But Garces isn't abandoning the idea, musing that a Garces Trading Company might, one day, be a good way to dip his toe in the water. "I love you but I still want you to come to the city," said the Iron Chef, knowing that part of what makes his restaurants special is that they are in the big city.
Which might play a large role in the seeming restaurant void. Despite the hassle of paying for parking and fighting traffic on I-76, do Main Liners really want a Tinto in Wayne? Would it lose its luster?
"If I'm going to go out and spend $100 on a dinner for two, I want the experience and the people-watching that I'm going to get in Center City," said the Main Line mom. "It's not fun to go out and be around the people I see all the time."
But that doesn't necessarily mean there isn't room for more in the suburbs.
One urban duo is taking the chance. Michael Schulson (of Sampan) and Rob Wasserman (of Rouge) announced Wednesday that they are teaming up to open an American bistro in Suburban Square in the spring.
The deal was no doubt attractive - shopping center management kicked in a nice chunk of change for the renovation - and these city slickers think the timing was, finally, right. "Slowly but surely, you are seeing an increase in people getting it," said Wasserman, referring to restaurateurs figuring out how to succeed on the Main Line.
But they aren't assuming that it's a slam dunk. When talking concept, they don't see what they are doing as much different from their urban spots; they say people want flexiblity, value, and attentive service above all.
They've taken a look at the Main Line eateries that are successful, citing Fleming's, the Radnor steakhouse, and the European Savona, in Gulph Mills. "You have to transport someone so they aren't in Ardmore," said Schulson. "We don't want people to have to think about anything," added Wasserman. "Just enjoy the experience."
And it's that perspective that the unsuccessful restaurant owners on the Main Line might have missed. Because the residents are hungry for more, some owners assume that opening a restaurant there is an easy win.
"I like a place that feels authentic," said Merion resident Liz Galbraith. "Some of the places on the Main Line feel like outposts of city restaurants. It's nice to have a place when you feel the heart and soul of the owner."
Schulson agrees. "It's like people just dumb down concepts when they open out there."
And that doesn't have to mean a big flashy production. After all, that's what lures people downtown. What residents want is more of what's real.
"I would love a Mediterranean restaurant, like Dmitri's," said Galbraith. At the top of the list for cookbook author and Merion Station resident Jim Tarantino? Authentic Mexican, and more beer-focused bars that have better food. More than a few people expressed wishes for sexier spots for craft cocktails.
Taken as a whole, the Main Line boasts a decent group of successful, acclaimed eateries, from the trendy (Nectar, Matador) to traditional ethnic (Sang Kee, Yangming, Margaret Kuo's, Saffron, Tiffin) to reliable casual cafe (Du Jour) and upscale quality (Fleming's, Savona, Alba). "If you drive into Wayne on a Monday or Tuesday night, you can't find parking," said David Fine, a Center City attorney who lives on the Main Line. "I think the clientele is there."
The restaurants that have Main Line longevity count service and consistency as important as top-quality food. "We get a lot of repeat business," said Nectar executive chef and partner Patrick Feury. "People come multiple times a week. They are looking for something new, but they are looking for a consistent experience. It's the biggest thing that makes us successful."
Maia, Feury's now-shuttered Main Line eatery, wasn't a success. He says the multiple partners had different visions and that the clientele could see right through that. "You see Azie is doing OK there; it doesn't have anything to do with location or clientele," said Feury.
Susanna Foo also had operational troubles in the first year with her Radnor restaurant. At first, because of family health issues, she wasn't focused on the opening, she admits. But, she quickly recognized that a suburban eatery came with a new set of challenges. "It's very different than the city," said Foo. "We have more families and children and have a children's menu. The kids go crazy over the mini pork dumplings!"
Listening to the clientele is key. Savona was a temple of fine dining for 12 years, but the writing was on the wall. "People wanted more casual, more affordable, but still quality," said owner Evan Lambert.
A few years ago Lambert responded, turning half of his space into a casual eatery, Bar Savona, where jeans are welcome and prices are more affordable, and the seats are filled nightly. Still, said Lambert, the focus on quality ingredients and good service didn't change.
His customers have "been all over the world, they know good things."
Contact staff writer Ashley Primis at 215-859-8600, email@example.com, or @ashleyprimis on Twitter.