The grand opening tomorrow of the opulent, $30-to-$50-a-plate Reserve steakhouse in Old City can mean one of only a few things: 1) That the recession is truly behind us and co-owner Didier LaFontant and his quiet partners are hurrying to spend money before another downturn strikes; 2) The aforementioned LaFontant is hopelessly optimistic and/or foolish; or, 3) Mr. LaFontant is a visionary.
Here’s why. Reserve is gorgeous and plush and extravagant in a way that many of us have come to feel a little squeamish about. It’s bejeweled with stained glass windows, looming Corinthian columns, towering ceilings draped in frescos and a sexy cubby of a cigar bar hidden in plain sight at the top of a sweeping wrought-iron staircase. It exists to gift Old City with fine dining, chilled lobster, martinis and power networking. And as poor Georges Perrier, the bedraggled owners of Union Trust, and every restaurateur who’s recently scurried to add a patio and a light-fare menu can tell you, we just don’t go out like that anymore.
Or maybe we do. As a veteran of Cuba Libre, LaFontant has seen his share of sparkle succeed in Old City. And more importantly, maybe we will, too. Who’s to say he’s not full of foresight? A pioneer in the footsteps of an earlier restaurateur who ignored his own rash of naysaying when he dared to drop a martini bar into the desolate Old City of 1995?
If LaFontant is to last as long as The Continental, chef Ken Deiner should highlight his meats. At the media preview party last night, both the beef carpaccio on crostini and the proprietary blend of dry-aged beef served on challah rolls with vidalia spread and Gruyere very literally melted in the mouth. But he should consider either finding a new purveyor for his raw bar items or put his soggy Blue Point oysters, brackish crab claws and instantly forgettable jumbo shrimp on the ice.
To LaFontant’s credit, he does acquiesce to many realities of dining in a 2012 world. He prices his specialty cocktails at just $10 (Toto, I don’t think we’re in Rittenhouse anymore), and he thinks creatively by stocking his happy hour with half-price drinks and bourbon flights for $20, and offering free wine and cheese from 5-8pm on Wednesdays. Plus, he’s pouring more than 100 different bourbons and serving weekend brunch.
Perhaps in a few years we’ll thank LaFontant for providing the definitive before-and-after point along Old City’s ballyhooed path toward adulthood. Or maybe we should get it over with and thank him now. Really, where else are you going to get such a damned good steak in such a posh atmosphere near the intersection of 2nd and Chestnut?
Reserve [Official website]
Photo courtesy Cashman PR