French Restaurants: The 2009 Philly Mag 50

Birchrunville Store Cafe
Birchrunville | French-Italian | Entrées: $13-$20
Ranking: 27 • Last Year’s Ranking: 13
To say this Chester County BYO has a loyal following is an understatement. Never before have we seen multiple diners making reservations for their next meals before their entrées even arrive. And it’s not like Birchrunville is convenient: Dinner is only served Wednesday through Saturday, there are only two seatings on weekends, they don’t accept credit cards (good luck finding the nearest ATM), and the restaurant is off the beaten path even for nearby residents. But after eating here, we get that it all adds up to quirky charm and a heartfelt dining experience. The menu options are few, but slight spins on classics—beet-and-goat-cheese salad is enlivened with breasola and mâche; a well-cooked Chilean sea bass gets a cabernet sauvignon sauce—and a few surprises, like boar, are, like the clientele, pleasantly approachable. Order: The moist, warm butterscotch cake. 1403 Hollow Road, Birchrunville, 610-827-9002. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other DetailsSee Menu

Center City | French | Entrée: More than $30
Ranking: 6 • Last Year’s Ranking: 12
With entrées priced in the upper $30s, formal table settings and gracious waiters, the Fountain Restaurant is taking the last-man-standing approach to fine French dining. And if it keeps on executing with such perfection, survive it will. Some menu items seem to defy culinary logic, like an egg yolk that’s panko-crusted-crispy yet oozing on the inside. Others are just shining examples of the seasoned staff’s timeless cooking techniques, like the simmered-for-hours Pommery mustard demi that coats the ideally pink veal chop. And while this is cooking in its most classic form, dining here means you’ll remember the stellar service, hushed conversations and tasteful dining room as much as you do the food—which is exactly the experience the Fountain is going for. Order: The cheese course—it’s a treat that’s rarely done this well. 1 Logan Square, 215-963-1500. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other DetailsSee MenuMake a Reservation

Rittenhouse Square | Eclectic | Entrée: More than $30
Ranking: 5 • Last Year’s Ranking: 2
We wouldn’t blame the brass over at the Rittenhouse Hotel if they freaked out when Matt Levin announced in December that he was leaving Lacroix to open his forthcoming Masano in Northern Liberties. It was Levin, after all, who turned the hotel restaurant into one of Philly’s most exciting places to eat. But everyone can relax: Levin’s young chef de cuisine, Jason Cichonski, is at the helm, and he’s rocking the job with an innovative menu (love the tomato-cheddar soup, garnished with a wistful drizzle of charcoal oil) and note-perfect execution (even an escarole salad was a triumph) on almost all the dishes. Add to that a contemporary Zen decor, servers and a sommelier who are unerring in their recommendations, and details that make us smile (amuses-bouches that could be art; the chef’s take-home breakfast pastry, gratis), and you have a restaurant we’re still excited to call our own. Order: The five- or eight-plate tasting menu—the more you get to sample here, the better. 210 West Rittenhouse Square, second floor, 215-790-2533. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other DetailsSee MenuMake a Reservation

Le Bec-Fin
Center City | French | Entrées: More than $30
Ranking: 46 • Last Year’s Ranking: 26
As identity crises go, the one suffered by our beloved Le Bec has had foodies wringing linen napkins for years, because we so desperately want the place to succeed. Although it’s slipping, we’re not giving up: Georges Perrier’s signature dishes are still executed with such care and precision (and we like that we can now get them à la carte). If he could just resurrect his roast pigeon, nurture other once-­sublime classics (galette de crabe, escargots, Dover sole), and quell his proclivity for muttering “Merde” while stomping past tables—all the while preserving that ever-glorious, worth-the-trip-alone dessert cart—we’d fall in love all over again. Order: Champagne and anything from the dessert cart. 1523 Walnut Street, 215-567-1000. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other DetailsSee MenuMake a Reservation

Le Bar Lyonnais
Center City | French | Entrées: $21-$30
Ranking: 33 • Last Year’s Ranking: 15
Upstairs, at Le Bec-Fin, you get the glittering chandeliers. Downstairs, at Le Bar Lyonnais, you get to eavesdrop on Georges Perrier as he gossips and flirts with the ladies at the bar. Upstairs, you get Dover sole filleted tableside (market price). Downstairs, you get succulent duck leg confit with a Beluga lentil salad ($17). Upstairs, you still want to dress up even though Perrier said we could wear jeans. Downstairs, you come as you are and nobody raises an eyebrow. Not everyone prefers the relaxed Le Bar Lyonnais to the fine-dining shrine above it, but we do. It remains one of the city’s best-kept secrets, the insiders’ place to splurge on Perrier’s well-executed French classics without breaking the bank. Order: French onion soup. 1523 Walnut Street, 215-567-1000. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other Details

Rittenhouse Square | French | Entrées: More than $30
Ranking: 19 • Last Year’s Ranking: New to the List
If Paris were as charming (and accessible) as this new Rittenhouse bistro, we’d all be expatriates by now. If you’ve happened to spend a rainy Sunday morning brunching in Stephen Starr’s sprawling tribute to a French brasserie, or if you’ve lunched on the delightfully simple salmon tartine at a sidewalk table facing the park, or spent an evening sipping vouvray and nibbling moules frites, then you know: Parc is like a mini-vacation, filled with warm homemade baguettes and rich onion soup and pretty little profiteroles. And when “La Vie en Rose” is on the speakers, joie de vivre is in the air, and there’s more wine to be ordered, it’s damn near impossible to head back home, to reality. Order: French Onion soup, brandade or moules frites.227 South 18th Street, 215-545-2262. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other DetailsSee MenuMake a Reservation

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