Today, Susanna Foo's comeback restaurant Suga received its third and probably final review in Philly from Craig LaBan. And like the rest of them, the critic reminisced about the days of old (LaBan awarded his first four bell restaurant to Susanna Foo in 1998) when Foo was an all-star, a celebrity in Philly's dining landscape. But now, at Suga, things are panning out a little differently.
I wish I could declare it an unqualified and triumphant return. The result is more mixed. To be tempered undoubtedly by the lofty expectations of Foo's own history.
Back and forth, the review went, every compliment met with a equal and opposite jibe, its underlying tone following suit with the same struggle Jason Sheehan wrote about in his Philly Mag review: trying to understand Suga's place in today's Philadelphia restaurant landscape.
Foo must somehow reckon the bigger forces of a vastly changed dining landscape, where much of the audience is too young to remember Walnut Street before their carnitas burrito bowls - let alone the long-lost glories of her "hundred corner" crab cake. So much has transpired since she left Center City, from the rise of Han Dynasty's Sichuan spice to Chinatown's stunningly diverse evolution, and a general trend away from fusion foods to an embrace of refined authenticity, that some of the ideas here feel quaintly outdated.
How strange is it to encounter some beautiful chili-glazed prawns set around a mound of . . . coconut couscous? Or some tender shreds of sweet and spicy Mandarin pork served, not with fresh moo shu pancakes, but warm "corn pancakes" (a.k.a. tortillas)?
Earlier this week, Philly Mag's Jason Sheehan wrote about his experiences at Saté Kampar, East Passyunk's new Malaysian saté house. The piece reads as a how-to, a guide to the ways of Ange Branca's cooking.
This is what you do. You go to Sate Kampar on a first date. You save it for someone special—for when Tinder, the phone psychic, your matching Deadpool tattoos or shared fear of dying alone and being eaten by raccoons tells you this is the one. That it's going to go the distance.
This is what you do. You go to Sate Kampar because everyone is going to Sate Kampar. You go because, Jesus, when is the last time we had a Malaysian-Hainanese restaurant open in Philly? And how cool is that? You go because meat on sticks is awesome. Because the staff gets run ragged but never shows it. Because there's something just charming about the setback entrance and the fact the place opened in an old shoe store. Because that's so gentrifying-but-in-a-good-way, and something about Sate Kampar makes it seem like it's already been on the block for years. Like it's an old favorite. Or at least like it should be.
This is what you do. You go to Sate Kampar by accident, stopping in on a whim and somehow sliding in between the rushes that can still crush the place—cramming it to the artfully distressed brick-under-chipped-plaster walls until everything is just noise and bodies and the dance of servers through the press.
On the other side of South Philly, Phyllis Stein-Novack wrote a glowing review for The Dutch, Pennsport's super-hot breakfast and lunch spot led by Joncarl Lachman and Lee Styer of Fond. The must-get? Dutch babies:
You must try Baby Dutch Savory Pancake ($11). The batter, with the inclusion of milk for a velvety texture, and well-beaten eggs are poured into a cast iron skillet. The large pancake was topped with scallions and tiny bits of bologna, heady with garlic, and allowed to set on top of the stove. The skillet goes into the oven, and what I got was one of the most delicious and unusual versions of a brunch dish I have ever tasted. The mixture is a cross between a creamy quiche and a pancake. A bit of superfine sugar was sprinkled on top. I added a wisp of salt and nixed the syrup. This was perfection on a plate. A side of scrapple ($6) was crisped in a skillet and imparted the salty/peppery flavors that I enjoy most from this Pennsylvania Dutch invention.