A Critic’s Year in Review

Our intrepid restaurant critic logged a lot of hours thinking, talking, eating and writing about food in 2009. As the year comes to a close, she takes the time to remember the restaurant and food highs and lows.



Jose Garces Becomes an Iron Chef
It was a bang-up year for the city’s only true celebrity chef. But out of the many exciting things that happened to him this year, Jose Garces’s victory on The Next Iron Chef was our proudest food moment. I can’t wait to see him represent the city — in battle — in future episodes of Iron Chef America.

Bibou Opens
Hopes were high for this tiny BYOB in the old Pif space, but I don’t think anyone expected Bibou to be quite as spectacular as it is. Chef Pierre Calmels and his ultra-French wife/hostess have been raking in the accolades, most recently being named by GQ as one of the 10 best new restaurants in the country.

PYT/Stephen Starr Smackdown on Twitter
Promoter turned restaurateur Tommy Up [link] sure kept things interesting with his relentless Twitter campaign to establish his burger’s superiority to any served by the Starr Restaurant Organization. Starr never responded directly, but the dust up seems to have led to Starr’s briefly offering the 10-ounce Butcher & Singer burger (regular price: $16) for an unbelievable $5.95.

Grub Street Launches a Philly Edition
Grub Street has long been known by foodies as New York magazine’s snarky restaurant blog; when it rolled out new editions in several other city’s this year, Philadelphia was among them. Not only do we appreciate editor Kirsten Henri’s dry humor — we can’t help but see our city’s inclusion as legitimizing our food scene. Even the Big Apple understands we’re so much more than cheesesteaks.

Fair Food Farmstand Moves Into a Larger Space
The battle between Rick’s Original Philly Steaks and the powers that be at Reading Terminal Market was an ugly affair, but there was a major silver lining. Fair Food Farmstand, long crowded into a claustrophobic stall too small to accommodate its bounty, was moved into Rick’s old space. Now it’s one of the first thing that visitors see when entering from 12th Street.


Jennifer Zavala Eliminated First on Top Chef Season 6
Cries of “no she didn’t” rang out all around Philadelphia when local chef Jennifer Zavala served the judges a plate of poorly prepared seitan. What was she thinking? Luckily, she wasn’t the only Philly Jen cheftestant: 10 Arts executive chef Jennifer Carroll cooked her heart out all the way to the final four.

Shola’s Empty Promises
On September 8th, it was declared official: Chef Shola Olunloyo was finally going to open a restaurant. The chef himself posted photos of the space on his blog and said it would be open “this fall.” Updates have been scarce, but 2009 was not the year for Shola’s restaurant to debut.

Ansill Closes
It was a very, very sad day in Philadelphia food when David Ansill shuttered his eponymous eatery. It is missed.

Maia Implodes
So much talent, so much space, so much money. In retrospect, it should have always been obvious that this odd concept (a fine-dining restaurant, a casual bar, a gourmet market, and a coffee shop all wrapped up together in a suburban strip mall) would not work. Its demise would have been even sadder had chef Terence Feury not ended up at Fork, bringing new excitement back to one of the city’s coziest spaces.

Stephen Starr Bags the Broad Street Diner
All of South Philly celebrated when the rumors were confirmed that Stephen Starr would buy the decrepit Broad Street Diner. It’s steps away from the subway and perfectly placed at the doorstep of a rapidly gentrifying slice of town. We’re still depressed that environmental issues with the site proved too difficult for the restaurateur to clean up. And if Starr can’t do it, who can?