Restaurant Review: AVOLA Kitchen & Bar, Malvern
I was searching through Yelp last week to find somewhere different to eat/drink when, up pops Avola Kitchen & Bar in Malvern…just opened up… and only 5 minutes from my house! A Mediterranean tapas joint right in my back yard? Yahoo! So I saddled up and went out to investigate.
Avola is tucked away in a little shopping strip between a Wawa and a Naf Naf Grill. Upon entering, I found myself in a dimly-lit, space comfortably dressed up with an open kitchen, a wood-burning pizza oven, a kick-ass prosciutto slicer (right out on the restaurant floor), and a huge mural of a Sicilian waterfall.
Since it was happy hour (4:30-6:30), we started with the happy hour menu. For wine, they have a crisp and clean Toschi white blend on tap ($5) for a serious pour. They also have a Toschi red blend which is earthy and complex (same happy hour price). After happy hour, these wines go to $9/glass. The draft list is short and unimaginative and doesn’t come close to satisfying my insanely strong preference for double IPA’s.
$2 oysters arrived, nicely shucked (aka chilled with all their glistening juices still in the shell) and garnished with chili oil and cilantro… delicious. $7 Moroccan wings came next dressed with harissa and mint. Great taste, but the wings were just a little less than piping-hot as if they were cooked earlier in the day, cooled and only half way reheated in the kitchen. Patatas Bravas came out next. Crispy, full of oil and dressed with fresh herbs. Nice!
The next night we decided to check out the dinner menu. Steak tartare is one of my top 10 favorite foods of all time, so I had to try their version ($15). The minced raw patty arrived with good flavor, but lacked the zesty punch usually delivered by capers, cornichons, and/or anchovies. And the meat had clearly been chopped in advance. I prefer my tartare chopped to order surrounded by capers, cornichons, minced onion, anchovies and possibly a raw egg yolk on top.
Roasted beets arrived with ricotta and hazlenuts ($12). Nice presentation, but seriously, I am getting tired of seeing beets on every menu these days. The country bread served with the beets warm and crusty yet tender on the inside. Caesar salad with white anchovies ($10) was over-dressed and turned murky-looking with the addition of black garlic. to the dressing.
Wood-fired pizza was crisp, tasty with flecks of brown (and even black) from the oven. We got the South Philly version with roasted pork, provolone, hot pepper relish and broccoli rabe. Smallish for the $18 price tag! The margherita pie is available for $9 during happy hour.
Next came the fried calamari. OK, I confess, I generally despise fried calamari (I prefer mine grilled or stewed or raw). Fried calamari at most places is just a whole bunch of tasteless white flesh loaded down with flour and deep-fryer grease. So maybe I’m not a fair judge. The Avola calamari confirmed my worst suspicions. But it did come with a nice tomato dipping sauce.
The nicest thing about this place is that $10,000, stand-alone Arcobaleno slicer that they use to shave off pillowy soft slices of proscuitto di parma. It made me want to go up to that machine and start slicing. I asked if I could get some prosciutto and I was told to order the “Meat & Cheese” appetizer ($18). Alas, when it arrived it had a miniscule amount of the 24-month-aged prosciutto I was craving- and nobody even used that slicer while I was there. It came pre-sliced from the kitchen, but it was still delicious.
But, damn, that machine should be an action station star-of-the-show. Let’s put a chef on display slicing, maybe giving out small samples to guests. And let me buy a pile of straight prosciutto it if I want to!
Overall, the kitchen has some good ideas, but the menu is sooooo lengthy. And each menu item is dressed up with several culinary flourishes/sauces/garnishes. Result? A huge inventory of ingredients (and a lengthy list of prep work) that must be difficult to manage, train and try to keep them fresh.
Classic tapas is all about simplicity and quality of ingredients. Avola could benefit by shortening their menu so they can focus on freshness and execution- at least while they get established. For instance, get your wings right, load me up with fresh-sliced prosciutto, give me a classic caesar…grill me some calamari… you get the idea.
Overall, definitely worth a visit. Especially good for happy hour or any time for a pizza. Bon Appetit!