From Haddonfield to Gilmore’s in West Chester

This was our first trip to Peter Gilmore’s iconic French-American restaurant in West Chester, PA.  If we were a bit trepidatious about the Gilmore/LeBec-Fin connection and the “stuffiness” factor, our concerns were dispelled by our decidedly upbeat greeter, who I now believe may have been Peter Gilmores’s wife Susan.  This personal touch was reinforced both by his wait staff and by Peter himself who emerged near the end of the first seating to greet his guests and engage in a bit of small talk with us.

My first impression was of a very intimate, romantic restaurant located in an 18th century town house on charming … and surprisingly hip … Gay Street.  While Vetri’s, which is located in the first incarnation of LeBec-Fin on Walnut Street, is often described as the most romantic restaurant in the area, I think Gilmore’s out romances it.  Another impression, reinforced by the many left arm bumps I received all evening, was how small the dining room is.  The room’s waiters, who numbered five including the water/bread person, spent the entire evening squeezing by each other and trying to avoid my arm. For the most part, they were successful.  I would probably have ignored their presence if they hadn’t been so solicitous … make that overly solicitous … constantly asking how we enjoyed the soup, the appetizer, the entree, and the dessert.  I generally appreciate the attention of the staff but find it bothersome when I have to interrupt a conversation with a fellow diner to answer the wait staff’s questions. (And, to our waiter, Frank, lose the ma-DAAM … it sounds tooo affected). The room’s small size, despite carpeting and heavy window draping, contributed to a noise level  that was loud and somewhat annoying.

Now for the food.  First the bread.  My friend Frank and I believe the quality of the bread presages the quality of the meal.  Fortunately, Gilmore’s passed … maybe not as well as Blackbird (see below), but it passed.  We had already reviewed the menu online and found all the items available that evening, supplemented by a broiled lobster entree ($35) and risotto garnished with $3700-per-pound white truffles recently imported from Italy ($35).  We passed on both, although adjacent diners received their truffle orders with great gratings flourish. For appetizers, the four of us chose Crispy Calamari Tempura ($12),  Lobster Bisque flavored with Scotch ($15), Salad Compose  with four fried oysters ($13), and Asian-style Crab and Lobster Dumplings ($14).  Judy really enjoyed the fried oysters, and we split the dumplings among the four of us … each had a different impression of the ravioli-like appetizer.  I found them a little bitter, but Pat thought the lemon flavor gave them an appealing bite.  Judy liked them, Frank thought they were okay. Frank enjoyed his calamari, which had an appealing chili-lime aioli sauce, though I found them a bit too salty for my taste.

For entrees Judy went for the Poulet Wellington ($25), and chicken wrapped in puff pastry complemented with mushroom duxelle in an appealing wine sauce. It was more than Judy could eat in one sitting, so it became dinner for her mother Sunday night. Pat and I went fish; she the Crispy Thai Tilapia ($28), and I the Panko Crusted Butter Fish ($28). Pat yummed her way through the Tilapia, and my butter fish was delicate, moist, and flavorful.  But the real topper was the dessert we all shared, a Coconut Cream Torte with caramelized bananas ($8).  It was extraordinarily delicious, with each element standing on its own, including a chocolate amaretto-like cookie base that provided a nice finishing touch.  The coffee was not Starbucks strong but mildly satisfying.  And the bill for four?  $193.98, without tip.  All-in-all, and excellent dining experience, well worth the trip from Haddonfield to West Chester.  Gilmore’s is a BYOB located at 133 East Gay Street in West Chester, 610-431-2800.  Parking free on weekend at nearby municipal garage.  (10/20/07)

Postscript:  a few days after dining at Gilmore’s, Frank, who made the reservation, received an e-mail thanking him and his guests for choosing Gilmores’s and welcoming his comments and suggestions.  As you might suspect, I forwarded my review to Peter Gilmore.  I will keep you posted on his reaction, but the care and interest shown to his customers through his post-dinner conversations and use of e- mail bodes well for continuing the high level of food preparation and service that is Gilmore’s hallmark (10/23/07).