REVIEW WRITTEN BY LEN LEAR
For 21st Century Media
Azie on Main at 789 E. Lancaster Ave. in Villanova, which is not visible from Lancaster Avenue, was opened in July of 2009 by Win and Sutida Somboonsong, natives of Thailand who own and operate several other restaurants (Win Signature Restaurants) in or near the Main Line. The modernistic white tablecloth, polished wood restaurant replaced Maia, the short-lived complex from restaurateur Michael Wei (Yangming, Nectar, Cin Cin and Mandarin Garden) that had included an upscale restaurant, a casual restaurant, a breakfast-style cafe and a gourmet grocery.
Azie’s chef, Ricardo Franco, brings a lot to the party. Franco is a native of Brazil with a cornucopia of culinary influences. After coming to the U.S., he eventually became the chef/owner of Atrio in Stockton, N.J., from 1996 to 2006. Then he ran Alexander’s in Abington for five years before relocating to Azie on Main in 2012. His center of culinary gravity is contemporary Asian cuisines, with influences ranging from France to Italy, et al, and he continues to expand the breadth of Azie’s menu with a series of special wine dinners pressed into the corners of the night.
During a recent dinner at Azie on Main, several dishes absolutely blew us away such as the rock shrimp starter, a bouquet of rock shrimp kissed with tempura batter and ringed with aioli (garlic and olive oil base), a tour de force of culinary impulses so addictive that I attacked them as if they had misbehaved ($13).
We then pirouetted to the toothsome Azie fried rice with onions, garlic and egg that resonated with richness and flavor ($8), the delicate steamed pork dumplings ($9) and a gossamer-light sea bass entree, alabaster-smooth, which was swimming in my eyes with a subtle miso marinade, mashed potato and grilled asparagus ($30).
A tuna tartar appetizer with Gochujang sauce (hot pepper paste) was described as “spicy” on the menu, but it was rather tame, possibly because of the reluctance to challenge the middle-of-the-road, relatively bland American palate ($14). But the earnestness of the chef is palpable, and his flavors are as genuine and inviting as the sophisticated ambience and friendly staff.
Azie’s menu is complemented with extensive sushi rolls, sushi and sashimi platters, soups, salads, sizzling hot plates and desserts such as an 11-layer carrot cake ($9) and flourless chocolate cake with vanilla bourbon ice cream ($11). There is outdoor dining on a beautiful patio, weather permitting, many sake selections, specialty cocktails and wine and beer from around the world. We thoroughly enjoyed a fruity red Sangria ($9) but thought a glass of just OK Wonderwall Chardonnay was way overpriced at $15.
Our server, Danielle, could not have been more pleasant, and manager Anne Toti-Steptoe is another major asset. Since many contemporary restaurants are so noisy, we definitely appreciated that despite the fact that Azie on Main can seat more than 200 diners, the spacing between tables is ample, and the glass partitions between booths definitely contribute to a quiet dining experience.
Owners Win and Sutida Somboonsong opened their first property, Thai Pepper, in Ardmore in 1992. Four more restaurants followed suit with the opening of Mikado in Ardmore in 1998, Teikoku in Newtown Square in 2003, Azie in Media in 2007 and Azie on Main in 2009.
A few years ago they also opened Azie Southeast in the Edgmont Square Shopping Center in Newtown Square. It seemed to be an ideal location because it was just a couple hundred yards from a Regal movie multiplex. And many of their ingredients could not possibly have been fresher since they were obtained from Mill Hollow Farm, which was right around the corner from the restaurant. We ate there at least three times after leaving the movie theater and absolutely loved the food, the décor and the reasonable prices. It is still inexplicable to us, but the restaurant closed its doors after only about six months.
Azie On Main’s Happy Hour is offered Monday through Friday from 5 to 7 p.m.
Some Happy Hour selections are hummus with nan ($5), Thai mussels ($6) and Kobe beef sliders ($5) as well as a selection of specialty sushi rolls ranging from $3 to $8. Dinner is served seven days a week, lunch Monday through Friday and brunch on Sunday.
Call (610) 527-5700 or visit www.azieonmain.com for more information.