Here is an excerpt of Craig LaBan's online chat:
Craig LaBan: After last week's bagel debate session, I had a number of recommendations, including a couple for the New York Bagel Bakery at 7555 Haverford Ave. at City Avenue in Philadelphia (behind McDonald's). Haven't tasted them myself yet, but I'm intrigued. Also, the owner of Spread, the forthcoming Montreal-style bagel shop on 20th Street near Rittenhouse Square, wrote to say he had already installed an authentic 10-ton wood-fired bagel oven in the shop, and is on target for a late December/early January opening.
Reader: Loved your review of Barbuzzo. Totally agreed with the wonderful chocolate budino pudding and the cheap-looking/strange metal seats. Glad I have some friends there as you probably made it a little trickier to grab a table now.
C.L.: It was jam-packed well before my review - I know because reservations were far more difficult to snag than usual. You'll be able to ask questions yourself next week: Barbuzzo owners Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran will be joining me as special guests on the chat.
Reader: There's a new place on Main Street in Manayunk that has shown a little promise: Beijing Homestyle. Much better than average Chinese.
C.L.: I just passed this spiffy storefront last weekend but it looked quite interesting. Some classic American Chinese, but I was most intrigued by the more authentic items - dan dan noodles, double-cooked pork, and, especially, Shanghai soup dumplings! Xiao Long Bao in Manayunk! What a coup for a 'hood showing some signs, albeit still small, of making a little push to return to relevance.
Reader: While Philly certainly has its dining strips (Rittenhouse and 13th Street for example) I've always loved the residential feel of a lot of places like Kanella or Beau Monde. Do you see this as a strength of Philly too or are cities like NY/Chicago more residentially oriented with dining spots?
C.L.: You've definitely hit on what I've long thought was a Philadelphia strength. We are, as I've said, the best small-neighborhood restaurant city in America. Our old storefronts and 19th-century urban landscape make that a necessity, and the reasonable rents (versus places like NY and Chicago and DC, where a liquor license is necessary to make ends meet) help small restaurants stay viable.
Reader: Have you heard anything about Fathom Seafood House? I saw the menu online and am waiting for them to open. . . .
C.L.: Mike Klein tells me "two weeks."
Reader: I was at L'Oca in Fairmount the other night for the second time and had another very good meal. Hadn't been there for probably a year, and I think it's improved. One thing that irks me at L'Oca and a few other restaurants: What's the reason for a waiter passing around one slice of bread instead of putting a basket on the table? Is this supposed to be "chic"? What it comes down to is the customer having to ask for more bread all the time. Comes across as being cheap! Can't a decent restaurant afford to pass out a few slices of bread instead of doling it out slice by slice?
C.L.: I generally agree with you here. The only thing that might explain the miserly bread distribution is a desire to keep the table uncluttered. Which I also understand. If you have the kind of crack service team that can seamlessly replenish a table without too much fuss, that's fine. Otherwise, I think two slices per diner should suffice for a first dose of premeal carbs.
Reader: Heard Han, David Ansill, and Sam Jacobson from Sycamore are doing a "Chinese-izing American food" dinner on Dec. 13. Should be interesting.
C.L.: Yeah, that sounds like a hot pot of trouble - in a good way. Han has long talked about doing something to "Chinese-ize" fusion food ("Why does everything have to be Americanized?" he once asked me. "I think it should be the other way around."). He's found a pair of able adventure chefs to pair with, so stay tuned. This could be worth tasting.
Reader: Last night I did the tasting menu at Han Dynasty Old City. Is there anywhere in the city that can rival that $25 hot chili oil tour de force?
C.L.: No. It is a feast for the ages. Not to mention serious spice training for your taste buds. I'm glad it's still good.
Reader: Do you think it is the responsibility of a restaurant to let diners know if they use products in certain dishes that people may be allergic to? My wife had a bad allergic reaction the other night at Amada because its menu did not identify all of the items used in each dish.
C.L.: I wish you were more specific; linking illnesses to allergies is always tricky. That said, I don't think there's any way for restaurants to anticipate every allergy of every potential client walking through the door. I think it is definitely the diner's responsibility to let a server know ahead of time what his food issues are. Once that happens, then the onus is definitely on the restaurant to make it work.