WEST CHESTER, Penn. – Rarely is the offshoot of a restaurant as good as the original, but Simon Pearce is just that kind rare.
If you’re familiar with Simon Pearce in Quechee, Vermont, you’re going to get downright giddy about the outpost in the Brandywine Valley. If you don’t yet know about Simon Pearce, you’re not going to want to remain uninitiated much longer.
Simon Pearce—named for artisan/glassblower/entrepreneur Simon Pearce—is a most wonderfully weird combination: a glassblowing factory, a retail shop and a fine dining restaurant.
If you think watching people blow glass sounds boring, that’s because you haven’t witnessed glassblowing at Simon Pearce. Less art, even, than performance art, glass blowing, in the century-old tradition as practiced at Simon Pearce, is mesmerizing. The artisans trained in this fine art create each piece by hand—and mouth—in a 2,400-degree furnace. They blow air down the pipe into the glass and then twist the molten glass, like taffy, into exquisite objects d’art, like wine goblets, vases and bowls.
Simon Pearce is an Irishman who emigrated to the United States and opened his first glassblowing studio in Vermont in 1981. The operation grew as his reputation expanded. Soon, he employed dozens of glassblowers, opened a retail shop and, eventually, a restaurant to showcase his work.
And, as in Vermont, the West Chester, Pennsylvania Simon Pearce is housed in an old mill on a river. Lunch is an ideal time to a view of the Brandywine River. The lunch menu steers clear of the predictable. Highlights include grilled lake trout served with fennel vinaigrette, an organic chicken salad with roasted peppers on ciabbata and a corn polenta with broccoli gratin.
At dinner, although you’ll lose the view because of the darkness, what you you’ll gain in the play of light on the signature glassware used throughout the restaurant for exquisite wine glasses, servers, pitchers, and decanters, which sparkle in the candlelight.
The lofty modern dining room doesn’t cross the line into austere, despite the high ceiling, use of light woods and wall of windows. Instead, it almost feels like a grand great room in a friend’s converted barn, a friend with excellent taste, that is.
The food is every bit as excellent as the glassware. The menu changes regularly and features lots of locally sourced food.
On a recent visit, regional bounty was showcased throughout the menu. The Kennett Square roasted mushroom soup featured mushrooms grown in the region, which is known as the mushroom capital of the world. There’s also an excellent cheese plate that features locally made artisanal cheese, like the tangy goat cheese from nearby Amazing Acres Farm.
A European waitress, herself a foodie with great appreciation for the menu, steered our table to the best of the menu.
I ordered the pumpkin risotto with apples, which was creamy— not a bit gloopy — and tasted like the very essence of fall.
The striped bass served with ham hock and tomato jam was prepared with restraint so that the full flavor of the very fresh fish came out and wasn’t overwhelmed by the smokiness of the sauce.
For dessert, we deferred to the recommendation of the waitress, who steered us toward the apple cider fritters, which were serious fun, and served with addictive cream cheese ice cream. Irresistible was the pumpkin pot de crème and spiked with cherry-cranberry sauce, which was punchy and refreshing.
Linger a while after dinner. Live glassblowing runs until 7 p.m. and the retail store –almost a glass museum— stays open until 9 p.m. seven days a weeks.
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