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EPICURE: Review of Margot in Narberth

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This Girl’s Got It
Margot’s laid-back ambiance complements its tempting cuisine.

THE SCENE: The heiress to Carmine’s former Narberth digs, Margot proves you don’t need a budget-busting, top-of-the-line kitchen to put out memorable cuisine. Still, getting there might take some patience—and a knack for finding parking. It’s easy to grow anxious as you pass by once or twice looking for a space, but that will only make you appreciate Margot’s relaxed tone all the more. Once you’re in, you won’t want to budge.

Admittedly, passing through Margot’s modest vestibule is a non-event. It’s a good buffer from the weather but begs for attention in the first-impression department. Fortunately, things start to feel more charismatic as you push through the next door and into the dining room. Once there, you’ve found a comfort zone complete with intoxicating aromas emanating from the open kitchen.

The most eye-catching element at Margot is the flamboyant teal walls, which provide an alluring contrast to the dark woods and muted lighting that dominate the otherwise homey interior. Aside from the hefty mahogany bar abutting the kitchen, visual distractions are few and far between. The charm would be heightened by colored plates, flatware and glasses, as the table settings are a little too understated. The current water vessels are a bit clunky, and the white plates are outdated and matronly. More effeminate details wouldn’t be out of place.

But it’s not all plain Jane. A handful of colorful photos of flowers are hanging about, along with a wrought iron medallion (of sorts) and fresh flowers and candles. And the low lighting is soothing.

THE FOOD: Comfort bistro fare is always in season at Margot, and one thing is certain: You won’t go home hungry. Other than the pork medallions, all of the dishes we sampled showed girth. We began our meal with a basket of warm bread, its chewy crust nicely complementing the roasted garlic and olive oil. Salads proved satisfying, with kitchen-sink combinations of veggies, cheeses, nuts and fruits. The warm goat cheese salad was a hit—a mound of peppery baby arugula combined with chunks of roasted red and golden beets and two large rounds of pan-seared goat cheese. The dressing’s tart, light flavor complemented the cheese, which was wonderfully crisp on the outside and creamy on the inside.

Our favorite of the bunch was the citrus salad, a harmonious blend of arugula; licorice-flavored fennel—cool, sweet and crisp; toasted pine nuts; slivers of Parmesan; and ripe oranges tossed in a light dressing.

The Gorgonzola crostini drizzled in honey was a novel concoction. The thickly cut baguette slices had the potential to be soggy under the weight of the melted cheese, but they had a surprisingly crispy crunch.

Of the two soup-of-the-day tastings, we preferred the crab and asparagus bisque to the heavier salmon chowder. The bisque was milky, light and flavorful, with loads of crab, tender asparagus and mushrooms. By comparison, the chowder’s distinct seafood essence got lost in the thick base.

The chorizo and shrimp with spicy tomato sauce featured three succulent shrimp, butterflied and cooked to perfection. Served in three large pieces, the chorizo was cumbersome—one piece would’ve been plenty. The smoky taste was pleasant enough, but the meat tasted fatty and over-processed, diminishing the rustic feel of the dish.

The accompanying breadsticks/croutons added artistic flair—if only they weren’t stale. The marinara-like sauce was a well-balanced combination of tangy tomato, sweet sautéed onions and subtle spiciness. The onions could’ve been cooked a few minutes more but still tasted marvelous heaped onto a chunk of bread and topped with a roasted garlic clove.

The best entrée of the bunch was the nine-ounce black pepper-crusted filet with port-Dijon sauce. I’d asked for it medium rare and was slightly concerned when I touched it with my fork and felt a bounce. But when I closed in on the middle, prepared to hit a cool, raw center, the color and consistency were just right. The lightly charred exterior added a smoky barbecue flavor and crustiness.

The accompanying mountain of sweet potato fries (Thanksgiving without the marshmallows) and trio of mushrooms were addicting. Sautéed to a rich mahogany color, the latter was the ideal match for the filet. The port-Dijon sauce was subtle, the fruitiness of the port overriding sharper hints of Dijon.

The pork—milky white medallions served with pleasingly gritty and cheesy (Asiago) polenta, crisp haricôts verts and a somewhat timid Shiraz sauce—wasn’t explosive but did satisfy as simple comfort fare. My whopping plate of confit-style duck legs had spent a little too much time in the oven. Meatier sections of the thigh fared better, with a rich flavor and texture closer to pâté.

The mountainous risotto of the day arrived with two generously cut lamb chops that were flawlessly medium-rare. I rarely find a risotto that’s not overcooked and pasty, but Margot’s showed promise, seasoned with shaved Asiago and notably creamy. But in the end, the starch won out again.

The salmon was a bit dry but benefited from a silky, piquant horseradish sauce, its generous helping of black lentils in need of a little salt. The Chilean sea bass special was tender and flaky, but swam in an bland sauce and an overabundance of cheese and polenta.

For dessert, the vanilla pudding tart lacked character, its soft crust missing the distinct sugary/buttery taste and texture of authentic shortbread. We felt better about our other choice, a gargantuan block of yellow sheet cake with a hint of bourbon and a buttery finish. It was slightly dense with a subtle crispness, fudgey ganache frosting and large semi-sweet chocolate chips hidden on the bottom.

THE EXPERIENCE: After a harried workday and a challenging parking experience, the low-key atmosphere at Margot was right on target. Just inside the entrance, our table was smack in the middle of the action, next to the wait station and right on the way to the restroom—definitely not the best seat in the house.

We thought our friend was joking when he warned us about the vibrating seats, but apparently our table was over the dishwasher. It wasn’t horrible, but it was distracting. We weren’t offered the option to move, though there were several other open tables.

Our waitress showed initiative by tending to our bottle of wine immediately but didn’t bring that zesty breadbasket until after seating and serving bread to a table that walked in after us. A slight lack of familiarity with the more intricate details of the menu was evident, but generally service was attentive, if unpolished. Our second visit showed a higher level of staff confidence. It certainly came across that patrons are welcome to set the pace whenever possible.

The music masked conversation without drowning it. And here’s another tip: The more intimate tables are in the corners, so keep that in mind when making reservations.

 

 

THE SKINNY: Margot is named after the second child of owner Margot McGinley (pictured above), whose transition from the corporate world into motherhood reignited her passion for cooking and fueled her dreams of opening a small neighborhood restaurant. The seasonal menu is built around flavor and freshness. McGinley favors bold ingredients— particularly spirited olive oils, cheeses and herbs—along with international flavors and eclectic combinations of taste and texture.

The offerings are a bit ambitious for someone who’s never had formal training (the duck and risotto are good examples), but Margot is the force behind the recipes. It’s chef Ian McClain who brings them to life.

Desserts are made primarily by McGinley’s mom, whose homemade bread pudding du jour, apple crisp, cheesecakes and more will transport you back to the good old days when carbohydrates weren’t so taboo.

Margot’s homestyle flair borders on rustic—a style that’s not easy to balance with upscale. When your price point veers closer to the latter, presentation requires thoughtful consideration. As such, a little window dressing would enhance both the food and the ambiance. But much like the old house it inhabits, Margot has great bones and a solid blueprint to build on. The relaxed, unhurried feel should help it secure a spot as one of Narberth’s go-to spots for upscale comfort fare.

E-mail comments to Dawn E. Warden at dwarden@mainlinetoday.com.

 

 


DETAILS: Margot
Location: 232 Woodbine Ave., Narberth; (610) 660-0160,
margotbyob.com
Cuisine: Eclectic
Prices: $15-$27
Attire: Casual
Atmosphere: Cozy neighborhood BYO with a relaxed feel—like dining at home with an in-house staff
Hours: Tues.–Thurs. 5-9 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 5-10 p.m.
Extras: Takeout window, seasonal porch dining

 

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