The best French food in Philadelphia can be found at Bibou, a charming BYOB in the Bella Vista neighborhood. No surprise – Chef Pierre Calmels is from Lyon.
We live in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, which is both unfortunate and fortunate from a dining perspective. It’s unfortunate because we have the most arcane liquor laws in the country. Due to these laws, we can only buy alcohol in state-owned stores, and the selection of wines can be far from adequate. Also, libations here are heavily taxed before the full service restaurants add their ridiculous markups for wine. This means that dining out at fully licensed restaurants can seriously impact the wallet. Fortunately, we have a large number of Bring Your Own Bottle (BYOB) establishments, which allow us to bring whatever liquor we like, usually without a corkage fee. These BYOB’s are fairly common around here and feature some of the best cooking talent in the city.
Saturday night was Mindi’s birthday – a special event that called for a special meal with special wine. Such wine would be quite expensive on a restaurant wine list. However, we have some great bottles of wine in our basement – some procured locally, some given to us as gifts and some procured during past trips to California, France and Italy.
Enter Bibou, which is not only one of Philadelphia’s best BYOB’s but also one of the city’s best restaurants period.
Bibou is a highly rated French bistro owned and managed by renowned Lyonnaise Chef Pierre Calmels and his wife Charlotte. We were lucky to score a last-minute reservation at the popular restaurant which is located just a few blocks from our house.
We arrived at the cosy restaurant with two bottles of wine – a Napa Valley Sterling chardonnay and a 2000 Aloxe-Corton premier cru from Antonin Guyon. The restaurant initially seated us at the counter until our table was ready. This gave us a wonderful spectator seat to the hustle and bustle of the tiny kitchen. In fact, we liked the counter so much that we decided to stay there when our table was ready.
Food at Bibou
Before our first courses were served, the chef treated us to hot salsify and frangelico soup with quail eggs and salsify chips.
Then came our first course dishes. The savory and satisfying escargots with fava beans and chanterelle mushrooms were served in a spiral plate that served as an artistic echo of the dish. The tartare de thon, an ahi tuna tartar with pickled squash and spiced butternut squash glaze, was both beautifully plated and perfectly prepared.
The first courses paired wonderfully with the white wine, but it was now time to open the red. And what a fabulous red it was – a 2000 Aloxe-Corton from the Côte de Beaune in Burgundy. To our pleasant surprise, the thirteen-year-old wine still contained traces of its youth with fairly aggressive tannins on the palate. Even better, it was a food friendly wine that invited us in with its fruitiness and mildly dark finish.
Our main courses soon arrived. The pied de porc was a braised pig foot stuffed with foie gras and served with black lentils. The bone marrow was rustically prepared with potatoes and bread crumbs. The unctuous pigs foot was melt-in-your-mouth delicious while the light crunchiness of the breading provided a perfect counterpoint for the rich bone marrow.
Before our desserts appeared, the kitchen sent out a cheese plate with Fourme d’Ambert, Selles sur Cher and a savory cow cheese. Sliced apples and tomato jam complemented the cheeses.
Dessert at Bibou
After the well-balanced cheese plate, we were ready for our deserts, and out they came. We had never eaten the dessert known as floating island until our recent trip to Lyon, and suddenly this was our third time in just a month. As new floating island experts, we can report that this was the best version yet, perhaps because it was served with home-made almond pralines and goat milk creme anglaise. The mango meringue tart served with berries did not disappoint either. To top off the meal, the chef sent out one last treat – mini doughnuts and meringues with a birthday candle.
Although we only had to travel five or so blocks to get to Bibou, we felt culinarily transported back to France. What a happy birthday it was!
Bibou is located at 1009 S 8th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147.
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