Friday, August 1, 2008


Stephen Starr's latest installment, a sprawling, cavernous French bistro, has captured Philadelphia in an extraordinary way. Perhaps it's the location, across from Rittenhouse Square, with plenty of open windows to appreciate the view. Perhaps it's the food, a good mix of expensive and less expensive, casual but trendy, tasty but familiar. Whatever the combination, it's become a tough reservation and the subject of all restaurant conversation in the last month.

Which made celebrating my birthday there all the more fun. Armed with plenty of warning about the din, I nevertheless decided it could accommodate my seven friends and me. It did, comfortably so. Told it was a bit more quiet, we were seated on the Locust Street side of what essentially occupies the space of two restaurants, forming an L around a bar. Starr seems to have toned down the schtick for Parc, instead embracing a straightforward rendition of a French bistro, devoid of neon and unisex bathrooms. The atmosphere was bustling but refined.

The service however, was a little off. Our server had an odd, slow-motion quality to her voice and reiterated twice (over the span of what felt like five minutes) that we should be sure to ask her any questions if we had them. When one of our drinks was wrong, she said, "it would be my pleasure to get you the correct drink," slowly enough to suggest sarcasm, although I'll give her the benefit of the doubt. When served correctly, all of the mixed drinks were delicious except for the Gingembre, a gingery mix that was way too strong for my tastes. The Citron Glace was a wonderful play on lemonade and perfect for the weather.

All agreed that the appetizers were amazing. From the Pissaladiere (a goat cheese, caramelized onion and nicoise olive tart, pictured first above) to my warm shrimp and avocado salad (pictured second), served with a lemon caper beurre blanc, they were dead-on for concept and only slightly off for delivery. My shrimp were overcooked, a disappointing misstep. Note the handsome "Parc" plates, a good sign that Parc may be around for a while. Many folks got the grilled sardine salad, with roasted tomato, arugula and parmesan, which was reportedly very good (I am, sadly, scared of the oily whole-fish nature of the sardine as a concept, but I support my friends in their passion).

The entrees were equally French, interesting and tasty. I ordered the roast leg of lamb with creamy polenta. The lamb and accompanying sauce were sublime. The polenta achieved a gelatin-like creaminess with the addition of what must have been cheese. Spread rather thin on the platter, it had dried out a bit, but did taste very good. I tasted my Chocoholic Friend's Coq Au Vin (the "plat du jour" for Sunday) and was impressed with how the richness of the red wine had permeated the dish, making it both homey and special simultaneously. The Moules Frites were delicious as well, although my chiles rellenos friend opined that the fries could have been better (although neatly served in a small, silver bucket). VBF's Poulet Roti was also deemed to be delicious.

Not to be missed are Parc's raw bar offerings. My Funniest Friend Ever (FFE) decadently ordered the lobster, which was a fun spectacle to receive and done to his liking. With an extensive offering and (my favorite) two sampler options, this section of the menu is sure to draw me back on a hot summer day.

The desserts weren't as spectacular as I would have expected but seeing as they did, after all, involve things like puff pastry and chocolate, I was still pretty happy. The profiteroles (kindly topped with a birthday candle) were very good, although the ice cream seemed to detract from the pastry flavor a bit. Served with its own small pitcher of chocolate sauce, however, I can't really complain. The baked chocolate mousse with a raspberry sauce was as delicious and decadent as it sounds. The tarte tatin was reportedly equally good.

Surrounded by great friends, in a beautiful setting, being served delicious French food, I couldn't ask for more.

Parc is located at the corner of 18th and Locust Streets, Philadelphia,

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