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Restaurant Chat: It was time for Rick's Original Philly Steaks to go

Good afternoon my hungry friends, and welcome back to a special last-blast-before-summer-vacation Philly food chat. I'll be on "assignment" for the next two weeks, so this will be it until I return from the land of sand and seafood, so let's make it a good one! It has been busy since we last spoke. Some of that time has been spent reporting on John Bucci Jr.'s fight against preleukemia and his preparations for a bone-marrow transplant Friday (see link to update). Another cheesesteak figure, meanwhile, Rick Olivieri of Rick's Cheesesteaks, has lost his battle to stay in the Reading Terminal Market - he's expected to be out by the end of October. I popped over there today to check the mood, and retaste the steaks, and it was moribund all-around. More on that later. In the meanwhile, to this week's Crumb Tracker Quiz. Name the three places in order I ate these dishes, and win a signed copy of my book...[continued]

Here are the crumbs: 1) pepperpot soup; 2) polenta bread; 3) crab-corn-and-bacon risotto (al fresco)..... Ready, set, start crumbing!

Hey, here's a quick report from the corner of 10th & Spruce, where both our new places are now open. (And not damaged, thank goodness, in that recent three-alarm fire.) Kanella is delicious, serving organic meats and all sorts of Greek goodness. Definitely more high-end, though with the neighborhoody exposed-brick Philly BYOB feel. And Azul just opened -- haven't had the chance to try it yet -- but the bar is stocked and the interior looks sleek. Huge improvement over the former tenant. Menu appears basic Mexican, not sure yet if it's a drinking place with food or an eating place with drinks.

Jael - thanks for this report on the good stuff cooking now over at 10th and Spruce. I've heard a lot of early buzz on Kanella, all of it good. So I'm looking forward to taking my own bite when it's ripe. I really enjoyed this chef's stuff when he was over at Meze, as he brought a sophisticated and personal take to Greek cooking that is so rare around here, where it's mostly just stock taverna fare. As for Azul, I'm eager to try that one to. I understand the place has a very ambitious young chef, and I'm always curious to taste what the next wave of talent is cooking.

I went to Kanela for lunch and had a good meal. The menu is more Mediterranean than just Greek. We had kofta kabob, avolg.(sp)chicken soup with rice, fatoush and a lamb stew. All were good except for the fatoush which was soggy. The place was empty so i can't comment on the service and the decor is nice but it's obvious they didn't hire a 6 figure designer for the space.

Interesting that Kanella is open for lunch. So many of Philly's best restaurants are NOT open for the mid-day meal (I've never figured out why this is), everyone will be glad to have another option.

Crumb tracker #2... polenta bread... has Mama Palma's reopened?

Yes, indeed, Jael. Mama Palma's, the Fitler Square brick oven pizzeria, has risen from the ashes of its April fire. And in record time, too! They deserve incredible kudos for rehabbing and reopening with such speed, especially in a town that routinely watches restaurant openings drag on for months and months. They did major work here, and the dining room is as handsome as ever - though all that tile and polished granite could use SOMEthing to soften the incredible acoustical din. The wood-fired pizzas, as always, were very good - certainly better than average. The polenta bread - actually a soft pizza smeared with sweet polenta and roasted peppers - is the restaurant's signature dish, and pretty much addictive. One notable plus here is M. Palma's excellent beer list - a small but smart selection of Belgian-style beers (like La Fin du Monde) and hefeweizen on draft, which is possibly the perfect pizza beer.

Craig, there are many reported and rumored restaurant openings scheduled for the next 2-6 months. What are you most excited about or most anticipating? Personally, I'm looking forward to Garces' Distrito and Capasso's West Side Gravy.

Figgy - the openings around here are just crazy, so busy you'd never know we were in the midst of a so-called recession. I'm definitely looking forward to the two you mentioned - another venture from Garces, the tapas man who was also the culinary genius behind El Vez; and another venture from one of South Jersey's brightest stars (of Blackbird). But I"m also really excited about a number of newly minted restaurants that have already opened, but are still new for a verdict: 10Arts (Ripert), Table 31 (Perrier), Maia (the Feury Brothers in Villanova), Zahav (Solomonov/Cook), not to mention the latest Brazilian steakhouse, Chima, which just opened last week and has been mailing around 2-for-1 coupons. Coming up, I'm also very eager to see Starr's Parisian cafe on Rittenhouse Square when it's done - a much needed addition to the square. One more: Tom Baker's brewpub, Earth Bread +Brewery in Mt. Airy - he is a major league brewer (used to have Heavyweight) with plans for serious pizza...

I can't belive that the RTM spent over 700k on legal bills to evict Rick's steaks, that seems to not be a good example of fiduiciary responsibility.

Michael - I noted that detail, too, in today's story by

» READ MORE: Joseph A. Slobodzian

. Forgiving that debt was part of the settlement, and it does seem like a hefty figure to pass off. Then again, I'm sure the RTM will feel blessed when this story finally goes away. And I know from experience - litigation is a very complicated thing, and we may never know all the details here.

Have you tried Sitar India on 38th Street? While I've always thought their food a cut above the other Indian buffets in University City, recently I've noticed an increased number of Indians dining there. The other day when I had takeout delivered the Saag Paneer and Mulligawtawny Soup were excellent.

It's been a while since I've been to Sitar, and while I generally thought of it as slightly better than its neighborhood competition, I pretty much find all those W. Philly Indian buffets to be dreary. Cheap, yes. But not nearly as tasty as some of our better Indians -Tiffin, Karma, Cafe Spice (which has slipped in recent years), or Bindi, which is very much a Western take on Indian flavors, but so well done I gave it recently 3 bells.

They just better not evict DiNics, I love the roast pork with provolone and greens.

Well, I think there would be a protest march in DiNic's defense, maybe even a siege. Those "new" pork sandwiches are awesome indeed. As for Rick's steaks? They were so incredibly ordinary, actually subpar (tasteless, unseasoned meat topped with rubbery provolone and canned mushrooms and over-pickled peppers that I was so unwise to order - why oh why did I get the "works"?), you have to wonder how he stayed in business so long. Of course, I know - it's the first place every tourist sees when they walk into the Market, and the line is pretty much automatic. I've always thought to be a shame, sort of bad publicity for a Philly icon (the steak). Then again, I've also always said that there should be enough room for more than one cheesesteak place in the Reading Terminal Market.

Craig, my take on Sitar India is that is has gotten tastier and is a good value. I enjoyed it more than the cold, higher-priced food I was served at Cafe Spice.

OK, Carol - you've just about persuaded me to pay Sitar a revisit. Also, please note my comment on Cafe Spice above - it's gone from a really interesting high-end take on Indian food, with an Old City sense of style, to something a little less exciting, less vibrant, and just a bit too expensive.

Craig - stopped by Salento the other day. While you were dead on about the service, the food was pretty average. Chicken was dry and under seasoned, the duck was over cooked, and the pasta was just not that flavorful. While I should probably give it another shot based on your review - and others - I just can't seem to see the motivation. As far as BYO's go there are so many better ones that it's hard to justify. What's your take?

One other note - when I was in Melograno last week I overheard that they are moving to 20th and Spruce to an 80 seat location. Any thoughts?

Rob - thanks for your take on Salento, though I'm sorry to hear you didn't have a great meal. I haven't been since the review, and generally the buzz has been pretty evenly positive. That said, I still think I preferred their original, more intimate L'angolo at Broad and Porter. It has a nice personality and some really distinctive regional cooking. Davide Faenza's cooking, quite possibly, loses some of that personality in the bigger venue of Salento, though I enjoyed my meals there just fine. Which does lead very nicely into the topic of Melograno. I've always thought of this as pretty much the best of the Center City Italian BYO's - never had a bad meal here. But you have to wonder whether the move to a bigger, less-neighborhoody location, at 20th and Sansom, next to Tinto, will somehow effect the flavor of the experience. I think chef Gianluca Demontis is good enough to make the leap, but it will be an open question until the plate of penne with pancetta and pomodoro hits my table.

Craig, Okay. I agree [Sitar is] not Karma or Tiffin. But, then again, it's not trying to be, is it?.....[Also], is there any hope that the front of house at Modo Mio will improve? The two times I've been there the food was amazing and the service appalling. Yes, we waited 45 minutes for a reservation without being offered so much as a glass of water.

Carol - you sound like a tough customer, though, if I recall, service was Modo Mio's biggest flaw during my review. It tends to be one of the persistent sticking points in our BYO scene - the owner chef is in back, not in front - and it often prevents a very promising place from taking the leap from 2- to 3-bells. I'll have to check it out, and report back..

Craig, Your piece on John Bucci was really touching. It brought a tear to my girlfriends eye. Anyway...we have reservations for Marigold in 2 to recommend a wine? It's for my ladies birthday so price isn't an option! Thanks!

Thanks for the kind word, Marty. John Bucci is really fighting for his life here, and anyone who's seen (and tasted) the passion he displays behind the griddle at John's Roast Pork knows: he's far too vibrant, too young, and too talented to be dealing with this kind of thing. Then again, cancer doesn't play favorites, so we can only hope for the best. He is in EXCELLENT hands with Temple's Bone Marrow Transplant docs, with whom I've been incredibly impressed, at least in my communications with Dr. Thomas Klumpp. But this is a very dodgy procedure, and Klumpp has only given a 50-50 chance of longterm success. I'll be following John's progress closely, and will report any news or updates. On a more gastronomic note, I hope you enjoy Marigold as much as I did. As for wine, the food here is surprisingly light-handed, especially for a cuisine so influenced by Southern cooking. Also, it's not very heavy on red meat. So I'd go with either a lighter red (pinot or tempranillo), an aromatic white

I just ate at Marigold on Friday and thought everything was great. The pork chop was succulent and moist and the grits were so good we running our forks around the bowl to make sure we get every last drop. Brought a pinot

Glad to hear it, Danij. My thoughts exactly...As for the whites, something Alsatian might work, or a Gruner-Veltliner, or a good crisp Chablis, or how about (if you're spending some $$) a nice white from the Rhone, like Condrieu (just about any producer will do, but I'm a big fan of Guigal).

Had a great meal at Modo Mio last Friday and service was not an issue. The $32. four-course on the whole menu is unbeatable..Loved the octopus and salmon starters, the gnocci in calamari ragu..quite a good veal cheek, too!

Thanks for this positive report on Modo, Don - you're always listening in to offer the brighter side of things.

Running Scissors Pinot Noir from Cali, very good, nice nose and went well with the pork

I'll have to try that one, Danij. I've sort of been losing interest in California pinots, which lately have been tasting vapidly fruity. Of more interest to me has been some of the Rhone-style grapes the West Coast is trying. Check out the Truchard Syrah that has been on Chairman Selection special. It was a Drink feature a month ago, and VERY very good. Soft enough on the fruit, but with enough spice and edge to do that big thick pork chop tannic justice.

I just went to Supper's Sunday Supper special and really had an enjoyable experience. The Greek inspired meal served that night was some of the best greek food I have had in a while

Thanks for this Supper report, Danij. Their Sunday supper, a bargain prix-fixe on that day only, is one of the best value ways to experience this somewhat expensive (but very worthy) small-plate eatery.

Say "Supper's Sunday Supper" three times really fast!

"Supper's Sunday Supper", "Supper's Sunday Supper", "Supper's Sunday Supper"...not so hard...

Marty, a couple of Pinot recommends available at Canals Marlton - Bergstrom or Brickhouse pinots. Anything they make are absolutely fantastic - going to be in the $40-70 range, but wonderful Oregon Pinots that look like they'd go great with the Marigold Menu.

Well, if you're going to expand these recommendations to Jersey, they sky's the limit. If we're sticking on the West Coast, my favorite pinots have been produced by (in no particular order) : Archery Summit, Argyle Nut House, Domaine Serene, Siduri (any of their many appellations), Saintsbury Reserve, and Chehalem (available at Moore Bros.). There are a lot of others, but I find you need to really go over the $20-$25 mark to land one with character and depth. Oregon pinots are generally earthier than the Californians...

On my last Marigold visit (Sunday of Memorial Day weekend), I was plesed to have a Malbec in tow to go with the excellent hanger steak.

Malbec will work fine, too, if you're doing the steak (I just had a fabulous Pascual Toso Reserve - all raspberries and violets, but I also like the Norton Riserva, Catena, and the higher end Zuccardi called Q) - BUT, that malbec won't work well for most of the rest of Marigold's menu, so if you're choosing just one, that might not be the most flexible choice. Then again, isn't this the beauty of a BYO - you can bring as many choices from home as you like?

Thanks everyone for the recommendations! I will report back on the meal when the chat is live again.

Craig those are some more good pinots! But a word of advice - if you buy one of those big boys, it's going to be pretty young. Decant it for a couple of hours before you leave for dinner, then pour it back in the bottle and cork for transport. You'll be glad you did.

I'm sad to see Azure close but the owners are retiring and the new people are the Royal Tavern crew so hopefully something good will end up there. I only go there when the Tap is full.

Yes, Michael - folks really loved Azure (probably a lot more than I did), but I understand what it's like to lose a reliable neighborhood spot. Still, the Royal Tavern crew is a good one (Los Caballitos is also theirs), so the potential is there for something promising...keep us posted.

Hi Craig. I saw Matt Levin and his sous chef leading a group through the farmers market on Rittenhouse Square on Saturday. Is something special that Lacroix does on Saturdays?

Yes, Chad. That sounds like a part of a regular class that he does (arranged through the Rittenhouse Hotel, I believe), where they buy ingredients at the market and then return to the restaurant to cook. It sounds like a fun (and tasty) day. He is one of my favorite young cooks in the city.

CHad I did that for mother's day with my mom and it was really fun! you get a tour of dibrunos, lunch at lacroix and kitchen demos. Plus you can talk to the chef and I ask great questions

ON that note, I'm going to call this chat farm fresh and ready to go. Nobody got the Crumb Tracker today, so I'll share the clues. Number 1: pepperpot soup from City Tavern, which served my family a very disappointing lunch last Saturday (the cole slaw on my plate was still FROzen inside!); 3: Copper Bistro, the Northern Liberties BYOB which has really come into its own in the last year or so since their review. We thoroughly enjoyed our meal, which was seasona and very well cooked. The entrees weren't quite as exciting as the starters, but this is one spot worth a revisit for anyone looking for an intimate New American BYO with thoughtful cooking and a nice back patio.

By the way, for those following the Bucci saga - I just this moment got a call from John Bucci Jr., who told me with tuckered elation that he had just finished his last back "last bag" of pre-transplant chemo drugs. He sounded tired, but thrilled. "And I still have my hair!!" he said. We'll be thinking of him as this chat takes a two week hiatus. I'll be back with other updates - not to mention some juicy Shore details on June 24. Until then, may you all be well and eat something worth bragging about!