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Bibou, Chef Pierre Calmels' French BYOB on S. 8th and Kimball Street in Bella Vista

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French BYOB close to the Italian Market

It's not that the food wasn't great. It was. But Bibou was more a revelation in the atmosphere it produced; homey and intimate don't nearly encapsulate the feeling we had by the end of our meal. If the words don't do it justice, well, use your imagination. Here are a few snapshots from the night--

Our sexagenarian server in an amusing French accent- "I have one order left of the last oysters of the season. West Coast. Very briny."

Later on a lamb special- "We also have lamb chops from Colorado. Very expensive." (They were $45).

After reading some of the reviews I thought I could prepare myself for the bewitching effects of charm but the earnestness and honesty of the place resonated deeply.

We started with the oysters (which were more briny than I'm accustomed to from the west coast), a first for my dining partner. Overhearing us Charlotte (Chef Pierre Calmels' wife) came over and told us how she didn't try oysters until she was 29. Tonight was my lady's 28th birthday. More traditional foodie note-The mignonette they served with the oysters was mild enough not to overpower the Pacific ocean.

Next up was the escargots in a bordelaise sauce with trumpet mushrooms, fava beans, tarragon, and plenty of diced shallots. Really delicious and wonderfully different from the classic butter-garlic version most are accustomed to. We cleaned out the snail shaped bowl with our bread.

I was able to talk my partner into the veal bone-marrow, which came next. It was decadently rich and served in the bone. It resembled stuffing but was so concentrated I actually asked my adopted papi/server why he brought it out before the fletan (halibut)--he replied "We just wanted to slow it down for a nice dinner." Maybe I've eaten in and worked at too many bistros but a novel concept like "slowing down the meal" really floored me.

The halibut didn't blow me away, but that was a good thing following the bone-marrow. Served with an English pea puree and orange Sicilian veal jus it was a model of restraint. The fish itself was expertly cooked and flaked under the pressure of a fork edge. This was all despite the fact that they split the dish, unrequested.

As advertised Chef Calmels did indeed stop by the table. Maybe it was the wine, which by the way was the only disappointment of the night (thanks in part to the terrible selection of Philly's "premium" PLCB stores), but I blurted out something like "If I were a writer I'd say we are full in belly and spirit." Ugh. Might as well have just drunk texted him..

The [less feminate synonym for magical] evening wrapped up with one last bit of grace-- while we posed for a self-shot outside of Bibou a busser/food-runner (who had early recognized my dining partner from her work at a tavern he frequented years back) came outside and took the picture for us. I've had some fantastic dining experiences in Philly over the years (Tinto, Morimoto, etc.) but Bibou would be the very first place I would return to.

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Bibou. I'm starting to think that the BYOB thing is a little overrated, at least in terms of thinking that you're going to have a brilliant night out. A lot of pretty good meals at Bibou, Fond, Couchon, and so on, but nothing that makes me lay awake at night pining. Think of them as really excellent neighborhood places; they don't seem to trip over the top into the top tier of fine dining.

Had a lovely little bit of pig's foot with lentils and a fine steak at Bibou. The snails with fava -- what's not to like? But it didn't illuminate anything. Surprisingly, frog legs really do taste like chicken. The chef was gracious, the waiter effusive, the decor minimal and the ice cream a little crystal-y. Had I lower expectations, it would have been perfect.

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Think of them as really excellent neighborhood places; they don't seem to trip over the top into the top tier of fine dining.

Had I lower expectations, it would have been perfect.

Fair enough. I favor neighborhood spots over fine dining but admittedly am relatively new to dining with expectations of any kind.

Still wish I had been able to talk the +1 into getting the duck hearts dish...

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Bibou for Dinner - Superb french food BYOB. The Philly critics says it is one of the top places in town and I tend to agree. Had some delightful, tender escargot with wild mushrooms and a very nice poached short rib which was extremely tender and full of flavor. My wife had a a nice perfectly cooked brill filet and a starter of foie mousse and seared foie. Both excellent. Execution and taste of the food was nearly perfect. Highly recommended.

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The wonderfully charming sexagenarian waiter and homey atmosphere is still there.  But we weren't enthralled with the food at Bibou, even though everyone around us seems to love their dinners.  This is one case where we must say "it's not you, it's me" to the restaurant, and the rustic style of cooking here was most definitely not our thing.  Perhaps we were mowed down by a mob of roller wielding French grannies in a previous life.

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