Rae of light

Ask chef Daniel Stern why he decided to build his new restaurant, Rae, out in West Philadelphia’s Cira Centre tower—rather than, for instance, Center City—and he’s quick to reply.

“I really feel like Cira Centre is the center of town,” says Stern, 36, who previously served as executive chef at Le Bec Fin and, after opening Gayle in Queen Village last year, solidified his reputation as one of America’s top young chefs. “I think it’s a great location. The building is very exciting, and it’s really in the middle of everything.”

Stern is right, of course. The Cira Centre sits directly between the universities of West Philadelphia and the hustle and bustle of Center City. More importantly, the gleaming new tower (designed by Cesar Pelli) is adjacent to 30th Street Station, and Rae—a 220-seat restaurant and lounge—figures to capitalize on the constant stream of commuters running around next door.

If he can simply get them in the door at Rae, says Stern, they’re certain to be impressed.

“I think people will have a great experience,” he says. “It’s not any one thing. It’s the food, and the service and the atmosphere.”

Stern describes the planned menu at Rae as “New American,” with dishes ranging from veal kreplach with artichoke to rabbit “nachos” to Philly smoked salmon. He’ll offer grilled Atlantic salmon with garlic and olive dressing; brick-oven rack of lamb served with a ricotta and feta soufflé; and winter braised short ribs in bacon dressing.

The menu is similar to what Stern introduced at Gayle last year, and if critics can be trusted, Rae promises to set a new standard for dining in University City.

Gayle, located at 3rd and Bainbridge, was named one of America’s 10 hottest restaurants by Bon Appetit magazine and also earned raves from Philadelphia magazine, which called its wine list the best in Philly for 2006.

Even for Stern, who built a healthy reputation in the culinary world during his stints at such hotspots as Daniel and the St. Regis Hotel in New York and Navio in Half Moon Bay, Calif., opening Gayle was, in his words, a challenge.

Now, he faces a new—and literally bigger—challenge: For all its raves, Gayle is a small restaurant, with space for just 40 diners. At Rae, that number will quadruple, and along with regular lunch and dinner service, Stern plans to open up his new space for full-scale catering and private events as well. In total, Rae will spread over 6,000 square feet.

“Every restaurant is different, of course, but I think you have some things always in common,” he says. “And you have to be excited about something you’re building yourself.”

Rae will offer a variety of venues for group dining. Parties of six or fewer can enjoy a custom culinary experience in the Wine Room. Groups of 10 are welcomed in the Chef’s Table, where they can take in a view of the open kitchen. A private dining room has space for up to 32 guests, and the Mezzanine can handle 40. Wedding receptions and other events will be hosted at either the Ballroom at Rae, with space for 200, or the Atrium, which will boast a stunning view of Center City and space for 350 diners.
Rae will open for private events this month, with full service beginning in December. Stern, predictably, is ready for the doors to open.

“It’s going to be an exciting place, an energetic place,” he says.

Rae is now accepting reservations. For more information, call 215-922-3839 or go to www.raerestaurant.com.

Originally published on October 19, 2006.

Originally published on November 2, 2006