The monopoly tycoons of the 19th century traditionally did their wheeling and dealing at fine-dining establishments, cleverly concealing the fact that they still lived with their parents. Dine like a robber baron with today’s Groupon: for $25, you get $50 worth of upscale contemporary-American fare at Dans Restaurant in Reading.
With an array of elegant dishes bespeckling the pages of the dinner menu, Dans Restaurant treats taste buds to delicate flavor combinations that rotate weekly. Early-meal hunger pangs simmer down with the Hudson Valley foie gras, a duck and rosemary puree complemented by the crunch of toasted brioche ($16). To appease heartier main-course hankerings, diners can slide tines into a succulent serving of roasted salmon, served with baby spinach and fresh dill ($26) or a rack of lamb provençal, coated in a niçoise olive crust impenetrable to summer rain ($33). Like sunshine following sunshine, dessert trails happily on dinner’s heels with inventive sugar concoctions such as lemongrass crème brûlée, which combines tongue-coating custard with a tinge of pucker-revealing tartness ($8).
In 1989, Dan Gallagher and Dan Smith joined their respective names and began pursuing one common goal: to bring a contemporary alternative to Berks County's dining scene. The 40-seat eatery was successful in the Dans' hands until 2005, when Bill Woolworth and MD. Monir stopped in for dinner, fell in love with the place, and decided to buy it.
Though much of the space's original charm remains intact, the new owners gussied up the decor with white tablecloths and floral arrangements, and they solicited the help of executive chef Jason Hook to lighten the rotating menu. Jason draws on his experience studying in France and working at The Four Seasons in New York to craft healthful, contemporary French- and Californian-inspired dishes. In every preparation, he highlights the ingredients' natural tastes, often pairing local cuts of meat and poultry with fresh, seasonal ingredients and luxurious flourishes such as truffles or Lamborghini-scented foam.
Hook, Woolworth, and Monir also frequently evaluate their wine selections to ensure that they pair well with the evolving menu, which changes every week. While sipping glasses of red or white, diners can question servers about the building's rich history in the Penn's Common Historic District. Before the restaurant settled into the space, it was inhabited by an old-style soda dive, a prison doctor's home, and a grassland populated with roaming dinosaurs.