Archive for the Philly BYOB Reviews Category

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.

HOSTARIA DA ELIO – BYOB

Posted in BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Hostaria Da Elio, Wine Dinners with tags , , , , , on December 14, 2010 by ballymote

 Hostaria Da Elio, just off of bustling South Street in the 600 block of S. 3rd Street is a Philly BYOB that does not get nearly the mention that it deserves. My wife, Kathy, and I, along with our good friends, Gerry and Joann B. have been there on several occasions but this was our first visit since I have had this blog. We were coming from a show at Society Hill Playhouse and knew this was the perfect opportunity for a return visit to this excellent Italian bistro.

Our server, Bonnie, reeled off so many “specials” in each category of the menu, and each one sounded better than the previous, that we knew it was time to put the menu aside and choose from her list. With all four of taking this culinary route it makes it difficult to remember what each of us had since I can’t go to the website to re-check the menu. Bonnie was nice enough to write down everyone’s selection. That’s the sort of “personal touch” that makes this place such a pleasant place to dine. And hey, great food doesn’t hurt, either!

As usual, we had some excellent wines to match the food. Gerry had brought the 2004 Tenute Silvia Nardo, Brunello di Montelcino, this one was very closed upon opening and opened up considerably as dinner progressed. Smooth flavors of cherries and blackberries with a hint of tobacco. This was a solid 90 pointer once it came alive. Gerry stayed in Italy with his second wine, the 2006 Tenuta di Nozzole, La Forra, Chianti Classico Riserva. This wine was a favorite right from the start with a deep red color, deep flavors of currents and raspberries and a smooth lingering finish. Another 90+ wine. My contribution was a 2004 Chateau Vieux des Rochers, Montagne St. Emilion. Not much of that barnyard funk that my wife feels is a characteristic of French wines, just some nice forest floor, black currants and spices, well-balanced with great structure. This one went well with many of our dishes.

 We each began our feast with an appetizer. Kathy and Joann split the Eggplant Melazana, eggplant layered with marscapone and mozzarella and baked in a fresh tomato marinara sauce. Joann declared it the “best eggplant I ever had”. They even tempted me to try it and I never try the eggplant. I had to agree that this was delicious.

Gerry had the mussels in White Sauce a mixture of white wine and garlic. He told me I had to mention that the mussels were outstanding. mussels are another food item I have failed to gain an attraction for despite their obvious popularity. I hope I don’t find out after I die that mussells and eggplant and mushrooms are all fantastic!

 I went with the Mozzarella and Peppers, fresh mozzarella with roasted peppers, tomatoes, fresh basil served with extra virgin olive oil. Each bite of this was a taste treat. Just a very well done dish that sounds simple enough yet, so few do it right..

We each had the Arugula Salad and this one was a really nice presentation as the crisp greens were topped with parma prosciutto and shaved parmesan romano cheese. The first two courses were so good we couldn’t wait to see what they did with our entrees.

We didn’t have long to wait as our four entrees arrived hot and succulent. Kathy had the home-made Lasagna, beef-bolognese, mushrooms topped with bechamel served with a marinara sauce. On a previous occasion one of our party declared that this was the “lightest and most flavorful lasagna he had ever tasted.” Kathy really enjoyed this classic Italian dish.

Joann had a lovely dish of home-made fettucini with shrimp in a fresh pesto sauce. This one had great flavor and was  perfect with her Chianti Classico.

 Bonnie, our server, had mentioned that the combination of carmelized onions and goat cheese that topped my chicken breast was an excellent blending of unique flavors. She hit it right on the head. Each bite was delicious and the rice and snow peas were the perfect accompaniment to this flavorful dish.

As much as I totally enjoyed my chicken dish I must confess that I believe Gerry made the best selection of all with his choice of cannelloni filled with a veal and cheese mixture served in a blush sauce. I got to sample this one and it was really fantastic. The sauce was perfect and the filling was out of this world. I have no regrets about mine, but, next time, I’m going for the cannelloni.

We were pleased that Elio came out and spent some time with us. He had some interesting stories to tell about his sixteen years here in America since arriving from his native Rome. He is very proud of Hostaria da Elio and very much appreciates our patronage. In fact, we left with cards entitling us to 15% off our next visit.

We ended our meal with each of us enjoying a different dessert. I had the yummy Chocolate Ganasch with walnuts on a bed of raspberry sauce. Joann had the Tartufo, chocolate ice cream with a vanilla center served with cocoa and hazelnuts.

 Kathy topped her meal off with a Chocolate Chip Cannoli which she declared to be one of the best cannolis she has ever had. Meanwhile, Gerry was quite content with his Hazelnut Mousse Cake which was light and airy but full of flavor.

There is nothing more enjoyable than knowing the restaurant you are headed for has proven itself to be not just very good but consistently very good. That is one of the great things about Hosteria Da Elio. You can be assured of good food and great service on each and every visit.

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.

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