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Rollin’ on the River


Reasoning says that it shouldn’t have taken me so long to experience Simon Pearce. The best excuse I can give is that I just hadn’t heard much about it.

Simon Pearce’s pineapple almond cake with cream cheese ice cream. 
See the gallery below for more photos.But then I heard that a new female chef had been hired—Karen Nicolas, a former executive sous chef at the famed Gramercy Tavern in New York City and a onetime executive chef at Soul, one of Chicago’s best restaurants. She quickly revamped the menu, which now includes a lovely selection of cheese and charcuterie, Kennett Square roasted mushroom soup, braised Lancaster pork belly, Jamison Farm braised lamb shank and other locally grown and/or produced ingredients.

You enter Simon Pearce’s second-level restaurant up a set of stairs from the ground floor, passing its world-renowned glassblowing shop and retail store—a wise marketing tactic that lends a museum-like first impression.

With its stunning views of the Brandywine River and the rolling hills of Chester County, the dining area is a tranquil spot bathed in natural light. It’s posh and minimalist—a handsome, highly polished white-tablecloth venue with contemporary accents.

The bar boasts an apothecary-like look, with two tiers of glass jars, and pitchers full of berries, roots and fruit macerating in various spirits. If you’re into wine, there are a number of bottles from Pennsylvania, plus a nice selection of flights for the adventurous or indecisive.

But it’s the wonderful assortment of highbrow, homemade drinks that sets Simon Pearce apart. Cocktail craftsman Mike Suerman offers hip, innovative twists on the classics—and he also loves to experiment with more obscure combinations. Rest assured, after two Sazeracs—made with rye whiskey and absinthe—my sore throat was feeling much better.

From my window seat, I enjoyed a lovely view of a starry sky as I nibbled on mixed breads. The thinly sliced, charred tuna appetizer was served on a bed of mâche and watercress. Sweet and tender, it was nicely offset by a wafer-thin layer of phyllo, a warm berry coulis, tangy red and yellow beets and a dollop of lime-infused sour cream. Also tasty was the simple plate of giant, fresh prawns served on a bed a microgreens.

The braised lamb shank entrée was accompanied by a richly flavored, pleasantly unmushy eggplant risotto with fennel. Oh-so-tender—almost like duck leg confit—it was easily my favorite.

Delivering a hint of the Mediterranean, the large filet of roasted wild striped bass came with al dente couscous pearls, broccolini, pine nuts and a light sauce of Meyer lemon yogurt. Meanwhile, the slightly Asian-leaning halibut wowed the senses with its frothy lemongrass broth and thin purée of basil and asparagus. The accompanying sautéed endive and cauliflower was so good we ordered an additional portion.

For dessert, we devoured the sinfully moist Meyer lemon olive oil cake with gelatinized tarragon cubes, practically stabbing each other with our forks to get to it. Equally delicious was the banana custard tart, with fresh bananas and whipped cream. Both made for a sumptuous one-two finale to a decadent meal.

THE SKINNY: With its bucolic location, ambitious menu, notable chef and glass store overflowing with eye candy, Simon Pearce is a wonderful place for a summer brunch or weekday lunch. At night, the food and the ambiance are as enticing as they are comforting. The restaurant also hosts monthly wine tastings, another great way to get a sneak peek at what Nicolas and her staff are working on—and what area farmers and cheesemakers are giving them to work with.

1333 Lenape Road, West Chester; (610) 793-0949, simonpearce.com
Cuisine: Innovative New American menu built around local, seasonal fare.
Cost: Entrées $22-$36.
Attire: Suburban chic.
Atmosphere: Bucolic countryside charm juxtaposed with sleek, contemporary style.
Hours: Lunch: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. daily. Dinner: 5-9 p.m. daily. Sunday brunch: 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Extras: Private dining, wine-tasting events, glassblowing exhibits, Sunday brunch, weekend farmers market.

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