2017 Restaurant Redux

by artfuldiner on December 26, 2017

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

For your dining pleasure, listed below in alphabetical order are synopses of the thirteen (13) restaurants reviewed during the year 2017.

Autograph Brasserie - BarAUTOGRAPH BRASSERIE, 503 West Lancaster Avenue, Wayne, Pennsylvania, (610) 964-2588, www.autographbrasserie.com: Autograph impresses… with its “theme park” décor and Center City prices, if nothing else… The food, however, has been somewhat problematic – and erratic – suffering from bouts of obtrusive overreach. On some occasions, form takes precedence over substance; on others, there simply appears to be a lack of focus and finesse. Interestingly enough, while ordering from the restaurant’s regular menu can be a hit or miss proposition, the offerings served up at a special Chateau Ste. Michelle wine dinner (January 2017) proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that the kitchen is certainly capable of turning out cuisine that is commensurate with its decorative embellishments and elevated tariffs. At this point in time, it would appear that the house-made pasta dishes are your most economically feasible and gastronomically fulfilling options.

 BRANDYWINE PRIME SEAFOOD & CHOPS AT CHADDS FORD INN, 1617 Baltimore Pike (Route 1), Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, (610) 388-8088, http://www.brandywineprime.com/: Ensconced in a beautifully restored 1703 stone cottage just a short distance from the Brandywine River Museum, Brandywine Prime is an extremely popular eatery that majors in traditional American cuisine with an emphasis on grilled steakhouse fare. Chef Jason Barrowcliff also serves patrons a healthful array of organic produce from his own garden. In addition, the restaurant boasts an impressive, reasonably-priced wine list that has been the recipient of the Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence since 2008. And be sure to check out “Wine Wednesday,” when select bottles are offered at half price. Not to be missed menu items include an enticing Tuna Tartare, extraordinarily creamy Kennett Square Mushroom Tart, grilled Blue Cobia, and the extremely flavorful Eight-Ounce Center-Cut Filet Mignon teamed with the restaurant’s own irresistible steak sauce.

Byrsa Bistro - Mediterranean SamplerBYRSA BISTRO, 128 Glen Mills Road, Glen Mills, Pennsylvania, (610) 444-3277, http://byrsabistro.com: Tucked away in a quaint Victorian dwelling that also houses “The Sporting Gentleman,” a fly fishing emporium, Byrsa isn’t all that easy to find – but it’s certainly worth the effort. The interior, reminiscent of a European bistro, is small, intimate, and simply but tastefully appointed. And the cuisine, which is just as inviting as the ambiance, features authentic culinary delicacies from a variety of western Mediterranean countries. The appetizer of choice here is the delightful, suitable-for-sharing Mediterranean Sampler (pictured). After that, the variations on the pasta theme – Pappardelle & Salmon, Lobster Ravioli, Cavatelli & Lamb, Cheese Tortellini & Chicken – are all highly recommended… ditto the Traditional Paella, Organic Chicken Tagine, and Braised Lamb Shank. Dessert-wise, the Baklava is benchmark. BYOB.

CAPERS & LEMONS ITALIAN RESTAURANT, 301 Little Falls Drive, Wilmington, Delaware, (302) 256-0524, www.capersandlemons.com: Capers & Lemons just happens to be located a scant 3.5 miles from Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library. Which means, should you happen to have spent a vigorous afternoon taking in the cultural Americana, just about the time Winterthur is closing up shop, you’d be all primed and ready to hit C&L’s “happy hour” (Monday-Friday, 4:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.). In addition to the specially priced brews, wines and mixers, their generous happy hour plates – Woodstone Oven Flatbread, Antipasto, Fried Mozzarella, Market Meatballs – are all priced at a paltry $5.00 per. And you’ll find the regular menu every bit as rewarding as the happy hour munchies. The Spaghetti Pomodoro is particularly good; as are the Veal Saltimbocca, Chicken Piccata, and Faroe Island Salmon on a seabed of perfectly seasoned orzo and sautéed garlic spinach. For dessert, nothing beats the marvelous Peanut Butter Semifreddo.

Cornerstone - Interior 1CORNERSTONE BYOB & ARTISANAL MARKET, 1 West Avenue, Wayne, Pennsylvania, (610) 688-1888, www.cornerstonewayne.com: There is no question that proprietors/chefs Christine and Nick Kondra have an absolute winner in this tiny establishment. In addition to the outstanding selection of seasonal & artisanal cheeses, hand-crafted charcuterie, and house-made sausages and pâtés, the daily changing, seasonally-driven menu presents diners with just enough choices to pique their interest without overwhelming their psyche. The 14-seat chef’s counter surrounding the open kitchen is where all the action is; and it affords diners an up close and personal view of the chefs at work. Highlights include a shareable super silky Chicken Liver Mousse, Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Seasonal Cavatelli, and salad of Local Beans & House-Made Citrus Ricotta. Among the large plates, the pan-seared Mediterranean Rock Bass is consummated with a bewitching green goddess dressing, while the Braised Veal Shank luxuriates on a sumptuous bed of Castle Valley stone ground grits caressed by an intensely flavorful veal jus. When it is available, don’t miss the Chocolate Chip Bread Pudding. BYOB – for the time being. After the first of the year (2018) Cornerstone will be expanding into the adjacent building and acquiring a liquor license. Stay tuned.

CREED’S SEAFOOD & STEAKS, 99 North Gulph Road, King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, (610) 265-2550, www.creedskop.com: A major fixture on the Main Line dining scene since 1982, Creed’s remains the only independently free-standing restaurant in King of Prussia. And the key to the restaurant’s long-running success is, most assuredly, its exemplary consistency. As many times as I’ve dined here, the carefully prepared and attractively presented American cuisine continues to surprise and delight. Executive Chef John Talbot, a graduate of the Philadelphia Restaurant School, is the talented power behind the stove; and his demand for only the highest quality fresh ingredients is immediately evident. Recently sampled, for instance, was a beautifully pan seared Red Snapper Filet companioned by purple mashed potatoes & white asparagus finished with a beguiling orange beurre blanc. When it comes to meatier matters, the Eight-Ounce Center-Cut Filet Mignon pairs exceedingly well with the brandy peppercorn sauce, Chianti demi-glace, sauce béarnaise, or Roquefort demi-glace. A select, carefully chosen wine list – by the bottle and the glass – completes the enticing scenario.

Eclipse Bistro - Open Kitchen w QuoteECLIPSE BISTRO, 1020 North Union Street, Wilmington, Delaware, (302) 658-1588, www.eclipsebistro.com: Eclipse Bistro, the flagship restaurant of the Platinum Dining Group, just happens to be located a scant mile from the front door of the Delaware Art Museum, which is currently exhibiting, through January 28, 2018, An American Journey: The Art of John Sloan. So after browsing through the nearly 100 drawings, prints, and paintings, Eclipse would make a convivial gastronomic & libationary stopover for either lunch or dinner. The cuisine, like the ambiance, is agreeably cozy… And Julia Child’s maxim, inscribed above the semi-open kitchen – “Cooking is like love; it should be entered into with abandon or not at all.” – tells the story. Indeed, you can always count on the kitchen to tempt your taste buds with a uniquely captivating caress. Like the Roasted Vegetable Crepes with goat cheese-black pepper cream, for example; or the Bistro Catch (fish of the chef’s choosing) served with a warm legume salad, broccolini, espelette (sweet chili) sauce, and leek vinaigrette. You’ll soon discover why TripAdvisor rated Eclipse number 5 among the some 444 restaurants in the greater Wilmington area.

FRANCISCO’S ON THE RIVER, 1251 River Road, Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania, (215) 321-8789, www.franciscosontheriver.com: Chef/proprietor Francisco Argueta, a native of El Salvador, arrived in this country over 30 years ago and learned to cook in an Italian kitchen. He rose up through the ranks and quickly became a skilled chef and then an accomplished restaurateur. In the nearly eight years Francisco’s has been in existence, Mr. Argueta has succeeded in building a loyal local clientele. He claims that something like ninety percent of his customers are regulars – and I certainly have no reason to doubt his word. The drawing card, of course, is the chef’s hearty, old-fashioned Italian menu supplemented by a variety of innovative daily specials. The Eggplant Parmigiano and Lasagna are the epitome of Neapolitan comfort cuisine, while items like Bob’s Plate – an amalgam of salmon, scallops, shrimp & crabmeat served over fettuccine in a pink vodka sauce are more upscale. But do leave room for dessert… Coconut Cake is the house favorite; but I’m partial to the light & luscious Lemon Tart. BYOB.

Fri Sat Sun - Upstairs Dining RoomFRIDAY SATURDAY SUNDAY, 261 South 21st Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, (215) 546-4232, http://fridaysaturdaysunday.com: Fri Sat Sun, now under the ownership of Chad and Hanna Williams, both members of the José Garces alumni association, is the reincarnation of the restaurant that remained a Rittenhouse area “classic” for some 42 years. This isn’t the old Fri Sat Sun, little doubt about that; but, in my opinion, this classy new personification is carrying on the venerable restaurant’s rich tradition with style and panache. Say what you will about the sleek new décor… love it or hate it. The food, however, is another story entirely… It is nothing short of extraordinary. As a somewhat cynical “hired belly,” it takes a helluva lot to blow my culinary skirt up… but Mr. Williams, the former chef de cuisine at Amada, manages to do just that. He has assembled a chic, seasonally-changing new-American menu that’s lovingly designed for tasting, sharing, and spirited bouts of gastronomic grazing. And his culinary offerings are as photogenic as they are delicious. This is food porn taken to a whole new level. A must try!

MISTRAL AT KING OF PRUSSIA MALL, 160 North Gulph Road, King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, (610) 678-1630, www.mistralkop.com: Mistral KOP, owned by Executive Chef Scott Anderson and Stephen Distler, is an offshoot of the Princeton original, which has been packing them in for the past four years. When I first reviewed the King of Prussia location, several months ago, I considered the cuisine something of a hit or miss proposition, feeling the kitchen still had quite a ways to go before it could be considered in the same class as its Ivy League sibling. A recent return visit, however, proved to be infinitely more edifying. In point of fact, every item sampled – a zippy Tuna Poke (pronounced po-kay) salad on a seabed of pureed avocado, Tempura Squash, Garganelli Pasta with sausage & broccoli rabe, and an exceedingly tender pretzel-encrusted Pork Cutlet Milanese – were right on the money. But the questions still remain… Will Mistral’s culinary esoterica appeal to the philistine-like dining habits of the typical shop ‘til you drop crowd…? And/or will the restaurant’s mall location keep more sophisticated diners away in droves? Only time will tell.

Alba - Sauteed Halibut w Lemon & Chili Roasted PotatoesRESTAURANT ALBA, 7 West King Street, Malvern, Pennsylvania, (610) 644-4009, www.restaurantalba.com: Making its debut as a cozy BYOB, in December 2011, Alba expanded its horizons and acquired a liquor license. The result is a warm and intimate bar/lounge and an award-winning Italian wine list… And chef/proprietor Sean Weinberg continues to do an absolutely superb job of giving vent to his passionate and inventive culinary spirit. His eclectic menu – ranging from Italy to Mexico – features slow-braised game, homemade pastas, and the scintillating sensuality of meats and seafood kissed by his open kitchen’s wood-fired grill. To start things off, nothing quite beats the five options of Bruschetta, which may be mixed and matched at the diner’s pleasure. The other white meat is always a good bet here, whether the incredibly moist Overnight Berkshire Pork or the Slow Roasted Suckling Pig; and the excellent seafood dishes – including Sautéed Halibut (pictured) and Wood Grille Lancaster Trout – should also not be overlooked. For something different dessert-wise, be sure to try the Affogato, a scoop of vanilla ice cream “drowned” in a shot of hot espresso and splash of Frangelico.

SILVERSPOON CAFÉ, 503 West Lancaster Avenue, Wayne, Pennsylvania, (610) 688-7646, http://www.silverspoonwayne.com/: The Silverspoon is a casual, welcoming space. Large windows flood the restaurant with sunlight by day, while evenings are transformed into a relaxing candle-lit dining experience. Executive Chef Ron Silverberg tempts diners with an American menu of exciting complementary & contrasting seasonally changing ingredients; and his upbeat presentations are as pleasurable to the eye as they are to the palate. The Daily Toast – grilled sourdough adorned with a savory seasonal topping – is always a first-rate starter… as are the outstanding salads. When it comes to the main courses, the Lancaster County Crispy Chicken Roulade served up with a savory chicken jus is an excellent choice… ditto the Grilled Bone-In Prime Reserve Pork Chop pillowed on perfectly seasoned, ultra-creamy polenta. In its own quiet way, the Silverspoon Café continues its role as one of Wayne’s most popular destination restaurants. BYOB.

Sips - BarSIPS BISTRO & BAR, 400 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, (484) 924-9721, www.sipsphoenixville.com: Proprietor Fabien Chaigneau’s bustling French bistro has always had a great deal to recommend it… However, in November 2014, when Chef Chris Siropaides – alumnus of Georges Perrier’s Brasserie Perrier & Georges’ – became the power-behind-the-stove, the cuisine really seemed to find its own unique voice. Mr. Siropaides’ creative fare strikes a perfect middle ground between often intimidating esoterically-oriented upscale cuisine and somewhat less than sophisticated pub grub. It is “bistro” in the very best sense of the term, utilizing pristinely fresh ingredients that are lovingly prepared and sent forth in attractive, soul-satisfying presentations. The bar area remains my favorite spot to chow down. The highly polished antique bar – shipped over from England in 1894 – is an attractive drawing card. And its rustic charm is perfectly complemented by a series of high-top tables. This is a warm and inviting space; the perfect place to settle in and enjoy a specialty cocktail, glass of wine, snack or a complete meal… and do a bit of people watching.

Bon Appétit!


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