French cuisine is usually served atop white linen, in Rittenhouse spots like Lacroix. So it's a surprise to find two of Philadelphia's best French menus below South Street.
Lauded local French-born chef Pierre Calmels recently returned to cook at his Bibou on Eighth and Kimball (between Carpenter and Washington) after two years working at his other restaurant, Le Cheri in Rittenhouse.
Nearby, Francophile David Ansill made the move to Good King Tavern, at Seventh and Kater. It’s a return to the cuisine he was known for at Pif, an innovative "French peasant bistro" that closed in 2007 — and was at Bibou’s current address.
"This whole area, with Bibou and [Bistrot La] Minette and us, it's the French Quarter down here," says Ansill, who is also the chef at Spanish spot Bar Ferdinand, across town in Northern Liberties. "I use classical French techniques and cross borders at Ferdiand. That skill, that feel never goes away."
The owners of Ferdinand, Owen Kamihira, and Good King, Bernard Grigri and his daughter Chloe, are friends. When Good King lost its chef, Ansill stepped up to oversee both restaurants. "I liked the challenge of keeping French cuisine affordable yet chef-driven," he says.
Chloe Grigri adds that Good King is striving to reinvent French classes, "with his special touch, and expertise, un-definable but uniquely David's."
For Chef Calmels and wife/restaurant co-owner Charlotte, the non-stuffy neighborhood vibe and affordability are why they set up shop south of South. "It's lovely there," says the one-time Le Bec Fin chef. "When Pif closed, we drove by all the time. That neighborhood spoke to us. We knew we'd have to offer diners something special, though.
“Why else would they walk out their front door, let alone take a $10 cab from Center City?"
The menu at Bibou, a BYOB, is prix fixe, with seven courses for $100. Good King is more casual.
On the menu:
At Good King Traven, Ansill and sous chef Mike Blau have put together a menu with classics like escargot and duck confit, as well as a salmon pave with truffle, almond, Dijon and fresh pea shoots.
Bibou offers a different menu each week: This week dishes include chilled kabocha squash and crab bisque; foie gras with pumpkin bread in a red wine duck sauce; and lamp strip loin.