Omakase, that sushi-bar experience in which you place yourself in the hands of the chef, gets the express treatment at a hot new destination on the Penn campus. Also this week, I visit a new BYOB in South Kensington, a cozy sports bar in University City, and a family-friendly Italian spot in Haddonfield. Critic Craig LaBan is here to explain why he does not award half-bells in his reviews. If you need food news, click here and follow me on Twitter and Instagram. Email tips, suggestions, and questions here. If someone forwarded you this free newsletter and you like what you're reading, sign up here to get it every week.
Omakase on your lunch or dinner break? Michael Schulson and Kevin Yanaga are doing just that at their fast-casual DK Sushi at the new Franklin's Table Food Hall at 34th and Walnut Streets on the Penn campus. In 35 minutes and for just $35, you get 11 mini-dishes, plus edamame, miso soup, and a green-tea macaron, served by affable chefs at the eight-seat counter. You can get rolls and bento boxes, as well. Franklin's Table has the makings of a monster hit, as DK is joined by KQ Burger (Kensington Quarters), High Street Provisions, Pitruco Pizza, Little Baby's Ice Cream, and The Juice Merchant are set up among cafeteria seating for about 170 people. Hours are 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. My rundown is here.
Five friends in dry Haddonfield figured a way around the state alcohol laws late last year by opening this homey tasting room serving only beer brewed on the premises. There's usually eight on tap, in a variety of styles. It's BYOF – bring your own food, perhaps fish and chips from the British Chip Shop – and wash it down with a flight of four. Don't miss Persistent One, a dry-hopped pale ale (6.04% ABV). It's open Thursday-Saturday for now.
Three chefs from the Fork/a.kitchen/High Street on Market universe have taken over the former Modo Mio at 161 W. Girard Ave. with Cadence, an American BYOB with an ambitious, ingredient-driven menu and an open kitchen, including an eight-seat counter. The crew at Fishtown's Bottle Bar East can make wine selections, or you can head across the street to the state store. Open for dinner Tuesday-Saturday.
The former Fat Ham space at 3131 Walnut St. in University City is now Tipsy Bistro, an intimate bar-restaurant that bills itself as a sports bar. (How intimate? Only room for three TVs.) Tory Keomanivong and chef Anh Vongbandith are banking on a stick-to-your ribs menu, eight draft beers and four draft wines, priced appropriately for a college crowd, from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily, with the kitchen open till 1 a.m.
It's hard to get more family-friendly than Passariello's, a blindingly bright, cafe-style Italian, which just opened its third South Jersey location at 119 Kings Highway East in downtown Haddonfield. Walk in, get a card, and order pizza, pasta, sandwiches, and platters from various counters, whose staffers tally your bill and charge you on the way out. Extremely reasonable prices (e.g. $12.49 for chicken, two sides, and bread), too. Open for lunch and dinner daily.
BYOB run by Fork/a.kitchen/High Street alums at 161 W. Girard Ave.
BBQ specialist Glenn Gross goes for chicken at 6301 Oxford Ave., open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Penn gathers seven top Philly food suppliers under one roof at 3401 Walnut St.
The Fishtown taqueria opens a second location, at 1543 Spring Garden St.
The coffeeshop's third location is days old at 4701 Pine St.
The Italian sibling next door to the Mexican themer Al Pastor at Eagleview Town Center has closed. Al Pastor has taken over the space to expand.
Question: I recently read your three-bell review of Oloroso and I am very excited to check it out. Have you ever entertained the idea of going to half bells? There seems to be a definite line between three-bell restaurants that are close to four bells (Serpico, Townsend, etc.) and other three-bellers. Perhaps a 3½-bell review could indicate that?
Craig LaBan: Ratings are complicated, and often controversial, because there's no such thing as a perfect rating system. Trying to boil down something as subjective as a series of meals, not to mention a 1,000-word review, into a single number is no easy task. But it's an art, not a science. This is especially true given the diversity of restaurants I cover regularly, which can vary so widely in style, value and cuisine, that there's no set checklist of criterion that could ever be applied equally to all in some sort of mathematical formula. My philosophy has always been to aim for the best of both worlds, to consider in one gulp both their specific ambitions and where they sit in the broader context of the dining scene. More simply put, I view the ratings as a shorthand cue for readers to know the bottom line of how much I like a restaurant, from a disappointing hit-or-miss (one bell) to the solid thumbs-up of a two-bell review, a more enthusiastic three-beller, and the far rarer four-bell destinations that set the region's standards. Ultimately, though, there is always a range of places within each tier, and a variety reasons for why they landed there, which I try to make clear in the texts. That's how a casual counter service place with high-voltage Sichuan flavors and outstanding values like Chengdu Famous Foods in University City (reviewed Jan. 7) and a far more upscale newcomer in Rittenhouse Square like The Love (Jan. 28), which has potential for a higher rating but was not yet hitting on all cylinders, can both land at two bells, which is certainly the broadest category. If a place has the potential to rise, like The Love, I will frequently note that in the review with the promise to return at year's end with the possibility for improvement. That happened last year with Ambra, for example, which happily made the jump to three bells. But when a rating system is applied to hundreds of places over the course of several years, that range within rating categories will be always be there, whether there are five tiers, 10 or 100. Adding half-bells really doesn't solve the problem at all. More tiers only furthers the impression that it's a scientific process, and we'll just be back at it in a couple years discussing what the difference is between a 3½-bell restaurant and a four-bell gem. As every critic will tell you, you have to read the reviews, eat out and compare to your own experiences to really understand what those numbers mean.