Chef opens his first restaurant - at 53

Phuoc "Po" Le at Poe Le Cucina in Spring House.

For 30-plus years, Phuoc "Po" Le has cooked for others - at such destinations as Susanna Foo, Il Gallo Nero and La Veranda and most recently at the Ambler destination Ristorante San Marco.

But with a daughter in nursing school and a son in his teens, he wants to be his own boss.

Wednesday, Sept. 4 will see the debut of Po Le Cucina (821 N. Bethlehem Pike, Spring House), just a moment up the road from his former restaurant.

Le, 53, did not change much of the decor of the strip mall's last BYOB incarnation, Mina Cucina Rustica. His menu's top entree price is $30, and that's for his signature osso buco.

He's been cooking Italian for more than half his life. He was 20 when he fled his native Vietnam by boat, winding up first in Hong Kong and then in New York. "I didn't speak English, Spanish, nothing," he said. His career prospects were uncertain.

One night in 1982, a pot washer did not show up for work at La Grenouille, the celebrated French restaurant. A friend called him, and he went to work that night. By 1990, Le was La Grenouille's pastry chef, and a clip from Gourmet magazine gushes about his "unwaveringly toasty, buttery, and lightly crisp" fruit tarts.

Le said he learned the grill, sautee and other stations by watching.

Po Le will be open nightly except Monday. Lunch days are Tuesday to Friday.