Craig:

Good afternoon my well-fed friends, and welcome back to Philly Food Chat Central. What's been on your plates this week? It's been a very good seven days of noshing for me, as you can tell from this week's Crumb Tracker Quiz. Guess in order which three places I ate these dishes, and win a signed copy of my book: 1) the best Jewish hard salami...ever? 2) curried pork belly; 3) chana masala with bhaturas. Ready, set....start crumbing!

Marty:

I recently dined at Sonam and I have mixed reviews. A friend ordered the seafood sliders and they served them sans bun. My boar tartare was excellent. The service was lacking though. When we asked for new stemware you would have thought we were asking for the waiter to blow the glass himself.

Craig:

Hey Marty, thanks for the report on Sonam. It is an interesting place, with some real ambition - "global tapas" - but you'll have to wait until my review in this Sunday's Image section to get my full take.

Bill from Jersey:

: Ate something worth bragging about: Foie gras served with watermelon wrapped in proscuiutto on toasted brioche. Unfortunately, it was a good idea that didn't work. The watermelon gave off too much liquid and made the whole works soggy. Another melon would have worked better. Had this at Brasserie Perrier. Along with the offer of still or sparkling water without being told that a charge would be added to the bill; and an $18. glass of champagne, without being offered the $11. glass that was also available. Generally overpriced and go out of their way to jack up the bill. Still the bar was very busy, so they must be doing something right.

Craig:

Bill - that DOES sound like an interesting dish, and you've dissected its flaws nicely (a model ready-to-post criticism, I must say). But I'm glad to hear that Brasserie is, at least, still trying to get creative. Ironically, that's the second interesting out-of-season watermelon dish I"ve come across in the past month. Last one was the watermelon goat cheese salad at Jasper in Downingown, which I just reviewed. Apparently, the watermelons are sweet in-season in Chile right now, because that one was very good. On the subject of Jasper, though, I wanted to mention that the place is temporarily closed until May 24. It seems chef Nick DiFonzo had an aneurysm just a day before the review was posted and he was at Jefferson Hospital until this past weekend. His wife, Tina, said the aneurysm isn't life threatening, and that they hope to reopen at the end of May at half-speed. I wish him a speedy recovery. By then, he'll even be able to start getting watermelons closer to home!

Eliot:

Craig: Enjoy your reviews and Chats. I had dinner at the new restaurant in Villinova called Maia. A beautiful completely renovated spot with a bakery,beautiful huge bar area serving small to medium plates and a spectacular full size restaurant on the second level not yet open when I was there. food was excellent as was the service for a place open just 2 days. Hope you'll visit in the near future. Are you familiar with this spot.

Craig:

Aaaah, our first report from the long-awaited Maia! Glad to hear your first experience was a good one. This is certainly a very ambitious place from a couple of chefs - Terence and Patrick Feury - I've had very good meals from in the past. This spot took nearly a year longer than it was supposed to to open, so I'm looking forward to checking it out. Of course, I don't go when they're brand new, so it may be a while before you hear a report from me.

Barbara:

What is the best restaurant on the waterfront, we are coming up to Philly from Florida

Craig:

Well, I wish we had more places to choose from, Barbara, but this town can't seem to get its riverfront planning in gear, so... Currently think the Moshulu is clearly the best kitchen on the river. It may not be quite as good as when I first re-reviewed them a few years ago under the current Marty Grims ownership (3 bells) - but it's still far better than it needs to be for such an obvious tourist destination. The deck is a lot of fun in the warm weather with great views of the Center City skyline and New Jersey (yay!). As for other riverfront options (and I'm strictly talking Delaware River), I'd be willing to try out La Veranda again for upscale Italian, though I haven't been since the ownership change a few years ago. Alternatively, there's always the Swedish meatball platter overlooking the USS United States from the dining room at Ikea. It lacks for the riverside breezes, but you can't beat the price. Am I forgetting somewhere else?

Jimmy Jimmy:

Where can I find some decent Korean food in this city?

Craig:

Jimmy Jimmy - My colleague Rick Nichols and I just did a big package on all the great Korean food in North Philly, around Olney, 5th Street, and Cheltenham Ave. There are fabulous BBQ joints that grill with real charcoal (Everyday Good House, Seo Ra Bol, Kim's), soft tofu casserole parlors (Jong Ka Jib), awesome Korean fried chicken wings (Soho Cafe), shabu-shabu (Cooking.Papa), as well as excellent spots to get your noodle fix (Cheltenham Seafood Noodle Shop). And I'm sure there are many, many others we didn't uncover there. IN Center City, there are fewer satisfying Korean flavors, but when I really have a dolsot bibimbap craving, I go to Miran at 2034 Chestnut, or Tampopo on Jeweler's Row.

NoLibsDiner::

With Azure's sad closing last night, Northern Liberties now stands to gain two Mexican eateries (in the old Deuce space and now in Azure's space) but NoLibs seems to have plenty already with Los Cazuelas, Taco Riendo, Jose's, etc. These new eateries will have to provide a new take and beat out the authentic joints to be successful. Plus, I'd rather see some new concepts or more variety back in the area since we're losing some good places. Any thoughts, Craig?

Craig:

Dear NoLibber - Welcome to the world of the cutting edge neighborhood. Sometimes, things don't always evolve according to the food blogger's whims. I did like Deuce - it provided a different kind of gastropub vibe to the neighborhood - but was less enamored of Azure than many others. Ideally, you'd want some variety in this neighborhood, and I can think of a number of concepts the neighborhood is still lacking - but there must be a growing demand for Mexican food for a reason (like a growing Mexican community, and the fact that everybody loves good Mexican). You're right, though: they will have to be good, or they will fold before you know it, and suddenly the neighborhood will be faced with empty storefronts that are hard to fill - possibly because the pace of gentrification doesn't always sync with developers' visions. Last I checked, NoLibs was still in growth mode, so only time will tell which direction its restaurant scene will ultimately settle. Check back in three years...

Michael:

I want to go to Amanda after some business. Is it an ok place to dine solo??

Craig:

I would say so, Michael. Amada has a great bar for dining, and I always think of good eating bars (like Fork, or Sansom Street Oyster House) as good spots for solo dining. Also, there is a chef's counter, sort of a bar beside the kitchen, that is a great place to eat, watch, and smell those garlic shrimp tapas sizzling....

Marty:

Hi Craig, How important is it for you as a critic and in your personal life to eat food that is sustainably farmed (sans hormones, antibiotics, etc.) I might be coming off of a Pollan related high but I think this is important enough to consider ...given the fact that the food industry uses as much, if not more, petroleum than cars do.

Craig:

Marty - As a critic, I'm obliged to eat anything and everything I encounter, and so far, most of it is still not Pollan-friendly. In my personal shopping and cooking time, though, I do make the effort to seek out local, artisanal, and sustainable ingredients. I've been very impressed with much of what Pollan discussed in his book, the Ominivore's Dilemma, but have long believed (with no scientific basis) that these ingredients are both better tasting, and better for me. Still, our food chain is a complicated topic, and navigating the wider world outside of our choices for home cooking is a complex one, for sure.

maryrose5680:

: Hi, Craig! Great to read Eliot's scouting report on Maia. Can't wait to try it. For the CT, here goes - 1) Famous Fourth St. Deli, 2) Cebu, 3)

Craig:

Maryrose - you are a Crumb Tracker ringer, at least with the first one. Had lunch at the Famous last weekend, on a very rainy day, and I was really in the mood for deli - and Russ Cowan's deli did not disappoint. His corned beef, as you know, is one of my favorite things to eat, period - it absolutely melts in the mouth, with just the right amount of pickled tang; the hard salami, though, is also a treasure. They use Vienna Beef salamis, and they hang in the window near the register withering into meat torpedoes, from 8-14 weeks. I like 'em old.. and these were completely mahogany-dark inside, sweating their garlicky, smoky oily juices. My kids - who covet this salami for their lunches - graciously allowed me to nosh a few slices off their pile.

NoLibsDiner:

: taking a shot here: 1)famous 4th street deli, 2) cebu, 3) tiffin

Craig:

NoLibs - Maryrose already got number 1, which was an easy pick. Keep trying on the others...

pat j:

Have you been to Great Burger yet? I've heard some good things...

Craig:

Yes, Pat J. Anyone who knows how I feel about cheeseburgers probably figured out I wouldn't be able to resist a much-touted new burger chain. I was reminded, though, why I usually wait a while before visiting a place, as my burgers were disappointingly dry - also the fries and onion rings seemed frozen. I would go back for sure, though, because people I trust (including someone who ate with me at that first meal) have reported some serious improvement from the opening week jitters. I'll be back. It is a snazzy upgrade, ambiance-wise, to the Five Guys concept. Neither of them, though, could compare to the double-bacon cheeseburger special I ate a couple weeks ago at Snow White at 19th and Chestnut, where Vincent the veteran chef still knows his way around the old-school griddle.

maryrose5680:

: 3) Jaipur

Craig:

Nooooo.....

KL :

: Craig, this is a technical question, but maybe you have the pull to get it done. First, i like to go back to your chats to see what's a good place to try, when i am in different parts of the area. We nee dn indexs to all the places mentioned in the chats. Second the restaurant lisings in the food section are impossible to use. Searching on Center City gives NJ restauants, etc. All this great info, and it's lost!

Craig:

KL - you make some VERY good points, that I'm sure our tech people will love to consider. They may be reading this, in fact, as we type...

Liz:

Bill from Jersey: why wouldn't you think bottled water would cost you additional?

Craig:

Liz - I sort of lost that point in Bill's opening statement (I got sidetracked by off-season watermelon!) But of course, I'd expect Brasserie to charge for the bottled water. I'd also expect them to hard-sell it in the beginning schmooze, as pretty much every upscale restaurant in town does. I think it's safe to assume that free water is also available, so I'm not sure why the outrage there, except for the price, which one should always expect to be a bit high on Walnut Street.

Trisha:

Craig, do you know if Steven Starr plans to reopen where washington square was? It was such a great summer bar, it would be ashame to let the space go to waste.

Craig:

That sounds like a Michael Klein question, Trisha. I've heard various things rumored (contemporary Indian was one), but I'll believe it when I taste it. We've heard lots of things were planned for his closed Blue Angel space, too, but those plans have stalled as well. Starr has plenty on his plate right now - including the next project, his big brasserie on Rittenhouse Square, to which the talented but roving Dominique Filoni (ex-Savona, Bianca, Lacroix) has just been tabbed chef. Interesting......

MaryRose5680:

Craig, this is an off-beat question, but have you ever attended a catered event where the food was actually restaurant quality? As a "Top Chef" viewer, I saw that creating top-quality food for masses of people can be really challenging, but I would think that the caterer who could do so would be extremely successful. Do Georges Perrier's or Stephen Starr's group cater with the same quality as their restaurants?

Craig:

I don't get to many catered parties, unfortunately - so I don't speak from much experience on local caterers. But I do know catering presents some real challenges in terms of quality, quantity, presentation, etc. that restaurants don't have to deal with. I'd be curious to hear from some avid party-goers as to which are the hottest caterers in town? I will say this, I was at a school function recently where LOTS of local restaurants were serving nibbles, and the best - by far - were these truffled mushroom risotto balls from Global Dish, the caterer that recently opened Supper. Makes sense. Supper is a fabulous - 3 bell - newcomer.

danij:

3) Bindi

Craig:

Nope. Think downscale, way downscale....

Jimmy:

Craig, we all know you are a big fan of Tiffin. Tiffin is good, but I believe it pales in comparison to New Delhi. Thoughts?

Craig:

Since we're on the topic of Indian, I thought I'd post this Jimmy comment from a couple weeks ago....so, Jimmy, really, I don't think New Delhi is even close. I mentioned a meal there a few weeks ago. New Delhi, one of the stalwart buffets in University City's Little India bargain row, has recently undergone an impressive decor make-over. The food? I did not like it at all, very one-dimensional heat, with an unappetizing grayish-shade to things that should have been a vibrant green. Tandoori chicken was as dry as sawdust. It was a bustling, vibrant place, but really, this is a lowest common denominator Indian buffet.

danij:

3) ashoka palace

Craig:

Now you're talking, danij. Yes, number 3 is Ashoka Palace, the shockingly pink replacement for Bootsie's 38 S. 19th Street. Also new, so my first impressions should be taken with a grain of basmati. It is super-bare-bones, basically a long pink room with a lunch counter in the back - and about 20 people in line waiting to order. People obviously crave this uber-cheap straight to the point curry set-up, and for good reason - the value is incredible, with every dish $10 or less. As for the quality, well, there were some good flavors - the masala kebabs, for example, as well as excellent paratha stuffed with cauliflower and cilantro, and I did like the chanamasala which came with puffy bhatura breads. Much of the food, though, was a little on the sloppy side. There were too many errant bones in my chicken biryani, and the rice was mushy. There was a hint of too much sweetness in the chana. And te chicken tikka appetizer looked to have been recooked so much, they were were rubbery..[cont.]

Craig:

Again, I can't say too much how an early visit like this may not tell the whole story. Ashoka was clearly in the weeds dealing with the massive line of hungry lunchers - it may just take them a while to get their kitchen up to speed.

Brian:

How does your egg smoker compare with the BBQ at Lucy's and other bbq places around here?

Craig:

Brian - the thing about egg smokers is that they can do anything, as long as you know what you're doing. And I don't - not yet. For now, I think Lucy's does a super job with a big industrial smoker, and those kind of serious smokers are really hard to compete with - especially because I can't figure out a way to get racks of ribs on a rotisserie dripping their porky juices down onto MY roasting chickens. Well, at least I have something to aspire to...

Craig:

On that note, I'm calling this chat sufficiently smoked. Thanks to everyone who joined this week's discussion - even if no one quite nailed the full tracker suite. The missing plate - curried pork belly - was eaten at Rouget, a very intriguing upscale (yet affordable) contemporary French place in Newtown. You'll hear more about Rouget in an upcoming review on June 8. In the meanwhile, can any Trackers who've yet to receive their books please email me (claban@phillynews.com) - I promise to send them along right away! Really. In the meanwhile, I won't be here next week. I'll be back on June 3, though, ready to talk Philly Food once again. Until then, may you all have sunny, tasty Memorial Days, and eat something worth bragging about!