Two Bells for Cresheim Valley Grain Exchange

grain-exchange-interior-940Craig LaBan visits Cresheim Valley Grain Exchange in Mount Airy and finds a restaurant and bar that is elevating food and cocktails on Germantown Avenue.

For $18, a slice of sustainably raised Verlasso salmon, nicely seared over buttery barley risotto studded with diced sweet potatoes, is one of the best fish bargains I’ve tasted in a while. A handsomely roasted acorn squash, brimming with flavorful red quinoa sparked by hazelnuts and cranberries, was one of several hearty seasonal salads that anchor the menu’s starters. A hot skillet of Anson Mills grits came topped with tender shrimp, pickled cherry tomatoes, and house-made sausage, a satisfying $17 meal of Southern comfort.

Two Bells – Very Good

Cresheim Valley Grain Exchange [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Drink: Honey Bear at Cresheim Valley Grain Exchange [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Cresheim Valley Grain Exchange [Facebook]

Two Bells for Bardot

 

Craig LaBan heads to Northern Liberties to take in the cooking of Rhett Vellner atBardot, the French bar/restaurant from the Pub on Passyunk East’s Dennis Hewlett.

Vellner shows real delicacy in his take on the common beet, salt-roasted in coriander-fennel spice and paired with creamy onion soubise, goat cheese, and the crumbles of a walnut-rye bread streusel (de rigueur these days, as faux “soil”). A crisp fillet of arctic char was also spot-on, with an earthy duo of parsnips (pureed and creamy with ginger; crisped into ribbons) and the surprising fusion spark of funky kimchi.

Two Bells – Very Good

Bardot Cafe: Sophisticated, if a bit faux, French fare in Northern Liberties [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Bardot [Foobooz]

Bells Ring for Will BYOB

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Craig LaBan has been promoting and demoting restaurants almost weekly in his online chats and Thursday food columns. Today, the Inquirer critic sings the praise of Will BYOB. He promotes Chris Kearse’s BYOB to three bells, stating:

[E]very intricate touch amplified the central themes, rather than distracting. Foie gras mousse enriched a bar of rabbit rillettes accented by wine-poached figs. Citrus-caramelized Belgian endive and licorice called out Sichuan spice on the duck. An entire hen of the woods, meanwhile, was cooked to two striking textures – buttery-crisp across a pan-roasted face of flattened fronds scented with sumac and rose hips, lusciously fleshy and moist at its heart, beneath which a Madeira caramel and smoked ricotta smear amplified its earthy savor.

Read more »

Two Bells for Bangles Indian Cuisine

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Criag LaBan heads to Bangles Indian Cuisine in Philadelphia’s suburban “Dosa Belt.” LaBan finds that chef Dhirendran “Dhiru” Paulraj has a deft touch with Southern Indian cooking.

Paulraj’s takes on traditional flavors, especially his dosas, are what really generate this menu’s resonance. I agree with my completely obsessed pal Jeff that the rava dosa is hauntingly good, its semolina-rice batter scented with curry leaves and ginger and griddled into a lacy crisp around roasty threads of toasty onions.

A more familiar dosa, rolled into an oversize crepe around curry-spiced masala potatoes, is unusual because its cuminy batter is tinted green with cilantro, chilies, and ginger. The spongier crepe for the paneer and peas variation is wrapped snug like a burrito around a garam masala-onion-spiced stuffing of grated fresh cheese.

Two Bells – Very Good

Bangles in Downingtown, melding South Indian flavors, American twists [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Bangles Indian Cuisine [Official]

Two Bells for Charlie was a sinner.

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Craig LaBan reviews Charlie was a sinner. this week and gives the “plant-based” restaurant in Midtown Village two bells, though he does find more than a few things wrong.

Some otherwise beautiful dishes still need tweaks: The elegant sunchoke soup, pureed and poured over intricate garnishes, was spun off-kilter with too much sweetness from Asian pears. The potato gnocchi with favas were dense and doughy minus the levity of the usual egg. I saw more sweet-tart raisins than barley in the mushroom-barley toast.

Also of note, opening chef Michael Santoro has moved on, Max Hosey is now in charge of the kitchen.

Two Bells – Very Good

Call it ‘plant-based’ or vegan, Charlie is a winner [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Charlie was a sinner. [Foobooz]

Two Bells for CHUlicious in Mount Laurel

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Craig LaBan makes the reverse commute to Mount Laurel, New Jersey to find a Chinatown chef is now offering Taiwanese and Sichuan dishes in a South Jersey strip mall.

the real reason to come are the genuine Taiwanese and Sichuan dishes that earned Chu (a Taiwanese native trained under Sichuan chefs) his well-deserved reputation. Sichuan food, of course, has found mainstream popularity in the region, and CHUlicious serves excellent renditions of familiar bellwethers: Chu’s vegetarian ma po tofu is my favorite, the bean curd cubes patiently infused with the fruity heat of a sauce made with three different chilies, then dusted with a finely ground haze of Sichuan peppercorns that numbs the lips. The crystal wontons are another must, the same chicken dumplings as in the soup, but mounded over a bull’s-eye of earthy chili sauce and spotted with garlicky sweet black soy.

Two Bells – Very Good

CHUlicious: At a modest Mount Laurel BYOB, hard-to-find Taiwanese and Sichuan specialties [Philadelphia Inquirer]
CHUlicious [Foobooz]

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]

Two Bells for Society Hill Society

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Craig LaBan enjoys much of what he eats from chef Yun Fuentes’s menu at Society Hill Society. In particular he enjoys brunch and the fresh Pilsner Urquel.

His ode to pierogi are delicate, their handmade sour cream dumpling skins stuffed with truffled mashed potatoes over molasses-sweetened Vidalia onion jam. He tapas-izes chicken pot pie, tucking a creamy velouté of leg meat, carrots, and peas into croquette sticks that would please even the toughest Amish Spaniard. His summer peach soup is simply a gazpacho-good tribute to ripe local summer fruit, the sweet pureed peaches tanged with a hint of vinegar and garlic, sparked with salty bits of shaved ham and tiny floating spheres of creamy goat cheese.

Two Bells – Very Good

For another opinion on this Society Hill restaurant, read Trey Popp’s review of Society Hill Society from the October issue of Philadelphia magazine.

Society Hill Society inspired by the past [Philadelphia Inquirer]

Turney and Safran 13th Street Update

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Valerie Safran and Marcie Turney at a still under construction Lolita | Photo by Jack Cotter

There’s always a lot of going on along the Thirteenth Street empire of Valerie Safran and Marcie Turney, although recently, it has been extra newsworthy.

Craig LaBan visited the post BYOT Lolita and rewarded the Safran and Turney’s original restaurant two-bells, though he predictably does gripe about the noise.

What’s happening at 13th and Locust » 

Treemont Gets Two Bells

Photo by Alex Tewfik

Photo by Alex Tewfik

This weekend, Craig LaBan reviewed Chip Roman’s The Treemont and wonders where all the diners are. Scared off by an unusual deadspot in Center City or dissuaded from the Cheesecake Factory construction site down the block? But for those who have made it in the doors, there are rewards.

If Roman has the financial fortitude to endure the leaner months, the Treemont has the ingredients to become, with refining (and maybe some noise-proofing), a reliable, fine-dining hideaway with quality entrees, fairly priced in the mid-$20s.

Two Bells – Very Good (93 decibels)

Treemont mystery: Good food, few eaters [Philadelphia Inquirer]
The Treemont [Foobooz]

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