restaurant

‘The worse food in town,’ and other strange Yelp reviews of Philly’s critically acclaimed restaurants

Craig LaBan is the Philadelphia Inquirer‘s restaurant critic; he gives restaurants “bells” rather than stars (because Philly!) and he’s pretty much the only game in town. And he eats everywhere, from tiny BYOBs in East Passyunk run by Top Chef winners or hugely popular fine dining restaurants in Rittenhouse.

But how does that compare to the wackos on Yelp? Just like we did with some of the city’s best landmarks, we checked out the site’s “user reviews” of some of the restaurants that got some of LaBan’s best marks.

Here’s what we found.

Fork

The Bells

Craig LaBan of The Inquirer: The real “problem” here is that Kulp’s food is just so hauntingly good. For those who legitimately worried when proprietor Ellen Yin lost Terence Feury, the star chef who brought Fork its third bell, rest assured: His successor, a veteran of New York hot spots like Del Posto, Casa Lever, and Torrisi Italian Specialties, is a serious talent. And with his arrival, Yin has managed the improbable, taking a 15-year-old citywide favorite and reinventing it as something even better – current and fresh, yet sophisticated in a grown-up way so many new restaurants just can’t muster. Read his full review here.

The Yelpers say

I’m a staunch Darwinian. Evolution. Survival of the fittest. Though after going to Fork, I may have to join the crazies and start believing in Creationism. It’s as though the hand of Flying Spaghetti Monster came down from the heavens and touched Fork with his noodley appendage.  How else do you explain such a mediocre restaurant being so successful in such a competitive market for so many years? – Eric F, of Philadelphia, gave it one star

That really is the only logical explanation for why this fine dining restaurant has consistently attracted loyal customers for years on end!

The food was good particularly the kale salad and the steak, but what got me was the noise of the music and the conversation of many others to the detriment of my being able to hear the person across the table from me. – Glenda F., of Falls Church, VA., gave it one star

So you’re telling me you gave this place the lowest possible rating because the kale was great but people around you were speaking? Dang. Tough crowd.

Laurel

The Bells

LaBan: After high-profile stints at Le Bec-Fin and Rittenhouse Tavern and a celebrity run to a win in Season 11 of Top Chef, Nicholas Elmi does the unexpected and dives into a tiny space for his owner-chef debut with a 22-seat BYOB where he can touch every plate. And his elegant New American cooking is more inspired than ever. With fewer seats than its predecessor (Fond), Laurel proves BYOs can be comfortable, further confirms East Passyunk as Philly’s most exciting dining district, and surely lays the groundwork for Elmi’s star to grow well into the future.
Read his full review here.

The Yelpers say

The much-awaited gnocchi had perfectly crispy pancetta but was the consistency of porridge and overly salted. My pork entrée was served at room temperature, not even warm. The cheek and belly were both tasty, but I could hardly chew the loin. I related this to the server, but nothing was done to correct the situation. In my opinion, Laurel is overpriced and overrated. I am much more “Fond” of the restaurant down the street. – Edward J., Bryn Mawr, gave it two stars

Very nice use of “Fond.” Clever.

We brought an excellent napa cab to complement our dinner.  After being seated our wine was opened and poured and bread and butter was served.  This would have been great except that a table nearby with a cheaper wine was offered a decanter right off the bat without any request.  We were not even offered the option which was a bit off putting.  So note to servers, don’t assume someone’s wine should be decanted based on their appearance or age, ask if they would like it decanted.  The rest of our service was fine, but that exchange rubbed us the wrong way. – Fishtown F., of Philadelphia, gave it two stars

That must have been so hard for you. Hey, did you ever consider just, like, asking your server?

Parc

The Bells

LaBan: The crowds are understandable, given the sheer magnetism of Parc’s Parisian good looks, not to mention the many highlights of chef Dominique Filoni’s polished bistro menu. There are iron crocks of tender escargots in hazelnut butter, pristine oysters on the half shell, and addictive bowls of rarely seen brandade, creamy salt cod whipped with garlic mashed potatoes. The amazingly crusty baguettes and country bread from pastry chef Frank Urso and his baker, Carlos Apricio, may be the best in the city. A prime New York strip glazed in green peppercorn au poivre sauce was so good, my guest, a steak-seeking Texan, literally hollered “Woohoo!” when he took a bite. Read his full review here.

The Yelpers say

Parc simultaneously condenses and waters down traditional brasserie fare, providing a legitimate survey of french cuisine but doesn’t inspire one to explore its subtleties. …The restaurant itself is the fiction: Disneyland might be a little too strong a comparison, but Chevy’s might be pretty close: it’s not that they’re doing it wrong, but they’re not doing it right either. – Sam. R, of Brooklyn, N.Y., gave it one star

DOESN’T INSPIRE YOU TO EXPLORE ITS SUBTLETIES? Oh my gosh. Among your choices are roasted duck with tuscan kale and cherry gastrique or lamb shank provencale with goat cheese polenta and nicoise olives. Come on.

The bar had a good menu but my experience with them seemed inconsistent.  My first Bloody Mary was fine – if maybe oddly garnished.  So oddly that I took a picture.  This was a mistake – because when I ordered my second drink it allowed me to check and verify they had reused the garnish from the first.  I expected that sort of thing at French restaurants in Africa. – Brian M., of Philadelphia, gave it one star

That is exactly what Africa is like. Wicker chairs and tables set up on fancy streets on the richest block of the city serving charcuterie and red wines.

Have been very excited to go to Parc, what a disappointment. Beautiful place, great service, lousy food. The fish of the day was in so much butter it was hard to eat. The sardine appetizer sounded exciting, but was dry with little taste. – Kit-N-Debbie W., of West Chester, gave it one star

I have never in my life felt as though something had too much butter. But to each their own.

Sbraga

The Bells

LaBan: Sbraga’s solo debut shows plenty of promise, especially for those who are rooting for the survival of fine dining. The glassed-in corner space is a vast improvement over its predecessor, the garish purple and orange of Chew Man Chu replaced by the rustic-urban look of salvaged wood planks against stainless steel. And for $45, Sbraga delivers a four-course tasting menu that is relatively reasonable, with thoughtful concepts and good ingredients that, portion-wise, fall somewhere between an appetizer and an entree. Read his full review here.

The Yelpers say

Meh indeed. – L H, of Philadelphia, gave it one star.

Yeah, the restaurant run by a veteran chef and winner of a massive cooking competition is probably just meh. Just like Independence Hall.

Vetri for Losers… the coatcheck takes up valuable space and we are at Pine and Broad with some serious rent…they are at that address to put a dent in your credit card balance only!!!…seriously…a total insult and disrespect to your hard earned money…STAY AWAY – Chris G., of Philadelphia, gave it one star

Those losers and their coat checks.

While the host was very kind, our server oozed in snobbery and condescension.  After seating us and providing us menus, I asked a question about one of the dishes listed, the waiter curtly replied, “I will tell you about the menu after I bring your beverages.”  – Megan S., of Philadelphia, gave it one star

THE HORROR!

Vernick Food and Drink

The Bells

LaBan: Cherry Hill native Gregory Vernick has returned from the Jean-Georges Vongerichten universe to open one of Philly’s best new places this year, a modern bilevel space off Rittenhouse Square where wood-fired seasonal ingredients emerge in appealingly simple yet refined combinations. The flexible menu has small and large plates for sharing, but Vernick does things with toast you won’t forget. The ground-floor bar is great for solo dining and sharp cocktails, not to mention quieter than the upstairs dining room – one flaw being remedied soon. Read his full review here.

The Yelpers say

Biggest pet peeve: didn’t ask us if we had any dietary restrictions.  Here we have a non-descriptive menu, where most of the options have many other ingredients that aren’t listed.  Our server didn’t bother to ask us if there was anything we couldn’t eat or didn’t want.  I mean, hey, we’re from the Mid-West, and that’s standard even there. We expect better from a *real* city like Philly. TM M., of Cincinnati, Ohio, gave it one star

Wait so, you don’t think it would have helped at all if you would have been like, “yo, I have some dietary restrictions?” Is that a common thing that’s asked by waitstaff? Seriously. I’m wondering.

After the full meal arrived, one of my friends fell asleep at the table. Yes, he has two kids, had a few drink and fell asleep. No excuses, but no one as boisterous. The waiter then came to the table after we had finished our dinner and confirmed I would be taking my friend of 20 years with me when we departed. I confirmed that we would be doing so. We proceeded to pay (a not insignificant tab) and the waiter came over again– this time to inform us that it was against Pennsylvania law to have someone fall asleep at a table. I get this place is renowned for good food in Philadelphia, but must the food come with staff attitude? – Jon P., of Silver Spring, Md., gave it one star

Bravo on Waiter of the Year for trying to get the drunk asleep guy TF outta there.

Vetri

The Bells

LaBan: Marc Vetri’s bold move to all-tasting menus has upped the cost of dining at his intimate Northern Italian townhouse jewel. But it has also unchained his kitchen to reach new heights with flowing and personalized free-form feasts that meld Vetri classics (spinach gnocchi; onion crepe) with creative flights of ethereal pastas, seafood and exotic meats (antelope alla Fiorentina in amarone sauce? Si!) Together with extraordinary wine pairings from the finely-tuned service staff, Philadelphia’s most complete fine-dining adventure just got better. Read his full review here.

The Yelpers say

if you want tasteless food then you got the Spot. Dined last night left mid tasting due to the lack of flavor and dullness of the dishes. However the foie GRAS pastrami with pineapple mostarda was a great idea and very fun and yummy. The spinach gnocchi perfect texture an well made by someone who knows what they are doing but absolutely no flavor that did it after the previous nanny crudo dull as a number 2 pencil after the sat’s exam. – Logan G., of Alexandria, VA, gave it one star

I’ll ignore your embarrassing grammar and punctuation skills because I’m nice like that, and just remind you that this restaurant is universally seen as one of the best in the city, if not the nation. And your dull complaints are probably unfounded.

Hype, hype and more hype.  My wife took me here for my birthday in January and my memory of the experience is still strong enough for me to write here.  We dine out quite often and know quality food and service.  Unfortunately, we chose Vetri for my birthday only to be served ridiculously small portions (an entire order of tagliatelli was two pieces of pasta) that were DRENCHED in truffle oil. -G.H., of Manhattan, gave it two stars

Pass the truffle oil!

Zahav

The Bells

Laban: Israeli street food meets modern brilliance in the hands chef Michael Solomonov, whose wood-fired Society Hill kitchen turns out some of the most evocative and inventive little dishes in the city, from charcoal-grilled duck kebabs to fried cauliflower, soulful pomegranate-braised lamb shoulder and hummus so good it redefines hummus. The personable and knowledgeable servers ably guide diners through the small-plate menu (best in the affordable tasting meals), as well as a stand-out Israeli wine list that helps make Zahav a completely transporting experience. Read his full review here.

The Yelpers say

We decided on the 38 prix fixe meal for everyone, thinking it would give us a nice sampling of everything from the menu. Let me first say this: HAVING INTERESTING FOODS ON THE MENU SUCH AS BEEF CHEEKS, DUCK HEARTS, SWEET BREAD, ETC. DOES NOT MAKE A RESTAURANT AN INSTANT GOURMET DE FORCE. – Kenny N., of Philadelphia, gave it one star

Holy wow I had no idea that duck hearts could make a person this excited to the point where caps lock is needed.

Good ambiance, okay service but the worse food in town 🙁 – F.A., of McLean, VA., gave it one star

And I’m done here.

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