Jean-Marie Lacroix, chef
Lacroix at The Rittenhouse
210 W. Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia
(215) 546-9000, www.rittenhousehotel.com

If you want a good steeping in the American past, go to Philadelphia. The place exudes history the way Los Angeles emits smog and Houston seeps crude oil. One of the loveliest spots from which to soak up Philly's tradition-laden atmosphere is Rittenhouse Square, a beautiful parklike oasis first envisioned by William Penn and now surrounded by some of the city's most distinguished architecture.

The square was named for David Rittenhouse, a noted astronomer, surveyor, instrument maker, and philosopher who was a slightly younger contemporary of that other Philadelphia polymath, Benjamin Franklin. Today, a prime address for visitors to Philadelphia is The Rittenhouse Hotel. The hotel's flagship restaurant, Lacroix at The Rittenhouse, beckons with a distinctly Gallic siren song from amid the Federal-period townhouses and later condos.

Jean-Marie Lacroix was born in the Franche-Comté and got his formal training at Thonon-les-Bains, on the French side of Lake Geneva. His career took him to Switzerland, England, Scotland, and Canada before he landed in Philly in 1983 to open the Fountain Restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel. He ran the kitchen there for nearly two decades, putting his indelible stamp on Philadelphia's burgeoning culinary scene. Just when he was toying with the idea of retirement, the chef was enticed to The Rittenhouse in 2001, the same year he won the James Beard award for best chef in the mid-Atlantic region.