Reader: Bebe's closed??? A sad day for this great city.
C.L.: For a city that didn't have much of a bbq scene before Bebe's arrived, we will survive with what we've got. Or perhaps the slow upward trend will continue - and someone else will step in. ...
Reader: I was thinking since Striped Bass went belly up, Philadelphia doesn't have a top-notch upscale fish restaurant. Where would you recommend for a clambake-style lobster dinner?
C.L.: I miss Striped Bass, too, but it was never a clambake kind of place. Way too modern for that. It's not accurate, though, to say we no longer have good fish restaurants - I'd say Fish is pretty darn good, and so is the Oyster House, which has more of a classic sensibility and occasionally does clambakes. Also, don't forget Terence Feury over at Fork - he was one of Striped Bass' best chefs, and he's cooking some of the finest fish in town in Old City.
Reader: 10Arts has good fish dishes if you are looking for a fine-dining option.
C.L.: That's true, especially when you consider that it's a casual branch of Manhattan's luxury seafooder, Le Bernardin. The trout in hazelnut butter with bok choy is one of my favorite fish dishes. The fish burger isn't bad either, like eating bouillabaisse on a bun.
Reader: Do you think Jennifer's cuisine at 10Arts is as good as advertised? Worth trying once?
C.L.: I definitely think 10 Arts is worth a try - but be sure to try one of Jennifer Carroll's new tasting menus. For a long time, owner Eric Ripert's satellite restaurant aimed to be a bistro, and I don't think it allowed Carroll to show the chops that propelled her so far on Top Chef. The recent addition of the tasting menu is a nod to those who come expecting something creative and personal.
Reader: I've recently been on a Middle Eastern/Greek food kick. I love Kanella but do you have any other recommendations? I've heard South Street Souvlaki is good. ...
C.L.: If you liked Kanella, Zahav and its modern Israeli small-plates are worth a try. If you're looking for specifically Greek, Souvlaki has its place in that classic taverna kind of way. But don't forget Dmitri's, which is always good, or Estia, as long as you're prepared for shockingly expensive (but well-grilled) whole fish. I wish we had other Middle Eastern options - it's definitely one of our biggest ethnic food blind spots.
Reader: I agree, Estia is remarkably expensive, but I always enjoy the food, especially the grilled calamari. Where can I find the best grilled calamari in town? I remember Bar Panorama having great calamari.
C.L.: It's been a while, but I recall that L'Angolo, the charming Italian BYO at 15th and Porter, serves a delicately grilled calamari.
Reader: What about the new Greek place slated to fill the spot on 11th and Locust?
C.L.: According to my colleague Michael Klein, that project to replace the old Deux Cheminees with Ulysses Voyage is "officially on hold pending financing."
Reader: Bitar's at Ninth and Federal is good for Lebanese.
C.L.: Bitar's is just fine for basic Lebanese grill fare, but there's so much more that no one has explored. From a culinary perspective, Beirut is the Paris of the Middle East. One of my first summer jobs as a kid was as a busboy at a fancy Lebanese place in suburban Detroit called Phoenicia. I can still taste the raw kibbe, it was so good.
Reader: I second Bitar's, though it is quite a hole in the wall. Best Fattoush in town!
C.L.: Fattoush - there's a summer salad: toasted pita bits mixed with cucumbers, parsley, mint, and vinaigrette ... now I'm craving Bitar's!
Reader: Is Han Dynasty-Old City pound for pound the best Chinese restaurant in the city/region now? With Susanna Foo-CC out of the picture, I think it might be.
C.L.: It has to be one of the best, for sure. But it's very focused on Sichuan cooking - both its charm and its handicap. That hyper-spicy fare doesn't always suit a big crowd. Others I like with a broader reach: Sakura Mandarin and Lee How Fook (in Chinatown), and Margaret Kuo's (in the Granite Run Mall and Wayne). Rick Nichols has been singing the praises of Hunan that just returned to Ardmore - I'm looking forward to trying that one, too.