Vetri's hosting a series of three dinners this weekend (final one is tomorrow night) in which they transformed the restaurant into Le Bec-Fin (which just recently closed for good). Here's the menu. I wish I had known about this a little sooner or I would have booked before they sold out. Incidentally, Vetri's current location was the original location of Le Bec-Fin. They didn't move to Walnut Street until 1983.
Le Bec-Fin lasted for over 40 years, but couldn't really go on after it was obvious that Georges Perrier's heart just wasn't in it anymore. But 40+ years is a pretty fabulous run.
This restaurant had a mystique unlike any other in Philly - for decades it was pretty much the only true fine dining establishment in the entire city that was really known at the national level. Even now, Vetri is really probably the only restaurant in Philly to have such acclaim. I was lucky enough to be able to scrape together some money as a teenager and have dinner there in March 1996, when the restaurant was still at its height. The cost was an absurd $92 per person. That would be a pretty pricey meal even today. Imagine 17 years ago.
I can still remember everything I had:
Amuse - salmon tartare
Dessert cart - gateau Le Bec-Fin, chocolate souffle
The menu was printed entirely in untranslated French of course, and they did the simultaneous lifting of the cloches. To this day that was the best lobster bisque, and probably the best fish preparation I've ever had. I recall thinking that the rabbit was not bad, but not particularly great either. I wish I could remember more details about the food, but hey it was 17 years ago. I do remember thinking "I still don't know if this was worth it" after going through the sticker shock.
I called to make the reservation for my birthday, around October. I couldn't get a table until MARCH. That's how popular this restaurant was. I told Perrier that I had made this reservation for my birthday (he came and greeted every table after the meal) and he took me on a tour of the kitchen and gave me an autographed book. Really a fabulous host.
Here's an interesting article about the first review of the place in Philadelphia Magazine. Some interesting quotes (emphasis added):
Philadelphia restaurants pay Philadelphia rents and charge Philadelphia prices. Le Bec Fin’s fixed price is $22 a person; a meal at La Panetiére works out at something like $18 to $20 a person. That may seem like a lot—but at Lutece, the only New York restaurant which can give either of them any serious competition, I paid $30 a person~—two years ago, even before Earl Butz became Secretary of Agriculture.
Third, there is no Siberia in either restaurant. Both are too small, too intimate, and essentially too democratic to bother segregating customers. So you never get the feeling that you are sitting elbow to elbow in the room, subsidizing the dining space, if not actually the dinners, of the superstars up front. You sit in the same room, are waited on by the same waiters, and get the same food, as everyone else.
Remind you of any place?
you can expect to get out of here. counting a cheap with. [sic] a 20% tip. and a couple of dollars for the headwaiter. for something like $35 a person. That is about twice what a good medium price restaurant would cost.
$35 in 1974 is about $165 today according to the BLS inflation calculator.
$92 in 1996 is about $137 in 2013 - but that figure doesn't include wine, tax, or tip.
Le Bec-Fin was cash-only in 1974. In today's dollars, that means a couple would have to carry about $330 cash for a modest meal at Le Bec-Fin.