Archive for the BYOB Restaurant Reviews Category

SOUP’R NATURAL – BYOB (Parkton, MD)

Posted in BYOB Restaurant Reviews, MD), Soup'r Natural (Parkton with tags , , , on April 30, 2011 by ballymote

 Parkton, Maryland is not a town familiar to most of America. It may not even be familiar to most people who live in Maryland. When my son and his wife moved there a few years ago I had helped them with their move from just south of Baltimore. On their first morning in the new house I got up early and went out to buy a cup of coffee. The closest place I could find was located in Pennsylvania! For this, and many other reasons, I was slightly reluctant last Friday, when during a visit to their home in Parkton, I was informed we would be dining that evening at a “new” restaurant just recently opened in the village.

SOUP’R NATURAL featured, you guessed it, soups, and natural ingredients from surrounding local farms. What you might not have guessed, is that SOUP’R NATURAL turned out to be a wonderful restaurant.

 

We had excellent service from Lindsey and you can even bring a bottle of wine for a very reasonable $5.00 corkage fee. We are spoiled in the Delaware Valley, of course, with so many BYOB’s in our area but, even so, I could live with $5.00 if I resided in this part of Maryland.

 Today was Good Friday, so Kathy and I were certainly limited to the “fish” portion of the menu. Not to fear though, there was an intriguing Mac n Cheese appetizer and several different fish offerings. Almost all of us ordered the Mac n Cheese (small $3.75 – large $5.25). My one big mistake…..not ordering the large portion. This starter was outstanding. Great flavors and texture and the cheese was wonderful. There is something about a place doing Mac n Cheese well that signals good things are coming from the kitchen.

 Kathy ordered Neenee’s Grilled Tuscan Salmon with a tomato, artichoke and zucchini medley served over rice. Kathy loves good salmon and she declared that this one fell into that category. The fish was tender and flaky with nice smokey flavors.

I had no trouble finding the entree I wanted. It was the Cajun Catfish Dinner, pan-fried fresh fillets of farm-raised catfish rubbed with our spunky pecan rustic rub and served with Gumbo Rice. The fillets had just the right amount of spicy heat to provide super flavor without overpowering the delicate fish.

 My son and his wife had the Fresh Baby-backed Ribs with a bar-b-cue sauce and served with a sweet pepper salad. There were even some nice grilled cheese sandwiches for the kids.

 There are a lot of interesting choices on the menu. Soup’r Natural features some unique soups which are all available to go and you can feel the local pride of place that the Heneghan family brings to their restaurant. Father, Dan, stopped by a couple of times to make sure we were happy with our meal. There are plenty of great desserts too, with fountain sodas and old-fashioned milk-shakes to tempt young and old. I wish them all good luck with their culinary endeavor. We were quite impressed.

CHOPS GRILLE – on board the ALLURE OF THE SEAS

Posted in BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Chops Grille (on board Allure of the Seas) with tags , , , , , on April 24, 2011 by ballymote

 On our first night on board we passed on the Main Dining Room in order to try one of their specialty restaurants, Chops Grille. Located on Deck 8 in the Central Park area of the ship it’s an impressive venue much like you would expect at a land-based steak house. Our party of six were one of the first to be seated and presented menus and the wine list. Wine selections are slightly limited but there is enough to choose from and prices are about equal to what you would expect to pay in any decent restaurant offering wine (slightly more than 2x retail).

 Kathy and I shared a bottle of the 2008 Craggy Range, Te Kahu, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. This was a tasty blend of Merlot, Cab Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec and would stand up well with the filets that most of us were eyeing on the menu.

I began the meal with the Dungeness Crab and Shrimp Cake with a Remoulade sauce.

 Joe had the Beefsteak tomatoes with Purple Onions sprinkled with blue cheese crumbles. His was a nice presentation of fresh looking tomatoes and mine was a good choice as the sauce for the crab cake was perfect.

A few of us also ordered the Cheese and Onion Soup. One nice thing about these specialty restaurants is that they will bring you virtually anything and everything from the menu if you so request, It’s not like restaurants where you are limited to one appetizer or else you pay for additional items. The soup was very good. Some in our group raved about it but I felt I had tasted better onion soups in the past.

 Some of our group went with the Chops Grille House Salad and others sampled the Shrimp Cocktail. All of us were pleased with our choices and looking forward to the star of the evening, the 10 ounce filet mignon. The steaks came with your choice of four sauces, Classic Bernaise, Chimichurri, Green Peppercorn and Cabernet reduction. Most of us tried two of the four. All of them were good. We had ordered sides for the table which included sauteed broccollini, roasted potatoes with prosciutta and parmesan (yummy) and fried onion rings. The steak was wonderful. Tender and prepared just as each had ordered. Barb was the lone holdout.

She described her Alaskan Halibut as, tender, flaky and delicious.

 Our server, Richard, was from South Africa and he preformed admirably all evening. He even explained why he would not be telling the guys at the next table that shorts and flip-flops were not permitted in the restaurant. The best thing Richard did all night was telling us how good the Chocolate Mud Pie on the dessert menu was.

I wish I had been hungrier because I didn’t eat nearly enough of this delicious treat. I found myself several times during the course of our week on the Allure wishing that I had this dessert back. Everyone agreed it may have been the single best dish we ate all week.

Dinner at Chops was a great way to begin our week of fun and food and I would highly recommend making reservations here prior to your cruise.

CUCINA FORTE – BYOB

Posted in BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Cucina Forte, Wine Dinners with tags , , , , on April 7, 2011 by ballymote

 As I mentioned in the previous post, we have a cruise coming up shortly and so on this Saturday evening in early April the four couples who will be on the Allure of the Seas met for dinner at Cucina Forte in South Philly. As usual, parking in the area was at a premium and it’s no small accomplishment to finally secure a legal spot within walking distance of the restaurant. 

Inside the restaurant, we looked over our menus while our server, Vinnie, (I know, how would a South Philly waiter ever have a name like Vinnie) recited some of the many special appetizers and entrees for the evening. I had looked at the menu online earlier in the day and was already pretty damn sure I knew what I was going to be having for my starter. Before I get to the food though, I want to talk about the wine.

 I have been anxiously awaiting the right time to open my first 2008 Bedrock Wine Co., The Bedrock Heirloom, Sonoma Vally. This interesting blend by Morgan Twain-Pederson is quickly becoming a cult classic that distinguishes itself from the other cult wines by being eminently affordable. The Bedrock Heirloom is made from 120 year old vines, some of the oldest in California and it’s spicy, full of flavor fruit has great structure and balance and drinks well now and will be even better with more time in the bottle. Just a yummy wine but only 228 cases made and it’s all gone now.

 Maria’s Dream Soup. Maria is Maria Forte, Chef/Owner of Cucina Forte. I spoke with her on the phone when making our reservation and I told her about my blog. She sounded genuinely excited that we were coming but unfortunately, she had a death in the family and was back in Italy on this Saturday evening. Very sorry for your loss, Maria. Her Dream Soup was created with love for her late husband and features grilled chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, wild mushrooms (I took them out), broccoli rabe, home-made bread cubes dipped in a light egg batter and all served in a chicken broth. I thought it was great. Kathy thought it was just OK,  but I don’t think she sampled enough of mine.

 Some had the mussels, others split a seafood appetizers with grilled shrimp, scallops, calamari and lagostinos over broccoli rabe. There was also an antipasto consisting of roasted peppers, olives and assorted premium meats and cheeses. All of these were tasty and a great way to start dinner.

 For my entree I went with the Lobster Ravioli, in a cream sauce with four nice-sized shrimp circling the dish. I thought the dish was very nice without being overly filling as these dishes can sometimes be.

Tom had the Chilean Sea Bass served in a white wine sauce with tomatoes and capers while Kathy ordered the Veal Saltimbocca, veal medallions with prosciutto sauteed in a wine and sage cream sauce served with potatoes and asparagus spears. She thought the veal was nicely prepared but could have used additional flavoring.

 Joe and Carol both ordered one of the specials, the Sacletti, little purse shaped pastas filled with fontina cheese and prosciutto and served with tomatoes, mushrooms and shrimp in an olive and garlic sauce.

Tom had a side order of the house-made gnocchi and I managed to taste a few of these tiny pasta creations and I thought they were very good.

We decided to skip dessert  went back to one of the couples house to discuss our upcoming trip. We thought dinner at Cucina Forte was a very nice event.

ZACHARIAS CREEK SIDE CAFE – BYOB

Posted in BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Wine Dinners, Zacharias Creek Side Cafe with tags , , , on April 2, 2011 by ballymote

 To celebrate my friend, Gerry, having a cast removed from his arm, and also because we look for just about any reason we can find to drink some good wines and sample fine food, three of us headed to Worcester, PA on Rt. 113 for dinner at Zacharias Creek Side Cafe this past Tuesday evening. What should have been an 18 minute ride from my office in King of Prussia took well over an hour as I fought the 422 traffic.

After the torturous journey I was ready for some wine.

 As usual, we had some nice choices to sample. I had brought with me a 2004 Chateau Leoville las Cases, St. Julien. This wasn’t the greatest of years for Bordeaux wines but this one still managed to grab 95 points from the Wine Spectator and 93 from Robert Parker. Gerry, John and myself could not find it in our hearts to be quite that generous as we all felt this one didn’t quite do it for us. I think we’d probably come closer to a 90/91. Don’t get me wrong, it was fine, we just expected more. John’s 2007 Mollydooker Blue Eyed Boy, Shiraz was just as I had remembered from previous times; deep dark fruit mixed with hints of tobacco and chocolate, a great sipping wine . Gerry delivered the wine of the night with his 2008 Alpha-Omega Proprietary Red Wine. Gerry has become such a huge fan of everything Jean Hoefliger is producing at A-O that he has become an A-O Wine Club member. The Proprietary Red is a 50-50 blend of Cabernet and Merlot and it’s just silky smooth and rich in fruit, perfectly balanced with a 60 second finish.

 Speaking of silky smooth, our server for the evening, Alli, certainly fit that description. She displayed charm and professionalism all evening. She instinctively understood that we were not in any hurry and she allowed us all the time we wanted before ordering. She also made certain we had several glasses each so we could properly enjoy our wines. Thanks, Alli, you done good!!

Zacharias Creek Side Cafe offers a Prix Fixe dinner Tuesdays thru Thursdays at $29.95. I was the only one of the three of us who opted for this choice. I started my meal with the Butternut Squash and Apple Bisque. It was served at the perfect temperature and the combination of fresh veggie flavor with the hint of fruit made a nice taste combination.

 Gerry and John went with some items that were a little more exotic for their starters. Gerry’s chicken livers were, I believe, a special of the evening and John’s plate of cured meats included prosciutto, bresaole and soppressata looked wonderful. I really should have tried some but I passed and that meant more for each of them.

We conversed over our wines as we awaited our entrees. I was slightly limited in my choices as I has selected the Prix Fixe menu but there were certainly enough enticing items there to allow me to settle on a selection.

 I went with the Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes served with potatoes and parsnip puree, brussel sprouts and roasted garlic aioli. The crab cake was filled with fresh meat and very little filling, the puree was a nice touch and the aioli brought out all of the flavor in the tender crab meat. I may have done better with a lighter wine than what we had with us but that did not deter from a very enjoyable entree.

Gerry chose, from the regular menu, the roast duck. In looking at the menu now, I don’t see it listed so I wish I had jotted down what accompanied the dish because it all looked so good. It was not one of the specials, so I am a little bewildered as to why it isn’t listed on the current website menu. Anyway, he liked it but did mention there might be a tad too much salt in the dish.

 John was thinking like me and went with the jumbo lump crab cake except that he was craving a little meat with his meal and therefore had a four-ounce filet to complete his dish. Both the crab cake and the filet were excellent and John had no complaints whatsoever.

We still had some room for dessert and I was about to write that the desserts weren’t listed individually on the website so, although they were very good, I can’t adequately describe them…..BUT..I just had a flashback to Alli handing me a piece of paper so I went and dug out the shirt I wore that evening and there, in excellent penmanship, on the back of one of Zacharias red comment sheets, is a complete mouth-watering description of what we had for dessert. 

 John had the Creme Brulee. It was fine. Gerry and I went a much more adventurous route.

Here is Gerry’s Pavlova, almond meringue topped with lemon curd, blood orange and strawberry salad with white chocolate shavings and toasted almonds. Looked good, tasted better.

 My little totally low-cal item was the white chocolate passion fruit mousse cake with a deep chocolate glaze. This one was perfect with the cup of coffee I had to conclude my meal.

The three of us enjoyed our dinner at Zacharias Creek Side Cafe. Owner Andrew Gallo stopped by more than once to make sure we were enjoying our food. It is evident that he cares about what is being served and he has good reason to be proud of what he and his wife, Nancy, have created.

SYCAMORE – BYOB (2nd Review)

Posted in BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Sycamore (2nd Review), Wine Dinners with tags , , , , on March 24, 2011 by ballymote

 It had been almost a year since our last visit to Sycamore in Lansdowne, PA. It’s hard to believe that this dining spot, located within walking distance of where we all grew up, is now listed by Philadelphia Magazine as one of the Top 25 Restaurants in Philadelphia.

We had each enjoyed our previous meal there and I was anxious to pay even more attention now that Chef Sam Jacobson had achieved a certain notoriety.

 Our server, Jamie, had a terrific personality and was efficient and professional in seeing that we enjoyed our evening. We never felt rushed despite the fact that we spent way too much time chatting before even looking at the menu. It was a Wednesday evening which meant the Casual Prix Fixe Menu for $29.00 was available. It was essential that all five of us opt for that style of dining and in the end we decided to just order separately from the regular menu.

My wine for the evening was one that I had heard mentioned often on the wine boards but had never been able to find in any of our local wine shops. I think I finally found this one a few weeks ago at Wine Works in Marlton. It’s the 2008 Educated Guess, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley. It’s hard to find Napa Valley cabs under $20.00 that deliver as much flavor as this one. I was totally impressed with the balance and structure of this wine and would score it 92 points and I am making a note to add more of this to my cellar.

After we placed our order Jamie brought us an amuse bouche, herb roasted wild boar with sweet potato ricotta puree. Excellent way to start a meal and certainly not something you have every day. There was not a lot of variety in our choices as four of the five selected the same appetizer.

 Everyone but myself chose the Pancetta and Goat Cheese Tart, phyllo crust and deep caramelized onions. I had this on our first visit and remember it as being wonderful and the four who silently devoured it seemed to be in complete agreement. I would have ordered this again except that I wanted to try what seemed like a very simple, basic dish.

I selected the Spahetti alla Carbonara, cream, bacon and locatelli.  This is absolutely a case of words not doing justice to the food. Trust me, I know it sounds simple but every morsel of this dish was absolute perfection on a fork. The flavors were subtle yet intense. The pasta prepared flawlessly. Quite possibly one of the best starters I have had in the past year. Kudos to the Chef!

 Once again four of the five of us went with the same entree, making for a dearth of pictures at this meal. Only Ange did not go with our selection of the Seared Sea Scallops, potato, chorizo and chantarelle hash, creamed swiss chard. Another simple dish turned into culinary magic at the hands of Chef Jacobson. Just an absolute delight. The hash seemed to be married to the scallops and every bite was enticingly good. It was becoming quite apparent as to how Sycamore had achieved its lofty ranking.

Ange was nice enough to share a taste of his entree, the 12oz. Green Meadow Farm Pork Chop, molasses, smoked paprika and cumin brined, French lentil and bacon cassoulet, local sauerkraut and apple butter gastrique. Beautiful presentation and sweet and spicy flavors dancing off of every bite of the tender chop. I couldn’t help but wonder if everything on the menu was as good as the two dishes our table had consumed.

 We still had room for dessert and our three choices were all very good. I think our favorite was the Sticky Toffee Pudding with dates, caramel sauce and fresh cream. Runner-up was the Rum Butterscotch Budino, graham cracker crust, creme fraiche and crisp local bacon. Last, but not least, was the Ginger Poached Pear, filled with dark chocolate orange ganache.

As we were finishing our meal Chef Jacobson stopped by to see how we felt about our dinner. He is understandably proud of what he has created at Sycamore and we shared with him how good we thought everything was tonight.

 Chef treated us to an extra dessert of sugar glazed clementines drizzled with chocolate and served with creme fraiche. They were yummy.

You could see by the crowd on a weekday evening that Sycamore is no longer a secret gem hidden in the Philly suburbs. If you have not yet had the pleasure of eating here I would strongly suggest adding it to your MUST DO list.

RED ROOM CAFE – BYOB

Posted in BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Red Room Cafe, Wine Dinners with tags , , , , , , , , on March 19, 2011 by ballymote

 There are some restaurants that you enjoy because of the food. There are others that stand out for other reasons. Ten of us enjoyed our Saturday evening dinner at this Ventnor, NJ BYOB because the food was good and an outstanding server named Frankie Fish not only entertained us but made us feel like part of the family.

Frank and Jill made a great tandem and with all of our wines and extra glasses we kept them hopping all evening. They handled each request with skill and professionalism. It didn’t hurt that Frank does a pretty good imitation of Robert DeNiro.

We were lucky that the Red Room Cafe had decided to extend Atlantic City Restaurant Week for a few more days and thus our three course meals including an appetizer, entree and dessert were available for the fixed price of $33.11.

 As usual, we had a nice assortment of some pretty good wines including, but not limited to, those shown here. A 2003 Chateau Molinet Lasserre, Pomerol started off the evening and was a nice solid Merlot based wine that had nice tobacco, red plum and chocolate notes with the earthy hints as well. There was also a 2008 Thumbprint Ramazotti Vineyard, Zinfandel and we always enjoy the unique wines from this California producer who we have met on both coasts. Joe B. chipped in with a very nice 1999 Castiglione del Bosco, Brunello di Montalcino, Campo del Drago. This 92 pointer from Wine Spectator took a few minutes to find itself but then the smooth flavors of crushed berries and soft tannins revealed nice hints of a well-made wine that had grown in stature during its decade in the bottle. It went well with many of the dishes served. I went with a 2007 Bella Vineyards, Alexander Valley, Dry River Ranch, Syrah. Bold flavors of rich blackberry and licorice with a combination of power and finesse made this a great match for a wide range of hearty foods. Although not pictured we had a few other wines, most notable among them was a 2007 Lost Canyon, Morelli Lane Vineyard, Pinot Noir. Great nose of lilac and mint and soft flavors of ripe cherries made this wine perfect for some of the lighter meats.

It would be virtually impossible to review all of the items and course that the ten of us enjoyed but I will focus on mine and a couple of others that I recall.

Several of our group began with salads, the House Caesar, a Roasted Beet Salad and on the right my choice of a Classic Wedge Salad with Blue Cheese dressing on the side. All were tasty with the beets drawing the most attention.

Some of the others chose items like the Eggplant Rollatini, the Sausage and Broccoli Rabe and the Manhattan Crab Chowder. All of these were met with total satisfaction

 There were lots of tempting entrees to choose from and the ten of us managed to sample quite a few. Ange and Arlene both chose the Vitello con Funghi Salavaticci, veal medallions, prosciutto and a trio of wild mushrooms sauteed in a Marsala wine and veal demi-glaze sauce. It looked great and they both totally enjoyed their selection.

 Gerry went with the Bronzino fillet served, as were most dishes, with mashed potatoes and asparagus spears, I went with the fettucine Al Rubinio, toasted jumbo lump crab meat served over a bed of fettuccine in a roasted garlic cream sauce. My dish was very good. The sauce was subtle and not overpowering. I took enough home for a Sunday lunch.

One of the ladies ordered the Ravioli Aragosta, homemade ravioli stuffed with lobster and served in a rose Cognac cream sauce and another had the Gamberi Imbottiti, jumbo shrimp stuffed with crab meat in a wine sauce.

Val opted for the Pollo alla Parmagiana served over a bed of spaghetti in a rich marinara sauce. Kathy chose the Salmon with a dijon mustard sauce. Her dinner was delayed for about eight minutes and it made for some slight tension. She thought the fish was good but that the sauce lacked flavor. A common complaint amongst several in our party that although everything was fresh that the sauces and flavorings left a little to be desired. This wasn’t a major complaint but it would have been nice if the entire meal matched the warmth and charm displayed by our server, Frankie Fish.

The tray of fresh desserts looked terrific and I know we sampled almost all of them. By this time we were in a bit of a rush as we had show tickets and the start time was quickly approaching. Overall, it was quite a fun night. The food was good and the service was top-notch. I would strongly suggest adding The Red Room Cafe  in Ventnor to your list of BYOBs to visit during your trips to the Jersey shore this summer.

JOE PESCE – BYOB

Posted in BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Joe Pesce, South Jersey BYOB Reviews, Wine Dinners with tags , , , , , , , on March 13, 2011 by ballymote

 Joe Pesci is a New Jersey actor who starred in Goodfellows, Casino, My Cousin Vinny and countless other major films. Joe Pesce is a restaurant in Collingswood. There is no connection between the two. Six of us ventured into Collingswood for a visit to this restaurant last Saturday night. We had been there before but it has been a couple of years and we have not been there during the life of my blog.

 Aubrey, our server for the evening, had a great smile and she provided capable and attentive service throughout the meal, despite trying to avoid having her picture taken.

 My wine this evening came recommended by my Wine Guru friend, Vladi, who can be found most days and evenings prowling the well-stocked aisles at Wine Works on Rt. 70 in Marlton, NJ. This one was the 2008 Triton Zamora Tempranillo, Spain. This one had a very distinctive flavor of crushed berries and exotic spices. I thought it was good value for the money (mid-teens) but, as usual, my wife, although she enjoyed it, knew exactly where the price point for this wine was located. At any rate, a nice wine that went well with our food.

 Jerry started his meal with the Seared Scallops served over a bed of sauteed spinach and drizzled with a balsamic reduction. The scallops were done just right and the sauce added just the right tangy flavor to the delicate scallops.

A couple of the ladies went with the Eggplant Caprese which featured slices of fried eggplant between sections of creamy mozzarella cheese. They reported that the cheese was very good but the eggplant was a little bland.

 I had no trouble at all choosing my appetizer. It’s not often I get to have meatballs as an appetizer so when I spotted Joy’s Meatballs on the menu, I knew I would be trying them. Two nice sized spheres of beef, veal and pork were accompanied by a nice toasted crostini smeared with buttery cheese. The meatballs were in a tasty marinara sauce and I was delighted with my starter.

 There were a couple of interesting fish “specials” on the menu on this particular night and I was torn between the salmon and the red snapper. When Jerry chose the salmon and Joe selected the red snapper, I was more confused than ever. I decided to go with the salmon and I ended up quite happy with my choice. This was a pan-seared salmon stuffed with crab imperial and served in a scampi sauce of lemon butter, white wine, capers and sun-dried tomatoes. The fish was cooked to perfection, flaky and tender, the sauce was delicate and the side of potatoes made for a wonderful meal.

Joe’s red snapper was pretzel encrusted and served with a honey dijon sauce. The dish came with a side of broccoli rabe. It looked very good. Joe mentioned just a slight hint of the pretzel flavored coating and overall, I think I made a better selection in choosing the salmon though Joe certainly had no complaints.

 Sue went with an unusual choice for her, the lamb chops, while Kathy countered with a veal dish. Both items looked good and the women seemed pleased with their dinners. The same could NOT be said for Carol.

 Her dish sounded delicious. It was the Papardelle Aragosta. Fresh flat noodle pasta with chunks of lobster. When the dish was presented Carol began an ardent search for the elusive crustacean. She did find a small claw and some shreds of the succulent shellfish. She thought there surely must be more hidden away beneath the pasta. Rather than hire a private invesigator skilled in finding missing persons (or, in this case, absent lobster), she asked Aubrey to bring the dish back and add more lobster which she did. It still didn’t bring the dish up to par for Carol as even with the additional lobster pieces she found the sauce bland.

 Everyone agreed that all three of our desserts were first-rate. The Chocolate Cake was excellent. The Chocolate Chip Banana Cake was pretty special and the seven layer Carrot Cake was as good as you would hope. Each of these treats, which we passed around the table, was the perfect ending to the meal.

BARONE TUSCAN GRILL (2nd Review)

Posted in Barones Tuscan Grill (2nd review), BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Wine Dinners with tags , , , , on February 9, 2011 by ballymote

 

This blog has been in existence since July of 2009. During these past 18 or 19 months I have reviewed over 100 restaurants all over the Delaware Valley and a few in California. We have had over 32,000 visitors in that time. No single review that I have ever posted has had as many readers as my first review of Barone Tuscan Grill in Woolwich Twp., NJ which I wrote during their opening week last summer. No other post has even come close to generating the readership that continues to this day for that one post. It is, and was, so befuddling to me that I was prompted several months ago to write a post titled The Great Barone Tuscan Grill Mystery. Even that post is high on the most-read list. The review itself was nothing special. Some in our group were not pleased, the majority, myself included, thought the meal was pretty good, in light of the “new opening jitters” that were to be expected at a time like that. Why it has generated so many readers is still something I can’t explain but, here we are for a return visit and it will be interesting to see what kind if response this one brings.

 Six of us on an early February Friday evening and the place is packed. Someone must like the food. We have a nice round table set up for us in the back and the place is buzzing with activity. Each couple has a nice bottle of wine to compliment the food and the menu at ‘ is so extensive that there would be little reason to offer “specials”. Joe B. ran across the Plaza to JB Liquors and picked up a 2005 Monte Degli Angeli, Barolo. This full bodied Nebbiolo had soft plum and cedar notes, a silky finish and was a good match for the food. Jerry C. had the 2008 Merum Monastrell from the Jumilla region of Spain. It showed flavors of forest floor and black cherry and provided a smooth finish. I brought along one of the La Posta Malbecs (there are at least three vineyards that I am aware of to date). This one was the 2007 La Posta, Pizzella Family Vineyard, Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina. A nice nose of dark chocolate and spice and enticing cherry and tobacco flavors on the palate. A Wine Spectator 91 rating.

Jerry started out with a plate of mussels in their classic marinara sauce and served with a toasted garlic crostini. I went with the Potato Soup with truffle oil and crisp pancetta. The zuppe was hot and thick and tasty although the sparse pancetta quickly disappeared beneath the surface. No complaints. No raves.

 Carol B. had the Broccoli Rabe, sauteed with extra virgin olive oil, veal sausage and roasted garlic. Carol wasn’t totally thrilled with the broccoli rabe but felt the sausage was good. Others had a small house salad.

Our server was Allan, and he did a nice job all night completing our orders. He had quite a few tables and worked hard in making sure that all of them were taken care of properly.

As I mentioned earlier, Barone’s menu has lots to choose from. There are about 14 different ways to have chicken or veal, lots of tempting pasta dishes most baked in terra cotta bowls and even a few House Specialties.

 One of those House Specialties was what I considered ordering before changing my mind. I was glad to see Jerry request the Polpettone Toscana, Italian style meatloaf stuffed with prosciutta and spinach, hard-boiled egg and slow roasted and served in its natural juices. Jerry wasn’t thrilled but thought it was decent. I’m not sure I’m totally comfortable with the hard-boiled egg propped in the middle of it.

 Joe B. went with another of my “almost” choices, the Pollo Scarpiello, chicken breast, long hots and sausage in a Rosemary wine sauce. It looked excellent and Joe said the chicken was cooked perfectly and was very flavorful.

Two of the ladies opted for the Pollo Vesuvio, breaded cutlets served over a bed of spinach, topped with fresh mozzarella and tomato and finished with tortellini alfredo. It wouldn’t be wrong to change the name of this dish to “heart attack on a plate” but once again the ladies agreed that the chicken was excellent.

Normally, with all those chicken choices on the menu my only task is to narrow them down to the one I want. On this night, I decided to try Mamma’s Sunday Sauce, two homemade meatballs over capellini pasta. The sauce was delicious, the meatballs big enough that I could find no fault with them and the pasta done just right. Once again, the portion was large enough that I was able to box up enough to make for a nice dinner the next evening.

So, another visit to the place that holds such interest to so many. It may be that Greenwich and Woolwich Township is just growing so quickly that the new homeowners are desperate for decent places to eat. That’s what Barone Tuscan Grill is, not a fabulous dining establishment, just a decent place to eat on a Friday night.

BONA CUCINA (3rd REVIEW)

Posted in Bona Cucina (3rd review), BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Wine Dinners with tags , , , , , , on February 8, 2011 by ballymote

 Bona Cucina, the little Italian gem hidden away in Upper Darby, is not the same place without the sassy Frankie, waitress and wife of the Chef, in residence. So it was on this cold 1st day of February that my friend, Frank D., and I dined here and discovered that Frankie had the night off. Her absence may have deterred from the overall ambiance, but the food was just as good as ever.

We shared a bottle of 2008 Pillar Box Reserve. This wine with the black label is the big brother of one of my favorite value wines, the Pillar Box Red. This one is in the $20.00 range and well deserves its 91 point score from the Wine Advocate. Inky black, with hints of tobacco and spices on the nose, the dark berry fruit and notes of leather are well-balanced and soft on the palate.  I think I still feel the “red” Pillar Box is a better value when you can catch it on sale.

Frank and I caught up on what had been happening since our last dinner while we looked over the menu that we virtually know by heart.

 Frank selected as his appetizer, the Portobello mushrooms stuffed with crab meat. Five huge portions appeared and were gone in no time. He didn’t think he would be able to finish them and almost made me promise to take at least one even though I detest mushrooms. Once he started eating though, he had no problem devouring all of them.

Quite honestly, I don’t think I would have been in any position to help him as I was in food nirvana with each spoonful of my Seafood Chowder. Something this good deserves a better, more exotic name than simply “seafood chowder”. It was absolutely delicious. I had our server ask the chef what was in it and she returned and told me “seafood”. My fault for asking dumb questions.

 Frank ordered the twin crab cakes, which he has done in the past, and I know he feels they may be the best around. There certainly isn’t much filler in these two perfectly baked mounds of rich, succulent crab and most of our conversation came to a screeching halt as we gave all of our attention to our dinners.

I almost went with the orange roughy from the list of evening “specials” but I gave in to the very same temptation that I always succumb to when dining at Bona Cucina and went with the Chicken Celeste. Two very generous and perfectly cooked chicken breasts in a wonderful cream sauce with peppers and melted mozzarella. Just as good as ever, and enough to take home some for another dinner for the following night.

It may be that a wine of somewhat less body would have provided a better companion piece to our meal but that’s not really a complaint. Once again, Bona Cucina, even without the help of Frankie, proved it’s a great spot for a memorable meal.

THE PIZZA BOX – BYOB

Posted in BYOB Restaurant Reviews, The Pizza Box, Wine Dinners with tags , , on January 30, 2011 by ballymote

What better way to start out the new year than with a sit down dinner on New Year’s Day with my wife, Kathy, at our local pizza place. Actually, there are probably hundreds of better ways but this was the one we chose.

 We took with us a bottle of the 2008 Altovinum “Evodia” Calatayud Garnacha, which was thoroughly discussed in a recent post. As I mentioned then, we did not enjoy this wine at all, with Kathy finding it even worse than I did. I’m sure the fact that the Pizza Box uses what might be the worse looking “wine glasses” I have ever encountered didn’t help the wine but that’s not an excuse.

 Kathy started her meal off with a house salad and I opted for the Cream of Broccoli soup. The soup was a good starter; nice and warm with decent flavors. Kathy thought her salad was crisp and fresh.

The menu at Pizza Box is not extensive. They do most of their business with pizza, steaks and hoagies being ordered for take-out and they do that pretty well. There are still enough items listed to enable one to choose something of interest.

Kathy ordered the Eggplant Parmigiano while I went with the Chicken Parmigiano. Neither one of our orders was very daring but we both enjoyed our entrees and the portions were sufficient to provide enough to take home for a next day lunch.

It’s a good bet that our first restaurant of 2011 won’t be one of the year’s highlights but it’s nice to welcome the new year in with wine and food.

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