I like this photo so much that I’ll start this review by giving props to its creator, James Muspratt. He’s a graduate student at Yale and has some great design and photography work online. Check out his site.
The thing I love about this photo is that it shows the back alley entrance (or exit) to one of the fanciest restaurants in the United States. It demonstrates that even a venerable institution such as Le-Bec Fin has something to hide.
What they’ve been hiding recently, according to the scuttlebutt around town, is a growing unpopularity and creeping irrelevance. So the owner, Georges Perrier, took action, remodeling the stuffy restaurant into a (slightly) dressed down, a la carte dining room.
Having not had the opportunity (i.e. the money) to try Le-Bec before this blockbuster re-imagining, I was a bit apprehensive to be among the first patrons of the new, mainstream Fin. And as if proving my intuition to be correct, my experience there was a decidedly mixed bag.
As lucky receivers of a very generous gift card to Le-Bec for Christmas (thanks mom and dad!), my and my wife’s schedules finally let up in mid May for us to go on the adventure.
So we threw on some fancy clothes, walked the several blocks to 15th and Walnut and announced our reservation to the waitress. The dining room was smaller than expected and we were led to a circular table in a corner near the front.
This was not a good way to start.
Not only was the table too big for a couple, but there was a completely empty two-person table right next to it. Thankfully, the maitre d’ allowed us to switch, but the damage had been done. I find that kind of behavior, where a restaurant attempts to seat you at a worse table because they think you won’t protest, just plain disrespectful. But I digress.
Deciding to spend every penny of our gift card, we started with $20 glasses of the restaurant’s own champagne. Though I am by no means a connoisseur, this was among the best champagne I’ve tasted: a light, effervescent delight.
After taking in the rather large and expensive menu, we settled on appetizers and entrees. Feeling particularly French, my wife went for the Escargot ‘Persillade’ (Almonds, Roasted Bell Pepper, and Capers) and enjoyed the little gastropods mightily. I tasted one of them (my first ever) and concurred – these were some tasty mollusks.
I, unfortunately, was not as lucky with my Seared Diver Sea Scallops (Heart of Palm Fricassee, Jicama
Horseradish, Mango, and Mustard Seed Vinaigrette). I chose this relatively tame appetizer because I was planning on a rich entree and could not muster the stomach strength for Sauteed Foie Gras (which would have been another first). Our waiter agreed with my thinking and the alternative, but for me, the scallops were a big miss.
The first problem was false advertising: there was only one scallop. The second problem was that the scallop was not particularly good. It was rubbery and not well flavored. The third problem was the taste. Maybe it’s my admittedly unrefined palette, but there was a slightly bitter undertone to the whole dish, which was not pleasant.
Before we get to the entrees, a note on service: it was just average. This is one area where we may have come in with too high expectations, having heard from at least one friend that you were “completely pampered.” Not that the service was bad, but it also wasn’t brilliant. The only time we got that sense was:
- When the sommelier kindly allowed me to taste several reds before choosing a good pair for my entree
- During the dessert cart finale
But I digress again – back to the food. My better half decided on the Grilled Hamachi (Dried Mulberries and Bulgur, Onion Compote, Balsamic vinegar and Champagne emulsion), while I went all in on the Elysian Field Farm’s Domestic Rack of Lamb and Crispy Belly (Baby Artichokes and Shiitake Mushroom, Natural Jus with Thyme).
The fish was disappointing, though I chalk that up to our high standards with seafood. We’ve had delicious fish all over the city (and just recently in Florida), so this particular white fish, although well-prepared, was really nothing special. The rack of lamb, however, was epic. I’m not sure I have the words to describe it other than that, but its succulence is making my mouth water even now. It was that good.
Similarly, words fail to describe some of the sweet concoctions of the equally epic dessert cart. There were at least 15 poached fruits, tarts, pastries, and cakes to choose from this world famous, double-decker dessert paradise. Our choices were delicately sliced and arranged on a plate specially prepared according to to our individual orders. From the little detail I can remember, there was a rich, single-source chocolate tart, a smooth cheesecake, a poached pear tart, an apple crisp, a strawberry/marscapone cake, and many others. If you have no other reason to go to Le-Bec Fin, fake it through the meal and try these all-you-can-eat concoctions.
With tip, we managed to get right up to the gift card amount, with nothing to spare. It was certainly a meal to remember, but not nearly the best we had in Philly.
That would come just a few days later at Marigold Kitchen.