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Aug 30, 2009 12:38 PM

Why Bibou doesn't deserve Four Bells...

... and why Django didn't either.

Bibou deservedly received a Three Bell or excellent rating by LaBan. He also gave Django the same rating when he first reviewed it. Having been to Bibou four times and Django about a dozen, three bells is correct. While the design and execution of the food was outstanding (4 bells) at both, they had to limit their menus because of their size. Other factors that weren't 4 bell worthy included overall atmosphere/decor, noise level, table proximity and very good but never outstanding service.

LaBan fell in love with the original owners of Django and while the four bells allowed them to sell the place for top dollar, it also put pressure on them to live up the the rating. To me, a four bell restaurant is quiet, comfortable, treats me like a king and serves creative, well-executed food with wow-factor presentation. All that takes a lot of staff, which requires a lot of money. Those restaurants, such as LaCroix, charge accordingly. Bibou and Django stand out, in part, because they serve phenomenal food with limited resources at an affordable cost.

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  1. I ate at Bibou last night for the first time. In light of LaBan's recent upgrading of Bibou to 4 bells, I figured I'd reply to this post in order to ignite some discussion.

    I whole-heartedly agree with george2's comments above regarding what makes a 4 bell restaurant. HOWEVER, based on my meal last night and LaBan's new (ie: lower) standards, I believe that Bibou is a legit 4-beller.

    Decor: not really luxurious at all, and rather sparsely decorated, but the room is pleasant. Tables were *very* close together, but I was lucky to get a table in the back that wasn't next to anybody. I pity the folks that have to eat at the tiny bar by the kitchen. The noise level was not bad where I was seated.

    Service: at times it was difficult to understand the servers due to their accent (the waitstaff is mostly Mexican), but they were all very friendly and provided a pretty excellent level of service throughout the meal. I was impressed.

    Food: I opted for the 7-course tasting + a supplemental cheese course. Here is my brief run-down on the food: Course 1) Lobster bisque (excellent) 2) Snails w/favas (very good) 3) Country pate (very good, but served too cold) 4) Grilled albacore tuna (good, but the least successful dish, imho) 5) Foie gras duo (excellent) 6) Saddle of lamb (excellent) 7) Chevre, roquefort, & cantal cheeses (excellent) 8) Floating island with goat's milk creme anglais (excellent)

    So 5 excellent courses that could be served at any of the best places in town, 2 that were very good and could also probably be served at the best places in town, and 1 that was just kind of ok. Overall it was an excellent meal. Certainly one of the best you will find in this city. Under the new standards, 4 bells is accurate.

    8 Replies
    1. re: deprofundis

      I forgot about this thread until CH mods told me it was moved from someplace else to here.

      deprofundis, I'm with you all the way.

      Since the original post we've been to bibou another dozen times. IMHO it serves world class food, and the likes of Robert Parker and the James Beard folks agree. The service was always good but has been excellent for the past year or so.

      When they were awarded the fourth bell we sent them a congratulatory note.

      Tonight we're off to Lacroix, which IIRC lost a bell and sells wine for 400% above cost. It'll be an interesting comparison.

      1. re: george2

        We've been eating at Bibou about once a month since they opened. While it is not a luxurious, quiet restaurant a la Le Bec Fin, we were rooting for their 4th bell. Under the current standards, which are NOT the standards of 10 years ago, the 4th bell is well deserved for the excellent food, very good service, and the warmth and professionalism provided by Charlotte Calmels as well as Pierre's superlative food. Certainly we consider their 4th bell less controversial than that awarded to Zahav.

        1. re: george2

          Please report back on Lacroix. We were there back in October and it was one of the best nights we have had, bells be damned.

          1. re: Philly Ray

            I found it very interesting that Laban downgraded LaCroix. I remember Ray's write up of a phenomenal meal, and I think the brunch there is best in the city. And it has more of the ambiance I associate with "fine dining" something that Bibou falls short on. Definitely want look forward to your report george2.

            1. re: cwdonald

              My recent meal at Lacroix was excellent too, great "fine dining" experience to be sure. But Laban noted several issues with food execution which accounted for the lost bell. I can see why the bell loss is warranted given the issues he experience. During my meal, the food was great, but not all the dishes were memorable and the sweet potato tater tots were just not good. I still can't wait to go back, the overall experience was superb.

        2. re: deprofundis

          Please do not feel bad for those that eat at the bar by the kitchen. It is preferred by many that dine there on a regular basis.

          1. re: brightman

            The bar seats at Bibou have got to be the most awkward and uncomfortable seats I've seen in any restaurant anywhere, and that is not hyperbole. On the plus side, the food is the same and I guess you get to peek into the kitchen. But uh... different strokes for different folks.

            1. re: brightman

              Have only been to Bibou twice and never sat at the bar. Look forward to doing so in future. At Pif we always sat at the bar when we could. Best seats in the house Btw I agree Bibou deserves the four bells.

          2. Does not having a liquor license factor into not receiving four bells?

            6 Replies
            1. re: Chinon00

              Obviously not, l for one, am delighted with the fact that bells can be awarded sans liquor/wine list.

              1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                I could understand if judging a byob on it's own terms possibly giving one four bells. But having said that (and assuming one consumes wine) the same byob restauarant with a well thought out wine program and knowledgable staff would offer a superior dining experience no?

                1. re: Chinon00

                  Not for me.

                  Even if all your criteria are met and the wine is properly stored and served in excellent stem-ware, buying a bottle of wine at 300-450% markup rubs me the wrong way. I have plenty of good-great bottles at home that I could bring. But at a byob my selection is then limited to what's in my wine bag.

                  For a lot of people, the positives you mention add tremendous value and make for a superior experience.

                  1. re: george2

                    l was raised by a depression mentality famiily, thus less expensive is better, gladly invest the money in cellaring. Also l carry a very large wine carrier and also often know what food l am ordering before l walk in the restaurant.

                    1. re: george2

                      I agree with you completely george2.

                      1. re: george2

                        I understand that restaurants have to make their money somehow... what bugs me isn't so much the 300% markup, but the 300% markup for wines bought through the PA state store system. Doesn't really help restaurants or diners. That said, a BYO will, for me, always be limited. Are you ordering food to go with the wine you brought? Or are you ordering food that doesn't go well?
                        I used to live on the same block as a neighborhood BYO. We'd order, then I'd go home and get a bottle I thought would go well. but a) not really a transferable business model, and b) i'm a total hack of a sommelier anyway. If I'm going all out, I want to just be able to trust someone to make the right pairings.

                        still, though, there's something about seeing a wine you recognize from the 'chairman's selections' that just doesn't seem right. excessively picky on my part? probably.

                2. The black bass stuffed with tarragon and scallop mousse I had last week might just be the best thing I've eaten in years. Unbelievable.