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Avance, The Fat Ham, Rosa Blanca: Big openings on the way

Meet Avance's pastry chef, Tova du Plessis.

November's boom of restaurant openings will slop over into December.

On the calendar (all targeting Dec. 6) are:

Avance, 1523 Walnut St.: Philly-born, New York-famed chef Justin Bogle in a progressive American restaurant at the former site of Le Bec-Fin.

The Fat Ham, 3131 Walnut St.: Chef Kevin Sbraga's ode to modern Southern cuisine in the Left Bank in University City.

Rosa Blanca, 707 Chestnut St.: Chef Jose Garces' Cuban diner.

All three locations are construction sites at the moment, and it takes some imagination to envision the decor.

The Fat Ham (which you can see more of here), in whitewashed wood and brick, appears closest to completion.

Rosa Blanca's bar will wind along the dining room beneath oversize metal-caged ceiling fans.

Avance's sleek wood-clad dining room will be accented by living "green" walls and dangling chandeliers.

I ran into Tova du Plessis, Avance's pastry chef, who is a story herself:

She's 28. Born in South Africa. Married to her high school sweetheart, Brad, a rep for a winery.

She grew up in a kosher home and was sent first to Israel and then to the States for college, as her goal was to become a doctor.

After getting her bachelor's degree from the University of Houston (biology, minor in nutrition), she realized that she did not want to go to medical school.

She enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America's campus in Napa Valley.

While she was working as a pastry chef at the Restaurant at Meadowood nearby, who should come in as a guest chef but Zahav's Michael Solomonov.


"I was shocked! An Israeli restaurant in Philadelphia and it's doing so well," du Plessis says.

When Meadowood closed for renovations, du Plessis called around for internships. She spent a month last year at Zahav on the hot line - not pastry. "She's a great cook," Solomonov said.

Solomonov and business partner Steve Cook hired du Plessis for Citron & Rose, the kosher restaurant on the Main Line that they briefly consulted for. (Her husband's business coincidentally had led him to Philadelphia as well.) When Cook and Solomonov ended their affiliation with Citron & Rose, du Plessis worked at Le Bec Fin during the end of its run.

Bogle said he saw somebody who's "on the cusp of receiving an opportunity to show her talent."

She looks at desserts from a savory perspective.

Take a dish like chestnut gnudi with squash and lemon curd. That could be an appetizer. It's actually an idea for a dessert that du Plessis is working on.

"I enjoy eating food more than desserts," she told me. "And I certainly don't like things cloyingly sweet."