Thursday, February 19, 2009

Le Bec Fin: The Right to Refined Taste

photo from Le Bec Fin's website

It was my last stop of Restaurant Week, having previously been greeted at Lacroix by a charming yet disappointing Monkfish. Subsequently, I decided to explore what wonders lay in the fruit of a culinary marriage between Steven Starr and renowned Chef Morimoto. Despite a succulent White Fish carpaccio and oysters that my friend and I rapidly devoured (flouting the trademark warning to savor slowly), my elation was quickly thwarted by the non-presence of a certain Steven Seagal-looking, sushi-chopping, galactic blazer-wearing Iron Chef. So onto Le Bec Fin, it was.

Arms crossed, brows furrowed, and heads tilted at a 45 degree angle, my friend Nicole and I stared intently at the 6’’x 12’’ framed picture of the bird hanging on the bathroom wall of the restaurant. We had just finished our meal and in the spirit of French culture, it was now time to discuss the Arts.

“See! A “Bec Fin” is a species of bird,” Nicole said.

I grimaced. “Hmmm…well, I’m pretty sure Mélanie said something about French royal snobs in class”, I replied.
We simultaneously turned our heads counter-clockwise as if to gain another angle and thus (miraculously) more insight into the origins of this poor little bird. As French majors, fresh off spending a year abroad in Science-Po and the Sorbonne, nothing could get by us.

It turns out something could. The literal translation of a “bec fin” is a fine beak. Idiomatically and colloquially speaking it describes a person of refined or discriminating taste. When I walked into George Perrier’s Le Bec Fin, the ambiance was conspicuously meant to convey such a message. The décor of the restaurant is akin to that of a traditional French tea house. With its ruby stained carpets, rich mahogany furniture, and gold accents on the ceiling, it brings to mind Parisian staples La Durée (home of legendary macaroons) and Angelina’s (acclaimed for its ultra-rich chocolat chaud). The lush display of pastries alludes to the decadence of Versailles, or simply put, Sofia Copolla’s rendition of Marie Antoinette - mouthwatering enough for me. Most importantly the restaurant manages to reconcile the collective appreciation of fine dining with the intimate feel of a private supper.

In terms of the meal, I can only comment on what I had, but I will try to exhaust the recollection of my five senses so to give you a more wholesome feel of the food on and beyond my plate. For the appetizer, I ordered the Mushroom Ravioli which arrived in a petite-sized miso soup-type bowl. Nicole and another friend Steven ordered the Goat Cheese Tart. The ravioli was as it should be; tender, rich, and flavorful. Served in an ivory sauce of cream and mushroom and seasoned to perfection (no extra salt and pepper needed), the Mushroom Ravioli provided the adequate whetting of appetite. Our forks made successive clinks onto our plates as we eagerly awaited the next course.

For my entrée, I ordered the Sautéed Scallops served on a bed of lentils in a beurre noisette (brown butter) sauce. Despite my resistance towards lentils, I found the earthy texture from the legume and supple consistency of the shellfish to be a graceful combination. I’ve had good scallops in Philadelphia but I must say that these ones--tender, not over done and perfectly seared--wowed my taste buds. I did try some of the Salmon Confit in saffron sauce that another dining partner, Brandon, ordered and although I was impressed, I was happier with my pick. The Hanger Steak in the Sauce Bordelaise however, is something I might have considered trying judging by the looks of it (not to mention that it was the most fragrant of all of our dishes). Unfortunately, all I know is that it’s served with pommes purées and looks hella good.

For desert, I opted for the Crème Brûlée which succeeded in achieving its bronzed caramelization and not-so-rich custard, but failed in being presented to me at above room temperature (that’s just how I like it). Honestly speaking, I was pleased enough with it not to even remember what my friends ordered.

Altogether I give Le Bec Fin a thumbs up and can fully certify that the hype is justified. Some other features that I thought were pretty neat about the restaurant are its 5 course lunch taster, its “legendary” patisserie (desert cart), the private dining option in the Mezzanine Garden Room, and its inexpensive happy hour at the Bar Lyonnais. So if you want to invest in good food, even if it only carries you a couple of hours, Le Bec Fin is a fine place to tweak your beak.

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