90 Main lives up to its reputation. Co-owners John Whitehead and Jeff Izes have completely transformed what used to be a biker bar to an upscale-casual labor of love. 90 Main is now one of the trendiest restaurant destinations in New Hope. Constantly bringing new ideas to the table – literally and figuratively (the lounge’s latest signature themed blowout was a "white party" over the July 4th holiday weekend, when revelers dressed in their best white ensembles to see and be seen) – 90 Main has just hired a new executive chef, Craig Bonnett. Bonnett has worked as an executive and sous chef at some of the top restaurants in the Philadelphia area includeing Le Jardin, Buddakan, Bleu, and Le Bec Fin – and has created a new tapas/sushi menu that incorporates French and Asian cuisine along with Spanish fare.
I was not surprised, then, that it was rather subdued on the Wednesday after the holiday, as the usual New Hope crowd of artists and urbane 20 and 30-somethings slept off their hangovers. Not to be outdone, I began working towards my own, beginning at the suggestion of our server on the Key Lime Pie cocktail, a pricey but delicious $10 mix of Vanilla Twist Smirnoff, lime, and pineapple juice that spoke true to its name. I had two. I think.
90 Main is gorgeous. At once modern and cozy, red velvet chairs juxtapose with concrete and exposed brick, warmly lit by tea lights displayed on Japanese-style shelves. The surroundings are beautiful but unintimidating, chic but welcoming. The new tapas-style menu adds to the kick-back ambiance that invites an evening of intimate conversation in the background of a lively bar scene. The evening we visited, singer-songwriter Rich Cox engaged everyone with his original songs, smooth vocals, and friendly banter, visiting tables to offer a request list that included an impressive variety of music for all tastes, including Marvin Gaye’s "Sexual Healing" and "Lola," by the Kinks. Cox appears every Wednesday evening and Sunday afternoon at the lounge.
See, this is why I love tapas bars (in this case a tapas lounge!) Shared food is a social lubricant of the highest order. Guests nibble on artfully prepared "little plates" as they arrive just a couple at a time. People talk and graze for hours in a setting that encourages mingling, relaxation, and flirtation. The menu is as eclectic as the decor, with something for every palate, from the timid to the truly sophisticated. The miso-enhanced steak frites, served with herbed pommes frites ($15) was one of the more substantial offerings, tasty, filling, and pre-sliced for graceful sampling. If you want something lighter, try the hummus trio, three varieties simply presented with fresh veggies in addition to the traditional grilled pita ($12). Executive Chef Craig Bonnet seems to be into the Tall Food trend. Even the chicken caesar was more of a salad napoleon, stacked with croutons the size of saucers ($15).
Many options are seafood-based. The shrimp and scallop spring rolls drizzled with duck sauce and hot mustard, were very good ($12). For something less rich, try the very popular One by Land, Two by Sea ($13), a very clean series of beef, tuna and salmon tartares, which are served individually with olive, caviar, and English cucumber. This is a dish that will satisfy your taste buds while leaving you with room to sample many of the other items on the menu. From the sushi menu we tried the spider roll special, a blend of soft-shell crab and avocado.
If you are a dessert person, 90 Main will not disappoint. For cheesecake lovers, there are cheesecake bites ($8) "lightly fried" in puff pastry and served with a strawberry puree. For the sweetest and most apropos ending to an evening of tapas, though, order the chocolate fondue ($15). Served in a sleek, tea light-warmed ceramic pot, rich chocolate is accompanied by strawberries, bananas, apples, and marshmallows.
With all of their success, Izes and Whitehead refuse to sit on their laurels. A few months ago, they began a revitalization of the upstairs VIP room, a key-access lounge that overlooks the main floor. It will offer bottle service and a personalized DJ experience for big-spenders and important regulars, completing the cosmopolitan vibe that is 90 Main. The rest of us will have to stay below for our taste of the high-roller lifestyle.
90 Main, 90 South Main Street, New Hope, PA. Valet parking Thursday through Saturday nights. 215-862-3030, www.90mainlounge.com. Fax: 215-862-0256. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Rich Cox appears every Wednesday and Sunday, richcox.net.