Philadelphia’s 51st Best Restaurant

There’s something you have to understand about this year’s 50 Best Restaurants list. If a restaurant is on it at all–whether in the coveted first slot or the 50th–that restaurant is a great restaurant. It’s not like the place in the #2 spot did something wrong to wind up there that its neighbor did right. With one notable exception, you don’t really get to do anything wrong and still be on the list.

In this city, and at this time in the development of our culinary identity, the competition is so ferocious that I’d have to drop down to around the 70th or 80th position before I could name a place where something went significantly sideways during our meals. But we don’t do that. Every two years we name our fifty. We rank them, top to bottom, with a combination of science, subjectivity and debate, and put that list out there into the world to be argued over.

And then I name the city’s fifty-first-best restaurant which, this time around, is Bistrot La Minette.

The 51st restaurant is a special case. It’s the restaurant that takes the temperature of the entire scene and shows, by its quality, how healthy we are overall. It is, for me (as it should be for you), a benchmark. It says that if this restaurant–which, in other cities or at other times in Philly’s edible history, might’ve easily been in the top 10–is our 51st best, then how awesome are we?

Very awesome is the only acceptable answer here. Because Bistrot La Minette is an incredibly strong restaurant. Unabashedly French, warmly convivial, rustic in a way that predates the thousand exposed-brick-and-Edison-bulb New American clones that have opened since its 2008 debut (when it was #4 on the Best list in its first year of eligibility), chef Peter Woolsey‘s neighborhood joint hasn’t changed much at all. It still does escargots with garlic butter, duck breast in foie gras sauce, lapin roti a la moutarde, and does them all well.

What has changed is the city inside which Bistrot La Minette lives and the scene in which it exists. The Michael Bay-style explosion of amazing new restaurants we’ve witnessed over the past two years has had (as it should have) a shockwave effect on the list as a whole. With 21 restaurants (including Laurel, at #1) never having been on the list before (and, in almost all cases, not even existing the last time we played this game), there was obviously going to be some churn. The bar to entry has been raised by no small amount.

But Bistrot La Minette has maintained. It has done nothing wrong and hasn’t fallen off in quality but, rather, Philadelphia has grown up and grown great all around it. Which might be a little tough for Woolsey and his crew to hear (because no chef, no matter how nicely it is offered or in how complimentary a fashion it is meant, is going to be happy being named number 51), but is great news for the rest of us.

Now everybody go eat.

50 Best Restaurants [f8b8z]

Bistrot Le Minette [Official]