This week in restaurant reviews, the Inquirer's Craig LaBan doled out just one bell to "indoor beer garden" William Street Common, focusing strongly on the newcomer's much talked about experiment with a flat-rate service charge in lieu of traditional, discretionary tipping.
LaBan was dismayed by what amounts to a mandatory twenty-percent tip in a setting that provides a bare minimum of actual service:
Order at the counter. Pay as you go. Wait a few minutes while someone hastily throws together Mason jars of artless, oversweetened cocktails, then you bring 'em to your own table. And don't forget that number stand, so that when the kitchen cooks your food at whatever random pace and in whatever order it feels like, an actual employee with plates can find you.
While LaBan appreciates the thought behind the policy, which has been touted as a move to provide all of the restaurant's employees with a living wage, he concludes that this low-cost, casual setting may not be "the best forum to make this stand."
But questions of service weren't the only problem with William Street Common, which also suffered from issues with its food and drink quality. While there were some winning dishes (particularly at brunch), others were marred by carelessness (e.g., "delicious" esquites served with depressingly bad chips) and several others (like the desserts and an overwrought burger) were total misses. The cocktails, too, take a serious hit from LaBan, who ultimately deems only the Bloody Mary served at brunch as "passable."
· Philadelphia magazine's Trey Popp trekked out to Ardmore to sample Parlor, despite some reservations due to some silly dish names on its menu and the wide-ranging "awfulness" of its predecessor, The Saint James. Happily, he was pleasantly surprised to find very good pizzas and pasta dishes, ultimately awarding the reboot a solid two stars out of four.
· City Paper's Adam Erace took an early look at Sylva Senat's Dos Tacos, where he found some intriguing ideas and "impeccable" proteins, but largely "timid" seasoning. Veggie tacos and yucca fries were a hit, but Erace doesn't seem wowed, ultimately concluding that the taco shop "is fun, but it doesn't do justice to [Senat's] talents."
· Over at Philly Weekly, Brian Freedman makes an increasingly rare appearance to weight in on Helm, the BYO newcomer to Kensington that recently won three bells from LaBan. And he's similarly impressed by everything from ravioli that were "one of the best pastas" he's had this year to vegetables treated with "appropriate reverence" and expertly done meat dishes to desserts, finally declaring that Helm "is the kind of highly accomplished, deeply unpretentious restaurant that makes Philadelphia's dining culture so exciting and unique right now."
· South Philly Review's Phyllis Stein-Novack revisit's Peter McAndrew's Monsu, where news of a $40 four-course prix fixe hit "almost as if a culinary thunderbolt came down to earth." Stein-Novack found perfect scallops, rave-worthy octopus, excellent pasta, and many more faultless dishes, which led her to opine that she "could dine here once a week" and to bestow her hightest possible rating of four tips of the toque.