Here is an excerpt from Craig LaBan's online chat:
Craig LaBan: What have been your highlight flavors from the past week? I've had many, including this wood-fired pizza with brussels sprouts, rosemary ham, and balsamic from In Riva in East Falls - very Stella-like in setup. Some really nice wood-fired pies (even if those heat blisters can flake a bit too much char for my tastes. ...) But the flavors are great, thoughtful, and well-prepared. It's really settled into becoming the neighborhood anchor - casual, affordable, tasty - that I think East Falls really needs. Nice view of the river (great for cyclist breaks). Excellent little selection of Italian craft beers. And the crispy artichoke appetizer is not to be missed. ...
Reader: I was dismayed to hear that Eric Ripert was leaving Philly. Any news behind the decision?
C.L.: My impression was that Ripert was never invested personally enough in that project. I admire him as one of the great chefs in America - Le Bernardin is rightfully praised. But 10 Arts was never the right concept for that grand space - a neighborhood bistro? At the Ritz? I think Philly was definitely ready for a more ambitious Ripert project. But he never took that step, unfortunately.
Reader: Can we really say that Eric Ripert was in Philly to begin with? I know his name was on 10 Arts, but the one time I went there (to partake in a pop-up Le Bernardin menu) I felt that the atmosphere and service left much to be desired. The food was good, however.
C.L.: My point exactly. Always good to very good, but almost never inspired. I was surprised he was content with that.
Reader: I agree there should have been a much more complex and challenging menu, especially given the grand lobby. I thought the original grill space would have been better served for him. It was far more intimate, and would have been more suitable for Ripert's style.
C.L.: Ditching the grill space was a mistake. The open-columned dining room never worked well.
Reader: What are your thoughts on South Street on both ends? Next Passyunk Avenue or a flash in the pan?
C.L.: This has definitely been South Street West's year to shine ... With a few exceptions, I don't think the level of ambition/execution has yet quite matched what I'm seeing on East Passyunk, which is far more evolved than it was eight or 10 years ago when that resurgence began. Paradiso really set the bar high there, and then add in Le Virtù, Fond, Will, Stateside, and (yes) Izumi, too ... plus the good gastropubs (Lucky 13, POPE, etc.) and you've got a full-fledged revolution. I'm really looking forward to seeing what the new Fond (with new bar) is about. South Street's heading in the right direction - fast, from Magpie to Rex 1516 (and Jet), OCF and its own pioneer, Pumpkin. But still not E'Punk yet.
Reader: Any hope Fairmount Avenue might become the next Passyunk Avenue? Any insight why more restaurants aren't opeining up there?
C.L.: I think Fairmount has had more new restaurant energy this year than at any time in my 14 years here. La Calaca Feliz, Lemon Hill, Hickory Lane, to name a few I reviewed and liked. Haven't been to the Latin-inspired Blue Cat yet, but have heard some nice reports. The oxtail stew and pumpkin soup got good notes. In past years, though, there has been resistance to new restaurateurs from neighborhood groups. I don't know if that's relaxing, but Fairmount is finally popping again.