Here is an excerpt from Craig LaBan's online chat of April 15, 2014:
Craig LaBan: We are all giddy with bubbly at the Inquirer today, celebrating the Pulitzer Prize for criticism by my amazing colleague, Architecture Critic Inga Saffron. I also love having an occasion when my editors ask me to recommend a sparkling wine with enough dignity for such an event - but affordable enough for a newsroom budget. My first choice was Gruet from New Mexico ($15.99), but not enough was available on short notice. So, the second choice (given state store supplies) was this perfectly decent bottle of Michelle Brut from Washington's Chateau Ste. Michelle. A little sweeter than I remembered. But if it was good enough for a Phillies locker room celebration (remember those?) it's good enough for us. And at $10.99, it's priced to cheer the entire newsroom.
Reader: I'm usually unable to chat because I'm at work on Tuesday afternoon but today I am on vacation in Paris! Just had the best meal of my life at Guy Savoy. What do you think is the fate of really fine French dining in Philadelphia these days?
C.L.: Wow, coming to us on international lines. I envy your meal at Guy Savoy - he's one of the real kings of French gastronomy. As for Philly, that question is up in the air. The most recent attempt at Avance (replacing Le Bec), didn't really go as planned. The state of French food in Philly has taken form more in inspired bistro settings like Le Cheri and Bibou, and now at The Good King Tavern. But for that ultra-luxe over-the-top French gastronomy experience - I think Philly's headed irreversibly toward a more casual American model. That doesn't mean "unambitious." Which, of course, opens the subject of Garces' soon-to-open Volver.
Reader: Early report on the bar at Volver: Stopped in Sunday for a drink and snack, stunning design with an eye-catching, handmade blue canvas wall, great beer and wine selection, very affordable small bites, the Guanciale on grilled focaccia and wagyu brochette with togarashi mayo stood out as the best bites.
C.L.: Thanks for that first peak at Volver's lounge (just opened). And a positive first impression, which is good to hear. It was very smart to design that bar out front as a more accessible venue option - especially given the exclusive, ticketed nature of the main dining room.
Reader: What do you think of the rising brewpub scene around the Philadelphia region? I saw your Forest and Main review and frequent mentions of Tired Hands, any other favorites?
C.L.: Those are two of our most exciting new breweries, I'm especially impressed with what Tired Hands has been doing with saisons and fruit-infused sour ales. But they are part of a larger, exciting wave. I believe more than 20 breweries have opened in the past year. I hope all of them, plus the existing vets, will compete in the Inquirer's Brewvitational for local beers - happening behind closed doors at the Inky's office on May 12. It's a blind tasting, and never ceases to surprise. Also, big congrats to Iron Hill Brewery, honored with "Best small brewpub" at the World Beer Cup in Denver. There are a lot of so-so brewpub chains in America - we're lucky to have one (if not several) of the best.