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Aneu Bistro & Wine Bar
575 Lancaster Avenue
Berwyn, Pennsylvania
(610) 251-96000
www.aneubistro.com

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away… perhaps some of us can still recall… In 1972, in the United States, the name Esso was largely replaced with the designation Exxon. And Mad, that always amusing, often hilarious satirical magazine, noted with suitable acerbic aplomb (and, at the time, not without considerable political overtones): “We’ve changed our name… but it’s still the same old gas.”

That phrase most assuredly came to mind after several visits to Aneu Bistro & Wine Bar in Berwyn. The restaurant was originally an eponymous establishment, Meridith’s American Bistro, named for owner Meridith McLoughlin. Recently, however, after extensive interior renovations, the installation of an attractive cream & ivory marble-topped bar, and a completely revamped menu, the former Meridith’s emerged as Aneu, which, roughly translated from the Greek, means “without.”

Despite these cosmetic changes, however, some of the problems that plagued the old Meridith’s (as noted in a number of online reviews) have apparently remained to haunt Aneu. Not that there’s anything terrible going on here – the food, though something of a mixed bag, seems to have great promise – it’s just that I always come away with the feeling that, no matter how favorable the circumstances, the restaurant doesn’t quite have its act together…

Let’s take the service, for instance… At times it seems like organized chaos… The restaurant supposedly begins dinner service at 5:00 p.m., but the hostess doesn’t come be-bopping in until 6:00 p.m.; and, by that time, things could already be getting a bit hairy. In between answering the phone and seating patrons, she spends a considerable amount of her time busing tables. Before the hostess arrives on the scene, the bartender does the triple duty of answering the phone, seating guests, and, yes, actually tending bar.

But even after Ms. Hostess puts in an appearance, Mr. Bartender still doesn’t have an easy time of it. Not only is he serving patrons at the bar; he’s also turning out wines, cocktails, etc., for guests in the dining room. Additionally, since some guests prefer to dine at the bar, Mr. Bartender must also take their orders and shuttle off to the kitchen to retrieve them. Oh… and in his spare moments, I’ve also observed him busing tables as well.

And on more than one occasion, it appeared that a single waitress bore responsibility for the entire dining room, aided and abetted only by two food runners and the aforementioned busing hostess and bartender… One cannot quite shake the feeling that if management would just invest in a few more warm bodies, things would be so much easier for all concerned – including the customers.

But on to the food… As noted above, it is something of a “mixed bag,” which is more the result of O-missions rather than CO-mmissions. Consider the roast chicken potpie as Exhibit A. The tiara of puff pastry was marvelously flaky; the carrots, English peas, pearl onions, and potatoes were all done to a turn; and the béchamel sauce was a study in hedonistic ethereality. A benchmark effort – except for one small detail: There was no chicken! Not a bite… drop… fragment… scrap… tidbit… shred… nibble. Nothing… Zero… Zip… Zilch… Nada. And the same misfortune befell another gentleman within earshot as well (and who knows how many others). To the restaurant’s credit, however, the potpie was promptly removed from our check.

Then there’s the case of the roasted beet salad… Arugula, thinly sliced quarters of red & golden beets, candied almonds, and smatterings of creamy goat cheese; and the promise that all constituents would be tossed with an exceptional culinary catalyst: roasted shallot vinaigrette. It sounded wonderful… If only one of the kitchen’s loyal myrmidons had remembered to add the vinaigrette.

Executive chef Joseph Malandrucco and sous chef Owen McCaffrey certainly have enough experience under their belts to avert such absurd faux pas. And yet… something always seems to go awry. Like my filet mignon, for instance... Ordered medium, it arrived at table bleeding on the server’s socks.

Accidents do happen. And consistency, to paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson, may very well be the hobgoblin of little minds; but, in the restaurant business – if you wish to stay in business – it is absolutely essential.

And the inconsistencies encountered at Aneu are particularly maddening, as this kitchen is obviously quite capable of turning out first-rate cuisine. The aforementioned underdone filet, for instance, was set on a pillow of perfectly seasoned wilted spinach and companioned by an addictive blue cheese potato purée and extraordinarily sumptuous demi-glace; that chicken potpie, as noted above, had everything going for it… if only; and a pasta presentation of plump succulent mussels & linguine embellished with chorizo sausage, spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, and light truffle cream sauce was absolutely superb. (Unfortunately, it is no longer on the menu.)

Among the appetizer possibilities, the ginger shrimp tempura was nothing short of spectacular. The tempura batter was light, golden, and crispy; the crustaceans properly crunchy and at the peak of good health; and the chili dipping sauce demonstrated just the proper interplay of sweetness and heat. Other winners in the starter department include the truffle fries with Parmesan and parsley, zucchini fries with buttermilk ranch and red pepper aïoli, and mussels swimming in white wine with chorizo sausage.

Desserts seem afflicted with the same culinary schizophrenia as their forebears… The warm apple tart with caramel sauce, cinnamon whipped cream, and vanilla ice cream was scrumptiously addictive. The vanilla bean cheesecake, on the other hand, was still suffering from a prolonged exile in the nether regions of the fridge; it needed at least an hour of warming before being fit for human consumption.

Despite a number of shortcomings, it is difficult not to like Aneu Bistro & Wine Bar. The ambiance is warm, as is the welcome; the wine list is exceedingly interesting, including some very nice selections by the glass; and, if you choose wisely, the cuisine can be quite rewarding.

Hopefully, by the time you decide to pay a call, some of the issues mentioned in this review will have been resolved.

February 2011
The Artful Diner

The Artful Diner is an independent, freelance food writer.  His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.

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