Taste: Reviews: The French Evolution

After 35 years at the top of Philadelphia’s restaurant scene, Georges Perrier is ­shaking things up. What does that mean for meals at Le Bec-Fin, ­Brasserie Perrier and Georges’?

Our lunch is simultaneously modern and classic. Scallop
ceviche is a slice from one mammoth sea scallop, pounded flat, marinated with lemon vinaigrette and aromatics, served with a smooth, ­rosemary-flecked eggplant and apple puree and a plump raw York River oyster from Virginia. In between them is a flourish borrowed from Spain’s trend-setting chef Ferran Adrià: a shooter glass of chilled saffron foam, with a taste as concentrated as whiskey. We spoon the foam over the scallop and the oyster—but braver souls could toss it back as a chaser. Venison terrine speckled with bright green pistachios is served with escabeche coulis and, instead of the usual cornichons, a spoonful of pickled exotic mushrooms.

Two fish entrées continue the new school/old school theme. Firm John Dory fillets are paired with a fricassee of wild mushrooms, their various shapes still intact, and a vibrant tangle of crisp red beet threads. Sautéed red snapper perches on rhubarb compote and mustard greens, surrounded by a pastel wasabi sauce, the assertive flavors tamed to marry elegantly.

The dessert cart, now in the hands of pastry chef Antoine Amrani, is as sumptuous as ever, saluting France with a chocolate buttercream rum cake topped with ruffled chocolate fans, and America with a delightful lemon meringue pie. Of course, we taste others as well—cinnamon coffee cake, pineapple chunks poached with fresh ginger, tangy crème fraîche cheesecake. Nearly two hours pass before we pass through the door that separates suspended time from reality.

Our dinner unfolds over three hours, but some early-seating patrons (perhaps
theater-bound) dined and departed in less than two. Ask to sit facing toward the room, to take in the theater at other tables besides your own. The servers, too casually chatty at the outset, quickly settle into a mode of unobtrusive efficiency. Perrier paces the room until every reservation is seated.

Dinner is much more convivial than lunch, because most customers don’t drink at midday. We start with a kir royale and a glass of Paul Déthune rosé brut champagne, each $19. After a seared tuna amuse with fennel come fat snails in damn-the-calories champagne-hazelnut garlic butter, and a trio of foie gras preparations: micro-crème brûlée with a fine-textured bread-crumb crust; terrine filled with not-too-sweet diced quince; and two unadorned slices with the luxurious consistency of meaty butter. There’s another shooter glass, this one filled with red wine and quince foam. A wonderful start.
We’re not thrilled with the fish courses. Both are impeccably fresh, but the roasted cod with pureed endive has odd-couple garnishes of bacon and citrus slices, and the sauce with the seared black sea bass is an unattractive charcoal gray from huitlacoche, the Mexican corn fungus. It doesn’t flatter the fish.

Guinea hen, pink-fleshed and succulent, puts things right again for me, but my companion struggles to cut a seared duck breast.

The cheeses are ripe, and the micro greens salad is dressed with walnut vinaigrette. Pre-dessert sorbet (apricot, cassis) arrives in spectacular art glass bowls from France. The dessert chariot returns, bearing even more selections than at lunch, among them Perrier’s much-imitated frozen Grand Marnier soufflé, and pears poached in red wine. A small plate of macaroons, jellies and chocolates comes with coffee.

With our $60 bottle of Charles Hours Jurançon Sec—good advice from the new sommelier, Scott Turnbull, though it took most of the meal for it to chill
sufficiently—we’ve spent a total of $471 for two, counting tax and tip.
Was it worth it?

Considering the totality of the experience, I think so. My 27-year-old dinner partner, owner of a well-traveled palate, says it’s too much money as well as too much food.
Bienvenue, à la carte. The Georges Perrier customer of the future has spoken.