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Twin Bays Café

Restaurant Closed - Becca's opened in this location.
19 South Whitehorse Road
Phoenixville, Pennsylvania
(610) 415-1300
www.artfuldiner.com/beccas.html

The historic 18th century structure that is home to Twin Bays Café has been the site of numerous commercial enterprises over the course of the years. Eventually, in June 2000, Sam and Abbe of Abbe's Flower Garden, with which this appealing eatery now shares space, purchased the building. After extensive renovations, Andy and Marlene Singer opened the Café a scant five months later. The current proprietors, Rob Goss and his wife, Helen Paranzino, took over the reins in July 2004.

The restaurant's interior is a charmingly rustic, quirky affair, boasting four diminutive second floor dining rooms -- the "Green Room," replete with fireplace and wooden mantel; the "Center Room," adorned with a large hand-carved antique mirror; the "Turret Room," which accommodates 26 patrons; and the "Garden Room," home to a magnificent trompe-l'oeil painting of an Elizabethan country garden covering the walls from floor to ceiling -- as well as several tables on the first floor.

Chef Stephen DePaolis's menu is as ambitious as it is eclectic. It is also quite pricey for this neck-of-the-woods, with several daily specials reaching deep into the 30s. Fortunately, the fact that you may tote along a vintage of your own choosing does help to ameliorate the sticker shock.

While there may be some grousing with regard to the heady tariffs, you're not likely to hear any complaints about the quality of the cuisine, which is both lovingly prepared and attractively presented. And the portion sizes are just right: They are neither so prodigious as to necessitate a plethora of doggy bags, nor so skimpy as to raise the ire of those with ravenous appetites.

Among the appetizers, the fresh steamers ($14.99) are a house specialty. Plump littlenecks swim to table in a Vidalia onion, plum tomato, Parmesan broth awash with orzo and slices of onion. This is a fabulous concoction, not at all "funky" like some shellfish splashes, possessing just a hint of pepper, just a touch of cream. And the kitchen wisely supplies extra bread so that patrons may soak up every last drop.

The pepper-encrusted sushi-grade ahi tuna ($11.99) is another highly recommended starter. Luxuriously rare slices are interspersed with segments of cucumber and garnished with a flavorful red onion/mango salsa and zippy wasabi aîoli. Exceptional on all counts.

Salads also make splendid opening moves. When Jersey beefsteaks are in season, thick, meaty slices are crowned with discs of fresh mozzarella, slivers of red onion & roasted red pepper, and consummated with splashes of balsamic reduction and extra virgin olive oil ($8.99). And for those feeling rhapsodically retro, the special iceberg "wedge" ($7.99) is worth considering. There have been numerous versions of this old standard of late, some good, some not so good; but the version encountered here is one of the best representatives of the genre you're likely to come across. The greenery is positively pristine; it is then anointed with an extravagant Maytag bleu cheese dressing -- further enhanced by earthy chunks of bleu cheese -- and finished with morsels of tomato and spiced pecans.

My only hesitation with regard to entrées is that certain items, presented on a hot August night -- pan-seared bison tenderloin with roasted garlic merlot reduction ($36.00) and elk tenderloin with dried fruit cabernet reduction ($36.00), for instance -- seem a bit oxymoronic during the dog days of summer. They would be infinitely better suited to the chill of late autumn or the gelid days of bleak midwinter. Other than this slight misgiving, I am certain that you will find main courses as delectably diverse as appetizers.

The kitchen does an excellent job with seafood. The Cajun sea scallops ($24.99) are beautifully pan seared, offer just the proper hint of spice, and surround an invigorating epicenter of andouille sausage and wild mushroom salsa. The wild Alaskan halibut ($30.00), a daily special, is also of exceptional quality. The pan-seared filet is gently caressed by a golden brown potato crust and topped with a tiara of marinated jumbo lump crabmeat. Sautéed baby greens and red pepper-infused rice provide a most suitable seabed; and a heady tomato-balsamic vinaigrette offers an exciting extra dimension to the halibut's otherwise bland countenance.

Among meatier items, the sesame ginger pork tenderloin ($21.99) is a standout. Pork tends to dry out at the drop of a fork; but the luscious slices proffered here are incredibly moist and tender, their flavor perfectly complemented by a ginger apple chutney and mellifluous sweet potato mousse. Confirmed carnivores might also consider the twin petite filet mignon adorned with a shallot-cabernet reduction ($29.99) or the establishment's unique version of "Surf n' Turf," the filet and crab cake combo ($27.99).

Even the humdrum boneless breast of free-range chicken ($21.99), usually served up as an escape hatch for the pusillanimous of palate, receives an astounding boost from a crisp herb breading and rich Gorgonzola wine sauce. And the chicken itself is everything it should be: plump, moist, and joyously juicy.

Desserts ($6.99; $4.99 at lunch), courtesy of Mr. DePaolis and his second-in-command, Joe Chantry, all made on the premises, should surely be considered the sine qua non of your gastronomic sojourn. The cheesecake is remarkably creamy, encased in a benchmark graham cracker crust, topped with sweet sour cream, and embellished with a luscious raspberry cream sauce; and the Key lime pie ice cream may be the wrong color (green as opposed to pale yellow) but it is sumptuously flavorful, generously apportioned, and simply not to be missed.

But the undeniable star of the sweet endings department is surely the extraordinary chocolate/peanut butter ganache -- a rich, flourless chocolate cake boasting luscious layers of chocolate ganache and crunchy peanut butter. Delightfully decadent... and completely irresistible.

As mentioned at the outset, even though you may tote along a wine of your own choosing -- and a superior vintage is certainly called for -- an evening at Twin Bays Café is not an inexpensive proposition: Count on dropping a C-note plus for two. Given the superior quality of the food and service, however, as well as the historic, comfy environs, this is one dining experience that is, in my opinion, more than worth the price of admission. But if you happen to be dining on a budget, make it a point to stop by for lunch. The tariffs are a relative bargain... and the cuisine just as delicious.

September 2005
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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