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Craig LaBan's brutal review of Ocean Prime

Wow. I think this may be worse than Serafina


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  1. I don't remember a review of his ever appearing online this early. The meaning I choose to ascribe to it is that this place is so abominable that he wants to give people who may have thought of going there this weekend as much notice as possible.

    How is it possible that a megabucks steak chain like that doesn't hire somebody to recognize him when he comes in? Nevermind trying to move him to a crappier table!

    3 Replies
    1. re: Buckethead

      It's ridiculous. Victor Fiorillo did a mini-review a month or two ago that was mostly negative. In that case, they KNEW he was a magazine writer and still served him cold food and provided crappy service.

      1. re: Buckethead

        I know Bucket, I've never seen a weekend food review posted on a Friday afternoon before. And front page on philly.com too.

        1. re: Buckethead

          You may be right Buckethead. This was LaBan's tweet in advance of the review...

          "My review is released a little early this weekend for planning purposes: the "no bell prize" given to Ocean Prime"

          I can only assume that "planning purposes" is as you mention...notice to stay away!

        2. Ya gotta love this guy LaBan! I have read some of his detailed reviews of other Philadelphia restaurants and found him extremely knowledgeable and interesting to read. The few times I have been able to compare my impressions with his notes I found him, for the most part, to be quite accurate. I have eaten at one other Ocean Prime in Atlanta and found it to be second rate in food and service, first rate in cost only. The times I have not agreed with his comments on food items it could certainly be that my palate is not as educated as his with regarding to what a specific dish should be. Philadelphia has a food critic worth reading who I am willing to use as a guide post to your food scene when in town.

          1. that was awesome.
            i'm oddly tempted to eat there now, to see if it really is that bad.
            not tempted enough to pay those prices, of course.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Bob Loblaw

              That can be a fun thing to do. Some time ago, I was walking past a restaurant when I looked up and realized it was Serafina. I thought -- can this place (packed, with people waiting) be as bad as I had read on CH? I went in and sat at the bar, had the minestrone and coffee. It was among the worst minestrone I've ever had. Of course, I didn't pay for a full lunch but it reminded me to pay attention to what CHers and others say.

              1. re: jfr

                Serafina was probably the worst meal I ate in Philly. Ever. Too bad I didn't wait for the review.

            2. I have to admit that I think I enjoy reading the bad reviews more than the good ones. Plus, that's one more place that I don't ever have to worry about visiting.

              1. Unbelievable! I don't know that I've ever before read such a scathing report from LaBan. And to Buckethead's point about recognizing him -- I totally agree. A few years ago I was at a local Chester County restaurant that had just been reviewed (fairly favorably) by LaBan. We had a conversation with one of the servers about LaBan's visit, and the server took us into the kitchen to show us pictures of LaBan, still hanging throughout around the kitchen. They wanted everyone on the staff to recognize him.

                2 Replies
                1. re: CindyJ

                  My all time favorite bad review is one that he gave over 5 years ago to a place called Sammy's BBQ. Even though they still managed to get one bell, this one is priceless.

                  Laban insisted that the smoked bologna appetizer arrived at the table with bite marks in it. I couldn't find the whole review, but I found this excerpt from a Fishtown website...

                  But all the smoked meat in Tennessee wouldn't do you any good if there was no one to serve it to you. And the waitstaff at Sammy's is basically the next-worst thing. You can stand at the entrance for 20 minutes before anyone acknowledges you. In the dining room, young servers wander aimlessly in T-shirts and pink trucker hats and seem startled when a customer actually asks for food.

                  When we informed our waiter that a slice of our smoked bologna appetizer appeared to have been bitten into (yes, there were teeth marks) before it was brought to our table, he blanched and threw up his hands: "I didn't do it!"

                  A manager generously offered to remove half of the $6 charge from our check, all the while denying the bite existed despite the physical evidence. Classy.

                  1. re: Philly Ray

                    This must have been before social media. The picture of that bologna would definitely go viral today!

                2. I was aware of other food critics for major publications who would employ disguise. Does LaBan, since his photo had been published a while back, use disguise? One would think a new restaurant would be aware of a critic and respond accordingly, much to the general disadvantage of the reviewer and the general public. Perhaps Laban could pull off a Mrs. Doubtfire?

                  19 Replies
                  1. re: Bacchus101

                    He uses a fake name, that's it. I've never seen him, but one of my friends saw him at Noord right before that review came out. It certainly must have an effect when a restaurant recognizes him, which I think most would.

                    I always read his reviews, but I often find the diversity of opinions and little details in Yelp reviews (at least when there are a sufficient number to pick out the ones that seem to know what they are talking about) are ultimately much more useful than the pro reviews. Where to park, what to order, the best server's name, gossip heard...

                    OP has 4 Yelp stars on average (30 reviews), which on the surface sounds positive. But when you actually read all the reviews (quite a few of which are detailed 1 Stars, and quite a few others are just rating the bar), and take into consideration the 3 pro reviews, a consistent picture emerges of mediocre food and a particular problem with the steaks. LaBan's review seems excessively negative to me, but there certainly appears to be no reason to give OP a try.

                    I'll stick with The Prime Rib when I'm in need of a decent steak.

                    "Are you sure you don't want to change tables?" they asked again.


                    1. re: PhillyBestBYOB

                      It's really mystifying to me why people are opening up steakhouses in this economy. It's not as if we don't have more than enough already in Philly. And didn't they notice what happened to Reserve (as in Chinese food is served there now)?

                      1. re: PhillyBestBYOB

                        We should certainly do a Chowdown there, yum.

                        1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                          Sounds like you and Bob Loblaw are in.

                          I'd almost do it if I could pull a "LaBan" and refuse to change tables!

                          1. re: PhillyBestBYOB

                            If they ask me to change tables, my reply would be, "Can you change it to a table at The Prime Rib?"

                        2. re: PhillyBestBYOB

                          Union Trust should have been what stopped them from opening in Center City.

                          Chains look at opening in large metro areas, with lots of hotels around. Philadelphia nominally meets that criteria.

                          My favorite bad review was DelFriscos.


                          I'm guessing that all the crisply pressed suits guzzling pineapple "VIP" cocktails in the lounge were enjoying more than just the food. And I'm not even talking about the Borgata-style waitresses in teeny skirts and fishnet stockings. Or the posse of Sixers settling into their booth behind us. It was some of the female guests who were really turning heads, with so many surgically enhanced, body-glittered bosoms on display, the only thing missing was a brass pole.

                          LaBan can turn a phrase occasionally...

                          1. re: cwdonald

                            Didn't they put $15M into Union Trust?

                            That's a lot of steaks no matter how good the economy.

                            1. re: cwdonald

                              My understanding thru friends in publishing is that Laban has been strongly considered for positions at major national publications, yes he can turn a phrase.

                              When paying todays price for a beef dinner I would want to hear a very critical opinion from one who has a professional standing, thus avoiding getting slammed for a C note + for what for many is annoying fluff onlyl

                              On the best steaks in Philly issue I would +1 for the Prime Rib running a close second for me would be Barclay Prime, it is only place where one can get a steak, specifically rib eye, that is same butcher from NYC that Peter Luger' uses ,known as top tier beef in Gothem.

                              1. re: Edwardrae

                                Isn't Barclay Prime the place that LaBan demoted from 3 to 1 or 0 Bells last year? I've never been, but that scared me off.

                                1. re: PhillyBestBYOB

                                  It was downgraded from 3 bells to two bells.


                                  New Age carnivores looking for a sexier steak house have long turned to the green leather couches of this posh Stephen Starr dining room for ultra-high-end beef, kobe sliders, and other items that require more cooking skill than the usual chop house can offer. An early year revisit still had the look - but none of the finesse in seasoning or execution needed to deliver this food right. The prices are too high for many off-nights like that. There's been a chef change since the review. Downgraded to two bells on Feb. 5.

                                  1. re: cwdonald

                                    Thanks for the update, been awhile since my dinner. Good to know the current situation. Then we have a clear choice of The Prime Rib. Thanks again , sorry for the outdated information.

                                    1. re: Edwardrae

                                      A dozen oysters, a the Flintsonian 33 ounce bone-in rib steak, and a good Napa cab will do the trick.

                                      It usually lasts me 3 days, but I have a friend who always finishes it right there.

                                    2. re: cwdonald

                                      I stand corrected. But still sounds too expensive for a steak to me, and silly things like $100 cheesesteaks (or is it a hamburger?) don't impress either.

                                      1. re: cwdonald

                                        The reality is that the best steaks in Philly are probably found randomly at various BYOBs and other non-steakhouses.

                                        The best one I've had was the Ribeye for 2 at Citron and Rose that LaBan raved about. I'm not sure if it is still on the menu since Solo left.

                                        1. re: PhillyBestBYOB

                                          Random good fortune perhaps. Small establishment very often, unless there is some arrangement beyond the usual, do not get the best of the best meat from the purveyor/supplier it is provided to the major customers.

                                          1. re: Bacchus101

                                            I'm talking about the best steak DISH, not necessarily the best steak MEAT. A flank steak can be better than a dry-aged porterhouse in the right hands.

                                            1. re: PhillyBestBYOB

                                              I had a great bavette (flap) steak at Pickled Heron in Fishtown recently. Also have had very good steaks at Lacroix. Both were better than many steaks I've had at dedicated steakhouses.

                                              1. re: PhillyBestBYOB

                                                Of course preparation can make a huge difference. You mentioned Ribeye, not exactly a lesser cut. As only an infrequent beef eater I very seldom visit "the steak house circuit" except upon request and often do have lesser cuts at other restaurants which do range widely in quality of meat and preparation. Lesser cuts of meat do benefit from the need to concentrate on various techniques of cooking and when done well can result in outstanding outcomes.

                            2. Wow, this makes Foobooz's excoriation look like a birthday party.
                              Never, ever have I read such a negative review.
                              I wonder how long the honeymoon will last with "the beautiful people without any tastebuds".

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: arepo

                                If you read his review and Ocean Prime and DelFrisco's they are actually very similar ...

                              2. Here is Laban's explanation of how bad a no bell restaurant has to be...

                                20 Replies
                                1. re: sal_acid

                                  I was surprised that Javier got 0 bells - it seemed more like a 2 beller the few times I was there. The St James, though, was disappointing on every level. 0 or 1 would have been it for me.

                                  I find the 3 bells to be the most uneven. Sometimes I really like them and sometimes I really don't. I always assume he's factoring in the service or ambiance and such, when I'm mostly concerned with the food. Or we just have different palates.

                                  1. re: jhpark

                                    3 bells can also mean "4 bell restaurant that has been open less than a year".

                                    1. re: Buckethead

                                      Darn. I've never encountered a malodorous server at any place that I can recall. I guess you gotta shell out the big bucks.

                                        1. re: PhillyBestBYOB

                                          LOL, I mean 3 Bells going on 4, not the malodorous part!

                                          1. re: PhillyBestBYOB

                                            Fork's been around for years, so that's not applicable unless LaBan resets the rule every time a new chef comes in.

                                            1. re: jhpark

                                              He re-reviewed it after Eli Kulp joined, gave it 3 stars, said it was even better than under Terence Feury, and wrote:

                                              "I loved so many of my meals here, I see for the first time four-bell potential in Fork's future."


                                              He said something similar about Serpico.

                                              1. re: PhillyBestBYOB

                                                Nice. Fork has been extremely uneven for me over the years, at times very good and at times mediocre. Might be time to try again.

                                                1. re: jhpark

                                                  Definitely. I've been twice since Kulp joined and thought both meals were some of the best I've had in Philly in the past year.

                                        2. re: jhpark

                                          That's the thing. Presumably a pro reviewer has to write his reviews for the high part of the bell curve of taste/service, not just based his own personal idiosyncrasies. I like lots of things that may other people may not like and visa versa, but saying a restaurant is the best because their stinky tofu is super stinky may not translate to everyone.

                                          It's true that taste really is a very personal thing. I have friends who think huge fruit forward Napa cabs are awful, but such is their personal palate preferences and it doesn't mean such wines are not great (it does make wine reviews much more problematic than restaurant reviews).

                                          But LaBan can't write reviews that are meaningless to most people, or he wouldn't stay in business long.

                                          1. re: PhillyBestBYOB

                                            The city ,country, type publication determines to where on the curve of taste/service a reviewer writes. His personal tastes are an integral part of any review. As physical taste is the basis for his judgement, it is always present. It then is knowledge of cuisines and specific dishes which create a mediation of his taste bias. The reader deserves an intelligent, informed and knowledgeable review from one defined as a professional and not a dumbed down, solicitous or patronizing review. Everyone has an opinion, unfortunately, what we look to a professional for, in any field, is one enhanced by some additional knowledge or insight.

                                            1. re: Edwardrae

                                              Right on point! A bit late but a +2 on your comment!

                                              1. re: Edwardrae

                                                That's what makes LaBan and a few others great restaurant critics. They don't candy coat their reviews like they do down here in Delaware, as in Delaware Today where every restaurant, no matter how lousy, gets a decent review or better.

                                                1. re: bluehensfan

                                                  Delaware Today has no honest reviews. They are all puff pieces for advertisers. There are more crap restaurants in DE that have DE Today reviews framed in the lobby.

                                                  1. re: sal_acid

                                                    The same is true of similar publications in the region -- "Philadelphia" magazine and "Main Line Today" come to mind as examples. I don't think there are ever reviews of restaurants that don't run ads in the magazines.

                                                    1. re: CindyJ

                                                      was Main Line today the one that just had an email from the food critic go viral, offering to promote a restaurant if it hosted her family's xmas dinner?
                                                      it was something around here, I forget the magazine's title (it wasn't laban, or Philadelphia mag).

                                                      1. re: Bob Loblaw

                                                        It wasn't MLT it was some crappy blogger on the main line. See this http://www.crossingbroad.com/?s=worst...

                                                        Not that MLT doesn't suck.

                                                        1. re: sal_acid

                                                          Thanks. And yes, that's exactly what I was thinking of, just didn't remember all the details correctly.

                                          2. re: sal_acid

                                            That's fascinating article about the history of 0 bell restaurants. Of course, it would be more interesting to compare the half-lives of 0, 1, 2, 3 and 4 bell restaurants. Restaurants in general have a very high failure rate.

                                            Glad I've never tried Del Frisco's though.

                                            1. re: PhillyBestBYOB

                                              I've been to Del Frisco's in Texas that were excellent. They have been at the top of my list for chainsteak places...way better than Ruth's or Morton's. But I haven't been to this one.

                                          3. Sounds like the worst possible experience ever. I like how he mentioned the obligatory 20-minute wait for a table, so that one will buy drinks. I was recently at the Capital Grille with my wife and two young children and they pulled this, and I'm like are you out of your mind?