Bianca serves American cuisine with a French flare

Andrew Whalen

This Parents’ Weekend, many students will be forced to entertain family and friends. Just when you thought you were out, they keep pulling you back in. This, however, is not necessarily a bad thing, especially when you are treated to a quality meal outside the confines of a Villanova cafeteria. The absence of Coke products alone is enough to pull your hair out. And with so many destination restaurants in Philadelphia, many families struggling for last minute reservations might not realize there is a gem in Villanova’s backyard.

Bianca, located in Bryn Mawr, serves contemporary American cuisine with a French accent. Bianca is only a year old but has already established itself as a fine restaurant with a growing fan base. Head chef Joseph Michael Fiorello, better known as Mike, uses the freshest ingredients to provide patrons with delicious dishes based on seasonal offerings. His goal is to provide a comfortable dining experience without the pretentiousness that sometimes leaves a bad taste in your mouth following an elegant meal at an upscale joint.

The location itself has been a restaurant in one form or another for over thirty years. There is ample parking both in the lot and across the street. Bianca is warm and inviting, with deep red walls, subtle lighting and mahogany overtones.

The downstairs dining room is intimate and has around twenty tables, all upholstered with plush ostrich skin seats. The stemware and silverware are streamlined, and several plates had a cool metallic sheen. Rich brocade curtains form a barrier between the tranquility of the dining room and the hustle and bustle of the sleek kitchen. Kitchen and wait staff maintain constant communication to ensure that the evening runs smoothly.

The menu boasts such delicacies as raw tuna, foie gras and exotic mushrooms, but even the timid can find something pleasing to the palate.

To start, we ordered an assortment of warm and cold appetizers. Our selections included the jumbo lump crab salad, as well as the vine ripened tomato and mozzarella tower. And for those diners not afraid to try a forced fed duck liver, foie gras is a decadent possibility. We were very happy with the crispy pan seared exterior, velvety soft center and sweet sherry sauce. The foie gras presentation changes nightly, as it is an opportunity for Chef Mike to showcase his creative flare.

As the evening progressed, we were continually impressed by the consistent quality of the food and service. For entrees, we selected the linguine with shellfish in clam broth, as well as the grilled market fresh fish, which this evening happened to be grouper. Other main course options included grilled filet mignon, roasted chicken and braised short ribs. Salmon, tuna and red snapper rounded out the fish selections.

The combination of grouper and tomato compote provided the perfect segue to the vegetable tian. In this case, a tian is a grouping of provincial vegetables, such as zucchini and caramelized onions. The tian is topped with broiled grated cheese. The flavor is reminiscent of french onion soup crossed with fresh crunchy veggies. Are you hungry yet?

The evening was capped by homemade banana walnut praline ice cream and bourbon bread pudding. Other popular desserts include fresh fruit, ice creams, sorbets, chocolate mousse and tahitian vanilla crème brulee. Bianca has a full service bar with several specialty cocktails infused with champagne, all sure to please the ladies.

Bianca also has an extensive wine list to match their top floor cellar. We enjoyed an inexpensive sauvignon blanc from Chile. This particular wine was not too fruity, nor too dry and provided an excellent complement to our many seafood selections.

Finally, if for no other reason to visit Bianca, Villanovans should know that Chef Mike is one of them. Mike loved Villanova and “learned to follow his dreams” here. After leaving the University to pursue a culinary career, Mike returned to the area under the tutelage of one of our nation’s finest chefs, Dominique Filoni. Filoni passed operation of Bianca onto Mike this year after deciding to pursue further opportunities.

Mike has big plans for Bianca, many of which include Villanova students, be it those looking to dine, or those hoping for an after-school job.

He hopes that students will come to the restaurant often and see that the “food is not complicated or overdone.”

Chef Mike would like fraternities and sororities to highly consider Bianca’s upstairs banquet facilities for socials and cocktails. Considering the outstanding service and attention to gastronomical detail, Bianca is a relative bargain. Mike’s “concentration on perfection,” and disdain for pretension will ensure that you never receive a bad meal here.

Bianca is located at 24 North Merion Avenue, in between Montgomery and Lancaster Avenues