A La Maison Review: The Francophile

Bistro mania comes to Ardmore

The idea of a bistro is seductive for a chef, particularly for Darlene Boline Moseng, owner of A La Maison in Ardmore, who has vacationed in France 10 times. In describing the inspiration for her new BYOB, she recounts authentic old restaurants where Europeans feast on French comfort food. Think steaming crocks of onion soup, silken pâtés, and winey braises filled with meat tender enough for toothless grandmères.
The archetype is alluring. But it takes more than a room full of French trinkets and a well-stamped passport to bring that ideal to life for diners. Parc, for example, manages to tempt otherwise reasonable people into faking French accents because the baguettes are just as French as the banquettes, and a service misstep rarely intrudes on the collective reverie. At A La Maison, the antique mirrors suggest France, but the inconsistent cooking and sophomoric waitstaff are constant reminders that you aren’t anywhere near Paris.
Escargots bathed in white wine and butter lacked the usual garlicky punch. Another bistro requirement, steak frites, paired a buttery strip steak with limp, undercooked fries. A striped bass special (which had bits of attached butcher’s twine that dangled in the pureed potatoes) was overcooked and splashed with a bland sauce. When I asked about the inspiration for the dish, Moseng said, “Oh, I don’t know. My sous-chef created it.” A trustworthy sous-chef is valuable, but to bring any restaurant vision to life, a chef-owner must master the details, approving not just the recipes but every finished dish that leaves the kitchen. The service was similarly uninformed; waiters didn’t know the details of certain menu items (and didn’t check and report back) and vanished for long periods of time.
Moseng is a graduate of the Restaurant School of Philadelphia and a veteran caterer. Her talent surfaces in fits and starts across the menu. The moules frites, an oversize appetizer, has heady whiffs of shallots, bacon and the sea, and the chicken liver pâté is velvet on the tongue. Another supersized starter, duck confit salad, balances rich duck with lacy frisée kissed with the tart tang of vinaigrette. If this level of execution were consistent, A La Maison might be the bistro of Moseng’s imagination. But basic cooking chops and a crush on France don’t add up to a great restaurant.  

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  • Charles

    I would barley give this place a C. It may work out,but the night we went they oversold the place so much they could only offer us seats in the bar and we had reservations made 2 weeks before. Entree's were very disappointing. Apps were ok, and dessert you're better off going to Baskin Robbins. Too many good places on MainLine to bother with this one.

  • dave

    when u spend millions of dollars and you have Steven Star's great name excellence is expected, when u take a chance in Ardmore to bring something special to a great neighborhood what I found was more than I expected. We luved the food and we really enjoyed the atmosphere and to compare a talented newcomer in her first few months of operation, with a industry giant is an honor and yet a shame. Hopefully your readers will see thru what I perceived as a critic not liking a conversation and enjoy what the true purpose of a small french bistro can bring outside downtown philly. This was our 4th visit and we found the owners charming and attentive. Thanks for another great evening!!! see u soon!

  • Tim

    Last Saturday I went to A La Maison for a second time. The first time I dined there was in February and the experience was average. On Saturday, the food was excellent. The risotto was delicate, flavorful, and perfectly cooked. The shortrib was rich and comforting. In the future I'll probably skip dessert. The service is a little slow, but attentive. I think the slow service authenticates the French experience. A La Maison is not trying to deliver haute cuisine, but what it does deliever is pretty authentic country French. All things considered, I had a very good meal and will go back soon.