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Craig LaBan Names a Few of His Favorite Things in 2014

The Inquirer's annual end-of-year coverage includes the critic's picks for best new restaurant, chef of the year, best dishes, and more.

High Street on Market was the critic's pick for 2014's best new restaurant.
High Street on Market was the critic's pick for 2014's best new restaurant.
Jason Varney

Restaurant critic Craig LaBan did his best to sum up his year in professional eating this past weekend, with his annual Year in Bells recap and a list of the 15 best dishes from what he calls "one of [his] best-fed years ever."

The Year in Bells recap highlights major trends LaBan saw this year, and of course awards some superlatives, namely:

Best New Restaurant
High Street on Market
[This was also the winner of the critic's people's choice poll.]

Chef of the Year
Townsend Wentz (Townsend)

Feast of the Year
Montreal-smoked short ribs at Abe Fisher

Not content to pick just one notable feast, however, LaBan picked 14 others in a separate feature. Among his best bites of 2014 were an onion rava dosa in Downingtown, Dizengoff's "humm-azing" hummus, tacos and tamales in South Philly, a classic jambon-beurre at La Colombe's Fishtown flagship, one big steak, and a warm apple fritter at Beiler's in the Reading Terminal Market.

Also included in the YIB package is a rundown of all the year's reviews, many fleshed out with info from revisits, which sometimes involved restaurants either losing or gaining a bell. All of the changes have been previously noted elsewhere, but there's some new insight throughout on the revisited restaurants that maintained their ratings. Here's the crucial info:

Revisited, No Change:

· Volver
After revisiting Jose Garces' Kimmel Center showcase this month, LaBan praised positive changes to the pricing, tasting format, and service that "make Volvér feel like a more accessible three-beller," at least at first glance. But he was disappointed to see that not much had changed about the food, with only two tiny differences during this winter visit than he'd experienced throughout the summer, and left the restaurant with its previously earned two bells.

The dining room at Volver. [Photo: Eater Philly]

· Park Plates (Elkins Park)
The BYOB retained its one-bell rating following a revisit in November, where the critic found seemingly the same set of problems he saw the first time around.

· CoZara
The izakaya added a "solid selection" of sushi to its menu since LaBan's first visits, but holds steady at two bells.

· Marigold Kitchen
Following a brief shutdown as the restaurant changed hands earlier this year, the newly reopened Marigold Kitchen put in a worthy performance when LaBan paid them a revisit this month. One dish made a recent Good Taste column, and the restaurant has retained the three bells it first earned back in January.

· High Street on Market
Ellen Yin and Eli Kulp's Old City hit stayed the three-bell course on a recent revisit, but more importantly, earned the distinction of being LaBan's pick for the year's very best new restaurant.

· A.Kitchen
Following a revamp by High Street Hospitality Group, the restaurant retained its previous three-bell rating.

· Lolita
A revisit was in order following the ten-year-old restaurant's temporary shutter for a massive makeover. With a full bar added and major updates made to the decor and menu, the restaurant held on tight to its two bells.

East Passyunk's Will hit its stride and got a major boost from LaBan this year. [Photo: Will/Facebook]

Upgraded This Year

· Will BYOB (Now three bells.)

· Pub & Kitchen (Now three bells.)

Downgraded This Year

· Buddakan (Now two bells.)

· Barbuzzo (Now two bells.)

· Meritage (Now two bells.)

· Osteria Jersey (Now two bells.)

· Honey's Sit 'n Eat on South (Now one bell.)

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