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Nectar
1091 Lancaster Avenue
Berwyn, Pennsylvania
(610) 725-9000
www.tastenectar.com

Nectar is the successful collaboration of proprietor Scott Morrison - also owner of Tango in Bryn Mawr - and partners Yangming owner Michael Wei, chef Patrick Feury, wok chef Kenny Huang, and manager Henry Chu.

And the setting - all $5 million of it - is magnificent. The interior embellishes David Rockwell's towering 19-food ceilings and glass-enclosed balcony with burgundy velvet curtains, red silk lamps, and the beneficent, beguiling presence of a $250,000 silk-screen Buddha. The ambiance is infinitely more Manhattan than Main Line.

When I first reviewed this restaurant - over five years ago now - there were a number of issues that raised their ugly heads. Given the high ceilings, large dining areas (accommodating 180 plus), and plethoric variety of hard surfaces (lacquered tables and stone), the noise level could be formidable.

And that had as much to do with the clientele as it did with the state of the acoustics. This was a restless, jostling, loquacious Main Line mob. And, even though the menu specifically instructed patrons to take it outside should they decide to exercise their wireless rights, many still jabbered away on their cell phones like drunken magpies. For them, the scene was infinitely more about human flora and fauna than it was about food. See and being seen was the name of the game, and there was plenty of both going on.

Well... the bad news. While Nectar isn't quite as au courant as it was five years ago, very little has changed in the way of noise abatement. My advice is to come early in evening (and early in the week), beg, plead, cajole the powers-that-be for a (comparatively) quiet table... and hope that your evening will not include a reenactment of the feeding of the five thousand. Even then, you may be forced to grin and bear it. (On our most recent visit, my wife and I were thrilled to secure a cozy corner nook in a sparsely populated dining room... only to be unpleasantly surprised by party of 10 seated right next to us a few moments later.)

The good news, however, is that the service, which originally left something to be desired - including hosts that were rather brusque and perfunctorily professional, a superciliously sullen bartender completely lacking in people skills, and a lunchtime server who could euphemistically only be characterized as surly - has now smoothed out all the wrinkles and seems to be operating at top efficiency.

On the other hand, the food - superlative Asian fusion fare - is (and has been from the outset) as awe-inspiring as the ambiance... as several recent visits only reconfirmed the kitchen's culinary prowess. And the gastronomic intimations of the Dalai Lama, lovingly inscribed at the top of the bill of fare, set just the proper transcendental tone: "Approach love and cooking with reckless abandon."

To start things off, you can't go wrong with the dim sum bento for two ($18.00), diminutive compartments containing a vegetable spring roll, mushroom dumplings, chicken curry dumplings, and pork pot sticker dumplings. But even better in my opinion is the seafood bento for two ($26.00), a delicious combo of lobster dumplings, an extraordinary tuna tartare, lobster sliders, and a crisp shrimp spring roll.

Equally worthy of consideration is the sushi or sashimi appetizer ($17.00) comprised of tuna, salmon, bass, scallop, shrimp, and eel. Indeed, if you're a sushi fan, this is certainly the place to indulge, as all the treasures of the sea are pristinely fresh and beautifully presented.

I would also highly recommend the grilled calamari salad ($11.50), incomparably tender morsels of squid teamed up with crumbled chorizo sausage, frisée, arugula, shavings of Parmesan, and an evocatively light lemon vinaigrette.

Entrées present a wide range of possibilities. Among the piscatorial pleasures, the grilled wild king salmon ($26.00) is a winner in every respect. The filet is perfectly cooked and set on a pillow of asparagus, corn, and English peas. But the pièce de résistance is an ethereal pool of sweet corn emulsion. Equally up to the mark, the pan-seared wild striped bass ($27.00) is set on a seabed of oyster and shiitake mushrooms and consummated with an utterly addictive black truffle sauce.

For confirmed carnivores, though, the grilled filet mignon ($29.00) is simply not to be missed. "Melt-in-your-mouth" may be one of those culinary catch-phrases that is both overused and abused - but, in this particular case, it most assuredly rings true... as I came face to face with the most incredibly tender portion of red meat it has ever been my pleasure to ingest. Add diminutive blue cheese-potato croquettes & spinach-blue cheese dumplings, and you have a gastronomic marriage made in heaven.

On the other hand, should you like it on the spicy side, numerous opportunities abound. There's always the fiery red curry chicken teamed with fried chow mein noodles and asparagus ($16.00), the moo shu duck replete with pancakes, cucumber salad, and zippy serrano chilies ($20.00), and the wok tenderloin of beef spruced up with Thai basil, scallions, and blast of chili peppers ($25.00).

Side dishes, all of which are suitable for sharing, are also noteworthy. The vegetable fried rice crowned with a tiara of ginger egg ($9.50) is sublime in its simplicity; the tender bok choy tips find perfect traveling companions in oyster & shiitake mushrooms and fresh water chestnuts ($11.50); and the pad Thai dishes - chicken ($13.00) and vegetarian-wild mushroom ($16.00), respectively - are benchmark representatives of this classic genre.

If you still have room, desserts ($9.00) are worth both the added expense and the extra calories. In my opinion, Nectar's signature denouement is the luscious presentation of fresh hot mini donuts. These cinnamon sugar-coated nuggets are served up with an irresistible triptych of sauces: spiced chocolate, raspberry vanilla, and coffee caramel. On the other hand, if you're something of a peanut butter-chocolate freak - as I am - be sure to try the incomparable peanut butter semifreddo. It is built on a brownie crust and accompanied by milk chocolate malted ice cream in a crunchy peanut tuile cup. A feast for both the eye and the palate.

The restaurant boasts a first-rate - albeit somewhat pricey - prospectus of wines by the bottle and the glass. You will also discover an excellent variety of pre & postprandial libations and saké selections.

Nectar is a restaurant infinitely better suited to a casual gathering of friends rather than an intimate tête à tête. And, no matter how you slice and dice the numbers, a sojourn here is not an inexpensive proposition. However, despite the strain on your pocketbook, the excessive noise level, and the, at time, clamorous clientele, the quality of the cuisine more than compensates for any faux pas that are likely to be encountered.

July 2010
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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