24 N. Merion Ave.
Bryn Mawr, PA
Rating: 3 silver spoons out of 5
Overview: Bianca, which recently replaced long-time Bryn Mawr restaurant Toscana, has outgrown some early service flaws and blossomed into a solid, if slightly expensive restaurant. The diverse menu is interesting and well-prepared, and the setting is quite romantic.
Food: Chef/owners Dominique and Sabine Filoni’s concept is “home cooking” or what they might prepare if friends came to dinner. Basically, this is a way to say that the menu is creative and varied.
For starters, we tried the goat cheese mousse stuffed zucchini blossoms, fresh herbs, citrus emulsion, which was very tasty — the key being that the goat cheese did not overwhelm the dish (as goat cheese can do). The shaved fennel and mushroom over baby arugula in a lemon vinaigrette was decent, but a bit too one dimensional — perhaps the vinaigrette could have offered more flavor.
I sampled a variety of entrees over two visits, and all were very nice. Perhaps my favorite was the roasted wild Alaskan halibut, potato leek puree, broccoli rabe, sauce vierge — as described it seemed quite simple — halibut with fresh herbs and oil — but in actuality it was a wonderfully paired dish, all the pieces came together brilliantly, fueled by the great puree. A special one evening, the plancha (basically a Spanish sauté pan) seared scallops with cauliflower puree and roasted cauliflower was excellent, highlighted by the uniquely fabulous puree — a creamy, succulent change of pace from your average mashed potato. Another favorite among my companions was the horseradish-crusted Maine salmon, potato roesti, leek and zucchini spaghetti, pancetta, warm citrus emulsion. The fresh horseradish crust is not spicy at all, and the spaghetti-shaped zucchini makes an excellent bed for the fish. Also nice to see was Chef Filoni improving this dish over time, replacing some underwhelming cannellini beans with the better leek and zucchini side. The grilled yellowfin tuna, julienne carrots, baby bok choy, shiitake, ginger, scallions, warm sesame soy sauce is nothing new — practically every fine restaurant offers some kind of Asian-inspired tuna dish, but this one was ably done. Although I was unable to taste it, I was disappointed by the presentation of the grilled Black Angus filet mignon, Barolo reduction, with choice of truffled yukon gold potato puree or braised asparagus — it was basically a steak on a plate with a side dish on another plate. A heralded chef like Filoni should be able to come up with a better, more integrated setup for what looked like a very nice filet. Lastly, I’m not sure why the menu also offers side dishes — they are not necessary.
For dessert, the bittersweet Valrhona chocolate mousse with fresh berries was clearly the standout — we fought over the decadent last bite. The orange scented flourless chocolate cake: honey poached orange, passion fruit coulis was not as popular — the citrus just didn’t match well with the chocolate flavors. We also tried the roasted peach tart with strawberry gelato, which was ok but not worth the calories.
Ambiance: Basically the same room as Toscana before it — a rustic, moderately charming dining area. They also offer some outdoor tables when the weather permits it. Don’t miss the awesome wine room when you step off to the restroom upstairs.
Service: When Bianca first opened, the waitstaff was clearly undertrained and misguided — mistakes abounded. Lately, however, the staff is courteous and helpful. There were a few minor oversights — some of which may hold Bianca back from true greatness, but overall it was a solid improvement.
Bar: I would love to see Bianca offer more reasonably priced wines at lower prices — espeically with all the BYOB competition they have in the area. A Smoking Loon Pinot Noir at $30 was palatable, but nothing to write home about. In addition, one of the biggest gripes we had with Bianca was the wine by the glass service — the portions were painstakingly small. Ordering wine by the glass is never cheap, but if you want to try different wines it sometimes becomes essential. Bianca’s “glasses” were more like a few sips, hardly helping the poor service that we were already experiencing.
Value: The entrees are reasonably priced — high teens and low 20s. As mentioned above, the paltry glasses of wine are way overpriced for the amount of wine that they give you. As I mentioned above, Bianca is fighting against BYOB kitchens that serve food of close to the same caliber, which hurts its overall value. Clearly Filoni is trying to be a “city dining” destination in the ‘burbs, with prices to match. He’s on his way, but not quite there yet.
# of times we’ve eaten there: 3
Bar: Full Bar