Gilmore’s, West Chester

November 28th, 2005

133 East Gay St.
West Chester, PA 19380
(610) 431-2800

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 SoufflĂ©”. I truly thought I would never meet a chocolate soufflĂ© 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.

# of Times We’ve Eaten There: 1
Reservations: Required
Cards: Yes
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday: 6:00pm & 8:30pm dinner seating

11 Responses to “Gilmore’s, West Chester”

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  1. zrob1 says:

    My brother and I took my Mother to Gilmores for her 80th birthday. Everything from the greeting and seating to dessert and coffee was flawless. Perfect portions, perfectly prepared, unusual combinations to textures and flavors, very elegant without being stuffy, impeccable service…and very reasonably priced considering the quality…all around a very fine restaurant..I highly recommend. Perhaps the nay sayers would be more comfortable at Bennigans…oh wait, they are out of business…..well if they book a trip to San Fransisco and make resevations 3 months in advance they will find what they are looking for at “The French Laudry”….of course if it’s just you and 1 other person be prepared to drop about $400 minimum on your meal. Oh, and the Dilworthtown Inn?….nothing more than an average steak and seafood place with the worn out 1700’s feel….much like the General Warren Inn (Malvern Pa.) or the Kimberton Inn (Kimberon Pa.)….they are ok but they are a dime a dozen….EVERYONE has been to one of these places or one like them….Gilmores is by far superior and unique… especially the food.

  2. cos82 says:

    Returned for the 2nd time with another couple in the last 6 months, and possibly for the 8th or 10th time overall. Despite several shortcomings, I still like it, but not on a regular basis. Plusses–Good (not great) food, pleasant atmosphere (front room, back roon not as pleasant, but quieter), interesting menu selections, professional service, and very good glasses for a BYOB. The negatives– tight quarters (one waiter must either go on a diet or go down the aisle sideways to avoid bumping into patron at outside seat of first table inside entry {ME}), medium loud, salad between courses was tired, and seatings starting at one time creates comfort and ordering issues. Three members of our party were inside while I was parking the car. People were out the door waiting to be seated. I looked in and didn’t see my party so I figured they were already seated which they were. Had the discomfort of the stares of others as I squeezed by not to mention the rather stern tone of the hostess asking, “can I help you” as she was coming down the stairs from putting coats away. Even though we were seated before others, it took a while to have our orders taken.

  3. Josh says:

    We’ve dined at Gilmore’s a dozen times or so; just the 2 of us and with up to 8 others. I can say that we and the others with us have always had a good to great meal; no one can always be excellent (I actually had an average main meat course at Le Bec Fin once). The menu is somewhat limited but consistent. The service is the best I’ve had at a local byob; always attentive and pleasant. They will also try to accommadate requests (my wife once asked if the chef could make a fish dumpling for her – HE DID!) The staff is knowledgable about wine; they know how to open an old bottle and they have appropriate stemware. The atmosphere is charming if slightly cramped. Overall, this is on a par with Birchrunville (and easier to find!) and Allison’s as a byob and ranks up there with all but the very top restaurants in the Philadelphia area.

  4. Ed Kessler says:

    What is it about Gilmore’s that makes it so popular with the professional reviewers, bowh local and national, as well as the people who give it zaget food rating of 27 (the seventh highest in the Phila area) but fails to please so many people on the Upper Main Line. I don’t quite understand it but it is true.

  5. Karen says:

    I can’t say I was surprised with the 2 spoons rating. My husband and I originally tried the restaurant a year or so ago and left wondering what all the fuss was about – it was an “okay” meal…neither great nor terrible. And we also found the decor very old fashioned and stuffy, although the service was excellent. We tried again last month after finding a Saturday evening reservation hoping our previous experience was unusual given all the great reviews. But once again we were disappointed – we expected great and got an average meal. I don’t think we’ll bother going back again. There are too many other great dining choices in the greater Philadelphia area.

  6. hc says:

    We were very pleased with our second shot at Gilmores in May. This time, we felt the entrees were on par with the pricing. The service was also much better…

  7. Joanne says:

    I know restaurants are highly criticized for almost everything. Well, they should be. Being a special occasion(birthday), my husband and I ate at Gilmore’s. The escargot(the most tender I have ever eaten) and the mussels(Wow!) were to die for. The entrees(lamb and Tilapia)were wonderful.The dessert was okay. And top off with a great cup of coffee. Of course, a good bottle of wine. Everything was superb. The waitstaff and coziness of the place were charming. I will go back.

  8. Ed Bardzik, Jr says:

    My wife and I eat out 2-3 times a week in the western suburbs, Center City, Art Museum area and Wilmington. We would rate Gilmore’s in the top 10 -12 of the restaurants for a great dining experience in those areas. Certainly, it’s only peer in the West Chester area is the Dilworthtown Inn, although the food at Mimosa can rival Peter’s. While we like Avalon, and Turks Head is OK, (cited in the review above), neither is in Gilmore’s class.

  9. michele says:

    I was surprised to see you gave Gilmore’s only 2 spoons and also surpised that hc thinks it’s not on the level of Allison at Blue Bell or Matyson. First, though both Allison and Matyson are very good, the atmosphere cannot compare to Gilmore’s. I would describe the atmosphere as romantic, rather than stodgy and to say “old school main line” is quite misleading. The retaurant is in an old townhouse and the main dining room is a jewel box. We have been to Gilmore’s many times over the past five years or so and the food has been consistently wonderful. The service is stellar. I don’t think the praise for this restaurant (or the long wait for a weekend table) is hype.

  10. Ed Kessler says:

    The 2007 Zaget is now out which is based on opinions taked in early 2006. Gimore’s received the seventh highest food rating (27 out of 30) of all the rated resturants. It was the second highest food rating in all the Phila area suburbs just below the 28 rating received by Birchrunvill.

  11. hc says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who thought this was all hype! We are well-versed in the local BYO circuit and other fine-dining establishments and felt Gilmore’s fell short of the competition. While the appetizers had some creativity, serving every plate with whipped potatoes and, on this night, two baby carrots, was pretty lame. Especially for $30/plate. I understand the cuisine is french and not creative new American–but surely Peter Gilmore can add a little more flair than what we saw. To their credit, it’s definitely a place looking to give you the service and ambience you’d find at Le Bec Fin or Dilworthtown. It’s nice to visit a byo that’s small and quiet. But when you’re focused on the food, as we are, Gilmore’s failed to deliver anything on the level of Alison at Blue Bell or Matyson…

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