Go: 6200 Muhlhauser Road, West Chester
Hours: Lunch: 11 a.m.2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday; dinner: 5-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Payment: All credit cards
Red Meat Alternatives: Pasta options or vegetable sides could be combined beautifully
My week was a whirlwind, and I needed a laugh with the people I love the most. So I grabbed a few and headed to mesh in West Chester. What a spectacular evening it turned out to be!
Inside, the space is very chic, with a nontraditional layout that includes a communal table, a few intimate booths and large and small private dining rooms. The acoustics are very good; even though an adjacent table was so close that our generously pregnant server had a bit of a squeeze getting in between, we barely overheard (and didn't understand) a word of the conversation, which was in German.
The two-page menu takes an absolutely straightforward approach, with the briefest list of ingredients and no prosaic descriptions. It's a leap of faith that works -- blind trust that "grilled onions+herb champagne viniagrette+Maytag bleu cheese" is going to yield the most artfully constructed "organic tomato salad" ($6) you've ever tasted. And it does.
I actually did laugh when our amuse-bouche arrived. Nachos for a gnat! It was the tiniest sliver of tortilla imaginable, an almost microscopic portion of tomato salsa drizzled with raspberry vinaigrette and a drop of goat cheese. But my skepticism melted when I tasted this perfect morsel.
My husband polished off a bowl of Garlic Onion Soup ($6) with the enthusiasm of a teenager. The other carnivore and I appreciated the two Kobe beef wontons that usually rest in the soup bowl, but even without them the soup was boasted as "the best I've had in America."
We shared the Meshed Potato Poppers ($8), an incredibly sophisticated take on tater tots. Mashed potatoes, shaped like tiny pinecones, are deep fried and seasoned with Chef Paul Sturkey's signature spice mixture and white truffle oil. Fun, but not quite as delicious as the Crab Trifecta ($14.50), a beautiful presentation of fresh crabmeat with drawn butter, two silver-dollar crabcakes with curry remoulade and crab-fennel risotto that managed to be creamy and crunchy as well as delicious.
Risotto reappeared, spinach this time, in artful stacks with broiled tomatoes and enoki mushrooms, topped by diver scallops ($26). Our other seafood selection, Spinach Linguine with Lobster Meatballs ($23), had a fabulous tomato cream sauce and was garnished with Kentucky caviar -- paddlefish from Louisville (part of a global effort to save endangered sturgeon). The meatballs were clever but possibly not the best way to showcase an ingredient as delicate as lobster.
The two standout entrées were the simple pan-roasted chicken breast ($23) and the Mesh Oscar ($47), the chef's special, a bone-in filet mignon topped with crab and béarnaise sauce. Our group marveled at the flavor of these two pieces of meat. Ordinary chicken, usually the lackluster war-horse of any menu, this was not. Chef Sturkey explained that he takes extra care with "simple" dishes, because "If you can make it at home, then we need to make it worthwhile."
The steak was truly amazing, a special cut nearly two inches thick from a little further up the loin than usual. The meat was every bit as tender as the typical medallion but with significantly more taste. It was succulent, savory and superb.
Our meal shouted out for wine, and the wine cellar at mesh is front and center. It's a wide glass room, behind the communal table, with over 2,000 bottles. We had no trouble selecting good ones, but the menu is so vast that I'd suggest asking for pairing help if that feels more comfortable to you.
One more wine tasting opportunity came with dessert. Pam Sturkey pairs a flight of five chocolate truffles ($8) with a flight of wines ($6), and this was one of the many high spots of our evening. A tawny port was an exquisite accent for a hazelnut truffle, and a Botrytis Semillon brought out the deep citrus notes of a blood orange truffle. Peanut butter was playfully paired with champagne, strawberry with framboise (a raspberry Lambic beer) and mint with Malbec. It was wonderful. Our other dessert choice, the Bailey's cheesecake ($8), was good, but not as noteworthy
We were never neglected at mesh, but we never felt rushed either. Every part of the meal was perfectly paced, and the service was probably the best balance of friendliness and professionalism I've encountered. What surprised me is that the staff is so young!
Paul Sturkey says he instills a mindset in his crew that even though this might not be their long-term career, they can learn a lot about life by succeeding here -- including communication, organization and grace under pressure. Bravo!
I don't ever want to love suburban restaurants, but I loved mesh. It's fine dining, but it's fun; polished but without pretense.