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.