Chef Philippe Schmit's Philippe has been getting serious buzz. Eating Our Words spoke with the chef himself as the opening days approached, and Katharine Shilcutt's first look proved that the wait was well worth it. Then Mai Pham went to the restaurant's glitzy opening.
All this added to my excitement when I found out I would be having dinner there with some close friends. Would my experience live up to the hype?
Philippe Schmit calls himself the French Cowboy, and this almost oxymoronic title can be used to describe both the space and the food. When entering the restaurant you first see the lounge, the "Cowboy" side, with its dark wood and deep coloring. Upstairs in the dining room, the "French" side prevails. The sophisticated and modern glass fixtures intermingle with the classic French chairs and banquettes, and the femininity of the pink tulle-like material floating above you is a complete contrast to the lounge below. It's a comfortable space, airy, light-filled and inviting.
Our party arrived in the early evening, and the dining room was slowly filling up. No thought of pretentiousness crossed my mind; I saw guests dressed to the nines as well as more casually attired patrons.
The customer service is something to be noted. An empty glass or a finished plate was never left for more than a few minutes, and the service was attentive but not pushy. Our waitress even regaled us with stories of the chef coming in before the staff and leaving after the staff to attend to his baby, the drunken fois gras. She talked of the kitchen being even larger than the dining area, with a private kitchen just for the Cowboy himself.
Whether true or not, something is being done back there to produce truly amazing food. Each plate was met with oohs and aaahs and even moments of pure silence. Schmit does not like to call his food "fusion," and I wouldn't call it that either. The most successful dishes were either great takes on classic dishes or the meeting of opposites, instantly attracting.
The delicate flavor of the ravioli filled with Berkshire pork was elevated by the heat and smokiness of the accompanying chorizo smoothie. The Classic Steak Tartare was just that, classic, needing nothing more than the quail egg and the capers to add to the tender beef. The scallops were perfectly baked and paired with a Jack Daniels and veal reduction, channeling both French sophistication and cowboy rusticity. Even dessert featured juxtapositions of flavor. The "undone" Strawberry shortcake was sweet and sour; the French Cowboy churros were sweet, but their dark chocolate and salted caramel was almost savory.
It was a great dining experience and at the end of the night as we walked out of the restaurant, the Chef was there to ask us how everything was, to which we could only reply, "amazing."
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