By Sondra Katkin
The sumptuous surroundings of the upscale restaurant Mesh now belong to the Stone Creek Dining Company in West Chester. Originally designed for Pam and Paul Sturkey, former Cincinnati restaurant royalty, it is indeed a palatial restaurant with tall, stately columns supporting an attractive porticoed entryway. This edifice is no artifice; it may lead you in, but it does not lead you on. The message I heard at their Montgomery location from Tom Cunningham, partner and executive committee chairman, and echoed by Justin Weiner, manager in West Chester, was about pleasing their diners, making sure they receive great food and good value. I’m sure that’s the key to the success of this new restaurant. The previous owners commented that in this economy people wanted more casual dining, and Stone Creek fulfills that niche with a high level of dining and hospitality expertise. It is an “Open Table” diners’ choice, and all the customer comments I heard were very positive.
If you can dine divinely and have a superlative ambience, all the better. Entering the restaurant, you notice a spacious room with a high ceiling — an unobtrusive canopy caressing tall windowed walls — with choices of round or square tables and upholstered chairs that wouldn’t be out of place in an elegant living room. Further in, there is a cozy, almost cocooned, more gently lighted area with upholstered booths and padded seats. This bony diner with back issues revels in that type of comfort. Many have described Stone Creek as romantic. It would be easy to have an intimate dinner here. The restaurant group’s founder, Mike Cunningham, known for his design skills, has probably added his expert touch since there are many attractive similarities between the two restaurants.
As I began tasting their ahi tuna appetizer, my host, manager Justin Weiner explained, “What we try to do on a daily basis is give an above and beyond experience to our diners.” And he did! The gorgeous looking rosy rectangles of sesame seared tuna were so bright, sweet and fresh, they were gone too fast. I would consider ordering them as an entree, and no, I would not share. The dipping sauces enhance the fun fish which seems to float above the napa slaw. A friend told me she appreciates “simple preparations of food that are so fresh, they jump off the plate.” Wait until she tastes this. The pickled ginger on the side was a lovely design accent. Its curly texture was a nice contrast to the tuna’s shape, and its rosy color added to the pinkness of the presentation. The strong flavor of the ginger was ameliorated by its pickled, sweet maceration and added an extra level of savoriness.
If you choose to begin your meal with soup, the French onion with wild mushrooms will warm you. With its intense onion-beef flavor, the earthiness of the mushrooms contributes an extra heartiness. The melt-in-your-mouth blanket of cheese seals all the wonderful tastes and further contributes to its irresistibility. Another selection in this category attracted my attention, the baked goat cheese with Italian caponata on focaccia crostini. You can get full simply by reading that description out loud, simultaneously sounding like you’re reciting an Italian aria. I am anxious to try this next time because I love goat cheese and don’t feel as guilty eating it as I would a heavier cheese like brie. And it’s so tangy. Then there is the caponata and that means an eggplant vegetable combination. If you put eggplant in something (for us aficionados), it’s got to be even better. And to cap it all off, they don’t use slim crackers or crusty slices of Italian bread (that’s not bad either), they serve it on focaccia, surely the most flavorful sandwich addition to recent dining experiences.
A good variety of salads, pastas, sandwiches and sides are available at Stone Creek so a guest may choose a lighter meal if she/he wishes. The applewood chicken salad is a guest favorite with grilled chicken, egg, spiced pecans, dried cranberries and cranberry poppy seed dressing. They have a “from scratch” kitchen and all the dressings are made in house. The spicy Chicago beef with giardinera pepper mix, served on a toasted roll, will satisfy seekers of specially savory sandwiches. For a lighter dish, the penne Florentine with chicken, spinach, roasted red peppers, pine nuts, olives and tomato caponata (yum!) will fill the bill.
Their most popular entrees include short ribs, New York strip, floro salmon and blackened mahi mahi. Diners, including me, are indulgent in praising and satisfying their appetite for this mahi mahi masterpiece. Crowned with guacamole, bejeweled with shiny black bean salsa, and sauced with glistening cilantro aioli, the moist fish is in perfect harmony with its artfully presented ingredients. What a photogenic pleasure!
For dessert, Weiner unveiled what surely must be their most potent weapon for the unsuspecting calorie counter — homemade carrot cake. Egads, this square must have measured close to eight inches high. Four people could have a slice from this palisade of future penance. I confess, I only ate part of it but it was because I took it home and gave away three fourths of it before I tasted it. That was good planning since with the first moist, heady bite I knew I had to eat every last drop. This is carrot cake to carouse with, to compromise your diet with, to carol about. And of course the cream cheese icing and filling add extra decadence, smoothly sealing the layers in their proper place before they are devoured. This is not for the faint of heart or stomach. Beware! It seems superfluous to mention other desserts but there are two whose description merits including. Other reviewers have exclaimed over the cranberry, golden raisin bread pudding. Its description — dense custard soaked bread with rich whiskey sauce, vanilla ice cream and whipped cream — explains its popularity. I would also like to try the Stone Creek apple strudel. It’s hard to find the real, old fashioned pastry with hand stretched, flaky, layered dough. I must return soon.
The restaurant’s bar is large with several flat screens and shares the elegance and comfort characteristics found in the main dining area. Many craft beers and drafts are available as well as an excellent selection of wines and cocktails. Happy hour discounts include half priced selections that vary by the day. There are two rooms available for private parties and plenty of off street parking. They are open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Stone Creek Dining Company
6200 Muhlhauser Road
West Chester, OH 45069