Main Line Chowhounds! Avril BYOB opening in Bala Cynwyd tonite!
Hi folks. Last week I was walking down Bala Ave on my way to see a movie, and was pleasantly surprised to see a new restaurant has popped up! Opening tonite. I hope its good. Cuisine is N. Italy/S. France. Just googled it and came up with this info...
BALA CYNWYD, PA – (July 27, 2009) – Avril BYOB [134 Bala Avenue, Bala Cynwyd, PA; 610-667-2626], the realized dream of husband and wife team Christian Gatti and April Lisante is set to open Wednesday, August 5. Gatti, a longtime Philadelphia chef and Lisante, former Philadelphia Daily News food editor, will open a 50-seat, white linen BYOB on Philadelphia’s esteemed Main Line. Offering Northern Italian and Southern French cuisine, Avril’s menu stands apart from other restaurants with its focus on Gatti’s pastry background, featuring savory pastries, homemade breads, pastas and desserts.
Menu items include fresh-baked breads, Wild Mushroom Barquette with Sea Scallops $12 and Seared Duck Breast with Peach and Endive Tarte Tatin $22. A Bistro Menu will offer Espresso Foie Gras $16 and Bistro Steak Frittes $26. “Petit” plates range from $8-$16. “Grande” dishes average $18-$26. View the menu here.
“Avril is a dream come true for us”, explains April. “We’ve worked so hard to get to this place in our lives and can’t wait to share it with our guests!”
The husband and wife team share a life built on a love of food and family, and are thrilled to have fulfilled their dream of opening their own place. The couple met in 2003, during a Daily News photo shoot, where Christian was featured as one of Philly’s “hot, young chefs”.
Chef Gatti honed his chops in the kitchens of City Tavern, White Dog and Audrey Claire. He also worked for consulting company Concepts by Staib, which developed menus and did staff training for clients such as Shula’s Steakhouses, Sandal’s Resorts and Benchmark Hotels.
“Food is at the center of everything. It nourishes and brings people together. It brought April and I together”, says Christian.
The interior of Avril is awash in warm chocolates, mochas and black. Guests will dine at cozy black leather banquets, at a chef’s table for eight, or at romantic two-top tables. Al fresco seating is available in season, with accommodations for 16. The feel inside Avril is Southern French bistro, with dim candlelit tables, Provencal-inspired art and dripping beaded lighting.
Avril will initially be open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday from 5:00pm – 10:00pm. In the weeks following, Chef Gatti will roll out lunch and Sunday Brunch, along with his BOMBANCE sur le DIMANCHE menu (Feast on Sunday). Guests can choose from 3 ($25), 4 ($27), 5 ($34) or 6 ($40) course “family style” menus.
Additional service to be added within a couple of weeks:
Sunday “BOMBANCE sur le DIMANCHE” menu 5:00pm – 10:00pm
Lunch: Tuesday – Friday 11:30am – 2:30pm
Sunday Brunch: is served 10:00am – 2:00pm
Avril * 134 Bala Avenue, Bala Cynwyd, PA * 610-667-2626 * http://avrilbyob.com
Went last night. Granted, it was only the second night open, so I'm willing to cut a bit of slack and want to try one more time before I chalk it off, but it was really, really disappointing.
I, too, was so excited and thrilled by the notion of this caliber BYOB in Bala Cynwyd, as I really feel there is NOTHING worthwhile to eat around me (aside from going to Manayunk).
Anyway, I had a simple salad (no dressing, because I'm a vegetarian and they didn't have anything that didn't have anchovies in it). Then, I ordered their Heirloom Tomato Mille Feuille which was utterly disappointing. The puff pastry was hardly cooked and it resulted in eating layers of soggy, butter-laden puff pastry. There were only a couple of tomato slices, but a tasty tomato confit of sorts. The cheese melted in between layers looked like it had been sitting around for a bit--kind of gummy. The remnants of the puff pastry left behind were just gummy and oily, really gross to look at. It was even more disgusting to think that I was (attempting to) ingest this stuff.
Also, they totally mis-fired/poorly planned our entrees. I had the Mille Feuille as my entree and my companion had the shoulder steak, which came 10 minutes after mine. I waited for his to come and was disappointed that I had to wait so long. He said the steak was lackluster--something he could have done at home, which is always a disappointment in our book.
Our waiter was a bit odd--put the cap to our sparkling water in the street (we sat outside) as he was talking to us/filling our water bottles. At first, I thought he was just setting it down on the ledge as he talked, but he never picked it back up. He came back a few times to check/clarify our orders. In addition, my salad, which I ordered w/o dressing initially came out WITH dressing. Had to send it back. He also charged us $1 extra per bottle for the sparkling water we ordered.
I do have to say that April, co-owner, was extremely thankful, friendly, and attentive, which was refreshing to see. I do hope that things pick up for them, as it's a place that I'd like to see flourish.
Avril seems to be hitting its stride. We have gone three times. We're locals, foodies, and our theory is that to dis a restaurant early on, and not go back to find out how it developed, is unfair. Here's what we think overall: This is a lovely bistro -- dishes are tasty and interesting. It seems to be developing a following besides us (we aren’t the only repeats). It's perfect for a dinner and movie – but make reservations first.
Visit 1: went as a couple. Surprisingly, so crowded on a rainy August Saturday that we couldn’t get a table. Risked the rain and sat outside. Enjoyed ourselves. Found the dishes uneven, in some of the same ways reported already. A bit over-wrought and over-attached to strict French principles even where they are clearly wrong. (Never steam Moules Frites in chicken stock: use white wine, shallots, fresh thyme, and the juice that comes out of the mussels themselves.) However, the exquisite lavender creme brulee and a chat with the cheerful owner brought us back for a second try. We’d really like a bistro to thrive in this location, across from the Bala Theater.
Second visit: party of four. Found the room indoors pleasant, elegant and relaxed and the food showed a marked improvement: still a bit fussy, but more consistent. Delicious sausage and lentil starter, Fantastic veal ravioli with a thick mushroom stock and roasted figs. My foodie teenagers (adventurous and pretty demanding) loved the French limonades (lemon fizzy and blood orange -- not too sweet) and gnocchi but were critical of the salad dressing (too sweet, too light) and wished for plain baguettes, not focaccia in the basket. Service was pleasant, welcoming and precise.
Third visit: back as a couple again last night. The kitchen is clearly hitting its stride and the signature concepts are delicious: balanced dishes with long flavor profiles. The duck tartin is a good example: slices of tender duck breast seared quite dark on the outside, almost carmelized; laid across french lentil stew with an earthy, smoky stock anchoring it; the stew is ladled on top of a delicate, buttery pastry shell filled with stewed peaches and carmelized onions. The whole is an effective balance of sharp, sweet, smoky and savory. Lovely texture variations as well -- contrasts, without contradictions. Lavender crème brulee still a hit: similarly effective with separate notes of herbs, cream, and bitter caramel.
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Here's a report on Avril from our dinner last night.
First impressions of Avril BYOB:
A tastefully decorated open space with high ceilings, painted warm brown, oil paintings on the walls, fresh flowers on the tables, white tablecloths. Soft music adds a nice touch. Overall I give the atmosphere 4/5 stars.
We arrived on a Friday night after making a reservation; it was fairly empty at first but filled up by the time we were done with our dinner. Our waiter was prompt in offering us menus and opening wine. He also was helpful with advice on the menu. Overall service was good, though no spoon came with my dessert. 4/5 stars.
I was a little less satisfied with the food, though some items were very good. My husband ordered the grilled endive salad which came over a bed of lentils. It was just ok. I had the wild mushroom barquette with scallops which the waiter had steered me to. The scallops were cooked perfectly, tender and sweet, and bathed in a brown sauce with mushrooms. I liked this. The pastry underneath was rather odd, brown in color, and seemed overcooked. I didn't finish that.
I was a little hampered in the entree choice by the fact we had brought red wine. I think white would be a better choice. I would have liked to try the lobster profiterole (another item the waiter praised). Instead I ordered the gnocchi with pistachio pesto. It was a rather large portion, the ghocchi were light and good, the pesto sauce was just ok, I was underwhelmed with this dish.
My husband fared better with the veal ravioli with roasted seasonal fruit. It too had a brown mushroom sauce and was very tasty. It was topped with wilted spinach. The menu said arugula, but I'm sure it was spinach.
Dessert and coffee next. Coffee was excellent...lavendar scented creme brule was good but I would have liked the custard a little less heavy tasting.
Overall I was not amazed by the food here though I think with another visit I might find more good choices on the menu. I'm not rushing back, though, because overall the food was a little heavy with the creamy sauces etc.
I'm only giving this 3 stars but I think it has room for improvement. My experience was better than the other posters, so perhaps they worked on the service.
BTW the ladies bathroom is lovely! Scented candle burning, a basket of fresh terry cloth towels, fragrance, body lotion provided. Paintings on the walls. Ladies, worth a trip to powder your nose here!
Very disappointing! This Bala foodie is bummed.
A group of four went on a Wednesday night with a reservation. The place was hopping.
First of all, the service was horrible. We were seated, given menus, and wine opened promptly, but it ended there. We had to ask repeatedly for water refills (the owner finally obliged) and two of us were missing a knife for our main courses. We waited for our server to come over or even look our way, but he was too engrossed in conversation with his colleague right by the kitchen door. (She, BTW, looked around her station while they were talking.) Our friend had to get up and go over and ask for knives. He didn't offer dessert and took awhile to bring the check.
On to the food. Two of us started with the Wild Mushroom Barquette with Sea Scallops $12. The mushrooms were few, the sauce was bitter, and the pastry was, well, the closest thing I can think of is, stale. The scallops were delicious. Our friends enjoyed the Crab Crespelle $10. My husband had the chicken legs. He found them undercooked and bland.
Two of us had the Gnocchi with Pistachio Pesto. I thought it was awful. The pesto sauce was very dull---couldn't detect any pistachios ground up, only whole or pieces of the nut that were kind of soggy from the sauce. The gnocchi were dense and heavy.
Our friends found the Lobster Profiterole a little strong on the mustard, but good amount of lobster. Again, the pastry didn't seem fresh and was dense when it seems like it should have been flaky.
My husband had the pork and was underwhelmed. Happily is was well-cooked, but not very flavorful.
Not being impressed with anything and not being able to attract the attention of our server for quite sometime, we skipped dessert.
As we were waiting for our check, the smell of cigarette smoke permeated the room. I think it came from the kitchen. No one was smoking in the dining room and no one was seated outside. I am very sensitive to smoke and the smell was so strong that I started to stuff up. It was also weird that the owner spent time with every other table and happily brought us water, but didn't say another word to us.
I want to give it another try, but it's a fairly expensive gamble.
West back finally for a second visit. Nice greeting from the owner/hostess and we were seated at a nice cozy corner table.
For starters, I don't recommend the seafood plate that was on special. It was supposed to be a seafood plate for 4, consisting of oysters, crab and shrimp. Unfortunately, it arrived without shrimp, but with smoked salmon instead. Apparently the waiter misspoke. Also, if this plate was meant for 4 people, I'm not sure how because it came with 6 oysters and a smallish serving of the crab. We complained about the lack of shrimp and not enough oysters...fortunately the chef sent us out 4 shrimp and 2 more oysters. Overall, this was not the way to start the meal, with problems!
Main courses were very nice, we had the butterfish and the duck breast. Well prepared, tasty sauces. My only complaint is the menu doesn't offer many lighter choices...its mostly meat and pastries, kind of heavy if you are watching your diet/cholesterol, etc.
Did I mention that on Sat night they have live entertainment (keyboard and singer)? This is a nice touch.
Desserts were yummy, especially the chocolate banana cake. They have delicious coffee too. Since the ending was so nice, we did enjoy the meal, but wish it could have started better.
We had dinner at Avril last night (Tuesday 9/8/09). After reading some of the other postings here on CH, we were not sure what to expect. We went into it hoping for a casual bistro experience and would’ve been very happy with that level of service and food. The room is really nice, very open and airy, very comfortable and decorated very well. We sat down a little after 8:00. There were two other duces in the restaurant, one finishing their meal and one just getting started.
We sat down and were given menus, and the server immediately began to pour tap water into our glasses. I had just glanced at the bottom of the menu and noticed that it said they had bottles of still & sparkling water available. My dining partner said, “we might want bottled water.” The server said, “Oh, we’re out of sparkling.” I asked what brand of still do you have … her reply was we’re out of still also and I don’t know what brand it is but I’ll check. She then filled my glass with tap water and went into the kitchen to check. We will usually get a bottle of still or sparkling depending on what brand it is… for instance we don’t like Panna or San Pellegrino but do like Saratoga. So, she came back with a bottle of still water and asked us if we wanted it (which was nice), but since we started drinking our tap water we decided to stick with it. Ok, no big deal. I’ve noticed though over time just from eating out at least one night a week over the last 4 years or so, that a bunch of little things tend to add up to something much larger later. You can begin to spot clues to a server’s training or a restaurant’s attention to detail based on how they handle these little things… Does a server ask a guest if they want still, sparkling or tap water upon greeting and seating them? Does the server know what brands of water they have to offer? Does the server actually know if they even have bottled water? The restaurant business is all about attention to details and training… especially for a restaurant that has only been opened a month.
So, on to the food… They were out of 2 appetizers, the fruit de mar & foie gras, as well as one “grand” plate (the red snapper). There was a shrimp substitution for the fruit de mar app and a salmon substitution for the snapper… nothing for the foie gras. We ordered the house salad with mustard-anchovy vinaigrette and the crab crespelle to start. The salad was completely over dressed to the point of being totally soggy and leaving a pool of oily vinaigrette on the plate and the crab was not presented as described on the menu. On the menu it was listed as a crab stuffed crepe with capers and asparagus gratin. Well, there were no capers and only 4 pieces of pencil thin asparagus draped across the crepe that was sitting in an ocean of cream. The cream totally covered the entire surface of the plate… Where were the capers? Where was the asparagus gratin? Again, little things and attention to detail.
Entrees were a chicken saltimbocca special for my dining partner and the rabbit “grand” plate for me. The server asked if we had any questions when we placed our order. I asked her to tell me about the rabbit dish. She explained it as being cooked medium rare and sliced on the plate with polenta and sautéed spinach. I asked if she was sure that it came that way because the menu said that it was braised in white wine with lavender and artichokes. I don’t know of any braised meat being served medium rare. But, she said they were changing a lot of things on the menu and that it might not be accurate. Ok, I went with the rabbit. The chicken special was ok… It was a little dried out and served with the worst polenta I’ve ever eaten (the same as was on my rabbit dish). It was baked and “crumbled” (the only word I can use to describe it) over the sautéed greens. Now, the star of the show was my rabbit dish. The plate had the same sautéed greens and polenta as the chicken, with the rabbit off to one side in a French onion soup crock (the kind of crock you would get at a dinner). It was not sliced, medium rare and did not even look like it was braised correctly. It was greasy and upon touching it with my fork completely mushed up into a crock of stringy dental floss. On top of that, there were no artichokes. I took a bite or two, but it was absolutely horrible. When the server came back to check I asked her if this was really the rabbit dish. She said it was… I asked what cut of meat was used to make it…leg, saddle, loin, etc… She said she didn’t know but would find out. She came back and told me that it was organic and what farm it came from. I asked again… not what farm, what cut of meat was it. Oh, she said, it’s the leg confit. I said, I’m sorry, but it’s really bad and I had ordered it because she told me it was cooked medium rare and sliced. She said she was sorry, but they were changing so many things on the menu and the chef/owner was not telling the service staff exactly what was changing. They had served it medium rare and sliced in the past… Even if it was a confit, I could have been happy with that, but a confit doesn’t turn to mush. It should be tender and rich flavored and fall off the bone, but it should retain some of its shape and texture. So, is it a braised dish, a leg confit, a loin roasted medium rare and sliced? The only thing I know is that it was not cooked correctly no matter what it was supposed to be.
The rabbit was taken off the bill and we did not stay for dessert. I don’t know, this all may sound harsh, but I’m so tired of spending my money for substandard food. Even if you are a casual bistro, get the basics right. Make a good salad vert, make a good confit or braise or whatever you want to call it. Have your menu accurately reflect what you are serving. Train your staff in the basic steps of service…all the little things that add up to one large whole. It doesn’t have to be super fancy… just good and enjoyable on whatever level you’re shooting for. I spent 6 months living and working in France. A lot of people think French food is ultra pretentious and fancy or is loaded with cream and butter. It’s really not, on the whole it is very simple and straight forward with clean, distinct flavors… a well dressed salad with a simple vinaigrette, a simply roasted chicken breast with crispy, golden skin. This restaurant is about as far away from anything French as it can be…
This is just my experience, and I certainly hope others have better luck.
sanfrantransplant - I've never been to Avril and, based on your post, I'll probably never go there. Starting with the second sentence of your last large paragraph, I agree with every you say, especially about French food in France. I think the biggest mistakes restaurants make are: trying to be something they're not, not sticking to simple cooking principles, not giving staff proper training, not letting staff sample their food so they can give an accurate description, and not remembering that it's the customers that decide whether or not they'll be successful. Sure sounds like Avril failed on most, in not all, of those items.
I iagree that Avril certainly isnt' worth the trip, at this point, for anyone who is not local. I'm hoping for it to get better since its so close to me I could walk plus its right across the street from the movie theater. We don't have many that many local options near Bala.
One thing that is particularly puzzling about this place is the chef is supposed to be great with pastry but everyone, including me, didn't like the pastry. And frankly, if the pastry is not going to be amazing, I don't need the extra calories!
I have been reading the posts on Avril since it opened, hoping for a change. I hate to keep saying this, but it just seems that most suburban restaurants are either overpriced and subpar or just plain subpar (usually the first). I really wish it were different, and I know some exceptions (Gilmore's, Alba, Birchrunville, Restaurant Rosalie - although I can't understand why RR keeps raising their prix fixe when they are still far from full most nights). These are few and far between. I have no idea why this is the case. I guess I'm fortunate in that it doesn't take us that long to get into center city. Does anyone have any idea why there aren't more good suburban restaurants? It would seem that areas like the main line and Chestnut Hill would support them. Are people so averse to the idea of driving in to town/parking,that they just put up with bad restaurants?
Regarding why RR keeps raising their price when they're not packing them in seems to me to be self-explanatory. It's like SEPTA raising fares when ridership dwindles. There are certain fixed costs - rent, utilities, linens, etc. that have to be paid regardless of the number of people who come through the door. Beyond that are the costs of food, drink, staff, etc., not to mention living expenses for the owners. If you don't have enough covers to handle those expenses, the only thing left is to increase the price.
Actually, the advent of good restaurants in the suburbs is a pretty recent phenomenon, so we are lucky to have any at all. As far as the Main Line is concerned, there are basically two kinds of diner: those with private chefs who rarely dine out and those who will not or cannot spend over around $20 per entree. In the middle (where I am) is a small group of people willing to spend good bucks for great food. There are several examples of restaruants that fared none too well by imagining this area as an area of affluent diners with a desire for great food. I wish it were so.
I checked this place out last week, and had a much better experience than most of you. Maybe it's because after reading this thread, my expectations were lowered, or maybe they're getting over the opening jitters. Our meal was perfectly enjoyable. It wasn't something I'd make a trip for from the city—we were visiting Main Line friends who wanted to go. If I lived in the neighborhood I'd be happy to have it nearby.
My only real problem with the food was that our dishes needed some fine tuning. I had the "lavender-scented" shrimp and polenta, I didn't detect any lavender, and it was inexplicably served with a little pastry shell with a "seasonal fruit salad." But the shrimp were cooked nearly perfectly, and the polenta was flavorful. I can't even count the number of times I've had overcooked shrimp in a restaurant, I think it's safe to say that overcooked shrimp are the rule, not the exception. It seemed to me that there was a very good shrimp and grits dish in there, they should discard the extraneous bits and just serve it that way. The sausage socca was also pretty good, I could have used a little more socca and a little less sausage, but I liked it overall.
Anyway, for the price (about $80 per couple) I was satisfied. Some things need tweaking, but the impression I got from the food we had (especially my shrimp) is that the guy knows how to cook. They just need to do a little re-thinking of the menu, maybe slim it down a bit. But that's not uncommon for a new restaurant.