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Andiario is the suburbs’ best new restaurant

Andiario in West Chester, an intensely seasonal restaurant built on locally foraged ingredients and Italian techniques, is the best new restaurant in the Pennsylvania suburbs.

Chef Anthony Andiario works at his pasta table making crackers at Andiario on W Gay St. in West Chester.
Chef Anthony Andiario works at his pasta table making crackers at Andiario on W Gay St. in West Chester.Read moreCHARLES FOX

The twirl of tagliarini on my plate was like a bundle golden threads, each strand snappy and glazed in a smooth puree of artichokes scented with bay. The garganelli cradled crumbles of deeply savory white ragù inside their delicately grooved pasta tubes. The chicken liver mousse was pure silk. And the double-cut pork chop was so epic, sliced off the bone into a puddle of olive oil and juice vivid with rosemary, rendered fat and roasted garlic, its flavor echoed in my mind as we headed north across the desert to the Grand Canyon.

That meal at Tratto was, by far, one of the most memorable we ate during a family trip to Arizona in the spring of 2017. And I would have been disappointed if I lived in Phoenix to learn that, just a few weeks after that meal, Tratto's opening chef, Anthony Andiario, left town with girlfriend Maria van Schaijik to open their dream restaurant, Andiario, back in his home state.

Lucky for us, their landing place was the borough of West Chester, where van Schaijik's parents live. And with the handsome wood-fired atelier they've created from the bones of a former consignment clothing store, this college town now has in Andiario its most sophisticated dining destination since Gilmore's closed.

You can smell the good cooking the minute you enter the old West Gay Street storefront to find an airy space revamped with modern elegance, the tin ceiling and dark wood floors wrapped in pale earth tones around generously spaced posh seating. The room is animated in back by the smoky flames and bustle of the open kitchen, where butchered duck carcasses and bundles of dried herbs dangle over the oak-fired grill and its wagon-wheel crank. A long wooden table is where the pasta magic happens.

Andiario's approach is clearly framed by Italian techniques and spirit, especially given the chef's experience alongside Phoenix pizzaiolo legend Chris Bianco, who owns Tratto as well as legendary pizzerias. Andiario's earlier eight-year stint running the whole-animal kitchen at Quiessence at the Farm in Phoenix also has informed his methods as he adapts. But this menu is thematically driven just as much, if not more, by the seasons, farmers, and local ingredients of the chef's new Pennsylvania landscape.

The chicken liver mousse I tasted in Arizona makes a cameo in West Chester, too, its whipped liver puree rich with sweet onions, clove spice, and creamy dairy. But here it was topped with brandied cherries and cherry blossoms inspired by the blooming cherry tree outside. A carpaccio of luscious Birchrun Hills Farm veal is brined, then seared quickly over the coals before it's chilled and sliced thin. It arrives as a stunningly pretty square of shingled pink scales edged in ash, topped with the sweet summer burst of huge ripe blackberries and the woodsy tang of lightly pickled chanterelles.

The first May sugar snaps and pea tendrils at the farmers' market just down the street adorned a carpaccio of sweet Jersey scallop dusted with mint and espelette pepper at our initial meal in the spring. Pennsylvania black walnuts pair with fudgy crumbles of Birchrun Blue cheese to elevate a simple salad of pristine greens from Campo Rosso, a Gilbertsville farm known for chicories that's earned a cult following at the Union Square farmers' market but that is not yet sold to many Pennsylvania restaurants.

The pork chop here is epic, too, but this thick cut sourced from Primal Meats was rubbed with the citrusy tang of foraged white fir that had been dried and powdered, then cooked over the wood flames with more fir branches, whose singing smoke added an extra puff of forest essence.

And then there are those exceptional pastas, which get hand-rolled and twisted into multiple shapes to showcase the daily inspirations of the chef and foragers like Tug Dulce. Dulce harvested the black trumpets that reposed dramatically like ebony flowers over the handkerchief-thin ricotta bundles of casoncelli. And when their twiny stems snapped between my teeth, the dumplings beneath them glazed with a lightly steeped tan cream, it was like riding the Mushroom Express deep into the earth. Buttery crumbles of multicolor cauliflower tangled with chewy spirals of hand-twisted trofie. A puree of blanched stinging nettles gave a vibrant spring green to the tortelloni stuffed with fluffy Caputo Bros. ricotta topped with grated Batch No. 26, a hard cheese from the Farm at Doe Run that Andiario uses in place of pecorino.

As exciting as Andiario's debut is, there are still kinks to work out, especially with the service, which can at times be awkwardly stiff. The servers at both of my meals insisted on telling us "a little bit" about the food, then recited the entire menu verbatim for several minutes as though we couldn't read it ourselves. The pacing at our first meal was painfully slow between courses. Some acquaintances dining across the room from me complained later that no one had informed them of the $10-per-bottle corkage fee before the charge appeared on their bill.

Since Andiario had just recently acquired its liquor license, with plans to build a small wine list around small-production Euro and Pennsylvania bottles as well as some classic cocktails with a twist, the small corkage fee makes sense as it continues to allow the BYOB policy of its opening months. A smoother ride with service at my second meal also showed progress, as though the staff had begun to settle in.

A few dishes, though, still needed work.  The desserts touch on the restaurant's themes of seasonality and local flavors (a maple semifreddo with hickory nut torrone was the best example), but in general lacked the right combination of textures and intensity for maximum impact. The chocolate mousse, for example, was lost inside too much foamy meringue fluff.

A rustic green bean, cucumber, and tomato salad lacked finesse — and much of the crab meat that was its prime selling point. A simple chicken breast with new potatoes cooked over the coals in a foil pouch was fine but so minimalist, it elicited an "I could have cooked this at home" shrug of indifference. Yes, I appreciated the quality of that Kreeky Tree Farm chicken. But there are several dishes here that deliver a profound flavor impact, so the weak links clearly stood out.

A roasted pork shoulder was one of the most memorable successes, its fennel- and clove-rubbed bone-in flesh hung above the smoky grill for hours before it's braised overnight with corn and peaches. Served over a pool of dark jus beneath a charred torpedo onion and a hail of sweet niblets of shaved raw corn, the brick of meat unspooled into silken threads at the magic wand touch of a fork. The deep echo of smoke layered behind the complexity of other flavors was a steady trait across our meals, including a perfectly seared Stony Hill Farm duck breast marinated in chamomile and juniper that came beside bitter radicchio and a caramelized apple sauce enriched by the smoke of duck stock made from those hanging carcasses.

That rustic power is evident in some of the chewier sturdy pastas, as well, including a hand-twisted strozzapretti that tangled in a mixed meat ragù of ground rabbit, duck, beef, pork, and chicken that drew extra earthiness from a dose of livers. A hand-cranked bigoli that looked like thick spaghetti made with local semolina from Castle Valley Mill came glazed in a simple wine sauce with blistered cherry tomatoes, but one that also glistened with the rendered fat of housemade guanciale.

At the other end of the spectrum, a pan-crisped fillet of Pocono trout is fairly bland on its own by comparison to this limited menu's other offerings. But it is also the most delicate stage possible to showcase what the menu calls "foragings from the forest floor." It's not as ominous or pretentious as it sounds, so much as a naturalist kitchens's ever-changing snapshot of the subtly shifting Chester County seasons. Fiddleheads, Japanese knotweed, and oyster leaves in spring accompanied a powdered pine needle aioli; a meal two months later featured the chanterelles, floppy bolete mushrooms, wild purslane, and aromatic spice bush and sassafras aiolis of summer.

"It's all new for me," Andiario says with the enthusiasm of a kid watching a candy store of novel ingredients blooming around him.  "And we're building our larder now, preserving and pickling several pounds of foraged mushrooms a day. We're jarring Pennsylvania tomatoes. And we're drying flowers, too. So on the snowiest, coldest day of the year, we're going to bring a bit of spring back to the table, and it's going to get interesting."

As this onetime Arizona chef finds his new stride amid his first season of Pennsylvania bounty, West Chester's new culinary star has already made things interesting.