Delaware Today magazine Savor dining review: A review by dining critic Matt Amis of upscale restaurants at the Christiana Mall near Newark, including Brio Tuscan Grille, JB Dawson’s and Nordstrom Sixth & Pine
Going Uptown: The Christiana Mall is transformed into an upscale dining destination.
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Brio Tuscan Grille
Brio Tuscan Grille could be considered the crown jewel of Christiana’s new collection, since it is easily the most grandly appointed and gastronomically advanced. I can safely say that it is the only spot in the mall where you can order beef carpaccio.
“We’re not the typical mall restaurant,” piped our server, on cue, as he set down a plate of bruschetta and cocktails.
It’s true enough. Brio, a Columbus-based chain, is resplendent in Old World earth tones, bronze highlights, yawning palm trees and sepia artwork. The eyes are immediately drawn to the silky centerpiece that drapes down from the ceiling of the dining room.
Brio’s operation is big enough to support a menu that includes safe, Italio-American standards like chicken Milanese, lobster ravioli and veal Marsala, while also delving into more daring space. Raw beef is an obvious example, but the kitchen proved more than capable of turning out succulent lamb racks, creamy risottos and great house-made pastas.
In fact, I implore Brio ownership to open a secondary kiosk inside the mall just to sell its fabulous bruschetta, which, judging by the cheery guests around me, was going gangbusters inside the restaurant. Ours came stacked with peppery pesto, mozzarella cheese, balsamic reduction, a salsa of tart, yellow tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, shaved Parmesan and chiffonade of basil. Like only the best-formed chocolate chip cookies, the toasty bread base was simultaneously crunchy and chewy.
Such a happy explosion of flavors was the norm at Brio, and although there are occasional casualties (the mozzarella, for instance, gets completely lost in the shuffle), the results were usually good.
From the breezy stone-tiled patio and a round of people-watching, we dug into chicken-and-sweet potato risotto, studded with salty pancetta, pine nuts and grilled asparagus. This is hardly the simple peasant food of Tuscany, but I doubt anyone will press charges. Not when the chicken is this tender, flavors this fully realized and Arborio cooked to such righteous consistency.
Kudos, too, went to the well-executed braised beef tournedos, which dripped savory jus onto orzo, sautéed zucchini, grape tomatoes and fresh thyme while a light perfume of garlic applied a delicate zing.
Fettuccine Napoli, made in-house, took to smoked chicken, caramelized onions and sun-dried tomatoes like a champ, while crispy pancetta crunched over a light white wine sauce and a generous dusting of Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Maybe a sprinkle of cheese is all it took for me to look at the mall through less petrified eyes, although I still get lost circling around for the off-ramp. A few solid choices for food, be it pastrami on rye or fritto misto, helps big time.