Le Philosophe doesn’t look much like a French bistro. Aside from the French food lingo printed on the walls, like “Plat Du Jour” and “Bouillabaisse,” there’s nothing particularly French about this spot, located on a chic stretch of Bond Street in NoHo. Instead of tin ceilings, tiles and red banquettes, there’s black ceilings, a sea of twinkling little votives to light up the dimly lit space, and an open kitchen with a teeny bar in the rear. (It ain’t no Balthazar.) The crowd is interesting and eclectic. There’s young and old, couples, girls’ night out, and I even spotted a baby in the dining room on a recent Friday night.
Le Philosophe doesn’t look like the new “It” restaurant, but it’s as nearly impossible to get a reservation right now. So what’s all the fuss about? It could be their wondrously plump Bouchot Mussels basking in an addictive broth that’s flavored with aleppo peppers, leeks, potatoes, creme fraiche and god knows what else, but it’s excellent. (And there’s plenty of bread to soak up any leftover broth with!) It’s a dish rivaled only by the Cured Foie Gras Terrine, sided by Quince Jam and thick, Toasted Brioche to smear the wonderfully unctuous, salt-cured paté on. You could easily make a meal of these two dishes alone, but pace yourself there’s more to come.
Le Philosophe’s Cured Foie Gras Terrine
The chef is Matthew Aita, who spent time in the esteemed kitchens of both Daniel Boulud and Jean-Georges. But don’t expect light, contemporary riffs on French fare. The spirit of the menu is old school and unapologetically rich, with some modern liberties taken to keep it interesting. There’s Frog Legs with Hen of the Woods Mushrooms, Sunchokes and Garlic, a Steak Frites with Bordelaise Sauce, a tasty Roast Chicken with Pommes Dauphine (puffed potatoes) and a fines herb jus. Whatever you do, get the Duck A L’Orange. It’s an outstanding rendition of this warhorse dish — a Roasted Duck, sliced and sauced with an atypically light Orange Sauce alongside Turnips, Greens and an incredibly silky bed of Pommes Mousseline (mashed potatoes). The only thing better than the Duck at Le Philosophe are the Fries (ask for them well done!), which come showered with fresh herbs and oodles of salt. My only gripe is that they’re served the French way, with a side of mayonnaise. Ask for ketchup and your server will likely turn his American nose up at you, as if you asked for your salad dressing on the side. But ketchup or no ketchup, these are some of the best French Fries in New York. The weakest link on the menu is the Lobster Thermidor, which comes steamed in butter, and further obscured by a a paving of Piave Cheese. The Roast Chicken with its Baby Carrots and crispy Potato Puffs is a better bet.
You won’t have room for dessert, but order one anyway. There’s a fine version of Profiteroles, or a cheeky version of Tarte Tatin, made not with a crust, but with a shortbread cookie bottom, layered with caramelized apples and topped with a luscious scoop of Buttermilk Ice Cream.