For this week's edition of Week in Reviews, we peep into two restaurants by two chefs with deep roots in Philly's fine dining history.
First: Jansen, the new Mt. Airy restaurant which evoked serious pangs of nostalgia from Philly Mag critic Jason Sheehan, gets the nod of approval from Craig LaBan this week. The Inquirer critic found that the restaurant, through the "quality of its ingredients and impeccable preparation", was able to "rise above being boring", and maybe one day providing "a special-occasion anchor for its grateful neighborhood".
More than a few dishes, though, were just right. Raw hamachi crudo crackled beneath a mince of fennel and shallot zipped up with pickled habaneros. A chilled vidalia soup was a sweet and creamy onion riff on the usual vichyssoise. A tender pork loin, served over cavatelli early on, has now gone summer with corn and favas. A perfectly grilled slice of buttery Norwegian salmon was hard to resist over Israeli couscous tossed with earthy smoked paprika dressing and fried chickpeas.
Philly Mag's Jason Sheehan re-reviewed Chip Roman's Blackfish, a charming BYOB in Conshohocken, which was once esteemed the city's best restaurant on Philly Mag's 50 Best Restaurants 2011 list. It was a pretty friendly review from Sheehan, who saw the "Gallic restraint and nouvelle flourishes Roman learned from [George] Perrier in each plate's careful presentation (every garnish in its place) and in the easy smoothness of his sauces." He also saw "Vetri's controlled rusticity" (Roman spent some time under the Italian chef's tutelage, too). But what he didn't see was a restaurant that kept with the times, claiming it was still "the same place it was in 2011."
There are plates rotated on and off the menu that are labeled as Blackfish classics—reincarnations of dishes that once defined the restaurant—and there are plates that change daily (with the season, with the catch available from the seafood suppliers, with the whims of the staff). There are tasting menus that can be remarkable (like a recent lobster-bake-themed night), and all those other things that restaurants do to keep it fresh for crowds that have been coming for most of a decade already—regulars who found the place in its heyday and hold just as tightly to those first, best moments as the kitchen does. It's a solid restaurant that occasionally flirts with greatness, but it feels stuck in a moment that the rest of us are no longer inhabiting.