Reader: I just had a GREAT burger from Bobby's place. Bobby was expediting service too! I got to meet Iron Chef Symon as well. I ordered the classic palace burger and fries with a fountain soda. Funky spot with reasonable prices and a legit burger.
CL: Thanks for filing this report. Sounds like the Philly burger wars are seriously on.
Reader: Craig, in the '60's when I was in college in Philly we would all run down to Chinatown late at night because they were open. Then the food was all Cantonese - I still prefer that to Hunan, Szechuan etc., but any ideas of some of the better places for Cantonese in Chinatown?
CL: For good Cantonese in Chinatown, I used to love Shaio Lan Kung, which was always open late. I haven't been in years, since the master chef passed away and the kitchen turned over. My current Cantonese go-to kitchen is that old favorite, Lee How Fook. If you want impressive Cantonese cooking, try Kwi, the noodle bar in Caesar's in Atlantic City near the pai gau tables. Their Heavenly Basket, a hand-shredded tarot basket brimming with sweet crab, shrimp, and scallops, is a thing of stir-fry beauty.
Reader: Craig, I know I haven't been able to convert you fully into the cult of Ken, but for Cantonese in Chinatown, try Ken's Seafood, and not just for the live seafood (although that's a good place to start.) Almost anything in a clay pot, the Hong Kong Pork Chops, Roasted Pigeons, Chinese Broccoli with Chinese Sausage, or whatever greens are fresh that day, along with some live fish from the tanks, make for some pretty great Chinese dining.
CL: The Cult of Ken sounds dangerously delicious. I've been meaning to visit for years - now I must.
Reader: I was at the Four Seasons last week and was told the Fountain brunch is only open on special occasions. What is going on with fine dining in our city? Is this a harbinger of the state of affairs or the economy? I see only a few places left - Vetri, Fountain, Le Bec. The newer restaurants strike me as bars with food or Starr joints. What is your take on fine dining?
CL: The decline of formal fine dining is well under way (and well-documented), in part because of the economy, but also because of changing tastes and a genuine shift in what diners really want - good food in more casual settings. Yes, some of them are bars (aka 'gastropubs') or BYO's. But don't sell them all short. Garces, in particular, has the formula down pat for fun, lively, casual spaces that are also among the city's most serious when it comes to food. And there are many other examples. Even Vetri, despite serving what is clearly alta cucina fine dining, is void of Old World starch. In some ways, our choices for great food have only increased in recent years. But still, I share your sentiment (I think) that there is still a place for at least a few of these luxury jewels to remain open. It's a theme I echoed in last year's 4-bell reaffirmation of the Fountain. Hopefully, the best will still survive.