Monday, September 22, 2014
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Le Bec Fin to 'retire'

Its last day will be in mid-June.

Le Bec Fin to 'retire'

Le Bec Fin - a name synonymous with fine dining in Philadelphia for four decades - will "retire" in mid-June. 

Finis.

In its place will be a new restaurant - still unnamed - serving progressive American cuisine. Its chef will be Roxborough native Justin Bogle, who at age 28 was one of the youngest chefs to receive two Michelin stars for his work at Gilt in Manhattan, which closed in December.

Chef Chris Scarduzio, who has had a long association with Le Bec Fin through its founder, Georges Perrier, will be the restaurant's director of operations.

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Perrier stepped down as chef-owner in March 2012. Though it reopened in August 2012 under new management and with a new chef, Le Bec Fin was saddled with its gilded-age, go-for-Baroque legacy. At first, it offered $150-a-head fixed-price dinners. That proved unpopular, and the chef - Walter Abrams - left. Various a la carte options were added. Then two weeks ago came the sudden departure of Nicolas Fanucci, the Le Bec Fin alumnus who had left his general manager's post at the vaunted French Laundry in Napa, Calif., to take over.

"It was time to retire Le Bec Fin," said Scarduzio, who has been working with ownership on the restaurant's future. (Though Fanucci had been identified as owner, the restaurant is in the hands of a private equity group of investors. Perrier owns the building, according to city records.)

"Georges and Le Bec Fin were joined at the hip. There was no separation of the twins. With all due respect to Georges and the brand, Le Bec Fin deserves an honorable retirement."

Perrier founded Le Bec-Fin - then with a hyphen and a French idiom for "the good taste" - in 1970 at 1312 Spruce St. In 1983, he moved it to 1523 Walnut St., where it became one of the landmarks of a Philadelphia restaurant row that grew to include Susanna Foo (now a Chipotle) and Striped Bass (now Butcher & Singer).

Scarduzio said the plan is to close Le Bec Fin in mid-June, likely after dinner June 15.

The downstairs bar will remain open during renovations that will lead to the removal of the landmark's three grand chandeliers and the installation of a new facade at 1523 Walnut St.

When the restaurant reopens in the fall, it will offer fixed-price options but at a "reasonable price point," said Scarduzio. The addition of a bar in the main dining room is being considered. 

Bogle, 32, said he was delighted to return to his home town, where he started as a busboy at a diner in Manayunk when he was a 15-year-old student at Roxborough High.

When Scarduzio, who grew up in Overbrook, approached him to become chef, "I was a little hesitant to be the chef of the third or fourth incarnation of Le Bec Fin," Bogle said in an interview today. But when the decision was made to rebrand, "it became a chance to do something exciting."

Bogle described his cuisine as "cutting edge. But we're not going to label it as molecular gastronomy," a term that even many practictioners reject as faddish or inaccurate. "We're going to be super seasonal - almost micro-seasonal about what we serve." Bogle expects to start at the restaurant in June. 

Weep not for the current chef, Steve Eckerd. He and partners have bought the Mainland Inn in central Montgomery County and expect to reopen it in September. 

Michael Klein Philly.com
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About this blog
Michael Klein, the editor/producer of philly.com/Food, writes about the local restaurant scene in his Inquirer column "Table Talk." Have a question? Email it! See his Inquirer work here. Reach Michael at mklein@philly.com.

Michael Klein Philly.com
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