To wit: The French onion soup is simple and superb, a crock of slow-simmered chicken stock (fortified with white wine) and caramelized onions topped with rounds of bread and a lid of gooey gruyère and provolone. And the chicken liver mousse, rich and earthy, with a silky, airy texture, could convert even the most liver-phobic diner; the livers are soaked in milk and pureed with softened butter and poached foie gras before being forced through a fine-mesh screen for ultimate smoothness.
Given that it all comes from chef Dominique Filoni — a St. Tropez native best known around here as the onetime chef of Savona in Gulph Mills, and known nationally as a Food & Wine Best New Chef 2004 — the few dishes that disappoint come as more of a surprise than the successes. Filoni’s brandade appetizer, a creamy salt-cod-and-potato dip served with an herb-sprinkled baguette, is a one-note dish, dominated by overwhelming richness. A plate of tuna carpaccio arrived so cold that the fish’s essence was muted; without the accompanying fennel salad and mustard aioli, it would have been flavorless. A lamb chop special was a flop, under-seasoned and carelessly cooked, too rare in some spots and too well-done in others, and the tarte tatin to finish was hardly the pièce de résistance one expects from a French restaurant with an in-house pastry chef.
But in general, there’s more magic than mishap on the menu. Beef bourguignon combines succulent cubes of short ribs and buttery house-made noodles with a red wine and veal stock reduction so good that it begs to be soaked up with hunks of baguette. The chicken, marinated for hours in lemon, herbs and butter before roasting, could have a crispier skin, but the meat is juicy, and its bed of pureed potatoes is luscious. Moules frites, a pile of Prince Edward Island mussels in a bath of wine-shallot sauce, are briny and sweet. The accompanying frites are fried twice, and served with a house-made mayonnaise. It’s high-quality and low-concept, and exactly the (generally) well-executed bistro fare the city has been craving.
Moreover, the huge, happy crowds that converge nightly at Parc make it clear that Philly has missed the energy a new Stephen Starr place brings. In spite of murmurs to the contrary during Starr’s local hiatus, Parc proves that he remains a relevant visionary whose restaurants will continue to shape the city. His disciples are already anxiously awaiting his upcoming redo of the Broad Street Diner as well as Butcher & Singer, the supper club planned for the old Striped Bass space. And if his new bistro is any indication, we have a lot to look forward to. A new era of Stephen Starrdom has begun.