Here is an excerpt from Craig LaBan's online chat:
Craig LaBan: Today is our last chat before the Thanksgiving break, so there's a lot to talk about - including your tips and favorite dishes. Here's my tried-and-true recipe for doing turkey on a Weber grill or Big Green Egg: go to philly.com/bbqbird. What's your Thanksgiving move? Shopping tips? I'm a Reading Terminal man when it comes to stocking up for that big holiday.
Another question: Where do you all like to take big family groups for post-Thanksgiving feasts?
Reader: Adding to your group question, any places in the city that are good for around a dozen people but that cater to different hunger levels? Reserving a huge table seems wasteful since some people will only be drinking but it also seems unreasonable to request a huge block at the bar for the group to hover.
C.L.: Ah, well, that is the challenge in reserving a place for 12 people, right? Everyone comes to the meal with a different set of likes and needs. In fact, tapas restaurants were built for that kind of experience, where you can eat a little or a lot, as long as you drink some, and we obviously have several good traditional ones to choose from that are good for crowds - Amada, Jamonera, and the new Barcelona on East Passyunk, which I just reviewed. A lot of non-Spanish restaurants, though, have taken their cue from this flexible format, and are offering similar build-your-own experiences that start with snacks and small plates and then build from there to larger shared meals - like a.kitchen (which gets rereviewed this weekend), or the Walnut Street Cafe, the all-day cafe I loved in a recent review. I'm sure there are many others I'm not thinking of - some gastropubs, maybe? But there's always Chinatown, which is the best place ever to eat out with a group, and no one pays attention to who eats how much.
Reader: Suggestion for group of 12 meal: I have a particular warm spot in my heart for Xi'an. Have you been over to Xi'an Sizzling Woks in Philly?
C.L.: I'm also a fan of Xi'an Sizzling Woks! Reviewed it about four years ago, but still go back often, especially for the lamb and pita soup, sautéed spicy chicken and noodles (aka "big plate chicken"), and the liang pi sour and spicy noodles. What a distinctive cuisine from the heart of the Silk Road.
Reader: Another inland China place opened at the corner of Arch and 10th with variations on many of those same dishes. It's not bad. The Chinese name is Henan snack house, and the English says Lan Zhou Hand-Pulled Noodles. Menu items are really central China/Sichuan and northwestern China. Some nice flavors there.
C.L.: I'll have to check out that new hand-drawn noodle place at 10th and Arch, which replaced the Sichuan place there - Traditional Szechuan - which, by the way, moved to 40th and Spruce in West Philly and I had a terrible meal there a couple weeks ago, I'm sorry to report. Used to like it in Chinatown, which is odd.
But the bigger point is how incredibly diverse Chinatown has become from a regional cuisine point of view. It's not your grandpa's old chow mein quarter anymore. Although, I was just invited to a grand birthday party last weekend in the back party room of Lee How Fook, and they can still bring the salt-baked triple (shrimp, squid, and scallops) and Buddha rolls like they used to! That's one classic that's still alive and well.