A year ago, Pierre Calmels was still in his gastro-groove, creating the elegant eight-course French tasting menus that helped make Bibou one of the city’s elite four-bell restaurants. Chips of warm chorizo cradled juniper cream. Stuffed quails buried in shaved truffles. Hot goat’s milk souffles quivered with seasonal fruit. Calmels, the former Le Bec-Fin star from Lyon, prided himself on never repeating a dish.
Then came the pandemic, which has been especially cruel to the tiny BYOBs that are the essence of Philly’s indie restaurant spirit. The required reduced capacity for this 22-seater just couldn’t work. “Bibou won’t be a restaurant as we know it anymore,” announced Calmels recently, in a heartbreaking reckoning for the gem he launched with wife Charlotte Calmels in 2009.
And so Bibou Boutique was born, as Pierre turned his craft to the art of charcuterie takeout. He’s tapped the classic skills that earned his pâté en croute third place in North America at a competition last year and is now crafting weekly arrays of mosaic-like potted meats, from duck laced with foie gras, to pork with pistachios and poultry ribboned with preserved lemon. There are bisquey soups, tiny leek tartes gratinéed with Gruyère, hard-to-find boudin (blanc and noir), vividly spiced merguez, and a soulful rotation of dishes that recall Bibou’s origins as a super-bistro, including his crispy pig’s foot stuffed with foie gras over lentils.
Calmels has also revived the $45 three-course takeout meals (like cassoulet) that sustained his family through the first part of this crisis and will hopefully guide them to the other side. And then? Another restaurant?
“I love sharing dinner with my family for the first time in 25 years,” Pierre says. “But … il ne faut jamais dire jamais. Never say never.”
Bibou Boutique, 1009 S. Eighth St., 215-965-8290; boutiquebibou.com