Here is an excerpt from Craig LaBan's online chat of Dec. 29, 2015:
Reader: Could you suggest a spot for lunch where out-of-town friends can experience our exciting restaurant scene, sip good wine, talk and linger? (Walking distance or short ride from the Palomar would be ideal.) They love fresh seafood.
Craig LaBan: Well, there are lots of good lunch options - including some with good wine - within walking distance of the Palomar: the Oyster House (serious local flavor, great seafood and wines to match); a.Kitchen and/or a.Bar (one of the more interesting wine lists in the 'hood); either of the Trias nearby (cafe or taproom) can give you the wine, but not so much the seafood with their limited menus. Also, I like the Italian wine list at Gran Caffe L'Aquila, and I think it's at its best for a lunch date.
Reader: Ever try your hand at making Chinese steamed buns at home? My bro-in-law got me a steamer and some bun flour, so I'm going to take a crack at it. Just wanted to know if you had any tips.
C.L.: Yes, actually. . . . There's a really good recipe for them in the Momofuku cookbook to accompany the bo ssam. They take a little practice, but they freeze very well.
Reader: Ha! That Momofuku bo ssam is the reason he got me the steamer and buns in the first place.
Reader: Center City (not including Chinatown) Szechuan power rankings:
1. DanDan; 2. Spice 28 (although the lunch I just had was a touch too salty); 3. Jane G's. Thoughts?
C.L.: I assume you're not counting Old City, then, because Han Dynasty should probably be at the top of your list. Also, I think the food at Jane G's is every bit as good as DanDan's, though the dark room is not as nicely designed. The bonus of Taiwanese flavors at DanDan is a plus. Spice 28 is OK, but I much prefer the owner's other restaurant in Chinatown, Sakura-Mandarin, where we had another great Jewish Christmas Eve feast of a spicy stir-fry bowl, and this new favorite: spicy cumin beef with . . . steamed buns!
C.L.: I want to comment on (Crumb Tracker spoiler alert) Lacroix at the Rittenhouse, where we ate those lamb meatballs during their Christmas buffet feast. Wow. What an afternoon of eating! If you haven't been back to Lacroix in a while, their Sunday blowout brunch - especially on major holidays - remains one of the most amazing culinary experiences in Philly. So many highlights, but the whole porchetta stuffed with chestnuts and truffles, the beef baklava with bone marrow, and gorgeous raw bar and duck confit over herbed couscous were just a few of the most memorable bites. It's a serious splurge, at $100-plus a person. Very much worth it.
Reader: Several years ago, my wife said she would take me anywhere for my birthday meal. I chose Sunday brunch at Lacroix and have never regretted that choice.
Reader: Are you heading to Times Square on New Year's Eve for that $1,800 table at Ruby Tuesday?
C.L.: Oh, yeah, that'll be me photo-bombing Ryan Seacrest's broadcast.
And so with that, it is time to say farewell. This chat is over, and 2015 is not far behind. It's been a pleasure to talk Philly food with you, and I'm looking forward to an even more exciting dialogue in 2016. So, until then, may you all have a wonderful New Year's celebration, drink the best bubbles you can afford, and, of course, eat something worth bragging about!