TO LEAD: Chef Justin Bogle sits in the soon-to-open dining room of Avance.
Justin Bogle’s name was tossed into the hat during the final days of Nicholas Fannuci’s ambitious but ultimately doomed attempt to resurrect the grande dame of Philadelphia’s old-guard fine dining, Le Bec-Fin. But Bogle, a Roxborough native working in New York at the time, had no interest in becoming the chef of Le Bec-Fin 3.0.
He still doesn’t, though he’s sitting in the soon-to-open dining room at 1523 Walnut St.’s new incarnation, Avance. He’s already used to the comparisons, though. “Yeah, that’s the biggest one that we’re trying to avoid — granted, it is the same address. That’s the only thing that ties us to Le Bec-Fin. Fingers crossed — it has good bones and a good history, and we can continue with that. Le Bec-Fin was Georges Perrier, and we have his blessing. We’re moving forward with something completely different, something that I feel will be unique to the city.”
The formerly gilded, baroque dining room has been stripped of its chandeliers and pressed tablecloths in favor of a sleek, dark-gray look. Clusters of hanging Edison bulbs illuminate the elegant grain of finished walnut tables and a few well-placed, vibrant paintings by J. Jordan Bruns. Only those with a LaBan-level relationship with Le Bec would still recognize the space.
In the middle of the room, a tall bookshelf with a selection of cookbooks culled from the home libraries of Bogle and his sous chefs lends some insight into Avance’s menu. A plexiglass box set of Nathan Myhrvold’s Modernist Cuisine is flanked by cookbooks from game-changing newcomers like Noma, Mugaritz and Manresa. There are elements of kitchen science by way of Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking, and evidence of a well-thought-out beverage program in titles like Geuze & Kriek: The Secret of Lambic Beer and The Oxford Companion to Wine.
Progressive American is the culinary term that Bogle uses when describing the cuisine at Avance. “It sets the tone for us to keep on moving forward, pushing the cuisine and never really resting. It’s in the name as well. Avance: It means to lead, to push. That’s kind of the tone that we’ve set for ourselves, to be constantly evolving.”
The evolution that he speaks of is a force of nature, and forces of nature are also a key part of the menu. “It’s going to be a seasonally influenced restaurant,” explains Bogle. “Hopefully, we’re going to be taking Avance to the next level by treating this place like a living, breathing animal. This is going to allow us to work into what we expect this restaurant to be, building those relationships with the farmers, fishermen, artists and craftsmen that will really help build this place.”
He goes on to share a few dishes on the opening menu: a tartare of Arctic char and fermented elderberries finished with an anti-griddle-frozen, paper-thin disk of apple and fennel juice that’s cracked creme-brulee style at the table; a plate of foie gras with pickled grapes and black walnuts; and a steakhouse-inspired prime strip of beef with alliums, smoked potatoes and spinach.
The menu is seasonal, local, progressive and high concept, but Bogle is quick to point out that it’s not his personal opus and has, in fact, come together relatively quickly. “The cooks started two weeks ago, my sous chefs started a month ago and we started jotting down ideas and building. I take control of it, but I like to hear what their thoughts are. We want this to be a place of creativity and learning, an open forum where all ideas are heard. It pushes everyone, and in turn pushes me to get my shit together.”
As much as Bogle and his partner, longtime Perrier associate Chris Scarduzio, have done to transform Avance into its own entity, a few welcome ghosts of Le Bec remain. Bogle hit it off immediately with general manager Adam Olland, who saw Le Bec through to the bitter end. And through Olland, Bogle and Scarduzio kept on sommelier Alexandra Cherniavsky and barman Bradford Lawrence, who, in turn, made sure that a handful of precious bottles remained in the cellar and behind the bar.
As for Friday’s opening menus, Bogle aims to cast a wide net. Eventually, his dream is for the dining room to be tasting-menu-only, but for now, a la carte is available both upstairs and in the downstairs bar. “The bar will be a la carte, a mix of some stuff from up here and some bar-driven items — a really good burger, raw bar, charcuterie, then some of the more approachable things from up here. You can come in and get a nice cold beer and a burger, and next time a la carte in the upstairs dining room, and next time you do the chef’s tasting menu. That’s the goal.”
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