Nicolas: I am very excited to be a part of this discussion.
Craig: You seem to have taken Sunday's 3-bell review like a real pro. (Here's a link: www.philly.com/labanchat. The headline is "Le Bec Rising," and the new version is a big improvement over what I left with 2 bells in February.) It may not have been the 4-bell rave that I think lots of people were hoping for, but I saw many, many positives in what you and chef Walter Abrams have created there after just a few months. How is the team feeling this week?
Nicolas: We are very happy about your comments regarding our kitchen and dining room team. It's been only three months and we are proud to have gained 3 bells.
Reader: Recently there has been a number of well-known chefs (and restaurateurs) gravitating to Philadelphia, Nicolas included. What do you think is the draw?
Craig: Great question, with the arrival of so many chefs from out of town. Many, like Gregory Vernick (of Vernick Food & Drink), or Andrew Wood (of Russet) are local guys coming home from New York and California. Others, like Peter Serpico (soon to open Serpico on South Street with Stephen Starr), are coming without any Philly experience. We are definitely gaining some new national allure.
Reader: Could you tell us a bit about Chez Georges Kitchen and its offerings?
Craig: Chez Georges is a nice way to step into Le Bec and get a sense of a kitchen that still knows its classic roots without committing to the $150 menu upstairs.
Nicolas: Chez Georges is another restaurant with a different kitchen. Very traditional French food, wonderful cocktails. We are starting a wine tasting event every Thursday night with our sommelier, Philippe Sauriat.
Craig: Speaking of menu prices, some people have expressed both delight that you have an all-vegetarian tasting menu option, but also surprise that it too costs $150. Does the price of ingredients have an effect on what a meal costs, or is it simply the real estate, the experience, and the labor that drives the bill?
Nicolas: Well, the question is, is it worth it? I can have a $12 pizza and don't think it was worth it. I am very proud and confident about what we charge.
Reader: What is your reaction to Mr. LaBan's opinion of the renovations that you undertook? Would a different approach have attracted a newer generation of diners.
Nicolas: Our goal was to stay true to the French dining- room style from the 18th century. Our guests also truly love the changes we have made, especially the salon at the entrance.
Reader: Was there ever any thought given to dropping the prix fixe price? I'm a 27-year-old city dweller and I think my age demographic is pacing the restaurant revival, but upward of $400 for a meal seems to price out a lot of us.
Craig: The question is a good one. I believe price speaks as much to demographics as decor. But going a la carte is more complicated than it may seem. It may have been the final undoing of M. Perrier's Le Bec Fin.
Nicolas: We serve lunch at $55 and it's a great value for five courses. We also have Chez Georges with an a la carte menu, but if you want Le Bec Fin, come for lunch.
Craig: Isn't it important for Le Bec, with aspirations to be a trendsetter for the city, to prove to even younger, less affluent diners, who are now incredibly savvy about food, that you can provide a once-in-a-lifetime experience the rest of Philly's food scene can't offer, that is worth that lofty price. It's hard to do that on lunches alone. Or is it one step at a time, maybe?
Nicolas: Le Bec Fin and fine dining are classics like Chanel or Jaguars. However, we need evolution in everything. Our team is all about evolution and collaboration.
Craig: Nicolas, we've run out of time! Thank you so much for coming by the chat room, and best of luck with Le Bec's future - may you thrive for many years!