Breathing Fire Into the New Year

Margaret Kuo celebrates the Year of the Ox, and Downingtown smells revival.

Margaret Kuo's guest star: the dancing dragon. (Photo by David Smith)A Feast Fit for an Ox

This past Sunday, I got to relive New Year’s Eve all over again—this time with a Chinese feast prepared by Margaret Kuo, the very same one that she prepared for the James Beard Foundation in New York last year. Plus, a soundtrack of traditional Chinese folk songs (with some more modern, recognizable American pieces like “Edelweiss” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy” sprinkled in) were played by a trio of very talented musicians sporting a guzheng, ehru, a.k.a. Chinese violin, and some Chinese percussion instruments. A precursor to the Chinese New Year, the celebration took place in the Wayne restaurant’s understated but elegant lower-level Hibiscus Room.

Although there was very little theater occurring by the time we’d arrived (late, due to a family obligation), guests who’d settled in by 4:30 p.m. were treated to a traditional Dragon Dance, which we were told also included a little line dancing. (I am not clear on whether or not the two large, crimson-colored dragons were a part of that, but as you can see, they were pretty neat looking.)

As far as the food goes, I was thrilled to be trying out some new dishes. I’m a big fan of Kuo’s sushi/sashimi offerings, so I tend to order the same things every time I go. I adore their nori—the crispest in town (in case you didn’t know, it comes in several grades)—and itamae extraordinaires, Kay and Kan, always like to throw a few surprise bites my way.

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What sent my taste buds into a [pleasant] tizzy were nugget-shaped pieces of crispy fried peppercorn duck liver; flaky, airy and petite scallion “puffs”; juicy, medium-rare chunks of filet mignon; and a combo of five-aroma beef and jumbo shrimp with garlic sauce—all appetizers we’d missed by being tardy, but luckily got to try anyway.

The entrées were equally intriguing, particularly the spontaneously prepared platter delivered at the end of the meal: a tender sauté of generously peppered beef that felt silky-sumptuous on the tongue. (I’m pretty certain that Margaret uses grass-fed beef from out west; she is a very health-conscious chef.) There were also sort-of-identifiable pieces of either leeks or bok choy (everything came out with very little explanation, and we were all too busy chatting to get overly analytical about things).

Other dishes included lobster tail flavored with a seasoned seafood sauce that Margaret later revealed was a pre-fab product from a company that’s now sponsoring her. (I’m working on finding out the name and availability of this line, so hang on.)

Dessert had a molecular-gastronomic, traditional-meets-futuristic flair (she does have a degree in science): French vanilla ice cream topped with Goji berry chilled sweet soup (the James Beard Foundation’s rendition was prepared with a white lily bulb and a white cloud ear; I’m working on researching this, also …). I was a wee bit leery of the soup’s consistency, which was like a frozen jelly. A modest spoonful, padded with ice cream, didn’t result in any culinary red flags. The consistency of the soup alone might not have left a similar impression, but with the cool, creamy ice cream, it came off far less gelatinous than anticipated. Next time I see Margaret, I aim to get the full scoop (no pun intended).

If you’d like to try out some of Margaret Kuo’s other celebratory fare, visit for a peek at the Year of the Ox Gourmet Dinner menu, available now thru Feb. 28 at all of her restaurants.

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Learn about the new restaurant in town on page 2 …

The space of the coming Firecreek Restaurant and Bar in Downingtown (photo gallery below)Turning Up the Heat Along the Brandywine River

I recently had the opportunity to visit the still-in-progress-but-moving-along-just-fine Firecreek Restaurant and Bar in Downingtown, and to sit down with its executive chef, Carlo deMarco, of 333 Belrose fame. Right now, the Firecreek team is in the final push toward a soft opening in a couple of weeks and the big debut at the end of February. From the looks of things, this will definitely be the next IT restaurant for several months.

Situated right on the Brandywine River in an old paper mill—with a terrace, eventual native plantings, and ample seating for a 100-plus crowd—Firecreek has got a lot going for it (specifically, great bones).

As I walked around the building’s interior and exterior, it was instantly clear that the structure and the location are worth every penny of what proprietor Robert Donaldson, developers Tom Deignan and Kevin Silverang, and other investors have paid.

Even if the designer, Lauren Thomsen, did nothing, the exposed stone, original cogs and wheels, stone exterior and panoramic view of the Brandywine River would carry the ambiance. It helps, of course, that the designers have keen eyes (and fine taste) and a good perspective on how to best lay the space out for staff functionality and patron enjoyment. A warm color palette, earthy elements like wood and granite juxtaposed against the industrial artifacts and modern touches, such as a linear gas fireplace in the private dining room, plus contemporary lighting, a spiral staircase (that leads up to the office space), and a bank of windows add up to an inviting, soothing environment.

Combine all that with an open kitchen, a lengthy bar and a separate lounge space, and you’ve got a scene waiting to happen. There is also a massive chef’s table, which will no doubt become one of the hottest seats in Downingtown, that I’ll highlight in a future blog post.

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I have a zillion images of the place, some of which I’ve included in this post, but I was unable to reconnect with my Carrollton connection (see below) to sift through them and put together legit captions. Next week, things will be more polished, and you’ll get the inside scoop from the man of the hour himself, Carlo deMarco. This week is all about working around print deadlines.

The photos here are mostly before shots, with a few “afters” peppered in.

There are plenty more details to come, including scoop on the menu—it’s a steakhouse concept—and on the chargrilled burger joint that’ll be adjacent to and operated by the folks at Firecreek. You’ll have to check back next week for that. And I’m in the midst of investigating the name of the former paper mill, so hopefully I’ll have that info for you, as well.

Almost forgot: Firecreek is part of a larger project, Papermill on the Brandywine, brought to you by Carrollton Development Group and Silverang Hallowell Development Company. Their website is still under construction, but the images presented give a good idea of what’s in store for Downingtown residents and tourists.

I smell revival … and steak.

Firecreek Restaurant and Bar, 20 E. Lancaster Ave., Downingtown, For more information, contact Cassandra Ellis of the Carrollton Development Group at (610) 525-8900.

Our Best of the Main Line & Western Suburbs Party is July 25!