REVIEW WRITTEN BY LEN LEAR
For Digital First Media
Walter Pater, a brilliant analyst of the arts in Victorian England, wrote that the soul of an artist should “burn with a hard gem-like flame.” Pater might just as well have been writing about Ralph Fernandez, the current executive chef and co-owner at the opulent 160-seat Autograph Brasserie in Wayne’s Spread Eagle Village. It opened in mid-2016 in the building that previously housed George’s and before that Le Mas Perrier, Samuel’s and Helen Sigel Wilson’s “L’Auberge.”
Fernandez, who previously ran the kitchens at several very upscale restaurants such as the Pierre in Manhattan, the Four Seasons in Houston and the Moshulu, a historic ship on the Delaware River in downtown Philadelphia, is as reliable as a rooster at sunrise. He and his staff have obviously gone full throttle incorporating into his menu elements of “American” cuisines, France, Spain and Italy. His breads alone are wonderful. (I think he will give out his bread recipes on a knead-to-know basis.)
If fine dining is as much theater as it is memorable food served in splendid surroundings, then Autograph is the Forrest Theater, or even the Academy of Music.
Obviously, millions have been spent on the renovation. On the first floor is lots of semi-private, romantic booths, the Club Room with a fireplace, wood paneling, huge chairs and service bar, and the Sycamore Room with lots of natural light and a giant tree in the middle. And everywhere you look there are large autographed albums and photos from celebrities like Grace Kelly, Lauren Bacall, Sophia Loren, Arnold Schwarzenegger, etc. Upstairs there are two rooms that can accommodate up to 60 people.
The dishes we ate unfailingly showed the high quality of the ingredients, which does not wax and wane like a radio signal in stormy weather, and the impeccable preparation. The flavors are as delicately balanced as the wings of a hummingbird. For example, the truffle wild mushrooms ($13), served with whipped fresh ricotta cheese and roasted garlic, were as soft as down feathers, a mingling of flavors that sing in the mouth.
From the raw bar, an appetizer of yellowfin tuna crudo (think Italian sushi) had just the right acidity to balance the earthy chorizo and the saffron potato crema ($16). Crudo means “raw” in Italian, but after five minutes of curing, the acid in the lemon juice chemically “cooks” the tuna.
An appetizer of charred Spanish octopus ($16) was served with smoked pimentón (paprika) aioli and crispy potatoes. Octopus is a rather fickle meat, and there is always a danger of the meat not coming out tender enough. There are several ways to mitigate this, and I’m not sure which was used here, but it definitely was not too chewy and had a pleasant flavor with some chili oil.
An entree of steak frites ($29), considered by many to be the national dish of Belgium and France, was char-grilled filet mignon slices (usually a cheaper cut of meat is used) served on a wood plank, complemented by farm-fresh baby arugula and garlic parsley fries, the flavors resonating with the clarity of an Amadeus flute. A side dish of mac and cheese ($8) was blended with smoked Gouda and flakes of crunchy brioche with the precision of a thread slipping through the eye of a needle.
Desserts — an old-fashioned sundae with dulce de leche, chocolate and blondie brownie, a peanut butter cookie, Chantilly cream, etc. ($12), and hazelnut budino (Italian for custard or pudding) with sea salt caramel, bananas and caramelized cinnamon brioche ($10) — were obscenely rich and a challenge to finish even a portion of each.
Cocktails we tried, Granny Wallbanger ($11) and Pass the Buck ($12), were just so-so. There is an extensive variety of wines, mostly American, by the glass, and you can even try out complimentary samples before making your selection. Our server, Ryan Marie, was thoroughly delightful and well informed. The noise in the room was quite reasonable, and there is lots of parking within yards of the restaurant.
For more information, call 610-964-2588 or visit www.autographbrasserie.com