Two Bells for Crow and the Pitcher

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Craig LaBan enjoys the ampersand cuisine of Alex Capasso’s Crow & the Pitcher where Le Bec Fin’s gilded cheese cart meets up with small plates and burgers.

Capasso’s mussels are easily some of the best in town – clean, perfectly cooked, bathed in a creamy natural broth fortified with vermouth. The house-made charcuterie platter is also satisfying, its chicken terrine creamy with confit fat and leg meat, a heady lamb terrine piqued with olives & silky foie gras cured in Sauternes. Crisp nuggets of tender sweetbreads play against the bitter, roasty crunch of brussels sprouts in bordelaise.

Two Bells – Very Good

Crow & the Pitcher [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Crow & the Pitcher [Foobooz]

Two Bells for Volver

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Craig LaBan weighs in on Jose Garces’ culinary return to Philadelphia. The Inquirer critic calls the cooking at Volvér “egocentric” though he does call many of the dishes three-bell worthy, if he could order them a la carte.

The plates, without doubt, were still camera-ready gorgeous: ember-seared cubes of Wagyu beef posed beside crimson swipes of beet puree; nasturtium leaves floated atop lubina sea bass in a composition of rice and shrimp evocative its own ecosystem; epic salads tweezered into perfect still lifes by talented chef de cuisine, Natalie Maronski. Those dishes were examples of Volvér at its best, in which the inspirations were prime ingredients, not biography. The intricate salad was a naturalistic playground of delicate greens, creamy cauliflower panna cotta, and sublimely sweet carrots drawn from the garden at Garces’ Luna Farms, lifted by tangy Meyer lemon puree and the faux “dirt” of goat-cheese crumbles tinted black with squid ink.

Two Bells – Very Good

Garces’ Volvér overdoes the culinary performance art [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Volvér [Foobooz]

Trey Popp’s four-star review of Volvér [Philadelphia Magazine]

Two Bell Review for CoZara

Photo by Kyle Born

Photo by Kyle Born

Craig LaBan reviews Hiroyuki “Zama” Tanaka’s CoZara in University City. LaBan finds some misses in the izakaya’s very large menu but he finds a bunch of hits as well.

CoZara excels in those simple Japanese comforts done right – a griddled rice ball lacquered in teriyaki, a hearty braised beef and potato Niku Jaga stew (which I’d return for – in winter), the thick chunks of velvety white salt-braised pork belly posed over dark ponzu. And there was something so soul-satisfying about the purity of the ochazuke, a chunk of broiled salmon over rice that almost turned to congee when the server poured dashi broth from a teapot overtop, that I could understand that taste of home Tanaka is going for here.

Two Bells – Very Good

At CoZara, chef puts sushi aside and turns up the heat [Philadelphia Inquirer]

CoZara [Foobooz]

Craig LaBan Finds Age And Wisdom The Best Ingredients at Paris Bistro

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Tracking the long road from Oberon To Paris Bistro, Craig LaBan finds a chef (and a restaurant) that’s all grown up.

Begin with some of the bistro bellwethers. The French onion soup has a soulful balance of slowly caramelized onion sweetness and savory veal stock tinted with nutty sherry, the crock sealed with a proper lid of stretchy Gruyère cheese. The lobster bisque has a vivid crustacean richness, with well-steeped lobster flavor, sweet chunks of meat, and just a hint of cream and a flicker of cayenne at the finish. The salmon tartare is simple but beautiful, the fresh raw orange fish freshly minced and brightened with lemon and olive oil, then scattered with capers and a mimosa of grated hard-boiled eggs.

Two Bells — Very Good

Paris Bistro Approaches Fluent French [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Paris Bistro [f8b8z]

Two Bells for 9th Street Mexican Restaurant

mole-poblanoThe search for Super Bowl frijoles led Craig LaBan to Mole Poblano in the Italian Market and his latest review for the Inquirer. 

The weekend specials, though, distinguish this tidy tiled storefront from the many others. Chief among them is the barbacoa, made here with traditional goat (instead of the more common lamb) braised for hours with avocado leaves in a garlicky guajillo chile marinade resonant with oregano and ginger. Served with a chickpea-studded consommé made from the braising juices, the platter was especially soul-satisfying when I shredded the tender meat back into the broth with rice for a hearty soup.

Two Bells – Very Good

Mole Poblano: True Mexican flavors, and some of the city’s best tamales [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Mole Poblano [Foobooz]

Two Bells for Rosa Blanca

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Craig LaBan finds that Jose Garces’s Rosa Blanca may suffer from a split personality but is worth it when it comes to Cuban classics.

Rosa Blanca is at its best when embracing its Cuban comida soul. The ropa vieja was stewed to brisket silk, profound with a subtle molasses sweetness and sneaky red fresno chili spice. Flavorful cubes of pork-shoulder masitas were intense with savory adobo seasoning, practically melting on the tongue. The garlicky roast chickens, meanwhile, are among the most flavorful in town, dripping oregano and achiote-tinted essence down from the spit onto baby potatoes that turn yellow with flavor. With a crock of perfect black beans and rice on the side, it’s a satisfying value for $18.

Two Bells – Very Good

Rosa Blanca still seeking an identity [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Rosa Blanca [Foobooz]

“Asian Fondue” in Chinatown

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Craig LaBan reviews Simply Shabu in Chinatown and finds that the Asian version of fondue is a hit.

The Chinese woman beside us said the meat portions seemed skimpy compared to her nearby favorites. And no doubt the heap of shaved meat at Happy Noodle Bar dwarfed the eight perfectly rolled curls of sliced beef at Simply Shabu. But there’s a major quality difference: the beef at Happy Noodle was so shabby that it instantly shriveled into wads of yellow fat, while Shabu’s nicely marbled USDA choice rib eye (Pennsylvania-raised like all of Shabu’s meats, and not unlike what goes into a good cheesesteak) remained beefy and superbly tender.

Two Bells – Very Good

Authentic hot pots heat up Chinatown [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Simply Shabu [Official]

The Bell Rings Twice for Taqueria Feliz

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Lamb Barbacoa at Taqueria Feliz | Photo by Courtney Apple

Craig LaBan visits Manayunk’s Taqueria Feliz where he is generally impressed with what’s coming out of Lucio Palazzo’s kitchen, grasshoppers and all. But the reason to go, is Palazzo’s lamb barbacoa.

Palazzo’s true destination masterpiece, though, his lamb barbacoa, is considerably more accessible. Rubbed for days in a mulato chile paste aromatic with canella and charred onion, smoked over cherrywood, then baked six hours inside banana leaves over chickpeas, it’s a Mexican cousin to the legendary lamb shoulder at Zahav, where he once worked. It’s very much worthy of the legacy – sublimely tender on the bone over refried beans and plancha-seared nopales strips, with a soulful lamb and chickpea consommé on the side.

Two Bells – Very Good

Taqueria Feliz: a nice addition to Manayunk [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Taqueria Feliz [Foobooz]

The Deli Gets an Upgrade in Lansdowne

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Craig LaBan reviews the Jewish-Italian deli mashup that Laura Frangiosa and partners, husband Josh Skaroff and friend Brian Flounders have created at Avenue Delicatessen in Lansdowne.

The Avenue, opened in the spring in a tidy, rehabbed Lansdowne storefront that had been the long-running Doyle’s Deli, is a genuine deli mash-up – one part Jewish (Skaroff’s family), one part Italian (Frangiosa’s family.) It sounds like a gimmick. But when I bit into an arancini and saw the molten core of corned beef-studded Swiss and sauerkraut oozing from the risotto ball’s center, I knew this was 100 percent from the heart – with a side of Russian dressing.

Two Bells – Very Good

The Avenue Delicatessen: A welcome mishmash of Italian and Jewish comfort food [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Avenue Delicatessen [Foobooz]

Mistral in Princeton Gets Two “Very Good” Reviews

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Mistral in Princeton lands reviews in the New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer this week. Scott Anderson and business partner, Stephen Distler who also on Elements in Princeton, opened the BYOB in May with Ben Nerenhausen as the chef de cuisine. Both the Times’ Fran Schumer and the Inquirer’s Craig LaBan gave the Mistral a “very good” rating. Both highlighted the octopus and scallops. LaBan definitely had problems with service (they lost his reservation on one occasion) or he might have even rated it higher.

Small Plates, and a Taste of Many Cultures [New York Times]
Mistral helps put Princeton in culinary Ivy League [Philadelphia Inquirer]

Mistral [Philadelphia Magazine]

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