Monday, June 25, 2012
An apple for the teacher: Gilmore's of West Chester
It was our first visit to Gilmore's, although it has been on our list of restaurants to try for years. Its reputation for fine dining is only surpassed by its reputation for impossible-to-get reservations. If the second has been holding you back, think again. While reservations are certainly required, even on a June Saturday when many West Chester residents have already migrated to the Jersey shore, they were able to accommodate us with a phone call the week before.
From opening the heavy green door to sipping the last drop of coffee, patrons are treated to an elegant but never stuffy experience. The entryway is lined with art for sale, and the art is complemented by a fresh-flower arrangement on a Victorian hall table. The hostess is immediately attentive, but it is obvious that if you don't have a reservation, you will not get past her into the dining room.
There are ten tables in the main dining area, and another three in the second space. Here, too, the walls are covered in art, selected by Susan Gilmore and offered for sale. The walls are a warm terra cotta with gold stippling, the carpet a burgundy with gold design. The tables are set with white linens, crystal and cobalt glasses, white china, and heavy flatware. We had a table at the front of the house, which allowed us to use the window sill for extra space. The small dimensions made it easy to hear (good for us older folks!), but we wouldn't be able to accommodate all the glassware and our plates if we didn't have our own personal sideboard space.
Our waiter politely suggested that to get the full Gilmore experience, we should sample something from each of three courses, and I'm glad we followed his recommendation. I had the lobster special (tempura battered lobster claw and half tail over four asparagus spears sitting in a shallow pool of lobster gravy), panko-dusted fried goat cheese on diced fresh beets nested on baby arugula, and the hanger steak with their version of potatoes Anna and (again) asparagus, dressed in the silkiest Hollandaise sauce I've ever tasted. Gary had a salad, escargot and edamame with a wedge of puff pastry, and duck. We were pleasantly tempted by the dessert menu, including the apple-ask-work-of-art encased mousse, a perfect selection for retiring teachers.
Since Gilmore's is a BYOB, our friends brought along a bottle of Veuve Cliquot champagne to toast our milestone and a wonderful bordeaux to accompany the meal. Even without knowing what we would order, their wine selections paired perfectly with our choices.
The service was old-world, with courses arriving at a pace that allowed us to share and enjoy each one. Dishes were presented with well-deserved flourish, with two or three waiters delivering them so no one had to wait. Plates were only cleared after all of us had finished eating, unlike some restaurants where dishes are whisked away, sometimes even before the patron finished the last bite. This precise orchestration is imperative when patrons will be arriving for a second seating, but I never felt rushed. My only complaint was the tea service (yeah, I know, you've heard my gripes about tea service in the past). The waiter offered us a very nice selection of teas, and the hot water arrived in beautiful, individual cobalt-blue and white pots, but the water wasn't all that hot, and it was exactly one cup, and despite my friend asking for a second pot of water, it never arrived. On the other hand, my husband raved about the coffee, which was a rich deep roast served appropriately hot.
Clemente's was my father's favorite restaurant in West Chester, and I thought of my dad all through the meal. While Gilmore's has a French accent rather than Italian, Dad would have enjoyed the setting, the food, and the service. If you have a special occasion coming up, I would by all means suggest that you get on the phone (or on Open Table) and make reservations. You will have a memorable meal in a comfortably elegant setting.