For the first time in a very long time, Inquirer critic Craig LaBan published a zero-bell review. This time, it was of the ever-so-hyped, ritzy and glamorous, coastal Latin restaurant Aqimero inside the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. The shellacking began early on in the piece with a quick blow to the hotel itself, calling its new tenant "the Ritz-Carlton’s latest out-of-touch and bungled attempt to create a destination restaurant that matters to anyone other than its out-of-town expense-account guests." Before it was 10 Arts, which struggled after the loss of Eric Ripert and "Concrete Blonde" Jennifer Carroll (who, by the way, has been tearing it up in D.C. lately).
"Soggy" were the "crunchy shrimp chicharron", "yellow and woody (and not especially grilled)" was the "house-ripened" wood-grilled avocado, mushy as wallpaper paste was the "perfectly al dente" seafood risotto. Even the Ritz-Carlton’s grandiose digs couldn’t save face. The critic wrote that, yet again, the hotel "failed to create a coherent fine-dining space that takes advantage of the monumental architecture without being overwhelmed by it."
After his favorite dish, a grilled swordfish steak special, arrived at the table too late, the manager sent out apology bugs:
A round of treacly sweet "crema de Mezcal" was set beside orange wedges and two unusual garnishes, a pile of ground grasshoppers and another of worms. As a purist, I only eat my chapulines whole, preferably on mini-tacos at Tequila's. But as I hoped not to offend this well-meaning fellow, there was no way around the worms. They were powdered with seasoning and, not surprisingly, tasted like spicy dirt. Ritz-Carlton dirt, mind you!
Richard Sandoval, with 40 other restaurants around the globe, couldn’t do much to earn even a single bell for his first Philadelphia endeavor.
Juxtaposing LaBan’s review with Adam Erace’s of Kanella Grill in the Courier-Post is nearly comical. To get right to it, Erace declared Konstantinos Pitsillides’s new casual contribution to Philly’s Mediterranean scene "Center City’s best new restaurant of the year."
Dominic Santora, heading the kitchen at Kanella Grill, showed off his mastery of the "herbaceous, earthy flavors of his boss’ homeland" through pork kebabs, "grill-kissed cubes succulent and moist, with a crust of char that deepens the deliciousness", "fragrantly spiced" spit-cooked lamb shawarma, and Cypriot fries so "golden, crisp, flecked with herbs and well salted", the critic said he could die happy without every having a different fry.
Of course, Erace admitted to maybe being a little predispoed to loving Kanella Grill since he loved Pitsillides’ cooking ever since the original first opened in 2008 (it’s since evolved into Kanella South—Eater critic Bill Addison’s 2016 Best New Restaurant in the country).
But when I take a step back and look at the food objectively, evaluating it against the price and the role it serves in its neighborhood, there’s only one conclusion I can come to: This is Center City’s best new restaurant of the year.