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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.

August 27, 2009   Comments

Maia Market and Restaurant in Villanova

Yay – Excellent food, superb bottled beer selection, and friendly servers and staff.

Meh – Layout, at least at dinner, is somewhat confusing, ‘market’ area needs more variety of items.  Some food items are priced appropriately, while others court the realm of ‘ridiculous Main Line markup’.

Summary - Definitely recommended for the food and beer, although it would be wise to keep an eye on the prices, as the bill tends to go high quickly if you aren’t careful.


We recently had an opportunity to stop by the Maia Market and Restaurant in Villanova for dinner.  Having previously experienced the talents of chefs Terence Feury (Striped Bass in Philadelphia) and his brother Patrick (Nectar in Berwyn), we were looking forward to seeing what the two would do together on this Main Line collaboration.

Maia occupies two floors, with the first floor dedicated to a grab-and-go gourmet market and bar area and the second floor reserved for tablecloth-and-good silverware fine dining.

When we first walked in, the sense of the space was overwhelming.  We were greeted by the hostess and told her that it was our first time visiting, and we wanted to walk around and check the place out.  We wandered through the first floor, stopping to check out the coffee and pastry bar, and slipped through the bar area to the ‘market’ portion of the restaurant.

The Maia Market consists of display cases containing a number of varieties of charcuterie, pates, and cheeses.  You can see the potential there, but it needs a bit more diversity before it can reach the status of ‘market’.

The overall feel of the market area of Maia evokes a showroom type of atmosphere, with a handful of the very finest ingredients, displayed in quiet reverence behind glass, with a Maia employee behind the counter who is very eager to speak about the goods in the finest detail.  Three loaves of bread, baked on-site, displayed on a shelf, are dusted with flour to exhibit a monogrammed ‘M’.  I can see how one could call this a ‘market’, but it’s a market dedicated to Main Line folks who don’t cook.  Ever.  The kind who spend $50K outfitting a kitchen with the best of everything, but who will never turn a single burner on.

When I think of an upscale market, I tend to think about DiBruno Brothers House of Cheese, or Tallulah’s Table out in Kennett Square.  I like diversity.  I like variety.  I want to be able to pick from dozens of cheeses and other specialty items.  Granted, Maia has a worthy selection of pates (most impressively, a truffle and sweetbread one) and a moderate selection of meats, but as far as cheese goes, they’ve got a cheddar, something from the gruyere category, and a couple of bleu varieties.  Again, it’s a food market for people who don’t cook.  It’s all top quality, but it’s just not that many items.

If there is one shining superiority about Maia Market, though, it is the selection of bottled beers in the cold case.  It is stunningly vast, consisting of local selections such as Victory, somewhat local breweries like Ommegang out of New York, and extending to wonderful imports from around the globe.

Time to talk about the restaurant portion of Maia.  After looking at the menus for upstairs and downstairs, we decided to grab something to eat from the first floor and just sit at a table to enjoy our dinner.  We stood at the spot under the sign that said ‘Order Here’ and watched as servers and other employees rushed past us in all directions.  After a few moments, we thought that we were doing something wrong (ASKING FR FUD – UR DOING IT WRONG) and stopped one of the employees to ask if someone could take our order.  He looked at us in a puzzled sort of manner, and then spoke to someone else, and then said that someone from behind the counter would take care of us.  We waited a bit more without much success before I resorted to going up to the nice girl at the hostess station.

As it turns out, we were doing it wrong.  The ‘Order Here’ sign, and the menu posted next to it, was only for lunch.  If we wanted to eat dinner, we’d have to be seated with menus.  Some of the lunch menu items, such as the burger, are unavailable for dinner.  Others, like the hot pastrami, are available, but at a higher price.  Food-wise, my only complaint about Maia Restaurant is that while most of the dishes are priced appropriately, like $8 for the pate starter and $19 for the steak frites entree, other dishes seem far overpriced for what they are, Main Line notwithstanding.  The pastrami sandwich, officially labeled the ‘House Smoked Snake River Farms Kobe Beef Hot Pastrami Sandwich’, is $14.  A neighboring table ordered it, and I snuck a peek – it looked like a decent hot pastrami, but even with Kobe beef, asking $14 for it is kind of a stretch, especially for an item that doesn’t necessarily reflect an outstanding level of artistic skill on the part of the kitchen.  And I speak from the point of view of someone who’s smoked a lot of barbecue.

We ordered the Maia House Country Pate as a starter, and the Choucroute and Roasted Hangar Steak Frites as entrees.  Enough of my bitching about the confusing layout and inventory of the market -  the food in the restaurant, from our experience, absolutely shines.

The Country Pate ($8) was a nice thick slice of pate served with a frisee salad and mustard.  It tasted as a good pate should, very rich with a good mix of flavors that paired very well with the sharp tang of the mustard.  And, as could be expected, all of this paired nicely with a glass of Ommegang Hennepin.

My Choucroute ($15), consisting of knockwurst, bratwurst, and frankfurter, was not at all what I expected, but in a good way.  Instead of a large platter of sausages, I was presented with a smaller plate, with a small crock of wursts nestled in what I would describe as the very best sauerkraut I have ever tasted.  Next to the crock was a smaller container of whole grain mustard, and next to that were a few poppy seed rolls, split.  I believe the intent was to eat the wursts hot dog style on the rolls, but I went the route of slathering mustard on each bite of wurst and kraut, using the rolls as a palate cleanser.

My wife’s Steak Frites ($19) was a perfect example of what steak frites should be.  The steak was presented, sliced and fanned, with a dash of butter and fries.  Steak frites should not be the most tender thing you’ve eaten – it should have a little bit of chew to it and a lot of flavor, and this describes what we had exactly.

Our server was good, and seemed to enjoy his work, which makes all of the difference between great service and acceptable service.  Plates were cleared promptly, glasses were refilled without asking, and an offer for a second plate of bread was gladly accepted after we had finished the first.  Overall, each of the employees that we met were really good at making eye contact, and seemed content in their tasks.  Good training makes a big difference.

We decided against seeing the dessert menu, because I wanted to grab coffee and croissants from the pastry area.  Unfortunately, when we got there, the pastry selection was a little lacking, and there were no croissants to be found.  We ended up not getting anything else, and instead stopped at Rita’s for custard on the way home.

We picked up a menu for the upstairs dining room, and from what I can see, it looks like the Feury brothers are taking all of their experience with seafood and going all out, which should translate to off-the-charts awesome.  Of the ten entrees on offer that evening, only two weren’t seafood.  The prices are in-line with upscale Main Line dining, and it definitely looks like something that would be on our radar in the future.

June 18, 2008   Comments