2018 Restaurant Redux

by artfuldiner on December 26, 2018

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

For your dining pleasure, listed below in alphabetical order are synopses of the nineteen (19) restaurants reviewed during the year 2018.

Agave - Cheesecake w Creme Brulee ToppingAGAVE MEXICAN CUISINE, 1620 Baltimore Pike (Route 1), Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, (484) 770-8345, www.agavebyo.com: Located just a stone’s throw from the Brandywine River Museum, this bustling BYOB makes a fabulous stopover for either lunch or dinner. The kitchen knows what it’s about and carries it off with flair and panache. Starters include a benchmark Guacamole; a delightful party dish, Queso Fundido, often compared to a cheese fondue; and the suitable-for-sharing Quinoa Salad, an incomparable combo of pumpkin seeds, avocado, raisins, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, and queso fresco (semi-soft Mexican cheese), all kissed by a seductive lemon vinaigrette. Entrée-wise, seafood – whether the grilled salmon topped with mango pico de gallo or the Bronzino à la Veracruzana – is always an excellent choice, ditto the Taco Tasting Platter. For dessert… when the Cheesecake with Crème Brûlée Topping (pictured) is available, it is not to be missed.

Amani - Grilled Swordfish AMANI’S BYOB, 105 East Lancaster Avenue, Downingtown, Pennsylvania, (484) 237-8179, www.amanisbyob.com : Owned and operated by husband & wife Jonathan and Jeanine Amann, Amani’s is noted for its unique rustic farmhouse charm and its commitment to the farm-to-table movement, utilizing only local farm-fresh, seasonal ingredients in the preparation of Chef Amann’s New American cuisine. Unfortunately, the food is something of a hit or miss proposition. During one visit, my dining partner’s pristinely crunchy Gulf Shrimp and my Grilled Swordfish (pictured) were right on target; on another, the Veal Strip Steak was acceptable but hardly transcendent, and the Long Island Duck Breast was offputtingly chewy and lacked flavor. Starters tend to fare better than the uneven entrées & salads; while, in my opinion, desserts – particularly the rich & creamy Cheesecake and zesty Key Lime Pie – tend to steal the show. I very much enjoy dining at Amani’s; my only regret is that the food isn’t more consistent.

 Amis - Interior - BarAMIS TRATTORIA, 138 West Lancaster Avenue, Devon, Pennsylvania, (610) 590-4782, www.amistrattoria.com/locations/devon: Sequestered amid the pricey flora & fauna of the newly opened Devon Yard, Amis is the victim of its own minimalistic industrial chic décor. High ceilings, hard surfaces (including a hardwood floor), and the lack of tablecloths and window dressings all conspire to turn its dining space into an acoustical nightmare. Even when only partially occupied, the sound reverberates like a broken chainsaw. The menu is quite interesting, denoting a tempting array of antipasti, salads, pizzette, pastas, entrées, and several excellent side dishes… but the food suffers from the most common of restaurant maladies: inconsistency. As of this writing, the pastas, carefully prepared and attractively but simply presented, offer your surest chance of gastronomic satisfaction. At the present moment, Amis Trattoria is the place to be, so expect a youngish, decidedly boisterous crowd with a generous sprinkling of Main Line cougars thrown into the mix. If you’re a people watcher, though, you’ll have a field day.

 At the Table - Foie GrasAT THE TABLE, 11 Louella Court, Wayne, Pennsylvania, (610) 964-9700, www.atthetablebyob.com: Tucked away in a former creperie just off Lancaster Avenue, the rather generic two-toned slate-gray walls of the restaurant’s diminutive dining room – a mere 24 seats – belie the avant-garde artistry of Chef Alex Hardy’s striking Thomas Keller-esque presentations. Despite somewhat mixed reviews, for the most part, I found Mr. Hardy’s au courant approach refreshingly appealing and upbeat. He has a particular gift for bringing out the very best in seafood. Highly enjoyable were his Seared Scallops teamed with wild mushrooms, celery root purée, and a tantalizingly spicy chorizo dust. Even better was his incomparable Red Snapper companioned by avocado salsa, mango purée, and splash of red chili oil. Starters sampled included a simple but sublime Burrata and Tomato Salad and positively exquisite Hudson Valley Foie Gras (pictured). Dessert-wise, his Chocolate and Key Lime Tarts were both superb. BYOB.

Beaver Creek Tavern - Dark Choc Cake w Peanut Butter IcingBEAVER CREEK TAVERN, 1350 Bondsville Road, Downingtown, Pennsylvania, (484) 593-0481, www.beavercreek-tavern.com: The Beaver Creek Tavern – formerly Bacon’s Tavern and the Kings Highway Inn – may seem like just another run-of-the-mill “happy-tappy,” but if you happen to be cruising anywhere in the area, it’s a great stopover for lunch, dinner, or a midafternoon snack. The “Pub Grub” rounds up all the usual suspects – nachos, quesadillas, burgers, sandwiches, wraps, etc. – although they’re a good deal better than most representatives of the genre. At dinner, however, the kitchen does become a bit more adventurous, offering up a variety of beef, chicken, seafood, and pasta dishes. As an added bonus, you will find the desserts here surprisingly good. The Carrot Cake is a real winner. On the other hand, if you’re a bit of a peanut butter freak – as I am – the Dark Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Icing (pictured) is something of a must. Forget the calories… just go for it!

Bunha Faun - Snow PeasBUNHA FAUN, 152 Lancaster Avenue, Malvern, Pennsylvania, (610) 651-2836, www.bunhafaun.net: The quality of the food at Bunha Faun has never been an issue. For the most part, I consider the Asian-influenced French cuisine top-of-the-line. The Snow Pea Salad (pictured), sublime in its simplicity, is a marvelous starter, as are the Oriental Noodles, Green Angel Hair, and Crab Ravioli. Highly recommended entrées include Escalop of Veal, Sweet Red Pepper Shrimp, and Barramundi, a recent fish of the day selection… Unfortunately, the service, in many cases due to lack of adequate personnel, has often been a recurring problem. This criticism also extends to the kitchen staff, which means the speed at which your orders arrive at table can be somewhat slower than a herd of turtles. Given the restaurant’s eccentricities, is it worth a visit…? Yes, in my opinion… But just be prepared for disappointment.

 Chow Bistro - Braised Beef Short RibsCHOW BISTRO, 454 Main Street, Collegeville, Pennsylvania, (484) 902-8495, www.chowbistro.com: My initial review of Chow Bistro was posted in August 2014. In the interim, the restaurant’s interior has changed not at all. Well-spaced tables are complemented by a decorative potpourri of paintings, wall screens and assorted objects d’art… And the cuisine remains similarly eclectic, ranging from Thai red curry to fish tacos to hand-cut pappardelle to Moroccan lamb meatballs to center-cut filet mignon. A recent return visit proved something of a mixed bag, with a marvelous presentation of Braised Beef Short Ribs (pictured) and an absolutely terrible Adobo Rubbed Grilled Swordfish that was dry, chewy, and totally lacking in flavor. Desserts, however, are always worthy of consideration, especially the decadent Chocolate Terrine Napoleon, which features peanut butter mousse sandwiched between two slices of dense dark chocolate cake. Just be aware of the noise factor… The ceiling is low, the surfaces hard; and, when the joint is jumpin’, the decibel level is, indeed, formidable. BYOB.

Cotoletta - Interior COTOLETTA, 201 Jefferson Street, Belmont Hills, Pennsylvania, (610) 660-5224, www.cotoletta.net: Tucked away in the Belmont Hills, the 90-seat BYOB made its debut in January 2016 and has been packing them in ever since. The restaurant’s homey interior – replete with an interesting array of unmatched tables and chairs, geometric light fixtures, splashes of deep blue & scintillating white, and oodles of fresh sunflowers – is as rustic and unpretentious as chef/proprietor Beth Amadio’s cuisine. Ms. Amadio, a self-taught chef, presents a menu that is filled with great tasting quality-driven Italian/American comfort food taken to the max…. And the cotolette – cutlets (veal or chicken) sliced thin, pounded thinner, and served up with a side of pasta marinara – are clearly the center of attention… But Cotoletta is more than just a one-hit wonder; so, be sure to check out some of the other entrées, particularly the special fish of the day. Desserts take somewhat of a backseat here, but the House-Made Cannoli, filled with light & decadent ricotta-based sweet cream, is always highly recommended.


Davio's KOP - Spring RollsDAVIO’S NORTHERN ITALIAN STEAKHOUSE, 200 Main Street, King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, (610) 337-4810, https//davios.com/kop: Contemplating a visit to Davio’s? There are several things to keep in mind… First of all, the restaurant is cavernous and extremely noisy…. Secondly, there is absolutely no question that dining here is an expensive proposition. These caveats notwithstanding, Davio’s does serve up some excellent cuisine; and their portion allotments, given the elevated price points, are quite generous. Must-try starters include the fabulous Philly Cheese Steak Spring Rolls (pictured) and the even-more-fabulous Crispy Chicken Livers tossed with roasted pine nuts, splashed with an addictive port wine balsamic glaze, and crowned with deep fried spinach leaves. As you move on to the entrées, all the usual meaty suspects are present and accounted for, with the Sautéed Veal Tenderloin especially recommended. Among the Pesce offerings, be sure to give the Georges Bank Sea Scallops a try. Feel free to skip dessert, but be sure to check out the superlative Italian wine list.

Fattoush - Lebanese MezzaFATTOUSH MEDITERRANEAN CUISINE, 182 Lancaster Avenue, Malvern, Pennsylvania, (484) 568-4465, https://fattoushhealthydining.com: Fattoush is one of those hidden gems that operates under most people’s radar. You could probably pass by the restaurant a dozen times without giving it a second thought. Stuck in the middle of a series of nondescript strip malls, its exterior isn’t particularly prepossessing… neither is the utilitarian interior, awash with unadorned tables and minimalist décor…. But looks are definitely deceiving. The magic here is clearly in the fresh, vibrant, made-from-scratch Mediterranean cuisine (with particular emphasis on Lebanese). Modest prices will add significantly to your enjoyment, as well as the fact that you may tote along your own wine. To start things off, the Lebanese Mezza (shared platter, pictured) is something of a must. As you move on to the entrées, the Shawarma dishes – thin slices of spiced and marinated meats and poultry served as a sandwich, wrap, or on a platter with various accompaniments – are clearly the way to go here. Dessert-wise, stick with the traditional Baklava and you won’t be disappointed.

 Il Granaio - Fritto Misto di VedureIL GRANAIO ITALIAN RESTAURANT & BAR, 184 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, (484) 924-8423, www.ilgranaiopa2.com: Tucked away in the basement level of the Mainstay Hotel, the space formerly occupied by Pepperoncini Sotto, Il Granaio, owned by chefs Josh Friedberg & Gent Mema, is the younger sibling of the Il Granaio in Glen Mills and Antica in Chadds Ford. The menu and presentations are basically the same as the Glen Mills establishment with a few minor tweaks here and there. The Fritto Misto di Vedure (pictured), for example, is always a favorite starter. Freshly cut zucchini, yellow squash, bell peppers, carrots, Brussels sprouts, and onions are deep fried and served with a tantalizingly zippy caramelized shallot and sage aioli. The pasta dishes here are outstanding. The Rigatoni alla Norma, for example, combines homemade pasta and sumptuously seasoned morsels of sautéed eggplant in an enticing garlic & onion Pomodoro sauce with a creamy dollop of herbed ricotta cheese providing the perfect crowning touch. Even the most pedestrian of presentations – the humble Chicken Parmigiana – hits all the right notes… And to finish things off, nothing quite tops the light and luscious Lemon Cream Cake.

Il Melograno - Tuna CarpaccioRISTORANTE IL MELOGRANO, 73 Old Dublin Pike, Doylestown, Pennsylvania, (215) 348-7707, www.ilmelogranodoylestown.com: Tucked away in the Mercer Square Shopping Center, this charming BYOB is conveniently located just a little over a mile from the James Michener Art Museum… And don’t let that utilitarian strip mall façade fool you. Once across the threshold, you’ll find the interior, warm, welcoming and comfortingly romantic. The printed menu contains many of the usual Italian suspects… all carefully prepared and presented. But always keep your eyes peeled for the chef’s more innovative daily specials, as they are clearly where the action is. Like the Tuna Carpaccio (pictured), a fabulous appetizer… ditto the Calamari Fritti, incomparably tender rings served with a zesty marinara for dipping. Entrée-wise, the Vitello alla Siciliana is not to be missed. Tender segments of veal are gently sautéed and then topped with thin slices of eggplant, mozzarella, garlic, and finished with fresh diced tomatoes. As comfortingly homey as it is delicious. In the pasta department, the Pappardelle al Cinghiale, pappardelle with wild boar ragù, is rich and abundantly flavorful. For dessert, be sure to try the incredible, over-the-top, more-than-suitable-for-sharing Napoleon.

Kimberton Inn - Main Dining RoomKIMBERTON INN, 2015 Kimberton Road, Kimberton, Pennsylvania, (610) 933-8148, www.kimbertoninn.com:  My initial review of the Kimberton Inn was posted in January 2015, followed by a retrospective of their wine dinner in December of the same year. And I have always been extremely impressed by the quality of the cuisine served up by Executive Chef Jim Trainer, the restaurant’s power-behind-the-stove since 1990. But the Inn’s loyal patrons – this writer included – are still buzzing over Mr. Trainer’s astoundingly abrupt departure and the promotion of Tom Wolter, Mr. Trainer’s second-in-command for over five years, to the position of executive chef. If owner Jeff Effgen is counting on Mr. Wolter to add a bit more razzle-dazzle to the Inn’s American-style menu, then he is, unfortunately, attempting to fix what isn’t broken. Indeed, having sampled Mr. Wolter’s cuisine on several occasions recently, I can state unequivocally that, at this point in time, his offerings simply haven’t demonstrated the same level of subtle sophisticated flair as those of his predecessor.

Limoncello - Choc Peanut Butter GanacheLIMONCELLO RISTORANTE & BAR, 499 Uwchlan Avenue, Chester Springs, Pennsylvania, (610) 524-3112, https://limoncellorestaurant.com: Tucked away in a corner of the Lionsville Shopping Center, Limoncello is the younger sibling of the restaurant of the same name located in West Chester, PA. I first reviewed the restaurant over five years ago and, as several recent visits clearly demonstrated, not a great deal has changed. The cuisine remains solidly southern Italian based upon old family recipes – or updated variations thereof – comfortingly familiar and, for the most part, very good, indeed. Entrées like Eggplant Parmigiana and Chicken Messina, parmesan-crusted chicken breast stuffed with asparagus, prosciutto di Parma and fresh mozzarella and finished with a first-rate caprese cream sauce, are traditional favorites here… ditto the daily seafood specials. Desserts, including a decadent Chocolate Peanut Butter Ganache (pictured above) are always worth saving room for.

Louette's - Chef Steve HowellsLOUETTE’S BYO, 106 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, (484) 924-9906, www.louettesbyo.com: Louette’s BYO, which made its debut on January 18, 2018, inhabits the Bridge Street space formerly occupied by the long-running Marly’s. Chef Steve Howells, whose culinary training is classic French, serves up a variety of imaginative eclectic fare in his cozy bistro, his small plates menu awash with Asian, Middle Eastern, Italian and American influences. His tasting menu categories – Simple; Noodles; Conversation Starters; and More like Mains – invite diners to put aside the conventional appetizer-entrée scenario for an evening and do a bit of spirited gastronomic grazing… And the best (and most economical) way to experience the chef’s handiwork is to build your own four-course tasting menu with one selection from each category, priced at $45.00 per person (you also have the option of substituting a dessert as one of your selections). The menu is continually changing, so be sure to consult the restaurant’s website for the most up-to-date information.

Main & Vine - Pizza BarMAIN & VINE CALIFORNIA BISTRO, 789 East Lancaster Avenue, Villanova, Pennsylvania, (484) 380-3688, www.mainandvinebistro.com: The sleek, modern, open-floor restaurant 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 char… But the atmosphere here is also decidedly “bustling” and the noise level can be somewhat “daunting.” A great place to chow down with a group; however, Main & Vine’s seating arrangements are not particularly conducive to the intimacy of dining à deux. Although billed as a “California Bistro,” 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. Desserts are a high point… the wine list passable.

Russet - Cape May FlukeRUSSET, 1521 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, (215) 546-1521, www.russetphilly.com: Domiciled in a stately 1877 townhouse just a few steps from the Kimmel Center, Russet is a farm-to-table restaurant, its daily-changing menu shaped by the best produce, dairy products, grains, and whole animals local farmers have to offer. Chef-proprietors Andrew & Kristin Wood are totally dedicated to the approximately 250 individual small farms with which they deal directly. In turn, their patrons are served the freshest high-quality ingredients available. Among the appetizers, variations on the pasta theme are always a big draw. Entrée-wise, matters piscatorial are well represented, including local sourced items like Barnegat Light Scallops and Cape May Fluke (pictured above). Desserts, like the other offerings at Russet, change daily based upon the availability of local and seasonal ingredients. The service here is extremely pleasant & knowledgeable, the prices – especially considering the fact that you are dining in Center City – quite reasonable and, as an added bonus, you may BYOB.

Twelves - Portobello FriesTWELVES GRILL & CAFE, 10 Exchange Place, West Grove, Pennsylvania, (610) 869-4020, www.twelvesgrill.com: Making its debut in the tiny hamlet of West Grove in 2008, Twelves is housed in the venerable old Sovereign Bank building, which was originally constructed in 1883. Chef/co-owner Tim Smith, a graduate of the Art Institute of Philadelphia, whose credentials include the Dilworthtown Inn, Farmhouse Restaurant and Back Burner Restaurant, brings a great deal of creativity to the kitchen, though is approach is decidedly casual. His Crispy Parmesan Crusted Chicken, for example, is sublime in its simplicity… ditto his Pasta du Jour, fettuccine tossed with shrimp, tomatoes and baby spinach. Starters are consistently first-rate, particularly the Portobello Fries. Thick slices of portobello mushroom are rolled in seasoned breading, deep fried, and served up with a zippy sriracha aioli. Desserts alternate between in-house creations and items from Wilmington’s Sweet Somethings gourmet bakery. BYOB.

Volver - Deviled EggVOLVÉR, 300 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, (215) 670-2302, www.philadelphia.volverrestaurant.com: Tucked into Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center, Jose Garces’ Volvér made its debut in April 2014 to mixed reviews. Trey Popp of Philadelphia magazine loved it; Craig LaBan of the Inquirer was somewhat less than complimentary. What else is new? I found Volvér’s exquisitely-plated innovative seasonally-driven cuisine to be the perfect prelude to an evening with the Philadelphia Orchestra. The portion sizes are on the diminutive side, subtle in their preparation and as artistic and attractive to the eye as they are pleasing to the palate. The à la carte menu is just right for some spirted mix ‘n match grazing; and the three-course pre-theater menu is a bargain, indeed. While perusing the menu and sipping an Amoxicillin – a classy cocktail constructed with gin, lemon, ginger, honey, and 10-year-old Laphroaig – be sure to sample the dreamily decadent Deviled Egg (pictured above). Filled with silky duck liver mousse spiked with Pedro Ximénez Sherry, one bite of this irresistible treat will have you placing another order at the speed of light.

Bon Appétit!


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