Chatting With Craig LaBan: Fried-chicken faves; protocol for chef's counter
Here is an excerpt from Craig LaBan's online chat of Oct. 2, 2013:
Reader: How much longer do we have for the farmers' markets at Rittenhouse and Headhouse? And do you have a preference for one over the other?
Craig LaBan: Both going strong into November, and Rittenhouse, I believe, continues all year, though in an abbreviated form in cold weather. The Rittenhouse Market has really come into bloom in the past few years - almost as good as Head House on its better days.
Reader: Craving some Southern cookin' like my mom used to make. Where is the best place in the city for some fried chicken and biscuits?
C.L.: Check out Deborah's Kitchen, the classic soul food takeout spot at 26th and Girard owned by Marvin Harrison's aunt. Just mentioned in Soul Food Scholar by Adrian Miller.
Reader: Doesn't Supper make a fried chicken and biscuits on certain days?
Reader: Come to Rex we got you covered!
C.L.: Good suggestions both . . . but probably a little different from the old school-style request. Also worth checking out: Corinne's in Camden, the last of the cast-iron chicken fryers. Philly cooks: we need more Southern cookin'!! Interested to see what Kevin Sbraga turns out when he gets his Fat Ham up and smokin' soon.
Reader: What is the protocol (if one exists) for diners sitting at the chef's counter? I have been to some places (Sampan) that seemed to welcome discussion with the chefs, and some places (Serpico) where the vibe was, "Don't bother us. We're working." Others (Amis) are a mixed bag. Any thoughts?
C.L.: Surprised to hear that about Serpico's counter. They're definitely intense behind the line, but we had a nice interaction at our meal. Maybe it's just a matter of timing. These people are busy - so use common sense! Any place where cooks are deliberately placed to facilitate interaction with diners should genuinely welcome a conversation. Serpico is one of those, even if you sit in the dining room - because cooks deliver the dishes to the dining room, too.
Reader: Chef's counter in general: yay or nay? I always get so hyped up for it that my expectations are rarely met (Bibou a recent notable exception).
C.L.: I think they're great especially if you're dining solo or just a duo. It's not my preference, unless I'm at Morimoto or Serpico, where I think you can plug into the energy of the place. A lot of spots build a chef's counter (Noord) only to find people would rather sit in the dining room. It's a setup that sometimes works, sometimes does not.
Reader: I saw Peter Serpico said he was impressed by the great Korean food here and I'm curious what great Korean restaurants you are aware of, since everything I have found here has sadly been mediocre. Please help!
C.L.: Head north to Koreatown, around 5th and Olney, just south of Cheltenham Ave. One favorite, Jong Ka Jib, the soft tofu casserole restaurant, with fantastic banchan dishes of pickled spicy veggies and sizzling bowls of mushroom broth and crispy rice. Also: Every Day Good House at Front and Olney (charcoal BBQ); Kim's and Seo Ra Bol (also great BBQ spots nearby); Soho Cafe (Cheltenham Ave. - the home of Philly's Korean fried chicken scene.) In University City, Koreana, good traditional Korean fare. In town, visit Rice & Mix-nice bibimbap in a hot stone bowl.