8 August 2012
Ever since I first discovered Lacroix many years ago it has been my favourite restaurant in Philadelphia. Always solid and innovative without being too experimental, it served its purpose well as the primary restaurant in the much-hyped Rittenhouse Hotel. I have never had anything close to a bad experience here, and was very much looking forward to a wonderful evening. I really needed it, as I was getting a flood of bad news during the early evening that would really create many, many problems for me.
The one thing Lacroix always has is a friendly and cheerful staff — one that really knows how to deal with lone diners. Many restaurants fail at that deceptively simple task, whether it is timing or attitude, but this place masters that rare talent. I never feel out of place here, and they go out of their way to make their diners comfortable. And this has not changed.
I began with a house cocktail of their summer sazerac. Nice, but on the bitter side — from their house-made vanilla and apple bitters. It cleansed my palate for the tasting menu, of which I was hoping to see some fabulous plates from chef Jon Cichon. I remember him showing me the kitchen years ago when he was sous chef, when I used to still have the late, lamented Elettaria…
The amuse-bouche soon came, a combination of a few interesting tidbits. The creamy soup brought out tastes of heart of palm and leeks, while the sturgeon offered a very strong but salty taste. Sadly, the pastry was flaky and dry, and the bacon on the oyster tasted as if it sat there for hours soaking in oyster juice and tasted like bad imitation bacon by that time. Not worried yet, it’s just the amuse-bouche…
My server hinted to me that the tasting menu is mostly based from the a la carte menu, but I had hoped for some creativity from the kitchen. I was told that chef Cichon was running the kitchen, so my expectations went up for something interesting over the 6 savoury courses. I also hinted very indiscretely how much I love mushrooms, seeing some nice mushroom usage on the a la carte.
The first course came out lightning fast alongside a New Zealand sauvignon blanc (did I mention I went for the full pairing?). A nice rolled fluke ceviche garnished by mango foam and coconut chips. Tasted nice, but there seems to be some rogue salting being done upon plating…a little uneven. But a nice start.
And almost a minute after my plate was cleared the second course appeared, alongside a very fragrant late South African Gewürztraminer, was the foie gras torchon. The foie gras was gone well, as well as the figs and ice cream on the side. Nothing too special, as the foie gras was its own star as usual. However, as both items were on the regular menu, I’m starting to worry about the next 4 savoury courses being just straight from-the-menu.
Again, lightning fast upon me finishing my second course, the third arrived alongside a rather dry California chardonnay. This wine missed a bit, though worked with the course — grilled Spanish octopus with some agnolotti in a chicken consommé. The octopus was tasty as it was sweetly glazed, but the angolotti was a bit bland. Again, from the normal menu. I was getting worried, as I suspect this tasting menu was heading downhill in predictability…
My fourth course arrived and I was actually right in guessing what it was — the halibut. Served alongside a rather boring dry Chilean rosé, the fish really didn’t do much for me (especially considering my very good lunch). Very little creativity on the key item, the fish topped a bed of beans that didn’t fit the tasty crabmeat that it was combined with. The fact I guessed what the dish was going to be left me a little sad…this was a very, very unimaginative chef’s tasting menu…just simply items from the a la carte.
And to this point, not a single mushroom…it’s like they skipped every dish that had mushroom from the a la carte menu! I asked for a slowdown as it was coming way too fast. A 8-course tasting menu should not be finished in 75 minutes…
I wish I had more time when dish number five came…a horrible chicken that was injected with miso. It really reminded me of the smoked chicken rolls that I used to see in Russia and elsewhere, but I wish it tasted like it. The chicken here was like some horrible reconstituted nightmare that made me wish for a McNugget… The polenta on bottom had more flavour than this thing that tasted of utterly nothing. No miso, no chicken, no anything. NASA food? Designed for MRE?
This was the only dish I did not even finish half of…and I did let them know. They offered to replace it, but not necessary at this late stage. I was pretty full already anyway. Despite the massive shortfall of the back of the house this evening, the front was doing a wonderful job. Oh, and the merlot was the best part of this course, even if it was a rather boring one… It killed the taste of this bad “chicken” dish…
I was becoming extremely disappointed. I wanted an experience to cheer me up from my dreadful afternoon; instead, I am questioning one of the few restaurants that has never let me down — until tonight. When course six, the last savoury, came, I was dejected. Alongside a fine Sonoma cabernet came the “wagyu” brisket. Again, from the main menu. Of the 3 pieces of beef that came, only one was relatively good. Piece 2 was nearly all gristle, and piece 3 I ended up spitting out (sorry) because it was half gristle too. Don’t let the picture fool you, the gristle bits were hidden from view at first…
What really upset me at this point was that they pushed 6 on-the-menu items on me, showing absolutely no creativity that I had been used to from Lacroix in the past, and in most top restaurants that offer a chef’s tasting menu. It’s like they used me to get rid of stuff they didn’t sell all night. All that for $120 (not including the pairing) is a total insult.
And not one mushroom in my dinner! That was the ONLY thing I asked for!
I was so dejected by that point I barely tasted my 2 dessert courses and didn’t even bother to take any more pictures. It was not enjoyable at all. I was saddened, as one of my standbys is now completely off the list. A one-off bad night is one thing, but this experience was insulting. They knew I was a long-time customer and a person that has raved about the place. I asked for little in the tasting menu. They did nothing right in the back of the house on this one.
As I nurse my disappointment at the bar chatting with the front-of-the-house staff, I feel sad that I had to remove Lacroix from my list of 10 favourite restaurants in North America. It had been so good. I had such good memories in the past, including a morel fest a few years ago. But this was an insult, an expensive insult for any serious food person. And as a coup de grâce for me on this horrible evening, I ended up getting some messages that would really rock my evening that would screw up many, many things…
Do NOT bother with the chef’s tasting menu at this place. Million of other places with better, more interesting, and cheaper ones. I think I have entered Lacroix for the final time. Sad. Another one bites the dust.
at the Rittenhouse Hotel
210 West Rittenhouse Square