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April Whites article in Philly Mag-


matthewj
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Pedro, I realize that there's a wider context to your comments-- and for what it's worth, I agree with most of what you said.  (I also think that complaining about the PALCB will have about as much effect as complaining about the sun rising in the east.)

But I want to drag this, kicking and screaming, back to the article, and attempt a point of clarification.

As I read White's article, "BYOB" doesn't refer to any restaurant without a liquor license, but a particular subset, described right at the beginning:

Tell me you’re opening a restaurant in Philadelphia, and I’ll tell you what it will be. It’s a BYOB, a husband-and-wife-owned storefront with a sentimental name. He’s in the miniature kitchen; she’s in the dining room with the decor straight out of the Pottery Barn catalog. The food is fresh, local; the farmers who grew the baby bok choy and raised the free-ranged chickens are listed right there at the bottom of the menu.

"BYOB" is a pretty handy shorthand for that stereotype; it's one that most of us use and recognize. As far as I can tell, White is referring to that stereotype (as was I). White's point isn't anything about the sale of alcohol in Pennsylvania, it's about a stagnation that has followed the growth of this style of restaurant over the last five or so years.

And wkl raises a good point. The PALCB doesn't control the number of liquor licenses in Philadelphia; there are also lots of liquor license-free restaurants in New Jersey.

Fair enough. For what it's worth, I was not in fact addressing the article: frankly, it struck me as typical mealy-mouthed, half-baked reasoning intended to appeal the PM's readership's perceived prejudices. I was replying to points made on this forum, from which I expect better.

As to the substance of your point... we are a bunch of snobs. I come from a place where "innovative" cuisine was unknown, at least while I lived there. A fancy restaurant was a place dumb people on expense accounts went to waste money. The rest of us enjoyed ourselves in inexpensive, street-corner little joints, called "tascas", where the food served was predictable - very probably the same dishes my great-grandfather would have found if he had visited the same place, and been served by the owner's great-grandfather. They provided inexpensive food, cheap rough-and-ready wine and beer, and a welcoming table. None of this was original, none of this was creative, none of this was, probably, terribly sanitary. But we had some amazing meals in places like that, a dozen friends and acquaintances sitting around for several hours making and discarding drunken philosophy.

BYOBs aren't necessarily "cuisine", nor, I would argue, should they be. Ideally, they would serve the function tascas filled in Lisbon. Or bistros originally served in Paris, before the Americans ruined everything by winning WWII and overstaying their invitation :raz: They're supposed to serve good, solid food around which friends can sit and enjoy themselves. And since the economy of this country somehow doesn't allow for the $1 glass of wine, they let me bring my own. All of which is a necessary component of the model. In fact, if they have a flaw, it's that they're often too expensive for daily use, which limits their suitability as neighborhhod hangouts. That's what this country needs lots of - not clones of Alinea, with all due respect to a great chef. The original will suffice.

In fact, that's what we all here, on some level, really crave, it seems to me. That's where our constant talk of the rarity of bistros, of the greatness of Italy's trattorias, really leads: we want public spaces where we can eat and hang out. We got none, really. Whatever happens in most bars is a pathetic approximation.

Leave my BYOBs alone. They're the closest we've got.

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Pedro, I realize that there's a wider context to your comments-- and for what it's worth, I agree with most of what you said.  (I also think that complaining about the PALCB will have about as much effect as complaining about the sun rising in the east.)

But I want to drag this, kicking and screaming, back to the article, and attempt a point of clarification.

As I read White's article, "BYOB" doesn't refer to any restaurant without a liquor license, but a particular subset, described right at the beginning:

Tell me you’re opening a restaurant in Philadelphia, and I’ll tell you what it will be. It’s a BYOB, a husband-and-wife-owned storefront with a sentimental name. He’s in the miniature kitchen; she’s in the dining room with the decor straight out of the Pottery Barn catalog. The food is fresh, local; the farmers who grew the baby bok choy and raised the free-ranged chickens are listed right there at the bottom of the menu.

"BYOB" is a pretty handy shorthand for that stereotype; it's one that most of us use and recognize. As far as I can tell, White is referring to that stereotype (as was I). White's point isn't anything about the sale of alcohol in Pennsylvania, it's about a stagnation that has followed the growth of this style of restaurant over the last five or so years.

And wkl raises a good point. The PALCB doesn't control the number of liquor licenses in Philadelphia; there are also lots of liquor license-free restaurants in New Jersey.

Fair enough. For what it's worth, I was not in fact addressing the article: frankly, it struck me as typical mealy-mouthed, half-baked reasoning intended to appeal the PM's readership's perceived prejudices. I was replying to points made on this forum, from which I expect better.

As to the substance of your point... we are a bunch of snobs. I come from a place where "innovative" cuisine was unknown, at least while I lived there. A fancy restaurant was a place dumb people on expense accounts went to waste money. The rest of us enjoyed ourselves in inexpensive, street-corner little joints, called "tascas", where the food served was predictable - very probably the same dishes my great-grandfather would have found if he had visited the same place, and been served by the owner's great-grandfather. They provided inexpensive food, cheap rough-and-ready wine and beer, and a welcoming table. None of this was original, none of this was creative, none of this was, probably, terribly sanitary. But we had some amazing meals in places like that, a dozen friends and acquaintances sitting around for several hours making and discarding drunken philosophy.

BYOBs aren't necessarily "cuisine", nor, I would argue, should they be. Ideally, they would serve the function tascas filled in Lisbon. Or bistros originally served in Paris, before the Americans ruined everything by winning WWII and overstaying their invitation :raz: They're supposed to serve good, solid food around which friends can sit and enjoy themselves. And since the economy of this country somehow doesn't allow for the $1 glass of wine, they let me bring my own. All of which is a necessary component of the model. In fact, if they have a flaw, it's that they're often too expensive for daily use, which limits their suitability as neighborhhod hangouts. That's what this country needs lots of - not clones of Alinea, with all due respect to a great chef. The original will suffice.

In fact, that's what we all here, on some level, really crave, it seems to me. That's where our constant talk of the rarity of bistros, of the greatness of Italy's trattorias, really leads: we want public spaces where we can eat and hang out. We got none, really. Whatever happens in most bars is a pathetic approximation.

Leave my BYOBs alone. They're the closest we've got.

Is it possible that the reason there is a dearth of tratorias and bistros is due in some small part to the liquor and wine situation?

:wink:

By thye way--one of my most favorite places in the world was a french bistro on front street by the water--long gone--I forget the name but the owner was a wonderful woman who would often sing along with the Edith Piaf record on the sound system--the place was cluttered with French plates and cookware etc.--unique and wonderful!

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You're probably thinking of Jeanine's Bistro which evolved into La Truffe.

The costs involved with liquor are a major reason for BYO's, but don't blame the PALCB. Rather, it is the cost of a liquor license and the ongoing expense of liquor liability insurance. A related reason for BYOs - neighbor associations bar any new liquor licenses from entering the area. In the good old days of Philadelphia's first restaurant renaissance, licenses could be purchased elsewhere in Philadelphia and transfered to prime restaurant areas. In many cases, like lower South Street and Queen Village that is no longer possible.

BYOs, if they can make it without liquor, can be an ideal stage for a new, creative chef to strut his/her stuff. Small kitchen. Total control over the product. An great opportunity to experiment, find one's way. But it takes courage to push the boundries, serve the unexpected. And that courage can carry to big a risk, when the house is mortgaged, the first baby is on the way, and/or, as is usually the case, the restaurant opened totally under capitalized and doesn't have the financial staying power to flirt with innovation.

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Jeanine's!! Yes - that's it. I never had the pleasure but that place has a lot of lore attached to it.

My old boss Greg Moore has his first restaurant job at Jeanine's. He told wonderful stories about being awakened to the pleasures of food and wine there. :smile:

Come to think of it there really isn't a place like that around these days either... :hmmm:

Katie M. Loeb
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Is it possible that the reason there is a dearth of tratorias and bistros is due in some small part to the liquor and wine situation?

:wink:

By thye way--one of my most favorite places in the world was a french bistro on front street by the water--long gone--I forget the name but the owner was a wonderful woman who would often sing along with the Edith Piaf record on the sound system--the place was cluttered with French plates and cookware etc.--unique and wonderful!

Well, no. They exist nowhere in this country I've been able to find, except possibly San Francisco, and the reason, I think, is the American discomfort with alcohol, which I believe is the reason the $1 glass of wine does not exist in this country. And that is why BYOBs may be the only way we get there, because by circumventing the liquor-licensing laws, and the restaurant wine-pricing traditions that dictate markups that start at 100%, they may allow for precisely what I want: to enable Americans - or at least Philadelphians, to afford wine in a public space. And that's why they're so darn successful. There's a hunger out there for readily-accessible places of public convivium, and anything that approximates feeding (so to speak) that hunger is successful. But we seem not to understand the causes of that success, so we blame BYOBs for not meeting what was never their objective and should never be their objective.

So geddoff the BYOBs! I wuvs 'em!

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You're probably thinking of Jeanine's Bistro which evolved into La Truffe.

Great cassoulet by the way. I think Jeanine's was on the second floor above La Truffe. The issue with Book and the Cook may be a more of them trying to find a location for the Book and the Cook fair since they lost the Ft Washington location. I was part of the event last July that was actually part of the White Dog Cafe Foundation's Buy Local, Buy Fresh. B&C's particiapation in the event was pretty thin. The publicity they tried to generate kicked in a few days before with an ad in the City Paper. The restaurants tanked. If you knew about the White Dog and B&C's web sites, you knew about the event. Personally I think B&C has had their day.

The South Beach Festival is packed floor to ceiling with network chefs as well as a lot of national chefs. They have a lot of video firepower and TV sells books.

Jim Tarantino

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BYOBs aren't necessarily "cuisine", nor, I would argue, should they be. Ideally, they would serve the function tascas filled in Lisbon. Or bistros originally served in Paris, before the Americans ruined everything by winning WWII and overstaying their invitation :raz:  They're supposed to serve good, solid food around which friends can sit and enjoy themselves. And since the economy of this country somehow doesn't allow for the $1 glass of wine, they let me bring my own. All of which is a necessary component of the model. In fact, if they have a flaw, it's that they're often too expensive for daily use, which limits their suitability as neighborhhod hangouts. That's what this country needs lots of - not clones of Alinea, with all due respect to a great chef. The original will suffice.

In fact, that's what we all here, on some level, really crave, it seems to me. That's where our constant talk of the rarity of bistros, of the greatness of Italy's trattorias, really leads: we want public spaces where we can eat and hang out. We got none, really. Whatever happens in most bars is a pathetic approximation.

I could no more disagree with this sentiment than I could march in the Anti-Puppies-and-Kittens celebration, held annually in the city of Evilsville. We're all looking for that Great Good Place. But I kinda don't buy the idea that there's something about the Philadelphia BYOB model that's inherently better at providing that ideal, or even a simulacrum of it, than lots of other models. Especially when most of those BYOBs are following a trend, not setting one.

So I'll stick to my guns: I'd prefer more Roman or Sicilian or Emiliana or Provençal or Austrian restaurants in this city. Because that would be more interesting than what we've got.

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BYOBs aren't necessarily "cuisine", nor, I would argue, should they be. Ideally, they would serve the function tascas filled in Lisbon. Or bistros originally served in Paris, before the Americans ruined everything by winning WWII and overstaying their invitation :raz:  They're supposed to serve good, solid food around which friends can sit and enjoy themselves. And since the economy of this country somehow doesn't allow for the $1 glass of wine, they let me bring my own. All of which is a necessary component of the model. In fact, if they have a flaw, it's that they're often too expensive for daily use, which limits their suitability as neighborhhod hangouts. That's what this country needs lots of - not clones of Alinea, with all due respect to a great chef. The original will suffice.

In fact, that's what we all here, on some level, really crave, it seems to me. That's where our constant talk of the rarity of bistros, of the greatness of Italy's trattorias, really leads: we want public spaces where we can eat and hang out. We got none, really. Whatever happens in most bars is a pathetic approximation.

I could no more disagree with this sentiment than I could march in the Anti-Puppies-and-Kittens celebration, held annually in the city of Evilsville. We're all looking for that Great Good Place. But I kinda don't buy the idea that there's something about the Philadelphia BYOB model that's inherently better at providing that ideal, or even a simulacrum of it, than lots of other models. Especially when most of those BYOBs are following a trend, not setting one.

So I'll stick to my guns: I'd prefer more Roman or Sicilian or Emiliana or Provençal or Austrian restaurants in this city. Because that would be more interesting than what we've got.

Well, you get those in Sicily, Provence, Emilia-Romana. Others in Belgium, some in Kyoto. You get the point.

The more relevant point is that you are still talking about food, good food, and I'm not: I'm talking about a socio-economic phenomenon, or a business plan, but what you slot into the "food" and "drink" spaces in the model is nearly irrelevant. What is needed is that shlubs like me can go there and eat and drink with friends as often as possible. And any place where the wine begins at $5/glass, $30/btl ain't makin' it. Oh, it's affordable - once a week, comfortably. But it won't be an everynight place. And even that price point is nearly impossible to find hereabouts.

Every one of those areas you mention, and almost every other place on Earth, has those: public meeting-places built around food and drink. For bizarre reasons, the US doesn't. BYOBs aren't it, not really. For one thing, the business model involves a small space and food that is too expensive. You need more room to be able to make enough of a profit on cheap, plain, hopefully tasty food and drink. But they're the only places many, many of us ("us" clearly not referring to eGulleteers, from the available evidence) can afford to eat and drink often and reasonably well. That is why they succeed. The fact that some of them have culinary aspirations is besides the point, though fortunate.

This isn't an either/or proposition, as far as I can tell. Oh, there's been pressure on licensed restaurants to reduce prices on drink, and restaurateurs who for years have been marking up a bottle of wine 400% are grousing about having to mark it up only 200% in the market that's been created. But they'll still be financially viable. And the new places, like Gayle, Amada and Ansill, have clearly heard the Good Word, and have drifted closer to sanity on their wine lists. The thing is, there's a market for food-as-art, for creative, innovative, cutting-edge chefs. But the market is small, and always will be. For the same reason art films are small, and blockbusters by-and-large blow. If you look at most of the cities that trounce us in terms of their food culture, everyone of them simply has more dollars overall being spent on food - NY gigantically so, Chicago considerably so, and San Francisco because it has a disproportionately wealthy population. I'm betting this will be true of every city you can name which is "better" than Philadelphia in the sense you are considering. But the BYOBs aren't to blame for the size of the Extreme Eating local population, nor are they to be chastised because they don't service us in that particular way: it is, once more, not what they do.

And that's fine. Did I mention it was a '99 Chapoutier "Barbe Rac" CdP? And that you can't have any?

:raz:

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And wkl raises a good point.  The PALCB doesn't control the number of liquor licenses in Philadelphia; there are also lots of liquor license-free restaurants in New Jersey.

Um, I'm not sure this is completely correct.

The LCB is responsible for administering liquor licenses statewide. Licenses are allotted on a county basis and the number each county gets is determined by a formula based on population, with the proviso (I think) that counties that lose population do not lose existing licenses as a result. The reason I can't say it's completely incorrect is because the LCB indeed cannot increase or reduce the number of licenses in Philadelphia or any of the other 66 counties; the formula governs that. But the LCB can certainly yank or suspend licenses if it so chooses. Most restaurants are in no danger of this, though.

On to Capaneus, who yearns for the Great Good Place that also serves food:

BYOBs aren't necessarily "cuisine", nor, I would argue, should they be. Ideally, they would serve the function tascas filled in Lisbon. Or bistros originally served in Paris, before the Americans ruined everything by winning WWII and overstaying their invitation :raz:  They're supposed to serve good, solid food around which friends can sit and enjoy themselves. And since the economy of this country somehow doesn't allow for the $1 glass of wine, they let me bring my own. All of which is a necessary component of the model. In fact, if they have a flaw, it's that they're often too expensive for daily use, which limits their suitability as neighborhhod hangouts. That's what this country needs lots of - not clones of Alinea, with all due respect to a great chef. The original will suffice.

In fact, that's what we all here, on some level, really crave, it seems to me. That's where our constant talk of the rarity of bistros, of the greatness of Italy's trattorias, really leads: we want public spaces where we can eat and hang out. We got none, really. Whatever happens in most bars is a pathetic approximation.

Leave my BYOBs alone. They're the closest we've got.

I invite you, and anyone else who cares to join you, to meet me at Woody's or Bump or The Venture Inn or The Westbury Bar sometime.

These establishments -- gay bars all -- represent the flip side of the state's liquor laws. As such, they are probably closer to your "pathetic approximation" than they are to the sorts of places you envision, but they do differ from most non-gay bars in that they take their food service seriously too. Except that its seating isn't configured for or conducive to hanging out over food, Woody's probably comes closer than most other bars in the city to an English pub -- a place where you can get good, solid, inexpensive food while hanging out with your friends (or, as the case may be here, looking for new ones). The Westbury, with its dining booths and tables arrayed around the central bar, also comes close, and they won't hurry you out of the booth either if you decide you just want to have a few more beers after your meal is finished. The bar and the restaurant at The Venture Inn are completely separate spaces, so it doesn't really fit the template, but again, the food's not that pricey and you can linger over your meal; Bump gets very noisy at happy hour, and as the bar and the restaurant are essentially the same space, it means that you may end up shouting at your friends over dinner, but you can have dinner there too.

That Philly's gay bar/restaurants are as much restaurant as bar in some cases may stem from the fact that, even in these more tolerant times, gay men especially still sometimes want to enjoy themselves in their own public spaces where they can eat as well as drink, and there aren't enough clones of Valanni to accommodate all of these people. But for whatever reason, I think they come closer to your ideal Great Good Place than anything else in town -- except perhaps some of those BYOBs. However, you can get wine at a gay bar. It won't be great wine--hell, it might even be swill--but it is alcohol all the same.

A related reason for BYOs - neighbor associations bar any new liquor licenses from entering the area.  In the good old days of Philadelphia's first restaurant renaissance, licenses could be purchased elsewhere in Philadelphia and transfered to prime restaurant areas.  In many cases, like lower South Street and Queen Village that is no longer possible.

Even the Washington Square West Civic Association -- which loves restaurants -- tends to default to opposing new liquor licenses unless it can be convinced not to.

There's a hunger out there for readily-accessible places of public convivium, and anything that approximates feeding (so to speak) that hunger is successful. But we seem not to understand the causes of that success, so we blame BYOBs for not meeting what was never their objective and should never be their objective. 

So geddoff the BYOBs! I wuvs 'em!

You really should take me up on the invitation above. And if you haven't read The Great Good Place, you should. You will probably find yourself nodding your head vigorously as you read it.

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

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Is it possible that the reason there is a dearth of tratorias and bistros is due in some small part to the liquor and wine situation?

Well, no. They exist nowhere in this country I've been able to find, except possibly San Francisco, and the reason, I think, is the American discomfort with alcohol, which I believe is the reason the $1 glass of wine does not exist in this country. And that is why BYOBs may be the only way we get there, because by circumventing the liquor-licensing laws, and the restaurant wine-pricing traditions that dictate markups that start at 100%, they may allow for precisely what I want: to enable Americans - or at least Philadelphians, to afford wine in a public space. And that's why they're so darn successful. There's a hunger out there for readily-accessible places of public convivium, and anything that approximates feeding (so to speak) that hunger is successful. But we seem not to understand the causes of that success, so we blame BYOBs for not meeting what was never their objective and should never be their objective.

So geddoff the BYOBs! I wuvs 'em!

interesting. JohnL has a point, though. the current situation seems to have resulted in a world where you either have a cutesy byob that has to charge $20 plus for its entrees because it has no liquor income, or you have to have the $$ to afford a liquor license, and therefore you sort of have to run a bigger more restaurant-y place. if anyone could afford a liquor license, maybe people could open up restaurants where people could dawdle over cheap glasses and inexpensive dinners without having to worry about that extra $100K hit right when they open. maybe there isn't a place for the bistros and whatnot in the restaurant economic climate that exists here now.

or not. who knows.

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Is it possible that the reason there is a dearth of tratorias and bistros is due in some small part to the liquor and wine situation?

Well, no. They exist nowhere in this country I've been able to find, except possibly San Francisco, and the reason, I think, is the American discomfort with alcohol, which I believe is the reason the $1 glass of wine does not exist in this country. And that is why BYOBs may be the only way we get there, because by circumventing the liquor-licensing laws, and the restaurant wine-pricing traditions that dictate markups that start at 100%, they may allow for precisely what I want: to enable Americans - or at least Philadelphians, to afford wine in a public space. And that's why they're so darn successful. There's a hunger out there for readily-accessible places of public convivium, and anything that approximates feeding (so to speak) that hunger is successful. But we seem not to understand the causes of that success, so we blame BYOBs for not meeting what was never their objective and should never be their objective.

So geddoff the BYOBs! I wuvs 'em!

interesting. JohnL has a point, though. the current situation seems to have resulted in a world where you either have a cutesy byob that has to charge $20 plus for its entrees because it has no liquor income, or you have to have the $$ to afford a liquor license, and therefore you sort of have to run a bigger more restaurant-y place. if anyone could afford a liquor license, maybe people could open up restaurants where people could dawdle over cheap glasses and inexpensive dinners without having to worry about that extra $100K hit right when they open. maybe there isn't a place for the bistros and whatnot in the restaurant economic climate that exists here now.

or not. who knows.

I happen to think it could conceivably work, but you don't have a template in this country for it to work from, so everybody would probably freak: the banks would look at your business plan and harrumph you right off the premises; neighborhood associations would look at your projected traffic and your one-dollah wine and start screaming "Think of the Children! Will no-one think of the Children!"; then there would be zoning boards, temperance organizations, the Fourth Estate... You'd get crucified. Selling huge amounts of booze to large crowds for cheap scares Americans. Possibly with good reason, given your rates of gun ownership :wink: .

You are generally right that the LCB price structure limits the kinds of places that open, because of the elevated financial risk. And that is why BYOBs have happened, because they are a way underfinanced folks with a yen to open their own place can do so. But the whole BYO-kills-creative-food brouhaha is a canard, a red herring, a straw man. Possibly also a stalking horse, but the Cliche Police is pounding down my door.

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interesting. JohnL has a point, though. the current situation seems to have resulted in a world where you either have a cutesy byob that has to charge $20 plus for its entrees because it has no liquor income, or you have to have the $$ to afford a liquor license, and therefore you sort of have to run a bigger more restaurant-y place.

With the notable exception of our many so-called gastropubs*. Good Dog, N. 3rd, Standard Tap, Abbaye, Black Door, Society Hill, Royal Tavern, etc. (No, not $1 glasses of wine. But hell, it's getting hard to find a $1 cup of coffee, too.) All of these places serve the function of being both a meeting space for the neighbors and a place to get a tasty, affordable meal. Some have more ambitious (and therefore expensive) entrees than others, but all have soups in the $5ish range and sandwiches in the 10ish-or-less range.

* Yeah, ick, trendy term. But it is a helpful way to distinguish between bars that serve what used to be known as "bar food" -- chicken fingers, mozz sticks, fries, hotdogs, lackluster burgers -- and bars that serve damn fine food.

Also missing is a mention of Vietnamese gems like Nam Phuong -- big, liquor-licensed places with fantastic, relatively expensive food. Reading that article made me very glad of where I live in South Philly, with exceptions to many of the referenced gripes. You want diversity and regionalism? Cafe de Laos is across the street. BYO, but hey, it even has atmosphere. Something other than red-gravy Italian? Paradiso's menu has an awful lot of Piedmont influence. (I do earnestly long for more good casual French food, though. Any aspiring restauranteurs in this area, please feel free set up shop within a block or two of my home.)

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\Also missing is a mention of Vietnamese gems like Nam Phuong -- big, liquor-licensed places with fantastic, relatively expensive food. Reading that article made me very glad of where I live in South Philly, with exceptions to many of the referenced gripes. You want diversity and regionalism? Cafe de Laos is across the street. BYO, but hey, it even has atmosphere.

good point. it's almost as if, in writing the article, she didn't take into account 'ethnic' restaurants. which brings up another area of discussion that it's too late for me to think about now...

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A few years back, on the old Prodigy Internet, I used to pen a monthly food column, and back then I wrote a column that sounded strangely familiar to April White's article (not that I think she is plagarizing in ANY way--she is a pro in every way). When I re-read that column a couple of years ago, I sounded to me like a whiner, and I'll bet White might feel the same way if she re-reads her piece a few years from now. We have nothing to compalin about, except perhaps that OUR local chefs don't get nearly the national attention and publicity of their counterparts in other cities.

I lay the blame for that right square on the shoulders of the PR "agencies" in the region, especially the ones who "specialize" in restaurants. Now I have been in PR for more than 20 years, don't practice now, but still own a nice, profitable 10 yr. old boutique (that means "small", and that's all it ever means) PR firm that now handles no beer, restaurant or food-related clients of any kind. Philly has some of the absolute worst "publicists" I have ever seen covering the restaurant community, who neither understand what it means to do the job, nor can write a press release nor effectively promote anything.

Now that I am food writing and editing almost full time now, I am experienceing what must be every PR professional's nightmare: I am on the receiving end of an endless stream of dreck masquerading as PR. There are exceptions, and I actually have seen some very good PR coming out of some new practioners in the suburbs (Dish PR and Gloss PR stand out, as well as Spotlight PR) who are acquiring Center City restaurant clients, too. I expect that we are going to see a restaurateur revolt soon, as chef after chef and owner after owner start to realize that they have been paying some pretty lofty retainers for the work of glorified party planners, not true, hard-working publicists.

When I did PR, I took it very seriously, worked like a journalist to develop compelling stories for the companies I handled, and treated work like the project management that it was. It was fun, but it was work and NOT a party every night. I don't see that in most of the food PR firms around town, and April White left that key componenet out of her discourse on the state of restaurants in Philly.

For my two cents, I think we have it better than we think, and compare favorably to any city in the US but New York. And who gives a rat's ass about being compared with New York? NO city compares with that city. Big fat whoop.

Rich Pawlak

 

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I agree with Rich. You don't need star chefs to put Philly on the great restaurant map. The lack of PR in promoting the restaurants in Philly(byobs especially) is horrible. A month ago I had a meeting with Phila Mag about extending my ad in the magazine. I thought with the huge popularity in byobs, that the guide for byobs should be placed somewhere closer to the front of the food section. Instead they place it so far back in the magazine it sometimes gets lost. The best PR for me is word of mouth. I tried to put together a restaurant the suits everyones needs. Yes, I have chicken on the menu and soup etc.., but sometimes you need apple pie to sell the other items on the menu. My restaurant is nothing special compared to Vetri, Gayle, Amada, I could go on forever. My staff and myself try to give good service, good food, and hope they leave happy and return for more. I do it for you guys. I am not in it for the money, I do it because I LOVE TO COOK. I plan on using this as a stepping stone for the future. I just hope my son learns how to cook soon because i am tired.

<span style='color:red'><i>Todd Lean

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Wow. I wrote a small blurb, left for work; come back, and it is still raging. Awesome.

So I have read all the responses, but I can not clip art as well as you all, (nor do I have the patience) I would like to address some of the topics and replies that have been rallied . ( I won't even use the LCB) .

So. To answer someones comments in the beginning of the thread. Certainly there are cities where people gravitate just for the food. Did you ever live in Napa valley or Sonoma in the rainy season. It is terrible. Yontville was nothing until the French Laundry put it on the map.

I really do not think that the article is Philadelphia self loathing. I have experienced almost all of the cities that were mentioned, I have either lived in the city or have adopted some cites as a second home.

I believe that Philadelphia is on the cusp of something great. Better than New York, Boston or San francisco.

You all have a wealth of talent in the city , but it dwindles or moves out of the city to greener pastures. Vernon Morales now owns a restuarant in San Francisco, why not in Philadelphia?Dominic Filoni felt it necessary to leave, as well as T Fuery.

I believe that the article provoked a wealth of good points. A small point is that restaurants have a tough time, small, or large, in a fringe area. People will just not go. There are plenty of untapped spaces in Philadelphia, but I do not believe anyone would dare to open let alone patronize. Whereas in the other mentioned cities I know that people would.

Example. Tetsuya started in a neighborhood outside of Sydney, It is now one of the the best in the world, Green Door, in Sanfrancisco started in the mission district. Chantrelles in New York, started in a small store front. (I did not agree with her points on that) People made the journey to patronage those restaurants, and stayed loyal as the restuarant grew into its own.

If Django decided to move and relocate for a bigger space, and a licence, would they continue to thrive or would they be cast out as sell outs.

Or would any of you travel at night to a dim lit corner restaurant in the middle of let say North east, west Philadelphia, Grays ferry Philadelphia, just to get a taste of the chefs creations, no matter how crazy? Many foodies in those fore mentioned cities would. (Do not bring in Marigold into the equation either)

Putting aside liquor laws and such. It is really hard to do business in Philadelphia, with a privilege tax and a wage tax boring down on a start up.

Issues. Small plates are not Boring, or passe. It is just that everyone kept messing them up and dumbing them down. After L @The Rittenhouse hit with the Plates courses.( Before everyone else did) :raz::biggrin: (That was to V) Other restaurants thought that putting a bean salad with a lamb chop "lollipop" would be considered a small plate. That is not a small plate. It is just stupid. It takes a very good chef to pull it off. David Ansil, and Kubbet are some of the very few that can achieve that deftness that is needed to go into small plates. Small plates are not synonymous with tapas.

I did not agree with the assessment about organic produce chefs, or the pottery barn comment. Some times that is all someone can afford. And organic farm fresh food needs to be the driving point and selling point in Philadelphia. PA has the best, yes, the best agricultural setting in the country. Philadelphia just has not tapped it yet. And sometimes patrons are not willing to pay the price. Yes I said it .

I think that Richard is dead on accurate about the PR firms in the city.

I think the book and the cook needs to go back to its original concept, put it back into the convention center, and ditch the Personality/ life style chef. I am sorry but I am not going to pay 110.00 dollars for "yum-mo" I think we are all better than that. They need to expand it to incorporate the wine experience as well. not just put into restaurants, it needs to seep out from ever pore of the city, so much so that celebrity chefs could so nothing but want to go to Philadelphia. Some one should take a look at Charleston food and wine expeience. The City totally embraced that festival.

Support that rittenhouse market more, so that the farmers will want a reason to come into Philadelphia, and not New york.

We need to find a way to get "non foodies" to try other restaurants than Starrs. "Budakan is gourmet". O yes that was exclaimed to me on my Vacation into the Philadelphia suburbs.

I think slowly you will see that some of the younger chefs that left the city to travel and train in kitchens, other than going to YA YA's cafe or Stars turn and burn; walnut street bandits. Like France, Spain, Italy. are slowly coming home like a prodigal sons or daughters. It will just take time.

I think that April is looking for who is going to take the reigns now that JML is gone, and George is soon to follow.

Look at San Sebastian. Best food city in the world. They are not woried per capita, People per district how many yumm yumms are here or there. They are just food nuts there.

I believe, I know Philadelphia will be a one of the best very very soon.

PS sorry about the grammer- V and Big Boss

Edited by matthewj (log)
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From the article.

Portland’s most interesting restaurants are highly personal projects, fitting the ethos of that individualistic West Coast city

Replace "West Coast" with "East Coast" and hey! sounds a lot like Philly.

Granted, Philly may be somewhat of a rut, but I'm pretty sure Philadelphians would rather have another tried and true Italian byob than blow two days of a hard-earned union-provided paycheck in order to eat their menu and drink their deconstructed entree out of a 45 ml Falcon tube lying in a liquid nitrogen bath.

I'm pretty sure I would as well.

Edited by stephenc (log)
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The more relevant point is that you are still talking about food, good food, and I'm not: I'm talking about a socio-economic phenomenon, or a business plan, but what you slot into the "food" and "drink" spaces in the model is nearly irrelevant. What is needed is that shlubs like me can go there and eat and drink with friends as often as possible. And any place where the wine begins at $5/glass, $30/btl ain't makin' it. Oh, it's affordable - once a week, comfortably. But it won't be an everynight place. And even that price point is nearly impossible to find hereabouts.

do you think if this happened, you'd have the same reaction we were talking about the other day with the cafes? the 'MOVE IT, DEADBEATS, PAYING CUSTOMER COMING THROUGH' thing?

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Wow.  I wrote a small blurb, left for work; come back, and it is still raging. Awesome.

So I have read all the responses, but I can not clip art as well as you all, (nor do I have the patience) I would like to address some of the topics and replies that have been rallied .  ( I won't even use the LCB) .

So.  To answer someones comments in the beginning of the thread.  Certainly there are cities where people gravitate just for the food.  Did you ever live in Napa valley or Sonoma in the rainy season. It is terrible.  Yontville was nothing until the French Laundry put it on the map. 

I agree with much of what you say (I think).

You are half wrong (or half right) re: Yountville and the French Laundry. Yountville in part of a huge tourist attraction--the Napa Valley. Throngs of people visited and passed through it long before the Keller endeavor opened up. It is quite a stretch to say the FL "put it on the map."

Also, Yountville is a tiny place geographically and population wise. (also let's not forget--Napa is a weekend getaway for folks from San Francisco).

In the end, I think this is about opportunity for Philadelphia-- the business climate that impacts the restaurant business.

The easier it is to open a restaurant and to make money the better the restaurant scene--for everyone.

As I see it (I think Ms White sees it this was as well) Philadelphia has done well in comparison to other cities--you can eat well in Philadelphia--agreed.

However some points:

BYOB's are hampered by their limited potential to make money. Their appeal is local--visitors on business and tourists as well as local businesspersons are not very likely to frequent these places.

While ok for a chef/owner they are not very appealing to restaurateurs or salaried chefs who either have a name or are on the cusp of the big time or have big time aspirations.

I would think that most of these chefs (and restaurateurs) would want exposure not just to locals but to as wide a range of diverse people from all over the world--tourists and business travelers!

So what I believe Ms White is saying is that while BYOB's may serve world class food their appeal is primarily local! To local chefs starting out and to local patrons.

If one is a well heeled tourist or on a business trip or even a local business person entertaining clients that person is likely to be put off by having to buy alcohol off premise and schlep it to the restaurant. These folks will most likely visit one of the many Starr spots or a chain--these are fine to be sure--but is the Philadelphia restaurant scene as dynamic and diverse as it could be for a "world class audience" (sure it is dynamic for locals who enjoy saving some money on wine and beer).

Finally, the proponents of the BYOB scene lose a bit of their argument.

BYOB's would not disappear if things changed.

Also most restaurants that do serve alcohol also allow for corkage.

Many restaurants would be able to join the current trend (in other cities) of very diverse wine lists with very reasonably priced wines.

All the food festivals and PR in the world will not help if Philadelphia does not join the rest of the Country (really, the world) and allow restaurants to make money and visitors to enjoy world class beverage service! Just think how great Philadelphia could really be as a restaurant city!

By the way--thanks to all who reminded me --Jeanine's Bistro and La Truffe!

I have some great memories of both--especially of Jeanine!

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I am coming out of retirement for this one....

To address a few comments in the thread, to those with whom I disagree, please understand it is simply a difference in opnion.

JeffL, I love you and you rock unfortunately on two points....

The french Laundry and perse are not cutting edge restaurants, they are good restaurants. What they do is certainly in no way shape or form on par with Alinea.

They are excellent restaurants and Keller is a good chef but cutting edge would be reserved for those challenging convention.

Keller's restaurants "refine" convention but do not "challenge" it.

Alinea "challenges" convention as doe WD-50, Snackbar, Moto, Gagnaire ect ect.

In archtectural terms......French Laundry and PerSe are like Helmut Jahn (#1 and #2 liberty place in philadelphia), Alinea is like Frank Gehry or Rem Koolhass (Gugenheim Museum Bilbao and Seattle Public library Respectively).

Amada is a good restaurant but it is in no way the "unparralelled" spanish tapas place on the east coast. First of all they have 90% table service and they do not serve better food than Casa Mono, Boqueria and nowhere near as good as Tia Pol.

It is a GOOD place but it gets hype because it was the first to do what it does in Philadelphia much like Le Bec Fin, Buddakan, Continental, Striped Bass.

Purely the same reason people who had never set foot in Paris used to say LBF was the best french restaurant in the world back in the roaring 80's.

April White's conclusions were sublimated into the wrong statement, "we need better Italian restaurants", what she was saying in a broader context is we need more mid priced places with liquor licenses that serve better food than BYOB's which are able to effortlessly sell mediocre food to the masses purely on the value of savings on alchohol prices...........and that means virtually every italian BYOB in center city except perhaps melograno.

The bar of mediocrity is much lower for italian cuisine because it inherently depends on a few basic flavors to communicate it's intergrity.

THUS, cutting any corners like using cheap Olio, serving pregrated cheeses, American proscuitto and all that other garbage shows.

If Liquor licences in Philly became less than 10 grand like they are in Manhattan, the BYOboom in Philly will vaporize within 6 months.

The kind of food that elevates young chef's to the national stage requires the food cost percentage generated by liquor revenues and that is straight from our freinds at Microsoft excell.

Food and wine's ten best new chefs philadelphia

Pernot, Martorella, Vetri, Lee, Filoni................no BYO's

Despite all Django's hoopla, it was just a local phenom based on BYO "methodology".

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hey v- is the liqour license thing and the preponderence of byo's in the city keeping talent from coming to philly? what's the "word on the street"

ps: i'm not dissing byo's, i love them too, but really wonder what type of impact they have.

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Finally, the proponents of the BYOB scene lose a bit of their argument.

BYOB's would not disappear if things changed.

Also most restaurants that do serve alcohol also allow for corkage.

Many restaurants would be able to join the current trend (in other cities) of very diverse wine lists with very reasonably priced wines.

All the food festivals and PR in the world will not help if Philadelphia does not join the rest of the Country (really, the world) and allow restaurants to make money and visitors to enjoy world class beverage service! Just think how great Philadelphia could really be as a restaurant city!

I do believe BYOBs would vanish if the bar to licensing went away overnight. The cost of a liquor license is what forces those who want a restaurant but have limited capital to open with no drink service. On that, Vadouvan and I are on the same page.

In fact, I agree with everything he says above (I know, I know - no one is more surprised than I). Where we differ (shoe #2 dropping) is in our perspective: like most in this forum, V. seems to me to view the issue from within the business. I absolutely agree that the disappearance of the LCB-related costs would make running all restaurants, good and bad, much easier. But this wouldn't necessarily mean more adventurous restaurants: the key there, I believe is the size of the market. Not population, mind you, but the density of individuals with the means to treat dining as a frequent, entirely frivolous experience. And in that we lag all the cities which are mentioned as being "better" than us; but we do very well otherwise, among all those cities we are comparable to. That's even more remarkable when you consider how much of the wealth in this region is actually located in urban-allergic suburbia. Ultimately, there just aren't enough adventurous eaters in this city to support a thriving, diverse, high-end experimental food scene. We might be able to if someone found a way to establish one at low-cost, but that's tough to imagine. Certainly, Django, Marigold Kitchen and a few others prove that people are hungry for that, no matter whether or not you think they are successful in their ambitions. And the failure of Salt and a few others conversely hints that the economics are very fragile.

But again, this strikes me as missing the point of BYOBs. It really is simple: there are many of us who can afford them who cannot afford even just the additional cost of a reasonable wine markup: slackers like me, the young, the underemployed artsy. The fact that we throng to BYOBs seems to have given license-holding restaurateurs the illusion that if only BYOBs went away, they would reap the benefits. They wouldn't: many many of us would just have to drop out of the eatin' scene, by and large. In fact, I think the BYOs have provided an entry point to connoisseurship for many people, and we contribute to higher-end bottom-lines by (infrequently) venturing into that more rarefied air. That effect might just go away. Certainly, that is very much the state of the Philadelphia dining scene immediately before the BYOboom (quoted without permission), and I think it is entirely possible that economic forces would return us there posthaste if BYOs disappeared.

Mess with the little people at your own risk.

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