This week was a slow one for Philly restaurant reviews, but there's good news for Vietnamese street food specialist Same Same in Northern Liberties, which received two bells from Inquirer critic Craig LaBan. He had plenty of praise for the food and the "quality over quantity" approach of Chad and Thuy Kubanoff's debut, finding the experience solid all-around:
With the speedy service, friendly staff, and affordable prices, Same Same already is a smart addition to Northern Liberties' gastropub-heavy mix.
The dining critic compares Same Same's renditions of classic dishes to some established favorites around town — Vietnam Restaurant's spring rolls; banh mi at Ba Le, Lee's Cafe and Bistro, Fu-Wah, and others — and dissects some of the differences and unique touches. Same Same's goi ga, or "herb-blasted" chicken and cabbage salad, is declared the most "addictive" salad LaBan has encountered this season. Banh mi fillings are all admirable, including pork shoulder confit that's even better when highlighted as a filling for lettuce wraps, and the restaurant's desserts are noted as highlights.
LaBan also discusses some promising dishes to look forward to as the restaurant grows. The classic banh mi combo of pate and cold cuts is forthcoming, but Kubanoff is holding off until he's able to make his own meats in-house. The chef is also looking forward to adding bun bo hue (the spicy noodle soup that's a favorite order at spots like Cafe Diem) to the menu, a dish he tells LaBan "was the whole reason for this place" but which will require some more staff and equipment to be done right. And if all goes really well for the Kubanoffs, Philly could also have a second, more upscale Vietnamese restaurant to look forward to from the pair.
Elsewhere, some of Philly's dining critics took the week off from reviews to touch on other topics, which wander into the realm of considering the role and shape of criticism more generally:
· City Paper's Adam Erace shares some insight into his new Food Network series, Great American Food Finds, which premiered last week. (Episode two airs tonight, August 10, at 9:30 p.m.) In doing so, he touches briefly on the question of critic anonymity, which has made him shy away from television cameras until this show came along, an opportunity "too good not to explore." The alt weekly's editor-in-chief, Lil Swanson, appends an explanation of the paper's decision to retain Erace as its critic now that the possibility of anonymity is blown, citing LA Times' critic Jonathan Gold's unmasking and noting:
Adam Erace will continue to serve as City Paper's restaurant critic even though his image has been shown on TV and is printed in this week's paper. We've decided his knowledge of Philadelphia's dining scene and his engaging writing make his work invaluable to the paper.
· South Philly Review's Phyllis Stein-Novack also goes the column route this week, sharing some general notes on the current state of Philly dining and declaring her unwillingness to write negative reviews. "A while ago, I decided if I could not find anything positive to write about a restaurant meal, I would not review it," she writes; instead, her "top priority" will be to focus on the good meals she encounters. Along the way, she drops the fact that she's tried several restaurants in the past few months that she "could not recommend," and now of course we're dying for her to name some names.
· Philly Mag's Trey Popp checks in with Heritage, where great jazz meets a standout menu balancing "safe pleasures" along with more risk-taking plates "bursting to make a statement," netting the newcomer a strong three star rating.
· The week in (p)reviews: Philly Mag food editor Jason Sheehan got an early look at the menu testing going on for Volver's upcoming fall menu, and shares some opinions on the dishes as they stand now. The final result of all this experimentation will debut when the restaurant reopens in early September.