It looks like Lacroix (and the Rittenhouse Hotel in general) have done a bit of hiring and brought some new bodies into the kitchen and onto the floor.
The first is Tova du Plessis, who is coming aboard as pastry chef. That name sound familiar to you? It should. She did time at Le Bec Fin on the savory side as a sous chef, worked at Citron & Rose but, most notably, was the opening pastry chef at Avance, brought in by chef Justin Bogle to handle the sweet side of the menu. She was let go early on in Avance’s run (which, this month, might not be the worst thing in the world), but was quickly picked up by the team at Lacroix for this new gig.
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Illustration by Kagan McLeod
There’s been a lot of talk lately about what kind of restaurant town we really want to be. In the Philadelphia magazine that’s on the stands right now, I’ve got an essay asking what it means to our restaurant scene when being merely great is no longer a guarantee of success. We’ve been writing an awful lot about Volver–Jose Garces‘s new high-stakes (and high price) gamble at the Kimmel Center which now stands as the most expensive dinner in town by a long stretch. And as we all know by now, between knee-capping reviews from both Craig Laban and our own Trey Popp, and a whole lot of people on the streets wondering if the storied Walnut Street address might be better off if it was just turned into a Jamba Juice and ignored until all the ghosts of Le Bec-Fin have departed, Avance is having itself a very rough month.
And now, with all this in mind, I just ran across this essay over at Esquire’s “Eat Like A Man” blog which essentially lays the blame for every modern sin in restaurant-dom squarely at our feet.
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We’ve been waiting a while for Craig Laban to weigh in on Avance, and now that he has, we’re guessing that the crew in the kitchen and on the floor probably wishes he’d waited a little longer. In a review that read even harsher than the two bell ranking Avance scored, Laban calls out problems almost everywhere–with the notable exception of the downstairs bar.
When we stepped up for the full $138 chef’s tasting two weeks later, though, Avance wasn’t yet ready for its training wheels to come off. The excellent house-baked breads (smoked wheatberry, Armenian rye) became a tasting of one cold roll after another (save for scorched brioche with the foie gras.) Servers hovered, popping over to answer eavesdropped questions that hadn’t actually been asked. Cherniavsky’s by-the-glass pairings were mixed, scoring with a fleshy Greco from Basilicata to start, an Angerer Grüner for the tartare, and a Florido Moscatel sherry for the custardy frozen foie gras, but stumbling over reds, with an $18 just-opened 2001 Crozes-Hermitage that needed more time to open up and a funky South African cab franc blend that was just off.
Two Bells — Very Good
Avance Has A Way To Go To Live Up To Its Address [Philadelphia Inquirer]
All Avance coverage [f8b8z]
Foie gras mousse. Photography by Courtney Apple.
Karl Marx once wrote that history repeats itself: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce. And Avance is what happens the third time around.
Ninety minutes, 120 bucks and one bite into dinner for four at 1523 Walnut Street, the successor to Le Bec-Fin and all its reboots was careening. We’d already been told our table wasn’t ready (as the minute hand smacked solidly against our reservation hour) and been sent to pay tribute at the downstairs bar. Two sips into cocktails there, and a hostess appeared to reclaim our glasses and ferry us past a bevy of empty tables in the soaring slate-gray dining room, bringing us to one of several more vacancies on the mezzanine. A self-congratulatory announcement prefaced the replacement of white napkins with black ones (for the benefit of the ladies’ pants, of course), yet when the silver tongs appeared later to replenish the linens a second time, it was back to white again.
And then, 20 minutes after we’d ordered an audaciously marked-up white to accompany appetizers, our server airily chirped, “The sommelier’s upstairs. I assume she’s having trouble finding it.”
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Once upon a time, Le Bar Lyonnais was a sexy hideaway beneath Le Bec-Fin. But that time has passed. Le Bec-Fin has given way to Avance. And beneath Avance is its bar—still clandestine, still sexy, but now modern rather than hung with blue velvet drapes and mirrors. The space shares the same theme as the dining room upstairs—black-walnut-topped bar and high tables—but downstairs, the gray walls and low ceilings combine for a darker, more intimate space, ideal for pre-dinner drinks or a late-night rendezvous. The drinks are creative and playfully named; “A Roll of Quarters in a Clutch Purse” and “See You Around the Bend” are among the most clever. Besides the signature cocktails, drinkers can peruse the long menu of liquors, wines and beers. Diners can order from the regular Avance à la carte menu or try one of the bar-only dishes, including the lamb burger—a two-handed sandwich featuring Border Springs Farm lamb topped with red onion marmalade and feta cheese. Ordered at medium-rare, this juicy burger teases at just what chef Justin Bogle has in store upstairs.
First appeared in the March, 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine.
Right from the start, the crew at Avance knew two things about the downstairs bar at the former Le Bec Fin. One, it desperately needed a makeover so that everyone in the city who didn’t wish it was still 1987 would stop making fun of it. And two, it needed to have a really good burger or no one was going to take it seriously as a bar no matter what they did to the interior.
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City Paper’s Adam Erace dines upstairs and down at Avance. He finds plenty to like on both floors but falls in love with the bar and burger.
The bar is also where you’ll find my favorite thing at Avance. Garnished with onion marmalade, harissa mayo and feta, the perfectly cooked Border Springs lamb burger arrives on a bronzed, sesame seed-speckled potato bun, part of the restaurant’s extraordinary bread program. It is the finest burger I have ever eaten. That it’s served at the old Le Bec makes me love it, and Avance, even more.
Out with the old French guard and in with Avance at the former Le Bec-Fin [City Paper]
The latest issue of GQ features Alan Richman’s ranking of the top 25 new restaurants in the country. Right off the bat, his #25 is something of a surprise: Pizzeria Vetri. Here’s what he likes about the crust:
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Brian Freedman reviews Avance for Philadelphia Weekly. Freedman is full of praise for the two-month old successor to Le Bec Fin and sees it soaring even higher.
But it’s a very good start. In fact, Avance as a whole is so much more than that: Just barely two months into its tenure at that famous address on Walnut Street, it has already done what many thought would be impossible: Staked its own claim on the space and drafted a brand new set of rules. If Avance is this good so early in the game, I can hardly wait to see the heights it eventually achieves. It’s already a standout.
Avance transforms Le Bec-Fin’s old space into brilliant dining magic [Philadelphia Weekly]
Photo by Neal Santos
I recently had some friends from California in town and they were wondering where to go to get some 100% legal Foie Gras in Philadelphia. So I came up with this list of traditional and creative foie gras dishes.
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