Top Spots For Nontraditional French Food In Philadelphia
It seems we blasé Philadelphians are getting bored with the same old cliché French restaurants. We crave something nouveau and different, with interesting tastes and unique perspectives. Well, allons-y. These local restaurants are sure to provide the authentic French cuisine Philadelphians desire.
Hours: Wed to Sat – 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., Sun – 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
It’s a shame it’s so hard to get reservations at Bibou, because it would take many, many visits to taste all of the amazing dishes on the menu. For instance, in one trip you can try the brilliantly plated escargots with fava beans, trumpet royale mushrooms and tarragon ($14) and the pied de porc, which is braised pig foot-stuffed foie gras and French lentils du puy ($26). Then, in a return trip, be sure to order the foie gras duo, foie gras and butternut squash crème brulee along with seared foie gras and sauteed mangoes ($18) and the esturgeon, sturgeon poached in olive oil, fennel puree with baby arugula, sundried tomato ravioli and a sage emulsion ($29.) Pierre Calmels, owner and chef (formerly of Le Bec Fin), and his wife, owner Charlotte, try to come out to chat with all of their guests, which is just one of the many little details that makes Bibou such a stand-out. If you can get a reservation at this tiny, cash-only BYOB in Bella Vista, go.
4000 Chestnut St.
Philadelphia, PA 19104
Hours: Mon to Tues – 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Wed to Thurs – 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Fri – 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., Sat – 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
In University City, there’s a jewel of a BYOB called Nan. It’s not often that you see escargot on the same menu as Pad Thai, but at Nan, it’s perfectly normal. Nan is unassuming yet elegant, with impeccable service. Owner-Chef Kamol Phutlek seamlessly fuses his Northern Thailand background with the culinary expertise that he gained along the way as he, along with a few others, revolutionized the Philly restaurant scene.
Fans come back for more of Nan’s lush and creamy spaghettini with jumbo crab meat ($13) and the Pad Thai ($7.95), which, incidentally, many diners say is the best in the city. And let’s not forget desserts: one customer claims the crème brulee will “make you weep.”
246 S 11th St.
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Hours: Tues to Sun – 4 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Chef-Owner of Zinc, Olivier Desaintmartin is nothing if not committed. He bought a 1919 zinc bar from Paris and had it shipped over and refurbished, and now you can sit at it while sipping your Zinc Martini (gin, vodka, Lillet) and admiring his quaint bistro. The menu has many well-priced French classics, like Cassolette de Escargots ($10) and St. Jacques a l’Americaine ($19/$27), with some unique creations to stir things up. You’ll find scupions provencal (baby octopus with seared tomato concasse, Ricard Pastis and herb sauce, $11) and Cochon au mais aigre doux (crispy pork top round and belly served with sweet corn relish, salsify puree, $24.) Zinc’s regulars are enamored with its steak frites, a glorious Black Angus hangar steak, cooked to perfection and absolutely covered in Zinc’s wondrous frites, or fries ($17/$23.) Many entrees have two prices–one for a large portion and one for a smaller–which is a clever idea that really appeals to those who hate wasted food.
624 S 6th St
Philadelphia, PA 19147
Hours: Tue to Fri – noon to 11 p.m., Sat – 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sun – 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The aptly named Beau Monde (“Beautiful World”) is gorgeous on the inside–all tin ceilings, romantic lighting and lush décor. The specialty is paper-thin crepes made on griddles that the owners brought back from the Brittany region of their native France. Crepes needn’t always be sweet (we’ll get to that later); Beau Monde creates amazing savory crepes, like the smoked trout, served with roasted leeks and crème fraiche ($9.50); or Food Network’s Alton Brown’s favorite (from “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” ), mushroom, Swiss cheese and roasted almonds ($12.75.) There are plenty of non-crepe items on the menu as well, just in case you’re not in the mood for your food to be folded. And you must not leave Beau Monde without trying at least one (or two or three…) of the sweet crepes. Everyone has a favorite; fresh squeezed lemon ($.75), white chocolate ($3) or mixed berries ($5.75.) They’re so nicely priced, you can afford to try beaucoup crepes.
Le Bercail Restaurant
4519 Baltimore Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19143
Hours: Mon to Sun – 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.
Because much of North Africa was under French rule for over 300 years, there is much there that remains imbued with French. Besides the language (French is the official language of many African countries), French cuisine has merged with African cooking, and now we have Le Bercail, a French-African restaurant in West Philly. On the menu you’ll find some Senegalese dishes and some Moroccan, with asoupçon of French flair. Le Bercail is tiny but clean, and very affordable. The Yassa chicken is a large portion of “well seasoned” chicken smothered in caramelized carrots and onions, with a huge side of rice and veggies for only $8. There are many vegetarian choices, and the staff is very friendly and helpful. Le Bercail does not accept credit cards, so make sure to bring cash. And in case you’re wondering, le bercail means “the fold.”
Trish Deitemyer is a freelance writer living in Philly. She covers Food & Drink and has been writing since 1986. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.