Craig LaBan Chews Out Chew

I continue to live vicariously through Craig LaBan, Inquirer restaurant critic. I was reminded of that today when a friend told me I “simply must” read LaBan’s review of Chew Man Chu, which replaced Du Jour at Symphony House on Broad and Pine Streets. It’s always a treat to read one of LaBan’s negative reviews. The pen is mightier than the sword, indeed. After I finished reading this particular review, I was pierced with the overwhelming desire to find a pair of scissors and frame the thing. LaBan doesn’t just skewer. He skewers with style. Read the whole review, word for word. Just for my own learning purposes, I wanted to highlight my favorite lines.

“bland bomb of Americanized-ethnic cooking” (Note how he uses alliteration to make his prose extra punchy.)

“the unfortunately named Chew Man Chu” (Unfortunate because the food is hard to chew. Restaurant owners, be warned. Stay away from the clever puns.)

“campy purple wok-bar” (The décor is tacky as hell. Thank you Craig LaBan for pointing that out. Symphony House loses points for that one.)

“enough lacquered sweetness to make your teeth ache” (My teeth hurt just reading that. The power of LaBan wordage. I am in awe.)

“an ode to bland nostalgia” (I just like this line.)

“it makes P.F. Chang’s taste like Susanna Foo” (Hahahahahahaha.)

“mystery meat” (Instant flashback to high school cafeteria.)

“one of its least appealing cameos I’ve seen” (See back to “an ode to bland nostalgia.”)

“the dessert selection is mercifully short” (And your review is pleasingly long. For that we thank you.)

“Yum” (Can you sense the sarcasm? Can you? If you can’t, you’re not reading hard enough.)

I can imagine William Shatner reading these lines out loud. Spoken word poetry right here, y’all. To be fair, I believe LaBan is actually a rather kind, balanced reviewer. He always gives an establishment the benefit of the doubt.  (In this piece, he notes the place is “Perfect for the theater crowd,” although there may be some subtly-veiled disparaging going on there as well.)  I’m also insanely jealous because many is the time that I’ve been tempted to write a negative review about an establishment, but I feel the need to censor myself. (At the least because I don’t have the type of legal backing LaBan has.) Philadelphia is such a small town. Sigh. *cue rant

For the last few weeks, even though I have the time to write, I’ve been avoiding writing publicly on this very blog.  For one, I feel like I’m restricted to a small range of bland topics that avoid a) anything controversial, b) anything related to Philadelphia for the fear of offending someone I know related to it c) anything scandalous that comes back to haunt me in my professional career.

There’s also the fact that I am no Craig Laban. Many an English major has come to me to point out a typo or some syntax or grammar error that exposes the flaws in my schooling. Knowing that I bear the responsibility of editing myself terrifies me. I almost feel as if writing every day for the last year has made me a worse writer because I’ve started limiting my vocabulary to the same set of tired phrases. “Yay.” “Awesome.” “Check it out.” Pardon me, my slip is showing.

It’s gotten so I log onto WordPress, look at the empty page waiting to be filled and log out, even though I know exactly what I want to say and have a long queue of topics waiting to be written about. It was one thing to expose myself to the world one year ago, when I started this dinky anonymous little blog a little more than a year ago with the desire to fill gaps in mainstream media through some DIY journalism. But I’m a little older now, and (hopefully) a little more cautious, so things were bound to change. Being self-aware is a good thing. Here’s to the new year. May it bring with it a new wave of inspiration, fearlessness and blogging.

Vive LaBan!

8 responses to “Craig LaBan Chews Out Chew

  1. LaBan used to write for the New Orleans paper. So, he knows his food as well as his acerbic.

  2. This review was outrageously off. I live in Symphony House and have eaten here several times…all great meals, reasonable prices and good service. It’s a real shame a snarky review like this can put an honest mom and pop restaurant out of business…esp. at a time like this. Shame on Craig Leban. He’s lost all credibility with me and my fellow foodies.

  3. Craig LeBan. What an asshole.

  4. Now I kinda want to try the place. My coworkers said it was awful… but young restaurants have a hard time with consistency…

  5. LaBan does have a way with words. Reading his reviews — even the bad ones — never fails to make me salivatingly hungry.

    Have to say I agree with him in his disparagement of Chew Man Chu. Only ate the food once, and had a fun chat with Chef Tyson, but the donuts were the only good thing (and they were amazing).

    Also feel the need to point out that Symphony House really can’t lose points for “campy decor.” It fits right in with the rest of the building.

  6. “. . . the open wok kitchen pumps out multicourse meals in less than an hour. Perfect for the theater crowd.”

    You wrote:

    “some subtly-veiled disparaging ” I read it as blantantly dripping with venom myself. The contrast of “multi-course meals” and “less than an hour” equating a “perfect” experience sounds vicious to me. Damn, now I want to know if I read in too deeply.

  7. Ha, I was being sarcastic! Of course he’s not subtle :P

  8. Craig Laban is a hack. Plain and simple. He kisses ass of people like Diving Horse in Avalon when all the locals and foodies know it is just average. Blackfish in Conshy is another one of his favorites that only he and 27 other people like. He casually savages restaurants, more impressed with his own wordplay than an honest review.

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