There’s smooth sailing on golden Pond
Food for Thought
By Len Lear
(Main Line Ticket is inserted into the Main Line Times, Main Line Life and Wayne Suburban)
There are lots of good restaurants up and down the Main Line, but area residents planning to visit Pond at 175 King of Prussia Road in Radnor will have to radically adjust their culinary compass. While the prices are by no means insignificant – appetizers between $8 and $19 and entree prices between $27 and $29 – the food and service at this elegant palace of gastronomy, formerly home to Passerelle, are literally transcendent.I truly wish there were some fault I could find with Pond to make this article seem more “balanced” and make me appear more difficult to please, but we were completely won over by the carefully rendered dishes, ingredients as fresh as sunshine, seasoning applied with the precision of a clock maker and cooking as sophisticated and affectionate as a sonnet by Shakespeare.
Abde Dahrouch, 41, Pond’s chef and co-owner (along with his wife, Maria), was born in Morocco and grew up in Bordeaux’s Gascony region in France. “My mother was a very good cook, and my father was a farmer who planted and harvested fresh produce,” said Abde, “so I grew up always eating fresh food and wonderful flavors.”
Maria also grew up around food, working in her mother’s restaurant in her native Bolivia. She came to Washington, D.C., in 1984 to study English and later worked in banking and accounting, but “I hated both of them and decided to get back into restaurants.” Maria met her husband-to-be at Jean Pierre in Washington, an upscale French restaurant where Abde had come in 1984 to work and train.
In 2000, the couple moved to the Main Line so that Abde could work at Restaurant Taquet in Wayne, where Abde’s brother, Larbi, was then executive chef. Larbi later left to take a position as head chef at a resort in Mexico, and Abde was elevated to top toque at Taquet. Like almost all chefs, however, Abde longed to own and operate his own restaurant. Thus, he could not turn down the offer from a Main Line couple, Raelyn Harman and Gopal Subramanian, who loved his cooking at Taquet, to form a partnership and take over the former Passerelle, putting Abde and Maria in charge. (The culinary couple live in Wayne with their two children, Omar and Isabella, who are 7 and 11.)
To get from the parking lot into Pond Restaurant, you walk over a bridge into a spectacular dining room with a floor-to-ceiling fieldstone fireplace, wrought iron chandeliers, linen-draped tables and rich, warm colors. The menu is classic French and Mediterranean.
During our recent visit, a highlight was an appetizer of airy escargot and translucent gnocchi ($12), which made us wax lyrical, while a pan-seared Chilean sea bass entree special ($29) melted on the tongue, accompanied by meltingly soft pearl pasta and the intrigue of piquant spinach unlike any other spinach dish we could remember.
Like the rest of the meal, desserts were unpretentious and satisfyingly homespun, from an “opera” as light as whipped cream – paper-thin layers of chocolate and almond mingled with coffee butter cream ($8) – to the ridiculously creamy and flavorful coconut, lemon and pear sorbet ($7). Pond has an extensive wine list but a very limited selection by the glass.
I would be remiss if I did not mention two servers, both students from a culinary school in Thailand that maintains a relationship with Pond. The servers, Vaisit Paphata and Attapol Yimchoy, were delightful, cheerful, knowledgeable and efficient.
Although the prices at Pond can be intimidating to some, there is an antidote available. Right next door is Bistro Cassis, which is more casual and affordable and whose menu is also prepared by chef Dahrouch. In fact, one of the best bargains anywhere in the Delaware Valley has to be the three-course, $32 dinner at Cassis, which also offers BYOB on Sunday nights only.
In addition, Bistro Cassis has 40 wines by the glass, available in either three-ounce or six-ounce pours, and a Happy Hour weekdays from 5 to 7 p.m. That includes drink specials and complimentary hors d’oeuvres. Cassis, which seats 65 (as opposed to 90 at Pond), has live music every Friday from 6:30 to 10 p.m. and outdoor dining when the weather cooperates. For reservations, call 610-293-9411 or visit www.pondrestaurant.com.