Bop, the "Korean.inspired.grille" on South Broad Street, had Philly Mag's Jason Sheehan in this week, and boy, did he have some big ideas about what a Korean restaurant in Center City means for this Philadelphia's dining scene. He called it the "three umbrella problem":
The three-umbrella problem is essentially one of two non-overlapping phenomena. Either Bop, its management and its kitchen are careless — making dull food because they don't know any better or aren't engaged enough to try harder — or they are terrified of the rain and have engineered in layers of buffering and protection and safety so that no one who eats there will ever be confronted by strong flavors; producing food that is exactly as good as it has to be, and whose only significant and dependable quality is that it offends no one.
Basically, Sheehan didn't think the restaurant took any risks, or really even represented the cuisine accurately or fairly. The mandoo? "Fine". The fried rock shrimp? Also "fine." He even gave it two stars , which mean "come if you're in the neighborhood." He called it "frictionless and fun", different "in the way that things can be different even if they're the same as a thousand other things simply because they're not a cheesesteak or burgers or spaghetti." The kimchi, though, is what defined Bop as a non-contender in Philly's Korean restaurant scene:
A limp green mass that seems almost like collard greens, but comes with a kind of kimchi spice that carries only a vague heat and smells of nothing and has the texture of chewing wet paper. On the burger, it is rounds of limp kimchi cucumber speckled red but tasting more like the spicy pickles you get from truckstops down South. It is food as attestation, signifying loyalty to a certain palette of Pac-Rim flavors without actually including those flavors in, well, anything. It is emptiness in the drag of culinary adventurism.
All in all, Sheehan equates Bop to "chinos and a polo shirt, network TV, the average against which all future averages may be calculated."
Craig LaBan hit up Kevin D'Egidio and Mike Griffiths' Pennsport BYOB, South Helm, and seemed to enjoy the spirit of the restaurant, making waves in its neighborhood so desolate of anything new and exciting (besides The Dutch, down the way).
From the get-go, LaBan saw the similarities between South Helm and the original Helm: both in restaurant-sparse neighborhoods, both serving "intensely seasonal" plates with "layered textures, bright acidity, and surprising combinations". LaBan also noted that South Helm did a good job differentiating itself from its sister up north, namely by sticking to small plates, almost exclusively, instead of appetizer/entree portions.
Many items worked:
Gorgeous heirloom tomatoes come sliced open and layered with a surprisingly creamy vegan "cheese" made from sprouted pine nuts, and topped with fermented fennel bits and charred shishito peppers. Sliced chunks of tempura-fried leeks are a brilliant milder riff on fried onions, their centers extra sweet against bitter endives and tart house-made goat's milk yogurt. A harissa-marinated flanked steak, cooked sous-vide for 30 hours to tenderness, is sliced into ribbons so thin they're more like beefy accents to a fresh salad of charred wax beans tossed in pureed green peppers and sherry vinegar enriched with garlic sour cream.
But some didn't:
We loved the charred snap peas in buttermilk-dill dressing. But the fried oysters dropped on top seemed entirely superfluous, not to mention overcooked. Ditto for the shredded wads of smoked whitefish scattered atop thee otherwise awesome roasted carrots from farmer Jack Goldenberg, which came over a green puddle of spring onion sour cream.
The constant use of dairy as an accent (not to mention the bread crumbs scattered over every dish) became a tick that started to feel like a crutch used to harmonize disparate ingredients.
According to LaBan, South Helm is a two-bell experience ("very good"). Add those two to The Dutch review, and Pennsport's got, count 'em, four bells in 2016 so far.