Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve died and gone to heaven. At least, that is how I felt after dining at Chef Pierre Calmels’ Bibou– the tiny 30 seat French BYOB in Bella Vista. Reservations at Bibou are hard to come by considering I have been trying to go since my arrival on the doorsteps of Philadelphia last summer. After having dined there shoulder to shoulder with other diners I learned that most at the restaurant are die hard regulars and usually make their reservations for their next meal on a weekly or monthly basis. It’s no wonder the restaurant is always full (word to the wise: make your reservations well in advance).
Chef Pierre Calmels is no stranger to the Philadelphia dining scene. He was the long time executive chef of the renowned Le Bef-Fin mentoring some of Philadelphia’s finest chefs. Prior to which he worked in some of the best kitchens in the country including those of Daniel Bouloud and under Georges Perrier at Le Bec-Fin. He opened Bibou in 2009 and immediately gained loyalist amongst the city’s gourmands.
The menu changes often to offer the freshest seasonal ingredients and innovative dishes. Yet, some dishes are staples. This includes the ever tender and flavorful escargot. On first thought, one might not think twice about ordering escargot, especially those who are put off by images of snails. Yet the escargot at Bibou proved to be quite extraordinary. Perhaps it the fact that the snails are slow poached and cooled gradually in the most flavorful broth made up of butter, beef stock, mousseron mushrooms and fresh garbanzo beans. Eaten with a side of french bread, these snails were to die for.
A seasonal dish which was appetizing and visually stimulating was the soft-shell crab. A crispy and tender crab presented itself to me covered in chopped tomatos and a citrusy based sauce. The dish is offered as an appetizer or an entree and was an instant hit. Next was the country paté dish- a delicious slab of mixed meat with sundried tomatos, dried apricot and rosemary; with a cassis reduction. For those who love a good paté, here is a warning: this dish will leave you wanting more and will remain with you and your taste-buds for days to come. In fact, it’s been a week since our visit to Bibou and I have been dreaming of this plate ever since. It is not to be missed.
The bone marrow, another stable Bibou dish, was served in a split bone stuffed with a rather salty mix of bone marrow with toasted bread crumbs and a range of herbs along a side of potatoes. Being a big fan of anything to do with bone marrow, I loved the buttery and strong marrow flavors of this dish yet found it to be just a tad bit on the salty side. The Onglet de Boeuf was one of the most tender and meaty hanger steaks I’ve yet to taste served in a green peppercorn sauce with a side of fingerling potatoes and green asparagus.
Dessert as usual consisted of most of the offerings on the menu: the floating island, dark chocolate tort and lemon souffle glace. All three amazing and perfect. The dark chocolate tort is what every warm chocolate cake should aspire to be: warm, soft texture with just the right amount of sweetness and the taste of bittersweet chocolate. The floating island, a classic french dish that I became quickly addicted to in my years in France was so good that I was tempted to order another. A fluffy, light meringue floating in a sauce of creme anglais made with goat’s milk. And while the two vanished within minutes if not seconds, we contemplated a third. Our server recommended the lemon souffle glace: An ice-cream like texture with creamy tart lemon flavor served with a berry reduction on the side it did not disappoint.
Our dining experience was so lovely and we were so satisfied that neither of us wanted to leave. We quickly made friends with our neighbors and together revelled in the extraordinary brilliance of Bibou. I only wish they would expand their space so that more diners can have access to Chef Calmel’s magic.