MY FIRST QVC AWARD (QUALITY, VALUE AND CONSISTENCY) – BONA CUCINA, UPPER DARBY, PA

Posted in Bona Cucina - QVC Award Winner with tags , on January 27, 2013 by ballymote

IMG_5862

 Is Bona Cucina the best restaurant in the Delaware Valley? No, not really. However, I don’t think I have been to another dining spot in Philly or South Jersey that so consistently serves great food at such unbelievably low prices.

 Bona Cucina, at 66 Sherbrook Drive in Upper Darby has been a local favorite for almost 25 years. Pat and Frankie Buonadonna (Pat is the chef and Frankie runs the front of the house) have been serving meals to hungry diners with a quality and consistency that has folks returning often, myself included, and I live some distance away in South Jersey.

This fantastic restaurant has one of those menus where everything is tempting and it has been years since they have raised prices on their entrees or appetizers IMG_3665. It’s not a big place with perhaps 50 seats but it has a relaxed atmosphere and after one or two visits you’ll feel like family. I caution you that Frankie can be slightly irreverent but that only adds to her charm. She takes great pride in everything her husband sends out from the kitchen.

You will seldom, if ever, see Pat in the dining room, it’s just not his world. He prefers to lose himself in the wonderful food he is preparing. A large group of friends that I gre up with in Drexel Hill have been going to Bona Cucina for several years. My wife has heard me rave about the place so many times that last Sunday she insisted I take her, and my sister, who was celebrating a birthday for dinner. Since her  meal, I have heard her telling others about how delicious the food was at Bona Cucina. It’s not a place I read about often when great restaurants are mentioned but, that’s OK, business is booming and maybe it’s best if it stays a local secret.

IMG_3678

  I was able, on one occasion, to coax Pat out of the kitchen for a photo of him and Frankie. They are rightfully proud of their restaurant and I am happy to be able to award them my very first QVC Award for Quality, Value and Consistency. Keep up the good work!

TAMARIND – A THAI BYOB

Posted in Tamarind byob with tags , , , , on January 20, 2013 by ballymote

IMG_6248

 

  My wife, Kathy, and I joined one of her co-workers, Susan, at Tamarind, a Thai byob on South Street. There are so many restaurants in the area and Tamarind proved to be an excellent choice and we felt lucky to have obtained a reservation for a Saturday evening. The servers are all pleasant and knowledgeable about the items on the expansive menu. Lots of abstract art decorate the walls of this 40 seat restaurant.

 

 

 

IMG_6250

 

 Knowing that our food choices would have a certain element of spice, I went with a wine that I felt was up to the challenge. The 2011 Bedrock, Sonoma Valley, Zinfandel. Deep purple in the glass with an intense nose of blackberry and pepper. Plenty of balance between the fruit and acidity and a nice lingering hint of smoke and strawberries. This was nice match with tasty Thai food.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_6249

 

 

All three of us chose an order of Spring rolls to being our meal. Kathy and Susan went with the vegetable offering while I opted for the chicken. Both orders came with glass noodles, shredded carrots and 3 delicious rolls wrapped in a pastry shell ready for dipping into the house special sauce. These were an excellent choice as an appetizer.

 

 

 

 

IMG_6251

 

 

 I ordered the Yum Nam Kaow Tod which, of course, virtually everyone knows is a chicken salad with herbs, lemon and red chile, tossed with red curry and crispy rice. (ok, I confess that prior to eating it I had no idea what it was). I’m not sure what the women thought of this dish but I thought it had a nice tang to it and was brightened by the addition of the lemon. We were enjoying the wine, food and conversation and were now ready for our main courses.

 

 

 

 

IMG_6252

 

 

 Kathy selected the Isan - Style Grilled Chicken. Isan style refers to a cooking style prominent in Northeast Thailand rather than the more commonly found methods of Bangkok. Her dish contained four nice-sized pieces of grilled chicken marinated in tumeric and coconut milk and served with sticky rice and Som Tum salad  (thinly sliced fresh cabbage and carrots tossed with a spicy chopped peanut and lime dressing). Kathy thought her dinner choice was delicious.

 

 

 

 

IMG_6253

 

 

 Susan had no hesitation in making the Roasted Duck with Vegetables her entree choice. This dish consisted of half an oven roasted duck served with a sauce of sauteed ginger, sliced red onion and minced vegetables. It looked very good and Susan declared that the duck was nicely prepared and she had zero complaints about her dinner.

 

 

 

 

IMG_6254

 

 

          I had considered a number of choices before finally settling on the Angry Salmon. I wanted to try to figure out just what was this salmon so angry about. The menu describes the dish as Filet of Fresh Salmon, Red Pepper sauce. ANGRY! Our server explained that this salmon could be ordered on a scale of 2 to 7 with 2 being mildly upset to 7 indicating totally intense and unmitigated ANGER. That scared me a little and although I definitely wanted to feel some heat I was not sure I was ready for a fire-storm. I selected 5 and enjoyed my choice. I may have been able to go for 6 but the fish was nicely done and the sauce was spicy good. I am not a huge fan of all of the vegetables that topped the dish but that is my problem and not an indication of anything lacking in the presentation.

 

 

 

IMG_6255

 

 The three of us finished off our meal with both the Limoncello Truffle and the Chocolate Truffle. The sweet ball of gelato was the perfect ending to a very good Thai meal.

Tamarind is a nice spot for some good Thai food in the heart of the South Street Philly nightlife.

CATELLI DUO

Posted in Catelli Duo with tags , , on December 23, 2012 by ballymote

IMG_6114

 

 , in the Main Street area of Voorhees, NJ, was a popular location for South Jersey “foodies”. They closed up there about a year ago but the chef and owners have opened a new version, Catelli Duo, in the Voorhees Town Center next to the Echelon Mall. The construction in the area continues and by the spring of 2012 it will be the site of several new restaurants and many unique shops.

 Catelli Duo and their food offerings takes a little bit of explanation. The menu is quite extensive and it is unlikely that there won’t be several items that pique your culinary interest. Most items are offered in two columns, one marked “Social” and the other “Duo”. Quite simply, the “Social” portion is half the size of the “Duo” portion and usually priced at half the cost. They are similar to the “small plates” or “tapas” that many restaurants offer. The “Duo” portion is twice the size and usually can be shared with others. The same rules apply to the entree portion of the menu.

Our party of eight arrived at Catelli Duo (the reservation made on Open Table) and were promptly seated at an oval table that comfortably seated six, as was evidenced by the six place settings that were already there. The hostess proceeded to add two additional place settings and the eight of us tried our best to squeeze into the area assigned. Even with our twice daily trips to the local gym and our six-pack abs, the seating was uncomfortable. The restaurant was packed and it quickly became apparent that there was not going to be an alternative seating spot for our group. We decided to drown our sadness in drink but my first choice from the drink menu (this is NOT a BYOB) of a Brooklyn Lager was not to be as was the Sangria selection. They were out of both (it is 7:30 PM on a Saturday evening). Different selections were made and the drinks arrived. I ended up with an Arrogant Bastard Ale. The Hostess stopped by to inquire as to how the food was so far. Since we had only been served bread, it was a little difficult to make an appraisal.

IMG_6117

 

 Afer studying the menu I selected a “social” size portion of the Cheesesteak Eggrolls. I thought they tasted just “ok” but others at the table thought they were excellent.

 

 

 

 

IMG_6115

 

  Next, I chose from the pasta portion of the menu and selected the Spaghetti. It came with 2 small meatballs (this was also the “social” portion) and was bathed in a tasty red sauce. I really liked this item. I thought it was nicely prepared and had lots of flavor. My wife had a Chopped Salad and she also enjoyed that.

 

IMG_6116 Some of the others went with the Lobster Bisque which they thought was good but wondered why it wasn’t titled Crabmeat Bisque since there was no lobster present.

 

 

 

 

IMG_6121

 

 I must have been in a very pasta mood because as my entree I chose the Capellini Catelli, where you can have shrimp or crab in either a red, white or fra diavolo sauce. I went with the crab and fra diavolo (our server, Diane, declared it her personal favorite). This time I went with the “Duo” size portion. Often, when you order a fra diavolo sauce, the Chef seems to be afraid to make it too hot. This was NOT the case with this entree. It was HOT!! I think I needed three refills of my water-glass to get through the dish. My mouth was burning and I wanted to stop halfway through but to be honest, it tasted so damn good I kept going back for one more mouth torturing bite until my plate was clean.

 

 

IMG_6118

 

 Some of our friends went with one of the evening “speciasl”, a Veal Porterhouse served with mashed potatoes and green beans. They were all picking every last morsel of meat from the bone so I would assume they thought it was excellent.

 

 

IMG_6120       

                                                                                                                               My wife ordered the Seafood Ravioli, homemade pasta filled with shrimp crab and lobster cream in a pink blush sauce. She enjoyed her selection. She also chose a Malbec wine to accompany her meal.

 

We passed on dessert as we were going back to one of our party’s home for coffee and cake. The dessert menu did have some tempting choices on it and would be a “must do” next time. We got off to a bad start at Catelli Duo and I actually considered renaming it for this review, Catelli Buo, but the food redeemed them. I would say, Catelli Duo is a place for food, it is noisy and apparently popular. There are no romantic nooks to be found. It is definitely worth a visit.

TERESA’S CAFE

Posted in Teresa's Cafe (2nd review) with tags , , , , , , on November 24, 2012 by ballymote

It’s hard to believe that it had been over three years since the three of us had been together at Teresa’s in Wayne, PA for one of our frequent wine dinners. It’s a place we have frequented quite often and was one of the very first reviews I ever did on this blog. How time flies. Anyway, it was nice to return and we were given what we almost think of as “our seats” right by the front window. The food and service are always good at this Main Line eatery and tonight was no exception.

You would have thought that as many times as we had dined together that Gerry, John and I would have used up every conceivable insult known to man but, not surprisingly, all came prepared with a host of new derogatory comments which leave no room for tender feelings. You can interpret that last sentence as meaning we totally enjoyed each others company.

 As usual we had some very nice wines with us, all of which did their duty in enhancing our dining experience. Gerry brought a 2008 Apex, Columbia Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a Washington State wine from the that I used to see often at Total Wines in Cherry Hill but I’m quite sure he purchased it at a PA State Store. It had a nice nose of red berries and chocolate and was well-balanced on the palate. John had a 2007 Padeletti, Brunello di Montalcino which was another of his purchases from Wines Till Sold Out (WTSO). I’m not sure I would have trusted this site for a Brunello purchase but this one did not disappoint. It had a beautiful nose with lots of typical bright cherry flavors in the mouth. Deep, dark and intense it was a nice companion to our food and proof that the 97 Brunello vintage was one of the best in Italy. My wine for the night was a 2009, Black Kite, Anderson Valley, Stoney Terrace Vineyard, Pinot Noir. This is a strong, intense Pinot with lots of plum and raspberry notes, very smooth in the mouth with a soft, lingering finish. Everyone commented on this one. It’s tough to pick a winner from this group. They were all nice wines.

Each of us started our meal with an appetizer of one sort or another. John had the Margherita Pizza, I had the meatballs and Gerry had a bowl of soup. All of them were excellent as usual.

 John selected the Four Cheese ravioli as his main course and had them add some spicy sausage to the dish. It was excellently prepared, full of great flavor and the meat helped him experience one more food group on his plate.

  

 It’s hard to get Gerry to choose anything at Teresa’s that isn’t the Penne Al Forno so we have given up trying. We also don’t blame him as I consider it a truly wonderful dish which I have had more than a few times. Baked penne, hot sausage, marinara, ricotta and mozzarella all married in one spicy dish. There was nothing about his meal that will having him changing his entree on his next visit.

              I ordered the Chicken Rosemarino, roasted chicken breast, a risotto cake, haricut verts and sun-dried tomatoes. Nicely done chicken breast with fresh green beans in a tasty sauce. No complaints about this one.

  We did have just the tiniest room for dessert and John finished off his dinner with a scoop of ice cream small enough to be described as minute. My Tiramisu was a healthy portion and it was an excellent representation of the popular meal ender.

 Teresa’s Cafe has been a Main Line institution for some time and their consistency of food and service has made them a great choice for dinner, any day of the week.

MARLENE MANGIA BENE

Posted in Marlene Mangia Bene on November 11, 2012 by ballymote

 Woodbury, NJ is not the first area to come to mind when seeking a good BYOB in South Jersey. We had heard some good things, though about a fairly new restaurant called Marlene Mangia Bene and the eight of us decided to give it a try last night. Located at 43 South Broad Street on the main drag of Gloucester County’s seat of government. It is certainly an area that could use some nice dining spots so we were all anxious to see if it would live up to its advanced billing.

 My wine choice for the evening was a 2008 Almesa, Syrah, Paso Robles, CA. I had purchased four bottles of this wine from an internet site called WINES TILL SOLD OUT (WTSO). Each day they send out 4 or five emails featuring a greatly reduced wine, averaging about 40 or 50% off the previous best price, and the deal remains on until, as you may have guessed, the wine is sold out. They also offer free delivery if you purchase four bottles. This was my first time buying from them and I actually knew nothing about the Almesa Syrah. I am happy to report that the wines was great and the price was fantastic. It was a great food wine with plenty of dark fruits with hints of pepper and spice all in a nicely balanced structure.

 There were some nice choices on the appetizer section of the menu and Gerry went with the Eggplant Involtini. The eggplant was stuffed with goat cheese and he really enjoyed his choice. Joe had the stuffed long hots and although they were very good he felt that for $10.00 there should have been more than two of them. I had no trouble making my decision as I had to try Marlenes Meatball Medley, 3 homemade meatballs stuffed with mozzarella, pork and tender veal and topped with ricotta cheese and marinara sauce. They were delicious and a decent size portion also at $10.00.

                                                                      Carol’s appetizer was the unique Shrimp Limoncello, jumbo shrimp on crostini toast with limoncello sauce and crushed tomato. One of the staff explained that this dish was created from an accident when someone inadvertently spilled limoncello on a shrimp dish. Everyone tried it in the kitchen, they all liked it, and it was added to the menu.

 My wife, Kathy, had a bad cold but she couldn’t resist ordering the Lobster Tomato Bisque. I tasted it and it was good. I think lobster bisque should be served without any additions. I mean. why add tomato flavor to something as totally delicious as lobster? At $12.00 for a soup offering I expect it to be more lobster and less tomato.

  There was a pretty decent delay between appetizers and entrees which didn’t bother us because we were busily engaged in conversation, mostly about the results of the recent Presidential election and exactly how quickly Andy Reid should leave town. When the main course did arrive, three of party selected the Chicken Martino (actually, one had it as a veal dish. This dish came with chicken ($20.00) or veal ($22.00) and consisted of sauteed medallions, wild mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes with a light demi-glaze sauce served over a bed of capellini. Everyone was pleased with their order but one of the dishes was overpowered with the sauce and very light on the portion of capellini. It was very noticeable with the two other orders to compare it with. The restaurant was kind enough to not only replace the dish but took it off the bill and provided a free dessert. It’s a great sign of caring about your customers and your business when such service is provided. Mistakes can happen and as in this case they often provide an opportunity to show your professionalism.

 Joe had the Harvest Pork Chop, bone-in pork chop grilled to perfection and topped with a fig, apple and grand marnier topping and served with veggies and scalloped potatoes. There was nothing left but the bone when Joe was done with his meal.

Sue had one of the specials of the evening a Chilean Sea Bass which she really enjoyed. It looked like an outstanding piece of fish. Gerry had a Veal Chop and he had no complaints whatsoever.

 For my entree I went with the Jumbo Sea Scallops, pan seared scallops in a grand marnier glaze served with roasted plum tomatoes and sauteed baby spinach. The four scallops were indeed jumbo and the grand marnier glaze was the perfect topping. I really liked my dish. It was done perfectly and the spinach made a nice accompaniment to the scallops.

                                                                                                                 We topped off our dinners by passing around the Hi-Five cake, multiple layers of a rich chocolate concoction topped with creme fraiche and drizzled with more chocolate. The house also offered each of us our choice of three different appertifs, a basic limoncello, a basil-infused limoncello and a spiced apple concoction. Although they were all tasty, they were also very weak without any taste of alcohol noticeable.

We all thoroughly enjoyed Marelene Mangia Bene. It’s a breath of dining fresh air in a town that badly needs fine dining. I’d say the prices here, compared to much of Collingswood, would be slightly on the high side but the food quality is there so I can’t complain about the pricing. I’m sure we will return and I would recommend this dining establishment to anyone who enjoys well prepared dishes.

MELANGE

Posted in Melange with tags , , , , on October 27, 2012 by ballymote

 Four years ago, Chef Joe Brown moved his New Orleans themed restaurant from Cherry Hill to Haddonfield. Although I had been to the Cherry Hill location a couple of times this would be my first visit to the Haddonfield location.

 I liked the interior of Melange. Dark chocolate walls and lots of jazz themed prints of New Orleans gave this Cajun eatery a nice southern feel to it.

 I had a wine with me that not only was unfamiliar to me, I wasn’t even sure where I got it. The 2009 Planning Mill Red, Columbia Valley, Washington is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (65%) with some Syrah, Malbec, Merlot and Cab Franc thrown in. I thought it was surprisingly good for the the price (about $12.00, I think).  My wife, Kathy, also was impressed with this one. Joe had a 2009 Mario Ercolino, Sassarello, Sicily. I didn’t try this one but neither Joe nor Carol seemed impressed with this bottle.

 

I am so far behind in my reviews (it’s now 7 weeks since I began writing this one) that I am going to do some abbreviated reviews in order to try and catch up.

 

 

 

 For our appetizers Kathy and I shared the Baked Lobster Mac n Cheese which I thought was terrific and Kathy thought was OK.

 Joe had the their signature Tomato Crab Bisque infused with sherry. It looked good and he gave it a thumbs up.

 

 

 

 

 For her entree Kathy chose the Baked Chicken and Shrimp served over whole wheat linguine and the chicken was moist and flavorful. The shrimp huge and nicely done.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 I selected the Buttermilk Fried Breast of Chicken with Bourbon Mashed Sweet Potatoes topped with Country Ham Gravy. I thought the dish was perfect. The chicken was great and the sweet potatoes went well as a accompaniment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We finished off an excellent meal by passing around a Kahlua Pound Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream.

I love the menu at melange. It’s chock full of interesting items all prepared with a tangy, spicy Louisiana flare. I know my love affair with all things Cajun isn’t shared by all but it’s always a treat for me when I get the opportunity to enjoy this type of cooking done well as it is at Melange.

ONE AWESOME SOUP

Posted in South Philly Tap Room with tags , , on September 30, 2012 by ballymote

       I don’t think I have ever had a post on my blog in praise of a single, specific food item. I thought long and hard about doing this but, in the end, this culinary masterpiece is deserving of this singular praise.

 Allow me to set the scene. Eight of us were at The South Philly Tap Room on a Friday evening. I did not even bring my camera as I had no intention of blogging about the SPTR because I knew we’d all be drinking beer instead of wine. In attempting to choose a starter for the meal my eyes kept coming back to the Tomato Lager Soup. I have no idea why because I am not a huge soup fan and tomato soup would be way down on my list of soups to select. Nonetheless, for some unknown reason, I did order the Tomato Lager Soup. It was phenomenal!! A hot, tangy tomato bisque made with Yeungling lager and garnished with just the right amount of spices to give the liquid some real magic. If I stopped now in my description this would have been a delicious starter. What made it a truly awesome were the two little grilled cheese sandwiches on toasted crostinis swimming in the middle of the soup. The taste, the texture, the total experience was a foodies dream. I still keep telling myself it was only a bowl of soup but it was sooooooo much more. Even more amazing, if I remember correctly, it was only $6.00!! I’m sorry, I gotta go make a call to the South Philly Tap Room and see if they make deliveries.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 40 other followers