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Critic Acclaims New French-Basque Tapas by Longtime Fitler Square Cafe

The neighborhood daytime cafe just became a Tuesday-only dinner destination

Café Lutecia, the daytime cafe on the corner of 23rd and Lombard Streets, has given Fitler Square 26 years of some of the city's finest French breakfasts and lunches, including what Inquirer critic Craig LaBan christened "the best tomato bisque in town".

And every Tuesday night since March, the French cafe morphs into a 6 - 9 p.m. Basque bistro, with a rotating tapas menu cooked up in a kitchen made up of a "glorified toaster oven and a soup warmer". This week, LaBan deemed owner Valérie Blum's tapas skills "very good" with a two-bell review. "No ventilation for a real stove and just bare-bones equipment" obviously limits the 60-year-old, cystic fibrosis survivor's capabilities in the kitchen, but even with the little she has, she's managed to catch the attention of the city's most influential critic, and her neighborhood, alike:

But for the most part, her menu is a testament to masterful efficiency and the delight of simple pleasures prepared with a knowing hand. I'm still thinking of the duck confit roasted crisp beneath mushroom sauce over fresh tagliatelle. Or how that braised oxtail's sauce melted into a bed of mashed potatoes. I also loved her mini-gratins, like the one with lightly creamed spinach or cauliflower in béchamel. Also adorable were the tiny croque madame squares ribboned with béchamel and ham and topped with a sunny-side up quail egg.

Cafe Lutecia

2301 Lombard St, Philadelphia, PA 19146 (215) 790-9557