Expansion can be sweet
The essential question pondered by successful restaurateurs is as much Hamlet as omelet: To expand, or not to expand? Substantial opportunities for income and creativity can come from opening additional restaurants, but the risks are also considerable. In the worst case scenario, so much money, time, and personnel are siphoned from the flagship site that both places fail.
Two local enterprises have been empire building in a measured way that bodes well for their longevity—and our dining pleasure. Jim Barnes and Bob Rafetto, owners of the Dilworthtown Inn and the InnKeeper’s Kitchen, have opened the Blue Pear Bistro (275 Brintons Bridge Rd., West Chester, 610.399.9812; www.bluepearbistro.com, smoke-free; porch dining in season). In Media, Azie (217 W. State St., Media, 610.566.4750, www.azie-restaurant.com, smoke-free; roof deck dining in season) comes to us courtesy of Win and Sutida Somboonsong, whose other successes include Teikoku, Mikado, Thai Pepper, and Flavor.
One can hardly mention The Dilworthtown Inn without using the word ‘venerable.” It has earned its reputation as the place for special-occasion dining. However, the market-savvy owners recognized the demand for a more casual, affordable restaurant, still serving top-quality food, that would appeal to young professionals and could become a neighborhood hub. When the 1745 building that housed the Dilworthtown Country Store, right next door to the Dilworthtown Inn, became available, the duo purchased it.
After two years of renovations, the 75-seat Blue Pear opened with a menu of small and medium plates inspired by seasonal, local ingredients. Most selections are under $20, and patrons are encouraged to share. Chef David Fogleman is a whiz at taking tried and true dishes and making them memorable by combining fine ingredients with exquisite technique.
The pan-roasted salmon that’s become ho-hum at too many restaurants is rejuvenated here. Toasted pistachios, Brussels sprout leaves, and golden raisins as an accompaniment made me want to use every synonym for “delicious” I could find in a thesaurus. Same with the Madeira mustard sauce.
It’s a gutsy move to put chicken nuggets on the menu, but these are in no danger of being confused with the chewy, over-fried specimens served via drive-thru. Instead, they are melt-in-your-mouth poached chicken coated with poultry mousse, crisped in a panko crust, and served with white-truffle honey mustard. They’re whimsically presented on skewers planted like flowers in a pot of raw black beans.
Other winning dishes include the mushroom crêpe, steak & frites, and the mussels. The wine list is small but satisfying; the beer menu features regional microbrews.
Woods and metals create a rich, vibrant interior. The wall behind the popular mahogany bar is crushed golden glass. Votive candles in stylish holders add to the mood. Upstairs, a clubby lounge with leather seating is a popular spot for drinks and dessert. The immediate popularity of the Blue Pear shows just how sorely this type of restaurant was needed.
Somebody call the editors of Dwell magazine: Media has gotten a stylish boost thanks to Azie’s contemporary Asian design aesthetic. Clean lines and sculptural elements go hand in hand with the artistic, global menu presented by corporate chef Takao Iiuma, who studied culinary arts in his native Japan and later became an assistant on Iron Chef. Before joining Azie, he worked with Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto in Philadelphia. The kitchen team also includes executive chef Kazuyuko Mitsui.
At $12, the set lunch is a bargain. Miso soup, salad, and a California roll accompany the entree of your choice (various honey or teriyaki selections). There are also enticing appetizers like the crab and cream cheese spring roll or Kobe beef carpaccio, as well as sushi rolls, soups, salads, and full-size entrees.
Dinner has an expanded menu with a large variety of seafood selections to complement the meat and chicken choices. There’s a bar menu, too, much appreciated by the Delaware County movers and shakers who fit in perfectly with the energetic vibe at Azie.
The same creativity and attention to detail that characterize Azie’s food also inform its lighting choices. Abundant natural light comes through the floor-to-ceiling windows along State Street. In a window between the two front rooms inlaid silver-dollar plants make the glass interesting as well as functional. Curvy chandeliers, wall sconces, recessed ceiling lights, and fixtures hidden behind banquettes illuminate the space without being harsh. And the glass-bubble chandelier that shines down from the second floor through to the first puts a smile on everyone’s face (except perhaps on the person who has to dust it!).
As the Prince of Denmark was keenly aware, it’s hard to predict the future. But for Azie and the Blue Pear Bistro, it’s safe to say, “So far, so good.”