Four Seasons Hotel at Comcast Center, Philadelphia
Topping a new 60-storey landmark, an ambitious venture from Four Seasons brings together the culinary talents of Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Greg Vernick with the design expertise of Lord Foster and Adam Tihany – to spectacular effect.
Philadelphia could always draw a crowd. It is here that, nearly 250 years ago, the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence after all. Today, America’s original capital is still a food capital, and a different crop of Founding Fathers, each a pioneer in their own right, has converged on Philly’s futuristic Comcast Center.
Lord Norman Foster, the famed British architect responsible for London’s City Hall and The Gherkin, oversaw the exterior and interior of the hotel and its glistening rooftop lounge, called JG SkyHigh and named after Jean-Georges Vongerichten, another trailblazer and one of the world’s most celebrated Michelin-starred chefs. Down at ground level, two more pioneers collaborated on Vernick Fish, the second outpost in James Beard Award-winning Greg Vernick’s budding empire; the interiors of this happening eatery were the brainchild of renowned interior designer Adam Tihany. Applying the final touches, a strong roster of top suppliers, including Pordamsa, David Mellor and John Jenkins, are present across the scheme. Quite a rollcall of talent then, certainly one befitting this landmark 60-storey skyscraper.
Beginning at the top (things are turned on their head at this hotel, which shares its home with Comcast, with guests checking in at the summit and taking an elevator down to their rooms), Vongerichten is first to unfurl the culinary offerings that the property has in store. Riveted by 360-degree views and slick, modern architecture capped by a quadrupleheight ceiling, some customers may need to fight back vertigo to settle into JG SkyHigh on a first-come, first-served basis and enjoy its light all-day dining menu.
Within this space, Vongerichten introduces a little taste of the city’s most iconic dish, the Philly Cheesesteak. “It’s wagyu beef that we rolled with cheddar cheese and wrapped in a spring roll shell – we cook it a little pink in the middle and serve it with an onion and pepper jam,” he explains, laughing uproariously when asked why Cheez Whiz, an essential ingredient, is noticeably absent. “When you close your eyes, the flavours are there, but it’s just a different presentation,” he offers in defence.
The beverage menu, meanwhile, becomes increasingly popular around 5pm, when wellheeled Comcast execs make their way up the tower – soaking up the stunning city vistas on arrival. “Of course, we have Jean-Georges signatures like the Cucumber Martini, Ginger Margherita and Lemon Thyme Vodka, but we also wanted to feature French spirits,” explains Jill Davis, the hotel’s Beverage Director, sliding a Comme Si signature cocktail – with Pernod Absinthe, honey raspberry, lemon and egg white – across the bar.
Down one level via a chic black marble staircase that looks straight out of Mad Men, it’s impossible not to mentally thank Lord Foster for creating such architectural mastery. “It just takes your breath away when you go up there,” Vongerichten says. “They were going to bring someone in to do the interior and I told Brian Roberts [Comcast Chairman and CEO], ‘you must be kidding me – you have one of the best architects in the world, he should do the interior too’.”
On level 59, white tablecloths come on and the mood gets a little more serious as signature dishes that are fresh and unpretentious, including yellowfin tuna noodles with a snappy ginger and chilli oil and a parmesan-crusted chicken (in homage to Philadelphia’s Italian community and, of course, that of the nearby Jersey Shore) in a bright lemony-basil sauce, set the tone. What is striking about this menu, and says a lot about the way luxury guests eat today, is the abundance of vegetarian options. But then again, what else would one expect from a chef who runs ABCV, one of New York’s most successful all-vegetarian restaurants? “I always tell chefs it takes two weeks to grow a radish and two years to grow a steak,” Vongerichten quips. “I grew up myself with a lot of vegetables and I would say the cuisine of a Jean-Georges restaurant today is 30% plantbased.” Unmissable dishes include crispy fried artichokes in a sweet-tangy blood orange sauce and a decidedly Asian-inspired broccoli soup. For the wine pairings here, incidentally, Davis has chosen to keep it just as light and fresh as the menu, opting for an assortment from the Loire Valley over heavier varieties.
Back at ground level, hometown hero Greg Vernick serves up the freshest fish dishes around, developed over a lifetime in southern New Jersey, famed for its iconic Jersey Shore. “I recognised the white space for a seafood restaurant in Philadelphia and became inspired by the fresh seafood offerings along the northeast coast and Pacific West,” he explains. The expansive menu of simply prepared raw fish and shellfish, sourced mainly from North America, includes both small- and large-plate seafood dishes, which pay fastidious attention to the details of flavour and keep it truly elemental. Signatures include a heartwarming tuna ricotta gnocchi, and a fresher-than-fresh octopus carpaccio bursting with citrus flavours and the tang of capers.
The perfect counterpoint to the highbrow Foster-designed affair at the top of the tower, the interiors of this space come courtesy of Adam Tihany. “Greg was looking to create a modern take on the traditional American oyster bar – something quintessentially local, that, while new and part of the larger operation within the Four Seasons hotel, would immediately fit as a cosy, inviting neighbourhood staple,” Tihany says of the design, which features a marble chipped terrazzo floor and handsome bronze and brass detailing.
The culinary journey ends at the lobby of the Comcast Center, where Vernick and the Four Seasons team collaborated to create a new take on the classic grab-and-go concept. “Hotels have been known for years to offer the worst cup of coffee,” F&B Director Charles Lesvigne jokes. “The idea started as just a kiosk but we thought, ‘let’s do a really elevated version of a traditional coffee shop’.” The result is a space where guests, Comcast employees and tourists visiting the adjacent cinematic experience, The Universal Sphere, can mingle for a seated lunch or a cup of artisanal coffee.
Highlights from Vernick Coffee Bar’s offering include the curiously psychedelic butterfly pea flower tea, which changes colour when milk is poured over it (peacock green with oat milk, purple with regular), and a carrot cake pie that is quickly becoming a Philly icon. “A lot of times, dessert [at a hotel F&B outlet] is that only time that you get to experience the skill and craft of what we actually do,” reflects Executive Pastry Chef Ryan Schmidt. “So to be able to have that on display all day long here at the coffee bar is a lot of fun. There’s a lot of opportunity – every week, we have something new to try.”
The Founding Fathers were said to have been led by Thomas Jefferson. Our modern-day Founding Fathers, each of whom has glowing praise for the others, have Comcast’s Brian Roberts to thank for bringing them together. Truly a purveyor of good taste, he had the foresight and vision not only to create one of the world’s most successful entertainment companies, but to handpick several key players capable of bringing to life one of the world’s best-executed hotels.