Taste: Reviews: At the Plate

Can Plate’s second location, in a gated community in Wyncote, attract outsiders?

Driving into the gated community called Trilogy, I’m struck by how much the compound reminds me of a self-contained resort hotel. Built in the 1960s, and recently refreshed by a multimillion-dollar makeover, the former Cedarbrook Hill in Wyncote now has a New Age-y name, a new spa, and a new restaurant, Plate at Trilogy, cloned from Ardmore’s popular, populist Plate. Straddling city and suburbs, but an oasis unto itself, this imposing 1,100-unit apartment complex is an offbeat location for Plate owner David Mantelmacher and executive chef Tom Harkins, who have previously set up shop in high-traffic retail environments. They expect to build a customer base of resident regulars, but long-term success is likely to hinge on whether non-residents will bite. The Cedarbrook/Trilogy site is already a footnote in local hospitality history: This is where a young Neil Stein opened his first dining establishment, Mimi Says, four decades ago.

Pulling up to the gate and guard station, we announce our destination and are waved through. We park and enter one of the three high-rise buildings — the restaurant uses no exterior door — passing by a receptionist and another uniformed guard. It feels vaguely like going through airport security, except that at Trilogy, the staff is friendly, and we don’t have to give up our shoes.

The restaurant beyond the checkpoints is a nearly identical twin of its Suburban Square sibling. Behold the same sleek bar with a pair of TVs, the same upholstery on the banquettes, the same menu, and even some familiar faces among the staff. But the Trilogy space is handsomer, graced by a stone patio with a splashing waterfall, and two semi-private dining nooks framed by beaded metal curtains that sway like a flapper’s dress when someone brushes by. Other elements that made the flagship Plate a hit are repeated as well: a cocktail-driven bar, mainstream fare in generous portions, and a dining room that makes an extra effort to accommodate children. Wee gourmets weary of chicken fingers and fries can order a petite filet mignon with mashed potatoes.

The Trilogy location, under the direction of restaurant chef Stuart Pellegrino (an alum of Pigalle, Rouge, Opus 251 and Susanna Foo), executes its menu more adroitly than Plate at Suburban Square, which I revisited for this review. Crunchy Asian slaw laced with lively chili vinaigrette tops tender fried calamari; the Caesar salad wears a well-balanced dressing, house-made croutons, and a crisp parmesan tuile. Salmon roasted on a cedar plank, served with sautéed snap peas and fat potato wedges, is a straightforward pleasure. The exceptional 10-ounce Angus beef burger owes its juiciness to a dollop of butter slipped into the center before cooking. Peppery arugula leaves and slightly salty ricotta add interest to penne pasta with a sturdy eggplant and tomato sauce. The friskiest flavors in the house are on the grilled Caribbean-spiced skirt steak, dry-rubbed with allspice, sugar and chili powder, crowned with a tangle of crisp onions as wild as a Rasta man’s dreads, though I could have done without the slimy spinach over which it’s served. I like the cracker-thin flatbread pizza at Trilogy better than the thicker, chewier Main Line version.

Some dishes are surprisingly stylish. An appetizer quartet of pancetta-wrapped shrimp rests on a creamy-centered refried risotto cake, surrounded by stripes of saffron aioli. Roasted rainbow trout fillets are rolled up and cut to mimic sushi, with a smidgen of crabmeat in the center and a strip of prosciutto in place of nori. The sauce accompaniment appears to be soy, but it’s actually brown butter tweaked with balsamic vinegar.

Improvements could be made to the unpleasantly thick roasted plum tomato soup, which had the consistency of marinara sauce, and the wide-bodied, pan-seared crabcake, remarkable only for its size. And I’ve had better coffee from a machine at the office.

Servers and bus staff don’t work completely in synch. Water and iced-tea glasses sit empty; plates and cutlery aren’t always replaced. Design-conscious but impractical rimless plates, which I see in too many restaurants, were an annoyance at every meal, causing knives and forks to slip repeatedly into sauces.

Portion sizes at both Plate locations are dauntingly large, which makes it hard to face dessert. Miniature ice-cream cones, presented on a clear tray shaped like a painter’s palette and easy to divvy up, were more compelling as a visual — only two of the five ice creams had distinctive flavors, and the sticky caramel cones made me fear for my fillings. But pastry chef Angela Tustin strikes just the right note with her mint chocolate chip ice-cream sandwich, which channels the nostalgic flavor of Thin Mints.

plate at trilogy
8460 Limekiln Pike, Wyncote,
215-885-3636; platerestaurant.com
Food : B 
Service : B-
Atmosphere : B
AVERAGE COST OF DINNER PER PERSON (with tax and tip, without alcohol) : $41
FOOD : Globally influenced American.
WINE LIST : Twenty bottles, all under $30. The Trimbach pinot blanc will suit nearly everything on the menu. Cocktails are better than wines by the glass.
GET : Fried calamari, pancetta-wrapped shrimp, Angus burger, Caribbean-spiced skirt steak, mint chocolate chip ice-cream sandwich.
DON’T GET : The crabcake.

E-mail: mgallagher@phillymag.com.