133 East Gay St.
West Chester, PA 19380
Rating: 2 spoons out of 5
Overview: I’ve been waiting to eat at Gilmore’s for some time now; hyped as the suburban home of a former Le Bec-Fin chef de cuisine, this tiny West Chester bistro is frequently mentioned as the class of the Western Philadelphia suburbs. That being said, I was quite excited to finally get a reservation I could keep (weekend tables require at least a month notice, even more for Saturdays). Unfortunately, however, Gilmore’s was all hype and little delivery; the menu was boring and the food itself bland and unexciting. Perhaps we visited on an off-night, for in the end Gilmore’s showed no signs of being West Chester’s supposed crown jewel.
Food: A variety of French-inspired choices, including plenty of seafood, game and beef. “Baby New Zealand Rack of Lamb Persillade”, or lamb with a mustard-herb-garlic crust and lamb jus, initially was served extremely rare (ordered medium rare, as the chef recommended) and had to be sent back. When it did come back cooked properly, it did not have enough flavor to save the original miscue. (It was certainly a reasonable entree, but at $31 I expect something a bit more satisfying.) The “Pan-Seared Salmon” came on a bed of French lentils, and again was decent but hardly transcendent. I did not try the “New York Strip Steak”, served au poivre, but on sight I didn’t feel I was missing out — it was thin and generally not that appealing to the eye. One of the biggest issues I have with the entrees at Gilmore’s is that they all come with the same side dishes — on this particular night whipped potatoes and a brussels sprout casserole-type concoction. To me the sign of a truly inspired chef is one who can pair the entire plate, not sling a scoop of the veggies du jour next to each piece of meat on the menu. This is especially disturbing at a tiny place like Gilmore’s — with only 11 tables, expecting more creativity does not seem out of the question (not to mention the ~ $30 an entree price tag).
My disappointment continued into dessert and the “Warm Liquid Center Chocolate Soufflé”. I truly thought I would never meet a chocolate soufflé I didn’t like, but I also never thought I’d taste one this insipid. The typically rich, decadent dessert had hardly any flavor! The French-pressed coffee, on the other hand, had a much stronger taste; it was rich and satisfying.
Besides the coffee, the highlight of the evening was the “Black and White” risotto, a creamy black truffle risotto served with fresh shredded white truffles. Having never had risotto with truly fresh truffles, I swallowed the exorbitant $20 appetizer price tag to give it a shot (after all, we were at Gilmore’s, the suburb’s best restaurant). It really was quite good, especially the fresh, fragrant white truffles. Looking back, the small portion probably didn’t warrant the price, but it was easily the best food we ate that evening.
Ambiance: As I mentioned previously, Gilmore’s is extremely small, and there isn’t a bad table in the place. It has a slightly stodgy (think old-school Main Line) feel, but also has a nice mix of class and comfort.
Service: The waitstaff was extremely nice and helpful. However, a few other service-related flaws concern me. Firstly, the menu: descriptions of each entree are incredibly minimal, so much so that I really didn’t have much idea what each entree actually was (although perhaps the real problem here is that the plates actually don’t have much else to talk about beyond the type of meat). I basically had to have the server go through the entire menu with me just so I knew what the options were (which she did quite willingly — it just seemed unnecessary). Spending a few minutes adding better descriptions to the menu would certainly provide the customers with a better ordering experience. Secondly, when I sent back my rack of lamb, the waiter said to me (something like): “Well, the chef’s medium rare does tend to be pretty rare“. If that is the case, why didn’t the waitress tell me that when I ordered? How am I supposed to know that the chef’s idea of medium rare is actually “rare”? Heck, even at Outback Steakhouse they tell you that!
Value: Gilmore’s is one of the more expensive BYOB’s in the area… expect to spend $40-50 per person. I just can’t justify paying this kind of money when you can get a more interesting meal at Avalon right around the corner for an equal or lesser price.