I’m Italianizing Stephen Starr’s new French bistro because I want it to represent the culture I proclaim to love more. I broke up with French one semester after falling for Italian more than 20 years ago, and have never looked back. Until now. Perhaps it’s time to come out of my closet and admit the truth: j’aime bien la cuisine française! French food done well rivals Italian. (Sorry, italiani!)
Since arriving in Philly almost 7 years ago, I have done nothing but complain about the sorry state of breadmaking here. Though I’ve learned to satisfice with supermarket ciabatta, occasional test buys (like the cushino from Carlino’s) and sprouted grain bread (for toast) from Trader Joe’s, I’ve never felt excited about what is the simplest staple to find in Italy, France, and even Pittsburgh: great bread. Until now.
Parc’s baguette was fabulous. So fabulous that I needed to disclose to the waiter my 7 years of displeasure with the Philly bread scene before seeking info on where they procured it. Turns out, not surprisingly, that they make it themselves. Better yet, they’ll be selling it shortly, in a bakery attached to the restaurant. Alleluia!
Before Marni had a chance to tease me about engaging the waitstaff with my foodie nerdiness, Nadia piped in with total support of my enthusiasm, speaking passionately about the texture of the bread, the ratio of air pockets to substance, the thickness of the crust, the amount of salt. Marni admitted it was “tasty bread” but got little to no sensual pleasure from eating it.
Starr says it’s the only one of his restaurants that makes its own bread:
“Yeah, it was a big deal for me to make our own bread, so we bought this $100,000 oven from France. We hired special bakers from New York that we knew that knew how to make this bread, so we’re making our own baguette and bread and ultimately, maybe in three or four weeks, we’re going to open a bakery and sell it.” (Excerpt grabbed from KYW news.)
The lamb sandwich with tomatoes and arugula was perfectly balanced, and not at all dry. The pommes frites (“American” fries) were perfectly salted, but unevenly cooked, many failing to retain rigidity. Cough.
Nadia and I ordered dessert: profiteroles and warm berry tart. Both were outstanding. The profiteroles – ice cream cream puffs drizzled with chocolate sauce – were neither too sweet nor overly frozen. Couldn’t help but imagine how easily I could make these at home, filling them with saffron or zabaglione gelato … perhaps for Ann’s dinner party this weekend?
Eating at Parc both excited and inspired me. I give it an 8/10. Service was great; food was too. Entertaining people watching as well. It seems that outside of University City, people dress in suits and ladies lunch. Who knew? Wish they could do something about the noise level, and the flimsy french fries. But even then, it’d only rise to a 9. After all, it’s no Le Virtu.
P.S. As I wrote the word “alleluia”, memories of Randall Thompson’s version popped into mind. Enjoy!