The many patrons who frequent the “adult” (intelligent and thought-provoking, not X-rated) movies at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute have no doubt noticed the vacancy in the building right next to the movie theater at 818 Lancaster Ave. It was previously occupied by Verdad and for a long time before that by Marbles, owned by the Wakim brothers from Lebanon, who also run Al Dar Bistro in Bala Cynwyd and have had a restaurant presence on the Main Line for 35 years.
After more than a three-and-a-half-year vacancy, however, movie patrons are finally seeing a buzzing restaurant when they walk past Avalon Bistro, which opened for business in April of this year. Owner John Brandt-Lee, formerly a web designer, is a self-taught chef who opened Avalon restaurant 17 years ago at 316 South High St. in West Chester. In 2006 he moved the restaurant to its current location at 116 East Gay St. in West Chester, where it is now known as Bar Avalon.
After watching the thoroughly delightful, incisive and very funny film, “Late Night,” at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute in late June, six of us walked next door to Avalon Bistro and had drinks and dinner. The eclectic menu, primarily French and Italian, is somewhat limited, but then again, as a foodie friend of mine often says, “We do not go to any restaurant with one of those encyclopedic menus with lots of pages. With a zillion dishes, how could they possibly do them all well?”
An extensive renovation has created a sleek, very appealing and modernistic look with bare hardwood floors and tables, a stunning bar with TV screens at either end (sound muted), a filigreed tin ceiling, banquettes against the wall, eye-catching globe chandeliers, two-top intimate tables down the middle of the dining room, etc.
Avalon Bistro features craft cocktails, an extensive wine list, draft beers and handmade pastas, fresh fish and braised meats. All six diners at our table raved about every dish. The tuna tartar had a machine gun burst of flavor with its gossamer web of tuna, cucumber, avocado and dough-licious pasta chips ($18).
Arancini was a rip current of fried risotto with silky goat cheese and sublime vodka sauce ($9); a fried cauliflower salad was a volcano of roasted tomato, romaine lettuce, flaky salmon and a lemon caper remoulade as exciting as a hairpin curve ($21). Three diners ordered either the Avalon burger or the “no-bun” burger (each $19), and they could have sprained their ankles jumping for joy. The only “complaint” was that the burger was too big to get one's mouth completely around. Food-wise, Avalon Bistro seems to fulfill champagne wishes and caviar dreams. And our server, Christine, was absolutely delightful.
On the down side, when we went to Avalon Bistro, it was over 90 degrees outside, so we were delighted to get into an air-conditioned room, but it was so cold that all six of us were uncomfortable. We asked for the freezing air to be turned down. A while later we had to ask again, and this time the manager said it would definitely be turned down, and it was. But after another 15 minutes or so, we were back in the deep freeze again for some unknown reason.
The only other negative was the carnival barker noise level, which made conversation somewhat strained. I will admit that most restaurant patrons, especially younger ones, do not seem to mind the supersonic din that many seniors, like us, find extremely uncomfortable. This is a virtually ubiquitous problem these days, and I do sympathize with restaurant owners, but I also sympathize with diners who go to restaurants to relax and converse with friends and can only do it with great difficulty. Perhaps the installation of acoustic tiles on the ceiling might help. We have been in restaurants where they did make a significant difference, like Heirloom in Chestnut Hill (now closed) and Tamarindo's in Flourtown, and those where they did not.
There is a free parking lot in the rear of the restaurant, and there is a Happy Hour Tuesday through Friday, 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., with drink and food specials (check out the $5 and $10 menu on their website) as well as all-you-eat mussels on Wednesdays, 4 to 6:30 p.m., for $10.