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Le Bec Fin

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My most recent meal there under the new playbook was very disappointing.  I can't imagine that I would go back.  Service attention was also tossed out with the prix fixe bath water.

I think it's more likely they're just having adjustment problems with the different pace of an a la carte meal vs. a prix fixe. I don't know what the turnover is like there for waitstaff, but if you've spent 5 years serving customers a set prix fixe and then you have to switch to serving some customers a la carte, I imagine it may take some getting used to. I've been there once since the changeover and the food was fantastic, though there were a few service problems. Of course, that was only the second time in my life I've been there, so I don't have much to compare it to.

Is Perrier rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic?  Me thinks so.

Maybe, but hasn't that been said a few times before?

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Maybe, but hasn't that been said a few times before?

Yes but this is the first time that I agree with the naysayers which actually makes it true now. :raz:

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Good grief. LBF is advertising on WIP sports radio.

I think there'll be TVs and a shuffleboard game in there soon. Perrier's Sports Bar?

Hootier's perhaps?

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Perhaps the next wing bowl will feature Chef Georges' wing of the chicken a la Buffalo.

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Perhaps the next wing bowl will feature Chef Georges' wing of the chicken a la Buffalo.

Or entrecote avec fromage "wit"

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Sorry, my life has taken a bit of a derailment as of late. I think I last left off with the crawl through the RTM. Here are excerpts from my blog post about Le Bec Fin. Click here to see all the photos from this meal.

********************************************

Four years ago, I couldn’t hear my food the music was so loud. Stiff, stilted, out-dated, and aloof, the food and service on my first visit to Georges Perrier’s vaunted Le Bec Fin in Philadelphia had me vowing never to return.

But I’m a firm believer in second, and sometimes third, chances.

For years, it appeared that Le Bec Fin had been progressing on that other side of the hill; slipping and sliding toward a sorry end.

I must have caught it near or at the nadir.

The happy story is that Le Bec Fin seems to have found another hill to summit. My recent lunch (I was too skeptical and cautious to commit a full dinner) demonstrated that redemption and forgiveness were within Perrier’s reach.

Le Bec Fin has gotten a makeover. No, he hasn’t gotten rid of that ridiculous doorbell, or the iron gates. The carpet and wall paper are still Versailles on a budget. But, he tossed the prix-fixe-only dinner menu. He’s toned down and updated the music (I believe Sade, or some such soother - maybe it was - dare I say it - Celine Dion - helped us through part of our lunch). And there’s a noticeable bounce in the servers’ step.

If anyone doubts that Perrier is trying to shrug off some of the pretense at Le Bec Fin, you’ll only have to see the man setting the example. Monsieur Perrier was in the house during our lunch. He wasn’t in the kitchen. He was in the dining room. He was eating with, or rather, joining friends of the house – seemingly last-minute - for lunch. He was wearing a (pink) t-shirt. I kind of liked that.

Click here for all of the photos from this lunch at Le Bec Fin.

At $54, the four-course “Summer” lunch prix-fixe menu seemed like a reasonably fine alternative to ordering a la carte.

First Course

Chilled Lobster Consommé

Flavored with peach

Second Course

Pan-seared Tuna Filet

Cherries “Jubilee” style cherries and oregano emulsion.

Marc Colin et Fils Cassagne-Montrachet 2002

Supplement Course

Le Bec Fin Signature Crabcake

Third Course

Roasted Organic Duck

Le Chemin Vieux Cuvee du Petit César

Fourth Course

Le Bec Fin’s Famous Dessert Cart

The highlight of my first meal was again the highlight of this meal. In 2005, I wrote:

“Perhaps Le Bec Fin’s signature feature is their famed “La Charette de Dessert” - their dessert cart. Indeed, it was very impressive looking. The Rolls Royce of food carts, ornately gilt, majestically lumbered out of the kitchen, accompanied by an entourage of servers. It bore a stunning display of iced, glazed, brulée, butter-creamed, rum-imbibed, infused, and macerated sweets.”

And this time, the cart was no less spectacular. Everything looked great.

But that’s putting the cart before he horse, almost literally...

And so was our second course, a generous medallion of pan-seared tuna luxuriating in a foamy sea of oregano emulsion and attended to by “Cherries Jubilee.” Unorthodox? Surely. The treatment was something you’d more likely find with les gibiers. But here, Perrier zoomed in on the steakier side of tuna – leaving the middle blood red and upending the loin cut, presenting it like a piece of red meat. It was an entirely surprising and successful accomplishment made even more successful by a fantastic wine pairing: a glass of Marc Colin et Fils Cassagne-Montrachet 2002 that was juicy and hit all the right spots.

Our first course, a chilled lobster consommé was more interesting than good. The clear, tea-colored broth was poured over fanned slices of peaches. The menu described this course as “flavored with peach.” I got no peach flavor whatsoever, either from the broth or the sliced fruit, which was shockingly under ripe, crispy, and devoid of all character. The broth, on the other hand, was heavily perfumed with lobster flavor – more shell and brine than meat – and was slightly sweet. It was French and Japanese at once. Light and “summery” though it was, it was my least favorite course.

Thankfully, the rest of the meal was stronger.

Because it was so memorable the first time, I suggested that my friends and I split a full order of “Le Bec Fin’s Signature Crab Cake” as a supplement to our lunch tasting. Although I remember it being a mysterious novelty and I felt the need to revisit it and to make sure that it really was as fluffy as I recalled it to be.

It was. As I had described it three years ago, the “cake” was more of a soufflé. Actually, it’s more like scrambled eggs meets crab meat in a cloud-form. It’s impossibly light and airy. The plump round wore a thick, velvety coat of cream sauce flocked with mustard grains that gave just enough vinegary zing to capitulate any reservation one might have.

Our last savory course, slices of roasted organic duck, would not have been half as interesting if our server had not recommended a pour of a rather humble French table wine ( Le Chemin Vieux Cuvee du Petit César ) that paired dazzlingly with the single sweated, grilled scallion on the plate. The breast meat was nicely cooked, and the rind of fat sufficiently crisped, but it wasn’t the star of this show.

But back to that cart, which seemed more like a chariot this time - instead of lumbering out, it was driven out, steered by a sprightly face. We were encouraged to try anything and everything, and so my friends and I unabashedly asked to try it all: 12 cakes, lemongrass-soaked pineapple, Grand Marnier-macerated strawberries, and ile flottante. Our dessert fairy told us that anyone could walk in off the street and order this course a la carte and ask for a taste of everything. At $16, that’s quite a steal.

While I can’t single any one item out as being sub par, there were quite a few that etched a deeper impression in my taste memory...

Le Bec Fin’s not the somber funeral parlor I remembered it to be. It’s starting to show a more upbeat side. There was a little more laughter in the room, and little more verve in the air. The restaurant has relaxed and let down its shoulders, which made this experience much more enjoyable than my last one (which, admittedly, was dinner service).

Le Bec Fin is far from a bistro – that’s not what Perrier, or anyone else, wants the restaurant to be, anyway. The food is certainly not bistro food. But it doesn’t achieve that highest level of classic French finesse either. It’s confidently upper-bourgeois, if you will.

I can’t say that my recent lunch at Le Bec Fin was a complete success. The highlights were quite bright, but there were a few dips. But there were no disappointments, no frowns, and no smug side glances. And that was an improvement that I’ll take happily.

Never say never – and even though I did, I’m glad I didn’t really mean it. Le Bec Fin won’t be at the top of my list when I return to Philadelphia next, but it certainly won’t be excluded. At the very least, I may just walk off the street and ask for that sugar bomb to be driven my way by the dessert fairy.

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I had my anniversary meal at the bar downstairs a couple of weeks ago. I thought it was terrific. I would have had more food issues were we upstairs having the full out ducats dinner in the main dining room. However, with the cozier room, casual dress and good service - things like mushy duck confit skin get a pass as above average bar food. Cheese and dessert staple courses there elevate the experience at the bar too. There is no cart but we were not shy in ordering a bit of everything - knowing the upstairs drill for some time now. :biggrin:

Still not planning on going back upstairs but I would definitely dine downstairs in a heartbeat.

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We just got back from the guest chef dinner with Guy Savoy at Le Bec-Fin. This was by a landslide the worst value meal we've ever had, and one of the most disappointing ever.

This was $200/person just for the food, so you can only imagine the final bill for the 2 of us including wine, tax, and tip...

It's hard to say what was more upsetting -- the utterly mediocre food (with the exception of a dessert course or two), or the other restaurant patrons (largely friends of Chef Perrier, from what we gathered, or people who would like to think of themselves as such) fawning over Chefs Perrier and Savoy and the utterly mediocre food.

Menu:

Huître en nage glacée

Bar “Breton” en écailles grillées aux épices

Homard du Maine Ragoût d’été, pinces de Parure de corail

Soupe d’artichaut à la truffe noire, brioche feuilletée aux champignons et beurre de truffe

Pintade pochée en vessie, riz basmati, jus “truffles-foie gras”

Gelée au basilica, Confit de tomates et à la mangue, sorbet au yaourt

Terrine de pamplemousse, sauce au thé

Boule noire

--

Oysters were unexceptional. Sea bass was lukewarm and dry; the sauce had a hint of vanilla but the dish was overall lacking in flavor. The lobster was unexceptional; the pieces were quite thin and not very meaty. Some green beans on the plate, not much going on here. The artichoke soup is apparently a classic Savoy dish; it had some shaved parmagianno and black truffle; we didn't much care for the cheese, and the truffle wasn't particularly good (it's not black truffle season, of course; presumably this was summer truffle?). The soup itself was a bit watery and thin, and nothing you couldn't whip up at home in about 5 minutes. Hard to imagine this is what is served at his place in Paris.

The guinea fowl: this is guinea fowl cooked in a bladder. This is what it looks like at Guy Savoy. The bladder preparation is supposed to yield juicy, succulent, and flavorful meat. Ours looked nothing like this; it was prety flavorless poultry with rubbery skin served in a underflavored sauce with what could have been Uncle Ben's. If you had this at a friend's place for Sunday supper you'd probably like it just fine, but it was totally out of place in this context.

The following two dessert courses were actually quite good: basil gelee with tomato and mango confit and yogurt sorbet, followed by a grapefruit terrine with a tea-flavored sauce. This was the level of food that we expected.

The final course, a chocolate sphere filled with pear sorbet over which was poured liquid chocolate, was ruined by the fact that the chocolate sauce was quite burnt.

Oddly, there wasn't a wine pairing available. One of the sommeliers was nice enough to put something together. What resulted may have been the best that he could do with what limited resources he had available, but the wines themselves were pretty unimpressive.

I should note that I've never been to any of Guy Savoy's restaurants, though I'm planning on going to his place in Vegas in December. But I've heard pretty great things from people whose opinions I trust about both his place in Vegas and his place in Paris. I'd have to think that there just wasn't much quality control tonight (indeed, Perrier and Savoy were roaming throughout the dining room virtually the whole time), and/or the food was being dumbed down for what was perceived (correctly, it seems) to be a less discerning audience, and/or this was more of a Perrier's people cooking some of Savoy's food thing than Savoy and his people taking over Perrier's kitchen.

Incidentally, the level of service was high, and everyone was very nice.

In any case, though, it's hard not to think that they should just close this place down once and for all. To think of all of the amazing food that we could have for what we paid tonight...

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This may have been an aberration. A discerning friend of mine just had an excellent meal at LBF. He is well-travelled and well-dined and gave the place high marks.

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The problem is you hear too many reports like ours. We've been to Le Bec-Fin a total of four times. The first was in 2002, and it was fantastic. The second was a couple of years later, and it was just OK; there were some serious errors, like overcooked lamb (that is, cooked well beyond the requested level of doneness). The third time was pretty soon after the place went casual, and after that we vowed never to go back; it was just thoroughly mediocre.

I thought that Guy Savoy being there for a guest chef gig would be an excuse for the place to get their sh** together, and I wanted to give them one last chance. Big mistake.

Maybe once in a while, when Perrier is actually cooking himself, the place is capable of putting out high-quality food. I don't know.

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I hope that they have the kinks worked out tonight. I see that I was under the mistaken impression that the $200 was all-in; we're now approaching the Per-Se price point, and that is a very high bar in terms of food, service, and ambiance. Hope they are up to it this evening.

For what it's worth, I have had some very nice meals there since they started the BYOB Monday program; perhaps it was the treasures from my cellar that influenced my thinking. It is odd that they did not have wine pairings available; glad that I was able to get my reservation on a Monday.

Was the dining room full?

Brian

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I hope that they have the kinks worked out tonight. I see that I was under the mistaken impression that the $200 was all-in; we're now approaching the Per-Se price point, and that is a very high bar in terms of food, service, and ambiance. Hope they are up to it this evening.

For what it's worth, I have had some very nice meals there since they started the BYOB Monday program; perhaps it was the treasures from my cellar that influenced my thinking. It is odd that they did not have wine pairings available; glad that I was able to get my reservation on a Monday.

Was the dining room full?

Brian

Yup, the dining room was full. Are you sure that they'll allow BYO tonight? It is a Monday, but I would verify, since it is a special dinner. If they are allowing it, that should substantially increase your chance of leaving happy.

I'm extremely curious to hear what you think; of course, I hope you have a fantastic time.

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We attended last night, as much as we were hoping it was, BYOB was not available. We were able to select some nice wines for a reasonable price.

I have to echo what dagordon said in his post, when charging $200/head, and having Guy Savoy lend his name (and presence) to the dinner, frankly I expect a lot more out of the meal. My fish wasn't overcooked, but the sauce was thin, and could have used more flavor. The scales on the fish were to be eaten (a special prep) which was fine, but I think I just prefer crispy skin in future. The lobster was very small, and the snow peas on the on the side were overcooked a bit (not murdered, but not bright green and alive either).

I did really like the artichoke soup and the truffled brioche--that was our highlight.

The guinea fowl was overcooked, and the truffled basmati rice (which had a lot of truffle) was undercooked by a couple of minutes, which is terrible.

The grapefruit dessert was odd--I think it was just supremes of grapefruit compressed via cryovac. It wasn't bad, but definitely not 3* (or even 1*) quality. The chocolate ball was cool, and was tasty.

Our service was very inconsistent, it took us over 25 minutes to get a request of new butter fulfilled, and it came out cold and hard. The pacing between courses was highly variable--not very good.

I hadn't officially been to LBF before, just to Bar Lyonnais, where we enjoyed a nice meal. At this price point, and with both of these talented chefs lending their name to the dinner, I just expected a lot more in terms of both execution and service.


Edited by jdanton (log)

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Funny how different things are to different people. I was there because of the gracious generosity of some good friends last night and thought the meal could have been much much better with the billed players.

I agree with dagordon's assessment although my meal was better than his by a fair margin. I thought the lobster was terrific and the bass cooked perfectly although the vanilla in the sauce was a bit strong for my personal tastes.

The lack of good truffle sunk the soup for me. It's the skeleton of the dish and there was nothing 'truffly' about it. The guinea fowl was just flat out not good.

I passed on the first 2 desserts in favor of cheese but liked the chocolate 'ball' very much.

The chefs spent most of the time out with the diners so I am suspect of their actual hands participation during the dinner.

The crowd was older and by and large appeared to be F.O.GP's. The restaurant is nothing like its former grand self. Sad really.

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The crowd was older and by and large appeared to be F.O.GP's.

What does F.O.GP stand for?

Have been to LBF half a dozen times over the past several years, and this was the least impressive meal (food + service) that I've experienced there. Had the current tasting menu (it is still posted on the LBF site) back in August, and it was considerably better.

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We ate at LBF last night. There were 6 of us and everyone was very pleased with the food and saw no decrease in quality. GP was omnipresent. I rec the degustation highly.

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We ate there a few weeks ago. Not too busy, but still high quality. I'll miss the place.

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Many years ago I saved up my pennies and treated myself to lunch at Le Bec Fin. It was an epiphany. I remember my fish dish was a braid of salmon and sole, delicately napped with sauce. It was so beautiful I almost couldn't bear to stick my fork in it. I'd never seen food presented so artfully before. And that dessert cart! Oh. My. God. It was amazing. Soon thereafter I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of Robert Bennett, the gentleman behind that dessert cart at the time, and he enlightened me as to what pastry chefs were really all about. That lunch helped to light a spark in me that later led to me changing careers to be in the restaurant business full time.

One of my favorite indulgences is to occasionally go to Le Bar Lyonnais, the bar beneath Le Bec Fin, and treat myself to an order of their ethereal escargot, accompanied by a glass or two of the house chardonnay, which is always an excellent Burgundy. It always makes me feel so civilized and so very sophisticated and grown up. I had better do that more frequently in the near future, because I will miss that very much.

My last meal at Le Bec Fin was in December of 2009. The induction ceremony for my chapter of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs was held there. It was a black tie formal affair, and the grandeur of Le Bec Fin was most appropriate for the pomp and circumstance of the evening. The dinner was spectacular. I will remember that evening fondly for the rest of my life.

Chef Perrier is a frequent visitor to Oyster House. In fact, he was recently filmed at my place of employ eating oysters and lobsters and all manner of seafood by a French television crew for some sort of special about him and his restaurant. He is often accompanied on undocumented visits by some of his staff. I am glad he'll be keeping them employed at his new ventures. They're good people.

Le Bec Fin will forever hold a place in my heart. Both for my memories of meals enjoyed there, and for its storied place in Philadelphia restaurant history and evolution. Without Le Bec Fin, there would have been no Pasion, Striped Bass, Amada, etc. and my resume would be a whole lot shorter. Many of my fine former and present coworkers would not have had the training that have made them a pleasure to work with. There are so many ripples of influence it's hard to pinpoint them all.

Bon Courage, Chef! Le Bec Fin will be missed, but we will anxiously await whatever the future holds.


Edited by KatieLoeb (log)

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Two non-food Le Bec-Fin experiences.

A month or two after I started my job at the ad agency that brought me to Philadelphia I invited one of our clients to my apartment - 11th and Spruce - for drinks. We then headed out for dinner. I was still new so suggested we walk until we find something interesting. Two blocks later we happened upon a French restaurant. It turned out to be Le Bec-Fin. I had no idea what I was getting into. I'm pretty sure the client did. It was a great meal, I'm sure, but too long ago to remember. What I do remember is attempting to pay with my AMEX card and being told they didn't accept credit cards. However they would be glad to bill me. The bill arrived a couple of days later. Without asking for an id and without knowing whom I worked for, Le Bec-Fin extended me instant credit for the cost of two dinners and a bottle of wine.

Sometime in the 90's I was at Le Bec-Fin for lunch with six or seven friends. The guy next to me punctuated a conversation point with a swing of his arm. He knocked over my full glass of red wine. Within seconds six floor staff swooped in, stood me up and wiped off my jacket and slacks, sopped up the wine, covered the spill with a smaller table cloth and just as quickly vanished. I don't think any of the neighboring tables noticed. Probably the most superb instance of service I have ever experienced.

I'm not sure either of those events would/could take place at any other Philadelphia restaurant except, perhaps, the Four Seasons.

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Bibou has a shot at that level at that level of service, since everyone there has LBF experieince.

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Although I am sad at this news, Georges understands that this masterpiece of fine dining he has created has become a dinosaur. When folks start showing up in jeans to this venerable establishment, the time has come.

I remember the first time my wife and I went for dinner. It was our 10th anniversary 20 years ago and we were both totally blown away by the level of service and of course the food. I will always remember the perfectly attentive waitstaff, omnipresent yet invisible at the same time. You felt like you were the center of the universe without feeling the cloying staff presence as in some other places that attempt to execute the perfect experience that is Le Bec.

I would agree that in Philadelphia, the only other restaurant that approaches Le Bec Fin would be the Fountain at the Four Seasons Hotel.

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Bibou has a shot at that level at that level of service, since everyone there has LBF experieince.

Bibou is already at an extremely high level: Charlotte handles a room as well as anyone I've ever seen, and that's a lot of pretty good people. But Bibou can't be Le Bec-Fin because, well, Bibou isn't Le Bec. Completely different restaurant, completely different service paradigm.

I had my seminal food moment at LBF, and some of my greatest dining experiences in the intervening years. I'll miss the place, and I regret not having gone more often. Maybe I still can.

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We ate at LBF the first time when it was on Spruce Street (where Vetri is now). Since then, we've eaten there a couple of times a year -- sometimes for special occasions, sometimes for lunch. Overall, GP has maintained a high level of quality and we're going to miss it. We enjoyed his $40 anniversary dinner special a few weeks ago and it was excellent.

It may be a dinsaur, but it's too bad Philly can't sustain one dinsaur like LBF!


Edited by brsaideman (log)

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