Sitting at the bar for the seven-course tasting menu is one part feast, one part dinner theater because of the glimpse you get into the life of the tiny kitchen.
Good to Know
With so few seats and so much acclaim, it can be tough to get a reservation. When all else fails, follow @biboubyob to hear about last-minute cancellations.
The Sunday night four-course prix fixe is one of Philadelphia’s best values in dining.
Foie Gras (however it’s being served when you go)
The Floating Island Dessert
If you have a special bottle you are saving, this BYOB is what you have been saving it for.
Reservations for the chef's tasting dinners at Bibou are now available exclusively on CityEats. Dinner is $70 per guest and two seatings are offered each night at 5:30pm and 8:30pm. Reservations can be made up to 30 days in advance.
When we Philadelphians slide into a restaurant inferiority complex, we need only think of Bibou, the off-the-charts-brilliant French BYOB in Bella Vista, to lift our spirits and bolster our pride.
More famous food cities have nothing like this, and even snooty New Yorkers pack up their showoff vintage wines and haul them to this tiny storefront on dingy South Eighth street for a taste of chef Pierre Calmels’ genius.
With only 30 seats and more media accolades than would fit on the walls of the dining room, it can be hard to get in the front door, especially on weekends. Many loyalists hold weekly or monthly “standing reservations” which can make a random Thursday night feel like a private party shared by the city’s luckiest gourmands.
But the fact is, food this impeccable generates an instant conviviality that spreads across the dining room even when the tables are all strangers. A visit will linger in your mind and on your palate for days. The escargots, a bistro standard, set a new bar for buttery snails. Not only are they reliably tender and flavored deeply with garlic and herbs, there is always some small twist in their preparation that makes the classic feel totally original. (Fresh green, not dried, chickpeas were one such variation I continue to dream about at least a year later.)
Soups are a special strength of the chef. A recent example saw an improbably flavorful combination of purple potato swimming, with a quail egg and trout roe, in a pool of sunchoke puree enriched with stock. Seafood dishes, like meaty, perfectly cooked cod wrapped in pastry and served atop two complementary sauces, are always outstanding.
The menu is grounded in the French techniques. Calmels, who worked for some of the world’s finest French chefs, including Philly’s own Georges Perrier, embraces whole-animal cooking. (A foie-gras and lentil stuffed pig’s foot has been on the menu since day one.) His bone marrow is served in a split bone stuffed with a mélange of the rich marrow, toasted bread crumbs and herbs. This gutsy approach defines everything he serves, whether it leans in the direction of ultra refined or truly rustic.
And it isn’t just the food that makes this place unforgettable. It’s the experience of being in the restaurant’s warm embrace, safely cocooned from the troubling slings and arrows of life outside its walls. It’s Pierre’s wife and front of the house manager Charlotte’s mastery of service. It’s the servers who crumb your table with such aplomb you might think there were crystal chandeliers overhead instead of the plainest drop ceiling.
Unlike so many restaurants of this caliber that have come before it, Bibou will put you at ease. Wear a cocktail dress or jeans, bring your fanciest bottle of wine or something you drink every day. There’s no pretense—just some of the very best food you’ve ever tasted and the loveliest time you’ve likely had in while.
After cooking for more than a decade at numerous Michelin-starred restaurants in his native France, chef Pierre Calmels came to the US where he continued to work for some of the food world’s most respected French chefs, including Daniel Boulud and Georges Perrier. Before opening Bibou in 2009, he had been the longtime executive chef at Le Bec-Fin, where he mentored some of Philadelphia’s most promising young cooks.
For every reservation that you make and honor (you actually show up at the restaurant and have a meal) on CityEats.com, you will earn
CityEats Rewards points. If you then write a review of your dining experience, you will earn an additional
points. Once you have collected 2,500 points, you can redeem them for either a $25 gift certificate or a charitable donation in the amount of $25.