251 S. 18th St.
Philadelphia , PA 19103
Neighborhood: Rittenhouse Square
Parking: Street parking.
Handicap access: Wheelchair accessible (with advance notice for portable ramp).
Related reviews: Calmelses' Le Cheri: Back to bistro
Meals Served: Dinner - Wed., Thu., Fri., Sat., Sun.
Style: Pierre and Charlotte Calmels embrace a true bistro spirit (and a liquor license!) in an elegant Art Alliance restaurant more than twice the size of their tiny Bibou. The food is a shade less expensive and refined than at its four-bell sibling, but Pierre resurrects French classics from quenelles to boudin noir with such passion, the icons of Larousse Gastronomique taste fresh again. The noisy space still feels unfinished, but a welcome sense of accessibility - both seats (first come, first served at the bar, plus garden seating) and low markups on the French wine list - means more can experience the Calmelses' special magic. Reservations are required for dining rooms, but 14-seat bar is walk-in only.
Specialties: Steak tartare; French onion soup; cream cheese ravioli with truffles; salad Lyonnaise; poached foie gras; cobia gravlax; boudin noir; bavette steak-frites; fish ravioli; rabbit ballotine; arctic char; quenelles; choucroute; salt-crusted whole fish; foie gras-stuffed quail; gateau Paris-Brest; triple mousse au chocolate.
Alcohol: About 100 labels of French (and some Swiss) wines anchor a list representing most regions of France at extremely fair prices; markups average only 75 percent of the bottle cost. Explore some great values (Dufeu Bourgueil, $46; Rolly pinot noir d'Alsace, $53; Maby Lirac, $53; La Pierre Cotes du Jura, $49; Corsin St. Véran Vielles Vignes, $55) or splurge for P. Rion Chambolle-Musigny 2011 ($126) or Corton Grand Cru from Domaine Chandon de Briailles 2008 ($198). There's also a French craft beer list worth exploring, and artfully balanced cocktails (Sazerac, Moulin Rouge) made with French spirits.
Weekend noise: The front room, at 88 decibels, is slightly quieter than the 93-decibel back room. (Ideal is 75 decibels or less.)
Hours: Dinner Wednesday through Sunday, 5-10:30 p.m.