Here is an excerpt from Craig LaBan's online chat:
Reader: I live in Lancaster and work in farmland preservation, and I was thrilled to see your package about Lancaster's growing food scene. Loved your choices, but there are so many more, namely Checkers Bistro on Harrisburg Ave (their Peking duck tacos are amazing) and Carmen and David's Creamery on Prince Street (homemade ice cream with flavors like salted caramel, Vietnamese coffee, and Coquito). Will you be back again?
Craig LaBan: I was thrilled with the offerings we encountered over our three-day visit - a completely fresh option to the touristy buffets most folks know, and I know there were many more. We just didn't have time. I'm sure we'll be back.
Reader: I never thought I'd say this, but it looks like the Rittenhouse Square area is about to become the best food location in the city. Beyond the greats that have been around (Melograno, Il Pittore, Tinto, Zama, etc.), this new wave - such as the new a.kitchen, Vernick, Le Cheri, the new Vedge, and Sabatino's new place - are about to put it over the top. Did you ever think you'd see the day?
C.L.: That's a great observation. Most of the new restaurant action has been outside CC, in E'Punk, Fishtown, etc. But these new places have really given the Rittenhouse zone some tasty new food energy - even though Walnut Street's Restaurant Row is no longer what it was. Also, the Good Stuff project on 18th St., Top Chef alum Spike Mendelsohn's place, which has been under construction for what seems like forever (since fall). ... I hope that'll be worth the wait.
Reader: What red and white wines do you generally use for cooking ... at what price per bottle? I've heard many chefs say to not use "cooking wine."
C.L.: Julia Child always said, "Never cook with a wine you wouldn't drink." I don't buy extra wine to cook - I just use leftovers from the day or two before. Which wine depends on what you're cooking. The moral is: Drink first, cook later. Or rather, drink well while you cook well.
Reader: A shout-out to Michael Anastasio Produce with all the fava beans, English peas, baby artichokes, fiddleheads, and ramps lined up this past weekend. I couldn't find such complete spring-veggie collections in Iovine's or Rittenhouse Market, given the past harsh winter. Finally getting my first taste of spring after the long harsh winter.
C.L.: Anastasio's is definitely one of the best produce destinations, a survivor at 9th and Christian. Sadly, he's about the only one I'd buy produce from in the Italian Market. Most of the stuff sold from street vendors looks like it's half gone before it even arrived.
Reader: What's your take on the success of higher-end restaurants doing well in a neighborhood like Queen Village, i.e. ELA, Southwark, Little Fish, and Bibou?
C.L.: Successful restaurants have to find the right balance of neighborhood appeal and destination diners. The common element? Consistently good food and service. Gotta connect with your crowd and deliver every night.
Reader: Century 21 is taking the 2d floor of your building (84k sq ft) and 16k sq ft on the 1st floor leaving 65k sq ft. Chicago's Eataly is 63k sq ft, so maybe it could fit in there. ... One can dream.
C.L.: Still dreaming!