LaBan chat: Jersey fresh fish; when to review a new spot

Black sea bass from New Jersey waters, on the grill and on the plate.
Black sea bass from New Jersey waters, on the grill and on the plate. (CRAIG LaBAN / Staff)
Posted: July 12, 2013

Here is an excerpt from Craig LaBan's online chat of Tuesday, July 9:

Craig LaBan: I got a chance to do some great cooking projects in the last two weeks, including some grilled whole Jersey black sea bass - expertly cleaned at the fish counter of Wegmans in Cherry Hill, then roasted on my grill. I love that it was a Jersey black bass - and Wegmans does a better job than almost any supermarket featuring local fish. They had a whole ice bank to choose from a weekend ago - bass, snapper, flounder, bluefish, even tuna. It's a good sign when they're on ice whole with their guts still in 'em-a sign of super freshness. And they clean them on the spot as you like. Stuffed mine with lemon, parsley, and fennel tops. Seven minutes on a side, then deboned and drizzled with a good olive oil.

Reader: Interested if anyone has tried the new IndeBlue in Center City . . . the menu looks awesome.

C.L.: I've always enjoyed their place in Collingswood, but it seemed pretty standard, as far as Indian menus go. This one looks to have stepped up its game, in ambience at least. Anyone been yet?

Reader: Have you had a chance to check out Agno at 21st and Chestnut? Decent food and fun spot, just left still hungry.

C.L.: This is the new Med concept from the owners of Pure Fare, sounds intriguing (in the old El Fuego, I believe). Haven't been, as it's still so new. But I can only hope the customer service is a better than the disinterested staff I met in their other stores - especially South Street, where the woman seemed almost offended that I interrupted her texting exchange to order a cup of coffee. Too bad - they brew Blue Bottle, a coffee I really like.

Reader: What is the standard for how long a critic would typically wait from a restaurant/bar's grand opening until you go with the mission of compiling a formal review?

C.L.: Two months is my current minimum for a rated Sunday review. It used to be three, but that was before the Internet age, when restaurants suddently became reviewed/blogged/Yelped literally the hour they opened their doors. I think there's still great value in letting a place shake out the early jitters before the judgment hits. These reviews often have a lasting effect, and I want to get them right. But if we wait too long, they're almost not new restaurants anymore.

Reader: I agree with popular sentiment that Han Dynasty is the best Chinese food in town, but do you know anything about their MSG usage? Thank you.

C.L.: Don't know the answer to that, so have dm'd Han via Twitter. Of course, MSG has become somewhat controversial again, with stars like David Chang insisting (if I've read him right) that people are way too worked up about it, and that MSG is unfairly demonized. I can tell you this . . . there's a gigantic barrel of it on a shelf at one of my other favorites, Tasty Place, in Chinatown. When I asked the waitress if they used MSG, she pinched her fingers together and said: "Tiny bit!" You can believe I'm still going there for those salt-baked chicken wings. But I know people have health concerns, and still want to know.

 Han Chiang: (via Twitter in response to whether he uses MSG at Han Dynasty): Damn right I do. In some things, like soup, but you can ask and they'll leave it out. It's not cooked into any sauces or anything like that.

C.L.: As always, Han tells it like it is.

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