Avola Kitchen & Bar, Malvern, PA – A Review

by artfuldiner on May 19, 2019

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

Avola Kitchen & Bar

625 North Morehall Road

Malvern, Pennsylvania

(484) 328-8584


The Avola Kitchen & Bar is named after a picturesque seaside village in the south of Sicily… But buzzing past its location among the new strip mall storefronts on bustling Route 29, it doesn’t exactly strike you as very Old World… Neither does the restaurant’s industrial chic interior. Industrial chic or industrial style refers to an aesthetic trend in interior design that takes its clues from old factories and industrial spaces; which, I might add, has become all the rage in restaurant décor of late.

Avola - InteriorWhat this translates to within restaurant precincts in general – and Avola Kitchen & Bar in particular – is (ultra) high ceilings, exposed pipes & ductwork, a plethoric variety of hard surfaces, and tablecloths, window dressings, and other sound retardant materials conspicuous by their absence. The result: a cavernous space that reverberates sounds – even when partially filled – like a chainsaw run amuck. My advice: If you’d prefer peace and quiet, stop by on a sparsely populated Sunday evening. On the other hand, if you’re hankering for a bit of excitement, go with a group and add your own contribution to the bedlam.

Given the restaurant’s interesting geographic designation, Chef Elizabeth Semprevive’s cuisine is pretty much what you would expect: a Mediterranean combo – as their website suggests – of Old-World flavors and farm fresh ingredients. Choices include small plates, soups & salads, pasta, pizza, and entrée-size portions.

Avola - Meat & CheeseThe small plates are especially noteworthy, ranging from items like an exceedingly tender Grilled Octopus and Mussels White swimming in white wine, garlic, parsley, and cream to a fabulous Meat & Cheese board (pictured) that incorporates an ethereal chicken liver foie mousse, several cheeses, and a variety of accompaniments. An excellent presentation and definitely worth the $18.00 price tag.

Avola - Charred CarrotsAmong the other tapas-like possibilities, the results are mixed. The Sautéed Mushrooms with garlic, thyme, and lemon could have used a bit more seasoning… Ditto the Meatballs. For while they came stuffed with cheese and spruced up with Italian herbs & spices, parmesan, and a supposedly zippy diavolo sauce, they tasted surprisingly bland. The Charred Carrots (pictured), on the other hand, were overwhelmed by za’atar and sumac, definitely on the gritty side, and looked like they’d been dropped onto the plate from ten thousand feet.

Avola - Roasted BeetsOn the other hand, the Seared Brussels Sprouts and the Crispy Moroccan Cauliflower were both excellent. The former arrived embellished with spicy pepper relish, prosciutto, lemon, pecorino, and bread crumbs; the latter with an irresistible artichoke aioli. In my opinion, however, top prize in the small plates department clearly goes to the Roasted Beets (pictured) garnished with a winning combo of ricotta, hazelnuts, vincotto (a dark, sweet paste produced by the reduction of nonfermented grapes), and slice of rustic country bread.

Avola - Caesar SaladAmong the salads, the Caesar (pictured) deserves special mention. It may not look like much sitting in the bowl, but the little gem lettuce, which possesses the crispness of Romaine and the sweetness of Butter lettuce, is at the very peak of good health and infinitely more interesting than plain old Romaine… But the maker/breaker of any salad is, of course, the dressing; and this one is extraordinarily delicious. The key, in my opinion, is the use of white anchovies, as they instill a milder, more subtle flavor than their pungent brown cousins. And the dressing is judiciously applied… just enough to gently coat the leaves without drowning them. A first-rate effort.

Like the small plates, the entrées are also something of a mixed bag. The Spaghetti Pomodoro, for example, is a relatively simple dish but right on the money. The red sauce is alive with flavor, while the burrata, basil, parmesan, and breadcrumbs add their own unique contributions in strong supporting roles. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the Tortellini Brodo simply lacked character. The parmesan broth was the bland-leading-the-bland and received absolutely no assistance from the innocuous ricotta & goat cheese filling. Any flavor that managed to make its presence known was purely coincidental. Fortunately, this item has since been removed from the menu.

Avola - Duck BreastI very much enjoyed the Seared Bronzino served up on tender stalks of broccolini. The filet itself was perfectly textured, moist and flaky… Unfortunately, the dish was marred by an excessively oily lemon-caper beurre blanc. The Crispy Skinned Duck Breast (pictured), however, was first-class across the board. Aided & abetted by blue corn polenta, mustard seed vinaigrette, and a delightful tiara of carrot ribbon salad, this beautiful presentation was as pleasing to the eye as it was to the palate.

Avola - Carrot CakeDesserts, all made in house, are not the restaurant’s strong suit. Both the highly-touted (by our server) Doughnuts and the Olive Oil Carrot Cake (pictured) left me feeling shortchanged. Surprisingly, the simplest entry – Vanilla Gelato with Local Honey & Sea Salt – proved to be the most satisfying.

Dining at Avola can, indeed, be a thoroughly rewarding experience. No question, the ingredients are top notch… but, on several occasions, as noted above, the preparation and presentation came up short.  As a general rule, my dining partner and I found the small plates more enjoyable than the larger entrée portions. That being said, however, be particularly circumspect in your menu selections and you probably won’t be disappointed.

Bon Appétit!


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