How do you spell dining heaven in Philadelphia? Oh, yes, the Fountain Restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel. Yesterday, my wife Roxanne and I finally made the trip to this restaruant whose reputation preceedes it by far. The lunch was not a special occasion, although by the end of this experience you certainly feel that it was indeed a very special occasion. Especially given a student budget, the rarity of this endeavour made it even more special. The experience at the Fountain ranks up there with other notable top restaurants such as Le Bec Fin and Founders, both in Philly, Chanterelle in New York City, and Taillevent in Paris.

While these are all widely recognized as top restaurants, ranked at least 28 on Zagat, with highly refined dining experiences and signature dishes, they all have their own quirks that you could make a ranking depending on the occasion. My top preference is Taillevent in Paris, which I’d put as one of the top restaurants around the world. Not only is the food the best among all of the above restaurants, also confirmed by colleagues who’ve had even more such experiences, the place itself has a very homely atmosphere, with waiters who are very charming, relaxed and put you at ease instantly. The sheer lack of pretention at a place of this caliber is simply unmatched. And coming from France, that says a lot. The owner personally welcomes you and bids you good bye, the tables are separated and cozy enough for you to feel private and romantic, and if you do smoke a cigar, they bring a small table fan that strategically keeps the smoke away from other tables. I personally don’t mind, even prefer sometimes, the smoke of a good cigar, but not everyone does.

Basically, the French in this case know that you come there to enjoy the food and your company, you will spend a ton money, and you don’t need to be reminded of it or made special about it, you just have to enjoy yourself. The place itself prides on experience and it doesn’t need to create artificial exclusivity, something that’s occassionally hard for American restaurants to understand because we all yearn for some recognition of this exclusivity and we only show it with price! But I think this notion is very short-sited when it comes to enjoying the finer things in life.

The relaxed ambience at Taillevent is closest to that of the Fountain, which is why Roxanne and I enjoyed it so much. You simply immerse youselves in conversation and enjoy the food, speaking of which, the pheasant breast was awesome, grilled on top of cranberry risotto and pumpkin puree: delicious! The foie grass was good but not the most impressive of the ones I have had. The least interesting foie grass was the one at Le Bec Fin. While that at Chanterelle and Brasserie 8 1/2 in NYC has been the best so far. Mind you, these are all delicious meals, I’m talking subtleties here.

Chanterelle’s environment was perhaps the least exciting. What made up for the very sterile room (their signature) and pretention from their waiters was simply the untouchable food. Their food was right next to Taillevent in taste and enjoyment. This is the biggest reason to go to Chanterelle: the food!

Now, if you are in Philly looking for a high-end romantic place, you must visit Founders, the restaurant on top of Park Hyatt hotel. It has a very classy atmosphere with views of the city. The dining and service are top notch, and best of all, has live music on weekends with a small dance podium where you can take your significant other for a quick dance between meals. The music is matched to the quality of food and service to make for a truly romantic dining experience. I think Fountain comes in close 2nd in romantic restaurants, while Le Bec Fin a solid 3rd. Le Bec Fin had excellent menu, outstanding service, even if at times the pretention does sneak up on waiters, and very good ambience, although not as cozy or separated as Fountain, but I’d say it’s an excellent place to enjoy group dining, if all of you can afford it, of course!