Main & Vine California Bistro, Villanova, PA – A Review

by artfuldiner on July 17, 2018

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

Main & Vine California Bistro

789 East Lancaster Avenue

Villanova, Pennsylvania

(484) 380-3688

Main & Vine - ExteriorPresided over by long-time restaurateur Jay Stevens and partner Kim Strengari of the Conshy Girls Restaurant Group, Main & Vine California Bistro, which made its debut on May 16 (2018), has obviously been dressed to impress. With the assistance of the Gacek Design Group, the space that was previously home to the late – but not greatly mourned – Avenue Kitchen has been completely and tastefully transformed.

Main & Vine - Pizza BarThe sleek, modern, open-floor interior, which, among its other decorative embellishments, boasts a 26-seat curvaceous bar, adjoining lounge, main & side dining rooms, and 12-seat pizza bar (pictured), still somehow manages to exude a certain bistro-esque charm… That being said, however, the atmosphere here is decidedly “bustling” and the noise level can be somewhat “daunting.” If you happen to be dining with a group – as I did during one of my visits – no problem. On the other hand, should you be planning a quiet little tête-à- tête, bear in mind that the Main & Vine’s seating arrangements are not particularly conducive to the intimacy of dining à deux.

At this juncture, perhaps a word of explanation is in order… Every restaurant has within its precincts a certain number of “dead” tables; so derogatorily designated because they are situated in less than advantageous locations. “Within earshot of the kitchen and nose-shot of the john,” as the late Jay Jacobs so charmingly put it. Knowing this full well, the savvy restaurateur or host/hostess will inevitably attempt to foster these upon innocent looking diners in order to get them filled ASAP.

Several of Main & Vine’s tables for two would certainly qualify, as they are either located in close proximity to open doorways or in the middle of the main thoroughfare that runs to and from the kitchen. Should your host/hostess attempt to seat you here, avoid them like the plague – and don’t be shy about voicing your seating preferences in no uncertain terms. If you are dining à deux, your best bet is the side dining room, or the rear dining area adjacent to the pizza bar.

So much for logistics… on to the food. Although the restaurant bills itself as a “California Bistro,” the only thing strictly Californian on the menu – other than the Napa-Style Sourdough Pizzas – are the wines and brews. The cuisine proper would best be described as eclectic with a variety of intriguing – French, Italian, Latin, Asian, American – subtitles. And while Executive Chef John Vogt’s contemporary dishes are obviously carefully prepared and artfully presented, there are times when they could do with a touch less innovation.

Main & Vine - Seared Barnegat ScallopsTake his Seared Barnegat Scallops, for example. They are beautifully prepared to a golden brown, moist and marvelously meaty… But Mr. Vogt insists upon piling on the accoutrements: acquerello risotto (an aged carnaroli rice), arugula pistou sauce, black grapes, shaved fennel, and saba (an ancient condiment that results from cooking selected grape musts over fire). The result: The bivalves get lost in the sauce. I have always been of the opinion, that various seafood presentations benefit most from those accompaniments that intrude the least. Sometimes less is more.

Main & Vine - Pan Roasted SalmonOn the other hand, the Pan Roasted Salmon set on a seabed of olive oil poached potatoes, spring onions and leeks gets an incredible flavor boost from an enticing horseradish crème fraiche. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that this is Wild Isles salmon, which is widely considered the salmon against which all other farmed salmons are measured. Sustainably raised in the wild open ocean waters off the Shetland Islands’ rugged coastline, it is this unique environment that gives the fish its firm texture and buttery sweet flavor… And Chef Vogt prepares it to perfection.

For those more carnivorously inclined, the menu offers diners a choice of Adobe Rubbed Flat Iron Steak or New York Strip Steak Frites with Cabernet butter and garlic parmesan fries. My nod, however, would undoubtedly go to the Sunday evening “Family Table” special Sunday Gravy. The rich red sauce is rife with pulled beef and pork and served over a variety of pasta possibilities. Not to be missed.

Main & Vine - Veg CruditeTo start things off, there is a raw bar, should you be so inclined, that features the likes of Shrimp Cocktail, King Crab, Oysters, and Tuna Tataki (lightly seared and served rare with a citrus based soy sauce). For those who wish to share, the kitchen puts out a beautifully arranged Vegetable Crudité (pictured). Roasted and raw vegetables – baby carrots, fennel, new potatoes, radishes, and asparagus – are teamed with avocado green goddess, Point Reyes blue cheese and beet hummus dipping sauces… And the result is as attractive to the eye as it is to the palate.

Main & Vine - Arugula & Asparagus HalvedOther starters include Chicken Fried Oysters, Red Thai Curry Mussels, Black Mission Fig Toast, and a variety of salads. My dining partner and I recently shared the Arugula & Asparagus, which was very conveniently halved for us in the kitchen (pictured). The presentation was comprised of nicely trimmed peppery greenery, raw and grilled asparagus, prosciutto, shaved parmesan, and an excellent truffle vinaigrette.  Not a particularly photogenic dish but enticing nevertheless.

Main & Vine - Meyer Lemon CakeDesserts are a high point. The Banana Profiterole Split, for example – house-made gelato, caramelized bananas, candied walnuts, chocolate sauce, and Luxardo cherries – adds a touch of whimsy. The Meyer Lemon Cake (pictured), other hand, is a more serious affair: rich, moist, irresistibly creamy, and delightfully delicious.

Libations include cocktails, mocktails, and brews via drafts, bottles & cans. The list of wines by the glass – overwhelmingly Californian with a single nod to both Oregon and Washington State – is certainly passable… but hardly likely to quicken an oenophile’s pulse. The Josh “Craftsman’s Collection” Chardonnay isn’t bad… ditto the Sean Minor Pinot Noir. The Franciscan Cabernet Sauvignon is very good – but it will set you back $20.00. Then, of course, there are the “Prestige” selections that start at $22.00 for the Jordan Russian River Chard and continue through to the $28.00 Prisoner Red Blend.

The bottom line…? Main & Vine tends to dredge up a number of mixed emotions. The food is quite good… on the other hand, not quite good enough to bring me back on a regular basis. And while the sleek, modern, open-floor interior is visually striking… it is also hardly conducive to a sedate dining experience. If you’re a party of four or more, a good time will undoubtedly be had by all… providing, of course, that the noise level will permit polite conversation without benefit of shouting. On the other hand, if you’ll be dining à deux, I would strongly suggest seeking out a more intimate venue.

 Bon Appétit!


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