White Dog Cafe, Wayne

December 5th, 2010

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photo credit: whitedog.com

It’s no exaggeration to call White Dog Cafe the most anticipated restaurant since Main Line Dine began covering the local scene in 2003, so it was with a mixture of anticipation, curiosity and cautious optimism that we braved the early crowds to get a peek at the new local hot spot.

Even from the street, the space White Dog occupies is stunning. Large windows overlook Rt. 30, and what looks like it will become a popular terrace sits bare, patiently waiting for Spring. Inside, the decor is more elegant than TWD’s downtown cousin, while maintaining a healthy dose of the famously funky kitsch. Four different dining rooms offer varied atmospheres, which almost makes it possible to have a completely different experience from visit to visit.

The front room, which contains the expansive bar, is decorated wall to wall with painted dog portraits, creating the feeling of a cozy, fun and slightly strange hunting lodge. The two side rooms are closer to a living room, or perhaps a country cottage, and the back room, with its bright lighting and butcher block tables, feels more like a bouchon. Though it is hard to declare which atmosphere is best without having dined in each room, we did encounter the major drawback to the front room: sitting anywhere near the bar risks being hassled and annoyed by the throng of people waiting for a table as they jockey for a drink. This may be fine for those looking for a quick bite from the bar menu, but for larger parties, who took the time to make a reservation, and are paying dining-room prices for the complete culinary experience, this is simply unacceptable. Otherwise, service is friendly and casual, yet incorporates some slight formal touches.

The menu, of course, is all about fresh, local, sustainable, fair trade ingredients, and though Judy Wicks no longer runs the day-to-day operation of either restaurant, her ideals remain at the forefront of each. We started with the Wild Mushroom Stuffed Raviolis — appropriate for Fall — which were tossed with trumpet mushrooms, scallions, tasso ham and light porcini cream ($9). These airy pillows of pasta were deliciously earthy, and tempered by a touch of cream and the occasional bite of smoky ham, although the chewy, tough trumpet stems could have been omitted. We also tried a dish not on the website menu — Spiced Lamb Sliders, which were made from ground meat and topped with a lovely tzatziki sauce. Seared only to rare, they were melt-in-the-mouth succulent and one of the highlights of our meal.

Our waitress informed us that the Spicy Lamb Bolognese, which contained Meadow Run Farms lamb, Severino rigatoni, basil ricotta and baby spinach ($20) is a “signature dish” of the downtown White Dog, and one can surely see why. Chunks of lamb and perfectly balanced spices (though the dish isn’t really “hot” spicy) create a marvelous depth of flavor, and the dollop of ricotta that’s whipped with fresh basil adds a pungent flourish to the already silky, creamy sauce. This is easily the menu’s must-try dish!

A more casual option is the Green Meadow Cheddar Burger, which comes adorned with Smoked Bacon Mayo, Grilled Red Onion & House Cut Fries ($15). We’ve all had a burger with bacon, cheese & onion, and though this one isn’t going to change the world, it is nicely executed. The meat was cooked properly, and the combination of the rich cheese, smoky bacon and juicy beef creates a powerfully flavorful sandwich. The fries were particularly good as well — crispy enough, but also tender and well-seasoned.

Sadly, we did endure one major disappointment: The Red Wine Braised Beef Short Ribs, served atop root vegetables, garlic-Parmesan potato puree and crispy shallots ($28). The beef itself was woefully undercooked — no, it wasn’t rare, but it was quite tough, not fork-tender as properly braised meat ought to be. There were huge chunks of fat throughout — another indication that it needed more time in the oven, or to be cooked at a lower temperature (or both). If that wasn’t enough, the root veggies, which were, boringly, all white (no orange?) were also undercooked to the point of being crunchy. Crisp veggies are fine in a stir-fry, but not in a slow-cooker dish like this one. Lastly, though it is hard to argue against crispy shallots, this dish was on the verge of being overwhelmingly oniony. Based on everything else we ate, the lack of technique and focus here was shocking, especially for a dish that seemed so irresistible in menu form.

Not wanting to leave on such a bad note, we had to sample a few of the dessert offerings. The Sugar & Spice Doughnuts, stuffed with both Kallari chocolate cream and local fig jam ($8), are a clear shot across the bow to Berwyn’s Nectar (who has built a bit of a reputation for their beignets). They were served warm, and were simultaneously bold and delicate, amazingly tender, and delectable. We didn’t appear to get the promised vanilla Anglaise dipping sauces, but nobody seemed to care.

We also tried the Caramel Apple Pudding ($8): warm cinnamon apple brioche pudding, sauteed Kaufmann heirloom apples, butter rum sauce, vanilla ice cream and a spiced crisp apple tuille, which certainly won marks for great presentation — it was served in an opened hermetic jar, with the tuille protruding from the top. This was tasty, and offered intriguing layers of warm and cold, but still failed to reach the heights of the doughnuts.

The bar offers a small but sensible wine selection (if $44 for a $12 bottle can be considered sensible; in our case the Sterling Zinfandel), as well as some local beers and a variety of signature cocktails. On a cold evening, it was quite tempting to sample from the variety of Hot Toddies, but the packed house warmed us quickly enough.

White Dog Cafe
200 West Lancaster Avenue
Wayne, PA 19087
T: 610-225-3700
F: 610-225-0700
http://whitedog.com
Reservations: Open Table

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Burger & Fries

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Lots of Dogs! (photo credit: whitedog.com)

23 Responses to “White Dog Cafe, Wayne”

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  1. Diane says:

    Have eaten at White Dog about 8 times now. Have had a great experience every time. Food is delicious, service good and the reaturant is absolutely gorgeous. This restaurant surely raises the bar for the Main Line.

  2. Jim in Paoli says:

    We went to WDC for a 3rd time last night. It was busy for a Monday night, obviously filling a gap on the Main Line. My wife an I went around christmas the first time. Very loud, good food, very busy. We went 2 weeks ago and sat at the bar and had dinner. Again, good food and the bartender was extremely pleasant and helpful. We went again last night. Sat in the bar, which wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.
    I am now completely bored by the menu. They need some specials. I can go to Alba 3 times in 8 weeks and not be bored.
    Also the wine list is completely underwhelming. There is nothing on the wine list I would buy if I were at the state store. Parducci? We’ll try it again in the spring to see if they change the menu.

  3. thedogatemyhomework says:

    Not everybody is so thrilled with White Dog Cafe: especially Radnor Township. White Dog has blatantly ignored the occupancy permit issued by the Township. The restaurant was permitted for 63 seats … but the place now has 174. That brings up all kinds of fire and safety issues but The White Dog chose to ignore them.
    Neighboring businesses aren’t too happy about all of this, since customers of the giant restaurant are taking the majority of the parking spaces.

  4. ap says:

    went last thursday night w/ husband and college aged daughter. food was great. noise was ridiculous and annoying. seats so close together we could hear and were disturbed by the conversations going on around us. had a reservation and were seated promptly but it was crazy crowded at the front. we were in the smaller room. wandered to the back to see what the other room looked like and it was practically empty. I wish they would have put some more people in there so we could have conversed at a normal decibel level. going again for lunch this week. if again it is that loud, I will avoid this place. its no fun if you can’t talk to your tablemates

  5. Monica Hackett says:

    The White Dog in Wayne has been eagerly awaited. We finally went on a Monday night in January for my birthday. The place was terrifically busy which was great for them. But the back room in which our table for two was located was an absolute noise bombshell. There were 3 large tables of customers and I had to shout to my companion. Soundproofing the decor might help. Maybe take down the copper pots and put up some fabric to absorb the noise. Maybe a carpet, curtains, something.

    The food was delicious but barely warm. Just too many customers. I’ve been dining at the White Dog in town for years and never encountered lukewarm scallops.

    Service was great and our waitress dealt with our complaints with aplomb.

    Still next time we will request one of the other rooms or drive downtown.

  6. DP says:

    Went for dinner Christmas eve with my wife and father-in-law. Could not have been more impressed with the space, food, and the service was outstanding. I would recommend to everyone.

  7. Ms. Poly Theist says:

    Hrm, did they have any entrees that weren’t red meat?

    • Heather says:

      I hope this is a question, because there are plenty of options that do not have red meat.

      Trout stuffed with crabmeat (sorry it is wrapped with prosciutto)

      Artic Char

      Tofu

      Striped Bass special tonite, as well as duck and pork special.

      Awesome menu, that is always changing!

    • mld says:

      Ha, probably more related to the fact that we happened to review red-meat based entrees. But yes there is pork, poultry, fish and more veggie options than your average restaurant. What can I say – it was cold the night we went, so we did the hearty thing!
      p.s. wouldn’t Ms. Polly Theist be funnier?

  8. Jack says:

    Stopped by last Friday after a day in NYC in an all-day meeting. I’d heard from colleagues that the food was really memorable & since I was alone I figured I sit at the bar & have dinner. I arrived to bedlam: packed waiting area, packed bar area, loud & boisterous–exactly my kind of place! I found a place to order a drink & Patrick, the friendly & extremely competent barman, quickly served my drink. I talked with several people until a spot at the bar opened & I squeezed right in. Mushroom ravioli was a great starter-delicate flavors in the dumpling & the sauce. The woman next to me ordered the pasta bolognese & it smelled great–she did offer a taste which was fantastic, actually better than my entree, which I cannot recall. I’d say that the place is off to a great start. I’m going back, maybe even make resertvations next time.

  9. Sam says:

    We enjoyed our dinners and the decor was very comfortable. The only negative was the acoustics. It was so incredibly loud that we had a very difficult time having a conversation. If they can absorb some of that noise, we’ll be back.

  10. First of all, don’t let the casual and somewhat understated name fool you. The place is a Main Liner’s mecca in terms of atmosphere and interior decor. It’s beautiful.

    The down side…the service was friendly but a bit on the slow side.

    The music…what were they thinking? I mean I heard Sugar Ray play as my eyes wandered over the elegant dining area adorned with large topiaries and custom-looking curtains…it didn’t fit the setting at all.

    Overall, we love the place. The food was very good. We had the lamb sliders and for dinner, the brook trout and the burger. We enjoyed it all.

    T.M. Singleton
    Berwyn, PA

  11. Darlene says:

    Awesome restaurant and locally-grown food concept. More of a special occasion place for me though because of the prices. I can go to Primavera down the street every week for the 3 course menu at 19.95.

  12. Laurie says:

    From the decor to the staff and then the food…The White Dog Cafe in Wayne EXCEEDED our expectations….We will be back.

  13. Jeff says:

    We went tonight. Beautiful restaurant. Lots of details. Great staff and the food was delicious. Definitely on our list to go back to.

  14. SteveR says:

    According to the “Insider” in Inqy on 8/11, now White Dog opening scheduled for late September.

  15. Elizabeth says:

    There seems to be hope! I drove by tonight, and there is a hiring sign outside the window of where The White Dog Cafe in Wayne will be!

  16. Ryan says:

    I had a conversation with some people ‘in the know’ last week that said White Dog wasn’t coming at all. I hope they are wrong, as we were REALLY looking forward to it.

    • Ron says:

      Both of those craigslistings have expired, but the now hiring sign is still in the window. I also heard, as did Ryan, that “White Dog wasn’t coming at all.” So I called the Philly restaurant. Lady there said it’s on for late September and they’re “picking up the salt shakers today.” I said the lack of interior construction caused a lot of skepticism out here and she assured me the staff in Philly is all revved up for it.

  17. […] The White Dog in Wayne appears to be looking at an August opening according to a Craigslist ad. [Main Line Restaurant Guide] […]

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