All of the Craig LaBan Zero Bell Reviews

Craig LaBan has hit Center City steak-and-seafood chain Ocean Prime with a well-deserved zero bell review, his second zero bell review for 2013. Here, a summary of all of LaBan’s zero bell reviews that have appeared in the Inquirer.

Craig LaBan Zero Bell Reviews 1998

Solaris Grille


…eating at Solaris Grille can sometimes feel like a disappointing vacation. The gap between what’s advertised on the menu and what comes to the table is occasionally so broad it’s akin to getting off the plane only to realize the pilot flew to the wrong destination.

Closed in 2011. Became Chestnut 7, which closed in October 2013.


Craig LaBan Zero Bell Reviews 1999

Old Original Bookbinder’s
Bookbinders 15th Street Seafood House


…worse than I’d ever imagined: two restaurants spiraling into the basement of faded glory for different reasons.

The historic Old Original closed in 2001 and reopened in 2005, after which LaBan upgraded the restaurant to two bells. That iteration closed in 2009. The terrible 15th Street location closed in 2004 and is now an Applebee’s.

Craig LaBan Zero Bell Reviews 2000

Ivy Grille


But shoddy cooking (and a few tall tales) turned this wildly eclectic menu into a hapless parody of pretentious contemporary cuisine. Nothing, it seemed, arrived as advertised. Seafood ceviche was so overmarinated, eating a scallop was like biting into a bitter citrus rind. A cheesey glob of ‘lobster’ risotto had no trace – either in flavor or meat – of any crustacean relation. As for the exotic basmati and jasmine rices that supposedly garnished many of the entrees, ours had less flavor than Minute Rice. Even with the sweetbreads, ‘light flaky pastry’ somehow materialized as a fried spring roll wrapper.

Ivy Grille closed in 2002. The location is now Penne.

Craig LaBan Zero Bell Reviews 2001



Don Shula may have been a great football coach, but he should punt as a restaurateur. At this branch of his namesake restaurant, the football decor is bizarre (complete with a gift shophawking pigskin souvenirs). Service is amateurish. Worst of all, the dismal steak-house fare comes at Hall of Fame prices.

This location has closed.

Craig LaBan Zero Bell Reviews 2002



…it has disappointed on almost every level. It is one of the few new restaurants I’ve experienced here to actually worsen over my three visits.

Laban later upgraded Trust to one bell, but the restaurant closed in 2003. It is now El Vez.

Craig LaBan Zero Bell Reviews 2003



Carmella’s is not simply a bad idea – a blatant local knock-off of a national chain shamelessly imitating a local place – it also succeeds far less well than its corporate rivals.

Carmella’s, a Derek Davis restaurant, closed in 2005.

Craig LaBan Zero Bell Reviews 2004


Craig LaBan Zero Bell Reviews 2005



This corporate child of Benihana attempts to be the best of both sushi worlds, but ends up the worst.

Haru closed in 2011.

Craig LaBan Zero Bell Reviews 2006


Craig LaBan Zero Bell Reviews 2007


Craig LaBan Zero Bell Reviews 2008



A dramatic display of mediocrity served at outrageous prices.

Javier closed in 2009.



One might hope for a certain value in the prospect of gorging on limitless quantities of grilled beef and salad. But that hope devolved quickly for us into a chewing chore, as skewer upon skewer of jarringly salty, mediocre meats paraded to our table.

LaBan later upgraded Chima to one bell.

Craig LaBan Zero Bell Reviews 2009

Del Frisco’s


It’s hard to imagine a bigger disappointment than this ultra-luxe steak chain, which upped the year’s chop-house wars with a jaw-dropping columned space in a former bank, a towering glass wine cellar, a frisky bar scene for the corporate set, and prime meat chops at prices that were jaw-dropping, too.

LaBan originally awarded Del Frisco’s one bell but later downgraded the steakhouse to zero bells. This excerpt is from that downgrade.

Craig LaBan Zero Bell Reviews 2010

Chew Man Chu


This pan-Asian eatery not only distances itself from the apparently intimidating flavors of nearby Chinatown (‘very ethnic . . . hard to understand for part of the Caucasian market,’ Grims has been told), it does so with cliched style, and enough lacquered sweetness to make your teeth ache.

Owner Marty Grims closed Chew Man Chu in 2010 after just six months. The location is now Sbraga.

Craig LaBan Zero Bell Reviews 2011

Thai Kuu


…none of the food we’d eaten that night was even remotely worthy of the wait or expense. The cooking at Thai Kuu – frustratingly bland, surprisingly pricey, consistently underwhelming – was as disappointing as the service.

LaBan later upgraded Thai Kuu to one bell.



…a revamped bar and restaurant wrapped inside the Sofitel’s glassed-in ground floor whose motto, spelled out on a sign tacked to the sleek wood-veneer walls, is ‘urban.chic.lounge.’ ‘Slow.reheated.disaster’ would be more appropriate based on the meals I recently slogged through there, a performance of incompetence on the plate and in the dining room that I’ve not endured in quite some time.

Liberte is now a bar.



Crowds come for the cachet at this new Center City outpost of a New York chain. But it would be a mistake to come for the food.

Remarkably, Serafina is still open.

Craig LaBan Zero Bell Reviews 2012


Craig LaBan zero bell Reviews 2013

The Saint James


My expectations were as high as ever that the Main Line was about to acquire a winning neighborhood restaurant, especially considering the experience of this team: partners Michael Schulson (Sampan and Izakaya) and Rob Wasserman (Rouge), plus chef Matthew Moon, who cooked some of my most memorable tasting meals at tiny Talula’s Table. But nearly everything about my meals at the Saint James, the stylish American bistro that replaced Victoria’s Secret in Suburban Square, arrived in a jumbled, rush-job mess.

Still open. Philly Mag restaurant critic Trey Popp had a similar experience.

Ocean Prime


I ate some of my most expensive meals of the year at Ocean Prime. Unfortunately, they were also the worst.

We’ll see how long this location of the Ohio-based chain can hold on. For Philly Mag’s take on Ocean Prime, read the review: “Ocean Prime: Pretty But Also Pretty Lousy.”