Deeply Satisfying
The area's best sushi and other delights await patrons of Nectar in Berwyn
by Brian Freedman

Well into the adolescence of its existence, Nectar is still one of the most visually stunning restaurants in the region: It continues to espouse an aesthetic that’s both sophisticated and exciting; and its soaring ceilings, smooth surfaces, Edison bulbs off to the side and quietly vibe-y ambience evoke the best of the late-1990s respect for all things Asian-fusion. Even the giant image of the Buddha peering out over the reliably assembled masses speaks to a better time, when the markets were still expanding and shiso and miso represented the avant-garde.


But longevity comes with its own set of risks, and keeping it all fresh is a tricky proposition even in the best of times. Now, however, when money is tighter for many restaurant goers than it has been in years (well, at least since ’08), it is imperative—a duty, one might argue—that a beloved restaurant do all it can to deliver on all its early promises, or at least re-calibrate them to achieve similar and ongoing success.


From a service standpoint, Nectar is still very much on its game. Rarely have I encountered such well-oiled service machinery that managed the neat trick of being both subtly professional and thorough approachable. Don’t let the decor fool you: Nectar is as comfortable as it is sexy.


As for the food, I experienced a few stumbles over the course of my two visits for this review, but on balance Nectar absolutely still delivers.


The best news is that the sushi is as deeply satisfying as ever. The success of a raw fish program is the ultimate self-perpetuating process: The more of it that guests order, the faster the turnover of product, and the fresher and fresher it becomes. Here, the fish is fresh enough and sliced with such care and propriety that it never arrives too cold. (This is a classic trick used to cover up any less-than-fresh characteristics in the fish.) Rather, the fish’s nearly room-temperature service highlights all the subtleties that people so often miss out on. From the silky slices of salmon to the meltingly soft pieces of yellow tail, this is some of the best sushi in the region. Even the rolls demonstrated an uncommon sense of balance—the rice and legs and sauce in perfect harmony in the spider roll, the textures of the salmon-avocado roll pliant and appealing.


Mushroom dumplings, which sound so familiar, so ubiquitous, were touched by an added dollop of technique that raised them to something altogether more special. Marooned in a shallow pond of mushroom consommé, they were a study in earthiness—funky and comforting. The spring roll appetizer, if its accompanying liquid (a rather monochromatic mango puree) wasn’t quite as successful, also sprang forth from the pack by virtue of its snappy, almost phyllo-like wrapping and spring-fresh filling.


Oysters with an elderflower granita proved that great sourcing and smart conception mean that you really don’t have to limit your consumption of these mollusks to the so-called “R months” (that is, September through April). Wok chili tenderloin of beef was every bit as lush as its name implied, and more than generously portioned to boot. And while the promised Thai basil wasn’t readily apparent in its flavor or aroma profile, this nonetheless was a solid rendering of a classic.


Plump shrimp and perfectly cooked Amish chicken benefited from the bright, almost tangy verve of a Vietnamese-inspired lime-basil sauce: This is the kind of sauce you’d crave on a hot day. Striped bass arrived protected by a thick, heat-seared crust of remarkable depth. Paired with black truffle sauce, asparagus and mushrooms, it was a study in umami, and deliciously so. Sadly, crisp chow mein with red-curry chicken failed to excite; there was only the merest hint of the classic preparation’s perfume, of the lustiness you expect from it: There’s no need to make this dish so bland for the Main Line crowd—they can handle it, I promise.


Calamari also needed a bit more love in the seasoning department, as well as a few more minutes in the fryer. Just a hint more salt on those rings would not only have brought out their inherent flavor, but also served to amplify the impact of the accompanying tamarind-hoisin and papaya sauces.


As far as drinks go, stick with the beers and the sake flight. The latter is a great vehicle to experience some truly remarkable pairings throughout the meal. It’s also a smart way to avoid the wine list, which could very well be Nectar’s Achilles heel. A menu like this screams out for a deeper selection of aromatic, bright whites and forward-fruited reds. Instead, however, the wine list is stuffed, inexplicably, with 14 chardonnays and suffers from a dearth of decent, food-friendly Rieslings, Gewurztraminers, Beaujolais and the like.


But this is a minor stumbling block in an otherwise still-stellar spot. End a meal with any of the desserts, lovingly crafted by pastry chef Julie Waters: The doughnuts are as fun and as compulsively poppable as ever; the macadamia ice cream sandwich as whimsical and rewarding. Or, just as fun, end it all with a digestif or an extra cocktail at the bar. By the time I left on a recent Saturday night, it was full of the same sharply dressed, enthusiastic crowd it always has been. They’re onto something, spending a summer evening here. They always have been.


Nectar Restaurant

1091 Lancaster Ave., Berwyn



Brian Freedman is a food and wine writer based in Philadelphia.