Welcome to Front & Center, a series highlighting front of the house professionals in Philadelphia restaurants. Right now, Joy Manning, executive editor for Table Matters, talks up Philly's two larger-than-life hosts, Charlotte Calmels and Lêe:
Bibou and Hop Sing Laundromat have epic service [Photo: Zagat/Hop Sing Laundromat]
Charlotte Calmels of Bibou
When Bibou first opened, I was Philly Mag's restaurant critic and had so far successfully maintained my anonymity. So, my first feeling toward Charlotte Calmels, chef Pierre Calmels' wife and front of the house maven/hostess extraordinaire, was fear of being found out. Luckily, I had finished my reviewing visits before she made me—I used my husband's office phone number and a fake name to make our reservations and she called him to confirm her suspicions.
But after that, my fear quickly turned to love, because I don't think there's a soul in Philadelphia who can match Charlotte's big-hearted charm and uncanny ability to keep that operation running perfectly even as she makes a personal connection with everyone in the dining room. Every time I'm there, she fills me in on restaurant world gossip and makes me feel like her all-time favorite Bibou guest (I know I'm not).
And yet she also knows when to give me space on occasions such as my wedding anniversary, which I celebrate there every year now. Her genius is for making you feel completely at ease in her space and it is as important to Bibou's magic as Pierre's peerless food.
Lêe of Hop Sing Laundromat
The first time I went to Hop Sing Laundromat, I was fully prepared to hate it. I thought it was overhyped and the whole faux-secret speakeasy thing had a high potential for pretension. But Lêe (last name unknown) has made it my absolute favorite new place to hang out.
I had to drag my husband there—he has never been a big cocktail fan—but Lêe disarmed him completely by whisking away a drink he didn't care for, talking to him for about 3 minutes, and returning with an off-menu concoction that was exactly perfect. Every time I visit this place, I learn about some unusual spirit or get a tip about how to unlock the mysteries of gin-tasting by paying closer attention to where exactly the spirit hits your tongue when you sip it.
He's taught me how machine-extracted citrus tastes different the squeezed citrus. And he always seems so grateful to those of us who have become regulars even though I'm pretty sure it's Philadelphia that's lucky to have him.
— Joy Manning
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