restaurant rave: mino in malvern


Mino in Malvern on Lancaster Avenue is marvelous!  We had never eaten there and decided to try it this evening.

Hands down, the best sushi around.  I have enjoyed other sushi places, but this is the best. Friends of mine have been telling me for years it’s the best, and now I must say I concur wholeheartedly.

The fish is super fresh, and other things like the dumplings are divine. They also have a house blend matcha green tea that has this nutty note to it because I believe it is also brewed with roasted  brown rice if I understood the waitress correctly.

And also the staff – they have an amazing waitstaff at Mino. So nice and so knowledgeable about their own menu.

If you have never been, you should definitely check it out. Extraordinary menu, reasonably priced. It also has a super nice atmosphere with their new interior makeover.

Mino – 321 Lancaster Avenue, Malvern, PA 19355. 610-651-8756.

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make a trip to dan dan in devon


Dan Dan in Devon is open in the old Ella’s Bistro spot behind where Braxton’s is. What a welcome change to the same old same old.

Taiwanese and Sichuan cuisine. And the food is delicious. Clean flavor combinations and very fresh, I will be coming back again!

Service was a little frazzled by the time we left because they just got slammed with diners.

They have a full bar, and the flora and fauna didn’t disappoint. I am thinking White Dog Cafe is missing some of their cougars. But then again if the cougars of the Main Line are migrating already, then you know Dan Dan is a hit!

Everything was delicious. Don’t pass up the signature Dan Dan noodles and the dumplings with Chili oil!

Dan Dan is located at 214 Sugartown Road Wayne, but it’s really Devon. Reservations are a good idea especially Thursday dinner service through the weekend. 484-580-8558

ah yes, about that restaurant review: carmel cafe & wine bar

DSC_0032I owe all of you a restaurant review.  I went to the friends and family and press event opening on September 7th and life being what it is, I am later than I wanted to be posting the review.  They have now been open to the public about a week.

DSC_0036What am I talking about?

Carmel Cafe &  Wine Bar at 372 W. Lancaster Ave. in Wayne, PA.  It is not so far from the Chester County border, so give it a try. Carmel Café is a small chain of Floridian restaurants which are trying their luck farther north, in Wayne.  Right where another Florida inspired restaurant was and tanked after a while – HogFish Bar & Grill. HogFish was inconsistent, expensive, and stuck behind another restaurant that was a ghost town and then closed.

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Carmel Café and Wine Bar took over the entire building and made it its own.  I found parking no problem, the lot seems bigger than it was.

Outside the building is still your basic developer’s box but inside is something totally different.  It is sleek and sexy.  My guess is the cougars who frequent the White Dog will flock to this new bar for the more flattering lighting alone.

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Anyway, I am not the only one to review Carmel Café and Wine Bar.  Michael Klein did as well.  You can read his review here.

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My review might seem like I did not like it when you are finished reading, but overall I did.  I am just going to be brutally honest.   I WILL be going back.  They just have some kinks to work out. New places often do.

Here are notes I took on my phone as we were dining:

  • Wasn’t sure we were getting into opening.  Woman with clipboard out front handed us off to someone inside as us not being on the list.  I was invited by publicist and RSVP’d to the Chef.  I think what she had was a technical difficulty as they were having issues with their internet and whatnot.  She could have just said that instead of making me wonder if she thought I was crashing the event. Inside the hostess person at the front at that time was much more smooth and polished.

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  • Cool – menu is on an iPad – customers will order that way with wait staff.
  • Atmosphere is sexy.  Fun art on the walls. Lighting could come up just a smidgen in dining room.
  • The lounge is also very sexy but at this opening seemed forgotten and empty.  I would have had some nibbles or something in it to draw people in.  They need to make the lounge seem less of an afterthought, but I hope they don’t ruin it – they just need to make it more enticing.  Right now it is just red banquette rimming a room. If I had been the designer, it would have been only a partial banquette with maybe a couple of small lounge/slipper type chairs and tables and a focal point of say a small gas fireplace or something. That looks like the room where they had to conserve money.
  • This  restaurant is a GREAT place for date night whether a first date or a wedding anniversary or something in between.

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  • Terrific wine list  – I started with M. Picard Vouvray.  By the glass that was a little tasty.  The wine list on a lot of items had a mark-up I found close to gouging in some cases, which is a common flaw with restaurants that open in Pennsylvania, I think due to the state store system.  One would think that a restaurant tech savvy enough to have a menu and ordering off an iPad tablet would be savvy enough to know that people also have wine apps on their smart phones and will check wines for price…

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Food overall is quite good but noticed some of the trendy from Wayneunk being really hard on staff who are nervous.  I mean come on people, we were given a wonderful evening out, you can’t pay for a couple of extra drinks on your own? The booth behind us was brutal on staff. We were embarrassed for them.

  • Carmel Cafe has a few kinks to work out but they are earnest and their staff is terrific – they all are working hard.

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We had hands down the best waitress I have had in years.  She knew that menu inside and out and the wine list.  She knew food and how restaurants work.  She was helpful and always checked in without being overly solicitous or overly familiar with customers. What a pleasure.

 

  • Bathrooms need some tweaking – ladies room needs purse hooks in stalls (I imagine that is corrected by now). Gentlemen guests remarked that Men’s room urinals set  too low – men over 5′ 5″ will splash themselves and well at this soft opening there are guys in $600 loafers so I would listen.
  • Front of house staff is the weakest spot in staff – host guy is awesome and attentive  but one woman not so much – she got irritated when I asked for lights to be raised in lounge and did not know where switch was. Said she would find out and evaporated and never came back.  There were  a couple of waitresses that we thought at end of day probably wouldn’t make it long term.  When so many wait staff shine so brightly, the ones not getting with the program really stand out, unfortunately.

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  • Ordered dessert trio – they had a lava cake but that is all over
  • Blind spot: owners were only interested in talking to their obvious social connections/people who could do something for them not everyone who was there to give feedback.  I am not the Queen of England but I have been to many a soft restaurant opening like this and every time I have had an owner or a general manager stop by my table for feedback.8
  • Some of guests said food too salty.  My salad was too salty.  I ordered the one with tuna  (tuna was cooked to perfection, however) was too salty and the salad has too much going on – it needs to be simplified and what Coco Chanel said about removing one piece of jewelry before you go out should apply to restaurants and ingredients in certain things.  The edamame  and egg in the salad I had (Mediterranean Ahi Tuna is its name and it should come in two sizes like the salmon entrée I had) , for example, were overkill.  My better half had similar feelings about the braised short rib and portabella flatbread too.
  • The basil grilled salmon entrée is one word: AMAZING3

 

Again, I will go back.  And I wish them tremendous success. The food prices are moderate and the menu is of a manageable size to give you plenty to try on a few return visits, but not so huge it is trying to be too many things.  I am not a professional restaurant reviewer, what you see are my impressions and what I overhear around me.

 

favoloso!

fiorelloI don’t want people to think I am a cranky restaurant reviewer, so I thought I would tell you about where we went Friday night for dinner.  It was to sum it up in one word: favoloso!

Favoloso is fabulous in Italian.

I am half Italian and from a family of amazing cooks so I am more than a bit of a snob when it comes to Italian food.  Even pizza.

I have longed for a place that had true high-end trattoria Italian specialties. I am sick of places that lob slabs of lasagna or overly doughy and otherwise tasteless salty pizza on a plate enough to feed and army and say “that’s Italian.” You know how people used to rave about Totaro’s in Conshohocken, PA?  Or  if you were ever in NYC in the late 80s or early 90s, Trattoria Foffe on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights, NY? This place puts the memory of those  places  to shame, and they have a decent wine list of some interesting Italian wines.

fiorello-s-cafeSo on Friday evening, my sweet man  took me to a place I have literally driven by for years, but had never gone into.  We went to Fiorello’s Cafe on Gay Street in West Chester.

The food was fabulous.  And fresh.  And authentic.  None of that half-baked garbage places like Fellini Cafe in Ardmore pass off as Italian trattoria food.  The real deal served in a clean restaurant with knowledgable and pleasant wait staff.

We had a lovely waitress and another woman, probably more of a bus person who waited on us.  They were cheerful and so nice.  One of them brought me a rose at the end of dinner because they were celebrating International Woman’s Day which has been around since the early 20th century but largely ignored here in the United States.

The salads were fresh and crisp and served with an actual and real balsamic vinagarette.  Not that overly sweet and gloppy emulsified goop that a lot of places serve, but a fresh dressing made with good olive oil and an an obviously good grade of balsamic.

For dinner I ordered the pasta with a sauce of tomatoes and white wine and calamari.  The sauce was light a flavorful and neither weighed down nor overpowered the dish.  And the calamari was perfect.  Too many places it is served not only when it is not particularly fresh, but it is cooked to death and rubbery.  Not Fiorello’s calamari.  It was sautéed to perfection.  And they even had no problem with adding a dash of capers for me.

My sweet man had another seafood pasta with bay scallops and shrimp.  I can’t eat scallops but he said it was delicious.

For dessert I was torn between Nonna’s cake and cannoli.  I ended up with the cannoli.  One perfect cannoli all homemade.  And it had the real cannoli cream that is slightly fluid and not all bound up with extra sugar and gelatin that some places serve.  And it was lighter than most cannoli.

They also had real espresso.  Not Nespresso which many restaurants now pass off as true espresso – don’t get me wrong I have and enjoy a Nespresso machine but that is for everyday coffee.  I love coffee and this espresso was the perfect blend of rich and dark.

I intend to make Fiorello’s more of a habit.  And oh yes in true Eurpopean Cafe style they had a delightful man singing Italian and other love songs while we all ate.  He was so sweet and the joy of sharing his music with us showed on his face.

f2The one drawback with Fiorello’s is it is a bit noisy. And it feels even closer than the tables in Cucina di Pesce in New York City in the East Village.

They could rectify  the noise if they chose by maybe changing out the ceiling for some sound absorbing tiles, or exploring something similar for some of the walls.  They could also do that by taking a few tables out of the restaurant.

They pack them in due to consistant popularity and good food, so I know that is the thought process behind the arrangement and placement of  tables, but I think they might benefit by cleaning up their interior space with a simpler look and fewer tables.  But by cleaning up I mean interior design – making the walls look less busy because this place is so clean it is amazing.

Anyway, the food is so truly good that it is worth going again and again.

So if you haven’t been there, or haven’t been there in a while, go. We walked in without a reservation, so I do not know their reservation policy but would ask. I have also heard they are delightful for lunch.

Fiorello’s has a Facebook page and a website.  I hope you check it out.

Fiorello’s Cafe:

730 E. Gay St.
West Chester, PA 19380
610-430-8941

Mon. – Sat.: 11 – 10
Sun.: 4 – 10

restaurant do-over

Last Thanksgiving because everyone was scattered, we ended up having Thanksgiving at The Farmhouse Bistro at People’s Light and Theater Company in Malvern, PA.  They had only reopened at the end of September and were advertising a traditional Thanksgiving meal.  It sounded perfect, as well as fairly close to home….too bad it was so disappointing.  As a matter of fact, the whole experience was so bad that I wrote to the restaurant.

The restaurant, when they finally responded, were very gracious, and offered me a modest gift certificate if I would give them a second try.

So this past weekend, we did just that.  When we arrived, this time we weren’t left standing at the hostess station, nor were friends of the hostess/manager who arrived after us, seated before us.  We were seated promptly, but rather ironically  they seated us at same service marooned table as last time.  At first, I must be honest,  I had the “do-do-do-do” Déjà vu/Twilight Zone sound in my head.

They are still disorganized, but the food was vastly improved over last time.  Our meal was excellent.

However, I can tell you exactly what the restaurant’s problems are:  they do not have enough staff on the dining floor, and the staff that is there needs support.  They are all nice people. They know the menu.  They are articulate and pleasant.  But management of the Farmhouse need to buy a clue and support their wait staff.  It is not that the restaurant is so huge and cavernous that staff can’t cover the floor.  There are simply not enough people on the floor.

The Farmhouse Bistro has terrific food and a mixed menu (I don’t find wraps to be a dinner item for example) and the setting is beautiful. But they need more staff on the floor, and while I get they want to get the people attending the People’s Light theater performances moving through their meals to make their curtain on time, there are plenty of other diners who are just there for the restaurant.  When you are out to dinner, you do not want to feel either rushed or abandoned.  Because the dining rooms do not have enough staff working the floor, you feel abandoned, as well as sensing confusion on the part of the servers as to who is responsible for what table and when.

So all in all, would I return again after trying the restaurant a second time? The short answer is maybe.  And I am appreciative they tried to make up for their initial dining disaster we experienced. I am not trying to sound ungrateful.

Here’s hoping that now that the menu and kitchen work well together that they step up and give their staff the support they deserve.  Otherwise, what will happen is they will lose all these tremendously nice people because they will get burnt out.

If you decide to give The Farmhouse Bistro a try be patient with the staff.  They have a lot of tables to cover.

The Farmhouse Bistro is located at 39 Conestoga Road, Malvern, PA 19355.  The have a website, a Facebook page and are on Twitter.

Quite a few of the reviews by other diners on various websites have similar issues to what we have now experienced twice. See one example below.  I will note Urban Spoon which we use to find new restaurants regularly only has 57% of the people enjoying the restaurant.

Opentable.com:Dined on 08/03/2012

 Food
3 / 5
(Good)3/5
Service
1 / 5
(Poor)1/5
Ambiance
3 / 5
Moderate
“Our first and last visit. So many service mistakes:waited almost 25 minutes for someone to take our drink order.The waiter never introduced himself, or apologized for the wait; his excuse was ‘nobody told me you had been seated,’ even though he was the waiter for the other two tables currently occupied. That’s how rarely he checked in with his tables.We were never offered or given bread. We left 1.5 hours to eat before the show, but service was so slow that, although we only had salad and entree, we had to skip dessert, barely making the performance. We only saw the waiter to place our order, and once during meal. Water boy and hostess did almost everything. We had to seek out the waiter to get our check.

 Main Line Today Magazine had this to say this past spring:

When Places! Bistro at People’s Light & Theatre Company reopened as the Farmhouse Bistro last September, it had everything necessary for a seamless transition to an exciting new place: a beautiful setting, lush gardens with tables lining the terrace, and cuisine that was seasonal and inspired. Three chefs later, the kitchen seems to be struggling with its identity, seemingly unsure of how to juggle its roles as an event space, a casual-yet-classy restaurant and a post-theater martini bar….Chef Joe Maguire says attracting non-theater diners is a big focus right now…THE SKINNY: Playing mostly to the theater crowd, the Farmhouse Bistro can be eerily vacant during the week or after the pre-show rush. It is a beautiful setting for a wedding or private party, and light bites and drinks are a real pleasure when enjoyed on the garden terrace. Given that the space has such potential, here’s hoping the kitchen works out its glitches.

I am thinking maybe Chef Robert Irvine should be invited to dine.