Here is an excerpt from Craig LaBan's online chat:
Craig LaBan: Good afternoon, my hungry friends, and welcome to our final food chat of 2012! What an amazing year it has been for restaurants in Philly. I can hardly believe it's over. I'm in the midst of putting together my annual Year in Bells review, which I'll be sharing on Dec. 30. But why not open the chat-room floor to your favorite chefs, restaurants, dishes, and moments from 2012? To get this going, we're doing a poll: Who was the breakout chef of 2012?
I'm referring to young guns who got a chance to make their first big personal statement.
Reader: My vote is for Arthur Cavaliere at In Riva. Every time I dine there I try something new and it just keeps getting better.
C.L.: I think Cavaliere's In Riva has come a long way since opening this year in East Falls. The pizzeria's menu, though, is a bit more limited in scope and difficulty than what [others] have been turning out (and yes, I know there are some other things on the menu - great fried artichokes, for example).
Reader: For Breakout Chef of the Year, I vote for Greg Vernick at Vernick Food+Drink. The food is fantastic!
C.L.: He would be a good choice, Danielle - don't forget to vote!!
Reader: There is no question that the breakout chef in 2012 is George Sabatino of Stateside. As for La Panarda [at Le Virtù], I attended and cleaned every plate. It was an Epic Eating Experience. Joe Cicala was a master, creating countless varied dishes and all with top-tier delivery and preparation.
C.L.: I love Joe's food - Le Virtù is surely one of the city's best Italians.
Reader: I'd have to vote for George Sabatino. In a city full of and rich with gastropubs already, George Sabatino has been able to make Stateside uniquely different and memorable. George has managed to couple a focused, carefully selected craft beer selection and a wide whiskey selection (one of two bars to have Pappy) with approachable, refined gastropub fare.
C.L.: I think Sabatino is certainly one of my favorite newcomers. My last meal there was memorable.
Reader: I'm gonna have to say Nicholas Elmi due to his going his own way after Le Bec-Fin's meltdown. He took on a cursed spot and made it his personal statement.
C.L.: I definitely think Nicholas belongs in the conversation ... except that his years at the helm of the old Le Bec sort of disqualified him as a newcomer. Certainly earns my Comeback Chef of the Year.
Reader: Based on some great meals at Pumpkin, I'd have to vote for Chris Kearse.
C.L.: Kearse certainly caught my attention at Pumpkin. Running your own place, though, brings both freedom and added challenges. I'm a fan of his cooking, but look forward to seeing where Christopher is in another year or so. Easily some of the most interesting, thoughtful food in town.
Reader: Jason Cichonski is killing it at Ela. By far the best meal I've had in a while.
C.L.: Really enjoyed my meals at Ela, too. Jason C's been one of our great young talents for so many years - this is the first peek, though, that we've been able to get of this chef challenged outside the comfort of a cozy luxury hotel kitchen. And it's been impressive.
On that note, I'm going to call this chat to a close. Thanks to everyone who came today, and to all the chats in 2012. This was almost as great a year for online dish as it was for actually eating out! Congrats to Gregory Vernick, who won our quick chat-room poll for Philly Breakout Chef of 2012. It's a sentiment I'm apt to agree with, though close follower George Sabatino is also a worthy candidate.
Gregory Vernick 37%
George Sabatino 26%
Kevin Sbraga 22%
Jason Cichonski 7%
Walter Abrams 4%
Christopher Kearse 4%