2014 Restaurant Redux

by artfuldiner on December 29, 2014

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

For your dining pleasure, listed below in alphabetical order are synopses of the fifteen (15) restaurants reviewed during 2014. Complete reviews of these establishments may be accessed at www.artfuldiner.com/Philly.html.

Aman's - Chicken Tikka MasalaAMAN’S INDIAN BISTRO, 277 Schuylkill Road, Kimberton Square Shopping Center, Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, (484) 924-8387, www.amansbistro.com: While not on the cutting edge of the new Indian cuisine, Aman’s does a first-rate job of preparing and presenting traditional dishes, as well as throwing in a few interesting culinary curves and flavorful fusions. The Chicken Tikka Masala, for example – moist cubes of chicken breast finished in a mildly spicy tomato & onion cream sauce – is marvelously rich and velvety smooth on the palate. And the presentation of Hakka Noodles, an Indo Chinese specialty, is superbly seasoned and downright addictive. Open every day but Monday, Aman’s Indian Bistro serves a lunch buffet and à la carte dinner. Just don’t forget to BYOB.

Antica - Interior 1ANTICA ITALIAN RESTAURANT & BYOB, 1623 Baltimore Pike, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania (484) 770-8631, www.anticapa.com: Owned by chefs Josh Friedberg and Gent Mema, also proprietors of the popular Il Granaio in nearby Glen Mills, the restaurant’s three light & airy dining areas come replete with soft soothing colorations, rustic stone wall, and framed prints by Andrew Wyeth, Chadds Ford’s favorite artistic son. The authentic, lovingly prepared and beautifully presented cuisine makes Antica worth a journey. Among the house specialties, the Pasta Pomodoro and Spinach Fettuccini are both winners…But no lunch or dinner would be complete without sampling the Gatto Napolitano, a savory potato cake layered with sopressata, mozzarella, and ricotta cheese. Antica is highly recommended on all counts. BYOB.

Avenue Kitchen - Interior 2AVENUE KITCHEN, 789 East Lancaster Avenue, Villanova, Pennsylvania, (610) 525-3950, www.avekitchen.com: Proprietor Dana Farrell’s eatery dazzles with its all-white au courant interior décor. Problem is… the food is variable and the restaurant has something of a split personality. Pluses include: wood-fired pizzas, meatloaf, and creamy mac & cheese. Minuses: miniscule, stringy mussels, generic Caesar salad, and a bottom-of-the-barrel pan-roasted branzino buried beneath an unsightly vegetable mishmash. Drop in for lunch and you probably won’t be disappointed. Dinner, however, could be a major letdown… and the evening bar crowd sends out some very strange vibes. It’s your call.

Black Powder - ExteriorBLACK POWDER TAVERN, 1164 Valley Forge Road, Wayne, Pennsylvania, (610) 293-9333, www.blackpowdertavern.com: The former Winberie’s has been transformed – via wide-plank barn-wood flooring, heavy rustic tables, warm wood paneling, assorted images of George Washington, and a framed copy of the Declaration of Independence – into the Black Powder Tavern (though the owner, Select Restaurants, remains the same). The cosmetic changes are certainly attractive… unfortunately, they do nothing to alleviate the noise level, which remains significant. On a positive note, however, the food, which under Wineberie’s banner had been nothing short of eminently forgettable, has improved dramatically. Basically American comfort fare, it also offers diners a few interesting twists & turns at both lunch and dinner. Good spot for a casual, moderately-priced chow-down.

Blue Bell Inn - ExteriorBLUE BELL INN, 601 Skippack Pike, Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, (215) 646-2010, www.bluebellinn.com: On April 7, 2014, after a year of extensive renovations, the completely redesigned Blue Bell Inn made it long awaited debut. The new interior, dressed for success, is downright sexy… and noisy. When the place is going full blast – which appear to be most of the time – a plethoric variety of hard surfaces, coupled with the cathedral ceiling in the bar area, send the decibel level soaring. The food, however, is the major disappointment. It may only be described as “mediocre,” and even that is stretching the point a bit. My advice: If you’re just dying to check out the Blue Bell’s spiffy new decor, stop in for a preprandial libation at the bar – then dine elsewhere.

TButcher & Barkeep Interior 1HE BUTCHER AND BARKEEP, 712 Main Street, Harleysville, Pennsylvania, (267) 932-8407, www.thebutcherandbarkeep.com: Executive chef/co-owner Jeffrey Sacco, the former power-behind-the-stove at the Craft Ale House in Limerick (previously reviewed), tempts diners with a compact printed menu supplemented by a limited number of daily blackboard specials. Stick with the “Pub Grub” – namely sandwiches, flatbreads, or a first-rate burger – and you can’t go wrong. Basically, The Butcher and Barkeep offers patrons good food at more than reasonable prices in a casually convivial setting. Just be advised… the restaurant is extremely popular and does not accept reservations. If you don’t wish to cool your heels waiting for a table, I’d suggest that dining at slightly off hours might be the better part of valor.

CARMEL CAFÉ (KITCHEN) & WINE BAR, 372 West Lancaster Avenue, Wayne, Pennsylvania – CLOSED: Opening its doors at a location that had been home to numerous other failed culinary ventures… and, in some cases, serving up cuisine that was very nearly beneath contempt, this venture seemed doomed at the outset… Not even an 11th hour name change or a revamped menu could stave off the inevitable. If you harbor masochistic gastronomic tendencies, this mini restaurant chain still has an outpost in Warrington, PA.

Chow Bistro - Choc Belgian Waffle NapoleonCHOW BISTRO, 454 East Main Street, Collegeville, Pennsylvania, (484) 902-8495, www.chowbistro.com: Presided over by Chef Guy & Cathie Clauson, former proprietors of Phoenixville’s Garden Café and Black Lab Bistro, Chow serves up an eclectic array of offerings that are, for the most part, carefully prepared and attractively presented. Chicken caprese and hand-cut tagliatelle with fried egg tiara are extremely popular entrées; and when it comes time for dessert, the Meyer lemon curd tart and chocolate Belgian waffle Napoleon steal the show. Sandwiches, available at dinner as well as lunch, are also worthy of consideration.  There is no question that Chow Bistro fills a much-needed niche in the chain-saturated Collegeville dining scene. Just one caveat: The restaurant is extremely noisy when filled… which seems to be most of the time. BYOB.

Estia Radnor - Estia ChipsESTIA GREEK TAVERNA, 222 North Radnor-Chester Road, Radnor, Pennsylvania, (484) 581-7124, www.estiataverna.com: Situated in a small strip mall to the rear of the Radnor Hotel, Estia is an inviting, casually sophisticated space that boasts white-washed stone arches, bamboo ceilings, repurposed wood plank floors & tabletops, congenial bar area, and a wrap-around patio for al fresco dining. Food-wise, the emphasis is upon the highest quality seafood with traditional Hellenic favorites and intriguing Grecian takes on classic international comfort fare sharing the spotlight. Not to be missed…? The kitchen’s irresistible Estia chips: wafer-thin slices of eggplant and zucchini lightly fried, arranged in the shape of a miniature tower, and accompanied by tzatziki dipping sauce, plain yogurt blended with cucumbers, olive oil, and garlic. You can probably pop in for lunch without prior arrangement… but the restaurant’s ever growing popularity makes dinner reservations mandatory.

Gables - Bar & InteriorTHE GABLES, 423 Baltimore Pike (Route 1) Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, (610) 388-7700, www.thegablesatchaddsford.com: Situated just a stone’s throw from the Brandywine River Museum and the Brandywine River Antiques Market, The Gables boasts atmosphere a plenty, including a romantically-imbued stone-enclosed bi-level patio that is perfect for warm weather al fresco dining. Sandwiches here – the pulled pork, Waldorf chicken salad, and “BLG” with fried green tomatoes – are all first-rate and accompanied by a freshly tossed salad or hand-cut bistro fries. The steak frites with a marvelously complementary garlic aioli also wins high marks. If you happen to be antiquing in the area or just traveling through, The Gables at Chadds Ford is the perfect spot for lunch, dinner, or an afternoon snack & libation.

McCloskey's Tavern - ExteriorMcCLOSKEY’S TAVERN, 17 Cricket Avenue, Ardmore, Pennsylvania, (610) 642-9280, www.mccloskeystavern.com: A family affair, McCloskey’s, the Main Line’s oldest Irish pub, has been setting ‘em up for over three-quarters of a century… And the food isn’t bad either; certainly several cuts above the usual pub fare. Nearly everything is made in-house, so that should give you some inkling as to what this place is about. Top marks for the garlicky addictive Mediterranean hummus, panko-crusted tomatoes, and “Paddy ‘O Melt.” The Tavern also offers a number of entrées, including a dynamite shepherd’s pie, meatloaf with gravy & mashed, and Dijon crusted salmon with tarragon cream. McCloskey’s is one of those little “joints” – in the very best sense of the word – with which one strikes up a long-term relationship.

Nicholas & MelissaRESTAURANT NICHOLAS, 160 Highway 35 South, Red Bank, New Jersey, (732) 345-5225, www.restaurantnicholas.com: Reviewed in my “Holiday Road Trip” in the December issue of the Newsletter, Nicholas, which just celebrated its fifteenth anniversary, is a restaurant that is most assuredly worthy of a journey. Not only is it considered one the Garden State’s premier dining destinations, but one of the top eateries in the United States as well. The cuisine, like the décor, is sophisticated but decidedly restrained and unstuffy. Not to be missed standouts include superb seafood preparations, Parisienne gnocchi, and the incredible braised suckling pig. The restaurant also boasts a world-class wine list, including numerous top-notch selections by the glass. The Bar N, just off the restaurant proper, offers diners a more casual dining experience on a first-come, first-served basis.

Trattoria Giuseppe - InteriorTRATTORIA GIUSEPPE, 4799 West Chester Pike, Edgemont, Pennsylvania, (610) 353-4871, www.mussotra.com: Tucked away behind a Giant Food Market, the restaurant’s utilitarian exterior does little to impress… but the main dining areas exude the rustic charm of a Sicilian piazza, replete with Italian clay tile, wrought iron, marble, and wood fashioned together in stone and stucco. The cuisine, rife with southern Italian flair, offers diners a host of possibilities. Pizza is big; 40 pasta selections run the gamut from simple to complex; and chicken and veal dishes are all beautifully prepared and presented. Just be advised: the noise level is formidable; the place always seemed to be packed with seething masses of humanity; and the interminable wait for tables – even with benefit of reservation – has become the stuff of urban legend. BYOB.

Veekoo Berwyn - InteriorVEEKOO ASIAN CUISINE, 564 Lancaster Avenue, Berwyn Shopping Center, Berwyn, Pennsylvania, (484) 318-7655, www.veekooasiancuisine.com: Younger sibling of Veekoo in Royersford, the Berwyn outpost, which sports subdued lighting, rich mahogany, black leather & napery, and pale gold draperies, is more stylishly chic in tone; and, in my opinion, the quality of the pan-Asian cuisine is superior as well. Presentations seem better focused, more provocatively presented, and the apportionments a tad more generous. The sushi/sashimi is particularly recommended. On the other hand if you are carnivorously inclined, delicate medallions of filet mignon bathed in a zesty black pepper sauce are something of a must. And the lemon chicken – white meat breast pounded thin, lightly battered, gently fried to a delightfully crispy consistency, and then cut into bite-size pieces – is also not to be missed. BYOB.

Zorba's - ExteriorZORBA’S TAVERN, 2230 Fairmount Avenue, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, (215)978-5990: If you’re looking for a good, reasonably priced restaurant in Philly’s museum district, Zorba’s should fill the bill nicely. Situated in the shadow of Eastern Penitentiary, this diminutive father-son establishment boasts two colorful dining rooms, an open kitchen, some very good Greek cuisine… and a paid parking facility just across the street. The Greek salad with addictive herb-infused vinaigrette is the perfect starter. Entrée possibilities include seafood, vegetarian, lamb, pastas, and a variety of dishes grilled over charcoal – all generously accompanied by mixed vegetables, rice, and potato. For dessert, the baklava, which was being cut into individual portions when we arrived, is positively benchmark. BYOB.

Bon Appétit!


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