Georges Perrier's newest restaurant is right at home at Boyd's.
Brasserie Perrier at Boyd's
1818 Chestnut St., mezzanine. 215.564.1801
Hours: Mon.-Sat., 10:30am-3:30pm.
Atmosphere: Contemporary in-store cafe.
Service: Politely inconspicuous-smile nicely, and they might offer you a free glass of Chardonnay.
Food: Luxe salads, posh sandwiches, designer desserts.
>Restaurant critics are supposed to be anonymous. They use fake names when making reservations. They don't request special tables or ask to personalize chefs' preparations. They don't take notes in the open. They pay their own checks. They leave.
In short: They try to blend in.
It's hard to blend in at Brasserie Perrier at Boyd's. Boyd's is the decades-old Chestnut Street clothier specializing in expensive men's suits, throngs of salespeople and complimentary valet parking.
The store recently split its first floor into two new departments: jewelry and women's clothing. The latter features conservative garments by Vogue-worthy designers such as Marc Jacobs, Stella McCartney and Dolce & Gabbana.
This restaurant critic doesn't own any couture. She doesn't lunch with wearers of expensive men's suits. She fears she'll never fit in with the well-manicured clientele at Boyd's two-month-old luncheonette, that she'll be outed just past the display of Patek Philippe watches while ascending the marble staircase to the mezzanine-level restaurant.
But this doesn't happen. If Boyd's black-shirted servers notice the hole in her H&M jacket, they don't interpret it as a sign that she's so out of place she must be here to review the restaurant. Instead, they usher her to a table-a pretty good one, within view of the seashell chandelier.
The mini perch of a cafe has pouffy leather banquettes, deep Barney-colored armchairs, silver barstools, plainer bistro tables and overhead lights that resemble silver balls of spaghetti. It's slightly funky.
This puts a cheap-clothing wearer at ease. She settles in and takes pleasure in the realization that she may never be able to afford an Armani suit, but she can swing an $11 panini served on festive Villeroy & Boch dinnerware.
A vegetarian pressed sandwich has ridged toast spread with pesto, and is stuffed with thin layers of soft zucchini, artichokes, tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. It comes with either a green salad-spring mix tossed with itty-bitty chopped onions and tomatoes in a sweet vinaigrette made with 30-year-old balsamic-or orzo salad, rice-shaped pasta blended with a confetti-like combo of carrots, scallions, shallots, onions and chives, enriched with estate-bottled extra virgin olive oil.
Chef de cuisine Daniel Soley describes his fancy oil and vinegar as if they were the natural grain leather on a $900 Lambertson Truex handbag. "They're really nice products, a little more expensive," he says.
The olive oil works its high-end magic on a mayo-less tuna salad sandwich, adding richness to savory belly meat, capers, tomato concasse, shallots and carrots blanketed by slices of hard-boiled egg and pumpernickel.
It also enriches a divine tuna tartare, which looks like a cupcake. The cake part is nutty, lemony, herby couscous layered with tiny bits of cauliflower. Ruby pink morsels of sushi-grade nicely salted tuna look like icing. A chiffonade of pale endive is the decoration.
The menu is salad-heavy-a boon for shoppers planning on trying on $600 Etro capris after their meal. Sweetly flavorful peeky toe crab is tossed with tiny cubes of honeydew and cantaloupe, bitter shavings of endive and lime sesame dressing. Extra leafy greens come tossed with even teensier squares of mango, a sprinkling of feta and a few rings of pickled red onion in lemon thyme vinaigrette.
A tangle of deliciously sour grayish brown soba noodles is laced with wilted baby bok choy and chives. On the edge of the noodles a half-dozen shrimp that have been marinated in sugar, lemons, limes, oranges and mirepoix taste honeyed and fresh, while a soy-based dressing supplies the salt.
Stray from the salads and you'll enter true buttery French territory. A petite filet of striped bass is made crisp and divine, sauteed with fava beans and haricots verts in brown butter. A touch of citrus vinaigrette lightens the dish-but not too much.
More buttered bliss comes in the form of pureed potatoes, a dense pillow for bone-in chicken breast. The meat is redolent with garlic and rosemary, and served au jus. A few asparagus spears separate the bird from the starch.
The most classically French dish here is the croque madame, a grilled ham and cheese topped with two fried eggs (which, one presumes, make it feminine). Soley uses the real deal-jambon and Gruyere, white-as-snow bechamel and impeccably over-easy eggs.