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Four Seasons Hotel, Philadelphia

| By Mervyn Rothstein | From J.P. Morgan, Mar/Apr 00

 If the Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia had been around in W. C. Fields's day, he might never have wanted to leave. Built in 1983, this eight-story, 365-room hotel is the quintessential Four Seasons establishment. Its location on Logan Square by the Benjamin Franklin Parkway is perfect for a visit to the city's best museums; the Franklin Institute Science Museum, the Academy of Natural Sciences, the Rodin Museum and the Philadelphia Museum of Art are a short walk away.  

While the hotel's standard rooms feature dark, formal furniture, its suites are lavish, especially those overlooking the Swann Fountain restaurant. Ask for one on the seventh floor with a private veranda and a panoramic view up the Franklin Parkway to the Greek-temple majesty of the Museum of Art. If you choose to leave your room, you can journey to the hotel's spa, which features a pool and a gym.  

Dining is the premier event at the Four Seasons Philadelphia. The hotel's renowned dining and drinking establishments, the Swann Fountain restaurant and the Swann Lounge, are luxurious, vibrant and elegant.  

The Fountain, under the imaginative supervision of executive chef Jean-Marie Lacroix, is said to serve the best food in town. Yes, it's a hotel dining room and not a trendy statement of modern art and design, but the dark wood, widely spaced tables, comfortably plush chairs, period prints and abundance of flowers and greenery set the right mood for appreciating Lacroix's sumptuous Asian-inspired and other eclectic preparations, as well as the faultless service and the friendly, knowledgeable and efficient staff.  

Start with succulent marinated sushi-grade tuna with potato risotto and osetra caviar in a vinegar olive-oil dressing. For those who aren't fans of raw fish, there's the homemade pasta envelope with lobster and black-truffle butter, or American foie gras and rabbit rillettes terrine with stone fruit compote, or a simple salad of the freshest Oregon organic greens with Caesar-style dressing and Parmesan crackling.  

Among the entrées, a highlight is sautéed veal porterhouse steak. It is tender, hearty and flavorful, with Jerusalem artichoke spaetzle and porcini mushroom juice. Or you can opt for an expertly prepared Muscovy duck breast with sweet potato and confit croquette in cider vinegar sauce.  

If you're watching your weight, you won't find a better main-dish choice than braised black sea bass fillet with spicy Thai curried grits, lotus root and Asian flavors. It's an example of the Four Seasons' trademark alternative cuisine--lower in calories, cholesterol and fat--but your taste buds and eyes will think you're treating them to a rich feast.  

All of this does not come cheap. First courses are $10 to $20, and main dishes range from the low to high $30s. The extensive wine list is also expensive, but includes a large selection of grand cru Bordeaux and Burgundies as well as a vertical tasting of grand vin de Léoville Las Cases. The list also has some good California Cabernets and Alsatian whites, and, something not found in many restaurants, a large selection of top-quality German whites.  

For light drinkers, there's an eclectic selection of wines by the glass, among them a Macon Davaye Domaine des Valanges '97, a smooth, fruity and well-balanced white Burgundy with light oak, and a Côte de Roussillon Jean Luc Colombo '96, an earthy, spicy Provençal Syrah with an enticing blackberry tinge.  

Next door to the Fountain is the more informal and less expensive Swann Café, with marble tables and a mammoth croque-monsieur (toasted cheese sandwich with ham) that comes close to those in the best Paris brasseries. Just beyond the café is the Swann Lounge, which has been called the best bar in the world by Gourmet magazine and is just the place to top off a dinner at the Fountain with a good cigar and glass of Port.  

The Swann Lounge and the Fountain have picture-window views of Logan Square and the Swann Memorial Fountain (which provided the names for the establishments. The Swann name comes from Wilson Carey Swann, a city benefactor). The spacious lounge features a fireplace, decorative wall sconces, antiques, comfortable chairs and sofas; its menu includes an expansive selection of Ports and single-malt Scotches. Its humidor features Davidoff No. 2s and Grand Cru No. 1s, among others. If you stop by on a Friday or Saturday evening, a jazz trio enhances the atmosphere.

Mervyn Rothstein is an editor at The New York Times.    

FOUR SEASONS HOTEL PHILADELPHIA   1 Logan Square   Phone (215) 963-1500; Fax (215) 963-1439 Rates $340 to $405; suites run $450 to $2,600