Critic Craig LaBan's review of Le Bec-Fin at the tail end of the Georges Perrier era will forever sit in the legendary category, an epic takedown of Philly's most famous restaurant ever. Especially since LaBan was always President of the LBF Fan Club long before the rest of Philly became obsessed with our restaurant scene. With a new owner in place at 1523 Walnut Street, LaBan re-visited for the first time since Nicolas Fanucci took over. He found amazing food, but middling everything else. LBF 2.0 earned three bells from LaBan, but it certainly read like a two-beller.
"I feel hopeful, buoyed by three excellent meals. They were also extraordinarily expensive (no surprise), the eight-course $150 dinner ending up costing $500 for two all in, with only modest amounts of wine. And new owner Nicolas Fanucci has made a potentially serious misstep by not undertaking a bolder revamp of Le Bec's classic decor - which would have been a sign that he sees a new vision for the restaurant's soul, rather than a polished rendition of its past."
LaBan finds immense talent and creativity in the kitchen, falling all over himself for many of the dishes that executive chef Walter Abrams is pushing out of the kitchen. LaBan loves Abrams' excellent sourcing and foraging skillset, and the addition of more humble and blue collar ingredients to the menu.
But, the decor feels antiquated, and the wine list is top-heavy which limits who can get the full LBF experience. Both of those issues are serious, as the new Le Bec Fin needs to grab an audience it lost, and one that's never been before.
"This was a rare opportunity to attempt something inspired both in concept and look - a proper nod to the past, but wrapped in an inviting embrace of the future, or at least a room that doesn't feel funereal when half-full," said LaBan. "What's wrong with a little fun?"
Overall LaBan is hopeful for the future because of the talent working the line, but his biggest gripes are ones that can't be updated quickly, or cheaply. He notes that the full-on LBF experience for two people will tip the scales at $500. This first fall and winter season could truly make or break LBF 2.0, which thrived for 40 years the first time around.