Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Fountain chef William DiStefano is cooking like it's 2012

Gallery Image
Jim Miller, a server at the Fountain since it opened in July, 1983, examines glasses as fellow servers prepare the dining room of the Fountain Restaurant. (David M Warren / Staff Photographer)
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About the restaurant
1 Logan Square
Philadelphia, PA 19103
215-963-1500
Rating:
Neighborhood: Logan Parking: Valet parking costs $27 for up to 12 hours.
Handicap access: Wheelchair accessible.
Hours: Lunch Monday through Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Dinner Tuesday through Saturday, 6-10 p.m. Breakfast Monday through Friday, 6-11 a.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 7-11 a.m.
Reservations: Recommended
Open Table
Prices: $$$$
Payment methods:
American Express
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MasterCard
Visa
Cuisine type: American; Seafood
Meals Served: Breakfast Brunch Lunch Dinner
Style: Philly’s gold standard of posh hotel dining room may now be our last bastion of classic dining luxury, but it’s still shining under the watch of recently promoted chef William DiStefano to lead the Fountain’s kitchen. DiStefano has lightened-up some of the sauces, with a knack for exotic spices and contemporary ideas that lend international intrigue to the elaborate and inventive plates, now served only in three- or six-course tastings. Paired with some of the smoothest, most seasoned service in town, the Four Seasons still delivers a taste of special-occasion opulence that is increasingly rare.
Specialties: Veal brisket ravioli; oat-crusted arctic char; duck with duck “scrapple”; rabbit tenderloin; frog legs fricassee; steamed halibut; lobster “paella”; Moroccan-spiced grouper; venison with chestnut bread pudding; Meyer lemon basil tart; apple sticky toffee pudding; cheese trolley. Tasting menus: $80 for three courses; $120 for six courses. No a la carte.
Alcohol: One of the city's major cellars features 400 labels, with a focus on prestige French regions, but also a wide international range, with slightly lower markups than in the past and a 60-bottle list under $60. Superb sommelier advice led us to interesting, esoteric bottles at accessible prices, including an Alquezar Moristel Somontano from Spain ($38) and a fabulous Rhone-style white from Stolpman in California, L'Avion ($70).

Retained 4 bells.

"The death of fine dining" and "imminent change at the Four Seasons" are two refrains I've heard often the last few years.

But thankfully, no one's yet taken that to heart at Fountain Restaurant, where such veteran servers as Jim Miller and Ron Streicher still buff the crystal to a gleam and pamper customers with cheese-cart luxury like it's 1999. The grand room, at once dated and timeless, is no doubt evocative of a fading Philadelphia era.

It's all the more surprising, then, that Fountain chef William DiStefano is cooking like it's 2012 - and proving a talent worth wider notice.

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  • Fountain Restaurant
  • His name may be unfamiliar, but his food isn't. The 42-year-old from Upper Darby took over the restaurant chef's job a year ago, but has been with the hotel for 23 years, the latest lifer in a long line (after David Jansen and Martin Hamann) to run this thoroughbred kitchen brigade, where there are no shortcuts, and the world's best ingredients are limited only by the imagination.

    That wasn't a UFO on my plate - it was a giant raviolo stuffed with tender veal brisket and ricotta, perched like a flying saucer over a green halo of herb oil beneath a creamy caper foam.

    DiStefano has a lighter hand with the thick demi-glace sauces of years past, and an enthusiasm for exotic spices that give this menu an international flair. A red-curried brick of lemongrass-steamed halibut comes over black rice beneath a cashew souffle and a fried zucchini blossom. Chorizo oil lends Andalusian punch to a saffron rice for the deconstructed paella, ringed by butter-poached lobster, crispy bass, giant shrimp, and mussels. Turmeric is balanced by honey, lavender, and thyme from the hotel's rooftop beehive and garden for a crust of blended oats for the arctic char.

    As always, the classic luxuries here still shine: Big productions such as the panna cotta-like pedestal of sweet-pea chibouste topped with burrata cheese and poufs of fresh pea shoots, ringed by a necklace of lobster. Or rabbit transformed three ways - the delicate saddle grilled, the bones roasted down into champagne-mustard vinaigrette, the legs turned into rich rillettes crowned with a golden disk of brassy gelée of orange. Or how about succulent venison loin, roasted rare, beside a creamy chestnut bread pudding topped with porcini?

    The pastry kitchen delivers its own exquisite delicacies, like apple sticky toffee pudding with cognac ice cream, or a playful Meyer lemon tart that looks like a snail trailing blueberry compote. I'm just as happy, though, to simply inhale the aromas when the gorgeous crystal cart with 20-plus artisan cheeses is flipped open.

    Personable young sommelier Scott Turnbull has thankfully assembled a fine list of 35 wine values under $60 to balance the otherwise extravagant markups still weighing down the vast 600-label cellar. It's a welcome attempt to reach an audience beyond the blue-blooded habitués who still embrace this kind of classic fine dining. As long as talents like DiStefano still man the stoves, I'm happy to send all splurging diners the Fountain's way.

    Craig LaBan Inquirer Restaurant Critic
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