Who doesn’t love a fine French restaurant experience from time-to-time? Truth be told, traditional classic cooking can use a lot of cream, making dishes too rich to digest on a regular basis, although just like not all luxury hotels are equal, not all top level French restaurants serve the same kind of food. So much depends on the region, where the chef was trained, their philosophy on food and on life and whether they take a more modern approach or a classic one. How much Mediterranean and southern France is in their style versus Brittany or Normandy for example.
Jonathan Cichon, the Executive Chef of Lacroix Restaurant in the heart of Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square, is a stand-out. Prior to his current position at Lacroix, he worked as Sous Chef under the renowned Chef Jason Cichonski and their combined efforts turned eyeballs and clearly delighted palettes since they went on to win awards.
Let’s start with the fact that when I showed up, they had to cater to my ridiculous low carb diet as I have been on a 10-12 week trial of reducing carbs to get back in shape after nearly six weeks of back-to-back restaurant reviews when we traveled across country earlier this year. For social fans, you can see the photos we posted en route, including food photos, by searching for WBTWxCountry hashtag on Twitter and Instagram. After that much decadence, I’ve returned to lighter style dining, which you wouldn’t think would be possible at a French restaurant.
Feast your eyes on three dishes that were exquisitely prepared, starting with the Hamachi served with Persian cucumber and Eggplant Surmac, followed by Foie Gras with Nectarine and pureed Walnut praline (yum!!) with Riesling, and the ever so light diced avocado mousse with compressed sprouted grains, which is also Gluten Free. (note: we have been finding an increasing number of Gluten Free options at both high end and mid-range restaurants around the country over the past year).
If this isn’t enough to entice you to try his menu, then let’s look at some of the mains. For example, their Barnagot scallops (that simply means they’re from Barnagot NJ), wood-grilled Chanterelle mushrooms (one of my favorites), heart of palm, with a touch of jus lobster and sun tomatoes was over-to-top. I could have stopped there and been satisfied for days especially with the wine pairings we tried, from the South African Chenin Blanc (A.A. Badenhorst Secateurs Swartland) to the Piedirosso Ma Strober Ardino, Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio from Italy. (both were from 2013).
I specifically wanted to try a South African white with one of the seafood dishes because I remain a fan of South African wines in general, and the more of the wines were European-styled than not. No real serious buttery Chardonnays to be had, but of course, that was the point – pure French cooking at its best deserves a fabulous crisp Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc or white Burgundy.
How’s this foam that delicately lay on top of this exquisite lobster meat with fermented radish?
Another dish that was a true standout was the Duck (from Crescent Farms), which they roasted on the bone and served with sauerkraut, turnips and Matsutaki mushrooms. Did you know that Matsutaki mushrooms are rare to find and only grow under pine trees in Japan? We also tried the Pan Roasted Beef that had been dry aged for 35-40 days and was served with fava beans, radishes cooked in orange and artichokes with a coffee bordeleuse. If this preparation sounds unusual, it is, and was so worth the wait. Purely delicious!
Other dishes worth mentioning on the menu for their creative preparation include Ruby Shrimp with green mango, cucumber and black quinoa, St. Canut Farm Farm Porcelet with beets, scarlet runner beans and raspberry, which tastes very earthy (above), Veal Cheek with is made with coconut, carrot, curry puree and plum and the Joyce Farm Poussin, which is essentially a baby chicken served with leeks, fig and black truffle. Bring it on!!
This cold cucumber splash woke up our palette in between courses.
What was also nice was the fact that they use the Coravin Wine System at the restaurant, which allows them to pour wine by the glass without pulling the cork, allowing you more choices than ever before by the glass. It’s an amazing wine preservation system with no oxidation so you can just have a glass without opening the bottle, so you can have a different glass or two of wine every night if you wish. It’s great for restaurants who have a clientele with diversified tastes in wine.
Since our dishes were so diverse, from lobster and scallops to foie gras and duck, we went with Chenin Blanc at the beginning of the meal and ended up with a Cabernet Sauvignon Chateaux Pont de Brion, Graves from France, with a French Pinot Noir Michel Juillot Bourgogne in between. It was a perfect night despite our traffic mess further north before we landed in Baltimore that evening.
They brought out a dairy and egg free Apricot Meringue Sorbet with sunflower seeds and preserved fig (WOW!) And while I didn’t indulge, Anthony devoured the sweet that ended our night with a decaf coffee before our heads hit the pillows. This delicious concoction had a Huckleberry and Violet Chantilly Cream drizzled on the plate (liquid nitrogen frozen huckleberries, so popular by French chefs), and pearls of plum puree with candied beets. Again, notice the unusual combinations and preparations throughout the course of the meal.
Take a look at some of their own photography to get an idea of the kitchen’s diversity. While they made accommodations for me specifically to deal with my low carb diet, you can see that so many of their dishes, while clearly French influenced, are light, healthy and fresh. They also do a four course menu with a wine pairing for those interested in a variety and a Chef’s Tasting Menu, which is a great choice if the entire table is interested in participating.
Above 3 photos and the sweets from the tea room, credit of Lacroix Restaurant.
Another fun thing they offer is afternoon Tea at the Mary Cassatt Tea Room. Here you can dive into the traditions of the tea cultures, which I’m a huge fan of having lived in England in my twenties. Their carefully selected tea menu spans the world, from tisanes of local herbs and flowers to the grand black and green teas of Asia. As accompaniment, they offer sweets and savories as well, many with a seasonal twist.
The restaurant has a Buddhist-like shrine in the middle of the restaurant – t’is what I’d call Feng shui at its best. In addition to my palette being as happy as a clam, it’s no wonder that I felt so relaxed during the meal despite our tenuous traffic-ridden drive from New York City. It was just the thing we needed to end our evening and a perfect introduction to Rittenhouse Hotel and to Philadelphia.
The service as reflected above was above and beyond what we expected! While the hotel that houses the Lacroix Restaurant may be a 5 star, not all 5 stars are the same as many luxury travelers know from frequent travel and this even applies to well known luxury brands. For example, not all Four Seasons have the same stellar service, something we’ve noticed over the past few years.
Our needs were anticipated before they were needs, from the timing of our appetizers and main courses to the selection of wine, which I let their on-site sommelier select. Our waiter was also incredibly knowledgeable, passionate about food and wine and had a great sense of humor. Who doesn’t need that at the end of a long day? Simply eloquent! We love this restaurant and we love the staff.
210 West Rittenhouse Square
Philadelphia, PA, 19103