7 W. King St., Malvern; (610) 644-4009, restaurantalba.com
The space: Warm earth-toned walls and floors, soft lighting, simple yet stylish table settings and leaping flames are the highlights of this popular Malvern BYO.
The food: Luckily, chef/owner Sean Weinberg’s fondness for playing with fire matches his affinity for seasonal, locally grown provisions. Alba’s menu harmoniously balances the best flavors and ingredients of each season. This time of year, Weinberg uses the grill to braise, slow-roast or ember-roast ingredients, imparting a rich, earthy flavor to such robust winter fare as pork ragout and spaghetti alla chitarra with fresh chilies and Parmigiano-Reggiano; prosciutto-wrapped Chatham cod with pistachio butter, spaghetti squash and braised endive; or roasted tenderloin of veal in a Barbera wine sauce served alongside a gratin of potato gnocchi, radicchio and forest mushrooms. The menu also features plenty of sautéed items and wonderful artisan cheeses from local farms.
Perfect for: Alba’s laid-back atmosphere and minimalist décor make it an appropriate backdrop for any occasion, from informal birthday celebrations to holiday parties and rehearsal dinners. Weinberg urges guests to think outside the box—perhaps an upscale pig roast, exotic luau or ski-themed dinner complete with marshmallow roasting?
Cost, capacity, availability: Rent out the whole restaurant for parties of up to 55. The smaller room accommodates up to 30. Plan a sit-down meal, hors d’oeuvres or both.
Who to call: Weinberg and his partner/wife, Kelly
100 Old Gulph Road, Gulph Mills; (610) 520-1200, savonarestaurant.com
The space: Located in a stone inn dating back to 1763 that’s renovated in the style of a Mediterranean villa, Savona has plenty of charm throughout. But the most coveted room is the fabulous wine cellar on the lower level, with its massive, oval-shaped cherry-wood table and views of Savona’s esteemed wine collection.
The food: Chef Andrew Masciangelo’s decadent Riviera-inspired menu features farm-fresh ingredients in lush combinations. Highlights include lobster fettuccine with foie gras, wild chanterelle mushrooms and edamame; Atlantic skate “piccata” with fingerling potatoes, broccolini and shallots; black trumpet-crusted elk loin steak with autumn-spiced spaetzle, cipollini onions and Brussel sprouts in a venison reduction; and caraway-dusted crispy veal sweetbreads with frisée, haricots verts, Manzanilla olives, tomatoes, smoked Asiago and a quail egg.
Perfect for: Corporate meetings/dinners, birthdays, anniversaries, retirement parties and less conventional events. A Savona guest once hosted a casino night with gaming equipment and an impromptu appearance by Philadelphia Eagles running back Brian Westbrook.
Cost, capacity, availability: A 13-guest minimum is required to reserve the wine cellar, which accommodates up to 21. Two menu options are offered: a chef’s “recommended” menu ($75-$85/person) that includes butlered hors d’ouevres, choice of first course, a middle course, choice of entrée and dessert; or a seven-course chef’s tasting menu ($100/person; also includes butlered hors d’oeuvres) with wines (not included in price) handpicked by you or sommelier Filiberto Magnani.
Who to call: general manager Andrea Schwarz
503 Orchard Ave., Kennett Square; (610) 388-1100, theorchardbyob.com
The space: Unbeknownst to most visitors, there is a private space upstairs at The Orchard. Dubbed the Chef’s Office, it looks like a cross between a speakeasy and a posh private club. Preferred guests can dine, enjoy after-dinner drinks and desserts, or host private parties for up to 20. The space features handcrafted banquettes, a small paneled bar and a wall of numbered mahogany lockers. Regular guests rent them on an annual basis to stow preferred beverages (there’s a waiting list).
The food: Chef James Howard offers well-dressed New American comfort food peppered with Basque and French influences. Hors d’oeuvres at recent parties have included foie gras and black truffle terrine on brioche with fig jam; hoisin-marinated pork-and-mango skewers and sautéed scallops with truffled edamame puree on round toast points; jerk chicken salad on radicchio cups; tuna tartare rolls in Vietnamese wrappers with avocado, cilantro, pickled ginger, papaya and wasabi mayo; and Polynesian meatballs and snow peas with sweet-and-sour sauce. The menu for a Spanish-themed 60th birthday dinner included a classic broth-based garlic soup marbled with egg and fresh herbs; semi-boneless quail with a chorizo and foie gras stuffing over Catalan-style spinach; and paella-style lobster risotto.
Perfect for: Anything. For an 18-year-old girl’s birthday party, the room was painted pink and filled with pink roses and balloons. One romantic dinner for two featured a full orchestra and a celebrity flown in to sing a fiancée’s favorite song.
Cost, capacity, availability: Everything is tailored to personal taste, so pricing is as high—or as low—as you want to go. Apparently, the Chef’s Office has hosted some famous folks, including stars performing at the Wachovia Center (employees are sworn to secrecy, so they won’t name names).
Who to call: General manager Stefan Simon
Spring Mill Café
164 Barren Hill Road, Conshohocken; (610) 828-2550, springmill.com
The space: Owner Michèle Haines’ home when she’s not traveling, Spring Mill’s funky farmhouse is cozy, warm and shabby chic with a homey, unpretentious vibe and an old-school spiral staircase. This quaint “annex” feels more like your eclectic, artsy friend’s house than a restaurant. In the spring and summer, the front porch provides additional space and makes a wonderful al fresco bar.
The food: Chef Andrew Winell came on board in early 2007, bringing his appreciation for game, unusual fish (John Dory, barramundi, opa, tilefish) and smaller, more flavorful New England oysters. Combined with Haines’ French provincial cuisine, the menu offers flexibility, whimsy and only the freshest in-season ingredients.
Perfect for: Sit-down dinners and themed events such as a Moroccan feast; parlor night complete with backgammon, chess and poker; or a Mardi Gras party with French flair and a tarot reader. The room’s distinctive ambiance also makes it a memorable spot for intimate weddings. The bride can make quite an entrance sauntering down the spiral staircase.
Cost, capacity, availability: Private luncheons run $30-$40/person; dinners (typically four courses) $40-$45/person. Keep in mind that the room’s unique character makes it less adaptable to standing buffets than sit-down gatherings. Spring Mill is BYO, but staff will assist with bar setup and service, and provide mixers.
Who to call: mother-and-son team Ezra and Michèle Haines
175 King of Prussia Road, Radnor; (610) 293-9411, pondrestaurant.com
The space: Located at the far end of the main dining room, Pond’s alluring Garden Room has a tile floor, a wall of six-foot floor-to-ceiling windows with arched transoms, and rich saffron-colored walls. Overhead, skylights lend a bright, airy feel that—along with the window views of the upper balcony and gardens—impart the sensation of spaciousness in this intimately sized room. The adjoining balcony can be used for pre-dinner cocktails.
The food: Chef Abde Dahrouch’s contemporary French cuisine takes many forms—and so can your menu. Dahrouch can customize private events with a four-course tasting menu featuring Moroccan-style tomato salad, pan-seared striped bass marinated overnight with fresh herbs and Moroccan spices, and served with eggplant puree and shallot sauce; marinated chicken breast served over Moroccan couscous with root vegetables, saffron broth and onion-raisin confit; and fresh orange salad served with passion fruit sorbet.
Perfect for: Small weddings or rehearsal dinners, corporate celebrations (with pre-dinner cocktails in sister restaurant Bistro Cassis), afternoon tea, holiday or ladies’ birthday luncheons, or engagement parties.
Cost, capacity, availability: The Garden Room holds up to 27 guests; $150 room charge for less than 15 people. A $35 corkage fee deters guests from supplying their own liquor.
Who to call: banquet sales manager Kay Mowers
Sola, 614 W. Lancaster Ave., Bryn Mawr; (610) 526-0123. Elegant décor, polished service and a tranquil ambiance define this sophisticated space, which is perfect for high-end corporate holiday parties and culinary societies who enjoy feasting on elaborate tasting menus. A subtle femininity also makes it a lovely spot for bridal or baby showers. Eclectic yet approachable, chef/owner David Clouser’s seasonally driven, contemporary American cuisine is grounded in classical French techniques. Availability is limited to Sundays and Mondays, and the host must meet a minimum 30-guest requirement. Since prices aren’t set, your budget is the only limitation. Sola is BYO; no corkage fee for private parties.
Georges’, Spread Eagle Village, 503 W. Lancaster Ave., Wayne; (610) 964-2588, georgesonthemainline.com. As much as we love the fireside sofa at Georges’, we’re also partial to the second-level dining room, with its warm terra-cotta colors, vaulted ceiling, dark wood bar and wrought iron chandelier. The sizable yet cozy room holds up to 65 for a sit-down dinner and can be divided to create a lounge/bar and dining area. Surprisingly, the room gets a lot of use as an impromptu nightclub (complete with karaoke). It’s also great for a rehearsal dinner or intimate wedding. Georges’ dining packages have a global flair, with stir-fry and risotto stations and hors d’oeuvres such as tuna carpaccio, chicken satay and Thai-style steak skewers. For a more lavish celebration, there’s bouillabaisse, braised short ribs, venison osso bucco and whatever else your budget will allow.
Blush, 24 N. Merion Road, Bryn Mawr; (610) 527-7700, dineatblush.com. Blush’s contemporary-meets-traditional private upstairs room boasts wooden-backed chairs with faux ostrich seats, warm, deep olive carpeting and crimson, linen-covered walls. Chef Nick Farina’s menu abounds with textural contrasts and Asian-fusion/continental flair. Butlered and stationed hors d’oeuvres include portobello fries with anchovy aioli; lobster cigars; lollipop lamb chops with pomegranate sauce; brie and fig tarts; and chipotle calamari. Among the prix fixe offerings, angry lobster, ancho chili rib-eye, bison short ribs and pineapple, and glazed duck accompany sides of truffle mashed potatoes, apple leek pot stickers, and shiitake, edamame and corn salad. With your input, Farina will create a unique tasting menu. Only one’s budget will dictate the number of courses—if he can find it, he’ll cook it.
Inn Keeper’s Kitchen at Dilworthtown Inn, 1390 Old Wilmington Pike, West Chester; dilworthtown.com, (610) 399-1390. The Inn Keeper’s Kitchen is like your living room, kitchen and den all rolled into two rooms—and a covered porch. Each space features a large fireplace, Oriental carpets and exposed wood beams. The kitchen is outfitted with the finest state-of-the-art equipment available for residential use, providing the perfect setting for those who love to cook. Wow your guests with butter-poached lobster and pancetta over toasted brioche with vanilla bean aioli; pan-seared scallops and lemongrass consommé with habanera, julienne green apple and lobster oil; and more. Or re-create the food from your guest of honor’s favorite movie, first date or honeymoon. There’s a 20-person minimum; price is based on the number of guests and the focus of the event.