For your dining pleasure, listed below in alphabetical order are synopses of the eleven (11) restaurants reviewed in the RAP Newsletter during the year 2016.
ARUGULA RISTORANTE ITALIANO, 275 Wilmington West Chester Pike (Route 202), Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, (610) 358-0888, www.arugulachaddsford.com: Tucked away in a tiny nondescript strip mall, Arugula doesn’t look like much from the outside (or the inside, for that matter)… but there’s magic in the kitchen. The Lubrano family serves up cuisine inspired by the traditional home cooking of central and southern Italy sprinkled with innovative specials. Be sure to try the Capellini all’Arugula, angel hair pasta in a cherry tomato arugula sauce crowned with shavings of Pecorino Romano cheese, Monkfish Filets kissed by a lovely white wine lemon sauce, or the tender Veal Medallions topped with sliced eggplant, zucchini, and mozzarella cheese. Arugula’s proximity to both Winterthur and the Brandywine River Museum make it a pleasant stopover for either lunch or dinner. BYOB.
BASILICO PIZZERIA & FAMILY RESTAURANT, 1570 Egypt Road, Oaks, Pennsylvania (610) 666-1110, NOW CLOSED: If you thought Vita Bella’s tenure in the Oaks Shopping Center was short-lived, Basilico, its successor in precisely the same space, was gone in the proverbial blinking of an eye. Given the hit-or-miss food & service, and the plethora of pizzeria/Italian eateries in the immediate vicinity, an early demise seemed inevitable. However, when Jersey Mike’s Subs moved in right next door – undoubtedly stealing a great deal of their lunch and dinner trade – the die was cast. Not greatly mourned.
DOWNTOWN BANGKOK CAFÉ, 705 Pothouse Road, Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, (610) 933-4800, www.downtownbangkokcafe.com: Situated on the second floor of Yaowapa Thailand Treasures, you practically have to organize a search party to find the restaurant’s entrance… but, trust me, it’s worth the spirited game of hide-and-seek. The four diminutive dining rooms and reception area are beautifully and tastefully appointed, and the food lovingly prepared and attractively presented. To start things off, both the Butterfly Blanket and the Thai Salad have a great deal to recommend them. The former serves up five fried dumplings stuffed with ground chicken buttressed by a tangy sweet & sour sauce; the latter is comprised of shredded Napa cabbage & carrots, fresh soy beans, and crispy noodles tossed with an addictive house-made peanut dressing. Entrée-wise, the Drunken Man, a combo of onion, bell pepper, basil, egg, carrots, broccoli & scallions is top-notch… ditto the Basil Eggplant Stir Fry, Coconut Shrimp, and Thai Salmon. BYOB.
GINO’S RISTORANTE & PIZZERIA, 2401 West Main Street (Ridge Pike), Norristown, Pennsylvania, (610) 539-0155, www.myginos.com: A family owned and operated restaurant for over 40 years, Gino’s food is uncompromisingly southern Italian. If you lust after red sauce, you’ve found your Neapolitan Nirvana. And to go along with the more-than-reasonable prices, the portion sizes are prodigious. Among the main courses, veal is a solid choice… ditto the al forno (baked) items. The Eggplant Parm served up with a side of spaghetti, for example, is perfectly prepared and nothing short of gargantuan. As an added incentive, each weekend the restaurant imports a plethora of fresh fish – Sole, Branzino, Snapper, etc. – to which the kitchen devotes all of its considerable culinary skills. The dining area borders on the utilitarian, but the room is bright & airy and the tables & chairs comfortable and nicely spaced. If you’re looking for a bit more privacy, try to snare one of the booths along the interior wall. Just don’t forget to BYOB.
IL GRANAIO ITALIAN RESTAURANT, 711 Concord Road, Glen Mills, Pennsylvania, (610) 459-8469, http://ilgranaio.com: The elder sibling of Antica in nearby Chadds Ford, Il Granaio, which means “granary” or “barn,” is owned by chefs Josh Friedberg & Gent Mema. The interior is dark, rustic, and candlelit. Intimate ambiance notwithstanding, the excellent authentic Italian cuisine is the chief drawing card for locals and gastronomic pilgrims alike. Among the appetizers, the Fritto Misto di Verdure – deep fried vegetables served with a caramelized shallot and sage aioli (pictured) – proved to be the table favorite. Among the entrées, the Braised Veal Ragout with Pappardelle Pasta was a winner on all counts, as was the Agnolotti Porcini, small ravioli stuffed with veal and mascarpone cheese. For dessert, don’t miss the lusciously addictive Chocolate Mousse Cake. Silky smooth on the palate, this decadent denouement goes down nice and easy… and even easier with a shot of potent espresso. BYOB.
LOCAL WINE & KITCHEN, 39 Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, Pennsylvania, (610) 896-4740, www.localwineandkitchen.com: The food at Local, as the name implies, is locally sourced; it is also cosmopolitan in scope, driven by seasonality, and very, very good… with the restaurant’s unique charcuterie bar leading the way. The charcuterie offers patrons an exciting assortment of cured meats & cheeses accompanied by a variety of house-made accoutrements – with presentations as eye-catching as they are delicious. Starters include an array of luscious salads, including a personal fave, Cauliflower Salad, boasting chickpeas, tiara of fried leeks, and an incomparably seasoned dressing of whipped cumin feta. Entrées tempt the palate with a decadently rich House-Made Gnocchi, Poached Atlantic Halibut, Yorkshire Pork Tenderloin, and Pappardelle Pasta replete with coffee-braised rabbit. For dessert, be sure to try the Frozen Yogurt spruced up with sweet strawberry sauce, balsamic syrup, and fresh basil leaves.
NOT YOUR AVERAGE JOE’S, 49 St. James Place, Suburban Square, Ardmore, Pennsylvania, (484) 708-1500, www.notyouraveragejoes.com/ardmore: From the very moment of its February 2015 debut, Joe’s has been wildly popular – and with good reason. The restaurant is smack in the middle of all the Suburban Square action and is easily accessible. The interior is done up in au courant open industrial décor, but still manages to exude a certain welcoming warmth. The key to its success, however, is the food. Made from scratch, the menu presses all the right culinary buttons – sandwiches, salads, pizzas, entrées, decadent desserts, gluten-free options – and is both seasonally changing and reasonably priced. In addition, the restaurant boasts a very nice wine list, with 21 selections by the glass, and 20 brews on tap. If you’re snacking at the bar, the Nacho Average Nachos are something of a must… ditto the Bacon Blue Flatbread. In the entrée department, both the Rosemary-Skewered New Bedford Scallops and the Grilled Sirloin Tips are highly recommended.
PIZZA BY ELIZABETHS, 3801 Kennett Pike (Route 52), Wilmington (Greenville) Delaware, (302) 654-4478, www.pizzabyelizabeths.com: One glance at the restaurant’s website and you’re bound to be impressed. Words like “sophisticated,” “intriguing,” and “casual elegance” are freely bandied about… along with photographs of the tea room-looks-like-it-was-designed-by-Martha Stewart décor lovingly bathed in soft, filtered light. But looks can be deceiving… and, in this case, they are. There is absolutely no question in my mind that Pizza by Elizabeths has the makings of a terrific eatery. The concept is first class; unfortunately, the execution is strictly economy coach. Service is erratic; and the food is hit-or-miss at best. You can luck out and be treated to a reasonably good meal here; but since the menu changes weekly, you’re never quite sure what the cooking minions will be prone to muck up. Should you be fresh from a visit to nearby Winterthur and contemplating a stopover here, my advice is to stick with the salads and the pizza and you probably won’t go wrong. A glass of wine and snack at the bar are also a good bet. Other than that and you would do well to order with the circumspection of a minnow in a shark tank.
RISTORANTE CASTELLO, 721 Skippack Pike (Route 73) Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, (215) 238-9500, www.ristorantecastello.com: Tucked away in an office complex, Ristorante Castello might easily be passed by without notice. However, as I’ve often discovered, hard-to-find restaurants are usually well worth finding – and Castello is no exception. To start things off, the Bruschetta is a benchmark rendition of a traditional Italian prelude. Other winners include the Carpaccio di Manzo, beautifully arranged raw, wafer-thin slices of filet mignon companioned by olive oil, lemon, basil leaves, and shaved parmesan cheese; and La Parmigiana, layers of Italian eggplant and fresh tomato sauce topped with fresh mozzarella and finished in the oven. Among the entrées, both the Fettuccini Bolognese and the incredibly tender, perfectly seasoned Veal Chop are highly recommended. Desserts vary daily and are well worth considering. BYOB.
TERRAIN GARDEN CAFÉ, Concordville Town Centre, 914 Baltimore Pike (Route 1/322), Glen Mills, Pennsylvania, (610) 459-6030, www.shopterrain.com/glen-mills-restaurant: Housed in a converted greenhouse and sporting rustic wood tables & chairs, Ball Mason Jar water glasses, a plethoric variety of assorted greenery, and ultra-romantic lighting, the Terrain Garden Café exudes atmosphere aplenty – especially when the sun goes down. But this eatery is infinitely more than ambiance. Terrain’s kitchen celebrates both the cycle of the seasons and bounty of the land by crafting menus from hand-selected produce, meats and dairy supplied by local farms. In addition, in the spring of this year (2016), Terrain began a new partnership with the Chef Mark Vetri’s family of restaurants. The kitchen’s version of House-Made Gnocchi features spring onions, wild mushroom ragù, and splash of parmesan cream. On the other hand, the rich & succulent fall-off-the-bone Lamb Shank is simply not to be missed…. ditto the Pan-Roasted Trout Filets. Perfect for sharing, either as an appetizer or side, is the kitchen’s utterly addictive Macaroni & Cheese Skillet. It’s loaded with chunks of ham, cheddar cheese, and topping of herbed breadcrumbs… Oh, yes, and cream. Lots of cream. Cast your fate – and your next cholesterol test – to the wind! BYOB.
ZACHARIAS CREEK SIDE CAFÉ, 2960 Skippack Pike, Worcester, Pennsylvania, (610) 584-5650, http://zachariascafe.com: The restaurant’s interior is an eye-catching amalgam of Modern & Mediterranean accents replete with textured abstract walls & striking mixed medium sculptures. The restaurant also boasts a bustling open kitchen and attractive 50-seat front patio for al fresco dining. And the cuisine, which may best be described as Mediterranean & Italian fare with eclectic subtitles, is every bit as impressive as the décor. The diminutive island of Black Olive Tapenade floating in a sea of extra virgin olive oil complemented by beautifully textured house-made focaccia is the delicious harbinger of the good things to come. Appetizer-wise, be sure to try the luscious antipasto for two, the pristinely fresh Ceviche, or the perfectly seasoned Turkey Meatballs pillowed on sautéed spinach and finished with a marvelous honey-soy-ginger sauce. Entrées…? The Pan-Seared Wild Salmon, Stuffed Pork Tenderloin, House-Braised Short Rib, and Eggplant Napoleon are all excellent choices. For dessert, the fabulously rich Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Icing and Caramel Glaze can’t be beat. BYOB.