Restaurant Review: Bank & Bourbon
Pity the Philadelphia hotel restaurant. City dwellers will flock to food trucks, night markets, pop-up gardens and pizzerias with no seats, but just try getting us to eat in a building full of minibars. For every A.Kitchen, there are five Winthorpe & Valentines (a place that really exists, no joke). With Bank & Bourbon, the downtown Loews is now targeting the ground in between.
As the successor to the awkwardly named SoleFood (again, not kidding), which merged corporate decor and loads of dead space under Miami Vice lighting, B&B clearly yearns for some kind of contemporary relevance. Its whiskey-bandwagon name and predictably rustic trappings—now dominating restaurant design so utterly that Fortune 500 conglomerates are doing it, too—are enough to make a cynic roll his eyes and sigh, “Here we go again.”
That’s what I did, anyway, before many pleasant surprises converted my skepticism to admiration. Longtime SoleFood chef Tom Harkins is still running the kitchen—which is responsible for room service on top of the 220 seats in B&B’s dining room and smartly reconfigured lobby-cum-lounge. But he has his finger on the pulse now being set by nimbler neighbors. There’s LaFrieda beef in the burgers, nuoc cham on the steak salad, goat butter chaperoning Benton’s country ham, and raw yellowtail touched with ginger oil and house-pickled plum.
So far, so tasty. And there are higher cards in Harkin’s snack-and-appetizer strong suit, which dovetailed with a fine barrel-aged Boulevardier and a killer clarified-milk-and-whiskey punch. Speck-wrapped pea pierogies and a roasted corn and snap pea salad smacking of lime and sesame granola were the jack and queen of late summer. Baby carrots roasted in chipotle oil, crunched up with pistachios and toasted quinoa, and plated with a dollop of Greek yogurt? They were the king.
There’s no ace in Bank & Bourbon’s hand, but I had a perfect slab of halibut ringed with pale pink beets and candy-sweet cipollinis; a tender (if in spots over-charred) dry-aged cowboy steak for two decked with lovely upland cress greens; and a peach pie no sweeter than it needed to be and (one out of two tries, anyway) as crispy as it could get.
On the other hand, there was also a forgettable salmon, lamb three ways that earned a C on two of them, and a few crummy leaves in that steak salad. But with great service (especially when I took my kids), ample portions at fair prices (which don’t extend to the blue-chip wine list), and au courant cooking, Bank & Bourbon makes the PSFS Building feel at least a little more Philadelphian again. —T.P.
Two Stars – Good
Bank & Bourbon [Foobooz]