Chef Joncarl Lachman is one of those people who sees something missing in the marketplace and fills the hole — even if we didn’t realize there was a hole. Before the Southwest Philadelphia native returned home from Chicago to open Noord on East Passyunk Avenue in 2013, there wasn't a high-end Dutch/Nordic restaurant in Philly. So too with Neuf, Lachman's new North African-French bistro that opens in the Italian Market Wednesday.
"I'm not trying to be different, but I certainly prefer to be," says Lachman with a laugh. "I want to cook what's inside of me. That makes me nervous — I want it to be right — but that's the only way I can open a restaurant. Besides, Philly's ready for different."
Lachman says Neuf, which he’s opening with husbandBob Moysan, has a “tattered elegance” to the décor, riffing off the lived-in look of an old house in South Philly. Design elements include a distressed-silver cocktail bar and worn-looking wood.
"That look and feel is very much in my wheelhouse — homey, a little rough, filled with the traditions of home cooking," Lachman says. The hominess is echoed in the "fisherman roots" of the menu, which features deep roasted and braised items (the chef says that he can’t wait to do a zesty roasted goat dish) along with bright spices.
"At Neuf, I use many of the same cooking techniques that I do at Noord. That's why it sticks in my brain and in my heart,” Lachman says. “[It’s] cooking with passed down traditions.”
What to eat
If you're building what Lachman calls, a "sexy, candlelit spot," then the food that follows should be a sensual experience. Menu items like the Moroccan tajine (or tagine), cooked and served in an earthenware pot with chicken, lamb shoulder and/or vegetables in a cinnamon tomato broth, is best served for two.
You can get bouillabaisse for one at Neuf, but the fish and broth-based meal is so much sexier when ordered for a pair. As for kushari (or koshari), an Egyptian street food with macaroni, lentils, rice and tomato-vinegar sauce, you can handle that one on your own.