From the Magazine: The Death Of Le Bec-Fin
After 42 years, the most important restaurant in Philadelphia has ended its legendary reign. Here’s why what happens next matters.
Forty-two years isn’t a long run for a restaurant. It’s not short, by any means, but neither is it epic—there are places in the United States that were serving back when you could get hauled in by the cops for riding your horse home drunk.
But in the four-plus decades that it existed (in its purest form) on the Philadelphia food scene, Le Bec-Fin packed in more history than some places twice its age. Its kitchen was deeply admired by the galley luminaries of its heyday; Craig Claiborne declared it the best restaurant on the entire East Coast. Le Bec-Fin was, arguably, the one restaurant that spearheaded, maintained and defined Philadelphia’s “Restaurant Renaissance,” every prix fixe and orbit of the dessert cart announcing that we were here and a force to be reckoned with.
And through all of that—from the first service to the last this past March—Georges Perrier was its guiding force. Irascible, quotable, hot-headed Georges, who declared war on Stephen Starr, lost wives and dollars, took every downturn of the restaurant’s reputation like a public hammer-blow to the heart, but held on while his chefs came and went, sustaining a sterling brand (and himself) through four decades in an industry that will always be a young man’s game.
And then it all ended: March 3rd, 2012, the final service of the old Le Bec-Fin. It’d recently taken a beating at the hands of a different Craig (LaBan, who took away two of its perennial four bells), and word came down that a deal had been in the works for months for Georges to sell the place, step back, rest. At first, no one believed it—Georges had threatened this before—but then the news broke: Nicolas Fanucci, a veteran Le Bec GM who’d gone to California to run Thomas Keller’s esteemed French Laundry, was buying.
So now we wait. Fanucci has selected his executive chef (ex-French Laundry sous-chef Walter Abrams) and assembled a crew. He’s announced that he’ll keep the name, and that when Le Bec-Fin 2.0 opens (next month, allegedly), it’ll be a bionic version—stronger, faster, fancier than it was before, with the return of the prix fixe, the dégustation menu, the French service. The new Le Bec, it seems, will be more like the old Le Bec than the middle-aged Le Bec ever was, a palace of fine dining infused with culinary modernism.
And you know what? Fanucci had better hope it works. Not to set too high a bar, but this is/was Le Bec-Fin. This was Philadelphia’s temple. And to open again under the Le Bec flag and do anything less than usher in a new, second Restaurant Renaissance in Philadelphia would be to stumble right out of the gate.
Perhaps that’s harsh. But that’s the game Fanucci has chosen to play. And I don’t know anyone who isn’t hoping he can pull it off.