Chez Colette

Hotel Sofitel
120 South 17th Street
(215) 564-7258

Someone has cleaned house at "the home of Colette." What had been a jejune, cold dining appendage to an otherwise retro-spiffy French Sofitel Philadelphia, has been modified to magnifique.

Inside the lobby, business people lounge in Bergamo-upholstered sofas while being served Grey Goose martinis at La Bourse bar fifty yards from the entrance to Chez Colette. In the art deco atmosphere of La Bourse, waitstaff promenade in glamorous Diane von Furstenberg-inspired wrap outfits. A torch singer and pianist entertain the circadian clientele, including Air France pilots and personnel, amongst flutes of Moet et Chandon.

Yet when one had previously meandered toward the restaurant, there was a sense of having joined the bedraggled French Foreign Legion.

Now, au contraire, there is an oasis of palms, and the redolence of upscale sultry Paris.

Kurt Fisher, president of Confrerie de la Chaine des Rotisseurs, and a professor at Johnson & Wales University, was consulted to reposition the look and feel of the menu. Chef Sylvain Harribey was promoted to Executive Chef (a former Sous Chef at Aquitania at the Sofitel in Bordeaux Lac). And Chef Rodney Stockett, formerly of the Ritz-Carlton, complements the team's output of traditional, yet innovative French brasserie fare, with a flair.

Breads appear first in a basket, about which a butter bowl flirts. The daily rotation of eleven flavored rolls and lengths of doey concoctions are baked on the premises, in ovens mirroring those in France. The heated fragrances are gripping, as butter melts to cascade upon your tongue.

With great luck, you will have ordered a bowl of Cappuccino De Champignons Sauvages Aux Marrons ($6), a deeply satisfying winter soup replete with wild mushrooms and chestnut cappuccino. One's mouth is enveloped by frothy foresty morsels, sweetened by a chorus of nutty nuances: a profluent picnic in the woods.

Nor should you mistakenly overlook the following hors d'oeuvres:

un) Tartare De Thon ($12), an Ahi Tuna Tatare served with black sesame wafers, cylindrically molded over fanned, thinly sliced cucumber. The mounded fresh fish flesh maunders from jaw to jaw, dissolving with supplicating spurts of richness. It's coat of glistening lemon olive oil coaxes and coddles your larynx toward an imperceptible inner Piaf shriek.

deux) Foie Gras De Canard ($15), a saucily seared Hudson Valley duck foie gras with condensed huckleberry juices served with warm brioche. The duck's innards are satin and pink. They must be cut into small bits, for to taste too much at once is startling. One's mind must be set on favoring savoring. Your lips part to accept the portion. The hairs on your fingers, if any, rotate to perpendicular. If without hair there, the little fingers on each of your hands revolve in deasil uniformity.

Trois) Portobello Puff with Goat Cheese ($10) cannot be translated, other than to say "French Kiss."

Entrees, aussi, are studded with successes. Loup De Mer Roti ($22) is roasted Chilian sea bass bristling and pompous above a throng of crushed Peruvian potatoes surrounded by shallot sauce. The bass is thick and wondrously white, as if it were a grand opaque iced wedding cake. It mists and quivers as your knife nudges generous flakes from its fish flanks. A spoonful of dense potato catches a bouquet of golden shallots before you swallow.

"Viandes" are highlighted by a Black Angus New York Strip ($28), "grille, beure au Roguefort avec pommes de terre Fingerling." Miniature cigar-shaped, unpeeled, brown potatoes point shamelessly at a 14 ounce blushing steak, naked from the plate up. So perfectly stationary, you tend to slowly push the platter with thumbs and trembling forefingers to glimpse at it from all angles. When you cut a section, a chartreuse, neon light appears from its girth. Bathed in Roguefort butter, it bristles at the end of one's fork, preening at the potatoes. Then you succor its salaciousness in a chew or two.

The creme de la creme of Chez Colette are the desserts. And the Praline Souffle Glace ($6) is without peer. The Count of Monte Cristo would have stayed in prison, if it were served there. Pere Goriot would never have been written if this dessert were on the table. Chevalier should not have smirked. Lautrec couldn't have painted in its presence.

Your spoon reaches deeply into a cold turine of solid mocha praline cream, where bon-bons of caramel-like substances dwell in freezing anticipation of discovery. The candied mixture concentrates on your upper palate, the former melting as the latter numbs. Joyous juices dance, as your tongue does the Can-Can. Swoosh with Grevalia coffee.

Colette, for whom the restaurant is eponymously named, was the outrageously sensual author of Claudine at School and Gigi. She engaged in affairs in the mid-1800's frequenting forbidden bars where risque behavior was her forte. She became a journalist writing often of the decadent Parisian social world; the brasserie scene. Her follies, and this restaurant are tres enviables.


Copyright 2004 Richard Max Bockol, Esq. Back