By Len Lear
For 21st Century Media
When you think of the term “Main Line,” you think of someone like Katherine Hepburn, a Bryn Mawr graduate who actually portrayed a Main Line maven in “The Philadelphia Story” — the quintessence of elegance, sophistication, lack of pretension and so much money that there is no need to show it off.
This is the very definition of Paramour, which opened in the fall of 2011 in the iconic Wayne Hotel, 139 E. Lancaster Ave. in Wayne, after a multi-million dollar, two-year renovation of the former Taquet restaurant. The Wayne Hotel, which opened in 1906, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Local entrepreneur Stephen W. Bajus purchased the property over 25 years ago, but one would hardly recognize the rather formal, white-tablecloth Taquet from its progeny (Paramour) with its open kitchen, chef’s counter, glassed-in wine display, polished granite bar tops, etc.
Paramour’s executive chef Drew Stark, a native of Springfield, Delaware County, previously worked at the Merion and Aronimink Golf Clubs as well as Jake’s in Manayunk and haute cuisine restaurants in Boston and New York.
One could easily rhapsodize about the exquisite bistro bar, easily the most eye-OK on the Main Line, or the highest wraparound booths I have ever seen outside of the Palace of Versailles or the breezy outdoor veranda or the urbane, cosmopolitan lobby-lounge area or the celestial cuisine from executive chef Drew Stark. He is a classy native of Springfield, Delaware County, who previously burnished his credentials at the Merion and Aronimink Golf Clubs as well as Jake’s in Manayunk, the fabulous Asana in Boston and Michelin-starred Oceana in New York. Even the name Paramour is sexy with overtones of seduction.
“My friends were into cars growing up,” said Stark, 32, during a recent interview, “but when I was 12, I watched Emeril Lagasse on TV, and I was hooked, so I went to culinary school (Johnson and Wales). Fortunately, I have a very understanding girlfriend who knows all about the long hours (in the restaurant business). In fact, we met at Jake’s. And her parents have a small (10-acre) vineyard in Oregon, so she also has always been involved with food.”
Several dishes we tasted during two dinner visits were positively ambrosial. A flatbread of gruyere cheese, bacon and caramelized onion ($16) was hauntingly good, a harmonic balance of acid and fat content. A delicate, glistening trio of tartars — salmon, tuna and scallop, an aesthetically presented, colorful bouquet — ($17) was a high-polish distillation of the chef’s technique. A pan-seared organic salmon entree ($29) was an elegant presentation that left quality ingredients to the solitude of a skillfully crafted gooseberry sauce, cosseted by braised leeks and chestnut spätzle (traditional German egg noodles). There is a vast selection of wines and craft beers.
Pastry chef Amelia Dietrich, who was a contestant on the Food Network dessert competition TV series, “Sweet Genius,” turns out confections with a taste of magic like the double chocolate brownie with mint chocolate chip ice cream and chantilly cream. The prices are also impressive — appetizers from $9 to $21 , entrees from $26 to $41 and desserts from $10 to $12, for example — but this is the kind of place you will tell your friends about.
There is also a five-course tasting menu for $60, or with wine pairings, $90. Less pricey alternatives are available at Happy Hour (they call it “Liquid Therapy” on Sunday through Friday, 5 to 7 p.m.) with significant reductions in food and wine; and “Simply Sunday” — a three-course dinner on Sunday evenings for $39 with selected bottles of wine for half-price.
Another good deal is the monthly wine tastings, conducted by certified sommelier Steven Gullo, who is also a classically trained chef. He takes all the stuffiness out of wine snobbery during his one-hour tastings, which combine several wines with the appropriate bites for $30. The upcoming tastings will be Greek wines on May 8, Argentine wines on June 12, summer wines on July 17, East Coast wines on August 14 and “Wine vs. Beer” on September 25.
The staff at Paramour — servers, runners, greeters, etc. — are obviously well trained. Their ubiquitous smiles are warm and welcoming. Some of the credit for this training, which can make the difference between a good meal and a memorable experience, has to go to general manager Joseph Amrani, a native of France whom we recognized from his previous management posts at Le Bec Fin, Le Mas Perrier in Wayne, Brasserie Perrier and California Cafe in King of Prussia. Our server, Mehdi, a native of Morocco, was relentlessly charming and knowledgeable.
Paramour serves lunch Monday through Friday, brunch Saturday and Sunday and dinner seven nights a week. You may want to leave a little extra time before a reservation because even though there is a huge parking lot behind the hotel, it may be very difficult to find an open space.
For more information, call 610-977-0600 or visit www.paramourwayne.com