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[Avi Berkowitz/The Daily Pennsylvanian]

There isn't an awful lot that can distract a person from the beautiful view from the second floor of The Rittenhouse Hotel. The cuisine at Lacroix at The Rittenhouse is one thing that can. In bringing his culinary genius to Rittenhouse Square, the renowned Jean-Marie Lacroix seeks to offer his patrons the finest in traditional French cuisine with maximum flexibility -- the tasting menu is available in three sizes, three ($55), four ($65) and five ($75) courses, with an optional cheese selection ($6) and dessert included. Choice is the operative word at Lacroix. And the choices are superb. Compliments of the chef, an uni soup appetizer with smoked eel and fish fum‚ was an elegant beginning. The creamy, almost meringue-like sea urchin broth was breathtakingly delicious in its simplicity.

Lacroix 210 W. Rittenhouse Square (215) 790-2533 Fare: French
Among the "first plates," the velout‚ of green lentils stands out -- a sublime, thick puree accompanied by perfectly matched veal sweetbread and foie gras. Similarly, the Hudson Valley duck foie gras was magnificent, an extremely flavorful terrine accentuated by a succulent cabernet and port wine reduction. The generous Scottish pheasant plate was excellent, but the natural glac‚ and sauteed Fuji apples, sweet and understated, made the dish. The artichoke rilletes p‚rigourdine, accented with shaved black truffles, were a pleasant light interlude in an otherwise overwhelmingly rich meal. Almost unspeakably delicious, the seared sushi grade tuna with a sweet carrot puree was a highlight among a meal of incredible dishes. Served rare, the tender cube of tuna is a transcendent delight in a lobster emulsion. Almost equally fantastic is the lapin and homard duet. A sweet, buttery cut of rabbit is wrapped around Maine lobster, a perfect combination. Lacroix's other lobster offering, the cold water Maine lobster, prepared perfectly "monte au beurr‚" with amaranth and stewed prunes, was mouthwatering and tender. The sauce foyot only made it more so. Lovers of red meat need not fear: Lacroix offers several expertly prepared cuts. The whole roasted lamb loin "porterhouse," accompanied by a barley risotto, and the saut‚ed beef tenderloin, topped with garlic escargot and served in a sherry wine vinegar sauce, were both superb and juicily tender. Prepared medium or rare, each is as delicate and flavorful as anything on the menu. As one might expect from a restaurant employing a "maitre fromager," Lacroix's cheese selection was astounding, and, at $6, a bargain. Outstanding choices include a roquefort-infused goat cheese and the English farmhouse cheddar. Of course, no fine French meal is complete without a "sweet plate" finale. The chocolate souffl‚ with Spanish almond ice cream was, unsurpisingly, delectable, as was the tropical crŠme brul‚e, served with an ethereal "fruit foam." Both served as fitting conclusions to a monumental meal. With no disrespect meant to the chef, Lacroix boasts a treasure equal to the food: sommelier Eric Simonis. The restaurant's resident wine expert, Simonis' selections to accompany each dish is nothing short of brilliant. With the Maine lobster, Simonis served a spicy, fruity New Zealand sauvignon blanc. The strong scent of passion fruit and mango, and the complementary flavors, made this an eye-opening pairing. The riesling he picked for the velout‚ was magical. Sweet whites accompanying the foie gras and another with crŠme brul‚e were fantastic. Always eager to assist patrons, Simonis is a resource ignored only by the foolish diner at Lacroix. The wise patron will put himself in his hands and be amply rewarded. Enjoyed in a beautifully appointed, serene dining room, waited upon by the extremely attentive and helpful staff, Lacroix is much more than amazing food. It is one of Philadelphia's premier dining experiences. And for those looking to make a night of it, the answer is right down the hallway from Lacroix. The Boathouse Row Bar, the Rittenhouse's small but elegant drinking establishment, offers an extensive selection of libations in a regal setting.
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