In Italian, evviva is an expression of great joy. And to experience joy—or, at least, to eat, drink and be merry—is exactly what George Wakim has in mind for his customers. A 33-year-old catering and events establishment, Evviva has operated solely as a private party venue since 1987. In recent years, numerous guests have told Wakim that they’d love to dine in his luxe Narberth mansion on a regular basis. Partly for them, he’s opened the 50-seat Bistro Evviva in the front of the facility.
With its ivied exterior and lush gardens on all sides, Evviva is a dead ringer for an English manor. Classy and comfortable, the bistro’s interior resembles a Victorian drawing room, its red walls offset beautifully by white table linens and crystal chandeliers. A large mirror with gilded frame hangs on one wall, making the somewhat narrow space seem a little larger.
Though, as a restaurant, Evviva hasn’t been open to the general public in quite some time, Wakim has made his mark on the local culinary scene with Al Dar Bistro and Murray’s Delicatessen, both in Bala Cynwyd. He also co-owns Gemelli in Narberth with chef Clark Gilbert, and has had chef Boonchuay Ieamniramit manning the kitchen at Evviva for the past 20-plus years. The result is an assortment of carnivore-friendly French and Mediterranean dishes, including grilled filet mignon, crispy duck, lamb and veal medallions.
For the seafood lover, the current menu features spicy garlic shrimp, salmon tartare, striped sea bass, Scottish salmon and the chef’s signature crab cakes. Anyone in a non-meat mood can savor a warm goat cheese salad and a pasta of the day.
Smothered in Pernod sauce and accompanied by a light dusting of diced tomatoes, the escargot with shiitake mushrooms in puff pastry offered a rich melding of flavors that still left plenty of room for subsequent courses. The Caesar salad arrived thoroughly coated in creamy dressing, sprinkled generously with grated Parmesan and crunchy croutons, and topped with a sizable anchovy.
Evviva has both a full bar and a BYO policy, so connoisseurs can take pleasure in a wine they want, rather than having to settle for one they don’t. My companions brought along a bottle of chardonnay, which worked well with their fish entrées. Scanning the menu and seeing a baby rack of lamb in my near future, I ordered a shiraz.
While there’s no wine list, your waiter will be happy to run down the day’s selections. My herb-crusted baby rack was divided into six tender, juicy medallions perched atop a succulent pile of string beans, asparagus, broccoli raab and brussels sprouts. The side of mashed sweet potatoes was a fluffy delight. The flakey pan-seared striped bass also came with its own fresh veggie bed. The subtle Provençal sauce was a perfect match for the mild fish.
With the goal of spotlighting the seasons’ best, Bistro Evviva’s menu changes in spring, summer and fall. Three to four specials rotate on a nightly basis, depending on what fresh fish is available. We sampled two specials. The seafood bisque was loaded with generous chunks of crab seasoned just right—though it wasn’t as creamy as one would expect. The Australian barramundi was a pleasant surprise, its sweet flavor profile and delicate texture offset perfectly by a tangy red pepper sauce.
For dessert, we ordered two crème brûlées—the traditional vanilla and Evviva’s chocolate version. The former was as creamy as liquid silk, the latter undeniably sinful—like warm, gooey brownie mix. Also delicious was the apple tart, delightfully light and thin with two generous scoops of vanilla ice cream.
THE SKINNY: If you’re looking for a romantic dinner or a place to impress out-of-town guests, Bistro Evviva—with its excellent food, classy yet cozy atmosphere and stellar service—is a good call. Just expect some company, especially on weekends. Our dinner coincided with a wedding reception, but all the clapping and the pumping bass from the dance floor actually enhanced our evening. Diners looking for quiet, however, should inquire about any upcoming events when making their reservations.
Location: 1236 Montgomery Ave., Narberth; (610) 667-1900, evvivarestaurant.com.
Cuisine: French and Mediterranean.
Cost: Average entrée is $27.
Attire: Upscale casual.
Atmosphere: Elegant yet comfortable.
Hours: Wednesday-Saturday, 5:30-10:30 p.m.
Extras: Full bar and BYO ($5 corkage fee); popular space for events.