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7 Hottest French Restaurants in Philadelphia

By Danya Henninger
September 2, 2014
Photo by: Danya Henninger

American gourmets have been enamored of French cuisine ever since Thomas Jefferson brought it back across the Atlantic, but by the first decade of the 21st century, the romance had wilted somewhat, diluted by fusion or disdained as the zeitgeist turned away from fine dining.

In 2014, however, la rose is back in bloom. Like many other U.S. cities, Philly is experiencing a boom in Gallic cuisine not seen since the heyday of Le Bec-Fin and Brasserie Perrier. Here are seven hot French restaurants to try right now in Philadelphia.

  • Photo by: Danya Henninger

    La Peg

    Chef Peter Woolsey isn’t French, but his wife is, and he’s successfully channeled her heritage at Bistrot La Minette for the past six years. At this giant new brasserie in the FringeArts building, he’s going for French small plates, all of which are abetted by a baguette recipe adapted from his father-in-law.

    Must-Try Dish: The mussels marinière will let you dip slices of that crusty bread into a rich sauce, flavored by Blue Bay shellfish and a cloud of leek cream ($11).

    Good to Know: Take advantage of the weather and take a seat at one of two outdoor seating areas in front of the bi-level restaurant: a beer garden and a full-service alfresco dining room.

    Neighborhood: Delaware Waterfront/Old City

    140 N. Columbus Blvd.; 215-375-7744

  • Photo by: Danya Henninger

    Townsend

    Ask chef-owner Townsend Wentz if he’s cooking “New French” or “French-inspired” food and he’ll set you straight right away: his first solo venture is built around classic French cooking and nothing less. Doesn’t mean there aren’t also some surprise Asian flavors that sneak happily into the menu, however.

    Must-Try Dish: Even those who usually stay away from sweetbreads should give Wentz’ version a try, crisped with a light batter and served in a spicy red gribiche with another awfully good bit of offal: grilled veal tongue ($13).

    Good to Know: The bar, ever popular among food-biz folks, serves through 2 AM six nights a week (closed Tuesdays). Stop in for a late-night digestif from barman Keith Raimondi or a dessert wine selection from manager and sommelier Lauren Harris.

    Neighborhood: East Passyunk

    1623 E. Passyunk Ave.; 267-639-3203

  • Bardot

    Namesake siren Brigitte isn’t the only thing French at this sultry new lounge from Dennis Hewlett of the Pub on Passyunk East. Chef Rhett Vellner’s menu is split into sections like “Tartines,” “Petits” and “Grandes,” with plates that follow suit.

    Must-Try Dish: Introduce yourself to French seafood with Vellner’s octopus, braised in citrus and swimming in a broth with Calabrian chiles, salsa verde and peanut potatoes ($12).

    Good to Know: Some restaurants hold off several weeks after launch before introducing brunch, but that’s not the case here. Settle into the groove of your previous evening as you snack on French toast with maple-marzipan and Amarena-cherry ice cream, every Sunday from 11 AM-3 PM.

    Neighborhood: Northern Liberties

    447 Poplar St.; 267-639-4772

  • Photo by: Danya Henninger

    Le Chéri

    Charlotte and Pierre Calmels are back from their August vacation (which no self-respecting French person would ever miss), and their polished dining room in the historic Art Alliance building off Rittenhouse Square is ready to go. Food here is more straightforward than at Bibou — it’s bistro classics done right.

    Must-Try Dish: Pâté en croute isn’t found on many menus anymore, especially not versions as exemplary as Calmels’. Pastry flakes around a terrine of duck, mouthfuls of which are enhanced by tart cornichons and sweet Morello cherries ($10).

    Good to Know: Hidden behind the dining room is the best outdoor seating in Rittenhouse, where brick walls and greenery seclude you from the busy square.

    Neighborhood: Rittenhouse Square

    251 S. 18th St.; 215-546-7700

  • Good King Tavern

    Proprietor Bernard Grigri hails from Aix-en-Provence, and he and daughter Chloe Grigri have successfully imported the leisurely ebullience of the French Riviera to their cozy salon. The vibe is only enhanced by chef Paul Lyons’ menu of Provençal cuisine.

    Must-Try Dish: Lyons’ socca (chickpea pancakes) are unlike anything else in Philadelphia, with a rich flavor that disappears almost immediately ($7), but he also makes great sausages, so the meat board (with foie gras, duck rillettes and pâté; $18) is also a good bet.

    Good to Know: A huge carafe of French press coffee starts brunch here right, and the menu of specials makes sure what follows stays in tune. Look for croques madames, salmon tartines and sweet pain perdu, available Friday-Sunday from 11 AM-3 PM.

    Neighborhood: Bella Vista/South Street

    614 S. Seventh St.; 215-625-3700

  • Paris Bistro

    Chef Al Paris channels his namesake city into the classic bistro menu at this 1930s throwback dining room in the Chestnut Hill Hotel. Pull up a stool at the brass-appointed bar or slide into a red leather booth for a mini European getaway.

    Must-Try Dish: If you’ve been searching for a perfect French onion soup, this is where you’ll find it, a bubbling crock of bread and cheese with just enough syrupy onion liquid to make the dish special ($8).

    Good to Know: Below the dining room is the jazz cafe, a hideaway with its own bar and a stage where live music plays each weekend (three sets nightly from Thursday-Sunday).

    Neighborhood: Chestnut Hill

    8229 Germantown Ave.; 215-242-6200

  • Photo by: Danya Henninger

    Laurel

    Reservations still aren’t easy to come by, but if you do score a table at this petite BYO, you’re pretty much guaranteed to taste food from the hand of Top Chef winner Nicholas Elmi — he’s in the tiny kitchen cooking French-American cuisine just about every night the restaurant is open.

    Must-Try Dish: Elmi’s foie gras preparation is one of the best in the city, pressed into a terrine with cocoa laced between the lobes, topped with candied cherries and shaved almond ($23).

    Good to Know: An outdoor “garden” table is available for reservation — just pull together a group of four to six people interested in opting for the $75 tasting menu and you’ll likely get a seat much soon than you can inside.

    Neighborhood: East Passyunk

    1617 E. Passyunk Ave.; 215-271-8299

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Places Mentioned

Laurel

French • East Passyunk Crossing

Food27 Decor24 Service27 Cost$84
 
 
 
Paris Bistro & Jazz Cafe

French • Chestnut Hill

Food24 Decor21 Service19 Cost$47
 
 
 
The Good King Tavern

French • Bella Vista

Food- Decor- Service- CostM
 
 
 
Le Chéri

French • Rittenhouse Square

Food26 Decor26 Service26 Cost$68
 
 
 
La Peg

Penn's Landing

Food- Decor- Service- CostM
 
 
 
Townsend

French • East Passyunk Crossing

Food- Decor- Service- CostE
 
 
 
 
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