From the Ashes of Maia, Azie on Main Rises

At the time that I posted my review of Maia, in June of 2008, the sprawling addition to Villanova’s dining scene was on the upswing.  While I had some issues with the confusing layout of the takeout space on the first floor, the food was well-prepared, the bar and cold case had an admirable selection of craft beer, and I was looking forward to experiencing the upstairs dining room, where the considerable talents of the Feury brothers yielded, as early reviews recounted, some pretty incredible seafood dishes.

Alas, a second dinner for us at Maia was not to be.  By April of this year, two weeks shy of its first anniversary, Maia closed its doors.  There were certainly some telling signals along the way to the restaurant’s demise – a month earlier, Maia had closed its upstairs dining room and shortened its operating hours for dinner to only three nights a week.  Patrick Feury left to work full time at Nectar.  Terence Feury defected to Fork, in Old City, taking eight cooks with him.  Management declared that they were “reconceptualizing” the upstairs dining room and would reopen in the summer with a new chef and menu, which never happened.  A renovation budget of $8 million dollars, it seems, could not guarantee Maia’s success in this economy.

Maia’s loss, though, turned out to be Azie’s gain.  In July, Win Signature Restaurants, which oversees an empire of Asian restaurants throughout the area, including Teikoku and Azie in Media, unveiled its second Azie location, Azie on Main, where Maia once held court, taking advantage of the former tenant’s improvements to the space.  We had the opportunity to sample the menu prior to Azie’s opening during one of its Friends and Family events.

With the first floor space presently unused, getting into Azie involves parking in the lot at the back of the building and entering the space through an entrance that leads directly to the upstairs dining room.  The layout of the restaurant remains largely unchanged from when it housed Maia, even down to the long table that dominates the center of the room, paralleling the bar.  What Azie has done, though, is implemented its own stylish Asian design aesthetic throughout the space – subtle, yet quietly impressive.

We started with one hot appetizer, the Sauteed Foie Gras with Fuji Apple Confit and Honey Balsamic, and one cold selection, the Sushi and Sashimi Sampler.

There is something about the decadence of foie gras that is unmatched, and Azie does well by pairing the richness of this main component with the apple confit, which held a sweetness that countered the fattiness of the foie gras, and the occasional crunch of fruit that contrasted nicely with its velvety texture.  The balsamic contributed a welcome note of sweet and sour.

The sushi and sashimi sampler was a collection of tuna, salmon, and whitefish sashimi, accompanied by toro, yellowtail, and eel nigirizushi.  Each piece was some of the purest, freshest seafood that I’ve ever had, and it definitely made me want to book a reservation to come back and sit at the sushi bar, just to watch the sushi chefs work their magic.

We also decided to sample one of the signature sushi creations, the Azie Roll.  This was a concoction of spicy tuna, scallion, and avocado, topped with eel sauce, which was then topped off with some crunchy fried tempura flakes.  The flavor combination was incredible, with the spicy notes of the layer of tuna offset by the cool creaminess of the avocado and the crunch of the tempura.

For our entrees, we chose the 14oz New York Strip Steak, along with the Pan Roasted Halibut accompanied by the Lobster and Cheese Risotto, and Miso Beurre Blanc.

The steak arrived crusted with a nice char, perfectly cooked to order.  We had requested the House Steak Sauce, and while we’re normally not impressed with steak sauces, Azie has managed to create a sauce that complements the beef while representing the restaurant beautifully.  A combination of teriyaki sauce, soy, garlic, and mirin, the sauce lent just the right amount of Asian flavor without sacrificing the dish’s ability to showcase the quality of the meat.

Don’t let your eyes fool you.  Those are not fries on top of the halibut, they’re tempura-fried enoki mushrooms, and they were light and crisp.  I find it hard to ever write about a great piece of fish, because when done right, the quality of the seafood shines best when it is prepared with respect and not subject to overly fussy techniques and preparations.  The brick of perfectly prepared halibut was perched on a thick bed of risotto, with the flavor of the fish accented by a light beurre blanc with hits of earthy miso throughout.  Between the steak or the halibut, I envision myself returning to try each of the seafood selections, just to see what other wonders await me.

I have high hopes for Azie’s continued success.  Unlike Maia, which started out of the gate under pressure of an multimillion dollar investment, Azie enters the game with far fewer burdens, and with the benefit of inheriting all of the improvements that Maia instituted.  Plus, Win Signature Restaurants has already proven its ability to maintain five other restaurant properties – with the addition of Azie on Main, Win Somboonsong may very well be the Stephen Starr of the Main Line.