It’s the dawn of a new era for Philadelphia’s restaurants and diners. Inky‘s Craig LaBan dropped a series of bombshells this weekend in his “Best of Bells,” the critic’s first major reassessment of the city’s foremost dining establishments in nearly five years. The survey brings us five four-bell recipients — LaBan’s highest mark — and delivers a tremendous shakeup to the existing pantheon of premier restaurants. LaBan’s new top five picks are Vetri, Zahav, Bibou, Talula’s Table, and Fountain Restaurant. Only Vetri and Fountain retain the highest honors from before. What’s interesting is, BYOBs Bibou and Talula’s Table join the ranks of the fine dining elite, while former four-bellers Lacroix and the once magnifique Le Bec-Fin get bumped out of the top tier.
Perhaps the biggest upset was the Le Bec-Fin’s downgrade. Citing changing tastes, sagging economy, competition and “an even more inflated ego (Perrier’s),” LaBan dinged the celebrated trailblazer for Philly’s dining scene down to just two bells. Though Zahav earned marks for chef-owner Michael Solomonov’s “intensely personal cultural fusion,” “new repertoire of exotic flavors,” and “a casual vibe more in tune with a younger audience,” Le Bec’s demotion doesn’t come as a complete condemnation of fine dining, as evidenced by Vetri’s and the Fountain’s continued status as four bell holders. Details on what led to his defrocking of Le Bec can be found in this companion piece.