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’?

Someone in the bar is giggling.
In most bars, this is the sound of consenting adults plotting mischief. But at Georges’, the former Le Mas Perrier, recently recast as a family-friendly venue, it proves to be a gaggle of preteen girls at an early-evening pizza party.

By 8 p.m., a more mature audience has settled in at the polished wooden tables. Some are ordering pizzas; some are digging into salmon and filet mignon. Georges Perrier has 200 seats to fill here, and a ­something-for-everyone menu is his latest gambit. Black Angus burgers and cheesesteaks have invaded the exquisite main dining room, as jarring under its graceful vaulted ceiling as the synthetic woven place mats that replaced the table linens.

This is not what Perrier intended. He outfitted his chic château with pottery and paintings from the South of France, and recruited a young chef from Paris, only to find that affluent suburbanites were happiest with a burger in the bar. Unwilling to undo his costly décor, Perrier overhauled the menu instead. This is now, at heart, an American restaurant.

The sandwiches are especially good. That cheesesteak, flanked by hand-cut fries judiciously seasoned with Old Bay, bulges with juicy, gristle-free shaved beef accented with caramelized onions, gruyère, and a schmear of Dijon. Its soft roll is baked on the premises. A croissant sandwich filled with lobster-artichoke salad is delicious but messy, served with waffle-cut potatoes and a flawless mixed-greens salad. A lovely tea sandwich that layers smoked salmon, dill, cream cheese and cucumber on crustless white bread is neater to eat, cut into tidy triangles.

Crab and shrimp spring rolls, properly greaseless and crisp, are pricey at $12. Spicy Thai noodle salad, a huge portion, offered little flavor interest besides heat. The grilled chicken, bacon, melted fontina and herbed pesto that topped a pizza were fine, but the flaccid crust reminded me of pita bread.

The kitchen is quite capable of maintaining a fine-dining profile, as evidenced by rosy rounds of tender, prosciutto-wrapped pork tenderloin served with lemony risotto, and horseradish-crusted salmon, positively regal as it rests on an excellent potato pancake. (Both entrées have been updated since that meal.)

The short dessert list needs tweaking. A rustic apple tart with a puff pastry base was impossible to cut. A trio of jars with three spoonable desserts had only one winning element—a dense, almost chewy chocolate mousse. House-made sorbets are the best bet.

Unlike Le Bec and Brasserie, Georges’ (and its previous incarnations, Le Mas Perrier and Le Mas) hasn’t forged a strong identity. Its first two executive chefs were French; only recently has Perrier given Georges’ permission to be American. We haven’t seen yet what kind of citizen it will be.