after dinner sneeze

a lot of g says, t says

James Delivers Good for the Price of Great

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t says: We’ve gone to James twice, courtesy of two groupons – and a and v went once, too!  So here’s the lowdown of the restaurant that somehow went from top 10 to being left out of the top 50 according to Philly mag.  But of course, let us tantalize you with a poorly-shot iPhone photo … and you can guess if I liked it or not …

It has chocolate and bacon and chiles … was it awesome?  Find out soon …

t’s Props:  The food was good overall – nothing made us regret having tastebuds – so we were happy about that.  Our favorites, which we’d reorder again were both pasta dishes.  The first was the pappardelle with duck ragu with orange and chocolate – it was so good that we ordered it both times we went!  And the risotto alla kristina (risotto made with prosecco and barely-warmed-through oysters) was also delicious!  Both of these had nicely cooked pasta and beautifully harmonious flavors (seriously, that risotto dish with the oysters was surprisingly oyster-y … in a fresh-tasting, good way).  I also enjoyed the venison dish (g doesn’t do venison) which, too, was impeccably cooked and worked so well with the bitter chocolate – I only wish they gave me more meat because it was rather tiny (so a normal-sized person might have found it microscopic).  As for atmosphere – it’s a nice and large space – quite a departure for a South-of-South eatery.  The chairs were plush (g seemed a little obsessed over how comfortable the chairs were) and there was substantial spacing between tables (although I felt like g and I were SO far apart because the table was so big!).  This place is great for claustrophobics who are tired of the cramped BYO scene.  The service was also top-notch – some of the best we’ve seen in the city.

t’s Slops:  Venus’s jewel case (a spinach fettucine with bacon in a puffed pastry shell) was a good idea, but kind of a failure – it ended up being a mushy spinach fettucini in a congealed creamy sauce (the bacon was only noticeable if you happened to get a piece).  g’s lobster dish was rather unremarkable … which was remarkable because it had lobster in it!  The bacon budino dessert (pictured above) was good in concept (bacon brittle, chocolate budino, paprika ice cream, chile jam), but the balance of flavors was off – please turn down the paprika and turn up the bacon (stick it in the ice cream!).  Also, in my opinion, the chocolate budino was not a budino (unless I am mistaken about what a budino is, but google suggests I am not).  Had the budino been as awesome as I imagined, the title of this post would have been “James’s Barbuzzo Budino Killer”.

t’s Verdict:  I’m  sure there will be times when I think back and fondly remember those two pasta dishes.  But without a strong supporting cast of other dishes, I’m afraid that walking to Melograno or Mercato or Barbuzzo or Amis for pasta is just far easier than cabbing to James.  Furthermore, tack on the price of alcohol and the lack of more groupons, and now I’m pretty sure that the deliciosity-price quotient (DPQ) is just too low for a return visit, landing it in the same category as Matyson (good-tasting Contemporary American, but just not enough food!). 

a says: We agree with almost everything said by t and our experience was much the same (n.b. Thank you Groupon). We were excited to hit James due to its past accolades and positive reviews online. We knew it was pricey for South Philly and not-byo but that’s no reason not to show some love.

a’s Hollas: We were seated immediately in a space much more open than any CC byo which is appreciated. Our server was polite, attentive, and happy to make recommendations when asked. The IPA and wines by the glass were decent. We split our first course, James’ rif on choucroute garnie, which was ambitious and delicious. My 2nd course, pappardelle wih duck ragu, was full of flavor and a high-point of the meal. My entrée course was a tender and juicy veal loin, cooked to perfection and appropriately sized. We went with the apple pie for dessert which was intricately plated but tough to properly eat.

a’s Boos: The music seemed a tad too loud for the ambiance and there was too much time between courses considering the restaurant was at 75% capacity. I found the wine list limited, lacking many deals or bottles in my “$35-$65 sweet spot” for this level of restaurant. The choucroute was was not substantial, even for an appetizer and v thought her risotto alla Kristina (risotto with oysters) was good, not great. (v said, “Too strong a sea flavor.”) v’s fish entrée was again too small and nothing to write home about.

a’s Verdict:  I’d be happy to return to James to give it another shot, if someone else wants to pay or we’re in need of a respite from the cramped byos of CC. We also noted the lovely private table for large groups which sits in a beautiful room away from the main dining room.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

28 February 2011 at 11:04pm

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