It's a good time to be French in Philly, Craig LaBan made clear last week. And it's not a bad time to be Frenchish, either, if this weekend's two-bell review of Bardot Cafe is anything to go by. While the review is hardly an unmitigated rave, LaBan finds promise in the newcomer — and hopes it could help Northern Liberties make good on the promise the neighborhood once held.
Northern Liberties was once expected to become the next big destination hood. But it has drifted in its rapid decade of growth, skewing younger in its demographic than anticipated (see the troubled Piazza at Schmidts) while Fishtown and East Passyunk have flourished into our own little Brooklyns.
LaBan didn't find the service at Bardot particularly inspired (though in one instance, it paid off — eggs en cocotte got high marks, even if they were delivered to the table in error), but chef Rhett Vellner's food impressed, even if sometimes took significant much license with tradition:
There is no cream in cassoulet, for example, and tarragon is a weird herb to use. It also needs more beans. But there was no denying, as I munched through the crock of duck confit, Toulouse sausage, and kale (another interloper), that it was a delicious, satisfying meal.
All of the pastas on the menu were "worthwhile," the spaetzle in particular "impossible to stop eating," which helps reinforce that not being too obsessively French may be serving the restaurant well. A special nod of appreciation also goes to the "outstanding" burger.
Unfortunately, LaBan found the cocktails "forgettable, veering towards weak and unbalanced." (Wine is a better choice, in his estimation.) Notably, this is a major point of disagreement with City Paper critic Adam Erace's opinion — he found almost all of the food too rich, though he liked a number of dishes, but singled out the cocktails as "refreshingly straightforward and well balanced."
All told, the concensus seems to be that Bardot is worth a look now, while it still has plenty of room to grow and improve.