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Firecreek Restaurant and Bar
20 East Lancaster Avenue
Downingtown, Pennsylvania
(610) 269-6000


Perched on the banks of the Brandywine River in a beautifully restored paper mill, Firecreek manages to preserve the building's structural integrity -- an impressive array of steel and stone -- while infusing it with exciting modern touches. The décor is dynamic yet demure, impressive in scope yet still managing to maintain an inviting degree of warmth. There is also a bustling open kitchen and ample space for al fresco dining in warmer weather.

But there is infinitely more to this restaurant than meets the eye. Gastronomically as well as visually, it offers something for everyone. Like its elder sibling, 333 Belrose in Radnor, which was previously reviewed, Firecreek majors in American fare with a decidedly southwestern flair. And the food is very good, indeed.

Your first port of call, however, will undoubtedly be the attractive bar, the perfect spot for a preprandial libation. My advice... be sure to try one of the establishment's exceptional "elemental" martinis. "Air," for example, combines Hypnotic liquor, Three Olives Orange Vodka, and pineapple juice ($8.00);"Wind" blends Grey Goose Pear Vodka and pear-infused syrup ($10.00); and "Ice" companions Three Olives Citrus Vodka, limoncello, and lemonade in a fascinating frozen delight ($8.00). Well, you get the idea.

Firecreek also offers a first-rate wine list, with the 2007 Carneros Creek "Reserve" Pinot Noir ($45.00) and Mt. Eden "Wolff Vineyards" Chardonnay ($44.00) particularly recommendable. By the glass, try Washington State's Pacific Rim Riesling ($8.00) or Hayman & Hill's "Reserve" Cabernet Sauvignon ($10.00).

But getting back to the cuisine... As noted above, when it comes to the restaurant's culinary offerings, there is something for everyone. Confirmed carnivores and members of the meat n' potatoes club can feast on filet mignon with sauce béarnaise ($32.00), New York strip steak with cabernet demi glace ($34.00), Angus Delmonico ($32.00), grilled steak frites ($21.00), and 18-ounce rosemary-garlic prime rib of beef ($34.00) -- all right on the money.

Conversely, those more adventurous of palate may contemplate a number of well-prepared seafood items. The salmon, for example, is dusted with red chilies, kissed by poblano cream, set on a seabed of spicy black beans, and crowned with a tiara of pico de gallo ($24.00). There's just enough heat to tantalize the palate, and just enough cream to keep the spices from running amuck. A perfectly integrated presentation.

The swordfish is blackened -- just enough -- and arrives at table on a sumptuous pillow of smashed yams surrounded by a ribbon of smooth-as-silk black bean purée ($26.00). Another winner. I also like the grilled jumbo shrimp accompanied by lemon-herb orzo and roasted tomato ($26.00). The crustaceans are pristinely crunchy and at the peak of good health, though marred by a touch too much salt.

In the starter department, I'd recommend the white ale steamed mussels garnished with fresh orange and fennel ($9.00), the crispy calamari with cilantro-lime aioli ($9.00), or the arugula salad adorned with goat cheese, red beets, and delicately assertive black peppercorn-raspberry vinaigrette ($8.00).  And, when it is available as a special, the retro iceberg"wedge" replete with all the usual suspects -- diced tomatoes, red onion, crumbled bacon, and a fabulous blue cheese dressing ($11.00) -- is definitely not to be missed... ditto the zesty, seasonally-driven gazpacho ($7.00).

Given the quality of the food, I don't consider Firecreek's menu to be horrendously expensive by any means. But if you want to go a bit easier on the pocketbook, or are just in the mood for a more casual meal, you can't go wrong choosing an item from "...Between the Buns." The Carolina pulled pork sandwich with house-made barbecue sauce and coleslaw ($15.00) is absolutely benchmark; and the cheeseburger is spruced up with Havarti & caramelized onions ($12.00). There is also a salmon burger ($14.00) and grilled chicken breast dressed in applewood smoked bacon, avocado, jack cheese, and Dijonaise ($12.00).

And since you're saving a buck or two, you might want to add on a side ($5.00). The creamed spinach is just creamy enough, the garlic-parsley fries are positively addictive, and the lumpy buttermilk mashed potatoes conjure up a host of childhood taste memories.

Desserts are simple but seductive. Go for either the homemade cookie ice cream sliders or the comforting and comfortable apple cider donut bread pudding with cinnamon anglaise.

Whether dressing up or dressing down -- for whatever occasion -- Firecreek Restaurant and Bar should be right at the top of your dining agenda.

The Artful Diner
August 2009

The Artful Diner Diner is an independent, freelance food writer. His latest review can be seen on his weblog at http://www.artfuldinerblog.com/. An archive of past reviews for nj.com as well as reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this Web site at http://www.artfuldiner.com/reviews .

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