2015 Restaurant Redux

by artfuldiner on January 4, 2016

in Artful Diner Mini Review, Breaking News, Opinion, Pennsylvania, Wining and Dining

For your dining pleasure, listed below in alphabetical order are synopses of the fourteen (14) restaurants reviewed during the year 2015.

ALFREDO ITALIAN BYO, 668 Lancaster Avenue, Berwyn, Pennsylvania, (610) 640-2962, www.alfredobyo.com: My major gripe with Alfredo is not the parking situation, which can be pure “hell”; and not the noise level, which can be formidable. No, no… it’s the food that doesn’t quite cut the mustard. Appetizers are a mixed bag: the Caesar salad is generic, the bruschetta is the bland-leading-the-bland… but the “crispy artichoke,” on the other hand is a clear winner. The pastas, while not outstanding, are good, solid choices. The entrées proper, however, range from the sublime to the ridiculous. The salmon prepared with a sweet agrodolcé (sweet & sour) sauce is quite excellent. Conversely the veal saltimbocca is simply terrible. If Alfredo does have a saving grace it is clearly their house-made desserts. Worth a visit…? It’s your stomach, Cochise.

Carrabba's - Chadds Ford, PACARRABBA’S ITALIAN GRILL, 102 Painters’ Crossing, West Chester, Pennsylvania, (610) 358-0156, www.carrabbas.com: Located in the Village at Painters’ Crossing Shopping Center on Route 202 near the intersection of Route 1, Carrabba’s Italian Grill is an easy stopover should you be visiting the nearby Brandywine River Museum. The bar area is particularly comfortable; the dining room casual and laid back. Snack-wise the chicken, bacon, and sun-dried tomato flatbread with balsamic glaze is quite good… ditto the meatball and ricotta version. Pastas are very much in evidence, as are oven-baked dishes such as lasagna and ravioli parmesan. I wouldn’t go out of my way to chow down here; but if you happen to be in the neighborhood, Carrabba’s is not at all bad for a major chain chophouse.

CANTINA FELIZ, 424 South Bethlehem Pike, Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, (215) 646-1320, www.cantinafeliz.com: Owned by Chef Tim Spinner and partner Brian Sirhal, both formerly of Philly’s Distrito, Cantina Feliz made its debut in 2010… And there is absolutely no question that Mr. Spinner continues to raise the bar with regard to Mexican cookery in the greater Philadelphia area. Take the obligatory guacamole, for example.  Mashed to order with a blending of onion and jalapeño in a traditional lava rock molcajete, it is a savory delight for the palate. The black bass filet with crabmeat studded poblano rice is a restaurant favorite… as are the organic chicken breast with mole poblano and a variety enchiladas swimming in an addictively creamy chipotle sauce. Should you stop in for lunch, the bacon & Brussels sprouts huarache (Mexican flatbread) is simply not to be missed.

Fare Restaurant Philly - Leeks & FennelFARE RESTAURANT, 2028 Fairmount Avenue, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, (215) 763-5500, http://farerestaurant.com: Ensconced on Fairmount Avenue just across the way from Eastern Penitentiary, Fare offers diners a dash of New York City vibe to go with the local, sustainable, organic New American cuisine. Ethically, Fare has staked out the high moral ground… fortunately, the gastronomy more than lives up to its good intentions. A starter of leeks & fennel is braised with black olives, set on a foundation of creamy goat cheese, and surrounded by crispy pillars of multigrain crostini. Roasted diced red & golden beets are embellished with grated ginger and partnered with an attractive tangle of baby arugula and splash of tangy red wine vinaigrette. Supporting players include delicious dollops of walnut chutney and ricotta cheese. Entrée-wise, you just can’t miss with the organic Scottish salmon pillowed on an island of Tuscan bread & tomato salad and sumptuous sea of ricotta cheese or the equally recommendable seafood pasta bathed in a savory white wine sauce.

FARMER’S DAUGHTER BAR & RESTAURANT, 1401 Morris Road, Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, (215) 616-8300, http://www.farmersdaughterpa.com/. Tucked away in the bowels of the Normandy Farm Hotel-Conference Center, the Farmer’s Daughter adds a decidedly homey touch to a facility that is commonly (and somewhat derogatorily) known as a “wedding factory.” The kitchen, however, in the capable hands of Chef Mtele “Abu” Abubakar, prides itself on utilizing locally sourced ingredients whenever possible; a pledge that extends to the various breads, which are baked daily on the premises… And the moment those ciabatta rolls hit the table – buttressed by herb-infused olive oil – you know all will be well. This is a great spot for lunch, where deliciously photogenic sandwiches – including an irresistible short rib grilled cheese – take center stage. Whether served up with the crispy addictive house-made chips, beer battered fries, or sweet potato fries, they are first-class all the way.  The fish & chips and branzino (Mediterranean sea bass) are also worthy of consideration.

Fireside Bar & Grill - InteriorFIRESIDE BAR & GRILLE, 1211 South Bethlehem Pike, Ambler, Pennsylvania, (215) 643-6540, www.firesidebarandgrille.com: The profusion of wall-mounted TV screens notwithstanding, the Fireside is infinitely more than just another local happy-tappy cum sports bar. The recipient of numerous Montgomery County Readers’ Choice Awards, the restaurant is known for solid pub grub/eclectic fare that is carefully prepared, generously proportioned, and moderately priced. The “Grille” menu – salads, pizzas, munchies, sandwiches, burgers, lunch-time pastas – is available all day, with the full dinner menu kicking in at 4:00 p.m. The pizzas here, for example, are infinitely superior to those I’ve sampled at several so-called “artisan” pizza joints recently. Among the sandwiches, the roast pork Calabrese is a standout… ditto the sumptuous grilled pastrami Reuben. Among the entrées, combination dishes – filet mignon & crab cake and veal & shrimp Francaise – are sure winners… as is the “Eggplant Rosa,” a gastronomic variant of eggplant parm. It’s incredibly rich, undeniably delicious and – unless you have the appetite of a ravening hyena – large enough to feed a family of four. Trust me, you won’t go hungry at the Fireside.

HARVEST SEASONAL GRILL & WINE BAR, 549 Wilmington West Chester Pike, Glen Mills, Pennsylvania, (610) 358-1005, http://harvestseasonalgrill.com/glen-mills/: Part of proprietor Dave Magrogan’s every-expanding restaurant empire, Harvest is a mini-chain eatery that doesn’t feel like a chain. The restaurant offers patrons a seasonally-changing organic & local farm-to-table menu, interesting list of 50 plus wines by the glass, and slew of seasonal cocktails & local brews. The bill of fare is an amalgam of flatbreads, interesting appetizers, first-rate salads, and sandwiches that include a grass-fed beef burger, local bison burger, Portobello “cheese steak” and fish tacos. Entrées proper range from organic lemon thyme chicken to local Heritage Berkshire pork chop to cedar roasted salmon to pan-seared Arctic char. The concept is very similar to that of Seasons 52… although, for my money, Harvest does a better job. The food just seems fresher, better prepared & presented, and more consistent. Whether stopping by for lunch, dinner, or an afternoon snack and a bit of vino, you simply can’t go wrong here.

Iron Abbey - Cheesecake XangoIRON ABBEY, 680 North Easton Road (Route 611), Horsham, Pennsylvania, (215) 956-9600, www.ironabbey.com: Joined at the hip and sharing the same ownership with the Na’Brasa Brazilian Steakhouse, Iron Abbey tempts diners with 40 beers on draft, 300 diverse bottled brews, a pretty decent wine list… and some damn good cuisine as well. The menu ranges from well-executed “pub grub” to a first-rate array of sandwiches to several excellent entrées to a number of dynamite desserts. Should you stop in for a quiet afternoon brewskie, the nachos are something of a must. At the opposite end of the culinary spectrum, you have succulent day boat diver scallops, Angus beef short rib, and the incredible Na’Brasa Brazilian Steakhouse rotisserie sampler, an over-the-top carnivore’s dream.  The Cheesecake Xango – creamy cheesecake wrapped in a flaky pastry crust embellished with a generous dollop of vanilla ice cream – is a definitive winner in the sweet endings department.

KIMBERTON INN, 2105 Kimberton Road, Kimberton, Pennsylvania, (610) 933-8148, www.kimbertoninn.com: This Colonial enclave, originally constructed in 1796, charms patrons with its impeccably maintained rustic ambiance, cozy crackling fireplaces, and intimate bar/lounge. Alluring auras notwithstanding, it is Chef Jim Trainer’s lovingly prepared and beautifully presented creatively infused traditional American cuisine that remains the center of attention. Sautéed calf’s liver, for example, is about as down-home as it gets, but receives an added kick from a rich port wine sauce; the filet mignon is teamed with a fabulous mustard custard and red wine-veal reduction; Australian lamb chops are encrusted with mustard & herbs and finished with a marvelous port wine infusion; and the salmon filet is gently seared with a mixture of five spices and pillowed on a sesame-scallion crepe. Finishing touches include a tiara of lemon-ginger marmalade and citrus-soy glaze. The restaurant also sports several first-rate homey desserts and a very nice wine list to complement your meal.

La Calaca Feliz - Grilled ShrimpLA CALACA FELIZ, 2321Fairmount Avenue, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, (215) 787-9930, www.lacalacafeliz.com: Younger sibling of the aforementioned Cantina Feliz in Fort Washington, PA, La Calaca has proved to be a huge critical and commercial coup for Messrs. Spinner & Sirhal. The atmosphere here is a bit more laid back & sophisticated than at the suburban outpost; and Chef Tim Spinner’s innovative approach to Mexican cuisine is more evident as well. Be sure to start things off with the jicama salad – a superlative effort – splashed with an incomparably subtle & beguiling pumpkin seed dressing. And the entrée of choice is most assuredly the grilled shrimp, beautifully seasoned crustaceans artfully arranged around an epicenter of tequila grits and bacon corn salsa. Coming in a close second is the black bass filet, followed closely by the swordfish tacos and the arrachera, flank steak companioned by refried beans and a spirited chimichurri. If you’re visiting the Philadelphia Museum of Art or the Barnes Foundation, La Calaca Feliz is a great place to chow down and pick up some of those funky neighborhood vibes.

NEW TAVERN RESTAURANT, 261 Montgomery Avenue, Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, (610) 667-9100, www.thetavernrestaurant.com: The Tavern, in various incarnations, has been serving patrons since 1933. And if you happen to take a gander in the restrooms, the plumbing appears to be from the same era as well… But don’t let that put you off, as both the dining area and the cozy bar/lounge have been attractively restored. The food could best be described as American comfort fare with Greek subtitles. It isn’t about to set any new culinary standards, but it is generally well prepared, nicely presented, and quite satisfying. Luncheon entrées include veal Florentine, sautéed chicken Marsala, grilled salmon, and tortellini Alfredo. Among the sandwiches, the classic club and open-faced Reuben are particularly recommended. I wouldn’t suggest you embark on a special pilgrimage for dinner; but if you happen to be in the area, the Tavern will certainly make a pleasant luncheon diversion.

Wyebrook Farm - Interior DiningRESTAURANT AT WYEBROOK FARM, 150 Wyebrook Road, Honey Brook, Pennsylvania, (610) 942-7481, www.wyebrookfarm.com: On March 25, 2015, farmer Dean Carlson and his new partner, Executive Chef Andrew Wood of Philadelphia’s Russet, officially debuted their new Restaurant at Wyebrook Farm. The full service restaurant is open Wednesday – Saturday for lunch & dinner and brunch on Sunday. Chef Wood’s kitchen offers diners Wyebrook Farm’s beef, pork, and poultry paired with fresh handmade pastas and in-season produce. Entrées include pan-seared pork sirloin, slow-roasted shoulder of beef, and house-made pappardelle. Desserts offer such diverse denouements as goat cheese tart with plum jam & nougatine crunch and roasted apple bread pudding with cider caramel & whipped crème fraiche. In addition to regular serving hours, the restaurant also hosts a number of Sunday evening chef dinners throughout the year. BYOB.

TANDOOR AUTHENTIC INDIAN RESTAURANT, 130 West Main Street, Collegeville, Pennsylvania, (610) 828-8245, www.tandoorcollegeville.com: Tucked away in the Trappe Shopping Center next to Bhavani Indian-Asian Market, Tandoor is the youngest sibling of a small family of eateries also located in Philadelphia’s University City and Fishtown districts (with two more outposts currently on the drawing board). With one or two exceptions, this is the best Indian cuisine I’ve sampled in quite some time. The mulligatawny soup, for example, is beautifully seasoned & textured and incredibly delicious… ditto the gobi Manchurian, lightly breaded cauliflower fritters sautéed with a combo of soy & chili sauces, an adaptation of Chinese cookery to suit Indian tastes. The curries (sauces) here are also outstanding. The saag curry, a creamy spinach gravy rife with aromatic spices is particularly noteworthy. Just be forewarned… if the chef happens to have the day off, the kitchen’s output can be somewhat less than stellar. In addition, the service can be variable. Apart from a few missteps, however, Tandoor is definitely worth a visit. BYOB.

Vita Bella - Veal Chop MarsalaVITA BELLA PIZZERIA & RESTAURANT, Oaks Shopping Center, 1570 Egypt Road, Suite 270, Oaks, Pennsylvania, (610) 666-1110, www.vitabellarestaurantpa.com: Family owned and operated, Villa Bella makes a welcome addition to the local Oaks/Phoenixville area dining scene. But if you’re looking for a typical generic Italian/American pizza joint, you would do well to dine elsewhere, as Vita Bella’s kitchen serves up authentic made-from-scratch Italian cuisine. The food here – pristinely fresh and alive with flavor – is the real deal… and you can taste the difference. All the restaurant’s pastas and entrées come highly recommended… but the La Valdostana – its incomparable veal chop – is most assuredly the kitchen’s claim to fame. It is stuffed with Italian ham & Fontina cheese, sautéed in white wine sauce, and crowned with sliced mushrooms. The chop is tender, succulent, simply melts in your mouth and, needless to say, is incredibly delicious. Vita Bella is a hidden gem just waiting to be discovered by a wider clientele. BYOB.

Bon Appétit!


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