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Just so-so in Chestnut Hill...

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Having never really had a bad meal in Chestnut Hill across all the various cuisines and hot spots along Germantown Ave., I took a friend who had recently moved to the area and never explored. On our drive back from the Camden Aquarium, we headed up Germantown Ave. and she commented on how quaint and cute the town was, a statement with which I whole-heartedly agree. As we made it further up the street, after I pointed out Hokka Hokka and Cin Cin, she said she wanted something a little less ethnic, more American, almost pub-like. So I thought of McNally's first but decided on Solaris Grille, where I've had many solid meals before, as well as some good spirits.

We arrived early on a Friday night so seating was no problem, however, our server placed us in the far corner of the dining room, which I found a bit odd. After ordering our beers, a great offering both draft and bottle, our server disappeared. Our location in the dining room may have lent itself to being forgotten, but after 10 minutes or so, she returned with our bread and drinks. The bread was a necessary accompaniment to the chicken tortilla soup we both ordered. It had nice chunks of chicken and a good corn undertone, but lacked the spice and was riddled with celery which I don't think has any place in this type of soup. Still the soup was adequate, particularly on a cold day.

Our entrees came out in short order, however, there was something noticeably missing from my dining partner's fajita platter, that being the trademark sizzle. In addition, the avocado was brown which led to its being left on the plate. Other than that, the dish got a positive review from my dining companion, but in truth, it's a tough meal to mess up. Mine on the other hand, was the Hibachi steak with wasabi-mashed potatoes and soy glazed green beans. 1/3rd of the dish was solid, as the mashed potatoes had a great level of nose-clearing heat from the wasabi and the texture was perfect. Sadly, the rest fell short. The beans didn't really have more than a hint of any type of glaze and certainly no soy to be tasted. Even worse, the beans had their coarse ends still attached, a major faux pas in my book. The steak was nicely seasoned but poorly cooked, as I ordered this medium and it came out more like medium rare. Overall, a generally unsatisfying meal for a less than modest price tag.

I won't disparage the restaurant or the street, because as I said, I've had many great meals all over Chestnut Hill, but this was one of my least memorable.

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Solaris Grille
8201 Germantown Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19118

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  1. Enjoyable review on a bleak monday. Riddled with celery, heh. We have a Solaris up my way. dunno if it is owned by the same people, it is in blue bell. Sorry you didn't have a better meal.

    2 Replies
    1. re: givemecarbs

      I believe it is the same ownership...glad you enjoyed the review! I'm new here and will post regularly!

      1. re: givemecarbs

        Yes, the Solaris Grille in Blue Bell is owned by the same people. We had a holiday party there Saturday. I will try it again because I don't want to judge the restaurant based on the few foods offered at the party. The entrees were ok, the appetizers I tried were very good. Service during the event seemed decent.

      2. I may be in the minority but I've never been impressed with the CH dining scene. I'm always surprised with the resident base that there aren't more really good spots. The only 2 we consider any more are Cake and Cafette.

        6 Replies
        1. re: Den

          I agree with you Den! And the last few times we were there, Cafette seemed to have really fallen off. I hope it was only temporary. Haven't been back in a while though...I miss Citrus ;(

          1. re: Den

            I doubt you're in the minority. Not much in CH. I like Cake, though I wish they would vary their menu a bit. Citrus was the best restaurant there, and I miss it. Going further back, Under the Blue Moon was great.

            1. re: JanR

              Gene at Under the Blue Moon was awesome. That place was great.

            2. re: Den

              I agree that CH falls short on good food. Is the bakery still in that back parking lot near the thrift shop? I used to looooove their soup and croissant sandwhiches on a chilly winter day.

              1. re: MLTimes

                Unfortunately, it looks like that bakery is gone.

              2. re: Den

                It's like New Hope. Most of the restaurants are mediocre at best because their location is all the draw that they need.

              3. IMO Solaris is one of the most disappointing restaurants in CH. I find Cafette and Chestnut Grill to be much more consistent for a tasty, mid-priced meal.

                1. Ugh, I hate Solaris. I used to live in Chestnut Hill, and went there a few times right around when it opened. We went three times separated by a year or so, and each time we were very disappointed. They have a salad on the menu whose name escapes me, but it's billed as having asaragus, snap peas, avacado and various other veggies. I thought it sounded good, so I ordered it. It is probably the most unappetizing thing I've seen in a restaurant. The veggies are chopped pretty finely and mixed with pureed avocado, then (so I'm guessing) pressed into a ring mold and served. It looked like so much vomit on my plate. I sent it back. I can't imagine how anybody would think that was appealing! They have another restaurant out where I live now called Tequila Joe's. I won't even go into it - that very same salad is on their menu too.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: gwebber

                    I live in the area and so wish that there were some great places here. The reality is that we go to center city if we want a great meal. The few places that we'll get take-our are Tifin and Cin Cin.

                  2. Solaris has this odd knack of always seeming like it's having an off night.
                    It's a lot like Chestnut Grill, but CG is just consistently that one little step better that, for us, is often the difference btwn worth it and not worth it.
                    We don't go to either much these days, but when we were walking distance from both, it was more of an issue.
                    Now that we're 2 miles away, the C-Hill places we still eat: both sushi places, hill tavern, cafette, cin-cin.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Bob Loblaw

                      That's a great way of putting it. They always do seem a little off, and it's weird. A shame, too, since the patio is so nice in warm weather. We've gone for drinks and to play pool upstairs a few times, but I won't eat there anymore. Hill Tavern, Shundeez, and Campbell's are our go-to places in CH now.

                    2. Roller's at Flying Fish has consistently been a favorite of mine (seafood risotto app is outstanding), though I haven't been there in ages. Cin Cin is again always solid and appeals to a menagerie of different tastes on the menu (I love the crabmeat and jicama salad). I used to be a huge fan of Cafe Barcelona (awesome al fresco area with a great crab stuffed piquillo), but was disappointed to see it go. Upon second thought, while it surely has its highlights, I guess the review was a bit generous to the broad CH dining scene.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: mkertello

                        i like flying fish too, actually. just never remember to eat there.

                      2. The best food on Germantown Avenue right now is at The Wine Thief in Mt Airy next to McMenamin's. I loved their steak, short ribs, and their "thief roll" (rare tuna with a crust served with a wasabi sauce). Their wine btg is solid and affordable.

                        Thanks

                        22 Replies
                        1. re: Chinon00

                          And we like Geechee Girl Rice Cafe., also on germantown Avenue in Mt. Airy. Very nice touch with vegetables, too. Last time I was there, outstanding greens, delicious carrot and parsnip puree, wonderful hominy with mushrooms (as a side to scallops). I didn't taste my friends lamb chops, but she was very pleased with them.

                          1. re: myra

                            I love the food at Geechee Girl, as a native Tarheel I have a special place in my heart for gullah cuisinse, but they are way overpriced so I don't get there often. Winde Thief is a new regualr spot for us, but I can't believe someone ordered the chopped salad at Solaris and didn't try it. It is outstanding - if a little oddly shaped! It is the ONLY reason we ever got to Solaris. Not that the food is bad, but it is mediocre and service is usually quirky - and not in a good way. Hokka Hokka is very good. Cin Cin hasn't been good in years - I don't even get takeout there anymore. I am holding out high hopes for Avenida though! I miss Citrus too - I would even forgive their inconsistent service to have anything similar back in the neighborhood.

                            1. re: myra

                              I love Geechee Girl and cannot wait to try wine theif.

                              This topic really makes me miss Cafe Barcelona, that was one of my all time favorite local casual spots.

                              1. re: AmblerGirl

                                AmberGirl -- I can't tell you how much I missed that place. I remember driving by for the first time and realizing it was gone :(

                            2. re: Chinon00

                              I agree, wine thief is excellent. I also enjoy campbell's.

                              1. re: phillyheel1

                                We really liked The Wine Thief! Finally a place in the area that we'd gladly return. Loved the thief roll, cheese plate, fried chicken, and pecan pie. It has a cozy neighborhood feel. The service was excellent. If you live in the Chestnut Hill area this is a place you want to try.

                                1. re: DaisyM

                                  ...And my high hopes have been realized. Avenida has opened without their liquor license, but we were there on Friday night with a bottle of champagne and things to celebrate. The menu is reasonable, the flavors are varied, and they have this duck on the menu...oh the duck...the duck is the best duck I have had since the Magnolia Cafe closed oh so many years ago. Just please trust me - Order the duck, tell them to serve it at the chef's reccomended temperature, and enjoy your little slice of heaven.

                                  Yes, yes, the delicate shavings of fried green plantains served as we sat at the table started the meal on the perfect note - crisp and slightly sweet. The wedge salad was surprising in its fresh lime viniagrette and firm fried green tomatoes. The ceviche of the day, shrimp, was sweet and sharp and salty and delicious. The grilled octupus was perfectly seared and happily seated in a creamy, herby dressing. The grilled scallops and shrimp were juicy and firm and sweet and refused to be overwhelmed by the citrus-y sauce. But the highlight of the evening was that duck...ummm that duck...

                                  The only misstep in my opinion was actually the "signature guacamole". It was a bit sharp for my tastes, and the two salsas, though obviously fresh, were nothing especially unique, and too similarly spiced.

                                  So perhaps I am simply over-eager to have more neighborhood options that don't break the bank, and am over-enthusiastic...but I don't think so. I think that duck was really that bloody good, and three days later I am contemplating that duck for dinner again tonight. In fact, the rest of the menu looked wonderful, and the dishes passing our table were beautiful, but I am not sure I can ever order anything else there except that fabulous duck.

                                  So between Wine Thief, Earth, Bread & Brewery, and now Avenida, perhaps the torch has been passed down the hill from Chestnut Hill to Mt Airy - but it's a short trip and with the beer distributor across the street from Avenida - there's better parking!!

                                  1. re: doxiemom

                                    Thanks so much for the review, can;' wait to try it! Do you know if they serve lunch or brunch? When do they expect the liquor license? I will try to go while they are still BYO.....

                                    1. re: doxiemom

                                      I think Avenida is really promising. the fish soup was very nice this evening, and their interpretation of Caesar salad quite good. But beware of parking in the Brewer's Outlet lot. We parked there, assuming it was alright, and the server came to warn us at 8:45 that they would be towing cars at 9 p.m.; one of us scurried out to move the car. They intend to establish permission to park there, but as of this evening, permission had not yet been granted.

                                      1. re: myra

                                        That's rotten about the Brewer's Outlet! What jerks...However someone recently told me that after 6 PM you can actually park on Germantown on the East Bound side in front of Avenida, as along as the bus lane remains clear. Happily, we can walk the short blocks, so I haven't tested the theory. As far as their liquor license, they aren't sure - the paperwork is tied up with the state (what else is new) and although they don't anticipate any problems, they are not sure when it will come through. They are not serving lunch yet, but will be starting a brunch menu soon, and hope to expand to lunches in the not too distant future.

                                      2. re: doxiemom

                                        Really enjoyed Avenida. The steak and duck were very good. But the highlight was dessert. Mango upside-down cake which was served warm and a delicious kahlua mousse with Mexican cookies.

                                        We said, finally with Avenida and Wine Thief we have places nearby that we want to go to. The one time we tried to get into Earth Bread it was so insanely busy...we'll have to try it another time.

                                  2. re: Chinon00

                                    There are some great spots in Mount Airy... Wine Thief, GeeChee Girl, etc. I just wish that they were further up on Germantown Avenue, in the walkable part of Chestnut Hill. There is something to be said about taking a stroll and stopping for lunch at a nice place. Even though Mount Airy is nearby, having to jump in your car takes something out of the experience. Is Angie Brown's restaurant Soul still around? I can never seem to find it? That looked promising.

                                    1. re: AmblerGirl

                                      I walk to Wine Thief, EB+B and McMenamin's when it's warm all the time. Depends on where you live ya know?

                                      1. re: Chinon00

                                        Yeah, we are stuck driving in regardless, I just like to stroll and shop along Germantown Ave on a nice day - Penzeys, the cheese shop, Metropolitan Bakery, etc.

                                      2. re: AmblerGirl

                                        Angie Brown's has been closed for many years. She opened Soul a few years ago in Chestnut Hill and that's now closed as well.

                                        1. re: hungry100

                                          What's your opinion on why she can't seem to keep a place open? I liked the food at Angie Brown's.

                                          1. re: Chinon00

                                            Attitude towards customers, pricing, inconsistency. Angie Brown's was decent, if pricey, but you couldn't get guarantee that the same dish would come out the same way twice. Plus we were there regularly for several months when they first opened, and yet she never recognized us or made an effort to show that she appreciated the regular business. Tried again to follow her to Soul, hoping the kitchen karma of Citrus had lingered. We were the only table occupied in the place, and she was in the restaurant (drinking wine) all night and yet barely spoke to us. Didn't stop her from talking on the phone from the dining room, and having an extended and rather loud conversation with a friend who wandered in off the street and stood next to our table while our server tried to maneuver around them. Then paid a $110 bill for 3 people (byob mind you), and never went back. Shame too - because her cornbread was out of this world!

                                            1. re: doxiemom

                                              I believe that she's trained in French and Louisiana cooking which shows in some of the dishes that I remember from AB's. I understand that AB's wasn't her first restaurant either. I wonder how she gets so many chances? I had a conversation about her with another area restaurant owner. This individual's opinion about AB's anyway was that you never knew what it was. Some nights there was a band with dancing and other nights not. Basically it wasn't focused. I agree about interacting with guests. I guess that it's not her strong suit.

                                              1. re: Chinon00

                                                Maurice at Shundeez is always so welcoming and the food is great. The back patio at Cuba is great when Spring comes. Wine Thief is great. Yo Dogs in Wyndmoor is wonderful. Baccio in Mt Airy is always a nice meal. Looking forward to trying Avenida this weekend. So many options...

                                                1. re: josiekat

                                                  Follow up...I went to Avenida this weekend. It is a very welcome addition to the neighborhood. The food was steller (in particular the octopus and the boulliabaise) The service was great and the atmosphere cozy. Only downsides were: dessert was mediocre at best and the tables are very close together. I can't wait to go back.

                                                  1. re: jessjackets

                                                    Liquor license?

                                                    1. re: Chinon00

                                                      @ ChininOO Full bar.