Ardmore's Saint James Review: Casual American Dining in Suburban Square

Philly golden boys Rob Wasserman and Michael Schulson leave the city glitz behind for a comfortable vibe and solid fare in the suburbs.

Roasted scallops with butternut squash risotto and a dusting of crushed hazelnuts. (Photo by Steve Legato)
The Saint James

Location: 30 Parking Plaza, Ardmore
Contact: (610) 649-6200. 
Cuisine: American. 
Cost: Appetizers $8-$15. Entrées $19-$42. 
Attire: Business casual. 
Atmosphere: Cozy, fun, and a bit loud. 
Hours: Sunday-Tuesday 4-10 p.m., Wednesday-Thursday 4-11 p.m., Friday-Saturday 4 p.m.-midnight. 
Extras: Seasonal outdoor dining; chef’s table with seating for up to eight.

Shopping malls thrive on trends. Be it the latest color, pattern or look, the allure of the new pulls in those angling to transform themselves into the latest magazine display. But when restaurant-business guru Rob Wasserman (Rittenhouse Square’s Rouge) and chef Michael Schulson opted to part-ner on a new bistro in Ardmore’s Suburban Square, trends were the farthest thing from their minds. “It was always about volume of people,” says Schulson, the name behind such Asian dining destinations as Sampan and Izakaya. “What could we do out here that would get a family out and have an experience, with the kids or without? Something approachable, accessible.”

The resulting Saint James—named for the road that bisects the tony shopping area—doesn’t turn to culinary buzzwords to sell itself. Instead, it conjures the feel of a neighborhood destination, a casual place where you can order food you know (and might’ve even recently cooked). “Low-key dinner party” is an analogy that actually describes the experience quite well.

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At the Saint James, a mosaic entry floor, painted brick, gold foil letters on the restroom doors, handmade light fixtures that channel Sputnik, and other retro touches blend smoothly with more modern elements like chevron wall tiles and sleek, blonde wood. The place is divided down the middle by a “foyer” with a Parsons-style bench and coat hooks. Rising two stories, the space is topped with a glass roof. To the right is a brightly lit bar, surrounded by tables and a dining ledge by the window. To the left is the more subdued dining room, with its forest-green walls and more substantial seating arrangements.

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A laid-back vibe and endless friendly banter seem to consume the Saint James. The tiny two-tops in the bar area make for a boisterous—sometimes too loud—atmosphere. (We became quite close with the diners on either side of us.) And just as a dinner party may suddenly run low on supplies, it happened here; two of the dishes we requested were sold out.

What we did sample was outstanding. Schulson conceived the Saint James’ menu based on the classic foods that inspire him daily—nothing too fancy or fussy. Our ultra-thin flatbreads delivered a substantial crunch and were just strong enough to carry a healthy portion of sautéed mushrooms, herbs and arugula. A classic filet tartare was seasoned beautifully and topped with a decadent sunny-side-up egg, resulting in a creamy-tender marriage—though the steak resembled more of a chop than a mince.

The highlight of the eight-item raw bar was a platter of meaty Jonah crab claws, which arrived ready to eat on a bed of chipped ice with three traditional sauces. And a simple but stellar tuna appetizer, served raw with avocado and sliced radish, came with a creamy Tabasco sauce that delivered the ideal amount of heat.

Among the entrées, our caramelized scallops arrived perched atop a scoop of creamy butternut squash risotto; the whole roasted hazelnuts scattered about provided a crunchy counterpoint. And what’s a great neighborhood spot without a signature
burger? This one was made with ground steak, cooked to pink perfection, and served simply with shoestring fries.

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Specials included chicken Parmesan and beef short ribs, salads that could pass for entrées, and seasonal desserts like massive chocolate chip cookies and skillet pies. And, yes, there’s a children’s menu.

The skinny: The Saint James’ approachable blend of traditional food, upscale touches, and a cozy, convivial atmosphere is a sure bet for locals and shoppers looking for a relaxing but refined bite.

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