Chef Paras Shah, who wowed at the opening of Barcelona Wine Bar on East Passyunk Avenue, has traded Spanish for French at the comfy Chez Ben, a French brasserie featuring a cafe counter, and M Brown's, a bar specializing in aged spirits.
Both are in soft-opening phase on the ground floor of the newly rebranded Renaissance Downtown Philadelphia at 401 Chestnut St., the former Franklin Hotel that for years was the Omni.
Chez Ben, open from breakfast through 10 p.m. and including an all-day cafe counter, serves raw-bar items, tarte flambée, bites such as crispy chickpea fritters, French onion soup that recalls H.A. Winston's classic, and entrees such as steak frites and bison burgers, all reasonably priced. Its bar has an extensive by-the-glass wine selection and French aperitif cocktails. Across the way, M Brown's serves mainly finger food that's been smoked, cured, pickled, and aged.
Ben Franklin and his Francophilia imbue the concept: a lineup of portraits depicting his mistresses, a metal railing whose design includes bifocal glasses, and waiters in Breton striped shirts (alas, for most a Where's Waldo? look).
Chef Jennifer Carroll, who left her last full-time Philadelphia kitchen gig nearly seven years ago (10 Arts, then at the Ritz-Carlton), is about to make her hometown return. She and her fiance, chef Billy Riddle (ex-Townsend), are setting up The Finch, a Mediterranean bistro and craft cocktail bar. It will take the space previously occupied by Tavern 17 at the Warwick Hotel (220 S. 17th St.). Opening is projected in late spring.
Tory Keomanivong, a former co-owner of Fond, and chef Anh Vongbandith, of Das Good, expect a Friday opening of Tipsy Bistro, at 3131 Walnut St. in University City. They're going for a sports-bar feel in the snug former Fat Ham spot, and Vongbandith's menu leans Southern, with heartwarming dishes such as various wings, shrimp and grits, chicken and sweet potato waffles. Hours are 11 a.m. till 1 a.m.