TICKET TO DINING: Gemelli — a new destination on Main
Published: Wednesday, September 21, 2011
By Frank D. Quattrone
From cozy tables along the big open first-floor windows and from the cool second story lounge, you can watch the brown eddies of the Schuylkill floating by in the near distance across Main Street. Then there’s the endless parade of human and vehicular traffic — from sleek, black-clad bicyclists with helmets aimed forward, to young couples happily locking hands; from families wheeling toddlers holding dripping ice cream cones, to slouching hipsters pretending to ignore the scene.
It’s a great setting to watch the world drift by. But people don’t come to Gemelli on Main for the view. They come to sample Chef Proprietor Clark Gilbert’s ambitious Mediterranean fare. Similar to Gemelli, his former restaurant in Narberth, whose accent was on the Italian, the accent at Gemelli on Main tilts more toward the French. And those who love the fresh, earthy foods of Provençal will be doubly delighted.
Among the Provençal delights on the menu are the appetizers Rabbit Rilette ($12), served with world-beating Puy lentils, currants and a red onion marmalade; Calamari Salad ($13), filled with roasted pepper, potato, haricots verts and Niçoise olives; the playful Vitello Tonnato ($15), a duo of Tuna Tartare and Crispy Veal Sweetbreads served with a tonnato sauce (made from tuna, anchovies, mayo, capers, lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil); Beef Tartare ($16), served with shaved Parmesan, curried pistachio and a cockle vinaigrette; and the occasionally offered Foie Gras Soup.
A popular recurring menu item during the summer has been Peach & Goat Cheese Bruschetta served with honey-glazed shallots, candied pecans and a fresh arugula salad, finished with a port wine reduction.
Italian touches on the menu range from appetizers like Arancini ($12), a Sicilian dish of fried risotto balls and gorgonzola in a tonnato sauce, to entrées such as Gemelli (which means “twins” in Italian), a Lamb Bolognese dish made with chick peas and Cerignola olives (for $24), Ravioli ($27) with crab and artichoke in spinach brown butter; the recurring special Lobster & Shrimp Canneloni served with braised pork belly and finished with fava beans and wild mushrooms.
Chef Gilbert, whose impressive resume includes productive stints at Wayne’s Restaurant Taquet, the Four Seasons, The Saloon, Le Jonquil, Tony Clark’s Square Bar, La Terrasse, Mio Pomodoro, Avalon (in West Chester) and, of course, his own Gemelli, is clearly passionate about Mediterranean cuisine and trusts that the discerning diners of Manayunk and environs will enjoy trying some of his more creative dishes, such as Chilled Pea Soup ($9) with peeky-toe crab salad, Fettuccine ($19) with shiitake mushrooms, roasted corn and asparagus; Sea Scallops ($29) served with a salt cod risotto and zucchini in a roasted chicken jus; Barramundi ($28) served with Serrano-wrapped squid, piperade (a Basque dish prepared with onion, green peppers and tomato and flavored with red Espelette pepper) and chorizo; and the bacon-like Pork Cheeks ($27) served with Parmesan polenta and mixed vegetables.
The desserts, all made in house, include Coconut Risotto, Zeppoli (Italian donuts), Flourless Chocolate Torte topped with fresh berry and mint compote and Orange-scented Rustic Italian Risotto Cheese Cake served with an orange vanilla reduction and orange fennel compote.
The chef said, “I wanted to be sure that exceptional value would also be the key to my menu.” As the entrées top out at $30 (for Veal Tenderloin), that certainly seems to be the case.
General Manager/Beverage Manager David Howard, who has opened eight restaurants since Parq in 2008, is on the same page with Chef Gilbert when it comes to value.
“It’s important to give guests great variety, as well as varietals,” he said. “Clark and I always look for quality wines at reasonable prices that pair well with our menu items. We allow our guests to try various wines until they find the one they want.
“Our wine list currently tops out at $100 a bottle, but we’ll soon introduce a few higher-priced wines for anyone who so desires them. And our wines by the glass are well-known types and keep bringing people back for our happy hour, which happens daily here between 5 and 7 p.m.”
During Happy Hour, guests can sample several of Gemelli’s specialty cocktails for $5, as well as French wines, and receive a dollar discount off all craft beers.
Among those contemporary cocktails are the vodka-based Basil Pear Capiroska ($10), Honeysuckle ($10), rum infused pineapple with a hint of honey and Bourbon (infused) Peach Cooler ($10) laced with ginger beer.
The popular second floor bar, with its polished granite counter, offers guests a real conversation piece — a two-way mirror box hiding a big-screen TV. Amid the banquettes and comfortable tables are captivating mirrors fashioned from salvaged hammered tin-ceiling tiles and, on the stairwell between the two floors overlooking the open kitchen, a striking bas-relief called “Gemelli.”
Inspired by a photo of an ancient Roman bas-relief very much like it and commissioned specifically for this restaurant, “Gemelli” is the image of a pair of twins — and we learn from the chef that he’s named the restaurant after his own 13-year-old twins, Riley and Dylan.
Downstairs, the open kitchen vies with the open window in the battle for the eyes. Some curtains are on the way to soften the austerity of the distressed plaster walls, but it’s clear that at Gemelli on Main, the attention is focused squarely on the plate and on the palate.
Chef Gilbert said that he chose this site on Main Street because his previous restaurant had grown too small, because he wanted a liquor license and because, unlike most of the major restaurants of Manayunk, there is parking (at Lock Street Parking) directly across the street.
Judging from the lively conversation among the guests during a stormy midweek outing, Gemelli on Main, open since June 25, seems destined to become the next great destination in dining-rich Manayunk.
Gemelli on Main
4161 Main St.
Manayunk, PA 19127
Sunday & Monday, 5 – 9 p.m.;
Tuesday – Thursday, 5 – 10 p.m;
Friday & Saturday, 5 – 11 p.m.
Happy Hour: 5 – 7 p.m. daily.
(can be booked online).
Visa, Mastercard, AMEX.
Available for private parties.
Entrées: $19 – $30.