Where We’re Eating November 2006

With neighbors like Jones and Morimoto, one would think one-word-named Aqua is for trendsetting Saturday nights. But this new Malaysian/Thai hybrid is a perfect BYOB weeknight dinner option, with quick service and unfussy presentations of fresh Southeast Asian food. The toothsome pad Thai, coconut-infused shrimp fried rice and sweet BBQ squid Thai mango salad aren’t as intensely flavored as some versions, but are satisfying, leaving diners full and happy. Desserts and Thai iced coffee are decent, but the unbelievably low tab is even better; dinner for two was $26. 705 Chestnut Street; 215-928-2838.

This young market and café resembles its parents: hip home store Open House and Mexi-cool BYOB Lolita, both owned by Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran. Grocery’s market is a mini Williams-Sonoma, complete with unnecessary but interesting kitchen gadgets, gourmet vinegars and oils, and the best from local food stars. (Don’t miss Lolita’s well-loved salsa and margarita mixes.) The café, next door, borrows from this bounty in a served-all-day menu of $7 salads and sandwiches. 101-105 South 13th Street; 215-922-5252.

Museum Restaurant
Look who we found in the kitchens at the Museum Restaurant: Javier Cuesta, formerly of La Encina, back from Spain in time for the Museum’s Latin American art exhibition. These lively Latin colors inform Cuesta’s daily lunch menu (dinner is served Fridays only), but don’t expect a full complement of the chef’s authentic Andalusian style. The popular Maryland crabcake is unalterable in this stuck-in-time dining room. Look for flashes of Cuesta’s artistry in dark mole-spiced chicken tamale and a trio of cold soups: orangey Spanish gazpacho, vibrant green avocado-­cucumber-mint, and almost-white almond-garlic with a brilliant vinegar edge. Philadelphia Museum of Art, 26th Street and the Ben Franklin Parkway; 215-684-7990.

Ha Long Bay
Route 30 food-lovers let out a cheer when casual BYOB Ha Long Bay opened in September, making it the first Vietnamese restaurant on the Main Line. In general, the offerings could use some oomph; the kitchen caters to the more cautious among suburban diners. We missed the tabletop condiments (Sriracha, hoisin, etc.) that we’re used to elsewhere. The pho doesn’t compare to the Washington Avenue standbys, but the fried spring rolls, hot pots and charbroiled meat entrées are quite good. If you have to get your banh mi on after a tiring day at Suburban Square, this should do the trick. 816 West Lancaster Avenue, Bryn Mawr; 610-525-8881.