What, PhillyBestBYOB, no reviews of Bibou??? And you call yourself an expert on Philly BYOBs?
Although I enjoyed this amazing restaurant a total of 5 times in 2012 and 3 time so far in 2013, I went to the "Bibou at Blackfish" dinner last Monday and we are planning a Southern Rhone wine dinner for next week, for some reason I have kept putting this review off. Perhaps I don't feel that I can really do Bibou the justice it deserves, or maybe I'm having trouble picking the ultimate of ultimate dining experiences, from among so many great meals, about which to write a truly epic ode to French bistros.
Or maybe I'm just procrastinating?
Anyway, I'm going to pick a dinner from last year to write about, since I took photos of all the dishes and have pretty good tasting notes (although appologies to Bibou if I get some of the ingredients wrong...I love Pierre's sexy French accent, but I don't always catch everything).
Since this is an ode, some accompanying music seems appropriate (you know this has to be a great restaurant if someone takes the trouble to write a rap song about it, explicit lyrics and all!):
"She said she wanted foie gra,
And some escargot.
I said I didn't care for that,
Was tired of the snow.
She ordered three appetizers,
And wanted one to go.
I told her she was crazy.
What she doin', I don't know."
Sunday, 21 October 2012 (see photos):
10 of us, 9 guys and 1 gal (Ladies, this is why you should go to our wine dinners, the guys usually outnumber the gals, so you will be totally fawned over!) met for a Champagne and Rhone wine dinner at Bibou. An early seating at 6PM, since these dinners usually last ~4 1/2 hours, and good luck trying to get parking around Bibou at 8:30PM on a Sunday night.
In tiny Bibou, a 10-top takes up ~1/3 the room, and given how long these diners last, we are obviously being treated very well by owners Chef Pierre and Charlotte Calmels, since they could probably turn the space a couple of time (although we always order a 7-course tasting menu, so hopefully this all works out financially for them).
As usual, Chef Pierre created a tasting largely composed of dishes that were on the menu that night, but he often throws in a dish or two just for us, or fulfills a special request (like the amazing 3-fish pate from the old days at Le Bec Fin, which would be too much work to serve to everyone). That night we enjoyed:
1st course: Pheasant consommé, poured over bites of pheasant -- I'm not usually a consommé fan, preferring richer soups, but there is no question that this was an elegant start to the meal.
2nd course: Venison saddle-cherizo-pistashio-foie gras terrine, with date compote, mustard greens -- Always order whatever pate or terrine is on the menu at Bibou and you will not regret it
3rd course: Scallop, butternut squash, pomegrante, milk-lemon-infused verbena, purple potato puree and potato chip -- A visually striking dish (look at the photo!), with a large perfectly seared scallop that was melt in your mouth
4th course: Foie gras ravioli, Pergourdine sauce (usually a veal sauce made with a sweet wine like Monbazzilac), black truffles -- In my mind, one of Pierre's signature dishes, the combination of foie, pasta, truffle is killer
5th course: Beef tripe, baked in a white wine sauce of tomato, onion, garlic, chicken stock, bread crumbs -- I had this amazing dish for the first time a couple of weeks before, so we specifically requested it...it takes 6-7 hours to prepare this...nice with our Rhones, but really dying for an Italian Sangiovese (sorry Charlotte!)
6th course: Venison meat pie, white chanterelles, blood-current-red wine sauce, mustard greens -- A first-time dish for me, Pierre selected this to match our wines (and everyone in the restaurant benefited), this was everyone's DOTN (Dish of the Night)...don't let the blood sauce scare you, a must order dish if you see it on the menu
Regarding the above dish, I overheard the following comment: "Stupid good!" (Craig LaBan couldn't describe it better).
7th course: Époisses de Bourgogne (from Fromagerie Berthaut), quince puree, apple -- As usual, we added a cheese course to the tasting menu, and Pierre had just one perfectly ripened Bethoud Epoisse reserved for us to share. To my mind, this is the world's greatest cheese, an ooey-gooey soft cow's milk washed in brandy and smelling like a over-ripe barnyard (I keep asking Pierre if he can get his hands on a rare unpasturized Epoisse for us, now that they can be legally imported, but so far no luck).
8th course: Dessert -- the usual selection of every dessert on the menu to share, my favorites were his old-school classic Floating Island, and a delightful mango tart with meringue, which I think is a fairly new addition to the menu
And don't forget the complementary coconut macaroons (best I've ever had), meringues and excellent coffee to finish up with. And since we were the last patrons to leave, Pierre gave us a bag full of leftover macaroons to take home!
~NV Pierre Moncuit Champagne Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Brut
~NV Jacques Selosse Champagne Brut Initiale (Champagne of the Night)
~2001 Cédric Bouchard Champagne Inflorescence Blanc de Noirs La Parcelle
~2003 Moët Chandon Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon
~2010 Les Cailloux (Lucien et André Brunel) Châteauneuf du Pape Blanc
~2007 Spottswoode Sauvignon Blanc
~1985 Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage La Chapelle
~1990 André Perret St. Joseph Les Grisières
~1994 Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage La Chapelle
~1995 Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage La Chapelle (Wine of the Night)
~1997 Tardieu Laurent Hermitage
~1998 d'Arenberg Shiraz The Dead Arm (served blind)
~1999 Delas Frères Hermitage Les Bessards
~2007 E. Guigal Hermitage Ex Voto
~2004 Château d Yquem (375mL)
Whew, maybe not a poetic ode to French bistros, but I'm glad to finally add this to my list of Philly's best BYOB (at the top), and hopefully to have done a little bit of justice to the wonderful cuisine that Chef Pierre and his tiny team (must be the smallest fine dining kitchen in Philly) prepare every time we visit. Truly, Bibou is one of Philly's great dining treasures, a restaurant that you can take your hot date, your Mom, or a visitor from France to, and in each case be guaranteed that they will be blown away. [Noted wine critic Robert Parker declared in the best French bistro in the US.]
And I would be remiss not to mention the one thing that puts Bibou over the top: No matter how good the food is, what makes a truly great restaurant is the service, and Pierre's wife Charlotte is undoubtedly the most engaging hostess in Philly. She keeps things running smoothly, ably assisted by Hans (also one of the best FOTHers around), and floats around the dining room chatting with regulars and checking up on newbies. Visiting Bibou is like dining at the home of old friends, but old friend who just happen to be incredible cooks. We all should have friends like that. But be prepared to be kissed on both cheeks when you arrive (I always turn red!).
[Side note: Charlotte is currently out on maternity leave (if you are lucky, she still occasionally stops in with her 3 charming daughters), but in her absence, adorable Yuki will definitely take good care of you.]
It is a small restaurant, perhaps 28 seats, and tends to get slightly cramped (at least with all our wine bottles on the table!), and it's not the most quiet of venues, although not excessively loud. Bibou also has two seats at the counter, which are comfortable and give you a fun view of the kitchen and a chance for more interaction with the great staff. [If you sit there, you will notice the lamp on the counter that Charlotte made out of a double magnum bottle of Chateau Gruaud- Larose, which we are quite proud of since it was from a previous dinner of ours. Unfortunately, although we planned to share it with the entire restaurant, it turned out to be the most 'corked' bottle of wine I've ever smelled, completely undrinkable. But at least it now makes a beautiful conversation piece (It's twin from another Bdx dinner is in the Calmels home).
The 7-course tasting menue is $70 (a true bargain), + cheese + tip was something like $100/pp. Free 2-hour parking in the open-air lot next door (used to be 3 hours, but the evil PPA recently changed it). However, it is usually pretty easy to get a spot if you have an early seating before 7PM on a weeknight or Sunday, but good luck finding parking here or on the street much later than that. There is a lot a couple blocks west on Washington, although that was closed for some reason the last time we were there.