When internationally acclaimed chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten opens his first Philadelphia restaurant this summer in the swank new Four Seasons hotel, there will be at least one item on the menu Philly is very familiar with: cheesesteak egg rolls. Vongerichten is headed to the top floors of the 60-story Comcast Technology Center for Jean-Georges Philadelphia and a lounge called JG SkyHigh. Down on street level, his former colleague, James Beard Award winner Greg Vernick, is just about ready to debut Vernick Fish. Both will officially open the same day as the hotel, August 12, and reservations are available now.
Let’s start on the ground floor. For the past three years, chef Vernick of Rittenhouse’s Vernick Food & Drink has been working with the Four Seasons to realize his longtime dream of opening up his spin on an oyster bar.
Looking out onto Arch Street, Vernick’s third endeavor (after Vernick Coffee Bar in the same building) is considerably more spacious and design-oriented than his Rittenhouse restaurant. Tihany Design, whose portfolio includes two Four Seasons hotels in Dubai and the iconic Breakers in Palm Beach, outfitted Vernick Fish with planks made to look like drift wood, shell-like terrazzo tiles, and pops of oceanic blues. A sizable bar caters to walk-ins, while the midcentury-styled dining room is better for those in for a multi-course meal. Diners in search of more intimate culinary action can take seats at a raw bar and chef’s counter. There’s also a private dining room, and outdoor seating in warm weather.
Coastal cuisine has always been a passion for Vernick. “It’s lighter, it just feels better. It was the natural progression of our restaurants,” he says, thinking back to the early days of Vernick Food & Drink when he would spend hours in the basement butchering fish. And when Vernick would travel with his family, the destination was always ocean-adjacent. Sampling seafood in the U.S. and abroad got the chef thinking: What does an oyster bar look like in Boston or Charleston versus the Pacific Northwest, or coastal towns in Spain? For the opening menu at Vernick Fish, Vernick and chef de cuisine Drew Parassio are incorporating all of those influences.
Opening a seafood-focused restaurant also brings up a question about responsible sourcing. “Sourcing is a big conversation, it’s massive,” says Vernick. “Obviously we want to stay local — a combination of ocean, fresh water, farm-raised, and preserved. We’re looking to create a nice balance.”
Sharing the same address with Vongerichten, who Vernick spent seven years working with in New York, is another plus of the new venture. But with nearly 1,000 vertical feet between their restaurants, there is plenty of room to breathe.
“Our regulars are a huge part of what we do and I want them to feel like this is also their restaurant,” Vernick says. “I love my partnership with the Four Seasons, but at the same time, in order to capture the city and capture what we’re trying to do, Vernick Fish almost has to feel like a free-standing restaurant.”
And now, up to the top floors of the tallest building in the city. It’s an ear-popping, 48-second ride in a glass elevator to reach Jean-Georges on the 59th floor and JG SkyHigh lounge on the 60th.
“Philadelphia chose us, which was very flattering,” says Vongerichten when asked why he’s setting up in the new incarnation of Philly’s Four Seasons (the hotel closed on the Ben Franklin Parkway in 2015 in anticipation of this reopening).
Vongerichten also has a restaurant at the Four Seasons on Paradise Island in the Bahamas, but his reasoning for coming to Philadelphia stemmed from a relationship that’s much closer to home. Brian Roberts, chairman and CEO of Comcast, is a neighbor of Vongerichten’s in New York and a regular at his restaurants. When Roberts told him that he brought on architect Norman Foster to design the skyscraper, Vongerichten was in.
“I’m a big architecture lover. When I was a kid I wanted to be either an architect or a chef — I was not good enough in school to be an architect,” he says. “I’m really fascinated by architects and designers.”
With Foster already designing the exterior of the building, Vongerichten suggested hiring him to plan the interiors of the restaurant and lounge as well. “When you have the best, you have to use them all the way. And here we are,” he says, looking around the stunning dining room, where floor-to-ceiling windows offer panoramic views of the city. Enhanced by a soaring mirrored ceiling to add even more height and optical allure, the views here were previously only accessible by drone or helicopter, the hotel says.
With views like that, you don’t need a lot of fuss in the decor. The look of the dining room is smartly elegant and understated, with a neutral palette and clean lines.
The menu, executed by chef de cuisine Nicholas Ugliarolo, is a mix of signature dishes from the Jean-Georges collection and locally inspired options, some plant-based, some from the land, and others from the sea.
Vongerichten’s style couldn’t be further from that of the Fountain, the flagship restaurant at the Four Seasons when the hotel was in Logan Square, but there is one legacy dish that will pay tribute to the hotel’s past.
“We have one item that they’ve asked us to repeat for the bar upstairs, which was very popular actually,” Vongerichten says. “It was a Philly cheesesteak but it was in a spring roll wrapper.”
All in all, Vongerichten is taken with Philadelphia, pleased to be working in proximity to Vernick, and feeling quite warmly towards the city as a whole: “It’s a great town, it’s a great food town. People are so nice and we’ve found some great talent for both front and back of the house. An exciting moment!”