Bistro Cassis Reviewed by aroundphilly.com’s Ken Alan

Posted on Thursday, March 13, 2008

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The ‘Burbs: Bistro Cassis
By: Ken Alan

Two swans glide gracefully across the cerulean waterways that arc among green manicured lawns and perfectly tended flora in front of Pond. The light terra cotta restaurant splays resplendently, an Italianate structure of vast proportions, appearing dramatically if not unmistakably Main Line. They don’t make them like this anymore.
Chef Abde Dahrouch and manager Maria, his wife and business partner, knew going into business that they were taking on one impressive nut when they became co-owners of this 15,000 square foot restaurant and event space adjoining the Radnor Racquet Club. In an era when downsizing seems to be a business mantra, the couple (along with their fellow investors) took the bigger, hopefully better approach by signing on at this opulent piece of real estate.
Prior, the restaurant had been Passerelle with its conjoined sister (or was it a brother?) site, Bravo Bistro, each providing area residents and companies with two of the more majestic places to dine. And before that, sometime in the mid-80’s, it originally began gustatory life as Taquet, a namesake restaurant from a renowned French chef.
Things have gone around nicely for Chef Dahrouch, who served at Taquet long after it moved to its present location in Wayne. Prior, the man had spent quality kitchen time in such notables as La Brasserier and Jean Louis in DC.
I’ve had the opportunity to dine at Pond before; that formal and breathtaking large room with its high windows, Moorish chandeliers and blushing walls, redone from the vivid canary yellow I remember in its Passerelle days. My goal this time around is to get better acquainted with its neighbor across the grand central foyer, Bistro Cassis.
In Bravo Bistro days, the room had been more Main Line swanky; lots of oaken room dividers, globe lamps and a general gentlemanly Polo shirt/madras slacks vibe.
That look is a distant memory with the bistro now colored a tranquil Mediterranean sea of calm, its high ceilings a grid of foamy greens and ocean blues. I recognize one imposing yet welcoming remnant from its clubby past: the solid oak bar.
The scenery in the two restaurants are vastly different though the lunch and dinner menus are interchangeable and offer French, Medi/Coastal and Moroccan specialties, the latter country being chef’s homeland.
At night, enjoy an escargot appetizer in puff pastry, Hudson Valley Foie Gras terrine or a classic Caesar salad. Entrees include braised rack of lamb with eggplant puree in olive jus, pan seared rockfish and Shiitake tamarind port reduction, and sautéed Norwegian salmon with lemon emulsion. As I gander at the menu, I’m struck by the under-$30 price points, a rarity for this locale and unexpected in such a stunning setting.
At lunchtime, my dining partner and I sample several items off the menu. Heart hahira (otherwise known as chick pea soup) is deep and earthy; toothsome-tender linguine with clams is served in a light garlic broth that successfully avoided overpowering the entire dish. A tasty chicken breast panini with basil and provolone cheese was served on crusty country toast while the grilled hanger steak was a ribbon-y cord of nearly fork-tender beef that had been seemingly marinated for days and served with fresh arugula and shaved Parmesan. A sautéed salmon cake with horseradish cream proved to be the only misfire – flavorful though barely cut-able.
A shared hazelnut chocolate crunch bar with ethereal bittersweet mousse is one of the best desserts I’ve had thus far this year and note: I am a 12-stepping chocoholic.
Bistro Cassis isn’t a typical lunch stopover for the supermarket salad bar go-er as the mostly executives/ladies-who-lunch crowd illustrates. No, a $12 panini is not average pricing at most Route 30 pizza places, though the splurge here is worth it.
There are other ways to be thrifty. The Italian-heavy bar menu crests at $10 and, through March, take advantage of their $30 three-course menu. During happy hour there’s $2.50 domestics and $5 cosmos and side cars, which, come spring, you can enjoy at the outdoor bar, one of the region’s most idyllic places to sip.
The wine list is manageable yet interesting but the beer menu is a bore – Yeungling, Heineken and a few other standards are present yet, in today’s beer-savvy world, there’s nothing–no local microbrews, Wit beer, or late-winter stout–to really quench a discerning thirst.
This aside, I find Bistro Cassis and its brother restaurant, Pond (or is it sister?) to both be exceptional destinations for upscale dining amid a classically Main Line setting.
No, they don’t make them like this anymore.

175 King of Prussia Road Radnor, PA 19087 Tel.:610-293-9411

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