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Laurel has 'Soul to Spare'; Porto Aces Pancakes

Photo: Eater Philly

Philadelphia Weekly's Brian Freedman found himself at Laurel for this week's review, face-to-face with some errant albacore. Luckily, while he never ordered the plate, its appearance was a happy accident.

A parade of hefty chunks of oil-cured tuna, glistening atop a sweep of sour cream, yogurt and horseradish, proved one of the most profound tuna preparations I've had recently.

While the meal has a few minor missteps, they're more than made up for by a foie gras terrine "fixed up with cocoa" and "a hint of iconoclasm," as well as Parisian gnocchi that "rank among the very top tier." Elmi's freedom as chef-owner of the tiny BYOB is key to its success, in Freedman's estimation:

For all the elegance and deep intelligence of Elmi's cooking at the [Rittenhouse] Tavern, I often felt that it was held back by a distracting sense of preciousness—delicacy, in some cases, when lust would have been more enjoyable. In a post-visit phone interview, he agreed: "They had an idea of what they wanted at the restaurant, and we kind of had to cook into that," he said. "'This is the square, stay inside of it.'" Eventually, he told me, "You feel like your food's losing a little bit of its soul."

Fortunately, "that just doesn't happen at Laurel, where Elmi's cooking possesses soul to spare."

Meanwhile, in Passyunk Square, the South Philly Review's Phyllis Stein-Novack tried brunch (and dinner, in a sense) at Porto. As far as we can tell, she had pancakes and possibly multiple omelettes for brunch, then took some caldo verde with her to reheat for supper. While she deems the pancakes "some of the best in the city," the omelette(s) is/are another story.

Unfortunately, my omelettes were just average. The chef did not whip the eggs properly. When they're are beaten, no white should be visible. I ordered a cheese omelette made with Saint George, a cheese our server advised was a bit more sharp than sharp cheddar. My piping hot item was a bit overcooked. Although it was puffy, the outside was brown and not a glistening golden yellow.

Add to that the facts that Edward's got a monkey made of scrapple on his back, the caldo verde was "tasty," and there's the promise of french toast, and it sounds like a return trip is likely. Two-and-a-half tips of the toque (out of four).

· City Paper's Adam Erace filed a quick hit of Tria Taproom, where most of the highlights come pouring out of the sophisticated draught system. Fried oysters and a burrata salad get a nod of approval, and then it's on to the flatbreads.

The flatbread paved with ground fennel sausage, smoked mozz, wrinkly shishitos and pistachios was decent, but ordinary-tasting. Instead, get the one piped with pink stripes of foie gras mousse, a foil for duck confit, fig-cherry mostarda, Gorgonzola and tarragon. It had the bearing of a restrained dessert, fortunate since the only desserts are soda and beer floats dispensed, as you might expect, from the omnipresent draught system.

· Over on Two Eat Philly, here's a great look at Kevin Sbraga's The Fat Ham. Aside from a "soggy" pulled pork sandwich, and some solid but not soul-stirring takes on mac'n'cheese and dessert, everything gets high marks. The review also marked by a strong collection of food photos, with the oyster sliders looking particularly inviting. (Bonus: if you missed it, you can also check out another take on Laurel here, which they hit last week.)

· All Week in Reviews Coverage [-EPHI-]


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