knot Reviewed

In the basement of Double Knot | Photo via Double Knot

In the basement of Double Knot | Photo via Double Knot

Breakfast, 9:30 a.m. // Like Garfield and 10,000 novelty t-shirts, I don’t do mornings. Particularly not ones that haven’t snuck up on me accidentally—the sun rising while I’m still out doing whatever it is that insomniac food editors do—and caught me still in last night’s clothes.

One of the reasons I became a writer was so I’d never have to get up before noon. Sadly, somewhere in my youth I missed an important distinction. Some writers get to sleep the mornings away, sure. They’re generally the ones who own more than zero berets and have strong opinions about pencils. And then there are the ones who actually have to make a living.

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Tunnel of Love and Dumplings: Tom’s Dim Sum Reviewed

The Scallion Pancakes at Tom's Dim Sum | Photo by Claudia Gavin

The Scallion Pancakes at Tom’s Dim Sum | Photo by Claudia Gavin

There are a lot of restaurants in this town that I go to because it’s my job. There are some I find myself in because life is strange and sometimes the lesser of many evils is a plate of greasy mozzarella sticks and a hip flask of Jim Beam and Coke at 3 a.m. Others I go to because I get caught up in the excitement just like everyone else—the frenzy of the new—and want to be there to see what all the fuss is about. To weigh this particular fuss against the fuss of last week and whatever fuss might be coming along next.

And then there are places I go to because I simply can’t not go. Because something in them draws me like gravity—a comfort beyond simple sustenance, strong drinks or good company. The bar at Bud & Marilyn’s is like that. Ting Wong in Chinatown. El Rincon Criollo. This little sushi place in Suburban Station that I love just because all the sushi is made by robots and I love robots. Stargazy, which I sometimes dream about because the banoffee tart blew my mind once and I can’t ever get there often enough.

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High-Gloss Rustic: A Mano Reviewed

A Mano | Photo by Emily Teel

A Mano | Photo by Emily Teel

In the back, chef Michael Millon is dancing.

Not dancing-dancing (because that would be weird), but that’s what it looks like. He and his crew, the other white jackets working the line at Townsend Wentz’s new BYO, A Mano, turn and weave around each other, reaching and ducking as the floor staff crowds up against the short pass, waiting on plate after plate after plate. It’s formal, this ballet. It only looks like a disaster happening and then re-happening every second, a series of near-misses and almost-collisions. It’s a culinary galliard—chaotic but measured. Practiced. Natural. In reality, it’s just another day at the office.

And at A Mano, it’s loud in the dining room. I’m seated about halfway down the banquette that runs the length of the far wall, so there’s no way I would’ve heard them if they were talking anyway, but I’m watching pretty closely (staring, really), and I don’t even see them speak. Don’t see lips moving or heads turning except in the simplest, most terse nods and single syllables.

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Blood and Gingham: Urban Farmer Reviewed

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Photo by Arthur Etchells

By my own estimate, I consumed 13 billion calories at Urban Farmer the last time I was there. Maybe 13 and a half. I’m not very good at math, but I’m still pretty sure I’m right. And if I’m not, it surely felt that way. So much red meat. So much starch. So much cornbread, hot Parker rolls with melting butter, crumb-topped creamed spinach spooned from a cast iron bowl. So many sea creatures. And all of it—all of it—was so good.

There were problems, sure. The service varied between charmingly bumbling and infuriatingly incompetent. The bathrooms looked, from the outside, like you were entering through a giant shipping crate (which was at least in keeping with the faux-homespun style of the place) and, on the inside, like some kind of throwback to black marble Rat Pack Vegas, missing only the elderly man offering breath mints and Brylcreem (which was not at all). And the dissonance between the foie gras and the gingham—between the rustic Amish barn-raising decor at this third Urban Farmer steakhouse from Sage Restaurant Group and the ultimate price tag, which ran to more than a hundred dollars a head—was disturbing. It creates an all-hat-and-no-cattle kind of cowboy situation. Like some soft-handed politician throwing on a new-off-the-rack Carhartt jacket and a pair of stack-heel boots that have never touched mud and trying to prove his down-home bona fides by eating fried chicken with a fork and knife.

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Eating the Hand Grenade: El Rincon Criollo Reviewed

Potato balls, ie hand grenades at El Rincon Criolla | Photos by Claudia Gavin

Mashed potato balls, aka the hand grenades at El Rincon Criolla | Photos by Claudia Gavin

In a sane, just and rational world, all I would have to say is that El Rincon Criollo has fried mashed potato balls on its menu, and all of you would already be halfway to your cars.

We’re talking mashed potatoes, formed around a delicious core of spiced ground beef, dipped in batter that tastes something like crushed-up Cheez-Its and liquid joy, then dropped in the Fryolator. They are delicious in a way that makes you wonder at their legality.

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A Small World After All: Tredici Enoteca Reviewed

Tredici | Photo by Emily Teel

Tredici | Photo by Emily Teel

From the outside, the light spilling from Tredici’s windows was cool and white, and the glass appeared to be sweating. We could see the crowd—at the bar, clustering around the host’s stand, jamming all the tables. Inside, it was a wall of noise, like stepping into the middle of a party that’s been going on without you for a good long time. To speak to the hostess working the stand, I had to lean over and talk almost directly in her ear.

We were lucky. We snagged the only open table on the floor—an odd corner spot that was all banquette, past the curve where the front room’s bar ends and the counter seating and seats in front of the raw bar begin. The two of us could sprawl across room enough for three. Spread out. Get comfortable.

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Positively 10th Street: Ting Wong Reviewed

Ting Wong | Philadelphia magazine

Ting Wong | Philadelphia magazine

I go to Ting Wong for lunch—hiding out at a sticky table along the wall, hot tea and perfect shrimp congee in front of me. I’ve got a book (something with spaceships and ray guns) in one hand, spoon in the other, and I’m smiling because I’m supposed to be eating at some hotel restaurant a few blocks away, but I got there and hated it (hated the vibe and the look of it and the feel it gave me walking through the door), so I about-faced and retreated here, which, yes, was probably the wrong thing to do (considering my job), but it feels good, like skipping school, so I’m happy.

I go to Ting Wong for an early dinner and everything on the block smells like hot, wet garbage, but my dinner is excellent. On another day, I drop by for a quick plate of roast pork over white rice—the meat pink, honey-sweet but also complex with ginger and garlic and five-spice—just because I’m cutting through Chinatown on my way to somewhere else. The pork needs nothing. It is delicious as it is, fanned over rice, shiny under the harsh lights that seem designed to allow no shadows. But if you’re smart, you’ll ask for a little bowl of chopped ginger and scallion—bright green like pickle relish but so much better.

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