Craig:

Good afternoon, friends, and welcome back to the Philly food chat that will make your stomach growl. What’s been on your plates worth bragging about this week? It’s been a busy one for me, catching up with all those restaurant meals I missed during the holiday hiatus. Of course, we’re about to begin the next set of holiday meals, beginning tonight, with Hanukkah Round One: our annual latke party extraordinaire with the neighbors. I’m a traditionalist when it comes to latkes (no sweet potatoes, no leeks, no wasabi!!), and for many years have used the classic Joan Nathan recipe to great success (though I give half the potatoes a second shred for perfect balance of crunch and creamy centers.) Anyone out there have a potato pancake secret that needs to be told? A favorite restaurant latke? In the meanwhile, let’s get back to the Crumb Tracker Quiz - and this week’s won’t be easy....

Craig:

Name the three places in order where I ate these dishes and win a signed copy of my book. Here are those crumby clues: 1) Chicken katsu curry-don; 2) a “Combo Overboard on the Out”; 3) This month’s “Cheese of the Month.” Ready, set….crumb!

Gregg:

Craig, How do you handle poor service at a restaurant that you frequent? The reason I ask is that my fiance and I went out for brunch on Sunday to a place where we dine fairly regularly and received poor service from the start (i.e. took a long time to come to our table, refused our attempt to place a food order when she wanted to only take our drink order, declining to make a substitution without asking, slamming our drinks down on the table, etc.), we wanted to complain but did not want to make future visits to the restaurant uncomfortable. Any advise?

Craig:

Gregg - I can see how awkward that is, if you hope to continue going to this restaurant. But don't forget, you've been a really good customer in the past so your complaint should carry extra weight. I would definitely ask to speak with the manager or owner about it, let them know you've been coming for a while and - in a calm, soothing tone - relay your concerns with your previous meal. These conversations can get defensive very easily, and frankly, you're always best to bring them up during the meal in question - not after the fact - when they're best able to make direct amends. But if this restaurant truly is worth your regular patronage, they should give you a satisfying response. If not, there's lots of other brunches in town, and you owe it to yourself to see what else is out there.

Sophie Belle:

Craig what was the name of the Italian restaurant around 7th or 8th and Chestnut. They had maybe one or two seatings and the Mama of the restaurant told you all about the food?

Craig:

Sophie - I'm sorry, but I'm drawing a blank here....Are you sure you have the address right?

ashley:

been there too gregg, I normally just suck it up as 1 bad experience out of many good at that place. Though I would blame the server for not taking your substitution, that can be a kitchen call at certain places.

Craig:

I agree with Ashley that bad meals occasionally happen, even at a favorite place. But there's something about 'no substitutions' at a brunch place, which is supposed to embody the mellowness of a lazy weekend, that (even at a crazily busy restaurant) deserves some flexibility. Even if it isn't possible, the attitude is inexcusable. I recall a brunch at Rx a few months ago where the kitchen refused to swap a fried egg for a scrambled one on principle (they appeared to be serving both), and though the rest of our meal was pretty good, it definitely left us with a bad taste in our mouth.

ashley:

oops. meant to say wouldn't

Craig:

Either way, Ashley, it's up to the server to make it clear that it's the kitchen's decision, and convey it in a way that doesn't leave a customer feeling like they just asked the waitress for something really extraordinarily difficult and annoying. (Not to say customers can't be annoying....which makes me wonder, Ashley, are you a waitress? Anyone out there care to share 'bad customer' stories?)

scott:

i am pretty sure the place was on walnut rather than chestnut. i think it was called something linke Gaetano's

craig:

Scott - Gaetano's not only predates me, it predates the Internet! I suppose Sophie could be looking for it, but let's stick to modern history here.

Gregg:

Craig our experience was similar as we only asked to add mushrooms and tomato in an omlette and the waitress refused, even though it was being served in other dished (which we pointed out). It was not Sabrinas, but I heard great things about their brunch (still have never had it).

Craig:

My verdict, Gregg? You need to expand your brunch horizons for the next weekend or two. The new Sabrina's on Callowhill ST. (slightly less mobbed than the Italian Market one), is not a bad place to start. I'm also a fan of Ida Mae's in Fishtown, an Irish/locavore "bruncherie" which I just recently reviewed. They had a few service issues, too, mostly due to the incredible lines of people waiting to get it, but the restaurant definitely compensated in good food. (Dinner, by the way, was also very good.)

ashley:

was for a loooong time. working the boring 9 to 5 now

Craig:

Thanks for making me your lunch break, then!

Rebecca:

Craig- What's your favorite Pho shop? I recently discovered Pho Hoi on 11th and Washington and it's really really terrific.

Craig:

Rebecca - I'm a fan of pho 75, just across the parking lot from the one you're talking about (I believe that's in the old Porky Porky bbq place). 75 just opened another outlet in Chinatown. Unlike many of the other viet soup places, soup is the ONLY thing they do. I find their broth has more aromatics swirling around (like star anise, cinnamon stick, etc.) and their noodles have a nice little snap, where others sometimes tend to be a bit mush. I'll have to check out the new place, though. Thanks for reminding me.

Chris:

I wrote in last week with a lukewarm report on the updates to the menu at Sidecar. I’ve been back a couple of times since, and I can definitely see why you visit a place multiple times before reviewing. I was really impressed with almost everything I tried on subsequent visits, especially the eponymous burger. It’s gussied up with tasso ham and some other stuff, but the star taste is definitely ground beef treated nicely on the griddle. That seems to be a factor a lot of your favorite burgers had in common, and I remember the frozen burgers were a big qualm in your review, so I thought you’ve liked to know they’ve corrected that problem and then some. Just wanted to update my ambivalence last week with something bordering on excitement this week and make sure I didn’t dissuade you from making a return visit.

Craig:

Chris - thanks for this update to your update on the Sidecar. It is on my radar to check out. Nothing any chatter could really ever dissuade me from finding out personally what I think of a place, good or bad, though I'm always glad to hear an encouraging report.

Todd:

Craig, I recently moved here from Washington D.C. and I have to be honest philly has been a huge dinning disappointment. It just seems Washington was on a completely different playing field. I've followed your reviews and have tried standout like Matyson only to have a ho hum meal. Do you feel like I've downgraded since moving or can you recommend some other places to help me?

Craig:

Welcome to Philly, Todd, though I'm sorry our dining scene hasn't been up to snuff for you. I really can't address any comparisons between Philly and DC personally, because I just don't have enough Washingtonian meals under my belt. Though one of my food colleagues, who lives part time in DC, part time in Philly, is working on his thoughts, which I'll share with you shortly. As for other Philly recommendations, I'll keep '

Craig:

(oops...sorry I pressed send too soon!) I'll keep those recommendations/reviews coming, and you'll have to figure it out for yourself after that. For a wider picture view, rather than just a week to week trickle, you might want to check out my book of reviews, which covers over 600 places. If you managed to win today's Crumb Tracker Quiz, you can get one free!

Laurie:

Craig, Have you dined recently at the Oceanaire Seafood Room? Friends said they have a new chef and it is tremendous. Any thoughts?

Craig:

Laurie - I keep going back to Oceanaire to check out the 'new chef' but it's hard to keep up with them. They're on chef #3 or 4 since my initial review, I think. I'm glad to hear that whoever's in the kitchen right now is doing a good job, but this is the biggest danger with high-end chains, as they have a very hard time retaining quality chefs. It's more about the "brand" than the name of the chef.

Mike:

Todd - I like Matyson, but it's probably not the measuring stick for Philly dining. Pop into Tinto sometime for a great example of the small plates scene that ahs hit the city or Striped Bass for an older (and still great) Philly dining experience.

GP:

Craig, I read an interesting article in the Business Journal discussing a massive expansion of the Starr Restaurants into other areas (i.e. Florida, New Jersey and Nevada). Do you believe that his concepts and his talent will become too diluted and it will hurt the restaurants in Philadelphia? Have you seen any decline since his move to New York and AC?

Craig:

GP - you ask a very good question, but I'm not sure I can really answer it. I don't really frequent Starr's restaurants that often when I'm not in the midst of reviewing them, and it's been a while since he opened one here in Philly. That said, these are well-built concepts, and they obviously have staying power, and very professional systems to keep them running at a high level We had a weekend brunch at the original Continental a few weeks ago, and I have to say it was great - and still better than the Mid-Town rendition. As for over-saturation, Starr's restaurants in other city's shouldn't have much of an effect, because he's drawing on a completely separate employment pool for staff. What is more intriguing, I think, is to see how long the concept for each of these restaurants can remain interesting and high-quality before they get tired or boring. So far, I think he's holding reasonably steady. I'm looking forward to the new French bistro he's building on Rittenhouse Square.

Craig:

I have a guest response to Todd here on the D.C. scene from someone who really knows both: my colleague Rick Nichols...

Rick Nichols:

Yo Todd, All right, so Philly doesn’t have carts full of half-smokes, those overrated spicy hotdogs that Washingtonians call soul food. But check it out, if you’re into Asian, we’ve got acres more here than in D.C. – Vietnamese, Burmese, Thai, Indonesian and a fun Chinese hand-pulled noodle shop on Race St. And Italian. It’s not all good, but you gotta walk a mile for even decent Italian in D.C. You’ve got Cashion’s Eat Place down there on the fringe of Adams Morgan, and some terrific Latin American fare (including at great little Peurvian place (Canteros, I believe it’s spelled) on 18th St NW), and, of course Michel Richard, now with an affordable bistro option. But, whoa, nothing like our Center City tapas scene (Amada and Tinto make you forget about Oyamel), or the Vetri or amazing Osteria on North Broad (though watch your car windows), Melograno or Radicchio, Sovalo in Northern Liberties, or for fish tacos, Azure....(more tc)

Rick Nichols:

Oh, and skip the cheesesteaks, pal; get the pulled pork with aged provolone and greens at Tommy DiNic’s in the Reading Market…see if you ever even think about biting into a half-smoke again.

Craig:

Thanks for that, Rick. Then again, it's all a matter of personal taste. Todd is going to have to find the places that meet his own restaurant desires, and it just may take a while for him to get his Philly groove.

Dan:

1. Tampopo, 2. Nick's 3. DiBruno's

Craig:

Dan - thanks for jumping onto the Crumb Tracker wagon! But you've only got two right. I'm not asking for WHERE the cheese of the month came from, I'm asking you to NAME it!! As for the first two, you've got them, bro. And only a true Fluffian (while we're talking Philly soul food) would know what a "Combo Overboard on the Out" is. This is the real, original, seriously delicious roast beef sandwich at Nick's, the old time taproom at 20th and Jackson - comes with handsliced beef on a kaiser, a shower of juice, a slice of provolone and the peppery shreds of the amazingly tender and flavorful "outs", the outside of the roast they keep in a separate pan. Todd...you there? Go to Nick's right NOW and order one of these! It's not a bad place to begin transfusing your soul with some truly good Philly flavors.

Todd:

Thanks for the additional info. I did not mean to bash Philly, just so far I've struggled to find meals that matched those from D.C. Thanks!

Todd:

Rick thanks a bunch. Just hearing you mention Oayamel and Micheal Richard make's me weepy. I'm probably just a little homesick and you are right, Italian is hard to find in D.C. Have you been to Eric Ripert's or Wolfgang's new digs in D.C.

Craig:

Todd - Ripert is about to open a version of that restaurant here, in the rotunda at the Ritz-Carlton. (Then again, he's a New Yorker-Frenchman, so nothing, it seems is truly regional anymore...)

Sean:

Another word of caution in regards to Osteria, make sure you get a table in the front of the house, last time we went we were stuck in the back (side) room and felt it really took the fun & excitement away from the place.

Craig:

Side rooms - even at the most lively restaurants - can often feel like they're missing the party. I think that space would be plenty nice for a private function, but it is definitely away from the vortex of woodburning fun.

Leigh:

re: latkes, I'm with you Craig- traditional is definitely the way to go, but a little powdered sugar sprinkled on top never hurt anyone...

Craig:

Leigh - funny you should mention powdered sugar, which is a real New Orleans thing to serve with fried foods, like eggplant sticks. My brother, Terry, loves to sprinkle granulated sugar on his latkes (with sour cream), it adds a little more crunch. He does the same with blintz muffins. I don't have that sweet tooth, though. The gene must have skipped the siblings.

Pogo:

the cheese is Doddington

cheese junkie:

Thanks so much Craig for your cheese of the month column! I wait for it every month to see what you are going to recommend next and last month, you didnt let me down with Doddington, a wonderfully aged, rich cheddar that I fell in love with.

Craig:

Pogo - just in time!! Interest has been HUGE in my monthly cheese column (wink; wink) so I'm shocked it took this long for not one, but two people to nail it. Actually, Doddington is kind of a cheddar, but it's curds are also pressed, like a gouda, which gives this intriguing Brit an extra density and creaminess, and a little butterscotchy finish. I owe this one to book editor, Frank Wilson, who can often be found munching on Appleby's cheshire and pears over by a pile of newly arrived books. I'm looking forward to working my way through his list of favorite Bitish cheeses - Mrs. Kirkham's Lancashire is next. In the meanwhile, Pogo, you have won this week's Crumb Tracker quiz! Please send me your mailing information to claban@phillynews.com so I can send that book right off.

max:

Dotington

dan:

Craig: #3- an English blue, the Harbourne, was it?

Craig:

Sorry, guys. We've got our Cheese of the Month, our new Crumb Tracker, and a chat that I'm going to call perfectly crumbly ripe for the day. So, with that, I'm going to say goodbye, God speed, and may all your potato cakes brown evenly. Until next week, be well, and eat something worth bragging about! Todd - let us know if you need more help, we offer restaurant therapy for free.