Our Four Bell Predictions

This week we’ve been completely consumed with figuring out what Philadelphia Inquirer critic Craig LaBan means when he says that this Sunday he  “resets the landscape of Philly’s restaurant elite.”

What We Know:

After Sunday there will be five Four-Bell restaurants.

There are currently four restaurants with the Superior Four-Bell rating. They are:

  • Fountain
  • Lacroix
  • Le Bec-Fin
  • Vetri

LaBan visited 13 restaurants to assess their potential to be crowned with four bells.

The Current State of Superiority

Of the four rankings superstars, the Fountain was the most recently reviewed. The restaurant at the Four Seasons held on to its four-bell rating in June, 2009. The other three have seen significant change since they were last reviewed. Vetri dropped a la carte, Le Bec has dropped prix fixe, its dress code and changed chefs de cuisine. Lacroix has gone through two chefs since it stepped up to four bells under Matt Levin.

The popular opinion seems to be that Le Bec-Fin has slipped the most and we can’t really argue against that. Last week’s online chat had LaBan suggesting to a chatter that he should not cancel his reservation for the Fountain. Vetri seems safe as no one is questioning the Italian restaurant’s reign as the city’s best. Lacroix is an interesting case with such a young chef in Jon Cichon in the kitchen. But Jason Cichonski is young and Matt Levin was as well when LaBan gave him four bells at Lacroix. LaBan also raved about Cichonski’s work at Mica and loved Levin at Adsum. For those reasons and reports we’ve gotten from recent diners at Lacroix, we’re predicting the Rittenhouse restaurant will keep its fourth bell.

Reading the Tea Leaves

Back in 2009, LaBan stated in an online chat that if he could have had more than one meal in six months at Talula’s Table, he would have considered it in the four bell range. In the same chat he also said that Jose Garces was bound to land four bells at some point. Of course, that was before Garces’ career trajectory dramatically changed towards nationwide expansion.

We have it on good authority that Inquirer photographers have been recently spotted at Le Bec-Fin and Osteria.

In his review of Chip Roman’s Mica this summer, LaBan said that Roman’s Blackfish is “easily one of the best restaurants on or near the Main Line.” Nice praise, but not exactly a ringing four-bell proclamation, though he does call Mica’s kitchen nearly flawless.

We’ve also heard LaBan’s been to Talula’s Table recently and maybe even more than once.

With Django receiving four bells previously we have no doubt that LaBan would award his highest rating to another BYOB.

Narrowing the Field

In Franz Lidz’s profile on Aimee Olexy he states that longevity is a factor in reaching the coveted four bell plateau. In the article he also says that netting four bells takes at least two years. So that means we can remove any restaurant under two years old.

So we’re looking for nine restaurants that opened previous to January, 2010.

In addition to revisits to the current four bell review holders, we’re going to say he visited:

  • Amada – Still ohsoclose but with all of Jose Garces’ expansion, are his best employees spread too thin.
  • Barclay Prime – We’d call it our fanciest and best steakhouse. Chef Stephen Wambach has upped the ante and brought back the $100 cheesesteak. But is that enough?
  • Bibou – In the city of BYOBs, shouldn’t its best get four bells?
  • Blackfish – Chip Roman is well regarded by LaBan and his peers. Perhaps this is the best chance to bring four bells to the ‘burbs.
  • Morimoto – The omakase is remarkable. The restaurant has stood the test of time. We kind of wonder why it isn’t four bells already.
  • Osteria – Could one chef have two restaurant with the highest rating? If anyone can do it, our money is on Marc Vetri and Jeff Michaud.
  • Talula’s Table – With Joshua Behm back in charge at Talula’s Table the magic of Django and earlier incarnations of Talula’s is ensured.
  • Nectar – The suburban stalwart was just visited by Craig LaBan. We’re betting it was because of this project.
  • Zahav – Michael Solomonov’s Zahav gets better and better. But we have to wonder, with its casual vibe, does it even want to be four-bells. And of course if LaBan bumps up Zahav, he has to explain away the pesky conflict of interest that kept him from reviewing the restaurant in the first place.

Our Prediction: