Here is an excerpt from Craig LaBan's online chat of Dec. 17, 2014:
Craig LaBan: I'm working on my list of favorites and final ratings for the annual "Year in Bells," to be rung in The Inquirer Sunday, Dec. 28. But I'm curious to hear from you: What were your 2014 highlight dishes, drinks, places, and meals? Please vote during the chat on your favorite new restaurant from among the six three-bell-review recipients I've chosen, to decide the Chatters' Choice for 2014.
Reader: My fav Philly bites in 2014 was everything at Abe Fisher, especially the Hungarian duck, and the rotolo specials and pizza at Pizzeria Vetri.
C.L.: All good choices - even if that duck took a slight backseat to Abe's short-rib pastrami feast.
Reader: Not wanting to accentuate the negative, but I'm wondering if 2014 will be best remembered for the death of fine dining with the shuttering of Avance and the Four Seasons.
C.L. People have been talking about the "death of fine dining" for the better part of a decade. And you're right, those places signaled the end of a certain kind of fine dining. But I think our concept is evolving, more casual, for sure, but also with something of a Philly twist that leans away from preciousness and hews closer to soulful flavors.
Reader: Best new fav: Bridgid's clam pasta.
C.L.: I really need to check out what's happening over at Bridgid's . . . I've been watching the Instagram feed of super-ambitious Italian flavors. Clearly, Peter McAndrews is having an effect on the kitchen of this venerable Fairmount/Belgian beer institution.
Reader: Just did the 13-course tasting at Marigold Kitchen. At $90 per person and BYOB, I can't think of a better culinary value out there. It was a memorable foodie experience and I can't wait to go back. It has a rep for being a special-occasion spot but man, it was truly special. . . . I ate the next night at Fountain and paid the same to have 2.5 courses and a drink. Needless to say, it fell flat.
Reader: I've had five different meals [at Bridgid's] and they have all been superb. Great mix of Italian cuisine and pub food.
C.L.: Good to hear. Bridgid's served me my first favorite Belgian brew many years ago, an organic saison (Foret) from Brasserie Dupont. But the food was getting a little tired. Glad to hear McAndrews' influence is paying off.
Reader: I'm eating my favorite sandwich of the year right now: liverwurst from Wursthaus Schmitz.
C.L.: I'm looking forward to the Brauhaus crew's next resto, the Whetstone, set to open early next year in Queen Village with lots of house charcuterie.
Reader: I vote for Dizengoff in spite of the atmosphere, just for transforming the way I think about a food I'd always liked anyway.
C.L.: Dizengoff was absolutely one of my favorite restaurants all year long - who knew hummus could be the centerpiece of such a memorable eating experience?
The time has come to end today's chat and close the polls! Our results are in, and the Chatters' Choice for Best New Philly Restaurant in 2014 is . . .
High St. on Market with 26 percent of your votes.
Laurel 23 percent
Townsend 20 percent
Le Chéri 11 percent
Abe Fisher 11 percent
The Fat Ham 9 percent
Congrats to High Street, and all the great restaurants of 2014!