Philadelphia is hardly a magnet for celebrity chefs. Sure, Bobby Flay, Wolfgang Puck and Michael Mina have set up outposts in Atlantic City, but except when Flay rolls through town to film Throwdown, Philadelphia proper has resisted the big-name chefs whose collective urge for chainification has brought Lidia Bastianich’s noodles to Pittsburgh and Wolfgang Puck’s pizza to the Kansas City airport. We say, peddle your sushi elsewhere, Nobu. We will not be colonized.
[sidebar]So naturally, even Eric Ripert, the sexy, silver-haired Frenchman who made New York’s Le Bernardin one of the world’s best-known dining destinations, was greeted with this same cynicism. Doubts only multiplied when the dinner menu at his new 10 Arts in the Ritz-Carlton turned out to be 60 percent identical to the one at Westend Bistro, the newly opened Ripert-branded restaurant in D.C.’s Ritz.
But 10 Arts chef de cuisine Jennifer Carroll, a Northeast Philly native and five-year veteran of Le Bernardin, lends 10 Arts a local flavor that keeps it from being a copycat. The dishes conceived especially for Philly by Carroll and Ripert reflect the tastes and trends of our region. Items like gourmet pretzel bites (inspired by Ripert’s infatuation with Fisher’s doughy knots at Reading Terminal), Pennsylvania brook trout and even a tribute to the Tastykake help 10 Arts feel like it belongs to us.
The restaurant’s identity comes as much from the space’s design as from the menu. 10 Arts is situated in the Ritz-Carlton’s grand rotunda, whose defining features — soaring ceilings and imposing marble columns — clash with the funky ’70s neon pink and purple color scheme. The undesirable tables, situated between the restaurant’s main seating area and the lounge, are practically in the hotel lobby, and have all the echo-y appeal of a table for two in 30th Street Station. Choice tables are nestled safely in the restaurant’s interior, where strands of mod crystal beads hang over lustrous wood tables set with modern flatware and no tablecloths. But considering the spacious layout, truly comfortable chairs, and well-executed French-inflected food, the aesthetic contradictions will only irk interior-design nerds. In fact, these contradictions mirror those in some of the restaurant’s most interesting dishes.
Carroll likes to defy expectations in her cooking, to marry the daring and the familiar. One of her most successful attempts is a dish that combines a breaded and fried rabbit paillard with baby arugula, fresh peas and mustardy vinaigrette. It’s one part South Philly chicken cutlet, one part haute cuisine. Similarly, the grilled octopus ceviche has the same charred exterior as Dmitri’s popular starter, but the interior is left rare, and the octopus is sliced paper-thin and tossed with a citrus marinade that really does recall a traditional raw ceviche.
Pennsylvania brook trout, a plebeian fish by some standards, is elevated with a fragrant, nutty brown butter sauce kissed with chicken stock, lemon, herbs and capers. Carroll gives the plate a final quality check — essential especially for this deeply browned, easily scorched dish — before sending it off to the dining room. Quality control has built Le Bernardin’s reputation through the years, and Carroll intends to bring this same standard to Philadelphia’s 10 Arts.