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"James" Restaurant


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I've eaten at James twice. While I'm ecstatic for them (because I think they're good people who do what they do quite well), I felt Laban's review was way too superlative. Without getting into every detail (who knows how well they nailed his dinners?) I'll put it this way: if the bell system means anything, to equate the food at James with the food at Gayle is absurd, simply stated. And I mean "equate" in the sense that it's as well-conceived or well-executed.

Again, James is doing good things but it doesn't deserve three bells or the five-bell prose it got in its three-bell review.

Nonetheless, good luck to James. They're definitely on the right track.

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LaBan seems enthralled with the risotto we were discussing a while back:

A bowl of risotto alla Kristina, its naturally creamy gravy bright with sparkling prosecco, offers up a trove of whole oysters so tender they seem to be just a warm breath past raw.

hmmm... I really need to try this risotto that manages to maintain the effervescence of the wine. That's some fancy cooking.

Or was the implication "bright with (what was at one time) sparkling prosecco..."?

As for the review overall, I don't have any big arguments with it. I'll agree with Alcibiades that it's overly gushy, but I quite liked my one meal there, and felt it was more than a two-bell experience. That said, I'm not sure it hit me as any better than some other places that have gotten only two, and not as good as some three-bells, but I think that has more to do with the blunt-instrument of the bell-key rather than the merits of the restaurant itself.

But that's an argument for another topic.

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  • 4 weeks later...

i was hesitant to go for a long time. i'd read all of the slams here and everybody i know who's been had a really bad time. but last night i was by myself and looking for a small bite.

you can only get certain items at the bar. that's really lame. the explanation was that due to their seasonal ingredients they only have enough for the main dining room. that's no excuse at all. you order what you'll need, not enough for half the restaurant. and the restaurant was empty!

i got the Soup Julienne. it's a chicken soup with julienned veggies. the consomme is poured piping hot out into the bowl. it smelled good but was not seasoned at all. i had a honeydew cocktail with it that tasted lightly of honeydew but not really of the gin that was in it somewhere.

then i had a piece of blue d'auvergne. you can't go wrong when you order a cheese that you know you love. served with a dollop of (apparently locally-made) honey. bad bread.

then i had a plate of canapes. the fluke (i think) sashimi was cooked. the asparagus soup tasted like raw grass, totally unseasoned. the housemade sausage you'd think would have some salt, but no. no flavor at all. there was some unidentifiable green beside it on the plate that tasted gummy and anise-y. two crostini in the middle, i think one had porcini mushrooms, the other i dunno. and then two little artichoke hearts that had been steamed. a little black oil in the bottom reminded me of a truffle coulis but i didn't taste any truffles or, again, seasoning of any kind.

i really want to like this place. it's a block from where i live. but i'm never going back. the bartender was really nice and helpful, but i go for food, not service. the only good things were the drinks and the cheese, and i can get those anywhere.

ah well. *sigh*

oh yeah i will no longer read Laban. he's a horrible writer to begin with but if everybody i respect (including myself) thinks the food is horrid and he thinks it's three-bell worthy then he's lost all respectablility in my book.

edited to add: i would have loved to try a few things on the regular menu. but apparently a single diner at the bar can't. the halibut sounded nice.

Edited by mattohara (log)

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matt o'hara

finding philly

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oh yeah i will no longer read Laban.  he's a horrible writer to begin with but if everybody i respect (including myself) thinks the food is horrid and he thinks it's three-bell worthy then he's lost all respectablility in my book.

well, either that or everyone recognizes him for what he is and treats him like a king when he shows up.

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Matt,

Maybe you just had a bad experience and Laban had a few good ones.

I've eaten there and it wasn't nearly as bad as you've described nor was it as good as Laban thought, in my opinion. Would that indicate that you're both wrong?

The problem seems to be one of consistency which is a huge sin for a restaurant but one visit by one diner is exactly that. You're free to not return but to suggest that your experience invalidates those of other visitors (namely Laban) is a bit logically inconsistent.

Edited by Alcibiades (log)
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You're free to not return but to suggest that your experience invalidates those of other visitors (namely Laban) is a bit logically inconsistent.
I'll put it this way: if the bell system means anything, to equate the food at James with the food at Gayle is absurd, simply stated. And I mean "equate" in the sense that it's as well-conceived or well-executed.

Again, James is doing good things but it doesn't deserve three bells or the five-bell prose it got in its three-bell review.

um... :huh:

Am I missing something ?

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Matt,

Maybe you just had a bad experience and Laban had a few good ones.

I've eaten there and it wasn't nearly as bad as you've described nor was it as good as Laban thought, in my opinion. Would that indicate that you're both wrong?

The problem seems to be one of consistency which is a huge sin for a restaurant but one visit by one diner is exactly that. You're free to not return but to suggest that your experience invalidates those of other visitors (namely Laban) is a bit logically inconsistent.

well, me and everybody else i know that's been there. all people whose opinion about food i greatly respect.

i know i only had two small things. i know there's a chance that other things will be better. but i've had much better food at OK restaurants that i'll probably not go back to, because they simply weren't that good. this was bad enough that i felt i should write something about it, especially after reading the beginning of this thread all the way to the later posts that were very favorable.

i tried not to be mean but it was very bad.

Edited by mattohara (log)

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matt o'hara

finding philly

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V,

My opinion about the food at James (as per the quote you cited 2nd) is exactly that just as Matt's is his. My point (as per the quote you cited 1st) is that the opinion of a particular diner doesn't invalidate that of another when those opinions differ. To make an imperative out of one's experience at the disqualification of another's is, in my opinon, not the right way to proceed.

And so regarless of what one thinks, unless one is a strict Kantian one should not dismiss another's opinion just because the opinions are not consistent. There is no logical disconnect between either of the sentiments of mine that you've parenthetically plucked.

Matt,

Fair enough.

Edited by Alcibiades (log)
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My point (as per the quote you cited 1st) is that the opinion of a particular diner doesn't invalidate that of another when those opinions differ. To make an imperative out of one's experience at the disqualification of another's is, in my opinon, not the right way to proceed.

Um, isn't this what "having a different opinion" means? I don't think that anyone said that LaBan shouldn't be permitted to have opinions.

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S,

It was never implied by me that the argument is whether Laban should be permitted to have an opinon. Of course he should--he's a human being and he's also a professional opinion expresser (whether one thinks his is good I'll leave up to each reader of his articles). My reaction was to what I felt was Matt's dismissal of his opinion. I don't think it's a stretch to assume that the phrases "he's a horrible writer" and "he's lost all respectability in my book" are dismissive.

Edited by Alcibiades (log)
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My wife and I went last night for dinner. Christina and Jim both treated us great. The kitchen was nice to send out a few comp appetizers in addition to what we had already ordered. My wife and I had a great dining experience from start to finish. The one thing great about this web-site is the different opinions that everyone gives whether they are good or bad. Thats mine!

Edited by lamando (log)

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

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I went to James two weeks ago, on a Tuesday evening. I had reservations, arrived early checked in and informed the hostess that my dining companion was running late, due to negotiating the Schuykill at rush hour. He arrived five minutes after our reservation, but we were not seated until 30 minutes later, while they seated other parties that came in AFTER me.

Our table was in the back side room with the dark wooded paneling. Noise level was less there than in the main room. It is interesting to note the restaurant was completely full on a Tuesday evening. Such is the life of a restaurant after a review.

We chose the seven course tasting menu, and I asked to have the wine pairing with it, though my dining companion was not drinking that evening. The initial response was, we don't do wine pairings unless both people at the table were having it. I found that rather odd, since its not as if a new bottle is being opened. Eventually they relented. They were kind enough to ask if we had any food allergies or dining preferences. My dining companion is Jewish and ask for there to be no pork in any of the dishes.

The amuse bouche was a delightful spread make with boccolla. The pace of the dishes was a bit uneven, though I dont know how easy it is to pace a meal like that given the variety on the menu. We had a wonderful variation on the halibut dish on the menu done with turbot, the runny egg and the fava beans were delightful.

We also had the langostino tails, the rissotto, the poullard, and a veal with chanterrelles that was heavenly.

Once again the service/kitchen didn't quite add up when the rissotto was brought out. It is topped with a single piece of bacon (see request for no pork.) The response was to bring a new dish, the duck ragout, and the server neglected to bring the chocolate to shave over the dish.

A small cheese course followed, (a blue which I forget) with a quince jam. Very good. Dessert followed, as did coffee.

A good but not great meal, slightly marred by the service challenges probably partially due to the larger than normal capacity on a Tuesday night (election night.)

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  • 1 month later...

Wanted to report that I had a "B&B" tonight. Bluecoat and blueberries (+ 7-Up). Such a perfect seasonal drink. Unfortunately, the Bluecoat can't hang with all that flavor and pectin, and whatnot. I'm gonna try it at home -- with Bartletts or Bartons or Beefeaters, or one of those other aromatic gins that could really make this summer drink.

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Six of us had dinner last Friday night.

We were seated at the back round booth, very nice table.

It was pretty good.

I had two apps and split an entree.

Langoustine with ricotta cream, exquisite, I wouldn't let anyone taste it cause it was too small.

Then risotto with summer truffles.

Then I shared the poularde.

Others had the fricasee of sweetbreads, tortelloni with blueberry and thyme, lamb (which hubby didn't love-wasn't cooked the way he asked and just wasn't super. Very salty). Lots of other dishes...

Yes, as stated before, the portions are small and pricey. However, most of it was quite tasty and creative, for a change.

The sommelier from Italy was good, we had some recommendations from someone at Winebow before we went, plus he helped a lot. Wasn't overbearing, just always there when we wanted him to be. Had an Italian white-Friolino? Can't remember....the red was Argiolas from Sardinia. There was a bottle of Muscat for dessert that was tasty, and nice and low in alcohol.

My sorbets sounded interesting, but the three I ordered were so miniscule, it was hard to taste.

Nice evening, dinner was pricey, plus it was $11 each for pre dinner cocktails. But, we all enjoyed ourselves.

Philly Francophiles

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  • 9 months later...

It should be said that while this thread may have started with a seemingly unfair tone, while I do not want to discount any one's experiences, I guess reaching conclusions about any restaurant in it's early life/firsts few weeks of opening does not give indications of long term promise once things start to gel.

Congratulations to James Burke.

2008 Food and Wine Best New Chefs.

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Edited by Vadouvan (log)
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  • 4 weeks later...

Has anyone had James' "Chefs Tasting Men" (offered M-W)? If so, how many courses is it, and, are they smaller portions of the regular menu items?

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

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