Lest you think, based on part one of this piece, that Rittenhouse Square is entirely bucolic, just compare today’s lead photo to its more pacific precedent. It’s an all-too-typical Philly scene. The funny thing is I was just testing out the telephoto capabilities of my camera (apparently not its strong point) in hopes of a decent panoramic shot of the southeastern corner of the park. It wasn’t until I downloaded the photos at home that I realized that someone took exception to my shutterbugging and decided to exercise his attitude in my general direction. I suppose it’s a good thing I didn’t notice at the time, as I’d hate for anything to have marred the good vibe of the day.
This is what I was really shooting for – a first look at Parc, the Parisian-styled brasserie that is the newest entry in Stephen Starr’s ever growing Restaurant Empire. It’s an empire that, much like the neighborhood around Rittenhouse Square, I more often than not try to avoid. Starr’s establishments tend toward dinner as theatre, a high-concept approach not always matched by the energies of the kitchens. And besides, I have a natural tendency to fight against the big guys. That said it’s only fair to check one or the other of them out from time to time so I know the strengths and weaknesses of the opponent….
Actually, I’ll admit that I was a little jazzed when I heard Parc would be opening, for two primary reasons. One, the only Starr outpost that I ever really felt comfortable in was L’Ange Bleu (The Blue Angel), the now long defunct French bistro on Chestnut Street near Philly’s Jewelers’ Row. Two, Starr had selected Chef Dominique Filoni – whose cooking I have fond memories of from his years at Savona in Gulph Mills – to head up the kitchen at Parc.
We’d really just planned to grab a quick drink. But as we nuzzled into a cozy spot near the center of Parc’s 18th Street sidewalk café (there’s sidewalk seating on Locust Street as well), warmed by the overhead heaters and the sunlight of an early fall day, staying for at least a snack or two quickly became a foregone conclusion. And a bottle of bubbly soon followed.
The appetizer of grilled sardines reflected Chef Filoni’s roots, as a Saint-Tropez native, in Mediterranean cooking. Simple, wholesome and well executed. If I had a do-over, I’d skip the charcuterie platter in favor of either the coarse, zesty country pâté or decadently creamy and rich chicken liver mousse, as the small portions of each included with the charcuterie far outshone the basic selection of cured meats.
Parc’s wine list is definitely better than average by Philadelphia standards. While it’s dominated by commercial brands, it’s also peppered with more than a few gems. Bugey Cerdon from Patrick Bottex, Vouvray from Domaine des Aubuisières, and Morgon “Côte du Py” from Domaine Foillard stand out as just a few of the many wines I’d be happy to order. Mark-ups are characteristically high, averaging three-to-four times retail, but there are still a decent number of solid wines on offer for less than $50 per bottle. We settled on – and settled in with – a bottle of the Crémant de Loire “Carte Turquoise” Brut from Domaine des Baumard.
My wife had never felt closer to Paris without leaving our own city. Aside from the constant stream of Phillies fans roving the sidewalk and the line of cars at the valet parking stand, I can’t say I disagree.
227 S. 18th Street (at Locust)
Philadelphia, PA 19103 [map]