Reader: I'm a big fan of ras al hanout. Seared rack of lamb coated with ras with honey shiraz sauce. Check it out on allrecipes.com. Great idea to use it on fish with cauliflower.
C.L.: It is a wonderfully versatile seasoning - exotic, but not so pungent it overtakes all the ingredients in the dish.
Reader: Have you made it to Underdogs yet? Any thoughts on the gourmet hot dog trend? I preferred Hot Diggity although someone said the sausage sammie at Underdogs was quite good.
Craig: It just opened last week, so not yet. Being a native Detroiter - home of the Coney Island chili dog - good hot dog culture is something we've been missing, so I'm thrilled with the latest wave.
Reader: Any predictions about the future of Le Bec-Fin, will it ever get back to where it once was? Could we have the next Per Se se right in our backyard?
C.L.: Who could ever predict the future? Transforming such an institution is not going to be easy. The difficulty of evolving a delicate balance of tradition and modern spirit was obviously too hard to maintain for Georges. Of course Nicolas Fanucci brings the French Laundry pedigree and contacts with him - so that is definitely encouraging. But no chef has been named. So it's premature. I'm hoping that Le Bec becomes the best version of itself, and gets back to the attention to detail, elegant cooking, and service during its heyday. This one, I believe, is going to be watched nationally. Can the great French haute-cuisine restaurant evolve for 2012 and be relevant?
Reader: Will you be writing more about your trip to Belgium? I had expected some more restaurant/bar reviews.
C.L.: I have a chocolate piece in the works, but also wrote about several restaurants briefly in some blog entries on philly.com/food.
Reader: I did read your blogs. I really miss a good Belgian restaurant in this city. Thankfully, there's plenty of good beer available in Philly.
C.L.: I had plenty of good bistro food in Belgium, but honestly, nothing really blew me away. The mussels and frites and chocolate, of course, are superior. But the food was, overall, very heavy, with little if any trace of vegetables. And the cooking itself, I'm being honest: it's no France (even Refter in Bruges, which is the sibling to 3-star Karmeliet. . . . good, not great). I'll be curious, though, to taste Belgian food Stateside now that I have a good point of reference.
Reader: Are French restaurants a dying breed in Philly?
C.L.: This is at the root of the Le Bec discussion. We have plenty of worthy spots: Bibou, Cochon, plus Fond (New American, but pretty French), and Zinc. The new Le Bec will show the future of the genre in its luxe edition.
Reader: Should not be a new "Le Bec-Fin," only Le Bec-Fin. They should change the name. When they invent time travel let me know.
C.L.: Normally I'd agree with you - and I still may. But given Fanucci's history at Le Bec, and Perrier's continued involvement, I think keeping the name may be justified. I want to believe this place can evolve - and this is the only way we'll know. We shall see!