2019 Restaurant Reviews

by artfuldiner on January 7, 2020

in Artful Diner Review, Pennsylvania, Review, Wining and Dining

For your dining pleasure, listed below in alphabetical order are synopses of the sixteen (16) restaurants reviewed during the year 2019. The month appearing in parenthesis indicates the month the restaurant’s full review appeared on the blog.

Anthony's Downingtown - LasagnaANTHONY’S CUCINA FRESCA (August), 78 West Lancaster Avenue, Downingtown, Pennsylvania, (610) 873-5544, http://anthonyscucinafresca.com/: Anthony’s Cucina Fresca is a homey, welcoming and, above all, bustling trattoria. No matter what day of the week you decide to put in an appearance – especially at dinner – rest assured that the joint will be jumping. The food here is well prepared, generously portioned, and the price is right. Another plus is the restaurant’s well-stocked bar, which features select signature cocktails and an assortment of Italian wines and beers. Start things off with winners like Stuffed Figs, Prosciutto, and Mascarpone or Anthony’s Eggplant interspersed with homemade fresh mozzarella and Romano cheese. At top of my entrée list is Anthony’s Lasagna (pictured) splashed with panna sauce, marinara spruced up with heavy cream and a touch of nutmeg. Irresistible. Desserts cover the usual bases; but every once-in-a-while the kitchen will serve up an exquisitely-made fresh fruit tart. If it happens to make a guest appearance the evening of your visit, don’t hesitate to dig in.

Anthony's - InteriorANTHONY’S PIZZA & ITALIAN RESTAURANT (May), 127 West King Street, Malvern, Pennsylvania, (610) 447-7400, www.anthonysmalvern.com : Tucked away in the Malvern Shopping Center – and no relation to the above-mentioned Anthony’s, by the way – Anthony’s Pizza is a popular BYOB majoring in Italian comfort food. Just how popular…? Since the restaurant does not except reservations, even on a quiet weekday evening, the wait for a table could very easily be 20 to 30 minutes. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. There’s a bit of everything here, so you’re not likely to go hungry for lack of choices. In addition to the usual suspects, appetizers include such intriguing possibilities as Artichoke Casserole in beurre blanc sauce and Asiago Risotto Bites. Among the entrées, the Penne alla Norma, pasta accompanied by tender morsels of eggplant, tomato, garlic, and basil crowned with dabs of ricotta and shavings of Grana Padano cheese, is highly recommended. Ditto the kitchen’s classic version of Eggplant Parmigiana. Dessert-wise, have a go at either the Cannoli or House-Made Cheesecake. Both are first-rate.

Avola - Meat & CheeseAVOLA KITCHEN & BAR (June), 625 North Morehall Road, Malvern, Pennsylvania, (484) 328-8584, www.avolakitchenandbar.com: The Avola Kitchen & Bar is named after a picturesque seaside village in the south of Sicily… But buzzing past its location among the new strip mall storefronts on bustling Route 29, it doesn’t exactly strike you as very Old World…neither does the restaurant’s industrial chic interior. The result is a cavernous space that reverberates sounds – even when partially filled – like a chainsaw run amuck. The food – small plates, soups & salads, pasta, pizza, and entrée-size portions – a Mediterranean combo of Old- World flavors and farm fresh ingredients, is something of a mixed bag… Although the menu has changed significantly since my visits in June.  I particularly enjoyed the Charcuterie & Formaggio, (pictured) a meat & cheese board that incorporated an ethereal chicken liver foie mousse, several cheeses, and a variety of accompaniments. The Spaghetti Pomodoro, a relatively simple dish, was also quite excellent, as was the Caesar Salad. Entrée-size portions include a first-rate Branzino served up with shrimp, artichokes, capers, leeks, and cherry tomatoes in a flavorful clam brodo, Wood Roasted Chicken with cauliflower purée, and braised short ribs. There is no question that dining at Avola can be a thoroughly rewarding experience. Be particularly circumspect in your menu selections and you probably won’t be disappointed.

Bud and Marilyn' - MeatloafBUD & MARILYN’S (November), 1234 Locust Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, (215) 546-2220, www.budandmarilyns.com: Named after co-owner Marcie Turney’s grandparents, who ran a restaurant in Ripon, Wisconsin, the restaurant is unabashedly retro. Vintage décor, clunky glassware, and an odd assortment of knickknacks all add to the pleasant illusion of another time and place… as do the updated riffs on a host of classic cocktails. The food, on the other hand, is retro in name only. In some cases, items listed on the menu simply provide a springboard for the infusion of a host of upscale/updated ingredients; in others, all pretense of culinary reminiscence is simply laid aside. Most of the dishes I encountered here were both heavy and heavy-handed. Heavy with regard to portion-size, preparation, and impact on one’s delicate peristalsis; and particularly heavy-handed with regard to presentation. Among the spruced up retro entrées, the Fontina & Chard Stuffed Meatloaf (pictured) had the most to recommend it. Other sure bets included the irresistible Wisconsin Cheese Curds, Warm Buttermilk Biscuits, and Miso Glazed Salmon. Bud & Marilyn’s offers diners an interesting culinary journey down memory lane… I just wish there were a few less bumps in the road.

Downtown Bangkok Cafe - Crispy Spring RollDOWNTOWN BANGKOK CAFÉ (July), 705 Pothouse Road, Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, (610) 933-4800, www.downtownbangkokcafe.com: I first reviewed Downtown Bangkok in August 2016 and have returned on numerous occasions since. There is no question in my mind that Chef Yaowapa Kowal’s lovingly prepared and presented Thai cuisine is the very best in the area. No matter how many times you’ve paid a call here, the food and the ambiance – four diminutive beautifully appointed dining rooms – will woo you back again and again. To start things off, the crispy Vegetable Spring Rolls (pictured) are something of a must… ditto the Thai Salad tossed with an incredibly addictive peanut dressing. When it comes to the entrées, I’m extremely partial to the spicy Drunken Man Noodles, a winning combo of onion, bell pepper, basil, egg, carrots, broccoli, and scallions. But if Chef Kowal has a signature dish, it is undoubtedly her incomparable Crispy Duck prepared with a zesty tamarind sauce and sided by jasmine rice. The Downtown Bangkok Café continues to be a marvelously satisfying dining experience. Just don’t forget to make reservations and BYOB.

Eddie V's - HalibutEDDIE V’s PRIME SEAFOOD (November), 670 West Dekalb Pike, King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, (610) 337-7823, www.eddiev.com: When it comes to judging steakhouses and restaurants of similar ilk, foodwise, Eddie V’s is clearly near the top of the heap. Bacon Wrapped Filets “Oscar” Style with King Crab drew well-deserved oohs and aahs at our table, with perfectly grilled asparagus and a luscious Béarnaise filling in the blanks… And there is absolutely no question that the seafood, which is flown in fresh daily, is at the peak of good health, impeccably prepared, and attractively presented. The Misoyaki Alaska Halibut (pictured), for example, swims to table in a bewitchingly ethereal miso broth awash with sugar snap peas and shiitake mushrooms. The rich and succulent Chilean Sea Bass is prepared Hong Kong-style, steamed, and then served in an elegant soy broth. Accompaniments such as the combo of Brussels Sprouts, Bacon and Shallots, Au Gratin Cheddar Potatoes, Truffled Macaroni and Cheese, and over-the-top Butter Poached Lobster Mashed Potatoes also get high marks. Desserts unfortunately, which are made fresh daily in the kitchen, are something of a mixed bag and, in my opinion, the restaurant’s weakest point – other than the, at times, lethal noise level and equally lethal tariffs that is. Does the quality of the restaurant’s cuisine justify its outrageous prices…? It’s your call.

Francisco's on the River - ExteriorFRANCISCO’S ON THE RIVER (August), 1251 River Road, Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania, (4215) 321-8789, www.franciscosontheriver.com: First reviewed in December 2017, Francisco’s remains a local and personal favorite. If you happen to be cruising by on a journey to or from the New Hope/Lambertville area, this charming little BYOB makes the perfect stopover for a casual dinner. Whatever you do, be sure to start things off with the restaurant’s famous whole wheat garlic bread. It isn’t complimentary, but $3.00 is a paltry sum to shell out for something so utterly delicious. If Francisco’s has a house specialty, it is undoubtedly chef/proprietor Francisco Argueta’s brilliant take on the two paradigms of Neapolitan comfort cuisine. His Eggplant Parmigiano is deliciously picturesque and decidedly upscale. Fourteen (14) layers of wafer-thin eggplant are bathed in the restaurant’s red sauce and enhanced with a sprinkling of parmesan and basil. Equally pleasing to both eye and palate is his Lasagna. Luscious layers of perfectly cooked pasta are interspersed with ricotta cheese & Bolognese supplemented by porcini mushrooms, smoked bacon, mozzarella cheese, and more of that irresistible red sauce. Desserts are all first-rate and well worth the extra calories. Coconut Cake is the house favorite; and, in my opinion, completely deserving of the accolade.

GRAPEVINE CUISINE (March), 84 West Lancaster Avenue, Downingtown, Pennsylvania, (610) 269-1304, www.grapeviewcuisine.com: THIS RESTAURANT HAS PERMANETLY CLOSED.

High Street on Market - InteriorHIGH STREET ON MARKET (April), 308 Market Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, (215) 625-0988, https://highstreetonmarket.com/: Once little more than a take-out addendum to Fork, co-owner Ellen Yin and Chef Eli Kulp (who, even after the ill-fated 2015 Amtrak crash, still remains a vital part of Ms. Yin’s ever-expanding restaurant organization) have refashioned the diminutive bustling space into an exceedingly popular breakfast-through-dinner restaurant with its own unique identity. Significantly less expensive and more laid back than its next-door elder sibling, High Street still maintains the very same commitment to the utilization of farm-to-table quality ingredients and their careful and thought-provoking preparation & presentation. The Crispy Mixed Vegetables are sublime in their apparent simplicity. Caressed by a thin coating of rice flour and then flash fried, the result was a lighter-than-air crackle followed by an assortment of firm-to-the-bite veggies invigorated with a generous slathering of “chow chow,” a spicy pickle relish. Other starter options include a selection of Pennsylvania Cheeses, Charred Broccoli with lemon ricotta and pecorino, and Sloop Point Oysters from Barnegat Bay. Current entrées include Crab Spaghetti, Spelt Pappardelle with pork ragu, and Lasagna with sweet potato and short rib. In addition to the tempting culinary offerings, the restaurant has also put together an exciting array of unusual cocktails and spirits, as well as a compact but extremely interesting wine list.

Jansen - Lemon SoleJANSEN (February), 7402 Germantown Avenue, Mt. Airy, Pennsylvania, (267) 335-5041, www.jansenmtairy.com: For over a decade, David Jansen was the chef de cuisine at the legendary Fountain Restaurant at Philadelphia’s Four Seasons Hotel. His current domicile, a three hundred-year old handsome stone structure, is far less intimidating. The 72-seat interior has been tastefully renovated with whitewashed walls, crisp white napery, and strikingly contrasting blue draperies supplemented by a lovely walled outdoor garden. The food, while not cutting-edge, could best be described as thoroughly approachable upscale comfort cuisine, which appears to be a perfect fit for the slightly conservative gastronomic inclinations of the Mr. Airy & Chestnut Hill dining sets. The appetizer course is comprised exclusively of seafood, while the first course is where you’ll find an interesting variety of soups and salads… But the real winner among the starters is the daily presentation of Foie Gras. You never know what Mr. Jansen is going to come up with, but it is inevitably decadently delicious and beautifully presented. There are a select number of entrées on the printed menu; and, from what I’ve observed, seafood appears to be the restaurant’s strong suit. The Lemon Sole filets (pictured) perfectly pan seared to a golden brown, are set on a seabed of creamy risotto awash with crunchy rock shrimp and finished with a tangy lime emulsion. The Alaskan Halibut is equally up to the mark. Desserts, courtesy of pastry chef Angela Irwin, are always worth a look-see.

La Fava - Pollo RosmarinoLA FAVA (September), 1102 Baltimore Pike, #101, Glen Mills, Pennsylvania, (484) 840-8603, https://lafavaglenmills.com: Hidden away in a small shopping center on Route 1 North, La Fava made its debut in February 2019. And, judging by the crowds I’ve witnessed recently at both lunch and dinner, its Italian/Mediterranean fusion cuisine has made quite a splash on the local dining scene. The closest you’ll come to the usual suspects is undoubtedly the Chicken Parmigiana, which does have its own unique charm. Of infinitely more interest, however, is the Pollo Rosmarino (pictured), a semi-boneless chicken breast spruced up with rosemary, Castelvetrano olives, and splash of white wine. Seafood selections are impressive… ditto the pasta dishes, which divide their time between classic and innovative presentations. On the other hand, the Roasted Vegetable Lasagna offers diners a bit of both worlds. While it resembles your standard lasagna awash with San Marzano tomato sauce, the magic lies just below the surface in a winning combo of squash, spinach, and host of root vegetables. But the pièce de résistance is a decadently rich béchamel sauce, which makes an extraordinarily delicious stand-in for the business-as-usual ricotta. La Fava also sports an impressive list of signature cocktails, as well as a number of interesting wines by the glass.

Liberty Union - Wisconsin Mac & CheeseLIBERTY UNION BAR & GRILL (July), 519 Kimberton Road, Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, (484) 927-4244, www.libertyunionbar.com: Liberty Union is what is colloquially known as a Local Happy-Tappy, a totally unpretentious neighborhood joint that is a thoroughly reliable purveyor of proletarian pub grub. It’s a spur-of-the-moment, guaranteed-not-to-break-the-bank, burger and brewsky kind of place. As local happy-tappies go, Liberty Union acquits itself reasonably well. There’s a bustling bar scene, live entertainment several nights a week, a slew of TVs to keep the sports fans happy, and the food isn’t bad either. The Idaho Loaded Tater Tots are great starters… ditto the Philly Cheesesteak Eggrolls. The kitchen turns out a scrumptious NY Deli Reuben and a highly recommendable Cauliflower Steak for those of the vegetarian persuasion. My favorite among the entrées is clearly the completely addictive Wisconsin Mac & Cheese (pictured) spruced up with bacon, sautéed onions, and topping of crispy breadcrumbs… And be sure to add the grilled chicken to the mix; it’s well-seasoned, marvelously moist, and provides the perfect textural counterpoint to all that luscious cheese. Don’t get me wrong, there will be occasional miscues here; but, on the whole, for what it is, and for what it attempts, Liberty Union does a pretty good of keeping its patrons happy.

Pomodoro - Cannoli CakePOMOD’ORO PIZZA & ITALIAN RESTAURANT (December), 200 Chestnut Street, Downingtown, Pennsylvania, (610) 873-0405, www.pomodorodowningtown.com: Pomod’oro is the younger sibling of Anthony’s Pizza & Italian Restaurant in Malvern, PA. And, like Anthony’s, Pomod’oro is a BYOB majoring in Italian comfort food that sports princely portions at downright paltry prices. The menu – which ranges from pizza, sandwiches, stromboli & calzones through entrées and homemade desserts – is very similar to Anthony’s, so there certainly should be no surprises. As you would undoubtedly expect, entrées round up the usual suspects – but all are carefully prepared and sure to satisfy the most voracious of appetites. The Spaghetti Bolognese, for example, is simply mountainous. But we’re not just talking quantity here. The meat sauce is beautifully seasoned, classic in every sense of the world, and the pasta is just the right side of al dente. “Baked” entrées include a first-rate Lasagna, Manicotti, Baked Ziti, Eggplant Parmigiana, and a fabulous Crespelle Ripiene, fresh crepes stuffed with ricotta and spinach and topped with marinara and mozzarella. And be sure to save some room, as the homemade desserts – particularly the decadently delicious Cannoli Cake (pictured above) – are not to be missed.

Ron's Original - Italian MeatloafRON’S ORIGINAL BAR & GRILLE (May), 74 East Uwchlan Avenue (Route 113), Lionville, Pennsylvania, (610) 594-1000, www.ronsoriginal.com: My initial review of Ron’s Original was posted in November 2012… But very little has changed in the interim. The restaurant continues to offer its patrons the best of organic and/or local comestibles that are not only good for you but pleasing to the eye and palate as well. In addition, the menu lists the items that are gluten free, hormone/antibiotic free, spicy, vegetarian, clean eating, and/or made from scratch. A lion’s share of Ron’s menu is given over to the kitchen’s superb interpretation of so-called “pub grub.” But the kitchen also turns out a select variety of entrées. It’s homey Black Angus Italian Meatloaf (pictured), for example, is topped with house-made marinara sauce and companioned by a mound of luscious garlic mashed potatoes and perfectly cooked broccoli florets. The restaurant also offers up a number of tempting options to assuage your sweet tooth… But nothing quite measures up to the over-the-top Peanut Butter Chocolate Cheesecake. More than suitable for sharing, this irresistibly rich and creamy delight is decadence personified. If you’re on the prowl for well-prepared casual fare that utilizes top-notch ingredients and won’t break the bank, Ron’s Original is highly recommended for both lunch and dinner.

TSan Nicola - InteriorRATTORIA SAN NICOLA (December), 4 Manor Road, West Paoli, Pennsylvania, (610) 695-8990, www.sannicola.net: First reviewed in October 2008 and more recently in December 2019, San Nicola boasts an interior of distressed stone/brick walls, colorful murals & original works of art, a piazza replete with bubbling fountain, a chef’s room for special parties, and a comfortable bar area. I found the lusty Italian fare generally well prepared, attractively presented, and reasonably priced. You may dine well here; you may also, unfortunately, dine not so well… as the kitchen, in my view, lacks consistency – as does the service. The Branzino (European sea bass) baked en casserole and simply complemented with olive oil, white wine, lemon juice, and a bevy of sautéed mixed vegetables, is always a solid choice. Conversely, veal seems to be the restaurant’s Achilles’ heel. On one occasion, an appetizer of Involtini di Melanzane – lightly battered eggplant rolled around provolone cheese, asparagus, basil, and capers in a garlic tomato sauce – was a table favorite. Most recently, however, it was a mere shadow of its former self and totally lacking in flavor.  Among the starters, salads appear to be your best bets, with arugula the greenery of choice. Entrée-wise, ordering one of the pastas, in my opinion, puts the odds for success solidly in your favor. Service, unfortunately, remains very much the luck of the draw.

Zorba's - Fisherman FeastZORBA’S TAVERNA (October), 2230 Fairmount Avenue, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, (215) 978-5990, https://zorbastavern.com/: First reviewed in July 2014, this father-son BYOB is located just a short distance from the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the shadow of Eastern Penitentiary with a handy paid parking facility just across the street. The diminutive eatery boasts two colorful dining rooms, an open kitchen, and some very, very good Greek cuisine. The Greek Salad, of course, makes a perfect starter. It is spectacular, as is the dressing, just the right combo of olive oil, vinegar, herbs, and other seasonings. But even better, in my opinion, is the suitable for sharing Spring Salad, an amalgam of romaine lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, olives, and feta cheese. When it comes to your main course, there are numerous ways to go. But if you happen to be a seafood lover, the Fisherman’s Feast for two (pictured) should be your entrée of choice. This extraordinary dish contains, salmon, tilapia, rainbow trout filets, and two shrimps roasted over charcoal, as well as potatoes, rice, and a delicious array of slow-roasted vegetables teamed with tomatoes, garlic, oregano, lemon, and olive oil. When it comes to sweet endings, Baklava is still the name of the game. I have sampled many renditions of this iconic Greek dessert over the years, and Zorba’s version is benchmark in every respect.

Bon Appétit!


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