For the third week in a row, a Philadelphia restaurant received only one bell from Craig LaBan. This week's victim, Urban Farmer, the farmer-chic steakhouse that replaced one of LaBan's rare four-bell favorites, Fountain Restaurant at the Four Seasons. Kitchen struggles and a tawdry mall-meets-steakhouse vibe sent him over the edge after spending upwards of $100 per person for dinner.
From the wicker ceiling fixtures that look like giant laundry baskets to lightbulbs on bare peg boards meant to evoke Amish austerity to the odd menagerie of mismatched seating - wingback chairs clad in cowhide, wooden country chairs, red pleather booths set too low beneath bare butcher-block tables - this space feels more like a West Elm furniture store with a fern bar than a place where I'd want to drop $100 a person for dinner.
Jason Sheehan paid a visit to Mike Stollenwerk's Old City seafood BYOB, 26 North, and it was yet another (freezing) cold/(scolding) hot review from the Philly Mag critic. He hated nearly everything about his lunch experience, but when the sun set, he fawned over almost everything 26 North's dinner had to offer:
And then I went back for dinner a few days later, and a weird thing happened.
I loved it.
I'm serious. It was exactly the same place, except that in the soft glow of candles and warm Edison bulbs on exposed bricks, it felt completely different. It was exactly the same place, except that the glass plates had been replaced with understated white china, and the service was warm and funny, and the Devil's elevator music was gone. And the menu? The menu was awesome, filled with a dozen weird little oddities and departures from the expected. Scallops with smoked duck breast and sour cherry. Salmon spiced like pastrami and served with a whole-grain mustard sauce. Frog's legs with chili and garlic. Skate wing with truffled spaetzle, swimming in a parmesan broth, all beautifully composed in the shallow well of one of those perfect white plates.