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May 4, 2009 02:08 PM


Does anyone besides me worship at the alter of Craig Laban? His reviews each week are insightful and thoughtful. Has certainly led me to some interesting places.

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  1. I certainly trust his reviews more than most - an dthat review of Fork on Sunday nearly sent me back to the shower - did anyone else notice he never even mentioned service???

    1. Well I don't know that I'd use the word "worship", but oh yes. I like his unpretentiousness, his good, clear writing, and most of all his taste. I'm STILL so glad he's here now instead of Elaine Tait.

      4 Replies
      1. re: watercress

        Oh wow, that's so funny. I haven't read or thought about Elaine Tait in years - though I do see her reviews framed in some older restaurants from time to time. I don't know if the adult me would like her as much as I like Craig Laban's writing and reviews, but I grew up reading Tait, and still think of Laban as "the 'new' Inquirer reviewer". That said, I hardly approve of anything at all they're doing at Inquirer these days - it's all I can not not to scrawl a bunch of blue invective to the tune of "No EFFIN' THANKS!" on their "Please will you subscribe" literature and mail it back to them.

        So after reading a lot of really disparaging reviews here about the new French place in Ardmore, I was surprised to see how well Laban ranked them... when we went this weekend, experience backed up his every word (it wasn't Mecca, just pretty decent neighborhood French food). So yeah, I think his reviews are generally pretty accurate and fair. When we disagree, it's usually by degree, not entirely or essentially. Then of course, I've been reading him so long I have to also turn the question around and wonder how much his reviews have influenced how *I* rate a restaurant. Sorry to go all meta on you, but you got me thinking! :-)

        1. re: Mawrter

          If you want to worship at the alter of anyone, you should bow at the feet of Rick Nichols. While Leban is out finding the faults in the latest overpriced steakhouse or pretentious suburban bistro, Rick is finding the little out of the way place, the neglected corner gem, the historic Philadelphia food, (anyone catch his wonderful piece on disappearing Philadelphia gems like oysters and chicken salad or pepper slaw on hot dogs?). Rick captures the heart of Philadelphia, back to the days of William Penn and Ben Franklin, through the days of the german immigrants, the italian immigrants, the polish immigrants to todays newest arrivals. Rick finds the home cooking, the soul in the cooking in Philadelphia, and wraps it in poetic phrases that allow our eyes to taste the food before our mouths do. So salute Craig, but raise a glass of Franklin Spruce Ale and toast Rick Nichols!

            1. re: cwdonald

              I'm not sure you can compare - I love Rick's finds (and check out Nick Richols at but sometimes I'm not really sure if he likes what he is eating or is just nostalgic/wants it to be good/etc

        2. Not a fan. He seems to be in love with Starr. I have heard from restauranteurs, whom I respect, that he is biased and there are certain restaurants that will never get a break no matter what. They didn't shed too many tears when he left NO. Have you noticed that he inconsistently lists noise levels? Yes, he is better than Tait. That's not a high bar.

          2 Replies
          1. re: joluvscards

            From what I've heard, Stephen Starr has photos of Laban posted in all his restaurants, so when he opens a new place, everyone working there has an eye out for Laban, and when he comes in he is usually recognized and gets the best of everything. That may explain why his reviews of Starr's places seem skewed sometimes. I can't imagine him having the experiences I had at Butcher and Singer and giving it 3 bells. I only agree with him about half the time. Lucky 13, B&S, and A La Maison are all places where I had experiences much different than his. Rarely does he lead me to a new place, usually Nichols or Chowhound does that. I am interested in his opinion though, and read his reviews every week.

            1. re: Buckethead

              I had dinner at the Chef's Table at Northbrook Marketplace a couple of months ago, and after a conversation about LaBan's review of the place with one of the servers, he took me into the kitchen and showed me the photo of LaBan on prominent display. Obviously, Craig LaBan's visits aren't always as anonymous as he'd like them to be. Still, at least his column doesn't feature a photo of him, like Elaine Tait's did. I always thought it was a little strange that hers did.

          2. I am a fan! We live and work outside the city and only get into Philly a few times a month. With so many great restaurants, his reviews help us choose where to go and know what to expect. I don't think I've ever been disappointed with a restaurant that he's recommended.

            I like Rick Nichols too, although his writing style is a bit odd. Sometimes I'm not sure if he really likes what he's writing about. Like when he reviewed Zahav, I swear he sounded kind of lukewarm about everything, but then gave it 3 bells!

            1. Can't say I worship him but I really do admire the way he writes about food! He has a great way with words and I almost feel that I can taste the food that he is writing about. From this weeks review of Fork, he writes, for example of the lamb belly confit: "Its myriad layers of roasty-edged, gamey meat and buttery molten fat dissolve on the tongue as the absolute essence of lamb. Add a pickled fan of sliced lamb’s tongue, grilled artichokes, and glossy dabs of black olive jus, and you have a Mediterranean lamb epic on a plate."

              That being said, I don't always agree with his opinions & don't take them as gospel. The other point is, you can't just go by the number of bells. If you look at the two bell reviews, for example, they can really vary in enthusiasm. A case in point is the La Maison review. It was a very lukewarm review, even for two bells. When he gives three bells, though, it is usually something special, though he seemed to have erred with Maia.