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Lateralus

Snack Bar!

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Yeah, sharing etiquette is all about the company. Hathor and her husband are lovely people (as anybody who has interacted with her on this site can attest), and we had a great time. But it's a little awkward eating from the same bowl when you've only met somebody for the first time... Next time, I'm sure we'd just lap it up like pigs at a trough.

Glad to hear that they've reduced the size of the pork belly pieces. That's the sort of thing that will benefit from some tweaking. Once they hit their stride, I think the place could be really good. At the moment, I see some flashes of greatness, but there are still some kinks to be worked out.


Edited by Andrew Fenton (log)

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Looks like more than a few of us haven't been there yet.

I haven't even wrapped up that pizza tour, so I don't think I'd want to take on organizing a group outing here.


Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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i went for a second time last night. simply phenomenal. had some old favs, taleggio and polenta (a bit richer, or more taleggio influence, than i remembered), brussels and truffles, miso caramel apples, curried cauliflower, and a newer dish, flat iron steak with fingerlings. i had a wonderful dark beer (never summer ale, i think). simply awesome. charming service and decor. what more could one ask for. we are very lucky to have this restaurant.

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Was in town yesterday and stopped by snackbar again. The menu has changed a bit since I first went. Apparently now it more accurately represents what the crowd wants. Regardless, everything is good. Cheese-fry soup was new. Nice comforting (albeit slightly unexpected) take on a downmarket favorite. Really liked the escargot cassoulet. The maitakes with verjus were great. Good texture. Solid flavor. Wasabi-pea caramel apples are always good.

Had all of this plus a refreshing glass of riesling at 4:00. Sometimes you're hungry and it's not time for lunch or dinner. Glad that someone out there understands that people want to eat when they want to eat. I wish the whole crew continued success and they can be sure that I'll pop in for a drink and food any time I'm in the area.

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well to my eye it simply seems a bit more meat and potatoes and a little less abstract. food that sounds slightly more recognizable and approachable on paper to the average philly diner.

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interesting this topic came back up yesterday. a coworker of mine who lives near snackbar was talking at lunch yesterday and said that the place bothers her. i asked why, and she said that it's weird because in the afternoon you have people lounging around in sweatpants reading the paper, and then in the evening you have people going out for fancy drinks and dishes before/during/after dinner. and there is this weird time from like 5-7 where the two groups overlap and it makes her uncomfortable.

i thought that was kind of interesting.

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I sort of like that "come one come all" attitude of the place. As long as you wish to spend your money there, you are welcome. I thought snackbar might run the risk of becoming too scene-ey and compromise that attitude. That's why I usually go in the afternoon (but I don't wear sweatpants) instead of after dark.

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i kind of like it too. it strikes me as kind of representative of the dining scene in philadelphia in some ways.

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i took a couple of Montreal colleagues there last week. they loved it. my pal marco was blown away by the manhattan, made with wild turkey and garnished with a silver skewer on which were threaded 3 amarena cherries. but i wonder: can they survive if we go in just for drinks? i almost felt guilty not ordering food (which i had greatly enjoyed during my xmas break in town), but we had a dinner rez right after...

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Good write up for the Snackbarons in Feb  Philly mag......

Indeed, nice write-up by Maria Gallagher (teaser here>> there's more in the magazine.) While not an all-out rave, she seemed to generally like the food.

In contrast, a bit of a snack-smackdown from Kirstin Henri in the Weekly. While it's perfectly valid to criticize the food, I'm a little surprised by some of her conclusions. She says she's "yet to be dazzled by the flavors" but later writes "I’m wowed by slivers of amberjack sprinkled with a fresh snowfall of powdered olive oil, the fish’s creamy suppleness counterbalanced by tart pomegranate seeds and a Campari gelee. Grilled tender octopus tentacles dusted with smoked paprika are also easy to enjoy." Hmmm. wowed, but not dazzled?

But it seems overall that the food just didn't click for her, and I suppose there's no arguing with that. I happen to disagree with most of her assessments (I haven't had all the dishes she mentioned) but hey, taste is personal.

But one of her objections is that the food is more intellectual than sensual. Again, I'd disagree, I've had some pretty dramatic sensual experiences from the food here. But I've heard others express a related reluctance about the food: that even if they liked it, they didn't find themselves craving it, that it isn't welcoming, hearty, comfort food. This too is a valid critique, I actually understand that reaction, but it seems to me like there's room in the world for many kinds of engagement with food. Sometimes something simple and familiar and delicious is really appealing. But other times something more stimulating and "interesting" and challenging is just right.

But I'd even suggest that much of snackbar's food is both things. The trout with smoked eggs is total comfort food, and feels familiar, even as it's a deconstruction of brunch. Sure the "pear jam" has beer foam on it, but at its heart it's jelly on toast. The chicken could barely be simpler, it's just plain delicious. Sure there's foam on the plate, but the brussels sprouts are simply well-prepared, with small complimentary accents. It's really not so weird... Sure there are more daring things on the menu, and good thing too, if you ask me.

It strikes me that there are similarities to other aesthetic experiences: some folks just want to hear music they grew up with, or new stuff that sounds just like that, while others always want to hear something new. Many folks will go see some experimental film and walk out shaking their heads wondering what the hell that was, but then go back for more. Others prefer less-challenging escapist fun at the theater. The Philadelphia Orchestra has trouble filling seats when they perform contemporary works, and sell-out when presenting the old war-horses, but they insist on doing both.

I would hope that in a city as large and hip as Philly, there's room for expressions of a wide range of creativity, including culinary artistry. If snackbar's not your thing, fine, there are lots of alternatives. But I for one am happy that they're doing something unusual there. I'm not so much of a conceptualist that I'd eat food that was merely interesting, I actually find most of their food to be quite tasty too. (And I have yet to find a restaurant where I love everything.) Of course it's not what I'm in the mood for every day, but, often I am. Hmmm... maybe tonight...


"Philadelphia’s premier soup dumpling blogger" - Foobooz

philadining.com

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Nice prose Phil.....

I nominate Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings" as the official soundtrack for that post.... :wink:

Barber actually taught at Curtis, 1 block from snackbar.

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Interesting. I read Henri's review somewhat differently. I didn't get the sense that she felt overly challenged by the food (though as you say, others no doubt are). In my opinion, her most trenchant critique is that many of the dishes don't add up to more than the sum of their parts. Take this paragraph:

Dishes that should pack in gustatory pleasure come up strangely absent. Poached foie gras served with tiny buckwheat buns and swipes of plum puree—a deconstructed Chinese pork bun—offer little of the naughty, intense pleasure you expect from foie. A beef brisket slider braised in root beer on a soda bread biscuit with a side of mustard is a promising idea marred by dry meat. A chunk of pork belly and a soft-cooked egg reclining in a silky bath of dashi (Japanese fish stock) is a high-concept riff on bacon and eggs that leaves me wishing for the simple pleasure of plain bacon and eggs.

This fit pretty well with my experience. I thought that the pork belly dish was a failure; not because it introduced me to new, unfamiliar flavors (it didn't) or made me reconsider the pairing of bacon and eggs (ditto), but because, as a dish, it was poorly thought out. All three components are good, but submerging the pork and egg in broth didn't add much beyond the challenge of eating it without slopping it on my shirt.

As I wrote before, that was my experience with a few other dishes: they had an idea, they were trying to do something interesting, but in my opinion, it didn't quite work. It was telling, I think, that my favorite dish we tried was also the simplest: brussels sprouts with truffles. It's not a combination I'd had before, and it was great.

I'm happy that they're trying to do something different-- I absolutely agree with you that there is room in Philadelphia for a wide variety of restaurants-- and I'll probably go back one of these days to see how they've tinkered with the menu. But given the constraints of time and budget (it's not cheap!) before I rush back, I want to make sure that their execution is at the same level as their concepts.

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... A chunk of pork belly and a soft-cooked egg reclining in a silky bath of dashi (Japanese fish stock) is a high-concept riff on bacon and eggs that leaves me wishing for the simple pleasure of plain bacon and eggs.

I never got the sense that the pork belly dish was designed to urge me to reconsider the concept of breakfast, and it certainly didn't elicit a Melrose Diner jones in me... I never thought of it as a "high concept riff on bacon and eggs", I experienced it as a variation on the Momofuku ramen that has hipsters lining up every day in the East Village to eat it, fatty pork belly, runny poached egg, bowl of broth and all. Sure this version has no noodles, and WAY better broth, but it's a flavor combo and presentation that's not especially avant-garde, just a buffed-up and slimmed-down zen version of a fairly trad Tokyo salaryman's lunch.

If Andrew, and Ms Henri, and Pedro, and (add your name to the petition here), thought the dish was a failure, well, I'm not going to try to change anybody's mind. More strokes and folks as mentioned WAY upthread. I like it. I've ordered it several times, and will again. Many of the structural issues have been addressed, and so far I haven't ruined any shirts.

I don't think I suggested that Ms Henri was overly challenged by the food. I think it didn't resonate with her. And if that's the experience she had, or Andrew had, with some or all of the dishes, I'm not one to suggest that any of their reactions is wrong. I spend a good amount of my waking life (and some of my sleeping hours) occupied with strange sounds that many people are reluctant to acknowledge as "music," but I don't take that skepticism as an assault on my perception of reality. I understand that people like different things, and don't suggest that these poor benighted souls aren't sophisticated enough to appreciate whatever I'm enjoying. I'm well aware that some things I like leave others mystified. It's cool, that's why there are a lot of choices in the world...

I'm just saying that the Weekly review does not reflect how I've experienced this restaurant. I haven't loved everything I've gotten there, but even the things I was mixed about weren't the result of the chef's ideas outpacing his execution. I haven't found the dishes to be overly conceptual, or absent of gustatory pleasure for that matter.

I will agree that the chair-table interface is a little problematic...


Edited by philadining (log)

"Philadelphia’s premier soup dumpling blogger" - Foobooz

philadining.com

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just admit it: it's your studiokitchen fix now that studiokitchen is no more...

We've only been to snackbar once, and had an experience very like Mr. Fenton's, though it was a weird time (I think fairly late on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, when the regular staff very well might not have been there). We will certainly give it another chance.

I have to say, though, that the comparison you just made is blasphemous, and you should tear off the S key on your keyboard and send it to shola as punishment.

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aw come on now, i've been to sk as many times as most (but only once to snackbar), and i know what's inspiring what when i see it. and taste it. the execution might not be the same, but many of the concepts are.

of course, maybe everyone's doing things like that in all kinds of places in NY and chicago and whatnot, and i'm just associating it with sk because that's the only place i've had it here. if so, fair enough. i haven't been out of town in nearly six months...

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Philafoodie

When you're taking risks, you expect that some of the dishes will miss the mark. But with Snackbar, ironically, some of the safer dishes were the ones I found to be the least impressive. I know the Pork Belly has received a lot of accolades. But, quite frankly, it did not live up to the hype. The technique of slow-cooking the egg with the stock is rather conventional these days. And the pork belly itself had surprisingly little taste; the egg broth seemed to drown whatever flavor it may have had. The Vanilla Financier also had some issues. The cake was a little dry, and the layer of gel that topped the cake did not add much to the dish. Also, the Barbequed Chicken, while beautifully plated and very well-prepared, was not particularly flavorful.

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While I do like and appreciate what snackbar is doing, the above quote is the very reason why people ned to take blogs at face value and perhaps reviews in general. It is no more legitimate than one person's opinion but the fact that it is in print or on the internet on a blog doesnt make it any more legitimate, you just have to read through the lines to see if the person actually know's what they are talking about.

I would venture to say in most cases the criticisms like the one above tend to highlight the fact that there are lots of people who have a general understanding of food but completely lack the technical knowledge to understand why things taste the way they do.

Case and point :

DASHI isnt supposed to taste like effing French Onion Soup, it's a subtle japanese sea broth.

Financiers arent pound cakes or brioche, it's made with mostly almond flour.

How can a broiled piece of chicken covered in teriyaki/unagi glaze have no flavor ?

It;s just silly, silly ,silly.

We certainly dont want to dispute people's experiences but when bloggers walk the plank with specific technical information, they should at least get it right.

I feel like these blog posts are more about writing than content.

I also wish people would stop using the term "molecular gastronomy" in general...

Edited to add:

...and the egg isnt "slow cooked with the stock"


Edited by Vadouvan (log)

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that's a little harsh V. his point seemed to be that the dashi wasn't subtle enough, and that it overwhelmed the pork. and maybe the financier was really unpleasantly dry? and maybe the chicken glaze had flavor, but it was one-dimensional -- "not particularly flavorful" might mean a lack of depth of flavor.

just trying to be charitable here. yes, he made a mistake about the egg. and i agree entirely with the larger points you're trying to make.

whenever i see or hear the phrase "molecular gastronomy" now I can't help but hear Marcel saying it...

Case and point :

DASHI isnt supposed to taste like effing French Onion Soup, it's a subtle japanese sea broth.

Financiers arent pound cakes or brioche, it's made with mostly almond flour.

How can a broiled piece of chicken covered in teriyaki/unagi glaze have no flavor ?

It;s just silly, silly ,silly.

We certainly dont want to dispute people's experiences but when bloggers walk the plank with specific technical information, they should at least get it right.

I feel like these blog posts are more about writing than content.

I also wish people would stop using the term "molecular gastronomy" in general...

Edited to add:

...and the egg isnt "slow cooked with the stock"

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that's a little harsh V. his point seemed to be that the dashi wasn't subtle enough, and that it overwhelmed the pork. and maybe the financier was really unpleasantly dry? and maybe the chicken glaze had flavor, but it was one-dimensional -- "not particularly flavorful" might mean a lack of depth of flavor.

just trying to be charitable here. yes, he made a mistake about the egg. and i agree entirely with the larger points you're trying to make.

Perhaps a bit harsh David but I have found that uniformly 98% of the dining public dont quite understand the point of "Dashi" and on the larger question of Japanese influenced food, it's the least understood of the Asian cuisines depite the fact that most seem to think sushi and teriyaki constitute the bulk of knowledge. My point is this, the " bull in a china shop" use of soy/wasabi/ginger/nouc mam axis of evil in the pan asian restaurants in the realm of China Grill, Buddakan,Tao,Bhudda Bar et-al forms the basic frame of reference for that comment. The Unagi Glaze at snackbar is the same one at most of these places so to me the issue of flavor profile seems suspect.

I would conclude in this case that Philafoodie just didnt get those dishes which is perfectly fine as he is entitled to an opinion but it also reveals to me that he has no basis for that *factual technical* dissection.

Americans complain that the financiers at Pierre Herme's place are dry.

It just isnt a cake that a lot of people get because it so not a muffin but folks expect cakey texture.


Edited by Vadouvan (log)

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kirsten henri, pw

"But I’m not sure I can swallow paying $8 for a tiny bowl of polenta and two leaves of lettuce. Or $5 for a dainty ramekin of the same garlicky pickles you get free with a sandwich at a good deli."

###

the pickles at snackbar are from guss' pickles in the LES. as we all know, when you pay $9 for a deli sandwich the pickles are not 'free'!

fact checking would have told her that. it would also have given her the correct spelling of the chef's name.

critics........gotta take the good with the bad.


"the soul contains three elements in dining: to feel, to remember, to imagine." --andoni luiz aduriz

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that's a little harsh V. his point seemed to be that the dashi wasn't subtle enough, and that it overwhelmed the pork. and maybe the financier was really unpleasantly dry? and maybe the chicken glaze had flavor, but it was one-dimensional -- "not particularly flavorful" might mean a lack of depth of flavor.

just trying to be charitable here. yes, he made a mistake about the egg. and i agree entirely with the larger points you're trying to make.

whenever i see or hear the phrase "molecular gastronomy" now I can't help but hear Marcel saying it...

Case and point :

DASHI isnt supposed to taste like effing French Onion Soup, it's a subtle japanese sea broth.

Financiers arent pound cakes or brioche, it's made with mostly almond flour.

How can a broiled piece of chicken covered in teriyaki/unagi glaze have no flavor ?

It;s just silly, silly ,silly.

We certainly dont want to dispute people's experiences but when bloggers walk the plank with specific technical information, they should at least get it right.

I feel like these blog posts are more about writing than content.

I also wish people would stop using the term "molecular gastronomy" in general...

Edited to add:

...and the egg isnt "slow cooked with the stock"

dagordon: Thank you for your charitable words. I made the slow-cook statement in my review because the server who brought the Pork Belly explained to me that the concept here was to slow-cook the raw egg in the bowl, which the server then gently whisked into the Dashi.

You know, it's funny. The other day I staunchly defended this board to a friend who was condemning it for being too "aggro" based on a comment Kirsten Henri wrote a few weeks ago about food threads in general. Thanks to Vadouvan's post, my friend will likely accuse me of having a little egg on my face after all.

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