Fountain chef William DiStefano is cooking like it's 2012
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.
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.