Yet another Ars Nova Workshop event, this one held at the Philadelphia Art Alliance, was all the incentive I needed to book an early reservation at Parc on a recent Friday night. The idea of sitting down to a meal and then, belly sated, not having to go more than fifty yards for the move from table to musical venue was just too appealing. Besides, I'd been wanting to revisit Parc, Stephen Starr's bistro parisien, for quite some time. A very promising first visit, spent at the sidewalk cafe, was followed up quickly by a less resounding success in the side room of the main restaurant that was marred by awkward service, poor table location and a rather soupy rendition of cassoulet.
This time around, the stars seemed better aligned. Our window table, overlooking Rittenhouse Square and within full people-watching view of the bar, was ready and waiting at our appointed hour. First courses were prepared classically and to a deft turn. The salade lyonnaise captured the fine balance required of the dish, contrasting the richness of lardons and poached egg with the bitter snap of fresh frisée and delicate acidity of a light vinaigrette. Having already set my sights on red meat for my main course, I opted to exercise at least a little restraint with my starter, a side dish of sauteed spinach that was tender, simple and savory.
Based on the solid success of our plats principaux, the short lived tenure of Parc's opening chef, Dominique Filoni, as well as the recent departure of Chef Arthur Cavaliere, don't seem to have put too hard a stumble in the kitchen's stride. My steak frites was pretty spot-on, seared just long enough to provide a well caramelized exterior crust while keeping the interior juicy and rare. Amply dressed with maître d' butter, it balanced the inherently muscular texture of hangar steak with an unmistakably melt-in-your-mouth appeal. My dining partner's roasted salmon was perhaps less decadent but was no less well prepared – the fish tender and moist, anchored by the earthiness of black trumpet mushrooms and pureed fennel, and brightened by the lively spark of fresh chervil.
One place where Parc has taken a downward slide over the course of the past year is with their wine list. Quite promising, at least by Philadelphia standards, in its earlier renditions, the wine program has since moved away from a balance between safe and adventurous selections and drifted much more toward the mass market, price point driven end of the spectrum. There are still some arguably decent values to be found at the upper end of the list – 1994 Ampeau Meursault "La Pièce Sous le Bois" for $200, anyone? – as well as a few out of the ordinary holdovers from the original list, such as Patrick Bottex's NV Bugey-Cerdon "La Cueille." But I struggled to find much of real interest in the still, red department. In all fairness, though, I was quite happy with the wine on which I eventually settled, a 2006 Côte de Nuits Villages from Domaine Gachot-Monot, a producer with whose wines I was unfamiliar but that I recognized as part of Kermit Lynch's import portfolio (I'm still waiting to find a wine list that includes importer information). Reductive at first pour, the wine quickly opened to reveal copious, juicy red fruits; surprisingly ripe and rich for and '06 and not at all a bad match with both my steak and my companion's salmon.
I've griped in this forum before about Stephen Starr's business model of placing style and theatrics before food and wine. Somehow, though, now at Parc as in the '90s at L'Ange Bleu, when he does it French, he seems to get it right. The spectacle is still there but it's backed up by at least a little substance.
227 S. 18th Street (at Locust)
Philadelphia, PA 19103