While headed to King of Prussia in 2016 and 2017 before the opening of Mistral restaurant, Princeton-based restaurateur Fia Berisha took side trips to Fishtown.
Fascinated with the neighborhood’s growth, she went on a real estate hunt and found a new building on Frankford Avenue just above Berks Street. Then, a year after her first trip, she convinced investor Stephen Distler and chef-coowner Scott Anderson to take the plunge with a fourth restaurant, after their Mistrals in KoP and Princeton and its fancier upstairs sibling, Elements in Princeton.
On Feb. 7, the three open the candle-lit stunner Aether, what they bill as a neighborhood-friendly bar-restaurant with a raw bar ($2 Little Neck clams and $3 oysters year-round), worldly wine and cocktail list, and an almost all-seafood menu that includes crab linguine among the pastas, a shrimp po’boy among sandwiches, and crispy fried whole branzino among the entrees. (The nonseafood dishes are roasted chicken breast with Thai sausage, shiitake, bok choy, tom yum, and chili oil; steak frites; and a dry-aged burger with bacon jam and garlic aioli.)
Oh, and say it “EEE-ther.”
Small plates start at $11 for cauliflower tahini (one of the few vegetarian dishes) and top out at $18 for creme fraiche and trout roe. Three pastas: $16 for cavatelli, $18 for crab linguine, and $21 for saffron risotto. Three sandwiches: lobster roll ($28), shrimp po’boy ($17), and burger ($16). Three salads: smoked trout ($16), squid and watercress ($15), and kale ($12). Large plates are in the mid- to high-$20s, except for the steak frites, which clock in at $39.
Seafood towers start at $60.
Aether is stretching the Fishtown restaurant scene north. It’s about four blocks north of Suraya, five above Cheu Fishtown and Nunu, and nearly six above La Colombe. It’s also two blocks south of St. Oner’s, the forthcoming restaurant from Tired Hands Brewing.
The restaurant starts at Frankford Avenue with a bar area framed in white painted brick, segues into a middle dining room, and ends up with a third room, complete with decorative fireplace, that looks out to Blair Street behind a garage door.
Aether has become a personal project for Berisha, 33, a restaurant lifer who got into the business at age 9 at her immigrant parents' pizzeria in central New Jersey. Last year, she moved to Fishtown, requiring a commute among Princeton, where she oversees Mistral and Elements, and King of Prussia for Mistral.
Berisha embraced the area, seeking out artisans. She brought her wine bottle collection to Remark Glass at the Bok Building in South Philadelphia to be blown into sconces.
The banquettes, tables, and shelving were created by woodworker-designer Kirk Loubier, custom mirrors (distressed to look old) are by Cimone Berman of Argent Mirror, steel doors separating two dining areas were made by Cottingham Ltd, leather detailing was done by Mr. Bar Stool, and textured plaster walls were created by Fishtown resident Christopher Thomas.
In a novel arrangement, the front of the house and back of the house will be integrated. Berisha will not only run the day to day; she will work one day a week in the kitchen. (She had developed the menu with Anderson and chef de cuisine Mike Ryan.) By the same token, head chef Christopher Boyce will work the floor one day a week. The idea, she said, is to help break down the walls between the kitchen and dining room staffs.
In a bid for solidarity with women, Berisha and Distler plan to donate a portion of proceeds between Feb. 7 and March 31 to Women Against Abuse.
Kitchen hours will be 4:30 to 10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, and Sunday; 4:30 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The bar will be open till 1 a.m. The restaurant is closed Mondays.