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Villanova Restaurant Review: Avenue Kitchen's Gourmet Credibility

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Avenue Kitchen’s day boat scallops with fregola sarda, butter-braised sprouts, charred radicchio and romesco. (Photo by Jared Castaldi)
There’s certainly something special about the fine-dining experience—the polished service, those unusual ingredients and preparations. But restaurateur Dana Smith Farrell doesn’t want to do that every night. And she’s betting we don’t, either.

“People look to restaurants to be very creative and inventive, but I don’t think people want to eat that way on a regular basis,” she says. “You just want simple, fresh food prepared in a healthy way. It doesn’t have to be overcomplicated.”

In an effort to create a place for everyone from food lovers to frantic families, Farrell has opened Avenue Kitchen in Villanova. The concept has been awhile in the making. It first came to Farrell during her tenure at the Classic Diner in Malvern, which had enough similarities to Dave Magrogan’s Harvest Seasonal Grill mini-chain to convince her to join him in that venture. And when the old Maia space became available, she’d already worked out the details and realized the time to strike was now. “Farm-fresh, local, good, approachable food,” she says. “I felt like somewhere between Harvest and Classic Diner was that good balance.”

Athough Farrell likens the menu to that of her other establishments, AK’s sleek, all-white interior implies that she’s also heading in a new direction. Snowy subway tiles, antique mirrors and mercury-glass pendants add sparkle, while aluminum chairs and exposed duct work counter with some appealing grit. There’s also clear evidence of Farrell’s attempt to create a warmer feel throughout. Semi-sheer curtains, whitewashed woods, table lamps, and a shelf of vivid green plants instill personality and hominess.

The food can be described in much the same way as the atmosphere—upscale, modern approaches and ingredients, but with a dose of the familiar. Farrell developed the menu hand-in-hand with executive chef Gregory Smith, who also happens to be her brother.

The drink list features fresh twists on cocktails you know and love, like a manhattan infused with black figs. Wine and beer options are centered on food-friendly favorites.
 

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Appetizers include staples like chips and dip and a hummus platter, but we opted for items with a bit more complexity. The grilled gulf shrimp were packed with intense flavors. A robust chipotle sauce and a more mellow-and-sweet corn salsa accented the plump, lightly charred prawns nicely. The tuna tartar’s bright-red serving was quite large, layered atop cooling avocado and cucumber. But the dressing was too mild, leaving us craving some zing.

For the main course, our seared day boat scallops arrived expertly caramelized on the outside, tender within. The hardy fregola base was an exceptional contrast to the seafood, the romesco sauce bright and earthy. An order of the handmade potato gnocchi wasn’t the lightest we’ve tasted, but it had a well-defined flavor and was well paired with a rustic mix of braised pork, garlic and spinach.

Other entrée options include a classic meatloaf with homemade mac and cheese, and short ribs over mushroom risotto. Those searching for lighter bites can take advantage of a stellar selection of salads, sandwiches (accompanied by perfect fries) and wood-fired pizzas.

Sadly, the desserts were a disappointment. Our crème brûlée arrived soggy and devoid of a crisp crust. A cloying riff on s’mores was swimming in sauce.

Overall, however, Farrell has nailed her concept at Avenue Kitchen. “Each aspect of the restaurant has glamour or fun or something with a twist—something
special,” she says.

And I’d have to agree.

The Skinny: Leaning toward comforting fare made with fresh, uncomplicated ingredients, Avenue Kitchen nonetheless delivers the buffed ambiance Main Line diners expect and appreciate.

Location | 789 E. Lancaster Ave., Villanova
Contact | (610) 525-3950, avekitchen.com
Cuisine | American
Cost | Entrées $12-$25
Attire | Smart casual
Atmosphere | Modern and sleek
Hours | Lunch daily 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Dinner Sunday 5-9 p.m., Monday-Thursday 5-10 p.m., Friday-Saturday 5-11 p.m.
Extras | Happy hour specials, kids’ menu

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