Mistral, King of Prussia, PA – A Review

by artfuldiner on October 18, 2017

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

Mistral at King of Prussia Mall

160 North Gulph Road

King of Prussia, Pennsylvania

(610) 678-1630


Mistral KOP - ExteriorIn the waning days of February (2017), an extraordinary culinary event took place at the King of Prussia Mall… A restaurant called Mistral (pronounced Mee-strall; and named after the famous/infamous cold dry north/northwest wind that blows down through France’s Rhone Valley to the Mediterranean) made its debut. I say “extraordinary” because Mistral just happens to be a non-chain eatery. Something of a rarity in beautiful downtown King of Prussia.

Mistral KOP, owned by Executive Chef Scott Anderson and Stephen Distler, is an offshoot of the Princeton original, which has been packing them in on Witherspoon Street, the Ivy League community’s “restaurant row,” for the past four years. However, the duo’s decision to locate their latest incarnation of sophisticated contemporary international cuisine within the gastronomically deprived precincts of a bustling suburban shopping mall – even one of the largest luxury malls in America – in the hopes of bringing the true culinary Gospel to bear upon the philistine-like dining habits of the shop ‘til you drop crowd, strikes me as a decidedly “iffy” missionary enterprise.

Mistral KOP - Interior 2The restaurant’s entrance is easily overlooked; the sign announcing its presence dwarfed by the huge letters of the (decidedly chain-y) Grand Lux Café just above. Once across the threshold, the interior clearly lacks the subtle straightforward simplicities of the Princeton original. The light and airy décor strikes one as almost too light and airy, bearing an unfortunate resemblance to a dandified tea room.

Still… after collecting three bells from the Inquirer’s Craig LaBan and an equal number of stars from Philadelphia magazine, Mistral KOP appears to have hit the ground running. After all, the proof of the pudding, as the saying goes…

The menu, divided into snacks, small bites, large bites, and salads & sandwiches – all of which are meant to be shared – isn’t quite as esoterically oriented as its elder Ivy League sibling… but it still may present something of a stumbling block for the food court brainwashed palates of your typical mall mavens. On the other hand, this casual grazing concept may very well be Mistral’s major drawing card; affording their diverse clientele the appealing option of stopping by for a quick sandwich or salad or lingering over a full meal.

Mistral’s ability to appeal to the hoi polloi is certainly an important issue. But an equally important question may very well be: Will the fact that the restaurant is actually attached to the mall keep more sophisticated foodies – those who would truly appreciate the restaurant’s concept and cuisine – away in droves? I know many people – this writer among them – who will breach the confines of the KOP Mall only under extreme duress. Would they be willing to brave the traffic, parking issues, general hustle & bustle, etc., etc., just for the privilege of checking out a new eatery. Only time will tell. Meanwhile, on to the food…

Mistral KOP - Rice Puff ChipsYou begin with the complimentary Salt and Vinegar Rice Chips, which are strikingly reminiscent of Styrofoam in both appearance and texture. On one occasion, they were perfectly seasoned and delightfully crisp; on another, however, they were downright soggy, adhering tenaciously to one’s teeth and/or dental work, and suffering from an eye-watering overdose of acetic acid.

Mistral KOP - Grilled Lamb TartareAmong the snacks, the Grilled Lamb Tartare (pictured) pillowed on crispy grains and companioned by ramp oil and pink sumac tahini yogurt was an incomparable coup of colors, tastes and textures. On the other hand, the Zucchini Hummus seasoned with za’atar (a Middle Eastern spice mixture) and garnished with radish slices was thin, watery, and eminently forgettable – although the accompanying pita triangles were perfectly toasted.

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The two small bites sampled were palpable hits… Topping my list is the Garganelli Pasta (an egg-based pasta formed by rolling a flat square noodle into a tubular shape; similar in appearance to penne). This is an immensely satisfying presentation spruced up with slightly spicy morsels of Italian sausage, chickpeas, arugula, and oven-dried tomatoes… with a subtle sprinkling of ground red pepper flakes furnishing a tantalizing after burn. Coming in a close second is the not-too-be-missed Pork Riblets (pictured). Lusciously fatty and slathered with an out-of-this-world jerk sauce, these little beauties are downright addictive.

Conversely, large plates were major disappointments. The current list of possibilities includes Roasted Chicken Thighs, Grilled Wagyu Beef Flatiron, Lacquered Pork Belly, and three fish presentations: Organic Salmon, Skate Wing Roulade, and Day-Boat Halibut. Since matters piscatorial predominate, one would naturally assume that fish is something chef de cuisine Craig Polignano does well. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case.

Mistral KOP - Skatewing RouladeThe Skate Wine Roulade, for example, was not a true roulade, which refers to an item rolled into a tube, but simply one section of wing placed on top of another – and both were dry and overcooked. On the other hand the accoutrements – seabed of grilled spinach, beech mushrooms, and brown butter sauce – were perfectly prepared and immensely flavorful. As my dining companion somewhat sarcastically noted: “Everything about the skate wing was wonderful… except the skate wing.”

Mistral KOP - HalibutThe Day-Boat Halibut could well be the object of that famous well-told culinary joke: Waiter: “How did you find your steak, sir?”… Diner: “Quite by accident. I just moved a pea and some parsley and there it was.” The halibut arrives at table, nowhere to be seen. You must go searching… It is buried beneath a pile of greens… When these are moved aside, there is yet a smattering of red peppers to deal with. At last! But, when it is finally discovered, and ingested, like the aforementioned skate wing, it is dry and basically tasteless. Not even an excellent clam vinaigrette and phalanx of marvelously tender fingerling potatoes can resuscitate its original pristine properties.

Mistral KOP - Duck SaladAnd as you move on to the salads & sandwiches department the hit-or-miss scenario continues. The Lamb Meatball Pita spruced up with luscious melted feta cheese and garnished with a mountain of greens is absolutely irresistible. The Thai Duck Salad (pictured), on the other hand, suffers from an inordinately chewy duck confit and weak peanut dressing. Interestingly enough, in his review of Mistral – posted June 5, 2017 – Craig LaBan specifically mentioned the “unpleasantly chewy” duck in the Thai salad. Since I must assume that the restaurant’s powers-that-be read the review (they would have been foolish not to), I find it difficult to believe that this “mild disappointment,” as Mr. LaBan referred to it, has still yet to be rectified.

Beverage-wise, Mistral has a great deal to offer. There’s an interesting list of specialty and classic cocktails, as well as some intriguing brews… like the Duclaw Brewing Company’s Sweet Baby Jesus Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter, for instance. And the wine list – both bottle and glass – manages to artfully sidestep all the usual oenological clichés. There’s even a certified advanced sommelier, Steven Gullo, on the premises, ready to offer his sage advice with regard to wine and food pairings.

But even these libationary pluses can’t make up for the kitchen’s inconsistencies. According to my calculations, Mistral’s cuisine is batting about .500; which, should you happen to be major league baseball player, is an incredible average… for a restaurant, however, that’s hardly laudable. Based on my several visits, Mistral KOP still has quite a ways to go before it’s in the same class as its distinguished Ivy League sibling.

 Bon Appétit!


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