Observations from the Last Dinner Seating Ever at Georges Perrier’s Le Bec-Fin


Since I broke the news that Georges Perrier was selling Le Bec-Fin, I knew I had to eat there, having never had the pleasure. So on Saturday night at 9:30 p.m., I joined scores of other anxious diners at Philadelphia’s most storied restaurant for the final seating of the final service ever under the ownership of founding chef Georges Perrier. There was the blue-blooded Main Line crowd. There was plenty of representation from the food-and-beverage intelligentsia, from Kevin Sbraga to Shola Olunloyo to Hop Sing Lee. There was the New York Times. There was Champagne, gratis. There was a little cocaine (hey, people were longing for the 1970s glory days of Le Bec). And, of course, there was Georges Perrier and new Le Bec owner Nicolas Fanucci.

Some thoughts from the last evening at Le Bec-Fin

Few dinners are worth $420, and this wasn’t one of them. I’m sure that there was a time when dropping big bucks on a dinner at Le Bec-Fin could be justified, but it sounds to me like I was eating Pop Tarts and Happy Meals and drinking Tang in those days. Granted, I went on Saturday night to experience a moment of Philadelphia history–and I don’t think that’s overstating what this was–but taken as a food-and-wine event alone, it fell far short of exceptional, and exceptional is the level I would expect at $420 for two. Of the many different plates that arrived at our table, only the escargots and gallette de crabe were worthy of the restaurant’s (former) reputation. Unlike during Inquirer critic Craig Laban’s Two Bell visits, wine service under Bernard Perrier (Georges’ younger brother) was strong. Overall service was hit-or-miss, though it was a chaotic night for the staff, to be sure. Still, the generic crinkled plastic to-go bag (can’t waste cheese) that the waiter left in the middle of our table mid-meal was unforgivable. As were the desserts. What happened to the Grand Marnier souffle that so enraptured my forefathers?

The dressed down need a good dressing down. Bravo to the bulk of the men in the building, who wore at least a jacket if not a tie as well. And I’m willing to give a pass to the New York Times photographer, who ate and drank in a flannel shirt at the table next to mine. After all, he is a photographer. But to the guys who skipped the jackets, to those who wore jeans, and to the couple of you whom I saw sporting untucked shirts, shame on you. Ladder 15 is just around the corner, and perhaps you would have had more luck there.

I’m so done with Wagyu. In case you’re somehow unfamiliar, Wagyu is the Kobe-style beef that American restaurants sell because they can’t get true Kobe, although some less scrupulous restaurants still advertise their Wagyu as Kobe. I’ve never had real Kobe, but I have had my fair share of Wagyu. Some of it has been great, but most has been just fine, and the cut I had at Le Bec on Saturday though well-prepared was just that: just fine. And two non-Kobe cuts I’ve had recently were far better, at Davio’s on 17th Street and Scarduzio’s in Atlantic City. Fare thee well, Wag. I’m sticking with my good old (and less overpriced) friend USDA Prime.

What’s with the dent in my spoon? No, silly. The spoon in question–I posted a photo here–was not in the possession of Uri Geller. And things weren’t so bad at Le Bec that they kept flawed silver in the house. It’s a French saucier spoon, and as the name suggests, you use it to eat sauce. Given the state of affairs in this country today, I thought it important to clarify. Future generations of diners may never see one.

Few people know how to make a good speech (let alone several). Say what you will about Georges Perrier, but the man knows how to be a class act when he wants to be. I’m not exactly sure how many speeches he made during this final night of service, but there were at least four during my time there–one during the photo I snapped above–and all of them contained the perfect amount of passion, sadness, reflection, and humor and elicited much applause and raised glasses. He shook lots of hands, gave lots of hugs, and embraced my dining companion (a former Le Bec waiter he hadn’t seen in 12 years) three times. And I never once heard him use the name “Craig LaBan” and a profanity in the same sentence.

Walnut Street sure has changed. I’m not certain what time I walked out of the restaurant, but it was sometime between 12:30 a.m. and 1:30 a.m., and let me tell you: Walnut Street was a mess. The roadway was packed with yelling cabbies and seemingly drunk-driven cars, and a white BMW had its front bumper torn off when it clipped a taxi. Meanwhile, inebriated revelers stumbled down the sidewalk, while a passel of barely dressed (in a bad way) girls screamed at each other (“You ghetto ass bitch!”) while exiting Club Adesso, which apparently passes as “upscale” these days. With the street’s most highbrow chef on his way out, this section of after-hours Walnut has gone completely to the dogs.

Naming contest, anyone? Fanucci, who was as charming and deferential as could be, maintains that he’s keeping the name. But on Saturday night, while standing in front of the restaurant, he also promised to jettison the aforementioned escargots and gallette de crabe to make way for more modern cuisine. Well, guess what: Philadelphia already has plenty of Le Bec-Fin graduates making modern cuisine, and I have a feeling that a couple of years from now, we’re going to be wishing that there was a jacket-required spot serving escargots, gallette de crabe and big Bordeaux in a gilded room under sparkly chandeliers. But if you are going to completely remake the rooms, menu and vibe from top to bottom, why not start fresh with a new name? The Le Bec-Fin era is, after all, over.

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  • Philly Center City 19102

    There is still a jacket required spot serving fine french food in center city — 1862 at the Union League….unbelievable service, wine, and food hands down the best fine dining in Philadelphia.

  • Anonymous

    Victor good lord why don’t you just spend 5 minutes doing some research before posting as a food authority.

    “Wagyu is the Kobe-style beef that American restaurants sell because they can’t get true Kobe, although some less scrupulous restaurants still advertise their Wagyu as Kobe”.

    WAGYU cattle and KOBE cattle are essentially the same genetically however KOBE is only used if the beef is from KOBE Japan much like sparkling wines from California are not from Reims and Epernay and thus not “Champagne”.
    Wagyu is a breed. Kobe-Mishima-Matsuzaka are appellations.
    There is perfectly excellent Wagyu but it also depends on the cut which varies from a Ribeye-Strip-Tritip-Flatiron etc. Simply saying a piece of wagyu you ate that even you admittedly don’t know the actual cut was bad therefore Wagyu is overrated really reveals a lack of food knowledge that precludes you from making any bold declarative statements.
    From now on before you post anything go to wikipedia.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wagyu

  • Snobligatory

    Since you come off as such a snob in your article, I figured I’d point an error in your snobbery.

    It’s funny to me that you write for a food blog but you don’t get the Wagyu/Kobe thing. Kobe is a cut of Wagyu beef. In Japan, Kobe beef comes from Wagyu cattle. Also, US restaurants can get Japanese Kobe – that restriction was lifted in 2005.

  • http://philadelphia.foobooz.com/author/vfiorillo/ Victor Fiorillo

    Thanks so much for your well-researched comments. The difference between us is that you source things to Wikipedia, while I go to the United States Department of Agriculture. Earlier today, I called the USDA. Here is the official statement I received from a USDA spokesperson:

    “Since April 21, 2010, Japan has not been eligible to export raw beef products to the United States. At that time, USDA issued an import alert that banned importation of commodities from Japan that could harbor Foot and Mouth Disease virus. In addition, Japan is not eligible to export any poultry products or processed egg products to the U.S. since FSIS has not determined Japan to be equivalent in these two commodities.”

  • Anonymous

    Victor you are full of crap. So You ate at Le Bec Fin Saturday night……..say 8pm and write an article about it on Monday……..say 9am to be generous and you actually got a response from the United States Department of Agriculture in the same day.
    Nice try.
    Really dude.Really.
    Even if you google the entire actual quote you posted it shows up on the USDA’s website which is never updated with any regularity.

    By the way you ought to stop by the Mitsuwa plaza in Fort Lee New Jersey and you will most certainly see Japanese Meat-Chicken and Eggs are imported into the USA.

    http://www.mitsuwa.com/tenpo/newj/eindex.html

  • fatsam

    why are you writing about cocaine. i dont get it. Instead of saying “hey, people were longing for the 1970s glory days of Le Bec” just say i was doing coke in the bathroom because i felt like it…and thus prolly didnt eat much and couldnt taste it anyway but i wrote this post anyway and act like i care about people not wearing jackets

  • Victor Fiorillo

    Actually, I got a response from the USDA within 30 minutes.

  • Tex

    @VF, your quotation of the USDA response doesn’t fairly address the comments about Wagyu/Kobe, which are accurate. And instead of actually addressing the commenter’s points, you’ve hidden behind sarcasm and a snarky comment about Wikipedia. I’m afraid you’re too thin-skinned to write for a blog if you feel the need to respond to anonymous comments in this manner. On another note, I was surprised by your opening sentence: simultaneously patting yourself on the back for breaking a story and admitting to having NEVER DINED AT LE BEC FIN, which, for all its recent troubles, has always been a requirement for anyone holding themselves out as a Philadelphia food writer. Well done all around (again).

  • rory

    bottomline, considering we still don’t know the cut of beef prepared, the butcher it was sourced from, the amount of aging of the beef, it’s style of preparation and many more much more relevant details than “Wagyu” or “Kobe,” it’s pretty damn silly to complain about the naming of the cattle.

    I’d say the problems with your beef are much more likely due to one of those variables than due to it being from the US instead of Japan. For example, most Japanese, until Japan banned the importation of US grown Wagyu bought imported beef instead of Kobe because it was comparably flavorful and cheaper. Wagyu is the name of the cattle breed, Kobe is a domain of origin within Japan of that same cattle breed.

    Also: 90% of Wagyu in the US is also “USDA prime,” so Victor’s basic comparison falls apart as he’s comparing a breed of cattle to a level of marbling as though that’s meaningful.

    looking back, that was the original point of the other commenter. maybe this time, you’ll getit?

  • supreme foodie

    Sounds likes you must be tight buds with “Sour Grapes” Le Bain.

  • Bill

    Sometimes you jus have to retire… His style is old and french food is out/ why do you think Jose and and Starr do soooo well.. Out with the old. in with the new.. plus his attitude sucks… period… people would rather have burgers and pizza and have a good time..

  • Crystal

    Nice piece — thanks for writing. I agree that. It too long from here, we will be wishing for a spot like Le bec fin. I hope they change it just enough … But don’t take away what makes it special.

  • Jim Christy

    Why is it not possible to show respect for the extraordinary talents and dedication of George Perrier at the end of his career without condescension? He is a master and should be respected as such.
    Jim Christy

  • Generation-X Philly Foodie

    Mr. Fiorillo:

    It seems you are a food critic and yet know NOTHING about fine dining! Your article should be retracted for numerous inaccuracies. First, the spoon notch is not an imperfection or “dent” as you refer to it, but rather is intentional. Second, please research the difference between Wagyu and Kobe as I am glad another blogger educated you. You were probably the only person partaking in cocaine. One could be certain you never learned what the translation may be for Le Bec Fin as you suggest “the era is over.” Having never dined at Le Bec Fin you should check your facts before writing your inane blog.

    Regards,
    Generation-X Philly Foodie

  • FattyFatMan

    Jesus people, who cares about the diction used in describing the distinction between Kobe and Wagyu? Obviously, the guy knows that Wagyu is the breed and Kobe is appellation.

    And for the record, I don’t think think most Japanese chefs would consider our Wagyu on par with Kobe beef, in the same way that all Chardonnay grapes dont lead to good Burgandy.

    Lastly, I know our standards as a culture have deteriorated, but citing Wikipedia makes you sound retarded.

    Victor, thank you for taking us in Le Bec for it’s final night. I wouldnt have wanted to drop $400 to eat there, but I was very happy to hear about it.

  • Anonymous

    haha

  • Anonymous

    When I was a line cook at Morimoto four years ago we had Kobe beef (imported from Japan) on the menu. Choice of 6oz portion of NY Strip or filet (served with four tempura onion rings) for $120. Our standard steak was American wagyu. While it may be the same breed, American wagyu herds are bred with angus. In terms of marbling and flavor there is no true comparison between true Kobe beef and the American version. True Kobe beef is an absolutely spectacular product I feel priveleged to have worked with. I cook the American shit all the time and I think USDA prime is just as good.

  • Daytime Drinker.

    Anonymous #17.
    With all due respect and working at Morimoto you are WRONG.
    American Wagyu Herds are *NOT* all cross bred with Angus.

    AKAUSHI Beef is also a Japan originated Wagyu that is 100% AKAUSHI.

    Read about it here:

    http://heartbrandbeef.com/?page=shop/history

    Sorry but a line cook job at Morimoto does clearly does not make you a beef expert. You Fiorello and all his defenders need to do more research before stating any more facts.

    • Anonymous

      While a line cook job at Morimoto does not make me a beef expert, I think that a year and a half Lacroix, as well as working as a sous chef in the Perrier sphere and in the same role working for Lagasse in New Orleans helps. I certainly applaud your research; all I know is that I’ve worked in high-end restaurants and have been using these products for the last ten years. I have spoken to dozens of reps trying to push these products (Snake River Farms, etc) and this is what they’ve all told me… I guess I’m speaking from practical, hands-on experience. Shot down by a foodie once again.

  • Chef Ted

    I agree with you, people do not know how to dress nowadays. There is a place for dressing down and there are places for dressing up. Le Bec-Fin was one of those places. Their were far too many louche vagrants who think they are at the food court of the local mall.

    French cuisine is not old and outdated. That is like saying American food is old and outdated. French food like any food is a type of cuisine. You either prefer it or not.

    I myself will miss George. It is because of you George that I attended culinary school. I wanted to be able to cook that type of haute cuisine.

    Yes Le Bec-Fin has changed and not always for the better. I blame allot on some of the general managers of late. George is from the Old School and he did not always understand some of the new ways so he left some decisions to the managers. He cared far too much what some food critics said about him. Some food critics liked the new and modern hot spots. Places to be seen in but, not too much concern about the food that was served. Also as is the old school, chef’s like George just wanted to be loved for their food. As George got older other chef’s did the cooking. But unlike modern day chef’s who just want to be celebrity chef’s, I would rather take the chef’s who place more concern for the food they serve then the celebrity status some chef’s seek. Yes I will miss the old day’s at Le Bec-Fin with the tuxedo dressed waiter’s who wore their 5 star Mobile Guide pin with the pride of someone who has been granted a knighthood and the fabulous food that was served. George is from the school of Escoffier and Cuisine Classique. Yes many chef’s rebelled against that style of cooking but the style remained and George was one the best practitioners of that style. He was and is a world renowned chef! I for one will miss you George and all that you have done for cuisine in the city of Philadelphia. You helped make Philadelphia one of the top dinning spot’s of the world. You were a character of the first order and you will be missed.

  • Anon x 2

    Even if Wagyu and Kobe were same breed (of which they are not), Terroir plays a huge role in the beef flavoring and marbeling.

    Same cattle, 1 raised in USA, 1 raised in Japan will not be the same. The terroir, the pasture, the diet, the air, etc all plays a factor in the flavor and end product.

    Its similar to La Quericia / Prosciutto di Parma / Prosciutto San Danielle. All have unique flavors due to Terroir.

    So Yes, I do agree….Wagyu and Kobe…..different

    PS: anonymous: I was also line cook at morimoto 6 years ago! Know eachother?

  • for real

    I have never meet victor but after this article i can not take him serious, how can you never have had Kobe even years ago, i as a foodie ate it when i was 19 with intrest, and haveing never been too le Bec is just lame….out of interest you should have dinied there by 2005 by judging how old you might be………the restrictions will be lifted…….Great thread with some good posters thank you for the read