Sometimes I walk into a restaurant and think, "This is what MY restaurant would look like if I had one". A few weeks ago when my husband and I walked into the new, "hot right now" restaurant Bibou, I thought just that.
We stepped out of our cab on South 8th street, looked at each other and said in unison, "This can't be right". Bibou was, and still is, one of the hot new restaurants in Philly and we were standing in a residential neighborhood near Washington Ave...and not a very nice neighborhood at that (we read that it was near the Italian Market, but apparently it wasn't quite as close as we had imagined). But like I always say...good things come in unassuming packages so we waved the cab goodbye and looked around for the restaurant. When we finally spotted the small, tasteful sign on the front of Bibou and walked inside we realized that we were a bit ashamed that we were so quick to judge the location. The interior was warm and cozy. It was a typical row-house-turned-restaurant. It was simply decorated (I actually recognized a few pieces from Ikea) and approachable. A decor like that is always a sign to me that the chef is focused on one thing and pretty much one thing only...the food. Speaking of the chef...
I think the reason this small, out of the way French restaurant was such a big deal at opening is because of the chef. Bibou's chef and owner, Pierre Calmels, opened Bibou after leaving arguably the best (and unfortunately most expensive) French restaurant in Philadelphia, Le Bec-Fin. He had a lot to live up to by "breaking up with the band" and heading out to work on his solo career. I'm pleased to say that it looks like his solo career has success written all over it.
The hubby and I perused the menu online before we left for dinner that evening (as we always do...I think reading menus is almost as entertaining as a good novel...don't judge me). We walked in knowing what we wanted. We would fight over sharing the foie gras or escargots appetizer (in the end the waiter told us that the foie was small and that we should just order both...he lied...it was a lovely size but in the end I'm happy he did). Then the hubby would have the foie stuffed pig's foot, and I, the veal with crispy sweetbreads. I LOVE sweetbreads...AKA, the thymus gland. Gland-o-rific! The prices were what we expected, on average about $25 per plate. And I think that if you're heading to a place that lets you bring your own booze and serves you food this good, $25 per plate is a downright steal.
Now...the food! Starters first:
The foie gras was seared to perfection, of great quality and it came with a lovely dessert bread. I love it when chefs pair foie with something sweet...maple syrup, french toast...foie gras has a sweet tooth in my opinion that just can't be satisfied.
The escargots (my pick...love me some snails) was even more amazing. The hubby disagrees, but I'm writing the blog so I say it was better. Why such strong feelings on the escargots you ask? Well, I loved it for a few reasons. Reason number one: You could actually taste the snails. I can't tell you how many times I've ordered escargots and it's been drowned in garlic and cooked all to hell. They were served as a ragout with fava beans, mushrooms and tarragon. I'm sure there was a bit of garlic in there but not enough to repel vampires. Reason number two: The textural difference between the firm fava beans and the tender escargots was a home run. I think people shy away from snails because of the texture, but this preparation could turn a meat and potato guy into a beret wearing, wine drinking, snail loving foodie. Reason number three: It was served on a snail shaped plate and it was beautiful. Who wouldn't love that presentation!!!???
For the entrees the hubby won, hands down. He ordered what I'm sure is the house specialty, the foie gras stuffed pigs foot. I know what you're thinking. Don't pigs have hooves? How do you stuff a hoof? Well my friends...you don't. Instead you take the hoof out, retain the skin and fat that covered the hoof...then stuff it with foie gras. Serve it over some of the best lentils you've ever eaten and you get.....ta-da! Foie gras stuffed pig's foot. If you're on a diet, please don't order this. I'm sure the fat content alone is enough to send shooting pains down your left arm, but I'm sure it's worth it. The rich foie actually melts into the pigs foot and flavors the fat inside. When you cut it open you get this fatty amalgamation packed with flavor. I was told by the waiter that some people have a bit of "trouble with the consistency" of the pig's foot and he recommended stirring that fatty amalgamation into the lentils. The hubby had no such problem but stirred some in just for fun. He was in heaven folks.
I ordered my entree for the sweetbreads. The veal medallion that accompanied it was extra in my mind. Unfortunately, and I hate to tell a French born and trained chef how to cook, but I think my veal medallion was overcooked. Maybe it was a cut I've never had before and was in fact supposed to be cooked that way but I can't say for sure. I told the waiter to please cook the veal "as the chef would" which usually gets me good points with the chef AND gets me the most wonderfully cooked meat imaginable. Apparently, though, I think Chef Pierre likes his veal overcooked. But not to worry folks. It was served with a delectable sunchoke sauce (plate-licking-good sauce) and like I said...the medallion was the icing on the cake. I was there for the sweetbreads and they were amazing!!! I ate them as slow as I could and let each piece fall apart on my tongue. Are there any sweetbread virgins out there? If so you MUST try them. These were crispy on the outside and pure butter on the inside. The flavor is mild and a bit gamy...you'll taste a hint of that "organ-meat" flavor but that's what makes them so delicious! And if you're looking for a place that does them right, look no further than Bibou.
Stuffed with foie gras, escargots, pigs feat and sweetbreads...not to mention a a half baguette of delicious French bread smothered in imported French butter (Pierre bakes his own bread and butchers all of his own meat...like all real men should) we opted out of dessert. We him and hawed about it but in the end we decided to walk our way back towards Old City, pleasant tastes still lingering on our tongues. As we paid the bill, pleasantly surprised at how reasonable the prices were considering we were pretty much transported to France for the evening, the hubby looked into his wallet and said, "We have enough left over to hit a few bars on the walk home". An amazing food journey that leaves you with enough cash for a night cap!? Now I see what all the fuss is about.
**I recommend reservations**
1009 S. 8th Street
Philadelphia PA 19147