According to Trey Popp, the Art Alliance may have finally found its restaurant in Pierre and Charlotte Calmels’ Le Cheri. Popp bestows three stars on the French bistro, despite being served testicles under the guise of “pistachio fries.”
Calmels cuts his boudin noir—another “Bizarre” selection—with extra flour, pushing the sometimes-crumbly texture of that blood sausage into the realm of dense chocolate cake. Best I’ve ever had.
And if there’s ravioli on the menu, get it—even if it sounds boring, like the delicate cream cheese ones whose tangy fillings turned out to be infused with truffle peelings one night.
Three Stars – Excellent
Restaurant Review: Le Cheri [Philadelphia Magazine]
Le Cheri [Foobooz]
Eli Kulp at High Street on Market | Photo by Jason Varney
Trey Popp thoroughly enjoys High Street on Market, Eli Kulp’s follow-up to Fork.
Kulp likes to say that if Fork is “one step left of the mainstream,” High Street is meant to be another step or two to the left of that. Even some of the simplest things on offer here push the envelope on farm-to-table fare—which, let’s face it, has been sorely in need of a little pushing for a while now.
One of my favorites was a bowl of flash-fried broccoli florets battered with such a thin coating of rice flour that the resulting shell was barely visible, then tossed with a “chowchow” subjected to a lacto-fermentation that bent the tangy relish halfway toward spicy kimchi. Think tempura toned down from flavor-dominating crunch to tongue-tickling crackle, with a condiment kicked up from one-note quick-pickle to a full chord of funk.
Three Stars – Excellent
Restaurant Review: High Street on Market [Philadelphia Magazine]
High Street on Market [Foobooz]
Smoked Scallops | Photo by Courtney Apple
Trey Popp finds that Jerry’s Bar is a great and reasonable place to drink, the food’s not bad either.
And come back on Sunday morning. My favorite dish at Jerry’s was a special that paired cured smoked scallops with springy polenta—an enthralling alternative to the now-ubiquitous shrimp and grits.
Two Stars – Good
Restaurant Review: Jerry’s Bar [Philadelphia Magazine]
Jerry’s Bar [Foobooz]
Daurade at Laurel | Photo by Jason Varney
Trey Popp reviews Nick Elmi’s Laurel for the February issue of Philadelphia magazine. Popp writes that Elmi’s cooking has been unshackled from cooking other people’s food and has found his way. It’s a three-and-a-half star review, the highest rating Popp has doled out as reviewer for the magazine.
The dish I least wanted to order—pork with acorn squash and
chanterelles—turned out to feature loin and belly and the best “sausage” I’ve ever had: pulled pork shoulder perked up with sherry vinegar, set on brioche, and wrapped in caul fat that, when pan-fried, transformed the bread into the Platonic ideal of crispiness. And the accompanying pumpkin seed vinaigrette revealed itself as a rustic cousin of marmalade, sharpened by the trace bitterness of oranges blanched 10 times.
Yet never did this finely wrought food feel fussy. Some chefs put so much intellectual effort into a dish that the plate resembles a notebook crammed with all the scratch notes that preceded it. Elmi doesn’t show all his work, only the elegant answers.
Three-and-a-half-stars – Excellent to Extraordinary
Restaurant Review: Nick Elmi’s Laurel [Philadelphia Magazine]
Will 2014 be the year restaurant critics come out of the shadows? The editors of New York magazine kicked off that conversation in a big way last week, splashing critic Adam Platt’s photograph on the cover of their January issue. Whether professional food critics actually matter may be much doubted in the InstaYelp Era, but apparently there’s still a lot of faith in their ability to drive city-magazine sales.
Platt, who has reviewed restaurants for New York for many years (and just named the new Han Dynasty in New York as one of the 10 best new restaurants in the city), explains his decision—and acknowledges his editors’ prodding—in a thoughtful essay that had me nodding amen from the first sentence.
My own seven-year stint as a “professional glutton” has likewise been an “accidental career.” (These days you can meet any number of college kids who’ll tell you they want to grow up to be food critics, but I hardly knew the job existed until I found myself doing it.) Now that I’ve been at it for a while, I too have grown a little tired of putting my dinner guests through the rigamarole of a review meal. It’s a pain to make people nervous about simply saying your name out loud. It’s a bigger pain to know that many of them are straining to defer to your perceived preferences around what to order—especially when you don’t have any, which in my case is actually most of the time. No grown person should have to spend the first 10 minutes of a meal divining the potentially nonexistent whims of his host.
Then again, no one’s complaining when the check goes on an expense account at the end of the meal. Least of all me. There aren’t many sweeter gigs than taking people out to eat.
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Wishbone is a curious name for a chicken shop that can go weeks without serving any sort of bone at all. Alan Segel and Dave Clouser’s successor to the longtime Lee’s Hoagie House in University City promises “craft fried chicken,” but that turns out to mean boneless, skinless chicken nuggets coated with dried pretzels. I can’t be the only customer surprised by that discovery. But hey, who’s to deny the craft in separating breasts and thighs from their skeletons?
Chicken nuggets have had a rough run lately. A 2013 analysis of nuggets from two unspecified national chains determined that chicken muscle only accounted for about half the content of one specimen, and a mere 40 percent of the other. Plenty of ground-up blood vessels, nerve tissue, and bone fragments, though!
So in fact there is a decent case to be made for taking the industrial revolution out of the chicken nugget, and putting some craft back in.
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The easiest way to tell a bar from a restaurant is by the smell of the men’s room.
I couldn’t keep that thought away from my olfactory nerve during a recent night at Southwark. It had been years since my first time there. And my first time had also been my last. I remember having a fine dinner, but one that failed to cast the spell that so many other folks had fallen under at the then-new, classically styled Queen Village haunt.
In retrospect, that was probably because I’d eaten in the back dining room instead of at the bar, where bartender George Costa was mixing Gibsons and Aviations when the rest of the city was still one big slosh of pink-lemonade Cosmotinis.
Almost ten years later everyone else has caught up—and Costa has moved on—but Southwark is still humming along. It recently installed a new chef, Sam Jacobson, whose previous tenure at Sycamore helped put Lansdowne on the dining map.
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Rotolo | Courtney Apple
Trey Popp comes to Pizzeria Vetri with great expectations but too many of the pizzas literally flopped.
The further away I got from the pizza menu, though, the better Pizzeria Vetri got. There are lovely salads: arugula and roasted fingerlings slathered with killer pesto, and a “wood oven” salad that’s a belly-filling medley of corn, chanterelles, blistered green beans and top-drawer ham, studded with ricotta salata. There’s exceptionally fresh-tasting kegged wine from the Gotham Project, and bottled sloe-gin fizzes and Americanos that serve two for $12. The rotolos are instantly the best savory pastry in town: crispy pizza dough coiled Cinnabon-style around mortadella and ricotta, doused with pistachio pesto.
Two Stars – Good
Restaurant Review: The Best Food at Pizzeria Vetri Isn’t the Pizza [Philadelphia Magazine]
Pizzeria Vetri [Official Site]
Spaghetti and meatballs at Little Nonna’s | Photo by Jason Varney
Trey Popp finds that Marcie Turney has breathed new life into red-gravy Italian at Little Nonna’s.
Just to be safe, though, order the polenta and meatballs to share; Turney packs her cornmeal with enough cream, taleggio, fontina and parmesan to put the most shameless cheese grits to shame. And you’ll want to have room at dinner’s far end for pastry chef Sara May’s spumoni, which ditches the usual neon palette in favor of a moody sundae richly muddled with roasted cherries, chocolate pizzelles and pistachio-olive oil.
Three Stars – Excellent
Restaurant Review: Next-Level Comfort Food at Little Nonna’s [Philadelphia Magazine]
Little Nonna’s [Foobooz]
The Grit Invasion of Philadelphia may be long in the tooth by this point, but that hasn’t kept new armadas from lashing the city with ever-growing waves of cream-soaked, butter-fatted, cheesed-up swells of coarsely milled corn.
And with each new entry into the city’s unofficial shrimp-and-grits competition, you could be forgiven for wondering if grits should be classified now as a dairy product rather than a grain. That’s all fine and good, as its goes. Not exactly shocking that restaurant kitchens still like butter and cream in 2013.
But consider the recipe provided by Anson Mills–the South Carolina grain specialist whose grits have become the gold standard in high-end restaurants. It’s a simple ingredient list: grits, a bit of salt and pepper, and water. Plus a pat or two of butter to mix in at the very end. Pretty austere, right?
The thinking at Anson Mills is straightforward: too much dairy fat eclipses the flavor of the corn they take so much pride in growing and milling.
This philosophy sprung quickly to mind not long ago at, of all places, The Twisted Tail, a blues venue that got an awful lot wrong about Southern cooking back when it opened two years ago. But those memories of mediocrity faded away in the light of many of new chef Leo Forneas’s dishes, not least his Louisiana-style shrimp and grits.
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