Gastronaut: Hey, Santa …
Hey, big guy. It’s me again. Over the years I’ve made a habit of coming to you every December and selflessly burning up all my Christmas wishes in an attempt to make Philadelphia a better place to eat. I’ve asked for butcher shops and whiskey and Asian street food, and you’ve come through with Kensington Quarters, Cooper River, and that giant indoor food-cart monstrosity they’re (allegedly) building over in Chinatown. Though you never did convince Questlove to open his Hybird fried chicken joint here, I do appreciate all the other chicken-fryers you’ve inspired—from Andy’s to the Fat Ham to Southgate. And while I’m still waiting to see if you’ll come through on making our local cocktail culture a little less, I don’t know … mustache-y?, I have faith you’ve got something (like maybe a GQ article claiming that tight vests and tiny hats cause impotence) up your sleeve and are just waiting for the right moment.
This year, my list is simple and plain. We’re in a good place now. Our scene is strong, our chefs are at the top of their game, and in many neighborhoods, finding a great meal is easier than finding a bad one. But you know what we’re missing?
Seafood. I know this sounds ridiculous in an East Coast city, but Philly doesn’t have a great seafood restaurant yet. We have some places that do seafood well (alongside other things), and a few joints that can rock a raw bar (Oyster House), but no single awesome fish house that focuses on nothing else.
Another thing that seems a little counterintuitive? We need a new Stephen Starr restaurant. For the past couple years, Starr has been focused on expanding his empire out of state, in New York and Florida and Washington, D.C., but you know what? We still need him here. Things are just more fun when he’s around. Those out there who might shake their heads at this should remember that among the last few restaurants Starr opened in Philly before upping stakes were Serpico, Fette Sau, Frankford Hall and Talula’s Daily. Yeah, I know. That ought to shut up the haters.
Finally, Santa, one more longshot wish. It sometimes seems like Philadelphia has spent the past couple years chasing fine-dining restaurants away from the city in favor of cool, comfortable little gastropubs and neighborhood joints. And while for the most part I’m fine with this (ours is a scrappy, DIY kind of scene, brought up on burgers and BYOs), losing Le Bec Fin, Avance, Fountain and all the others has left a hole in the landscape that I’d like to see someone try to fill.
I just want one. A real, serious fine-dining palace with no irony and no agenda. A place we can brag about. That we can all get excited about. Something to cap our scene without lording over it. A place where the guest matters more than the food and the food matters more than the chef.
Thanks for your help with this, Santa. As always, I remain …
Your pal, Jason Sheehan