Maia, Villanova

July 9th, 2008

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

22 Responses to “Maia, Villanova”

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  1. Ian says:

    Alas — looks like we must say goodbye to Maia. Michael Klein reports it’s been shut down completely.

    http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/the-insider/Maia_closes.html

  2. Judy says:

    They may be taking the negative reviews to heart, because I’ve had two meals at Maia in the last two weeks and they both were wonderful. Service was prompt, friendly and personable. And the food was definitely NOT frozen, –it was fresh, bright and well prepared and presented.

    Love both the steak frites and the moules frites; my companion’s chicken flatbread was tasted and enjoyed by all four of us at the table, as was the pork chop.

    I hope the pastry chef can work with a baby on her hip; the little chocolate caramel tarts are the perfect antidote to a bad day at work, and I’d hate to see them disappear when she has her baby.

    And the bar was busy on a Thursday at happy hour with a much younger, hipper, well-dressed crowd than the old Main-Line-Wannabees at Georges.

    Perhaps you should give it a try expecting a positive change.

  3. Alan says:

    All of the latest reviews, although negative are true. This place is bad. Food, tastes frozen or no taste at all. Service, way below average. Upstairs closed. I would recommend don’t waste your money here. Never ever going back.

  4. John G says:

    This has to be the worst example on the Main Line of thinking that your smarter than everyone else.

    Just 1 star at best all around. Food, service and even beer(all tasted skunky) bad. Won’t last.

  5. Lauren says:

    Horrible service. What a rip off!
    Our waitress forgot about our group of 8 several times.

    Stay away!!!!!!

  6. Jamie says:

    LaBan just published his Year in Bells article.
    Maia has fallen to 2 bells…looks like these negative reviews may have been right on….

    http://www.philly.com/philly/restaurants/20081228_Big_doings_on_the_dining_scene.html

  7. elizabeth says:

    A recent visit to Maia with special out of town guests was lackluster. Our server was noticibly absent throughout the meal and the place was very quiet so there was really no excuse. The special request we had made for white rolls was forgotten. The food was mediocre. Looks like they need to have much stronger management focusing on service.

  8. Suzanne says:

    Don’t waste your money. The food was very forgettable, the tables in the bar make you feel like a 2 year old with your feet dangling, the service is pompous and poor. We are always excited when a new place opens near us. This was pure disappointment!

  9. Marc says:

    I can’t believe all these negative reviews ate at the same restaurant – I have been upstairs five times with many different people and in every case the food has been excellent – better then any other Main Line restaurant I know. I consider it the first Main Line restaurant on par with some of the better ones in NYC, where I was badly spoiled. I really appreciate that they appear to make real drinks – I get so annoyed when an expensive restaurant serves me sweet & crappy bottled mixes and calls it a $10 Margarita.

    I also had excellent service on each occassion, including the two times I sat on the outside patio.

    I have to believe from the other reviews that the downstairs is not the same experience at all, but since I have not tried it I have no opinion.

    It is certainly expensive, but I’d expect no less for this quality. I did buy some things from the deli and thought those prices were over-the-top ridiculous (I think it was $1.90 for a chocolate truffle – they are excellent, but not the best I’ve ever had, and that price is absurd).

    I generally like the decor, and some of it is very well done, but overall I think it doesn’t quite come together – the designer tried to do too much. On the decor I give it a 7 out of 10.

  10. Stacey says:

    We have had dinner and drinks downstairs four times now since the opening, and quite honestly, the service has gotten WORSE each time. Especially at the bar – there always seem to be plenty of bartenders, but we have sat and waited at least 10 minutes while they counted money, stocked glasses, chatted with servers, etc. It seems to me that greeting a customer and taking their drink order should take priority over all these things.
    We have enjoyed the food (some of it was just average) but with the economy the way it is, they should be trying ALOT harder to offer excellent customer service. We probalby will not go back again.

  11. cheryl says:

    not a fan. Service was way below average BOTH times I spent my hard earned money there.

    seriously….not a fan (I ate both times downstairs) I could get carpel tunnel explaining how terrible the service was. One point I will mention. After our dinner we asked for coffee (okay, 200 dollar bill here) and dessert. She told us the coffee was put away.

    um…..MAKE a pot? How much does it cost?

  12. Sara says:

    are you people for real, this place is great

  13. Theresa says:

    My husband and I dropped into Maia this past Saturday for a late afternoon lunch. After hearing all the hype about the restaurant complex, I have to admit we were expecting a better experience. We were seated in the bar area of the bistro. The waitress gave us a lunch menu to review and then came back after a few minutes and exchanged them for dinner menus explaining the hour had just changed and lunch was no longer being served. We started with one waitress then another took over and she kept disappearing. Lots of servers but they were more interested in each other than the patrons. We hoped to explore the market but it closed at 3pm which would make it diificult if you wanted to get something closer to dinner to bring home.

    So we at least hoped the food would make it worth the trip. Well they should stick to dinners. The Pork chop my husband had was excellent. However the four cheese pizza was awful. The rolls were all hard and the desserts were very small portioned and not very good for 8.50 a piece.

    The bar area of the bistro was also poorly layed out. You are lined up along a wall with one table on top of another and barely room to get between tables. A family with young children were seated next to us and I was close enough to cut up the kids food. Nice flat screen TV’s behind the bar. Unfortunately glass shelves lined with bottles completely obscures the view from everywhere accept a seat at the bar.

    The restaurant upstairs looked nice but I would be afraid to take a chance now as the servers are inexperienced and the food downstairs left much to be desired.

  14. Jane says:

    I have gone to Maia 4 times. I ate downstairs, where they serve bistro style meals. There is a bar and bakery area. When crowded, they will serve their main meals in the coffee/bakery area. I found the place to be overly noisy and the food was just average, nothing to really brag about. The food was basically bland; it needs a tad bit of salt and spices in some of the meat dishes to give the dishes more flavor. My bread rolls were tough and dry. The staff was inexperience. They had problems describing dishes from the menu. I got a lot of “I don’t know” answers. I feel the waitstaff should know the menu and restuarant cooking thoroughly, expecially when the prices in this restaurant is high.

    The kitchen needs more work. With prices that high, the restaurant food quality should be of the caliber of Sovano Bistro, Le Bec Fin, just to name a few.

  15. the dude says:

    Horrible. Overpriced, distant at best service. Are you kidding me?

  16. dave says:

    I know for a fact that LaBan was spotted on at least one of his visits to Maia. A friend of mine who is in the business was at the table right next to him. He got up from the table, showed the mamager where LaBan was seated and was later treated to a few free drinks down stairs for the favor.

  17. Diane says:

    We ate upstairs at Maia, outside. The service and food were underwhelming. My scallops were served luke warm and the other meal, seared tuna, did not have any taste except for the herb crust. When our app was served we needed to ask about what was on the plate- instead of the server explaining. Our server never once asked us about our meal or even if we needed anything. When we didnt order dessert, our bill arrived w/o comment. Not even a “thanks and have a great night”. For the amount of money we spent we expected an experience similar to Nectar or any stephen starr restaurant. Not happening. To their credit, after we paid bill, we discussed our experience with managment and we had a nice end of the night(comped us on dessert downstairs) We went downstairs for after dinner drinks and had FABULOUS service. I would go back but only downstairs.

  18. Marco says:

    What hype this place had prior to opening. We were going here because of that. What a disappointment. I would not waste your money here. Maybe wait a year then go after they change some staff and work out the kinks. The reviewer from the inquirer must be blind and friends of the owners to think that this place is 3 bells.

  19. alfred says:

    I agree with Beth. The bar is pretty cool but the food is not that good. I guess the only talent is the brothers n you can’t do it all.

  20. Beth says:

    Neat bar. Horrible food. Noisy atmosphere.

  21. Karen says:

    Have tried both the more casual bistro downstairs as well as the restaurant upstairs. Really like the bistro – was lukewarm on the food upstairs, but will undoubtedly give it another try.

  22. Ian says:

    Another winner from Feury, Morrison & Co. The place is really a sight to behold, from the euro feel of the espresso/breakfast bar to the craft beer selection and lunch space to the open, immense bar…and the uber-trendy, attitude-adjusted dinner restaurant upstairs. Have yet to try the food up there, but the bottled beer selection can’t be beat, every pastry (and the french toast!) is divine, and the lunch specialties are served up quickly but with no sacrifice in taste and complexity. I have yet to walk away anything but very, very pleased.