after dinner sneeze

a lot of g says, t says

Posts Tagged ‘French

Le Bec for $40? Mais Oui!

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t says: We mentioned Le Bec was closing soon and have spent many sleepness nights wondering whether doing that $40 dinner option was worth it.  And now, here to rescue us from our despair is the latest additions to the cast, a and v!

a saysAnd the verdict is… definitely worth the (lower) price of admission. The $40 menu is very small and certainly not typical Le Bec Fin extravagance. It is, however, focused and well executed. We ordered everything on the menu and were particularly impressed by the watermelon salad and stuffed quail. The steak was quite good and made more interesting by the pea pommes puree. In the end, the star of the show was the dessert cart. The pastry wizards at Le Bec still know how to satisfy everyone’s sweet tooth and the staff ensures you do not leave wanting. Service was extremely attentive and unpretentious, especially the sommeliers. The $40 wine list that accompanies this menu is lacking but use this as a reason to admire (and order from) their regular list. We had a red and a white, both (French) under $65, that were wonderful. I think the lax dress code (read: Hawaiian shirt and jeans) takes away from the ambiance but, thankfully, most diners used business casual as a baseline.

v says: Elegance, refinement, and sophistication come to mind when someone mentions Le Bec Fin. As evidenced by the clientele and service, this Philadelphia institution no longer characterizes such luxury. This is not to imply that the service is lacking, but rather that it attempts to meet the coarse population it has come to serve. In order to stay relevant, Le Bec Fin attempts to exude opulence while remaining accessible.  While this is a respectable mission given the direction taken by most Philadelphia restaurants and the current economy, it no longer serves the needs of its niche market.

At the same time, this accessibility enables a broader range of individuals to try the richness and delicacy of French cooking. The 40$, four course meal is worth the dessert, which was the best part of the meal and absolutely compensated for the lacking cheese course. In the end, I left the meal satisfied and contemplating the current role of Le Bec Fin in the Philadelphia food community. Is it obsolete? Should it go back to fulfilling the needs of its intended market? I wonder how my experience would have been different in its heyday – sans the Hawaiian shirts. The sommelier was quite partial to wines from near his birthplace in Lyon even sharing a colorful French idiom, “We drink Burgundy and we piss Bordeaux.”

Written by afterdinnersneeze

4 August 2010 at 10:52am

Bibou: Their Hanger Steak Reigns Supreme

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t says: After a seemingly never-ending hiatus, we’re back!!  And there’s tons to do.  The problem is that the longer we’ve been away, the less I remember about the places we’ve been, so I guess I’d better get crackin!

6/2010, Sunday 9:30pm, Party of 2. Ahhh, Bibou.  How we love thee.  Not the least bit pretentious.  Not super-spendy.  No glitz or glam.  Just good food.  We had to choose one BYO for our anniversary dinner, and Bibou was our first choice.  We had originally scheduled dinner there after the Idina Menzel concert at the Mann Center in Fairmount Park, but sensing that she would run late, we rescheduled to a Sunday.  As a side note, Idina is absolutely silly … but we think it makes her awesome-er.  Yea – and she can sing your socks off (the Philadelphia Orchestra was also great, too!).

We arrived at Bibou and were promptly seated.  I forgot how small the place was.  It didn’t matter – we wanted small.  The waiter asked if we would like our wine, and, noting that it had already been opened (I wanted the wine to breathe some before we actually got to dinner), asked if I wanted it decanted any more.  I had never had such an offer at a BYO.  I kind of wanted to say yes just to test their wine service, but didn’t really want to draw attention to ourselves – after all – it is a small place.

The meal was their fixed price Sunday 4-course dinner.

The first was a chilled cauliflower soup.  It was surprisingly good.  No, it wasn’t super-complex, but it had a lightness despite being what appeared to be a creamy soup (maybe it was just a really smooth cauliflower puree).  It was perfect for summer, and a great start to the meal.

For the second course, I went for the escargots and g went for the duck liver terrine.  Yes, the escargot were as good as I remember.  g was perfectly happy with the duck liver terrine, but confesses that it’s not the type of dish that she dreams about …  Sorry we’re short on details for these two – but it’s because the next course was just too memorable …

We actually both ordered the same dish for the third course – there’s just something about the hanger steak that just KILLS IT.  It has just the right balance of savory and herb.  The asparagus reminded me of the asparagus omelettes my dad would make on Sunday morning breakfasts when we used to invite over the extended family.  The potatoes were addictive.  The meat had bite, but was tender, and, unlike at some places, was substantially large.  g said she liked it even more than the steak served in Cochon’s steak-and-eggs brunch dish … and that’s a LOT.

I opted for the pistachio ice cream, while g had some sort of berry tart.  Alone they were good.  Together they were a perfect combination that lent an air of humility to the meal – it was like eating a warmed slice of pie with a scoop of ice cream … well, except better.  Thus, the dessert was good, but not not quite Zahav-good.  But with a meal that was so splendid overall,  I really can’t complain.  Somewhere in the meal Pierre Calmels came out to greet us.  He seemed like such a nice guy.  Of course, it would be hard to seem like a bad guy in the face of all of the praise that we were showering on him, but he humbly accepted our comments and wished us a happy anniversary.  Indeed, it was a happy anniversary.

g says: i’d like to take a moment and recognize how delightful the tiny complimentary madeleines are at the end of the meal. they are about one-quarter the size of normal madeleines, but probably contain the same amount of butter… mmmm… a must-eat!

also, a note about pierre’s visit to our table — i was a little starstruck, i have to admit (i get that way sometimes, i just can’t help it! and it feels oh-so cool to have such an acclaimed chef offer us his personal attention) but i could barely understand a word he was saying through his thick french accent. it didn’t really matter, though, because every syllable was so dreamily smooth, i just stared at him smiling for most of the conversation. conclusion: i thought he was an impressively nice guy! t thought he was impressively tall…

Written by afterdinnersneeze

16 July 2010 at 10:10pm

Parc: Donnez Mois Raspberry Jam!

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t says: We’ve been trying to go to Parc since it opened. Every time we walked by, especially during warmer weather, the happy-faced diners sitting on the sidewalk and the gentle hustle-bustle sounds emanating from the open windows were always so inviting. Food Network’s Robert Irvine (from Dinner Impossible) even claimed that Parc makes the best mashed potatoes he’s ever eaten! But for some reason, whenever we picked out restaurants to visit, Parc kept getting bumped in favor of other well-respected, French-esque [BYO] eateries. Well, all that changed when we found ourselves craving a Sunday brunch at a place that took reservations (we’re tired of waiting at Sabrina’s and Carman’s) and was within walking distance of Rittenhouse Square.

Sunday, 11:15am, Party of 2. We showed up to our reservation nearly 15 minutes early (apparently we walk MUCH faster when it’s cold outside), but the restaurant was happy to seat us immediately. Our server was very friendly and made her suggestions – I was particularly swayed by her descriptions of the pastry basket and the pain perdu (which we ended up ordering). g had some decision-making to do about her order, which she’ll go through below.  We also ordered a “French breakfast tea” (black tea with a bit of mint and vanilla) and a French75 (common theme throughout the blog: g likes sparkly drinks), both of which were very good and we’d highly recommend – more about the French75 with g below.

The pastry basket featured a blueberry muffin, a plain croissant, a chocolate croissant, a croissant star with a dollop of jelly, and a lemon custard filled pastry. First off, the croissants were great – they were crispy on the outside, soft and flaky on the inside, and tasted of delicious butter without being oily. When coupled with the included raspberry jelly … they were even awesomer (that’s right, awesomer, because “more awesome” just doesn’t adequately capture the degree of increase in awesomeness). The other pastries were also good, but those croissants stole the show. However, I had a major gripe with the chocolate croissant. I see this all the time, especially in coffee shops: a “chocolate croissant” on the menu. But in actuality, it’s a plain croissant with a single rod of solid chocolate in the middle. Sorry guys – that is not a “chocolate croissant” to me (maybe this is how they do it in France – I have no idea). My chocolate croissants (i.e. the ones I buy – no, I don’t make them – although maybe I should) have layers of chocolate interspersed throughout the croissant – not an identifiable rod. How one attains that result – I have no idea – but I’ve definitely seen it done. But don’t worry – I handled the fake chocolate croissant situation at Parc with grace … I ate the part of the croissant with the chocolate first, and then finished the rest that was completely void of chocolate with the raspberry jam. Problem solved.

The french toast was very good. The brioche bread, itself, was superb. It was thickly sliced (four slices) and dense but super-soft. The cooked, caramelized apples on top were a nice touch, but the hazlenut butter was what completed the dish. As good as the hazlenut-apple combo was, I found it to be a bit monotonous midway through the second slice. By the end of the third, I felt a little bored (and it wasn’t just because I was getting full), so I reached for the raspberry jam from our pastry basket – that livened the dish up nicely.

g says: My brunch selection process went something like this:

g – “Ooh, I want something with eggs; maybe eggs benedict or the omelette espagnole.”

t – “Omelette espagnole? That doesn’t sound French! Sounds like ‘Spanish omelet!’ Are you sure you want that here?”

g – “But what about the ratatouille? Ratatouille is definitely French; the movie says so. Also, although I love a good eggs benedict, I don’t know if I could get something like eggs and ratatouille just anywhere. I think I’m gonna get it.”

t – “Really? All right, whatever. It’s your birthday week.”

g – “Yep.”

End scene.

I was really happy with my choice when it came out of the kitchen. It was a rather large (filled a decent size plate) disc of ultra-fluffy eggs, seasoned with some green herbs, topped with a generous helping of ratatouille (squash, onions, eggplant, tomatoes all cooked down into a warm compote). And it was delicious! Paired with the bread basket t and I shared, it was even a little too large to finish. The ratatouille may have been a tad overseasoned (I tend to be pretty salt-sensitive) but the rich veggie flavors were a nice, homey foil to the more dainty taste/texture of the eggs. I definitely want to try and make my own version of this at home sometime.

Lastly, can we please talk about how great French75’s are? Every place I have had one makes it a little bit differently, but the basic recipe that I like is champagne, good gin, fresh lemon, and a little bit of sugar or simple syrup for sweetness. I have seen them made with cognac and cherries rather than gin and lemon, or raspberry instead of lemon. Parc makes a good one (basic recipe), so I was happy. I’m not sure if it beats the ones I had at double crown (Brad Farmerie’s place in NYC), but that’s a post for another day.

t says: g loves Brad Farmerie … I’m glad I found her first … finders keepers, losers Brad Farmerie …

g says: what?  he seemed like a nice guy on Next Iron Chef!

Written by afterdinnersneeze

12 March 2010 at 7:58am

Bibou: Cozy and Delicious

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t says: As we sat in Meritage on the Saturday of the first big snowstorm we’ve ever experienced in Philly (and what turned out to be the first of many snowfalls for the 2009-2010 winter), we realized that, in all likelihood, restaurants were going to be empty the next day, as the accumulation was >20″.  So was there any place that we’ve been dying to try but just couldn’t get a reservation?  One name came to mind: Bibou.  So the next day, g camped out on and waited for someone to cancel their reservation – which they did!  Sooo … we aerated/decanted a bottle of ’05 Bordeaux (from the Left Bank), hailed a cab, and off we went!  We had effectively squeaked into Bibou!

Unfortunately, a lot of time has passed between now and when we ate, so our memories of the components of each dish are a little fuzzy – but our general impressions are intact and below for your consideration.

12/2009, Sunday 5:30pm, Party of 2, $45 4-course dinner. We were seated promptly at a two-top near the window, which would have been nice, but, because it was snowing, it was quite drafty!  We inched away from the window a little bit and went for our wine to give us a nice warm feeling inside.  Fortunately, the service was so good that I felt that our location was made up for.

For our first course, we both went with the white bean soup.  It was warm and creamy, but still very light and inviting.  I was not concerned with filling up on soup.

For our second course, g had the oxtail terrine and I had the escargots.  g’s terrine was a cold dish, and she was surprised that she liked it as much as she did, as she’s not the biggest fan of oxtail.  I felt that the escargots (with fava beans) outshone the terrine.  They were amazingly tender and in a garlicky sauce that tastes “like home”.  Don’t be confused – I never had escargots when I was growing up (I’ve actually only had them a handful of times) and I don’t make them in my apartment, but there was something about this sauce that felt homely – it was simple but delicious.  After I devoured the snails, g and I proceeded to sop up every last drop of the sauce with our bread.

For the entree, I had the lamb (+$8 premium), while g went for the hanger steak.  I remember that the lamb was superbly cooked and well-seasoned – it was a solid, delicious dish of lamb.  I unfortunately can’t remember much of the other flavors they coupled with the lamb because I also tasted g’s dish.  Hers was better.  This was shocking because I love lamb.  While I only took a few bites of hers throughout the meal (we like to share), I can say that hers was the best hanger steak I’ve ever had (something about their seasoning, their sauce, and the texture of the meat was as tender as a braised short rib!).  Now I know why every restaurant keeps trying to serve it!

We went for the optional cheese plate which gave us three super-flavorful cheeses (no wussy cheeses here).  While we don’t know a whole lot about cheese (except for that we like cheese), we appreciated that they picked cheeses with a variety of tastes and textures.  That said, g and I are not huge fans of blue cheeses, so we gravitated towards the other 2.

For dessert, we enjoyed the buche de noel and the slice of cranberry pie.  While the yule log was an excellent dessert, it didn’t really put forth a ton of flavor; it was simple and to the point: chocolate cake and creamy vanilla filling.  It was like a good dessert one could make at home (if one routinely makes buche de noel at home).  I preferred the pie.  First, the size of our slice of pie was very large for a dessert course – I wonder if they were just trying to get rid of it?  Even if they were, and gave us an entire pie, it wouldn’t have mattered – I would have eaten it all.  The cranberry tartness was salient but balanced well by the sweet.  The filling was not too stiff and not too runny – right on!  The crust wasn’t soggy, either.  Once again, this was a simple [well-executed] dessert with no frills, however, as you might be guessing, I finished the entire slice, even though I was full – I couldn’t help it.

In summary, Bibou offered a nice, cozy atmosphere and delicious, no-frills food.  The hanger steak and escargots were shining stars, while the desserts (that pie!) were a pleasant, simple period on the end of a great meal (Zahav has more of an exclamation point).  These, in combination with a great bottle of wine made up the best meal we’ve had since Cochon (it’d be a tough time figuring out who’s better).

Written by afterdinnersneeze

20 February 2010 at 10:16am