Patrice Rames and Patou Featured in Play

Posted on Thursday, March 22, 2007

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Chef Patrice Rames’ second Center City eatery blends style and substance to serve up a cuisine that transcends vocabulary.

More than ever, in this age of information, words have power. Just a single word can stir up emotions, bring back memories, or provoke serious change. For fine dining enthusiasts in Philadelphia, the latest word is Patou.

To true culinary devotees, Patou is far more than an obscure French word. It is the namesake of an exceptional restaurant at 312 Market St. in Philadelphia. It is a word that evokes comfort and satisfaction and absolute precision. That is Patou. For those in the know, just the simple utterance of the word will awaken the senses. For any admirer of quality cuisine, Patou will surely become a part of their vocabulary, if it hasn’t already.

For the casual diner, looking for an ideal place to entertain a date, the word Patou will come to represent their newest go-to location. The word will conjure up visions of the perfect evening. Take anyone to Patou for the first time, and when they leave, they will leave impressed.

The source behind this word’s power is Chef Patrice Rames. However, for him, Patou is nothing more than a boyhood nickname. Rames was only fifteen years old when he attended the renowned Ecole Culinaire de Nice. It was there that he became a chef, but his love affair with fine food began even earlier. Credit can be given to his cooking mentors, his mother Raymonde and his aunt Lillianne. It was they who encouraged Rames to pursue a culinary career, and affectionately dubbed him Patou.

Patou is actually Chef Rames’ second restaurant venture in Philadelphia. Twenty years ago, he opened Bistro St. Tropez, which has since become a dining staple in the city.

With Bistro’s success unquestioned, Rames felt it was time to challenge himself yet again. He opened the doors to Patou in 2004. It’s Market Street location presented some obvious advantages, but also some daunting obstacles, as well.

Rames, along with Patou’s managers, knew that in order to thrive on Market Street’s trendy restaurant row, they would have to create a fusion of style and substance. They would have to compliment the fantastic food with an equally impressive atmosphere. Although the decorations, lighting and dining space would require much attention, it was key to keep the cuisine on center stage. After all, Patou was meant to be a restaurant, not a club. Now, three years after opening, Patou walks this line with ease; presenting a delicate balance that makes each visit memorable.

There is no pretentiousness inside Patou. If you are not exactly a refined individual, you will not be looked down upon, but rather catered to by the friendly, down-to-earth waitstaff.

The high ceilings, white walls and open kitchen allow the entire restaurant to feel welcoming. It’s almost as if you are eating outdoors, perhaps in Chef Rames’ beloved French Riviera.

Circular mirrors and oversized canvas paintings give the interior design a further touch of class. Multicolored stage lights combine for a subtle, comforting effect. But it’s the food that steals the spotlight.

Words may indeed have power, but never as much as a remarkable meal can wield.

Amanda Martin, a first time visitor to Patou, served to demonstrate the point. After tasting the fricassee — a dish comprised of wild mushrooms, truffle oil and a creamy bordelaise sauce — she was left speechless. Yes, she was attempting to describe the stunning flavor and the flawless texture of the dish, but at that moment, she and her words were powerless. The look on her face told the story well enough.

This is the effect that most Chefs are after in creating a menu item. If the flavors are combined just right, words like salty or sweet or spicy will never appropriately describe the sensation. Don’t look for any salt or pepper on the tables at Patou. They are not there because they are not needed. Each dish is seasoned to perfection, and you’d never want to mess with greatness.

Some of the highlights on the menu include the pan seared scallops and the breast of duck. Both meals pay tribute to Chef Rames’ Mediterranean homeland.

In this country, the restaurant scene has gone through much change since Chef Rames left the south of France, to come to work in Philadelphia kitchens, years ago.

“Well I think it’s a fantastic city that is exploding with quality restaurants,” he says. “I actually opened Bistro St. Tropez twenty years ago, which is the other restaurant, and I remember twenty years ago there were maybe like three French restaurants. Now there are many many more.”

This influx of French cuisine has undoubtedly gone a long way to modify the American palate. Chef Rames has seen a dramatic difference since the opening of his first restaurant.

“I think it’s terrific,” he says. “Actually, twenty years ago, I think it was quite off. But now I think the American palette is really good. These days, more and more Americans travel. I mean, the world is getting smaller and smaller. A lot of people are coming to the south of France and Paris, so they really know what the food should taste like.”

One thing that the chef values is Patou’s ability to cater to the younger crowd that frequents the social Market Street scene as night falls.

“Patou obviously has the open kitchen, which makes everything accessible,” says Rames. “We also have the wood oven pizza which allows me to serve to even a younger clientele. Some people just have a glass of wine and a pizza or a nice salad, or sometimes just come for dessert. It’s just more inviting. This location is very good for 18 to 35 year-olds.”

So take heed, and remember the password for the perfect evening — Patou.

©Play 2007

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