Reader: Do you think Marc Vetri can replicate the quality of Osteria at the Moorestown Mall?
C.L.: Part of me (a large part) thinks Vetri can succeed anywhere he opens. After all, who thought North Broad Street was a good place to open Osteria? He's an iconoclast - and a success because he follows his own good instincts. The mall, though? I've talked to many people who live in South Jersey who are concerned that Vetri will either (a) cheapen the brand or (b) be too expensive for a crowd that is just fine with (and may actually prefer) Bertucci's.
Reader: Do you have any wine bar suggestions? Does not seem to be very popular in Philadelphia.
C.L.: Wine bars have never been our strongest suit - then again, we still have some very good ones: Tria, Jet, Vintage, and Ristorante Panorama, just to name a few.
Reader: I've been to Han Dynasty twice, and twice ordered the dan dan noodles. Both times the flavor was amazing, but I found the noodle texture gummy. Am I just missing something with this praised place? Should I try a different dish?
C.L.: The gumminess may be from the sesame paste that gets mixed in. sort of like a very spicy sesame noodles. This could vary some from visit to visit, but my last one (in University City) was a bowl of fiery noodles I still dream of.
Reader: What are Philly's chances of getting an equivalent of Eataly? Maybe a Vetri-DiBruno's combo venture?
C.L.: There's long been rumors of this kind of thing maybe even coming to the first floor of the 801 Market building where the Inquirer offices moved this summer. That would be awesome! But I'll believe it when I see it. Vetri's been the name dropped most often in association with that idea, and it should be said, I believe the same developer who owns 801 Market also owns the Moorestown Mall, so a working relationship now exists. . . .
Reader: In your most recent review of Fork. your waiter replaced your beef bone that had been previously thrown out. Did they know you as Craig LaBan the restaurant critic or just another diner?
C.L.: I don't think Fork's veteran staff is beyond recognizing anyone who is a repeat customer. But they absolutely knew it was me. I've been doing this too long not to be recognized by a restaurant I've reviewed 4-5 times. That said, everyone makes mistakes - it's the comeback that matters. And Fork made amends big time. On my second visit, a giant Wagyu short-rib bone appeared topped with a wonderful Thai beef salad.
Reader: What's your fave East Passyunk resto?
C.L.: So many great places there, Le Virtù, Stateside, and Fond are all 3 bells. Plus you've got old favorites Paradiso, Izumi, Tre Scalini, Mr. Martino's, and the original Mexican gastropub, Cantina Los Caballitos. Plus a favorite coffee spot, Chhaya Cafe, and a good beer store, plus lots of pubs (P.O.P.E., Lucky 13) - it's without a doubt Philly's hottest eating district now, both in "new" energy and quality.