By Frank D. Quattrone
Dettera, Ambler’s stunning restaurant and wine bar, has pulled off a pretty neat trick — simultaneously elevating the elegance quotient while making the menu more accessible and affordable.
It has managed to do so by welcoming Executive Chef Jeffrey Power last spring and charging him and General Manager Jay Stevens to take Dettera to a new level of excellence. In an interview at the restaurant on Oct. 1, Chef Power explained Dettera’s new mission.
“Our first goal was to design an approachable but creative menu, using recognizable ingredients, sustainable products, local produce, including vegetables from no more than 30 miles away, free-range meats from Lancaster County and the freshest food we can find. We wanted to create an elegant menu without being stuffy.”
Describing his menu as “a melting pot, using European techniques,” Chef Power only begins to tell the whole tale. The menu speaks for itself. Some wonderful examples are the appetizers Yellowfin Tuna Tartar ($15), served with pickled fennel and summer truffle and topped with a soft poached egg; Sautéed Gnocchi ($10 as an appetizer, $22 as an entrée), served with toasted butter, zucchini, heirloom tomato and sage; and Hearth Fired Carolina Shrimp ($11), served with sautéed artichoke heart, garden parsley and olive tapenade.
There’s a taste of Asia touched by French, a familiar Italian dish infused with garden delights and some American seafood kissed by the Mediterranean.
And a Tasting of Beets ($9), with its goat cheese spuma (a frothy, frozen sherbet mixed with meringue) and toasted walnuts, and Roast Corn and Poblano Soup ($7) make for some further intriguing starters.
To welcome the new season, Chef Power has also introduced a Spiced Pumpkin Soup, poured theatrically into a huge bowl by your server and topped with a tasty, sweet nougatine confection.
So what are this new chef’s origins?
A graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, the 33-year-old Power said that he started out in the field when he was a 15-year-old schoolboy in his native Frederick, Md. He began working in local restaurants, where washing dishes soon led to doing prep work and asking the chef numerous questions about ingredients, preparation, plating and more.
Although his first passion was lacrosse, Power began to develop a serious taste for the kitchen. So with his chef’s encouragement, he applied for and began studying in earnest at the CIA, where he still recalls Chef Courtney Clark’s “intense and intimidating lessons in the fish kitchen.”
After graduation, the new chef, commuting from his hometown about an hour away, began working in restaurants in Washington, D.C. But that murderous commute merely served to fire up his ambitions. Deciding he wanted to learn from the best, he was determined to work alongside Executive Chef-proprietor Georges Perrier in the kitchen of Le Bec-Fin, and soon persuaded the volatile chef to take him on.
It proved to be a good move for both, as Power worked his way up to sous chef in less than three years. He said, “Chef Perrier was an absolutely great mentor. Our great bread, in fact, comes from Chef Perrier’s bakery, and he’s been in to dine at Dettera several times and seems very happy with what we’re doing here.”
Following his stint at Le Bec-Fin, Power worked with Executive Chef Chip Roman at Conshohocken’s highly regarded Blackfish. Over the course of two years as chef de cuisine, he said he learned discipline and how to man a kitchen while maintaining high quality across the board.
He brings his passion to Dettera, where he finds a worthy foil in Jay Stevens, who manages with a style that balances professionalism with warmth.
“I’m very hands-on,” says Stevens. “I like to greet guests and make sure they’re comfortable and happy with their meal choices and wine pairings.”
To that end, Stevens — whose experience began as a chef at Old Original Bookbinder’s, Rock Lobster and the Happy Rooster, with a especially fine experience working alongside esteemed chef Jean-Marie Lacroix — takes pains training his staff to understand and appreciate the finer points of the great wines offered at Dettera’s impressive wine bar.
For our Spiced Pumpkin Soup, for example, Stevens recommended an outstanding Riesling (Urban, 2009) from Mosel, Germany — one of the finest Rieslings I’ve ever tasted; and for our Chocolate Terrine with Cinnamon Anglaise, hazelnut praline and fresh blackberries, he recommended a Portugese port (Cockburns Ruby), whose bright, fresh notes (echoes of strawberry and raspberry) perfectly matched the sweetness of the dessert.
Among the most popular entrées offered at Dettera are Roasted Lancaster Chicken ($24), served with ratatouille in its natural jus, with rutabaga puree and chanterelle mushrooms; Pork Tenderloin Roulade ($25), wrapped with crisp bacon and served au jus with black lentils and mustard greens; Grilled Scottish Salmon ($25), served ver jus with cauliflower “couscous,” golden raisins, pine nuts and sumac; Grilled Pineland Farms New York Strip Steak ($28), served with potato “risotto,” chanterelle mushrooms and spinach in a sauce bordelaise; and the house signature dish, and the chef’s personal favorite — Braised Short Ribs ($27), served with fennel marmalade and roast shallots in a red wine jus.
Dettera, in its effort to please all tastes (it also accommodates dietary needs and preferences), has also added some fine pizzas to the menu, including Merguez Sausage Pizza ($14), topped with roasted sweet onions, bell pepper and goat cheese; Kennett Square Mushroom Pizza ($13), topped with herbed ricotta, roasted mushrooms and red onion; and the ever popular Margherita ($13), topped with fresh buffalo mozzarella, garden basil and heirloom tomatoes.
The changing array of desserts also includes Warm Apple Upside-down Cake served with cinnamon gelato.
Dettera, built with obvious pride by respected commercial contractor and developer Frank Lutter, remains one of the most beautiful restaurants in the region. Boasting rich mahogany floors and red silk chandeliers, umbrella lamps hovering above the two corner tables and the stunning open curved wine bar that serves as the main dining room’s focal point, not to mention the warm and inviting patio with its inviting brick fireplace, Dettera is a destination restaurant that now reaches out to all price points.
Frank Lutter and his lovely wife, Trish, dine frequently at their restaurant and say that they are enjoying its newly refined mission and new staff members, which include Chef de Cuisine Brent Hazelbaker.
Stevens says, “Our guests’ initial feedback has been very positive, which is what’s most important to us.”
Chef Power concurs. “We’re here not for our egos but for the customer.”
Dettera Restaurant & Wine Bar
129 E. Butler Ave.
Ambler, PA 19002