Location: 232 Woodbine Ave., Narberth.
Contact: (610) 660-0160, apertobyob.com.
Cuisine: Modern American with a nod to Europe and the Mediterranean.
Cost: Appetizers $7-$13, entrées $20-$26 (cash or check only).
Attire: Smart casual.
Atmosphere: Cozy, comfortable, inviting, completely unpretentious.
Hours: Tuesday-Thursday 5-9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5-10 p.m. Closed Sunday and Monday.
Extras: Outdoor dining.
It was the first Saturday night of dinner service at Gemelli’s former Narberth digs, and Clark Gilbert was getting ready for the first swarm of diners when friend and fellow chef John Wolferth strolled through the door and into the open kitchen. “What can I do?” asked Wolferth, wearing his chef’s jacket.
“It was sort of a joke, because it’s not like he needed my help,” he recalls. “But who doesn’t want an extra pair of hands?”
With that, Wolferth got to work—not realizing, of course, that in about two years, the kitchen would be his. He was close to closing a deal on a place in Berwyn when he got the call from Gilbert, asking if he had any interest in the Narberth space. For two months, Wolferth ran Gemelli as his own while Gilbert readied his new location on Manayunk’s Main Street. By June of this year, the sign above the doorway finally read “Aperto.”
This isn’t Wolferth’s first restaurant. He created and ran what’s now Sola in Bryn Mawr for two years, before taking a much-needed break from the business. Not long after, he was already dreaming about what it would be like to be in his own kitchen again. “I don’t want to be the next big chef,” he says. “I just want to have a restaurant that people respect. That’s enough for me.”
Aperto has reminders of its former Gemelli self, as there haven’t been any major aesthetic changes. Frankly, Wolferth has been more concerned about getting into a rhythm in the small, three-person kitchen while developing his menu. But the burst of color from the flowerpots on the sidewalk does its part to beckon you inside for a special meal.
Meaning “open” in Italian, Aperto is a nod to both the open kitchen and the food. “I don’t want the menu to look like it’s in another language—we’re a neighborhood restaurant,” he says. “But just because we’re on the Main Line doesn’t mean that people don’t enjoy a wider variety of food styles.”
Wolferth describes his cuisine as modern American with Mediterranean and European influences, its delicate balance of flavors complementing one another in often-unusual ways. The velvety smoothness of his tomato gazpacho comes from the cucumber, not cream. The acidity of the homemade whole-milk tzatziki in the salmon tartare brings out the smokiness of the fish while adding a richness that’s never overpowering. Also among the appetizers, the shrimp-and-crab salad is an utterly beautiful stack of diced mango, delicate seafood and creamy avocado mousse.
Wolferth makes as much as he can in the kitchen, from the ricotta gnocchi for the braised veal cheeks to the pasta for the ultra-rich lobster-and-crab ravioli, with Jersey tomatoes and creamy lobster-and-corn stock. Finished with lobster claws, corn and a bit of fresh crabmeat, it’s what summer is all about.
For the most part, Wolferth leans toward healthier preparations. The roast chicken breast sits atop layers of ratatouille and hummus as opposed to mashed potatoes. The richness comes through in the slow-roasted garlic and the pan jus.
The black grouper entrée offers further proof that simple, quality ingredients make the most impact. The fish is prepared and served simply on a fragrant mound of roasted summer vegetables. A 12-vegetable reduction creates the flavorful nage, a purée cooked down with thyme and finished with black summer truffle.
Wolferth is not a pastry chef, but he does have an impressive arsenal of homemade desserts, including an exquisite warm bread pudding made with seasonal berries, croissants and challah bread. His espresso crème brulée is light yet rich, as are the lemon curd-filled crêpes with fresh berries.
THE SKINNY: Wolferth has modest aspirations for Aperto: to serve interesting, above-average food that keeps patrons coming back. And while you won’t find anything particularly elaborate on the menu, there’s nothing run-of-the-mill, either. You’ll also find a chef who enjoys your company—one who often works the dining room, offering glasses of wine from his personal collection. In short, Aperto is a neighborhood restaurant any neighborhood would be lucky to have.
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