Archive for the Philly BYOB Reviews Category

TRATTORIA GIUSEPPE – BYOB

Posted in BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Trattoria Giuseppe, Wine Dinners with tags , , , , , , , , on December 12, 2010 by ballymote

 The sign looks big but it wasn’t easy finding Trattoria Giuseppe which sits back behind a shopping center off of West Chester Pike (Rt. 3) in Edgemont, PA. Judging by the crowd on this chilly Tuesday evening, I may have been one of the few who was challenged by the task of locating this very popular Delaware County eatery. I was having dinner with some childhood friends (Frank, Steve & Tom) and they are familiar with the area and had told me how popular this Italian Restaurant was and that we were lucky, even on a Tuesday, to not have to wait for a table despite having reservations. All of this made me curious as to why the place was such a local favorite.

 I had brought with me an unfinished bottle of the 2005 Cameron Hughes, Lot 125, Pinot Noir, Napa/Carneros. This is a really great Pinot for the money with a great nose and lots of strawberry and raspberry flavors and just delivers terrific value for the money. My other bottle was something I picked up at the PA State Store some time back. The 2007 Borra Vineyards, Field Blend, Lodi, California is a very different wine, made from a blend of grapes you seldom see. 48% Barbera, 23% Carignane, 16% Alicante Bouschet, 13% Petite Sirah. It’s a dark ruby red in the glass with a full mouthfeel. This is one you are going to either love or hate. I take that back because, come to think of it, I can’t quite decide.

Our server, Jeremiah, was poised and polished and also impressed that Frank was able to name Three Dog Night as the group that made the 60’s song featuring his name. He opened our wine, outlined the specials and brought us some complimentary bruschetta.

 Nice fresh tomatoes atop a crisp piece of Italian bread made this a great way to start off our evening. We spent some time conversing and reviewing the massive menu before the four of us had zeroed in on our selections. For appetizers, Frank and Steve split some more bruchetta; an order  which was large enough to end famine in a third world country. I would have a picture of it but I couldn’t get the entire plate in the frame of the lens.

 I ordered the Mozzarella Caprese, fresh mozzarella, sliced red tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil and basil. This was another huge offering of which I ate about 40% and took the rest home. I was beginning to see why families were filling the tables here as dinners appeared to be such that each meal was enough to serve the family for the rest of the week.

 Entrees were more of the same as Tommy’s dish of Tagliatelle Giuseppe was chock full of seafood, featuring mussels, shrimp, scallops some chopped tomatoes and broccoli rabe.

Steve’s order of Ravioli Quattro Formaggio, fresh made ravioli filled with blue cheese, goat cheese, mozzarella and parmesan in a rich cream sauce looked like an artery clogging delight. I knew he would have a tough time finishing this one and although he totally enjoyed it there was quite a bit to bring back home.

 Frank’s Tilapia topped with shrimp and artichokes was, I believe, one of the “specials” and was the only dish that appeared to offer a chance of being totally consumed in one sitting. The fish was nicely baked and had a an appealing white wine sauce.

As for myself, I figured if I was in a true, Italian restaurant why not give the spaghetti and meatballs a try. When I order this dish I am always keeping my fingers crossed that I will have at least two nice sized meatballs to compliment the pasta. The bowl that arrived at my table, steaming hot, contained FOUR mammoth meatballs. I gave it a worthy attempt but still was unable to make much of a dent in the meal before I gave up and had it boxed. It provided not only another great dinner but TWO more dinners, which, to be honest, tasted better on each subsequent day.

We passed on dessert as we were all stuffed and settled for more wine and laughs. It’s always great to get together with these guys and tonight was no exception.

 Trattoria Giuseppe does not need me to give it a “thumbs up”. It’s apparent that enough people have done that. Weekends are virtually impossible to avoid waiting lines. It’s very good food, tremendous portions, we found Jeremiah to be a first class server and just an overall nice spot for a meal that will not break your budget.

SOLA – BYOB

Posted in BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Sola, Wine Dinners with tags , , , , , on November 24, 2010 by ballymote

 It had been way too long since my wine loving buddies, Gerry B. and John G., and myself got together for one of our wine dinners. Last night we met up for a six P.M. reservation at Sola on Lancaster Ave. in Bryn Mawr, PA.  The parking was a little tricky but once we found some spots we were at a table in the fashionable, upscale dining spot. Some nice piano music, just a decibel or two louder than it should have been, provided a nice backdrop for our meal.

Our server, Marina, was both personable and efficient. She opened our wines. There were no specials to recite so she told us a few of her favorites. Sola offers a tempting Prix Fixe Dinner at $40.00 which features a salad,  appetizer, entree and dessert. The regular menu has more than a few items that caught our interest and it was apparent from the start that choosing just one was not going to be an easy task.

 As usual, we had a wonderful array of good wines with us. Sola charges a minimal $2.00 corkage charge, which, I believe, is donated to a charity. In return they offer excellent stemware and we had separate glasses for each of our four wines. It was hard to pick a wine of the night from this group which included, a 2005 EMH/Black Cat Cabernet Sauvignon, perhaps the sole survivor of several Black Cat cabs we purchased while visiting Merrill Lindquist during our October Napa trip. This one was dark ruby in the glass and drinking only slightly less well than the fabulous 2007. We also had another souvenir from our trip, a 2008 Bella Vineyards, Lily Hill, Dry Creek Valley, Zinfandel, chock full of pepper and spice and plenty of dark cherries and plums. Gerry B. had also bought his last 1999 Chappallet Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, which we had all raved about on a prior wine dinner. It was still great but not performing quite as well as we had remembered. Our final wine was one that none of us was familiar with but one which certainly held its own even in this group. It was a 2008 Mad Hatter, Napa Valley Red Wine. It’s tough to find much info on this wine although it appears to be made by the folks at Dancing Hares wines (where Andy Erikson, winemaker for Screaming Eagle, presides and may be responsible for the Mad Hatter) and sells for about $55.00 which is well above its current $29.99 price at PA State Stores. The wines were great and I am happy to report, so was the food served at Sola.

Gerry and John each had the Pan Seared Fois Gras, house cured duck prosciutto, poached Seckel Pear, toasted pistachio and port reduction. Gerry thought it tasted great while not quite being as stellar as Gilmores.

I wanted to try the Lobster and Pumpkin Bisque but made a last-minute switch to the Carmelized Onion and Gruyere Tart, baby frissee, pancetta lardons, aged Jerz-hazelnut vinnegrette. This was an unusual item that had a unique flavor. I had sworn off all food items containing the word “frissee” but I totally enjoyed the taste of this appetizer. Ya just never know.

For his entree, John G. selected the Herb Marinated Veal Tenderloin, kabocha squash tart (does one EVER tire of kabocha squash tarts?), crispy sweetbreads, truffle oil, red wine braised purple cabbage and sherry jus. The veal was done to medium perfection and John thought the dish was excellent.

Gerry ordered the Australian Lamb Two Ways, braised shoulder, hand-made gnocchi with English peas, ricotta grilled loin, ratatouille and mango chutney. Gerry loved this dish and insisted I try the stew like portion and although I am not a big lamb fan, this really was outstanding.

 I certainly had no complaints about my entree. I chose the Seared Diver Sea Scallops, carmelized salsify golden raisins, Meyer lemon and Israeli cous cous, with a smoked tomato butter, pine nuts and shaved botarga. The presentation was picture perfect and the scallops with the sauce created a mouth-watering taste sensation. The entree was light and full of flavor. If I had any regret at all it was that I did not have a Pinot Noir to drink with the scallops.

The three of us were enjoying great conversation and sampling the quartet of excellent wines so it only made sense to extend the meal by ordering from the dessert menu.

The trio of goodies above are from left to right, my Espresso-Brown Sugar Gelato. Like Gerry mentioned, “what’s not to like about Espresso and brown sugar”. This was light and yummy. John was no less pleased with his Roasted Banana Creme Brulee with orange-ginger biscotti. Gerry may have made the best choice as he went with the dessert offered on the Prix Fixe menu and the one that Marina declared her “absolute favorite”, the White Chocolate, Golden Raisin & Coconut Bread Pudding with caramel sauce and macerated strawberries. This one was just a plate-full of gooey goodness.

With our tummies full and the wines nearly gone it was time to end this wonderful dinner. Sola is a bit on the pricey side but it certainly delivers value for the money. As I headed home and Gerry and John finished their post-dinner cigar it was evident that a return to Sola would definitely be in our future plans.

AUGUST RESTAURANT – BYOB

Posted in August Restaurant, BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Wine Dinners with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 25, 2010 by ballymote

The first good thing I can say about August is that for some reason, unbeknownst to me, you can always find a fairly convenient parking spot despite its location in the 1200 block of South 13th Street in the Bella Vista section of South Philadelphia. It also helps that the food is pretty damn good. This cash-only BYOB isn’t fancy but there is an atmosphere of congeniality and care that owners, MaryAnn Brancaccio and Maria Vanni have managed to create.

Our server, Adrienne, was both patient and attentive, especially in light of the fact that half of our party of 6 were nearly 30 minutes late in arriving. She opened our wines and when we were finally settled, recited the evening specials. I would describe the offerings at August as Italian with a twist. There are always a few items that seem to stray from the heart of Italian cooking yet they receive an infusion of the country just the same. We had a bevy of nice wines for the evening and much to discuss over our meal as we went over our itinerary for our San Francisco/Napa trip which is now less than seven days away. I brought with me a 2007 Ancient Peaks, Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles, CA. I had read a lot about this wine mostly from e-mails sent from a west coast wine shop. I had been looking for it here on the East Coast for over a year and I stumbled across it at Wine Works in Marlton, NJ. It has all the full flavors of a fruit-filled cab without those big Napa Cab prices. Joe had stopped at Salina Liquors and picked up a 2006 Bodega Renacer Punta Final, Riserva Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina. This one offered great value with full Malbec flavors and a smooth finish. Gerry had two wines. His first was a 2006 Perrin et Fils, Vacqueyras Les Christins. I loved the sweet nose on this one with strawberries and roses coming through. On the palate there was plenty of red fruit in a silky smooth package. His other wine was another California Cab. This one was the 2007 Rush Vineyards, Napa Valley Cabernet. Once again, a nice dark cherry and chocolate nose and the taste pleasant enough but with all of the really good Napa Cabs that Gerry drinks this one falls a little short of the others.

Left to right are Carol B.’s “August rolls”, two vegetarian spring rolls with a tangy dipping sauce, JoAnn B’s Spinach Salad and Gerry B.’s Shrimp sauteed with garlic and chili oil. All of the choices are just the right portion to serve as a nice prelude to the main course.

My wife, Kathy, ordered the raviolis with mushrooms and brown truffle butter sauce and I was happy with my choice of the angel hair pasta aioli with capers; made even better when Gerry poured his left over sauce on top of the remainder of my dish adding a potent garlic flavor to the pasta.

Adrienne was nice enough to write down the “specials” for me as one of the difficulties of writing a food blog is trying to remember what went into the specials. It’s easy enough to go to the restaurants web site for entrees from their regular memo but those specials always create a special problem. Hey, maybe that’s why they are called “specials”!!

Kathy and Carol both had the Pan Seared Pork Chop with maple mashed sweet potatoes and broccoli rabe. The chop looked to be cooked perfectly and seasoned well and I think both of them enjoyed their selection.

Gerry was thinking “Steak” all the way as there was a pepper-crusted filet as one of the “specials”. He changed his mind at the last-minute, most likely because it was a filet rather than a sirloin or T-bone, and went with my 2nd choice, and Joe B’s first choice, the Pan seared striped bass with a chipotle buerre blanc with shrimp and chorizo risotto. It sounded delicious and would have most certainly been on a plate in front of me had they not tempted me into selecting the Meatloaf  served on a bed of creamy mashed potatoes and sauteed zuccini. I’m a sucker for meatloaf on any menu. It’s just something about the good old American comfort food of meat and potatoes. I realize it’s not very adventurous but it’s something that when done well, makes for a great dinner. This one was done well and I was totally happy with my choice

JoAnn had the Penne pasta with jumbo shrimp sauteed with garlic, white beans and asparagus in extra virgin olive oil with a touch of tangy marinara sauce. Yikes, I take back what I said about this not being a true Italian cuisine. She thought the dish was full of flavor and well prepared.

We spent a lot of time discussing our trip and what we would be doing each day. We have some great winery visits and some spectacular dinners planned and I will be posting the final update here on my blog in the next day or two. Meanwhile, as we chatted, Maria Vanni was out front making sure everything was good with our meal. That’s the kind of personal touch that so many places forget and it’s one of the things that builds loyal and repeat customers.

We topped off our meal with most of our group sharing a couple of pieces of the house signature dessert, Aunt Leena’s Cheesecake, a very light cream cheese cake dusted with a cinnamon. I was the lone wolf who opted for the Affogato, vanilla ice cream served in a shot of espresso and topped with a sambuca whipped cream. I’m not sure if I ordered this because I thought it would taste good or I just liked saying “AFFFFogatttoooo”. Whatever the reason, I was pleased with my choice. It was delicious and unique; great flavors and the perfect ending to a good meal.

There are many choices for dining in South Philly. August can certainly be recommended as an excellent pick for fine food and service.

BECCA’S RESTAURANT – BYOB

Posted in Becca's Restaurant, BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Wine Dinners with tags , , , , , , on September 23, 2010 by ballymote

It was back to Phoenixville, PA last night for a spur of the moment dinner at one of the many fine BYOB’s that have sprung up throughout the gentrified town. Gerry B. and myself were disappointed that our friend, John G. would not be joining us but we were determined to make the best of it without him.

Becca’s occupies the site long-held by Twin Bays Restaurant, a local fixture for many years. Gerry, and his wife, JoAnn, have been here many times. He even claims to have his own “secret” parking spot in the lot outside and I must confess, he just may be onto something.

As usual, we had a couple of nice wines with us to compliment our meal. I brought the 2001 Coudoulet de Beaucastle, Cotes du Rhone. I had read a review on this wine from 2005 and it ended with the words, “good now, should be terrific in four or five years”. Well, that would be now and it was, terrific, I mean. It certainly needed some time in the glass as it appeared soft pink on the rim when first poured. Thirty minutes later a sweet nose of lilac and dirt intermingled with black cherry made each sniff a pleasure. This wine was creamy soft on the palate with nice fruit and tobacco and a super smooth lingering finish. Gerry’s contribution was equally appealing. He brought the 2008 Ty Caton, Caton Vineyard “Tytanium”, Sonoma Valley, Red Wine. This one had a lot going for it; a powerful nose of ripe fruit. Checking in with almost 15% alcohol it still manages to maintain an elegance with hints of dark chocolate and herbs. A nice blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Syrah, Syrah and Malbec. It was a nice contrast to the French wine.

Our server, Ray, has been here quite some time as Gerry remembered him from the Twin Bay days. Ray was very professional and made sure we were taken care of all-night without being intrusive. He sold Gerry on one of the evening “specials” and we will talk about that in just a bit. We both found appetizers that we thought we would enjoy and I went with the Lobster Bisque.

light, creamy bisque of lobster with sourdough croutons. The tiny croutons were a nice, crunchy touch. The soup was tasty with nice pieces of lobster.  It was served at the proper temperature and provided a nice start to the meal especially with the warm raisin rolls dipped in olive oil.

Gerry selected the Jumbo Lump Crabmeat “Martini”, tossed in a vodka infused green olive vinaigrette. This was another tasty starter that had nice pieces of crab meat in a tangy mix of greens. He gave me a taste of his and although it was good I was glad I chose the bisque.

When it came time to select our entrees it was a difficult choice. The menu at Becca’s has lots of tempting fish dishes and Gerry couldn’t resist the steak that was the “special for the evening .

His steak came with Yukon Gold mashed potatoes and some nice baby carrots. It was smothered in mushrooms and onions and the sauce added to the flavor of this  Grade A steak flown in that day from Oregon, I believe. The full-bodied Ty Caton Tytanium was a perfect wine for the hearty red meat.

I was definitely in the mood for seafood and was torn between the Atlantic salmon, the Japanese sea bass, the diver scallops and the Halibut steak. I finally settled on the halibut, with a summer truffle risotto and a chive nage. The halibut steak had a beautiful char, was cooked perfectly and the flaky white fish was only enhanced by the creamy truffle risotto which was excellent. The subtle creamy feel of the Beaucastle wine topped off the dish and made the meal a total pleasure.

We took out time and discussed our upcoming trip to Napa and Sonoma which is now less than 10 days away. We skipped dessert and headed back to Gerry’s where John G. was waiting for us with some great cigars.

Becca’s was quite busy for a Wednesday evening and with such good food and fine service, it’s no wonder the place does well even on weeknights.

GIAMPINO’S CUCINA ITALIANA – BYOB

Posted in BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Giambino's Cucina Italiano, Philly BYOB Reviews, Wine Dinners on August 4, 2010 by ballymote

Before I begin let me apologize for the lack of pictures. I have them, but for some unknown reason, I have been unable to upload them to the website. I will try and find out why and add them as soon as possible.

It has been a couple of months since my old “neighborhhood” foodies got together for one of our weeknight dinners. Four of us met last night at Giampina’s Cucina Italiana on West Chester Pike in Manoa, PA to drink some wine, enjoy some food and retell the same stories we have been entertaining each other with for more years than we like to admit. Steve J.,  Frank D., Ange C. and myself arrived about 6:15 and our capable server, Shannon was nice enough to move us from a table next to a rather loud group to a nice round table in the rear of the attractively designed bistro. She brought some warm bread to the table while we talked and looked over the menu.

 My wine for the night was a 2007 Xavier, Ventoux, a soft, aromatic southern Rhone from a great vintage that is just made for a wide variety of rich foods. I had bought this a few weeks ago at Moore Brothers in Pennsauken, NJ and I thought it was just perfect at $14.00.

After careful deliberation Steve found just the right appetizer to accompany his taste tempting little bottle of Cavit Pinot Grigio, actually, he had two little bottles of Cavit Pinot Grigio because, let’s face it, who can drink just one of those thirst quenching nectars. He ordered the Lobster Ravioli, which, at $11.50 was about 14 times what his wine cost. I chose the Bruschetta which was not bad at $5.00 for four nice sized pieces.

Between laughs and lies we managed to finish our salads and select our entrees and I settled on the Chicken Voldastano- Stuffed with smoked mozzarella cheese, broccoli rabe and prosciutto finished in a mushroom sauce. Shannon said there would be no problem substituting the marinara sauce for the mushroom sauce and that sounded perfect. My dish, which was accompanied by a side of spaghetti, was tasty and the wine was perfect for the rich Italian flavors.

Ange decided he was going for a veal dish and chose the Veal Giampino- Egg-dipped medallions topped with grilled eggplant, grilled zucchini and mozzarella cheese finished in an Aurora sauce. This one looked pretty good and I have to confess that even my dreaded eggplant phobia seemed misplaced as I viewed this nicely plated item. He really did enjoy his choice.

Not quite as pleased with his dinner was Frank D. who also went the veal route with Veal Marsala- Medallions sautéed with Marsala wine, mushrooms and onions. He wasn’t totally disappointed he just felt that he had enjoyed better Veal Marsala at other times. Frank did very much like the wine that I had brought for him the 2008 Finca LUZON from Jumilla, Spain.

Steve J. was not in a very adventurous mood this evening and he went with the relative safety of the house Lasagna- Layered with ground beef, mozzarella cheese, Ricotta cheese and tomato sauce. He had no complaints and took a little of it home for another meal.

Shannon insisted that we still had room to share a couple of desserts and she sold us on the Tira Misu and the Skors cake along with four spoons. We passed them around and they made a nice ending to the meal.

There were a few folks missing this time who are usually present for these weekday dinners but the four of us still had a great time and are certainly looking forward to our next opportunity to enjoy each others company.

THE FIVE BEST RESTAURANT EXPERIENCES OF THE PAST YEAR

Posted in A La Maison, BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Dream Cuisine Cafe, Food and Wine Lists, Gilmores Restaurant, Modo Mio Restaurant, Sonata Restaurant with tags on July 15, 2010 by ballymote

It was my original intention that this list would be titled “My FIVE Best Restaurants for the Past Year”. The problem with that was that two of my selections would have only fit that title on the first visit with the second visit falling somewhat short of the first. I decided on the current title because I really did want to include those two eateries because the original visit was outstanding. Keep in mind, therefore, this isn’t a ringing endorsement of any of these restaurants but simply a reflection on MY experience while dining there. The five are in no particular order as it is tough enough to select five from a group of 60 without listing them in order. Here they are then, my TOP FIVE DINING EXPERIENCES IN THE PAST YEAR:

 A LA MAISON    53 W. Lancaster Ave. Ardmore, PA 19003

 The food and service on our visit here were outstanding. It was just a few days before Christmas with plenty of snow on the ground but the mood inside was warm and inviting. Our server, Fabien, was a guy who knew his job and did it well. Great stemware for our wines, a first class menu and great conversations including a nice chat with owner Darlene Boline-Moseng made dinner at A La Maison an easy choice for my Top Five.

GILMORE’S            133 E. Gay Street      West Chester, PA 19380

Gilmore’s is a BYOB that makes just about every “foodie’s” Top 5 List in the Delaware Valley. That’s the kind of high expectations that I had prior to our visit and fully expected it might be a letdown. It was NOT. We had the second of the two nightly servings at 8:30 on a Saturday night in March and words just don’t adequately describe the outstanding food and service. Visit my review on this website and just look at how tempting the food photos are. I don’t think any restaurant I visited in the past year did as good a job as Gilmore’s at food presentation. This one was an easy choice for my TOP FIVE.

MODO MIO        161 W. Lehigh Ave. Philadelphia, PA 19123

Located in the shadow of the Piazza at Schmidt’s in Brewerytown, Modo Mio is one of the two BYOB’s that did not perform as well on the second visit as it did on the first. In the case of both, the first was so enjoyable that they qualified for the list despite a less than stellar encore performance. Tha first visit last March, following a day at the Franklin Institute, was absolutely terrific. Our server, Maher was top-notch and Chef Peter McAndrews was on the top of his home-style Italian food game. Obviously, another visit to this popular Philly BYOB is required to clarify the culinary confusion. Still, it was so nice it qualified for my TOP FIVE.

DREAM CUISINE CAFE    1900 Marlton Pike (Rt. 70) Cherry Hill, NJ 08003

It was a dark and stormy night last October when we ducked into the somewhat difficult to find Dream Cuisine Cafe tucked into the shadows of the Tuscany Marketplace on Rt. 70 in Cherry Hill. The brightly lit room broke the gloom of the weather and Chris, our enthusiastic server helped make the setting just right. We had some great wines to go with Chef/Owner Vincent Fanari’s creative dishes  and all in all it was just a perfect evening. It was so good that we were anxious to bring other friends to share what we had found. Unfortunately, the second visit was not quite up to par but, that October meal still qualified as a bona fide entry for my TOP FIVE.

SONATA           1030 N. American St.    Philadelphia, PA  19123

This Northern Liberties gem was unknown to me until I found some reviews on it while looking for a BYOB located equidistant from 3 different areas. I am so glad I found it because although parking wasn’t easy, the food and ambiance were first class. Chef Mark Tropea does a fantastic job of creating flavorful dishes that sound good on the menu and taste even better on the plate. This is another BYOB that didn’t take a lot of thought in making my TOP FIVE for the year.

MORTON’S STEAKHOUSE – NOT A BYOB

Posted in BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Morton's Steakhouse, Philly BYOB Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on July 13, 2010 by ballymote

I’ve been to a few different Morton’s Steakhouses over the years. When they are good, they are very good, when they are bad, they are memorably bad. Morton’s in the King of Prussia Mall is VERY good. Our company was hosting some out of town visitors and this was one of three dinners they will attend during their two weeks in town. If the other two are as good as this they should leave Philly a few pounds heavier. We ordered from a pre-arranged limited menu but what it lacked in quantity of choices it made up for in quality of product. It seemed that none of the eight diners were able to ascertain what the letters S-A-L-M-O-N spelled because no one ordered any and the same held true for C-H-I-C-K-E-N. It was if they had all attended a secret meeting before arriving where someone whispered to them “Psssst….if you go to Morton’s, order the S-T-E-A-K.” Fortunately, I was able to persuade Kelly from Charleston, SC to split the chicken with me so that I’d have another entrée photo for the blog.

Our server was also named Kelly and although she shared my pain that we were both missing the evening’s episode of “The Bachelorette” she did a great job of  unobtrusively making sure that all of our dining needs were taken care of all evening.

She suggested a couple of appetizer sampler trays, one cold, and the other baked. The trays were huge with heaping portions of shrimp, crab, lobster, oysters and clams on the cold tray and yummy scallops wrapped in bacon, mini-crab cakes, huge breaded coconut shrimp and other delights from the sea on the baked plate. The warm onion loaf bread was also delicious and if the meal ended right here I’m sure none of us would have left hungry.

We had a couple of nice wines. The first was the always dependable Estancia Meritage, a 2006 vintage. The other was a 2007 Duck Pond Pinot Noir from Oregon. When Kelly saw how much I enjoyed the Pinot she brought us a sample of the 2007 Tony Soter , Mineral Springs Ranch. It was terrific and I rightfully ordered the rest of the bottle. Everyone at the table seemed to enjoy the wines and the conversation was lively and enjoyable as we all learned things about each other.

The chatter around the table came to a screeching halt as the steaks arrived, each accompanied by perfectly cooked green beans and a piping hot baked potato. The lone chicken platter arrived the same way with not one or two but THREE large portions of tender breast meat. Most of the guests tried to finish as much as they could because they were staying at a hotel and had no way to protect leftovers. I was more fortunate as I took most of my chicken and potato home for another meal. We would have all been ready to stagger away from the table but there was dessert to come. A tempting slice of cheesecake made it’s way to some; a delectable key lime pie found a home with a couple, and most had opted for a devilishly sweet chocolate mousse. All provided a nice ending to a very enjoyable meal. If good food, good wine and good conversation all make for memorable evenings then Morton’s did a good job of making that happen.

MARLY’S RESTAURANT – BYOB

Posted in BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Marly's Restaurant, Philly BYOB Reviews, Wine Dinners with tags , , , , on June 26, 2010 by ballymote

Another spur of the moment wine dinner with my friend Gerry who lives in Oaks, PA led us once again to downtown Phoenixville. Tonight it was Marly’s. This area reminds me so much of Collingswood NJ with the main difference being Phoenixville probably has more dining spots except fewer of them are BYOB’s. Having said that, there are still enough to visit several times without having to repeat any of them.

As this was a Tuesday evening and lots of places were closed, we were happy to see Marly’s open. We virtually had the place to ourselves which was nice for us but not so good for the owners. It was also a bit unfair as the food here certainly deserves to have more people enjoying it. I’m sure they do well on weekends but it’s often those midweek customers who keep a place going.

We can never be 100% certain we will find good food but dining with Gerry always means there will be some good wine. Tonight he brought the 2007 Stefania, Santa Cruz Mountains, Cabernet Sauvignon. This is the best of a stellar Stefania lineup and offers a nose of ripe plums, red fruit and a hint of menthol The tannins are smooth and the finish lingering. My contribution was a 2006 Reverie, Diamond Mountain, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley. This one edged out the Stefania. I thought it was close but Gerry thought this one was decidedly better over time. It was very smooth with some bright berry fruit and licorice with subtle smokiness. Both wines went well with our entrees.

Gerry passed on appetizers and had the Caesar Salad as a starter. he thought it was crisp, fresh and well-made.

I have no idea what I was thinking when I ordered the Watermelon Gespacho. Maybe I envisioned liquid watermelon in a bowl. I certainly was not counting on what tasted like cold tomato soup that someone drizzled some watermelon into. I am not blaming Marly’s. This one was entirely my fault.

We both fared much better with our choice of entrees. Gerry enjoys shrimp and he went right to his first choice the Shrimp Reggiano – served with fresh torn pasta sauteed with cherry tomatoes, and artichoke hearts served in a fresh basil, reggiano-seafood sauce – 23. He shared a small portion with me and the flavors were excellent. It really was a nice combination that teased the taste buds.

I could have chosen several different eye-catching items from the menu as there were some terrific fish entrees and plenty of dishes that came served over various risottos. In the end, I selected the Marly’s “Cheese steak”- Pan-seared Filet mignon, topped with a Roquefort-walnut crust served with the potato of the day – 29. The Roquefort topping went perfect with the flavorful potatoes and the filet was nicely done and super-tasty. If I could add a minor gripe they could have removed the walnuts and had no resistance from me. The dish was perfect with the full-bodied wines and I thoroughly enjoyed the dinner, the drinks and the conversation.

Marly’s proved to be another really good Phoenixville BYOB.

CUTILLO’S RESTAURANT – NOT A BYOB

Posted in BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Cutillo's Restaurant, Philly BYOB Reviews, Wine Dinners on June 25, 2010 by ballymote

Cutillo’s Restaurant in Sanatoga, PA (near Pottstown) is a spot that my wife and I have visited a few times over the past couple of years. Our son, Brian and his wife, Jenny, live(d) in that area and this is why we found ourselves there for a Father’s Day dinner.

It was probably going to be our last trip out that way as they were moving back to New Jersey the following week.

Although we had made other visits to this dining spot, most had been for drinks and snacks or a buffet type meal following a special event. This was our first “dinner” at Cutillo’s. Our server, Drew brought us menus and we ordered a bottle of 2007 Ravenswood Zinfandel. At $20.00, this was not a bad price for a restaurant wine list even though it’s not a very special wine.

We decided to skip the appetizers and we all started with a Wedge Salad, iceberg lettuce with tomatoes, bacon bits and blue cheese dressing. The salad was not bad but having enjoyed some great wedge salads this one wasn’t near the top of the list. It’s tough to be as sympathetic to the entrees.

 My son, Brian, chose the Filet Mignon, “9 ounces of tender filet cooked to your liking and topped with béarnaise sauce.” When his filet arrived it was not a very impressive looking piece of meat and he even asked me “is this a filet?” It wasn’t a very good looking piece of meat and for $28.00 this was certainly overpriced for the quality.

 His wife, Jenny, fared no better with her choice, which was very nearly my choice as it sounded wonderful on the menu. She ordered the Chicken Esquire, chicken breast wrapped around jumbo lumped crab imperial filling, deep-fried and baked then smothered with jumbo lump crab lobster cream sauce. As I’m typing this I am almost wishing I could order it except that the memory of the dish lingers in my mind. Whatever that “sauce” was it quickly congealed over the tasteless chicken breast and was not very appealing.

 I would have been exuberant over the fact that I did NOT choose the Chicken Esquire except that I chose the equally bland Vermicelli and Meatballs. The online menu had shown it to be angel hair pasta but, although I was originally disappointed to find they had substituted the vermicelli, the truth is it wouldn’t have been any better. It was the sauce that killed it. Actually, the meatballs sent it to the hospital and it was the sauce that made it necessary to pull the plug on the entrees life-support system. I ate about one-third of the dish and had no desire to bring the rest home.

 My wife, Kathy, found her Chicken Parmesan with a side of vermicelli just as dull as the rest of our dinners. To be fair, the kids were a little bit fidgety and that may have put a damper on the entire experience but that in no way hampered Cutillo’s ability to cook their food. It’s always been my policy to try and say good things about every dining experience but I’d have to say we were all very disappointed with our dinner at Cutillo’s.

SONATA – BYOB

Posted in BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Philly BYOB Reviews, Sonata Restaurant, Wine Dinners with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 22, 2010 by ballymote

Quite honestly, until I made our reservation a few weeks ago, I had never even heard of Sonata.  I was searching for a place in the Northern Liberties section of Philly and I stumbled across their website which, by the way, is very well done. Once the reservation was made I started reading reviews on Sonata. They were overwhelmingly positive. The more I read the higher my expectations grew and I couldn’t help feeling I was going to be disappointed. I was not!  Sonata is a great BYOB.

From the moment we walked in, when our server, Kate, greeted us enthusiastically, opened our wines, brought us additional glasses and was there to field any and all questions with a killer smile, I had a hunch it was going to be a good evening.. There were six of us in attendance, My wife, Kathy, and myself, our lifelong friends, Gerry and Joann B. and their neighbors, Tim and Linda G.

Sonata has a roomy feel as the tables are spaced nicely providing an open feel. The decor is simple with musical wall decor keeping with the theme of the place. There is outdoor dining in the busy Liberty Walk plaza. We had some great wines with us to enhance our meal.

My wife had some interest in trying a Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo so I had a 2007 Cataldi Madonna, Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo, this 100% Nebbiolo wine was the lightest of the group and went well with some of the fish and seafood entrees. My other wine was a 2007 Angel’s Landing, Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon. This checked in at 14.6% alcohol and had an unusual nose of rose petals, lavender and forest grass mingling with the blackberry and currants. It had a smooth mouthfeel and I felt it was the best of the night despite being outpriced by Gerry’s two wines. His first was the 2005 Silverado, Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon. The familiar Silverado “clove” was present along with rich currants and licorice and some dark chocolate highlights. Silverado seldom disappoints. His other wine was a delicious meritage, the 2005 St. Clements “Oroppas”, Napa Valley. Primarily Cab with a small amount of Merlot, the “Oroppas” got 91 points from Parker and I would concur; a very nice wine. Tim and Linda, who were a little late in arriving and had to fight the “find a parking space battle” just as we did, had with them a current PA State Store Chairman’s Selection, the 2007 Shannon Ridge, Reserve, Barbera, Lake County, CA. The Barbera grape doesn’t ripen until late in the growing season and this gives the wine a tangy, strawberry zest that provided a nice option to the rest of our cabs.

Meanwhile, back at the menus, mouths were watering as we contemplated our choices. We all started with one of the many tempting appetizers. Joann chose the lobster crepes / fennel / mascarpone / lobster glace . The three crepes were nicely presented and having had a taste I can tell you they were excellent.

Gerry had the seared foie gras / preserved black currant / brioche puree / cashew crumble. He declared it was right up there with the best foie gras he has had anywhere. That seems like pretty high praise.

My wife ordered the scallop crudo / preserved lemon / chive / vanilla salt. It was nicely presented with delicate thin slices of scallop. She thought the lemon was a nice topping but it just wasn’t her favorite way to have scallops.

Tim and Linda both selected the frisee and arugula salad / serrano ham / braised artichoke / piquillo pepper / shellbark goat cheese. It was alos nicely presented and they both seemed to enjoy it. Personally, I have had my last frisee. I realize it may be the latest rage in garden greens but it just doesn’t work for me. It’s too rough and hard to swallow. I certainly had no complaints about my appetizer choice. I had read so many glowing reviews about the pork belly at Sonata that even though I had never had pork belly before I was determined to break that streak here and now. The crispy pork belly / smoked tomato marmalade / compressed apple/ calvados molasses was wonderful. The combination of tastes and textures was perfect and for me this was the perfect beginning to the meal.

Throughout our dinner, the lovely Alex was assisting Kate and making sure our water glasses remained full and that  we were enjoying our Sonata experience. You could tell from both of them that they felt a pride in the restaurant and truly cared that each diner was taken care of in a personal manner.

Selecting just one item from a menu where everything sounds so enticing was no easy chore. Joann never hesitated from her first choice and had the butter poached lobster “mac and cheese” / fresh paparadelle noodle / fontina cheese. Nice pieces of tender, perfectly done lobster in a rich sauce. She shared a small portion with me and it was really excellent.

I had mentioned to my wife that in reading the reviews there had been more than one person that declared the salmon at Sonata to be the best they had ever had in any restaurant. That was enough to have her try it as she really enjoys nicely prepared salmon. The seared salmon / grilled asparagus / fennel orange salad / blood orange vinaigrette was attractively presented and Kathy thought it was excellent although not the absolute best she has ever had. Hey, nothing wrong with finishing in the top three!

Gerry was torn between a couple of different entrees and he purposely waited to see what I was going to order. Once I settled on the chicken he went for the double-cut colorado lamb chop / braised lamb shoulder strudel / fava bean / potato / baby almond. The dish looked perfect and Gerry thought it tasted the same way.

I could not have been happier with my choice. The pan roasted bacon wrapped chicken / boursin whipped potato / english peas / glazed cipolini onion were like a dance team who had worked together to perfect their steps. The chicken was tender and full of great flavor. The onion provided a nice addition to the mouth-watering potato and although I previously had never met a pea that I liked, I can no longer say that. The peas were amazing. You could have won a sizeable wager from me prior to last night that I would ever write the words “the peas were amazing”!

If you are thinking that the handsome young man pictured here was the guy who valet parked our cars, you would be totally mistaken. Mark Tropea is the guy responsible for not only the “amazing peas” but the amazing meal. A 2002 graduate of the Restaurant School, Mark is creating culinary classics on a nightly basis at this soon to be discovered Northern Liberties location. It’s obvious from the presentation and food quality that Mark knows what he is doing. He makes sure that he visits every table to insure their satisfaction with the meal. Not only are the entree and appetizers first class, the desserts are equally wonderful. They are light and flavorful and the perfect ending to your meal.

 

 Pictured above are our dessert selections. A trio of sorbets; carrot cake / coconut mousse / pineapple sauce / cream cheese sorbet / spiced walnut crumble and something called chocolate decadence / warm chocolate beignet / chocolate hazelnut “chipwich“ . All were delicious. As a final note we were presented with some complimentary chocolates just in case the desserts didn’t fully satisfy our sweet toothes. As you may have guessed, the chocolates were “melt in your mouth” delicious.

As I mentioned at the start of this review, I went to Sonata with high expectations. That is not always a good approach to anything. Expectations are not always met. Sonata came through. It’s an excellent BYOB and I am sure we will be back. The real trick, from what I have seen, is meeting expectations when you bring the next group of friends that have heard you rave about a restaurant. My guess is that Mark Tropea and Sonata will be able to meet those high expectations.

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