Craig LaBan has weighed in on Juniper Commons, the new totally '80s restaurant and bar from Kevin Sbraga. And while the Top Chef winner's last restaurant, The Fat Ham, scored an early rave from the Inquirer critic, Juniper Commons earned just one bell with its hit-or-miss performance.
After indulging in a lengthy Back to the Future-inspired intro, LaBan notes that the ambiance does do a good job of recalling the 1980s, though he's left with one question:
What I just can't understand is: Why?
The greatest successes at Juniper Commons, LaBan determines, are those elements that elevate the source material up to modern standards: The gin-soaked bar program, well stocked raw bar, and a "carpaccio-like" take on the corned beef special are all winners. Old-school desserts succeed as well. But a glut of execution errors marred much of the rest — one dish "terribly oversalted," the next "virtually flavorless;" meats were chewy and a Caesar salad "nearly inedible" — and led the critic into some morose musings:
Dinner at Juniper Commons is sort of like going to your high school reunion. It seems like a great idea in the beginning to revisit the past with all the wisdom and success of your improved older self. But how often does that ever turn out to be satisfying?
· City Paper critic Adam Erace was left scratching his head over why so many people are lining up outside of the new Bonchon, where "the chicken was tasty enough, but the crusts barely crackled, and the sauces were meek."
· Philadelphia magazine's Trey Popp doled out two stars to Vetri's Lo Spiedo, where he found the "overpriced" menu to have some hits and good potential despite a number of "surprisingly crude disappointments."
· "Potential" is also the keyword at "decidedly grown-up" Aldine, where Philadelphia Weekly's Brian Freedman discovered "intense creativity" that sometimes succeeded (cauliflower; onion soup) and sometimes did not ("oddly ropy" shortrib), but still seems to have left a mostly favorable impression.