Monday, June 2, 2008

First Look: Bistro on the Brandywine

Opened just two months ago, Bistro on the Brandywine is the newest venture of Brandywine Valley restaurateur Dan Butler. Sister restaurant and parking lot neighbor to Brandywine Prime, it’s Butler’s second opening on the Route 1 corridor in sleepy Chadds Ford, PA in just a little over a year.

By way of full disclosure, I’ve conducted wine dinners at a number of Dan’s restaurants over the years. (In fact, for those of you who may have missed the announcement here a few days back, I’ll be hosting a wine pairing dinner at Brandywine Prime this Friday.) As a result, I’m not a stranger when walking into any of his establishments. Also as a result, I generally opt not to write up my dining experiences at said establishments. However, I figured I’d make an exception this time, given that the Bistro is new, BYOB – more on that later – and a generally charming little spot. Given the full house on a Friday night, it also seems to have filled a void in its neighborhood, fitting neatly in the gap between fine dining and basic pub grub.

The country farmhouse feel provided by stone walls and bead board are made contemporary by sunny views, high ceilings and exposed ductwork.

There were some clear standouts based on our quick sampling of the menu. Medium-sized mussels, which can be ordered in both appetizer and entrée sized portions, were drenched in a deeply flavorful and intensely creamy saffron sauce. The accompanying frites are cut in house, double-fried and combine crispiness with surprisingly potato-y fleshiness given their matchstick size. The only minor shortcoming on that plate was the aioli dip for the fries, which could be a bit zestier and a little less rich. A massive tousle of the same fries came as a de facto part of my main course of steak frites. The hangar steak itself was richly beefy, cooked perfectly medium-rare (except at its most tapered end), appropriately chewy and ratcheted up a notch by a drizzle of shallot infused demi-glace.

The brightest light of the evening – no pun intended, given the sun streaming through the front windows – may just have been the amuse bouche of steak and eggs on truffled toast sent out compliments of the chef.

I would have preferred a thinner, crispier crust, along with more acidic sauce and slightly higher seasoning for the pizza margherita we shared as an appetizer. That didn’t stop us from asking to take the leftovers home, though. And it may just be an appealing style for the customers that come with kids in tow. For those with a predilection for richness, the short ribs are an exercise in the extremes of comfort food. Braised in veal stock, served with Gorgonzola gnocchi and generously sauced, they were, no bones about it, decadent.

A few of the dishes we enjoyed (clockwise, from top left): Pizza Margherita, Moules Frites, Steak Frites and, for dessert, Banana-Caramel Bread Pudding.

Chef de Cuisine Seth Harvey and Managing Partner Paul Bouchard are both imports from other outposts of Chef Butler’s dining empire. Formerly the sous-chef at Wilmington’s Deep Blue, Harvey has put together a menu of French bistro favorites, accented with occasional touches of creativity and with a few nods to the restaurant’s locale – Kennett Square mushroom soup, for instance. Mr. Bouchard has moved on to manage Bistro on the Brandywine after years running Butler’s original Toscana Kitchen + Bar. Given the relative dearth of trained wait staff in the outer suburbs, Paul has already done an admirable job of bringing the young front of the house staff up to speed. Service, though not without a minor hiccup or two, was affable, well paced and comfortable.

No doubt good news to the restaurant’s potential cash flow, its liquor license application was approved just the day before our visit. There is already a short list of Pennsylvania beers in bottle and a wine list so tiny as to be cute – just two whites and two reds, all offered by the glass and the bottle. I’m sure the list will quickly come up to speed. The good news for the local wine-toting crowd is that Bouchard plans to continue the restaurant’s BYOB policy indefinitely. The $5 corkage fee per bottle is justified by quality stemware and waived if a bottle is ordered from the list.

Bistro on the Brandywine
1623 Baltimore Pike
(at Routes 1 & 100)
Chadds Ford, PA 19317
Bistro On The Brandywine on Urbanspoon

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