Thursday, August 26, 2010

Lacroix, Philadelphia PA

Despite many people telling me it was worth it, that it was “different” from other buffets, that I’d have plenty of time to get to my plane I just couldn’t justify making reservations for one at Lacroix’s luxurious Sunday Brunch. Try as I might I’ve never been enamored by buffets and relying on public transport to get me to the airport I simply couldn’t go against my instincts. With that fact noted, however, I had heard some fantastic things about new Chef Jason Cichonski’s menu approach and I given the setting and menu I knew I owed it to myself to give Lacroix a try…with dinner’s already booked solid for my trip I figured a lunch would suffice.

Arriving at Rittenhouse Square dressed casually around 11:15 and making my way into the lavish hotel I was treated as a valued guest – doors held, all “sir, please, and thank you,” a liaison even offering to walk me to the restaurant. Chatting as we walked up a single flight of stairs I was told a little bit about the hotel and restaurant and assured it was “one of the best in town.” Arriving at the entrance to Lacroix I was introduced to the Maitre D’ and led to a lovely table along the lower rim of the dining area. Floor to ceiling windows, marble pillars, white tablecloths and plush velvet chairs I was next presented with a menu and asked if I’d like the drapes up or down – opting for up the room was flooded with fresh sunshine and water was filled.

Greeted next by my server, a pleasant young man with great knowledge of the cuisine and the local area, I was told lunch was just starting while breakfast was just ending and I was asked which menu I wanted to see. Jokingly I stated “how about both – and dinner too…” little did I know he would say “certainly” and return with all three menus in a matter of minutes. Making sure that all three menus could be prepared I received an “absolutely” and was left to decide as if this request was somehow normal or expected. Thrilled I took to browsing the options and identified no less than 10 things that sounded wonderful.

Realizing that I had aggressive dinner plans and afternoon snacks already planned I decided to temper my ordering and suffice for one appetizer, one entrée, and one dessert – approving of my selections, particularly the appetizer, my waiter took note that I was planning to attend the Phillies game at 1:00 and assured me that wouldn’t be a problem. Disappearing for only moments he would return quickly with a bread basket featuring three warm breads paired with a clean and mellow butter. Rosemary Pepper Ciabatta, Sourdough, and 9-Grain – all excellent, but all merely tasted in order to save room.

Arriving first amongst my ordered courses would be a dish my waiter described as “The best Foie Gras I’ve ever had.” While I can’t say I felt quite so strongly, Foie Gras Torchon with Warm Banana Bread, Shaved Carrot Salad, Peanuts did deliver a fantastic impact for its $14 price tag. A ~3oz torchon, thick and unctuous (as opposed to airy and creamy like that of Keller) served atop piping hot moist banana bread the liver literally melted in the mouth. Adding texture would be a lightly vinegar seasoned salad of carrots and spiced peanuts – the whole dish worked very nicely and had a pleasant degree of East meets West that seemed to highlight much of Cichonski’s repertoire.

My main course, ordered from the dinner menu, would be Hudson Valley Duck Pastrami with Swiss Chard and Grilled Brulee Peaches. Ample in portion and rippled with a gratuitous layer of fat and crispy skin the flavor of the bird itself was superb. Not overly salted but instead accented with hints of paprika, coriander, sugar, and garlic the “pastrami” influence was certainly notable and an excellent juxtaposition to the acidity of the lightly seasoned salad and grilled peach with a crackling layer of sugar. My reigning favorite form of protein the duck was exemplary – on par with the best I’ve had.

Having heard that Lacroix makes an excellent soufflé from a local Philadelphia epicure I inquired about it when I was originally offered the various menus. Given the time it takes to prepare a proper soufflé my waiter had to inquire with the kitchen – thankfully they said it would be no problem and they’d start it early so as not to delay my departure for the game. Described as an “Angel Souffle” and adorned with swirls of silver and gold the dish would arrive piping hot and standing tall and proud. A Peppermint Dark Chocolate Souffle with Coconut Anglaise and milk chocolate tapioca I first pierced the cloud of chocolate and was met by a gush of aromatic chocolate. Taking a bite the hints of mint were appreciable but not overwhelming as the creamy dish melted in the mouth. Adding the shot glass of Coconut Anglaise and creamy chocolate tapioca I was delighted as the soufflé remained standing tall – no deflation at all and maintaining its composure throughout consumption.

With my meal completed and plenty of time to catch the SEPTA to the stadium I sat and chatted with my server for a while about the Rittenhouse area and my other dining plans for the trip – a Philadelphia native he was friendly and informative despite his young age. Declining coffee I was brought the bill along with a plate of candied orange peel, dried cranberries, and candied almonds as well as a box of two house-made chocolates that I would save for the game – chocolate ganache and caramel, both attractive and tasty.

Settling the tab and making my way to the door I was asked if I needed directions to the nearest SEPTA and upon declining I was bid farewell by my server, the hostess, and on the way out of the hotel the concierge who walked me to the restaurant even asked how I liked the meal. Making it to the game in plenty of time (even if the Phillies didn’t seem interested in playing) I looked back on meal and even now I think it may have been the most underrated meal of my trip. A beautiful setting, fantastic food, and friendly professional service is something that all restaurants should aspire to – and something that LaCroix pulls off seemingly effortlessly. Next time I’m in Philadelphia I’m going to the brunch, no doubt.

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