Two Bells For Bing Bing Dim Sum

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Despite the noise, despite quibbles over texture and dumpling-skin thickness, Craig Laban finds a lot to like about Bing Bing Dim Sum, Ben Puchowitz and Shawn Daragh’s sequel to Cheu Noodle Bar. But he spends a significant portion of his critical real estate talking about all the work Puchowitz did trying to convince someone–anyone–to teach him how to make proper soup dumplings.

Do not be deceived by the dumpling. It may well be the world’s cutest food – a bite-sized wonder of sheer dough handiwork gift-wrapped around an infinite variety of juicy hidden treasures. But a great one can be devilishly complex. And the many mysteries of the dumpling’s art – the recipes for perfectly pliant dough, the sleight-of-hand to shape them deftly – are fiercely guarded by its skilled practitioners. In particular, from the prying eyes of Ben Puchowitz.

Two Bells — Very Good

Hip and creatively nontraditional, Ben Puchowitz’s take on dumplings is dim sum, and then some [Philadelphia Inquirer]

Two Bells for Capofitto

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Craig LaBan reviews Capofitto, the new artisan pizza spot in Old City from the team behind Capogiro. He finds the new pizzeria is just what the historic neighborhood needs.

I know, I know. More pizza. Just what Philadelphia needed. But if it’s created with as much dedication to craft as Stephanie and John Reitano bring, one as good as Capofitto can represent a quality-of-life improvement. And these two bring the same commitment to the details of authenticity that elevates the gelati at their Capogiro chain far beyond mere ice cream.

Two Bells – Very Good

Capofitto is a welcome addition to Old City [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Capofitto [Foobooz]

Two Bells for George Sabatino’s Aldine

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Photo by Emily Teel (who gets a great shoutout in the review)

There is more than one kind of two-bell review. The surprisingly good neighborhood joint, the disappointing debut of a big-name chef and in the case of George Sabatino’s Aldine, a two-bell review going in the right direction.

Craig LaBan’s review sees progress in several dishes over just a couple of months. And others are already there.

Dishes such as the lamb rillettes, its tender milk-braised meat shredded and formed into a crispy cake over silky Hubbard squash puree sparking with red chile heat, evoke both visual beauty and a deep satisfaction of soulful flavors. Sabatino’s clever crudo deconstruction of the ubiquitous sesame-crusted tuna – raw tuna sashimi brightened with blood orange, fennel crackers and sesame seeds – was like tasting Mediterranean sun.

Two Bells – Very Good

For George Sabatino, years of experiments paying off at Aldine [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Aldine
 [Foobooz]

Two Bells for Blue Duck Sandwich Co. in Northeast Philly

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Craig LaBan ventures to Northeast Philadelphia this week and finds Kris Serviss (COOK Masters alum) and Joe Callahan’s Blue Duck Sandwich Co., a BYOB that’s waking up the neighborhood.

[W]hile Serviss plays with ingredients that would be at home on any trendy Center City menu – black garlic, sunchokes, crispy tri-color cauliflower (very loosely inspired by Zahav) – the core items here are simply the kitchen’s whimsical updates to familiar comfort flavors. They up the savor quotient on the classic blue-plate special with meatloaf made from wild boar (delicious, though it could use a little more softness) and earthy, sweet mashed parsnips. Tender gnocchi play sweet on spice, swapping sweet potatoes for the usual white spuds, and adding the hot spark of shaved jalapeño rings to the nutty gloss of sage brown butter.

Two Bells – Very Good

Blue Duck Fills the Bill in N.E. Philly [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Blue Duck Sandwich Co. [Foobooz]

Two Bells for La Peg

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Craig LaBan reviews La Peg and finds that the restaurant it heading in the right direction after a rocky start. But along the way, at least there were some naked performers and a great view of the Ben Franklin Bridge and Delaware River.

By my final visit in December, though, a shift to a more traditional app-entree menu format, and a subtle reversion to a more classic French repertoire, seemed to have smoothed out most kinks in chef de cuisine Nicholas Bazik’s kitchen.

Two Bells – Very Good

La Peg, pumping up the polish [Philadelphia Inquirer]
La Peg [Foobooz]

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]

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