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Italian chef-owner Antonio Rondinelli, who learned his craft well while working in San Sebastián, serves-up a traditional array of tapas, from platters of rich jamon Ibérico sliced to order off the bone, to imported Spanish cheeses, stellar octopus, tender garlicky shrimp, and one of the best paellas I’ve eaten in the region, rich with the flavors of house-made chorizo, delicately cooked seafood and tender of chicken on the bone. Since coming to America from Vietnam in 1982, he has worked almost exclusively in Italian kitchens, from Il Gallo Nero to La Veranda and then San Marco, where over 14 years he worked his way up to executive chef.
So when, at age 53, he finally achieved the lifelong dream of opening his own restaurant four years ago, it was no surprise that this charming little self-named BYOB (just down the street from San Marco) was serving some of the Italian classics he’s been refining for decades.
And it’s a dish that has a timeless appeal when homemade — not unlike this unexpected BYOB, which exudes the kind of personal pride and familiar warmth that can make dinner here memorable.
Good Southern food is so hard to find around here that I’ve stopped insisting on strict authenticity.
There are a number of Indian chains vying for the tandoori dollars of the Philly suburbs, and the Saffron group is one that consistently serves a broad menu that hits a nice middle place between authentic Indian flavors and milder American tastes.
At a recent visit to the golden-hued Bala location, we enjoyed the fluffy-centered samosas, comforting yellow dal, tender bone-in tandoori chicken sizzling over onions on a steel platter, and the wafer-like curl of a masala dosa with funky sambar and coconut chutney dips for a convincing South Indian touch.
And to be fair, chef Tim Thomas doesn’t pretend to adhere rigidly to tradition at the pair of Southern Belles he’s opened with partners Jose and Jennifer Vargas.
This buttermilk-fried bird is set over a thick slice of bread smeared with smoked paprika rémoulade and then glazed in the red shine of a chile-Sriracha oil so spicy that one customer needed to take his shirt off.
But it’s my favorite project from him to date, as each of these crusty baguette sandwiches is made warm to order with fresh ingredients that pop: pickled carrots and daikon, plumes of cilantro, creamy liver pâté (a supplemental add-on, but essential), full-flavored proteins, and punny names (Simon Le Bánh garlic chicken; Al Báhndy spicy rib eye).
It is pure coincidence my favorite happens to be the grilled pork meatball hoagie called … (Really) The Ambler branch has the added draw of Korean fried chicken.
And then, of course, there are the pastries, which Le’s family, who warmly run the dining room, will explain harken back to his early days as a pastry chef for Susanna Foo.
The mille-feuille, for example, layers seasonal fruit with rich crème chibouste into flaky layers of house made puff pastry.