Le Bec Fin
We are going this weekend for a special occasion. Any reviews on the "New LBF"? I'm thinking we should still do the Chef's tasting menu, but wanted to know if anyone had any thoughts about it, or any "must haves" on the menu.
I'm actually having dinner there as well this Saturday evening, and I'm ordering the lobster press! So if I were you, I would call the restaurant and request the lobster press as well since they will be doing it, at a minimum, for my table. The lobster press is done for a minimum of 2 people so you would have to be sure that at least 1 other person in your party would want it as well. Please note that each person effectively gets 1/2 a lobster so it may not be enough for a main course but it is great as an appetizer or fish course within the context of 4 to 6 courses. You won't find the lobster press at any other restaurant in North America. They are also got in a shipment of veal kidneys yesterday for my dinner at the restaurant tonight. I don't know how much they ordered or if you even like offal, but if you do like offal, I'd also recommend putting in a request for veal kidneys as your meat course. They flambe the kidneys in cognac and serve them with an unctuous mustard/brandy sauce.
I'll address the menu first, then I'll give you my other observations of the restaurant post the change to a la carte.
The Chef's tasting menu is excellent, but just to be clear it's not like the old prix fixe menu where you have options for each course within a set number of courses. It is now, literally, what Chef Pierre decides to make based on the best available ingredients that night. There's a certain excitement to that, especially because I do feel that Chef Pierre is the most talented chef I have met under the age of 40. However, you also have no control over what you're getting other than specifying if you have certain food allergies. The wine pairings are also pre-determined by the sommelier earlier in the day.
I recommend the following a la carte items (numbering indicates my personal preference in descending order):
1. Shellfish salad
2. Sauteed foie gras
3. English pea risotto
4. Sauteed diver scallops
5. Tuna tartare
1. Lately, the fish du jour has been either wild, line caught Alaskan king salmon or Alaskan halibut; if either is available, I would pick either of these over the on-menu selections
2. Sauteed black sea bass
3. Dover sole
4. Grilled hamachi
1. NY strip with gratin dauphinois and white peppercorn sauce
2. Roasted veal medallions with salsify fricassee and morel mushroom sauce (if you don't like salsify, don't order this)
3. Roasted bone-in pork chop with romaine and shallot fricassee (the French like their pork slightly less than well done so you should be comfortable with that, otherwise skip this dish)
4. Roasted lancaster chicken breast with hazelnut mashed potatoes and vegetable fricassee (this is one of the overlooked gems on the menu)
5. Rack of lamb with shiitake mushroom and baby artichokes (this is a great dish, but is rather expensive at $52; apparently Elysian Fields Farm in Waynesburg, PA cranked up the price of lamb)
Cheese cart (this is what I usually get)
1. Brillat-Savarin or Pierre Robert (triple creme)
3. Aged Gouda
4. Roquefort or Fourme d'Ambert for the blue cheese
5. Sotto cenere
Lest I forget, I recommend having a glass of the red Pineau de Charentes with your cheese course. If that's not available, you're probably better off having a glass of port than the white pineau. I prefer the white pineau as an aperitif.
Dessert cart (these are usually what I get):
1. Frozen Grand Marnier souffle
2. Assortment of poached fruit
3. Le Bec-Fin chocolate cake (chocolate cake soaked in rum)
4. Sour cream / pecan coffee cake
5. Cheese cake
6. Caradou (chocolate and hazelnut)
7. Catania (strawberry and basil)
Just to warn you, Chef Perrier is not going to be at the restaurant this weekend. He will be on vacation to take advantage of the extended weekend. This clearly has no impact on the food or service because Chef Perrier has not cooked in the kitchen regularly since 2000; the kitchen is Chef Pierre's show now. However, Chef Perrier does add a certain presence to the main dining room that makes for a more interesting dining experience.
Here are my general observations of the restaurant:
1. The food at the "new Le Bec-Fin" is as good as it was under the old 6-course/10-course prix fixe menu. The current spring menu is essentially the spring 6-course menu divided into a la carte items. The forthcoming summer menu will be the first menu conceived from the beginning as an a la carte menu
2. Service was quite spotty back when the transition was first made to a la carte (a huge adjustment for the kitchen and the wait staff) but is now back up to normal
3. The Chef's tasting menu is now structured in the following way: appetizer, fish course, champagne shot, meat course, cheese cart, dessert cart.
4. Here are the more "casual" elements of the new Le Bec: tapered candles have been replaced with tea candles, the full-set of silverware is no longer pre-set at the table when you first sit down, the number of wines available by the bottle under $50 is increasing (a work in progress), jackets are no longer required in the main dining room (although the majority of guests still wear them anyway)
5. The valets are still slow but this isn't the restaurant's fault because the City forces all of the restaurants on Walnut Street to use the same company; I don't know how crowded the restaurant will be this weekend. If it's busy, ask your waiter to summon the valet when you are starting your dessert course so you don't have to wait for the valet when you are done with your meal.
6. Don't forget that there is a bathroom immediately to the right of the hostess stand (as you exit the main dining room); you don't have to go all the way downstairs through the bar to use the restroom
7. There was a lot of recent turnover in the staff that coincided with the transition to a la carte; many of the staff are quite young now. As a result, the service isn't quite as wordly and polished as it was when the all-star captains like John Gates and Ron Mendoza were at Le Bec (15 years and 12 years respectively), but it has vastly improved. I would rate the service as at around 85% to 90% of where it was at its peak.
8. Don't forget that they only bring you your check when you specifically ask for it; this aspect of European service annoys many people used to American style service but it's not a form of "neglect" or forgetfulness
9. Customers are still waited on by teams of waiters so you will not necessarily have the same person, other than the sommelier and your captain, throughout the meal
10. If you order a bottle of wine, I recommend asking for Brian McMahon or Michael Franco for assistance.