REVIEW WRITTEN BY LEN LEAR
For Digital First Media
I have just read dozens of customer reviews on a few websites of Nectar, the Asian fusion restaurant at 1091 Lancaster Ave. in Berwyn, operated with python intensity since it opened 12 years ago and now firmly woven into the tapestry of the Main Line, and certain memes are repeated again and again. They are: spectacular ambience, amazing food, very pricey but worth it, extremely loud din and tables so close together you can hear other conversations, including the selfish cellphoners. (There is a welcome notice on the menu that diners should “refrain from using cellphones while in the dining room,” but it is apparently impossible to enforce.) If the noise doesn’t make you bristle like a toothbrush, you can have a great experience.
Nectar is a mega-successful collaboration (we were there recently on a weeknight, and it looked like a Saturday night) of partners Michael Wei, owner of three other Asian restaurants in the area; Scott Morrison, former owner of Tango in Bryn Mawr who died in February of this year at age 54; and executive chef Patrick Feury, who previously cheffed at haute cuisine restaurants in New York, Paris and Atlantic City. (The narcotic of success has never seduced Feury, whose ebullience energizes the dining room when he comes out to schmooze with customers.)
The multi-million dollar, jaw-dropping setting of Nectar, which took three years to create, has definitely produced a resplendent ambience with a New York or even Las Vegas vibe; there is clearly nothing else like it on the Main Line. There is the ultra-high ceiling, an 18-foot silk-screen likeness of the Buddha (who probably did not eat many multi-course meals himself), lacquered tables, yellow and brown banquettes, two floors of seating and a gorgeous bar, all of which can probably accommodate about 200 diners.
Chef Feury, who was named the area’s top “Chef with Staying Power” in Main Line Today’s July “Best of Main Line” issue, and his team are able to plumb sublime flavors from seemingly simple combinations with firecracker finesse. To get into first gear, I would strongly suggest the seafood bento for two, a pristine, indulgent combination of divine lobster dumplings, tuna tartare, lobster slider and toothsome shrimp spring roll ($28).
Some dishes that have been magnets for praise are the edamame dumplings with chanterelle mushrooms, asparagus and herb sauce ($9.50); crispy baby octopus, with density and flavor to spare ($13); a vegetable spring roll with judiciously portioned mango sauce and avocado green tomato sauce ($9); and tuna tartare with a whisper of spice in the wasabi aioli with every component (baby greens, avocado, soy glaze) counting ($13).
Also reverential is the grilled tea smoked salmon, an architectural revelation with a mound of salmon atop the wedded bliss of crispy potato, leeks and Brussels sprouts glistening with the smoky shimmer of an ambrosial curry sauce. The flavors flow together into the taste equivalent of a Beethoven piano concerto ($28).
Pastry chef Julie Waters, who studied in Germany and France as well as at Johnson & Wales, one of the top culinary schools in the U.S., is producing pitch-perfect confections, made with confidence as obvious as the quality of the ingredients. Two ethereal desserts are the white chocolate Macadamia nut ice cream sandwich ($9) and the deconstructed s’mores — chocolate peanut butter brulee with graham cracker cake, marshmallow, banana ice cream and chocolate sauce ($9). There is a level of alchemy and sorcery here that Harry Potter would be proud of.
There is also a wide variety of specials that change weekly, sushi and sashimi options, cheese plates, soups and noodle dishes like the ever-popular shrimp pad Thai ($19). There is no shortage of notable shrimp pad Thai dishes in the region, but this one ranks in the top tier. And portion sizes are healthy, although, unlike in some restaurants these days, they are not the size of a hubcap on a bus.
Two white wines, Jones Viognier and Nantz Chardonnay, were a bit austere, not particularly fruit-forward and overpriced at $14 and $17, respectively. An after dinner port, Taylor Fladgate, however, was luscious and reasonably priced at $8.
Our server, Bruce, who has been at Nectar since it opened, provided soigne service, very knowledgeably and with a pleasant personality.
Nectar offers complimentary valet parking. For more information or reservations, call (610) 725-9000 or visit www.tastenectar.com