Danlu; Main Line entrepreneur does things ‘his Wei’

A noodles and rice dish called he fen also has roasted duck and Taiwanese sausage that’s cooked until it crumbles.
A noodles and rice dish called he fen also has roasted duck and Taiwanese sausage that’s cooked until it crumbles. Photo submitted by Danlu
The huge, sprawling two-story interior is reminiscent of Nectar in Berwyn, also owned by Michael Wei and executive chef Patrick Feury.
The huge, sprawling two-story interior is reminiscent of Nectar in Berwyn, also owned by Michael Wei and executive chef Patrick Feury. Photo submitted by Danlu

You would think that a 75-year-old entrepreneur with three massively successful businesses would be content and not want to burden himself with a whole new army of challenges and headaches. In the case of Michael Wei, you would be wrong.

Wei is the brains and passion behind Yangming in Bryn Mawr, opened in 1990; Nectar in Berwyn, opened in 2005; and Cin Cin in Chestnut Hill, opened in 1996, a virtual empire of Asian fusion palaces of gastronomy. But he has spent the last two and a half years overseeing the latest embodiment of his vision, Danlu, a gleaming, modernistic, virtual cathedral of excitement that just opened at 3601 Market St. in Philly’s University City neighborhood. (Wei, who has more business moves than a U-Haul-It truck, had another restaurant, Mandarin Garden, which recently closed its doors after 32 years in Willow Grove.)

Wei has a very calm, low-key, soft-spoken exterior, but his record in business bespeaks a python intensity. He has a clear and fearless eye for the mountain in the distance. He came to the U.S. from Taiwan four decades ago and earned a master’s degree in journalism from the university of Missouri, but somewhere along the line he took a detour into the business world and probably figured you can’t fight the zeitgeist. Like Susanna Foo and Margaret Kuo, he elevated Chinese food into a whole new galaxy, shimmering with Continental sauces and techniques.

Danlu bears some physical resemblance to Nectar. Like its Main Line sibling, the 135-seat structure is a virtual cafeteria of sensory titillation with bi-level seating, murals, fabrics, tiles and a gigantic banner of a beautiful woman, the counterpart of the huge banner of Buddha at Nectar. At least during our late March visit on a busy Friday night, there was no problem whatsoever with the noise level, which made for a pleasant atmosphere.

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Executive chef/partner Patrick Feury, who is also the executive chef/partner at Nectar (he spends five days each week at Danlu, which means “Nectar” in Mandarin, and two days at Nectar), was once executive chef at Susanna Foo, and it’s clear that Asian cuisine is his true north. As they might say in the south, if he ain’t one of the best chefs of Asian cuisine anywhere, then Wednesday ain’t trash pickup day.

Feury and Wei visited several cities in Taiwan a while back — Feury even did some cooking and bartending in restaurants there — and brought back recipes for “street food” that most of us are not familiar with, but at Danlu they have been elevated to skyscraper level. For example, hamachi (Pacific yellowtail) tartare with seaweed salad on top is an enticing mix of textures and flavors, with sesame seeds and a sublime Meyer lemon vinaigrette ($13).

But there are no higher cards in Feury’s deck of appetizers than the sublime, zephyr-light edamame pot stickers on thin crackers with an aged rice vinegar and ginger dressing that is truly a nectar of the gods ($9). Another jewel is the smoked yellowfin tuna with spicy kimchi, avocado and puffed wild rice with a subtle soy glaze ($12). I predict that diners who taste this dish will be so mesmerized that they will actually stop texting.

Oddly enough, when Danlu opened, there were only two entrees. There must have been some rethinking of the game plan, however, because there are now a half-dozen entrees.

An entrée of shrimp pad Thai, very reasonably priced at $17, may be a bit pedestrian, but as with everything else at Danlu, it is elevated, in this case by a sea salt crust, crushed peanuts and an uppercut of spice ($17). Also spicy was an entrée of red snapper that chaperoned some scallions and cilantro and a sauce made with the bones of the fish, wine, sesame oil and a soupçon of light soy sauce that was truly divine ($23). They should sell it by the gallon.

Even if I threw compliments around like manhole covers, I would still rave about the plate of Yellow Springs Farm goat cheese ice cream ($5) and mango and chocolate sorbet ($7) for dessert, although the green tea mousse was a disappointment. Coffee and cappuccino were very good but were not served hot. Our server, Sergio DeOliveira, whom we recognized from a couple other area restaurants, definitely enhances the experience with his personality and extensive knowledge.

It is tempting to eat so many of the dishes at Danlu that a regular customer could wind up in the Fitness Protection Program. We thought we would have a very difficult time finding a nearby parking space but were pleasantly surprised to see several available legal spaces right across the street from Danlu. Money has to be put in kiosks only until 8 p.m.

For more information or reservations: 215-310-9828 or www.tastedanlu.com