Gastronaut: Le Bec Fin Is Dead (Again)

The death, rebirth, and strange, sad second passing of Philadelphia’s most famous restaurant

We got word early on a Saturday night that something bad was happening at Le Bec Fin.

In phone calls and text messages, sources were telling us that Nicolas Fanucci—the man who bought Le Bec Fin from Georges Perrier just over a year ago, who brought it back from death once and had been the primary architect of Le Bec 2.0—had left. Literally just walked out the front door and vanished.

Thus began the final, shuddering weeks of Le Bec Fin—the restaurant that once was Philadelphia’s pride and joy.

Even before Fanucci bolted, Philly’s grande dame had been on life support. Closed by Perrier in March 2012, it had been bought by Fanucci and some silent partners, then reopened in June with Fanucci as general manager and his handpicked chef, Walter Abrams, in the kitchen.

But right from the start, there were … concerns. The new Le Bec was really a museum to the old Le Bec—the room restored to a glory that had frayed somewhat in the last years of Perrier’s rule, and the concept a resuscitated version of the restaurant’s heyday.

And yet the menus were strangely Californian.

And there were so many of them. Regular menus and vegetable menus and another menu for the bar downstairs—all of which kept changing. Not in the way that good restaurants regularly change their menus, but in the way that panicked restaurants do in an attempt to lure customers who resolutely refuse to come.

When all that tinkering didn’t work, they dumped Abrams as executive chef. (No replacement was ever named, though Steve Eckerd, who’d been Abrams’s sous at Le Bec, did a workmanlike job.)They changed the name of the bar downstairs (twice). They added brunch. They changed the price structure.

Ultimately, the problem may have been that no one ever seemed to have a real plan in place for Le Bec 2.0. In the year that it existed, there was never anything that defined it beyond the idea that, Hey, this is the restaurant that used to be Le Bec Fin.

So in June, with (or perhaps precipitated by) the exit of Nic Fanucci, Le Bec was finally allowed to die as dignified a death as possible. It wouldn’t go out on top (that opportunity had long since passed), but it didn’t need to embarrass itself any further, either.

Local chef Chris Scarduzio—a man who consid­ers Perrier not just a mentor but practically a father figure—is part of a team overseeing the project that will replace Le Bec. The new chef will be Justin Bogle, who comes home to Philly with a brace of Michelin stars for his work at Gilt in Manhattan. And the restaurant they open will be many things, undoubtedly, but one thing it will not be is Le Bec Fin 3.0.

“Going to Le Bec Fin was like a show,” Scarduzio tells me. He remembers full dining rooms, tables of excited diners, and Perrier presiding over it all. “It was like a play, with Georges as the star. And every play has its run. Every play ends.”

First appeared in the July, 2013 issue of Philadelphia magazine.

Illustration by Kagan McLeod