LaCroix at the Rittenhouse


LaCroix at the Rittenhouse
19th and Rittenhouse Square
Credit cards accepted
Open for breakfast, lunch, Sunday brunch and dinner
Reservations an absolute must

Last September, Philadelphia culinary history was made when executive chef Jean-Marie LaCroix, who spent 18 years at the Four Seasons Hotel and forever changed the experience of hotel dining here, opened the beautiful restaurant that bears his name at the Rittenhouse Hotel.

The rooms have a garden feeling, decked out in soft yellows and deep greens, with a natural stone floor and an indoor herb garden. I realized I had not reviewed a Sunday brunch in a long time, and invited my niece Lauren to join me at LaCroix.

We were warmly greeted as the hostess showed us to a table for two by the windows overlooking Rittenhouse Square in nearly full bloom.

About 20 minutes passed before our server came over to us. She recommended the specialty drinks ($12) and the hot buffet from the chef’s table in the kitchen ($43). I instinctively knew she was pushing the highest-priced items on the menu. A Printemps Royal ($12) was kelly green and consisted of Midori-flavored champagne, which I found odd but Lauren liked. Sparkling wines from Alsace are nicely made, so I ordered a glass of Marquis de Perlade, Pierre Sparr ($10.50), which our server immediately said was "a little sweet." The menu states it is dry. She told me she would bring the other champagne, which is not listed on the menu. A glass of Champagne Gosset came with an $18 price tag. The first glass was "off." The second was fine because a new bottle was opened, according to our server.

Sunday brunch consists of two buffets, one for appetizers and one for desserts, and a choice of entr�e. The price of brunch depends on which entr�e ($37-$43) you choose.

The raw bar contained many of my favorites. I found everything immaculately fresh and top-quality. The Chimon oysters with classic mignonette sauce were so cool and slightly salty — as freshly shucked oysters must be — I enjoyed a dozen of them. A three-tiered what-not contained mounds of perfectly cooked jumbo shrimp. Tins of salmon caviar and osetra caviar were nestled in crushed ice. I used the small mother-of-pearl spoons to scoop some onto my plate, along with a small mound of chopped egg white and several blini — thin, small Russian savory pancakes that are traditionally served with caviar. I was in culinary heaven.

Tuna tartar was prepared with top-quality sushi tuna. Salmon tartar was also delicious and I enjoyed sampling them side by side. The house-smoked salmon was divine, thinly sliced and perfect with a squeeze of lemon and capers. Lauren piled the smoked salmon on a bagel with cream cheese. The bagels were on the buffet.

At this point, I realized we had not received a basket of bread like patrons had on the other side of the room. I finally asked someone for some bread and, although the baguette was fresh, our basket did not contain croissants and homemade Danish pastries. No one poured us water, so Lauren asked our server for some still bottled water and a cup of coffee. She brought bubbly Perrier, but quickly remedied the problem.

When we realized we had not sampled the salad buffet, we cancelled the kitchen entr�e ($43) and decided on petite herb omelette with scallops ($38) and eggs Benedict ($37).

From the hors d’oeuvres and salads, I selected pork and shrimp egg rolls that were just OK, but discovered unbelievably delicious Vietnamese spring rolls made with thin rice paper wrappers and filled with julienned vegetables. Whipped creamy chicken liver mousse was piped prettily onto Belgian endive, creating a nice contrast of flavors and textures. Haricots verts were steamed but still crisp, and tossed with toasted slivered almonds and bathed in a light vinaigrette. I especially liked the cool asparagus, enhanced by toasted sesame seeds in a light sesame-oil dressing. A platter of mixed grilled vegetables was also available.

My hot brunch consisted of an authentically prepared petite French omelet, puffy and bright yellow, still a bit creamy inside — what the French call baveuse. It was topped with a small mound of osetra caviar. My plate also contained four seared sea scallops in a light sauce American, made with fish stock, white wine, tomatoes and onions, which were pur�ed and pressed through a chinois.

The eggs Benedict was a huge platter of two poached eggs, fresh spinach and a slice of ham, topped with hollandaise sauce and sitting on a thick slice of French toast. It was delicious.

Pastry chef Fred Ortega and his staff prepare a sumptuous dessert buffet. Homemade vanilla and chocolate ice cream, along with a rich mango sorbet and all the trimmings for an all-American sundae, such as sliced strawberries, jumbo blackberries, whipped cream and hot fudge sauce, were placed on a separate table. Rich, warm banana bread pudding was on another. At the main buffet, I selected cream puffs filled with pastry cream, a slice of Opera cake, a square of dense chocolate cake layered with nuts, and a fruit tart. All were miniature and as dazzling in taste as they were to the eye. There were more sweets to sample, but I just had no more room.

LaCroix uses La Colombe coffee, which was rich and perfectly brewed. We received a big pot so we could refill our cups.

Chef LaCroix and I greeted each other, but I don’t think he knew I was reviewing the restaurant. His wife Vivian arrived and came to our table. I must also tell you that they are our neighbors.

Although our brunch was superb, our server disappeared often and was not watching our table. When she was around, she was always chatty and asking if everything was all right or "Enjoying your brunch, ladies?" The assistant wait staff cleared each plate when we returned to the buffet, however.

Still, brunch at LaCroix is a delicious way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Two-and-a-half tips of the toque to LaCroix at the Rittenhouse.