As a native Memphian, one of my most shameful confessions has been that I have never eaten at Chez Philippe at The Peabody. It took an email from Lori Greene of Downing Hollow Farm to change that. Lori forwarded this email to us:
Hi Lori. I was wondering if you knew of anyone that may have organic fresh eggs that I could use for the dinner. My dinner is on the 27th of February so I would love to get some fresh eggs for it. Please let me know. Thanks.
Chef de Cuisine
The Peabody Memphis
After an exchange of emails with Chef Alfonso (or Reny, as he insists on being called), we found ourselves providing eggs to yet another four-star chef. We had been excited about the dinner before, but now we were positively ecstatic.
Since Patric was sick, we took my mother instead. She was excited, too, because, although she can quickly rattle off virtually every meal she has had at The Peabody, she had never eaten at Chez Philippe either.
The Chez Philippe experience begins with the Peabody experience. With my mother along, we decided to valet park rather than walk from the garage. The valet immediately took our car and we were headed into the lobby. As their website reminds you, the lobby of The Peabody has been called the “living room of Memphis.” With cozy sofas and knick-knack cabinets everywhere, that is certainly appropriate. And with the crowd there on a Friday night, it is clear that The Peabody has lots of friends over. Between guests checking in, attendees of several meetings going on in the hotel, and folks just there to see and be seen, the lobby is abuzz with energy.
Amazingly, as we step into Chez Philippe, just feet from the lobby bar where people are lined up three deep chatting as they wait for their drinks, all the noise and hubbub falls away and a quiet elegance takes over. Chez Philippe is an intimidating space. It is in stark contrast to some of the other superb restaurants we have been to across the country. Two restored Victorians and a converted ranch-style house come to mind. We had the chance to talk to Reny about the space.
“This is an intimidating space,” he agrees. “That’s why I try to make everything from the service to the menu simple to counteract that.”
The service is tremendously professional. The servers are prepared to meet your needs at a moment’s notice. My mother commented that the menu was difficult to read, and, almost instantly, a lamp was pulled closer to her. When she said that the real problem was that she had forgotten her reading glasses, the server replied, “oh, I have glasses. Just a moment.” And sure enough, he was back right away with two different pair of reading glasses for her to try. And with a little help, she was able to read this menu.
The Farmers Market dinner menu shows just how the chef is bringing simplicity to his food. The most complicated preparation of the evening was the amuse bouche with its loin-end bacon and four different types of salami. Although Reny waited weeks, or even months, for the meats to cure, the presentation couldn’t have been simpler, slices of meat and bread on a plate with two small bowls for sauces.
Of course our favorite dish was the egg en cocotte. We are tremendously proud of our contribution. Well, actually the ladies’ contribution. One of our girls’ rich eggs sat atop a bed of perfectly seasoned shitake mushrooms, cooked so that the white was done without being too firm and the yolk flowed into a rich sauce over the mushrooms. We plan to try to duplicate this dish at home very soon.
Now we are eager to return to try the normal menu, especially since we noticed that it includes pork rillettes. As subscribers to our newsletter know, we made our first batch of rillettes recently. We want to see how ours compare.
While it is true that Chez Philippe is not a place that most of us could dine frequently, it is as integral a part of Memphis as Elvis, the blues, barbecue, or, of course, the Peabody ducks. It is a grand place in a grand hotel. Chef Alfonso is making some of the finest food in the city, or anywhere for that matter. And Jay Turney, the manager and general embodiment of the charm of Chez Philippe, has what I consider perfect service, professional yet able to easily adapt to the mood and style of each individual diner. Chez Philippe is definitely worth saving up for or even inventing a special occasion for.