Almost two years in the making, a stunning restaurant inspired by the night markets in Taiwan opened last night in University City. In this week's newsletter: a new Old City destination from a Top Chef, a Chesco barbecue joint, and a chicken-sandwich specialist in University City. Craig LaBan is here to offer his ideas for a holiday drink. If you need food news, click here and follow me on Twitter and Instagram. Email your tips, suggestions, and questions here. If someone forwarded you this newsletter and you like what you're reading, sign up here to get it free every week.
The night markets of Taiwan are the inspiration of the long-in-the-works Danlu, which opened with nary an advance whisper Tuesday at 3601 Market St. in University City. Danlu translates to "nectar," which makes sense, as the crew from Nectar in Berwyn (Michael Wei, Henry Chu, and chef Patrick Feury) is behind it, with colleague Kenny Huang. New York designer Jeffrey Beers International dramatically set up the two-level space with bold graphics, faux copper and antiqued silver-embossed accent panels, walnut millwork and wood-beam basket-weave grille for the ceiling. Chef de cuisine Michael Cooperman, former exec chef at Red Cat in New York City, executes a menu of small plates, raw dishes, noodles, and rice dishes, Chinese sandwiches, and large plates. (Prices are reasonable; figure on $4 to $12 for most plates; entree-size portions are in the mid-$20s.) Bar includes 20 rotating beer taps, plus wines and cocktails. Open seven days a week for lunch and dinner; no reservations.
Lola at Bardot Cafe
Friendly bartenders, solid drink list, 14 craft beers on tap, killer menu, jukebox. Bardot Cafe, the Northern Liberties cousin of East Passyunk's P.O.P.E., also has an out-of-the-way vibe as it's tucked away on Poplar Street off of Fifth. The Lola ($9) mixes vodka, cherry and lime syrups, ginger beer, and that seasonal treat, rhubarb. Happy-hour specials 5-7 p.m. Sunday-Friday.
Ken Dee's strip-mall barbecue charmer, Corporal Dee BBQ (16 Marchwood Rd., in Marchwood Shopping Center), is a smoky antidote to Exton's chain life. Starring among the basics was this beef brisket sandwich ($8.50), overloaded with slices of 14-hour-smoked beef dusted with a sweetish dry rub whose ingredients I could not wheedle out of the counter guy. It's open Wednesday-Sunday.
Chef Nick Elmi (Top Chef, Laurel, ITV) is now also rocking in Old City behind a velvet curtain and beneath a tin ceiling at the low-lit, intimate but high-volume Royal Boucherie (52 S. Second St.). Snuggle into a booth or belly up to the bar or raw bar for French-y treats such as Maine scallops ($26), served with kuri squash, trumpet mushroom, and pumpkin seed granola, and bathed in a creamy porcini vermouth jus.
The Jake's Sandwich Board in University City (125 S. 40th) has been redone as Hatch & Coop, a chicken sandwich specialist that builds its wallet-friendly wares on sweet King's Hawaiian buns, even dessert: the vanilla ice cream sandwich is rolled in Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal and drizzled with warm caramel on a grilled bun that's topped with so much cinnamon and sugar, it's probably technically a doughnut.
On Thursday, Dec. 7, University City newcomer Hatch & Coop (125 S. 40th St.) will give out mini-ice cream sandwiches from noon to 3 p.m.
On Saturday, Dec. 9, beginning at noon, Weckerly's Ice Cream will throw a first-birthday party for itself to mark the shop at 9 W. Girard Ave. in Fishtown. Throughout the day (while supplies last), you'll get a comp slice of birthday cake with a purchased scoop of ice cream.
Danlu | University City
Stylish outpost of the Main Line institution Nectar is open at 3601 Market St.
Harry's Blue Bell Taproom | Blue Bell
The sports bar across from P.J. Whelihan's in Village Square on Route 202 has returned after what was described as a flood.
Momokawa | Manayunk
This snug sushi-ist from Jason Kim of Jason's Toridasu and @Ramen is in the softest of soft openings at 4371 Main St.
Ultimo Coffee | Rittenhouse
The espresso is steaming at Aaron Ultimo's third location, at 20th and Locust Streets.
Irish Pol | Old City
Darin Urbaczewski is not commenting about the closing of his Old City watering hole, which moved from its Third Street home into 114 Market St. in 2015. I see a liquor-license transfer is in the works, so the spot won't be dark for long.
Reader: Where should I go this month for a festive holiday drink with friends?
Craig LaBan: Few restaurants in town dress up for Christmas with as much cheer as The Dandelion near Rittenhouse Square. Cozy up next to one of the roaring fireplaces with a pint of good, malty English bitters. Other bars that should offer some cheerful spirits with style include Tequila's for an agave-fueled Navidad, or cozy Friday Saturday Sunday, where I'm hoping talented bartender Paul MacDonald will give his running Fibonacci series of cocktails a Santa twist. If you're doing Hanukkah, Abe Fisher has one of the most underrated bar programs in town, but also with plenty of Ashkenazi schtick (try the Cynar-based "All My Friends") to wash down the latkes and chicken with black truffle kugel for its Hanukkah dinner menu on Dec. 13. I'm always in a celebratory mood when the drinks come with lots of oysters, so try the Olde Bar and drink with the ghosts of Bookbinders past. If your friends happen to be serious foodies, head down to East Passyunk's In The Valley (ITV), the stylish gastropub next to Nick Elmi's Laurel, where you can splurge on the city's most elegant caviar preparation and toast your friends with premier cru Aubry Brut Champagne. Or try one of the cheffy cocktails like the Throw Pillow, which is actually made with spruce tips. It's like a Christmas tree in your drink, and you know holiday imbibing doesn't get more festive than that.
After 4,000 miles and countless calories, Craig LaBan has come up with 150-plus excellent food destinations in the Pennsylvania and New Jersey suburbs.