Ardmore’s newest hotspot is a bustling French bistro.
Photos by Steve Legato
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THE SCENE: Stepping into A La Maison on a busy weekend night can be a bit daunting, especially when you come in the back way and have to walk through the vast dining room to get to the hostess. Even with a reservation policy, this new kid on the block sees lots of walk-ins, which makes for a bustling, buzzing ambiance.
Once you acclimate to the high decibel level, you’ll forget about the activity and noise, and start to focus on the sights and scents of this softly lit French bistro. Tables are spaced tightly, so it can be a little awkward squeezing your behind into your chair, but good timing on your hostess’ part should help you avoid any mid-bite interruptions.
To fully appreciate A La Maison, visit during the day—ideally, on a bright, sunny afternoon, when sunlight splashes across the lemon-yellow walls courtesy of the floor-to-ceiling windows along the restaurant’s front (likely a cooler spot during the winter, but great for an afternoon of people watching). Mocha is the bistro’s other accent color, adding a bold contrast and blending nicely with the medium- to dark-hued furnishings and the vast worn-wood floor.
Characteristic of a true bistro, the tables, chairs and their embellishments are simple: wood, no cushions, ordinary glasses and plain white china. Still, French kitsch abounds, from the colorful tin teapots and giant copper spoons hanging from wooden racks, to the enormous copper espresso machine, champagne bucket full of fresh flowers, and the colorful 1940s-style prints on the walls. A brawny, weathered wood- and copper-topped bar sits to the left of the front door, along with a quaint table for four set with Pierre Deux linens.
THE FOOD: A graduate of the Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College and once a private caterer, chef/owner Darlene Boline Moseng puts her own rustic, homestyle spin on such traditional French comfort fare as steak or moules frites, bouillabaisse, coquilles Saint Jacques, crêpes, coq au vin, cassoulet, and beef Bourguignon. The half-dozen baked snails we ordered were arranged nicely in their fancy escargot dish, barely breaking the surface of the garlicky, Chartreuse-infused butter. Any longer in the oven would’ve turned them to rubber. Luckily, Moseng knew just when to take them out.
The warm goat cheese and caramelized onion tart was a delight for its exceptional creaminess and sweet onions. But the soggy crust was disappointing and made the combination feel too heavy. The pâté du jour—a hearty, lightly seasoned terrine composed of pork, veal and beef—paired well with the chutney, gherkin pickles, and a simple salad of crisp, organic mesclun greens and toasted walnuts in a light raspberry vinaigrette (ordered separately).
Another salad—frisée with truffled potatoes, lardons and a sizable confit’d duck leg—also hit the spot. The leg was crispy, moist and meaty, and the lardons had a nice crunch. The frisée could’ve used a squeeze of lemon and a dash of salt and pepper, but there were no shakers on the table (a pet peeve of mine). The truffled potato cubes had a nice hint of truffle oil, but they also needed a pinch of salt.
Despite some online comments to the contrary, the steak frites featured an excellent prime N.Y. strip—impressive in size, temperature and flavor. The sauce—a classic maison (red wine, shallots and mushrooms)—was velvety and bold, but didn’t overpower the meat. The frites, however, were limp and weighed down with what I suspect was truffle oil—which is normally a winning combination. But without a crispy, golden brown skin, they were downright soggy.