Bistro on the Brandywine Review: Eatin’ Good

Bistro on the Brandywine proves that an easy, inexpensive meal can also be delicious

The Parisian bistro is often replicated in America, but rarely do restaurateurs get the point. In France, bistros aren’t for fussbudgets; they don’t require reservations, and regulars can afford to drop in every day. For the French, the bistro fills a basic need for affordable, convenient, casual food. Typically, we in America meet that same need with the likes of Applebee’s and T.G.I. Friday’s. But that doesn’t mean we couldn’t get used to something better.
Dan Butler, chef-owner of Toscana Kitchen + Bar, Deep Blue Bar and Grill, and Brandywine Prime Seafood and Chops, gets the bistro. He created his newest restaurant, Bistro on the Brandywine, to complement — not compete with — his neighboring Brandywine Prime. With check averages topping $60 a person, Brandywine Prime draws diners celebrating anniversaries or holding company dinners. Bistro on the Brandywine, on the other hand, sets diners back only about $20 apiece, encourages them to BYOB (though a wine list is offered), and takes reservations only for parties of six or more.
Three-quarters of the menu is devoted to big, shareable starters that can easily be meals unto themselves. A tempura-battered wedge of brie is the same size you’d serve at a cocktail party, and its buttery, spreadable center and crackly crust are brightened by berries and mint sprigs plucked from chef de cuisine Seth Harvey’s garden. The pissaladière, a pizza that sports the classic combo of onions, anchovies and olives, could use a crisper crust. But at $8.95, it’s hard to complain about this tasty and generously sized pie.
Dishes with a heavy French accent are sure bets. Meltingly tender braised beef short ribs are served with house-made gnocchi crisped in butter. Delicate crepes cradle a filling of ricotta, spinach and caramelized onions. A soup of local button and shiitake mushrooms is enriched with veal stock and a light touch of cream. The rich and fluffy chocolate mousse is made by Brandywine Prime’s skilled pastry chef.
Patterned hatbox lights and gauzy window treatments cast the meal in a soft focus. The place is so effortlessly pretty and comfortable that even the less successful dishes seem pleasant enough. Only the denim-clad adolescent waiters, who may ask hopefully if you heard the specials as they were unspooled for a neighboring table, undermine the elegant vibe.
But refinement is hardly the point. Accessibility and value rule at Bistro on the Brandywine. And for harried families and empty nesters with no time to cook, the eatery brings an affordable alternative to the familiar rotation of pizza, burgers, and car-side to go. Butler’s riff on the French bistro translates well to Chadds Ford.