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101 Bridge
Restaurant Closed
Phoenixville, Pennsylvania
(484) 927-4481

I was skeptical... I admit it. I mean, the leap from casual pub grub to upscale, gentrified gastronomic fare can be a perilous one, indeed... as a host of disillusioned and bankrupt restaurateurs lying at the bottom of the culinary abyss will clearly attest. Despite the somewhat daunting odds, however, the folks who also bring you Baxter's in Malvern, West Chester, and Paoli have made the tricky transition with a definitive sense of style. Their newest venture is, in my opinion, an unqualified success.

Ensconced in the tastefully restored Phoenix Steel Company, 101 Bridge represents an ideal union between understated casually traditional surroundings and stylishly sophisticated new American cuisine. And, thus far, it appears to be a marriage made in culinary heaven.

The eye-catching shrimp starter is something of a must. Properly crunchy and at the peak of good health, the crustaceans are presented in a mini iron skillet on a pillow of creamy polenta sauce and crowned with Old Bay-seasoned stewed tomatoes and basil pesto ($12.00). A marvelous combo of colors, tastes, and textures. And, for a variation on the theme, be sure to try the entrée version ($23.00). In this case, the crustaceans are set on a square of goat cheese-scallion polenta and embellished with an oven-roasted tomato and consummating lemon-basil butter.

Another sure winner in the appetizer department is the wild mushroom cannelloni ($9.00). Assorted sautéed mushrooms are encased in a crisp wonton wrapper, cut on the bias, and then plated vertically, with herbed ricotta cheese and roasted tomato sauce adding significantly to the drama. And speaking of drama, the ratatouille Napoleon ($8.00) is as delicious as it is picturesque... ditto the grilled prosciutto-wrapped asparagus, sporting a soft egg tiara and zesty caper mustard sauce ($9.00).

The thing that sets these starters apart is not only that they are feasts for the eye... they are also incomparable treats for the palate. The combo of ingredients is just right, with each playing its proper role in the gastronomic gestalt. Even the Italian salad ($6.00) -- arugula, roasted red peppers, mozzarella, and crown of prosciutto -- a throwaway in lesser establishments, is here imbued with a decidedly artistic touch and invigorated with a superlative tomato-pesto vinaigrette.

Entrées are as eminently enticing as their predecessors... and treasures of the sea hold a prominent place. The tuna ($26.00), for example, is presented sesame-encrusted & medium rare and swims to table in a provocative tomato-ginger-lobster broth, its appetizing segments surrounding an island of Asian vegetable lo-mein.

The swordfish ($25.00) is beautifully grilled and set atop a saffron rice cake, crowned with sautéed trumpet mushrooms, and finished with a green sweet pea sauce. The only quibbles here are that the rice cake is overly dense and rather dry, and the trumpet mushrooms a bit on the tough side. The fish itself, however, is just the proper consistency, cooked through but still remarkably moist.

Confirmed carnivores, however, are certainly not shortchanged. The New York strip steak ($30.00) is a benchmark effort. The meat, tender and marvelously flavorful, is plated in thick, luscious slices and companioned by first-rate malt vinegar steak fries and red onion confit. The complementary consummatory touch is an excellent bleu cheese béarnaise presented in an eggshell.

Desserts carry on with style: The cheesecake embellished with blueberry purée and fresh blueberries is rich & creamy of countenance ($8.00); the mixed berry tart boasts an extraordinarily addictive crust ($8.00); and the chocolate mousse Napoleon is a study in divine decadence ($8.00).

The restaurant also boasts an interesting bar menu that includes such down-home offerings as pulled pork ($9.50), meatloaf Reuben ($9.50), and wild mushroom mac & cheese ($10.00), as well as a compact wine list. House wines by the glass go for $6.00 a pop and don't set off any bells or whistles. Bottle prices range between $32.00 and $46.00 and, in a number of cases, seem significantly overpriced. But there is one big plus... all bottled vintages are also available by the glass.

The bottom line: Go and enjoy! 101 Bridge is a most welcome addition to the burgeoning Phoenixville dining scene.

The Artful Diner
August 2008

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