Taste: Dinner, With a Condo on Top

Phila- delphia’s building boom will change the city’s skyline — and its restaurant scene

After leaving Le Bec-Fin in 2004, chef Daniel Stern spent more than a year hunting for the ideal Philly locale for his first restaurant before landing the cozy, just-off-South former rowhome where Gayle thrives today. But not even


After leaving Le Bec-Fin in 2004, chef Daniel Stern spent more than a year hunting for the ideal Philly locale for his first restaurant before landing the cozy, just-off-South former rowhome where Gayle thrives today. But not even 12 months later, Stern is undertaking a second project, as far away from Queen Village and the prototypical chef-run Philly restaurant as it gets — in the spacious lobby of the modern Cira Centre.

Chef Marc Vetri, of 35-seat Italian Vetri, has made the same jump; his second eatery, a less formal, less expensive wood-oven bistro, will open in trendy newly constructed lofts near Broad and Fairmount. And Georges Perrier’s main man Chris Scarduzio signed their ever-evolving brand onto a sprawling Comcast Center space before the building even broke ground. All this new construction is changing more than the city skyline. Back on ground level, developers want to fill the first floors of their swanky condos and high-tech office buildings with one thing: Big. New. Restaurants.

The current building boom combined with Philly’s recent restaurant explosion gives us an opportunity to catch up in the scene-­stealing, atmospheric restaurants often missing in this city of jewel-box favorites. Most of the high-profile blueprinted downtown buildings — like the Aria, Symphony House, the Barnes Tower and the Western Union Building — have slotted food-related businesses in their master plans. The approach has already proven successful in other towns; think of the six restaurants at New York’s Time Warner Center, or San Francisco-based Kimpton Hotels, which always starts its projects with an anchoring destination restaurant. It’s a model local developer CREI wants to emulate. “It will allow us to enhance our brand and the restaurant’s brand and is good for residents,” director of sales Andrea Boelter says.

And it’s just as appealing for the city’s chefs. Amada chef-proprietor Jose Garces says he’s been wooed by developers who often offer inducements like reduced or limited-time-free rent. The chance to custom-craft physical spaces makes new buildings attractive, too. Michael Duplantis, co-owner of South Street newcomer Crescent City, says putting his planned second venture in new construction is a prerequisite. Another bonus: Poor location will doom the fanciest restaurant, but Garces and Duplantis know developers won’t pour millions into a building without evidence that an up-and-­coming area has staying power.

For diners, this dynamic means more new restaurants. But it also means that more food entrepreneurs — relieved of some of the financial pressures of a start-up and the space limitations of traditional locations — will be able to pull together places where atmosphere and theme are just as important as food, giving a sophisticated, trend-setting edge to more of our restaurants. We’ll still adore our studio-size, character-laden favorites with Pottery Barn decors, but now we can look forward to impressing out-of-towners with Philly’s newfound sleekness without always contributing to the Stephen Starr annual fund.