1009 S. 8th Street
(215) 625-2923

Little beau Pif (as in Little Bo P"ee"p) is a rendez-vous between French Foreign Legion ambiance and world-class French bistro cuisine. The petite dining room is a Gunga Din den whose white tiled floors are cracked and in need of repair. The ceilings remain as remnants of faux-stenciled soiled cardboard.

Wood panels of guillotine quality undergird maroon chair-railings. And two mirrors, one round a la droit, and one brown au gauche, look at each other knowing for whom la "belle" tolls.

Seated in the middle of a melange of low-backed wooden chairs, a few with caning, among a baker's dozen tables with white linen tablecloths, hungry patrons' gazes look out through the large storefront window to see across the street:



Defenestration seems a patron's option; but then one's ears are diverted by hi-fi speakers spilling out French chansons and accordion music, recordings of Edith Piaf's favorites. One's nasal passages simultaneously converge on the redolent wafts of toasting walnuts, roasting chickens and sizzle-boasting shallots. The room begins to spin as the aromas of foie gras terrines, tuna nicoise platters and steak with mounds of frite pass by your head, handily carted by aproned waitpersons in black tee's and dark green pants.

When the olive bread and sour dough slices arrive, gratis, to the accompaniment of a doilied bowl of fresh butter, the restaurant becomes transformed into a charmingly endearing cafe.

Listen to me. Come early on a week night (closed Mondays) without having had lunch. Stretch your appetite a few hours to accommodate the abundance and exquisite heartiness of Pif's ponderous white-plated repertoire, to which you must add your BYOBest.

Allow me to mention only two of the appetizers, Endive Roquefort Salad ($8.50) and Tomato Napoleon ($7.50). The former is so simple, gorgeous and bittersweet, it's impossible to prepare for this salad's complex aftertastes. An eight-pointed round fan of golden endive leaves is used as a circle of canoes about to travel in all directions at once. Their rear quarters are submerged by matchstick slices of endive bulbs, cubed apple chunks and chopped warmed walnuts. All is inundated by puddles of extra-virgin olive oil, sparingly squeezed lemons and daintily crumbled Roquefort cheese. Sherry vinegar mists can be perceived; hints of mayonnaise and sour cream are rumored; and white pepper pampers in all its cheeky aftermath. Your mind paddles toward remembrances of Pere Goriot and Madame Bovary.

The Tomato Napoleon is a slinky-high layering of thickly sliced Jerseys, oven dried, orange, sun dried and amber fruity tomatoes amply oiled. The anointing liquid would last a Peugot a few hundred kilometers. With a wick, this concoction could set the Eiffel Tower ablaze. A mouthful brings groans of French vowel-couplings, "ou, ai, ay, eu" as your lips pucker, slurping and simpering. No need to swallow. The slippery salivations suddenly, surreptitiously disappear. Your legal larynx begins to emit the Napoleonic Code, with tongue in chic.

I shall allude to only one entree: omitting the scandalously scrumptious seared Scallops with Truffle Vinaigrette ($23); passing over the Crispy Soft Shell Crabs ($25) whose bowled flexuous bodies are blatantly bereft of a scintilla of sogginess; in favor of honing in on the most delectable Roasted Chicken Breast with Mushrooms ($20) I've ever tasted.

This chicken's chest is so fantastically dreadnought and hypertrophic that it has to be sliced with a huge wooden-handled steak knife. The breast is already deboned and pre-divided into five unskinned portions. Each needs subdivision, so one's utensils seem first to act as surveyors' tools. Then the heavy knife glides amongst the breast pieces, creating sublime glistening morsels, now skinless and denuded into impudicity.

To describe what enters upon your tongue as "moist" or "succulent" is too sorrowfully drab. This breast is brazenly swollen with juices of caramelized onions, fingerling potatoes, garlic globules and simmering crushed peppercorns: it's savory skin has encased and preserved every oozing ounce of heartwarming miasma. You observe your steak knife quivering. You realize your carving hand is shaking in anticipation of cajoling your restocked fork hand toward your opened jaws. Then you spot the mushrooms, multitudes of them, from criminis to oysters. They languish amongst cubed potato specks on a bed of sopping sweet spinach. You can't help but laugh, that low guttural French guffaw, at your good fortune.

The former shebang is now Versailles.

David Ansill, Pif's chef and proprietor, occasionally takes a break to sit on a barstool at a spirit-house of a mini-bar at the kitchen's outer edge. He watches you devour his creations. He has piercing, sacerdotal grey eyes. His open sandals reveal that he has a hole in one of his socks. You suspect that Madame DeFarge is a relation.


Copyright 2004 Richard Max Bockol, Esq. Back