Clock Tower Natural Foods, Paoli

clocktower-soup

NOTE: Clock Tower closed shortly after this post.
Simple. Organic. Delicious. That’s the tagline for Clock Tower Natural Foods, a small cafe located in the Paoli Plaza shopping center (CVS) in Paoli. The cafe uses all organic foods, whole wheat breads, and no processed ingredients to make baked goods, soups and sandwiches. It’s a cute little cafe — very welcoming and warm, with friendly staff members.

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The Handcrafted Cookie Company, Phoenixville

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(now closed)

When we arrived at The Handcrafted Cookie Company in Phoenixville, it was about a half-hour before their official opening time, but owner Chad Williams had put out the “OPEN” sign and was getting ready for what was turning out to be a glorious late-summer Friday evening. Just a few seconds after we walked in, a local workman eagerly strode through the door and exchanged what seemed like a familiar greeting with Williams. “Every time I walk by, I gotta check to see if you are open,” he grinned, and ordered a few cookies. His enthusiasm to be there only stoked our very own expectations for the trip. Cookies? Handcrafted? What more does one need?

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Maia, Villanova

789 E. Lancaster Ave.
Villanova , PA
610-527-4888


Maia has closed.

Overview: It would take many visits to experience all that Villanova’s Maia, a unique, multi-faceted restaurant that combines cafeteria-style takeout with an American bistro with a Scandinavian-influenced fine dining destination, has to offer. Unfortunately — based on our first visit — a quick return is unlikely, due to horrible service and uninspired food.

It should be noted that Craig LeBan of the Philadelphia Inquirer has recently given Maia 3 bells (“Excels in every category of the dining experience.”, roughly equivalent to 4 silver spoons here). Not having read LeBan’s review before visiting Maia, it would be an understatement to say we were absolutely shocked at his assessment, as Maia did not excel in any category of the dining experience. The only explanation here is that LeBan’s picture has been hanging in the kitchen since before Maia opened; it has long been rumored that LeBan has been outed in the restaurant community, and this just about confirms it from our standpoint.

True, we only visited Maia one time, and perhaps all restaurants have off nights, but at the prices Maia is charging upstairs (upper $30s for some entrees, along with the typically absurd alcohol prices seen at this restaurant group), every diner should be treated like a big name critic, and execution as poor as we received is inexcusable on any night.

Maia is the sister restaurant of Nectar (as well as Basil and Tango), perhaps the Main Line’s finest dining establishment. Throughout our experience at Maia, we couldn’t help but think: “That’s similar to Nectar, but not nearly as good.”

Food: As mentioned previously, Maia offers several dining options, including casual lunch/takeout that features gourmet sandwiches and the like, a bistro featuring pizzas and eclectic American cuisine and “restaurant” (where we dined) serving mostly seafood but with a few meatier options as well. Though the menu offered quite a few intriguing options on paper, we found that just about every dish we ordered was flat-out bland, even to the point that salt and pepper was passed around the table after two bites each.

Starters: Salmon pastrami sliders were topped with pickled cucumber and Swedish mustard and tasted less interesting than they sound. The mini-rolls they came on were more flavorful than the fish itself. The “smoked” tuna loin, served with kohlrabi slaw and green olive puree was tender, but, once again, lacking in flavor, smoky or otherwise. Even more bland was the mosaic of fish terrine, a combination of salmon and yellowtail topped with a punchy citrus gelee. The fish was incredibly tender, but only the smack-in-the-face tart of the gelee had any taste to offer.

Entrees: The pan-roasted lobster, served with purple potatoes, truffle mousseline and white asparagus, was fresh and tender, but, to sound like a broken record, bland. For $38, one would certainly expect something more noteworthy, but even truffles could not rescue this one. Roasted wild striped bass was “stuffed” with roasted garlic, golden raisins and parsley, with ver jus and root vegetables. The air-quote for “stuffed” because this was not stuffed with anything, and the garlic was nowhere to be tasted. A few bites were overly fishy even, but at least they had flavor. Ironically, LeBan called Maia the rightful successor to Philly’s famed Striped Bass, yet their version of the fish, frankly, offers nowhere close to the same creativity and quality as the original’s signature dish. The best entree was an herb-grilled yellowfin tuna, served with wilted baby spinach, dried black olives and candied ginger with a duck jus, but only because the fish itself was brilliant. Seared but served so rare it was cold in the middle, this was melt-in-your-mouth tuna, and the herbs added an interesting (and unique, for tuna) flavor. Just like everything else, however, the rest of the dish bored. Fried potatoes are always tasty, but seemed out of place here.

Dessert: Chocolate tart shells with a creamy caramel center and a graham-cracker like crust were tasty and worth trying. Bamboloni, brioche beignets filled with vanilla cream and garnished with lingonberry, were ok, but not on par with Nectar’s version (though admittedly we prefer doughnuts without cream in the center). Illy coffee is nice and strong.

Service: Easily the biggest disappointment, as clearly the Maia team is not ready for prime time. This is surprising, obviously, because of the local experience the management team has in the area. For brevity, let’s run down the service mistakes in list format:

  • Though we had a reservation, we waited over an hour to be seated.
  • Even after we were seated, dinner took more than two hours, due to inattentive waitstaff and painfully slow service. Overall it was a 3+ hour, exhausting experience.
  • Once we sat down, it took at least 10 minutes for the waiter to even greet us.
  • To top that off, he asked if we were ready to order wine before we even had menus.
  • We had to request bread after 25 minutes at the table, and 90 minutes since our reservation time.
  • Our red wine was served at room temperature, not slightly below as is the correct way.
  • Our coffee did not arrive until we were almost done with dessert.
  • It seemed our dessert plates were removed seconds after we took the last bite (in contrast to the inattentive service we had received all night, service that is too attentive).
  • Even worse than all this was the lack of apology we received for the experience. Have a drink at the bar while you wait, they offered, on glasses of wine that cost more than the bottle at PLCB, yet our waiter offered us no apology for the wait and we were not offered anything for our trouble, despite a horrific wait with a reservation and inattentive service throughout the meal. Even Craig LeBan received an amuse bouche, yet we got nothing of the sort, not even a comped dessert (the standard “we’re sorry” move from a restaurant).

Ambiance: The strength of Maia is certainly the building itself; each room is stunning in different ways. Upstairs exudes casual elegance, while the chalkboards and open spaces of the bustling bistro suggest a neighborhood hotspot. If the staff and kitchen can clean up their act, Maia certainly has the chance to create many memorable experiences.

Value: Prices were what we expected, especially with our prior experiences at Nectar, but when paired with hapless execution they seem far more outlandish. Make no mistake, upstairs at Maia is a special night out and will likely cost you at least $60 per person with alcohol, before tip. Downstairs is less expensive, but is unlikely to provide a great value. The owners have also mentioned a goal with lunch is to offer gourmet fare to office workers and students for a similar price that they’d pay at a local hoagie shop.

Details:

# of times we’ve eaten there: 1
Reservations: Yes – Recommended
Payments: Cards
Bar: Full
Website: http://www.tastemaia.com

Butterfish, West Chester

700 W. Nields St. (Rt 52)
West Chester, PA
(610) 738-8800

Butterfish closed in March 2010.

Overall: Creative, modern American BYOs aren’t that hard to find in this area these days, and Butterfish is certainly one of them. This restaurant, however, creates separation with a diverse menu, great execution and a vibrant atmosphere.

Food: Innovative, new American fare, as mentioned above. The signature dish is a sauteed Hawaiian butterfish in a ginger buerre blanc and a macadamia green apple salad. As you can imagine, this dish is quite popular and good, though perhaps our least favorite of all the dishes, which says something. The filet with a Cabernet demi, shallots and smashed yukon golds was simple, but very tasty and perfectly cooked. A pork “porterhouse” special, served with a smoky mushroom & pepper sauce and mashed sweet potatoes, was probably the true highlight of the meal. (The moral here: don’t be afraid to get something besides fish!) For appetizers, we tried the blue corn nachos (huge portion!) and the polenta with smoked tomato sauce, and both were scarfed down in no time. Lastly, be sure to save room for dessert. We were in a chocolate frenzy, ordering (if I remember correctly) a flourless cake with raspberry sauce, a chocolate pecan pie or tart, and lastly a oatmeal chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwich. My personal favorite was the latter, but there was much arguing over which was the best during the few seconds we were eating them.

Atmosphere: Bustling, open and bright room creates a very welcoming atmosphere; I’d even venture to say better than most in this class.

Service: Solid — attentive and helpful.

Value: Obviously the BYOB factor immediately creates value. Entrees are generally in the mid 20s, which is about right considering the quality of food and lack of wine markup.

Details:
Bar: BYOB
Reservations: Yes
Cards: Yes
# of Visits: 1
http://butterfishrestaurant.com