Le Chéri

By Phyllis Stein-Novack
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 13 | Posted Dec. 19, 2013

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Chef Pierre Camels has expanded operations from his Passyunk Square-based Bibou with the opening of Le Chéri, which is quickly earning a winning reputation for its classic French fare.

Photo by Kathryn Poole

More than four years ago, Chef Pierre Calmels and his wife Charlotte lit up the South Philadelphia dining scene when they opened Bibou, a small and warm BYOB where French cuisine takes center stage. I’ve been there several times and on a brutally hot July day, Calmels arrived in my kitchen armed with a big fatty lobe of Hudson Valley foie gras. He taught me how to clean and prepare this classic ingredient.

When I read this talented pair was to open Le Chéri at the Art Alliance, my heart did pitter-patters. I adore classic French food, and Calmels promised to prepare hearty seasonal casual cuisine in the former Wetherill mansion.

Le Chéri is a term of endearment. Charlotte calls her husband Chéri, or “my dear one.”

Charlotte is the general manager and works front of the house, which she mastered so well at Bibou. She recognized us and showed us to a table for two in one of the dining rooms. We brought a white burgundy and a red burgundy because Le Chéri was still BYOB during our visit. The restaurant now sells wine and will offer harder spirits in the near future.

The Art Alliance is more than 100 years old and is fitted with beautiful dark wood. Little needed to be done since it housed Rittenhouse Tavern. Although Le Chéri is a white tablecloth restaurant, the prices are low for Center City.

Homemade bread and soft butter kept us happy before our starters arrived. You will not find better service anywhere. The wait staff is professional and keeps you to your conversation.

Pate en croute ($8) was a slice of seasoned pork terrine wrapped in savory pastry and served with cornichons. It has been so long since I enjoyed this French classic. The ratio of pork fat to pork was spot on.

From the “bizarre” list of appetizers, Edward ordered the lamb pot-au-feu ($11). Calmels braised lamb tongue, sweetbreads and shank in the stock, and served them in a soup bowl. The tasty combination of textures was evident in this dish. Tongue needs to braise a long time to become tender, which it was. The sweetbreads had a lusty, creamy interior that played off beautifully with the earthiness of the shank. A small dish of silky homemade mayonnaise came with the starter.

The entrees are classic bistro or brasserie fare. I could not decide between the rabbit and the duck cassoulet. Chestnuts are in season, so I went with the ballontine of rabbit ($26) because it featured chestnut spaetzle.

A ballontine is a boned piece of meat or fowl that is stuffed and rolled up. Calmels used foie gras in his preparation, and when my dinner arrived at our table, it looked like a pinwheel. The sauce was extraordinary, rich with wine and herbs.

Braised red cabbage can be tricky since vinegar is an important ingredient. This was perfection. And the spaetzle, as fine and light as my Austrian grandmother’s, were heady with rich chestnut flavor.

Edward’s arctic char ($27) was lightly seasoned and poached in olive oil until translucent. The flesh was light and moist, almost cool in the middle. It sat on a pool of beurre blanc and was served with delicate Brussels sprout leaves.

Desserts at Le Chéri shined just as well as every dish we sampled. Tart tatin ($9) is the classic upside down apple caramel tart, rich with flavor, enhanced by smooth creamy vanilla ice cream. I have not seen Paris Brest ($9) on a Philadelphia menu in many years. Choux pastry was formed into small balls, sliced open and filled with coffee mousse. Tiny chopped bits of chocolate espresso beans painted the lily in this marvelous sweet.

Le Chéri was busy on the night of our dinner. I watched the staff take care of its patrons, and thought it a mighty good idea if the hires went into the restaurant staff training business.

Calmels worked at Le Bec-Fin before he and Charlotte opened Bibou. I have missed the French classics like onion soup, steak frites, cassoulet and so on. Now I know where to find them.

Four tips of the toque to Le Chéri. 

Le Chéri

251 S. 18th St.



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Comments 1 - 13 of 13
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1. Marty Medals said... on Dec 19, 2013 at 08:01PM

“Let the venom begin!”

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2. Tony said... on Dec 19, 2013 at 09:38PM

“Well, Marty, no venom this week. Just exasperation. I don't understand why Phyllis can occasionally respond to food comments but never to comments asking about the process of choosing WHICH restaurants she visits.

Phyllis, what are the factors that go into your choices and what guidelines does the publisher give you? Please answer. We are NOT angry with you. Just really curious. As we should be. After all we patronize the advertisers who subsidize your meals.

Phyllis, please respond.

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3. Steve steak said... on Dec 19, 2013 at 09:46PM

“No confusion here. She liked everything she ordered in this Center City restaurant. However much of what she ordered sounds like garbage. While I don't like KFC/BK/PopEyes etc. the food itself sounds gross - sweetbreads, tongue. Maybe a bit more mainstream would be better.”

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4. Marty Medals said... on Dec 20, 2013 at 08:53AM

“Truth be told, Bibou is one of the finest restuarants in the Deleware Valley.
I would reather read about a return visit to Bibou than about another place in Center City.

Dear Ms. Stein-Novak,
Please look at the following link for a list of SOUTH PHILLY Restuarants to visit.
Thank you

by the way, there used to be a great fish takeout near Castor & Tyson Avenue named "Novaks" Any relation?”

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5. jeanjae said... on Dec 20, 2013 at 09:51AM

“With all the information we have about foie gras, I truly don't understand why anyone would eat it.”

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6. saidsaidsaid said... on Dec 20, 2013 at 10:17AM

“I think PSN will never change either the places she reviews/the slop she orders/the way she does the reviews. Many people have questions about problems they see.

I guess the South Philly Review doesn't give a sh**”

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7. Tony said... on Dec 20, 2013 at 12:28PM

“Marty, I followed your link. Forty "restaurants" which included the likes of a donut shop, some hoagie shops, a deli, and some actual sit-down restaurants where can actually dine. I'm not turning on you, but just do the math: 52 reviews in one year and 40 establishments. Who wants that much repetition?

I am still hoping that Phyllis can talk to her readers and explain how she selects the restaurants she reviews and what guidelines she is given by the publisher.


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8. Tony said... on Dec 21, 2013 at 12:52PM

“I was guessing Phyllis reviewed South Philly restaurants either to meet her 31% yearly quota OR if a new place opened and she could scoop the other reviewers. We don't know, because she hasn't responded to repeated requests to explain her guidelines for selecting restaurants.

But it looks like she missed an opportunity to review a new brunch place at 11th & Wharton. City Paper scooped her with the first review! Let me repeat: A new restaurant opened in South Philadelphia and the South Philadelphia Review has made no mention of it!

You brunchers can read the review at”

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9. PhillyBestBYOB said... on Dec 21, 2013 at 04:37PM

“Concur with PSN, Le Cheri is wonderful. I've been twice so far, and it's every bit as good as Bibou, but with a liquor license (actually the wine list is very affordable, with a very low markup).

Although previous restaurants in that space haven't done all that well, I predict Le Cheri will be a big success.”

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10. S PHIL PHIL said... on Dec 26, 2013 at 12:34PM

“Why all the fuss over a free neighborhood newspaper? It's like fighing and arguing over the Pennysaver. At the end of the day it's a review in a local newspaper ... who cares.”

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11. Tony said... on Dec 26, 2013 at 02:51PM

“The fuss is because the free neighborhood newspaper keeps publishing reviews catering to another neighborhood written by someone born in another neighborhood and living in another neighborhood. And when contacted to stop depositing the free neighborhood newspaper on my doorstep the publisher says he can't control it. I will admit those excess newspapers swirling around my neighborhood are cleaner than the cigarette butts and soda cans deposited by people who live there. No wonder the reviewer doesn't frequent the neighborhood.”

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12. Marty Medals said... on Dec 27, 2013 at 02:20PM

“It's Friday and still no review.
Has Phyliss thrown in the ramikim?”

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13. Anonymous said... on Dec 27, 2013 at 04:59PM

“See? You miss her. You're here just for the sport of dumping on her.”


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