Even though Lacroix was officially the executive chef at The Rittenhouse, his eponymous restaurant was still a year off. Anticipation built while the space formerly housing the hotel's Treetops restaurant was refurbished to its new tenant's exacting specifications. Lacroix at The Rittenhouse finally opened its doors in September 2002, and that month, travel agents probably noticed a major blip in round-trip bookings to Philadelphia as well-traveled foodies and high-profile critics swarmed to the new mecca like locusts descending on a fresh crop of alfalfa.

The sleek, comfortable room is outfitted in luxury materials, used with modernist restraint by veteran restaurant designer Marguerite Rodgers. Each table provides a view of the Square, but your attention will most likely be riveted on the plate in front of you as soon as the food starts to arrive. The flexible menu is partitioned into several sections from which diners can build their own three-, four-, or five-course meals. "I want people to be able to have whatever they want, in any order," the chef says. "If they want five lobster courses, they can get five lobster courses; if they want five desserts, they can get five desserts."

  • Image about Jean-marie Lacroix
Lacroix's current repertoire, developed exclusively for his new restaurant, includes dazzlingly refined and complex creations such as a fricassee of cold-water lobster and escargot with a sauté of Chinese broccoli and black bean and XO (extra old) cognac sauce, or hot smoked-veal sweetbreads with seasonal mushrooms and cocoa and coffee cream. Menu changes are frequent and reflect the season, the market, and the chef's mood.

"My cuisine is French-based," admits Lacroix, "but I can't define my cooking. When something works, it works."

chef's pick
e. guigal saint-joseph blanc 2000 ($20)