BY KEN ALAN | December 10, 2012 | Food & Drink
The dining space upholds a classic touch with chandeliers and white tablecloths.
Dry Aged Beef Sirloin with bordelaise sauce.
Sommelier Phillippe Sauriat has tripled the wine cellarâ€™s stock.
The staff prepares for the eveningâ€™s guest service.
Norman and Suzanne Cohn.
Our universe holds certain relative constants in the time-space continuum: all stars will eventually diminish and, on a more human scale, from 1970 until earlier this year Le Bec Fin was considered by many to be the most famous French restaurant in the country.
Though fiery proprietor Georges Perrier hung up his chef’s toque there earlier this year, the iconic restaurant is yet again poised to supernova due to its recent acquisition by industry veteran Nicolas Fanucci, who is more than just a consummate professional. While few individuals may say they’ve helmed one of the world’s top restaurants, Fanucci can claim two to his credit: For six-and-a-half years he managed chef Thomas Keller’s incomparable The French Laundry in Napa, and for three years prior he was general manager at Le Bec Fin. Today, this impeccably tailored, Cannes-born gentleman is strongly committed to bringing back the allure and luster of the once top-rated restaurant.
Fanucci is quickly succeeding in this goal thanks to his assemblage of a stellar team, some having traveled with him from Napa, including Executive Chef and owner Walter Abrams and pastry chef Jennifer Smith, both of whom are Keller protégés. No longer delivering delectable cuisine in California, the duo now generates originality here—Abrams’s coq au vin en croute de sel is a signature dish; one of Smith’s are her inventive takes on French macarons. Meanwhile, maître d’extraordinaire Delroy Oliver, a LBF fixture since 1991, continues to captain the front of the house with sweeping aplomb. If anything, the restaurant’s phalanx of professional servers is even more polished than their predecessors.
Rather than a full-out interior reinvention, the site has been refreshed while keeping its storied soul intact. The former front dining room is now a comfortable host’s salon (no more queuing up tightly by the doorway). Fannuci explains: “We went from 18 to 11 tables, putting in round ones to fit the space and provide more comfort.” With these refinements, unintentionally shared conversations and harsh table corners went away.
The main room’s three signature crystal chandeliers remain shimmering in their golden, warming splendor. The creamy walls, though, have been partially covered in fabric; the plush chairs reupholstered in velvety Britannica blue material.
At lunchtime, chef Abrams offers three- and five-course prix fixe menus ($39 and $55 per person, respectively); dinner offers a four-course edition ($85) as well as an extravagant eight-course artistic showcase ($150), which changes daily. “We are striving to set the bar with the most wholesome products and proteins we can find in the area,” the chef emphasizes. “This is by far the best kitchen I have stepped foot in to accomplish such a task.”
Expedited from the line are edible and visual plated masterpieces—braised pork, aged beef, venison, grouse, and partridge, and the freshest scallops and line-caught fish. They are all assembled as organic still-life constructions, complemented by a bounty of fresh winter vegetables. “Plus, lots of white truffles,” reminds Abrams. “After all, ’tis the season.”
And it is: Le Bec Fin’s new team is gearing-up for their first New Year’s Eve dinner, two festive seatings that will feature live music, dancing, and a Champagne toast at midnight.
Another laudable addition to Le Bec Fin is sommelier Philippe Sauriat, who has tripled the wine cellar to a sizable 850-plus bottles. His selections go from a fruit-forward $40 Grenache to a collector-worthy 1945 Château Pétrus ($14,000)—a viniferous spectrum accommodating nearly every price-point concern and palate expectation.
“We are striving to create an experience where our guests can get away from life for a while,” Fanucci says confidently in his accented and proper way. “One that offers the utmost in hospitality and a place that is as much a part of this city as ever before.” From the elemental vestiges of the original, today’s Le Bec Fin is a brilliant star that’s rising once more toward apogee. It’s poised to be number one, all over again. 1523 Walnut St., 215-567-1000
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ANDREW KAHL; NELL HOVING (COHN)