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May 8, 2011 04:55 AM

Laban's Bell System [moved from Philadelphia]

Something I will never understand. This Sunday he gives Salt and Pepper one bell, along with a horrible review. He basically hated everything. Last Sunday, he gave Fathom the same one bell although there were many things he praised. I don't get it. I remember him giving Little Fish the same two bells as some pretty bad restaurants in the suburbs. If he hadn't recently given Fish a well deserved three bells, I would think he had it in for Mike Stollenwerk. As it is though, I just think his bell system is a bit inconsistent. One last thing on the Salt and Pepper review. No need to bash a patron, Craig.

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  1. I have not been to the new S&P. Therefore I can neither argue or agree with his detailed analysis of the food or the beverage offerings. I have also on many occasions not fully understood or agreed with what as you suggest is an inconsistent allocation of the Leban bells.

    As for my take on his review: I did not find it horrible. I also did not find the comments regarding the patron as a bash. His detailed evaluation of each dish does identify in detail the components of each which he found undesirable relative to his expectations. For those looking at bells only this review is a bit deceptive as it is the lowest possible bell rating. Laban seems to argue against "old standards" a bit to strongly especially in light of the owners comments regarding this issue. However, as one reads the detail it is the execution of old standards which he finds not meeting expectations. I hope readers will note the possibilities mentioned in the review and the attractiveness of the new location. Make a visit, define your own Hits or Misses and
    give us your opinions here.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Bacchus101

      Hear hear Bacchus well said. Personally I wish LeBan would drop the bells and just spend the time writing detailed reviews. He has the luxury of dining at a restaurant multiple times with different types of groups before he writes his reviews, so he is truly able to talk about consistency in preparation, service, noise etc. That is what I value the most.

      I fear most on here as on yelp and egullet the possibility that a) someone went on a bad night 2) someone disses a restaurant for 1 bad dish when they have multiple great dishes on the lineup and 3) they have a bad waiter when the rest of the staff is superb.. On the other hand the wide range of reviews can lead you to form an overall opinion from a restaurant across a variety of experiences... My biggest complaint is most people don't provide enough information about WHAT they ate ... If you want to see an example of a review that bugs me.. take a look at the Copper Grill review that someone posted not once but twice today where the complaints were that they didn't have soda, and that a small place with a wood burning oven and stove left you smelling like smoke even though the person liked the food they had. But à chacun son goût.

    2. I liked S&P well enough, though it suffers from being a couple doors down from Fond, which is a lot better and only a little more expensive. When I ordered the steak frites it was cooked perfectly.

      It seems from reading the review that the one bell is more due to the restaurant's aspirations, which Laban considers to be unambitious, than to the food. Of course, one bell is "hit-or-miss" and two is "very good", there's no in-between and there probably should be.

      But what really struck me was this:

      "Ironically, both Reilly and his chef, Lacina "Kouma" Koné, acknowledge that the most exciting food here may never leave the kitchen's staff meals...the electric African flavors of Koné's native Ivory Coast, from athieke and braised fish to chicken stewed with spicy tomatoes... "Bangin'," says Reilly. "Some of my favorite meals."

      Hello! Why is this the case? You've been in the restaurant industry for a long time, presumably you've had some pretty great meals. If the staff meals your chef is making are some of your favorite ones, start serving them in the restaurant!! I can get a good steak frites or french onion soup at a few places just within a few blocks of there. You know what I can't get, and sounds delicious? Athieke! Maybe they could do an Ivorian tasting menu one night a week?

      3 Replies
      1. re: Buckethead

        I felt sad reading this review. Four of us had an excellent dinner at Salt and Pepper recently.
        I had the roast chicken dish and thought it was outstanding. I enjoyed their take on onion soup, too.
        We don't mind going to a place with a limited menu.We get plenty of exotic food elsewhere.
        Of course, we only went once. But I do want to go back for more of that chicken.

        1. re: Buckethead

          But then he would alienate the "distinguished lady" who would follow him anywhere.

          Granted, he would open up to an entirely different clientele, but I think restaurants are afraid to turn their backs on loyal customers like that. She would tell all of her distinguished lady friends and there would be a revolt.

          1. re: Buckethead

            I agree that the bells are too broad. You have to read the review to get a real feel for Laban's take; the fact that the vast majority of restaurants get two bells makes that pretty clear. But the bells are a useful measure for occasional diners--would you recommend Salt & Pepper to someone that only gets out to nicer restaurants a dozen times a year or less?

            The idea of an affordable Ivorian tasting menu or family style meal (similar to Han Dynasty's) once a week is a great one and I think it would go over well with a lot of Philadelphian diners, especially given the South Philly location--and the PR the unique offering could generate would immediately overshadow the poor review.

          2. link for discussion

            Of course 1 bell = "hit or miss", so there's a lot of wiggle room there.

            3 Replies
            1. re: leepinleemur

              I really, really get the impression that if Laban, for whatever reason, decides he likes you, you will get a great review. You also could have great food, but if he has already decided he doesn't like you, watch out.

              1. re: 94Bravo

                How do you know what he has "already decided"??

                1. re: 94Bravo

                  94, I also suspect that Laban will favor friends and/or those he likes. To what degree or how often, or which reviews this has effected only "the Laban" knows. The events at Chops( links posted here) do raise questions regarding his findings, his motivations and perhaps his memory when writing his reviews.

                  With that said; I would be please to find this is "much ado about nothing" as I do value his opinions, respect his knowledge and his writing skills.