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Le Bec-Fin Review (long)

OK, so it's the morning after Le Bec-Fin and here's my review:

We arrived for a 9:30 reservation (we had come up by train from DC after work, hence the late seating) at about 9:15. They didn't have a table ready for us so they sent us down to the bar to have a drink. We were lucky to find a couple of seats at the bar. The bartender took quite a while to notice us (at least 5 minutes and she was not that incredibly busy) and when she did she was rather abrupt with my girlfriend. Eventually after getting a cocktail list from her (which is only 2 drinks long for some strange reason) I ordered a Manhattan and she had a French Martini. Hers was good, if not too strong and mine was poor. Someone needs to teach this place how to make a Manhattan. I ordered it perfect and there was NO vermouth in it whatsoever. Yay for bourbon and bitters.

Anyways, we went upstairs when they pulled us in for our table. Everything that's been said about this dining room is true. It is an incredibly remarkable space. We were sat down amongst a flurry of waiter activity between the napkin dropping, the chair moving and whatnot. Very nice, and a touch over the top, but whatever.

After a thorough review we decided to go with the 10 course tasting menu. We're gluttons for punishment, what can I say?

The amuse was a scallop in a tarragon sauce with a leek piece on it. The tarragon sauce was excellent but overpowered what we would find out to be a very tasty scallop.

First course: Oysters tartar and ossetra caviar paired with a 2005 Domine Raymond Dupoint Fahn Chardonay. The oysters were of decent quality though they tasted as though they had been shucked about 3 hours before we tasted them. Even though they were sitting on a bed of ice the actual oyster meat tasted as though it was at room temperature. The texture of this dish and the flavoring was very good, though not out of this world. The pairing worked, but a Chardonay with some more fruitiness and a touch more oak would have matched this better.

Second course: Lentils with black perrigold truffles paired with 2005 Domaine du Vieux Lazaret white Chateauneuf de Pape. This is where things got bad. First, we were poured our wine about 7-10 minutes before our food came. If the point is to pair there is no reason to pour a tasting glass and make me sit on it while my glass comes up to room temperature. Then our lentils came. Utterly flavorless and extremely hot, as though these were thrown into a microwave since they had gotten too cold. This wasn't the kind of off the burner heat you get with lentils when you make them fresh, this was fake heat. The pairing was abominable. Whoever thought this pairing was a good idea needs to stick his head in the sand for a week and come up for some fresh air. Not one flavor in the wine complimented the flavor in any part of the lentils.

Interlude: It's at this point I'm starting to get upset with the service. At 3 separate times by this point in the meal waiters have made it a point to conference right over my left and right ears. "There's three birthdays at that table. Did you know that?" "Napkin fold, that table" and so on. I actually had to ask a server to ask the staff to stop conferencing over my ear.

Third course: We opted to go with the scallop special instead of the black sea bass that is on the menu. The scallop was pan seared with a sesame crust and a saffron foam style sauce. Another service gaff. No one bothered to tell the semolier that we were having the scallops and came over to pur the paired 2003 Weingut Holzapfel Vordeselber Reisling with our "bass". I stopped him and asked him to check that the wine was proper to pour with the scallops instead. They conferenced and decided that it was acceptable for the scallops. They were wrong. The scallops needed a wine with significantly more citrus in it. The scallops were well prepared, and unique in flavor. Why couldn't they get the flavor of these meaty scallops in the amuse though?

Fourth Course: Swetbreads in brioche crust and roasted lobster (this is how it reads on the menu) with a 2003 Treana Mer Solell Vinyard. Sure, we got the wine pairing, but we didnt' get this course. What we got was roasted lobster without swetbreads or a brioche crust. The lobster was good, but it drives me nuts when a kitchen changes a course without telling us and trying to pass it off as though that's how it's supposed to be. The pairing worked for this course, but not extremely well. It didn't create the pairing flavor I was looking for, but rather worked as a wine with which one could gulp down to go with lobster.

Fifth Course: Fois gras with rasberry vinegar paired with a NV Pineau des Charentes. This was the first excellent course of the evening. The fois gras was a touch over seared, but the mesh of flavors with this sauce and the wine was absolutely perfect.

Sixth Course: Grapefruite and vermouth grainte recreated shot style (no pairing). Why on earth are they doing this at Le Bec-Fin? Why on earth are they serving me a grapefruit compote with pop rocks in it with a vermouth shot? This was neither flavorful nor interesting. If I want this I'll go to WD-50 or Moto where they actually do this well. Sure it was kind of funny in a tongue in cheek way but this didn't clear my palette.

Finally at this point the waiters had stopped conferencing over my ear.

Seventh Course: Roasted squab with confit of cabbage paired with a 2003 Until Vinyards Syrah. This was maybe the best course of the evening. It was simple, to the point and the pairing worked well. The squap was perfectly roasted and the cabbage was excellent.

Eigth Course: Cheese course paired with a 1998 Ramos Porto. An excellent course for the two of us since we both know cheese up and down. Their cheese man could learn a thing or two about service though. Just asking what kind of cheese people like without any guidance as he did to the table next to us isn't so helpful. We had a selection of bleu cheeses, a goat or two and some camembert. All were very good, though nothing to write home about. By the way, who on earth pairs with cheese without looking to the cheese that the patrons select? This pairing stunk, not to mention this port stinks. They needed something a little younger for this course.

Ninth Course: Sorbet & Ice Cream. I ordered the coconut sorbet and my girlfriend ordered the pear. They brought us each the other's sorbet. For a place that prides themselves on service, what the heck? They were both good, though again nothing to write home about. My coconut sorbet had a few chunks of ice on it.

Tenth Course: Dessert Cart paired with a 1998 La Chapelle de Lafaurie-Peyraguey. I had the Grand Marinier cold soufle since I'm a GM addict and my girlfriend had a selection from the chocolates. Mine was ok, not great. They really pushed the chocolates on her without concern with what she really wanted. This seemed a theme for the evening.

Petit Fours- all very good. Simple, nothing to write home about.

Overall I thought it was good, but not wonderful. Certainly not the best place I've eaten ever, let alone this calendar year (that easily goes to Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, VA). The service often heard us but failed to listen or pay attention. The food was good at points, but poor at other points. Would I reccomend this place? Not if you are paying with your own cash, but if you're on an expense account, by all means. ** out of 5.

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  1. Wow. I can't imagine having an experience like yours at LBF. Of course, I've only been there twice, both times years ago (1996, 1998). The first time, it was just the two of us and we ordered the smaller tasting menu without the wine pairing. The meal was sublime, with service to match. The second time, we were a party of six; four of us had the smaller tasting menu, while two had the vegetarian. No wine pairings - we selected a couple of bottles on our own for the table. All these years later, I can't remember a single detail of the meal, just that it was incredibly good - not a single misstep throughout.

    Do you suppose they've just gotten a bit tired or over-confident? I'd still love to give it one more try one day, just to see.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Deenso

      I'm not sure when we will have a chance to try this again. Frankly at the price of this restaurant there are too many places that get it right on the first try.

    2. I've never found that a tasting menu represents the best a restaurant has to offer (and I stopped ordering them), but there's no excuse for this many failures. I hope you'll send a copy of your review to LBF; if I remember correctly, part of the reason the restaurant once lost a Michelin star was that a couple of waiters were arguing within earshot of the reviewer.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Elaine

        I have already sent it- I generally don't post reviews of this nature without dropping a copy in the mail.

      2. Le bec fin *never* had any michelin stars.
        Michelin doesnt review philadelphia restaurants.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Chowtalk

          Indeed- it has 5 diamonds from AAA and 5 stars from Mobil.

          1. WOW!! Ten courses all with wine??? Did you really have ten glasses of wine?? And ,by the way, it is obviously not important to you, but to me it is: How much did this baby cost you????

            1 Reply
            1. re: OlderPhiladelphian

              I'm bypassing the cost question as you can call the restaurant and find that out yourself. In regards to the wine question, I'm going to guess you haven't done a long tasting menu before and give you the quick rundown. Basically when you have anything over 5 or so courses and you do pairings, you aren't getting 6 ounce pours- you are getting 3-4 oz pours. The idea being that you should maybe feel the wine at the end of the meal, but you shouldn't be trashed. I'd say in some of the courses with cheaper wines it was noticable that the pourer had a heavier hand. As the meal went on since it was a late seating they also seemed to have a slightly heavier hand.

              By the way, it was 8 glasses of wine (courses 6 and 9 are not paired). All in all it would have been about the same as each of us drinking a bottle or so plus a touch more.

              For the price there are other places to go if the price is crucial to you.

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