Archive for the Philly BYOB Reviews Category


Posted in Bona Cucina (2nd review), BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Philly BYOB Reviews, Wine Dinners with tags , , , , , on May 19, 2010 by ballymote


It isn’t easy to describe a meal at Bona Cucina. When you read the reviews you will see that virtually everyone raves about the food. When you do see complaints, they are usually about the service. It just may be that Bona Cucina is not a place for everyone and the reason is, Bona Cucina is a place you have to “get”. You have to understand what it is and what it is not. It is quite simply, a small, intimate, local restaurant with an extremely loyal core of diners that comes back again and again for three reasons. The first is the fantastic food, the second is the consistently excellent food and the third is, ok, you guessed it, it’s the incredibly magical touch of Pat Buonadonna, Chef/Owner of Bona Cucina.  What it is NOT, is a fancy, pretentious setting for haut cuisine. Tomorrow’s menu will be virtually the same one they had 10 years ago. They are not attempting to create “nouveau” dishes, nor are they trying to invent new ways to attract diners intent on finding the “hot new BYOB”. It’s not likely Craig LeBan from the Inquirer, who recently reviewed the neighboring Sycamore Restaurant,  will be dropping by soon. You will be able to count on Pat’s wife, Frankie, being out front to take orders, entertain, whisper the latest rumor and make sure you feel welcome. You can’t be in a hurry at Bona Cucina. It’s a place to relax, converse with your dinner companions, drink some wine and your food will be there when it’s done cooking.

Last night I had the 2008 Evening Land, Pinot Noir, Oregon. The 2008 Pinot crop from Oregon is getting rave reviews and the Evening Land should have a few of its own. The wine was crisp with fresh strawberries mingling with cherries and soft plums to create a flavor profile that went well drinking on its own and with my entree. Speaking of entrees, I was determined to order something other than my personal Bona Cucina favorite, the Chicken Celeste. I’m getting ahead of myself, though. We started with several of the guys splitting an appetizer of stuffed Portabello mushrooms.

Not being a mushroom kinda guy, I passed on what everyone thought were absolutely delicious starters filled with tasty crabmeat and cheese. I was tempted, but refrained, and ordered the soup du jour which was a Cream of Broccoli.

I can honestly say that I have probably had over 100 different cups or bowls of cream of broccoli soup throughout my life. This one was, hands down, the BEST.  I can’t even think of words to describe the taste. It was simply liquid perfection and I’m pretty sure that Val, who had a cup himself, was equally impressed.

I had raved so much about the Chicken Celeste that Val ordered it. It looked every bit as good as I remembered it from three previous visits and Val finished half and took the other half home for another meal.

One of the evening’s specials was something called Chicken Genoa and it sounded similar to the Chicken Celeste and gave me the opportunity to feel somewhat proud of myself for breaking with personal tradition. The two generous portions of perfectly cooked chicken breasts were topped with spinach and provolone cheese and were scrumptious.

Frank D. and Ange also ordered from the “specials” and chose the Orange Roughy with crabmeat in a spicy red sauce. It looked terrific and their relative silence while devouring the large portion seemed to confirm that they were enjoying each and every morsel.

Steve J., possibly celebrating the fact that he finally was paid his “NCAA Tourney” prize money, ordered the Scallop entree. The dish was huge and looked appealing with lots of nicely cooked tender scallops and crabmeat. Everything that comes out of the kitchen is just chock full of flavor. The sixth member of our dining party, Mr. Thomas H., a welcome if infrequent guest, selected the Twin Crabcakes. It was very evident when these two tempting mounds appeared that there wasn’t much filler being used to hold them together. It was just lots of tangy crabmeat molded into a couple of great looking wonders from the sea. All of the dishes came with your choice of a side of pasta or the veggie of the day which was green beans.

As usual, it was another night of great food and conversation. We closed with one dessert, six small plates and six spoons. The Chocolate Bomba was just the right treat to put the finishing touch on a wonderful meal. Rich chocolate and creamy vanilla ice cream in a chocolate coated ball with a cherry center and plenty of whipped cream. Frankie had destroyed the ball prior to bringing it to the table as she knew everyone would want a taste. That’s why there is no picture. What I do have is another memory of a great meal at this inconspicuous little gem of a restaurant in Upper Darby. Some day, maybe in another 20 or 30 years, Bona Cucina will even have its own website. On second thought, they probably won’t because the people who know and “get” Bona Cucina will keep coming back without a lot of fanfare. I think Pat and Frankie are quite content with things just the way they are.


Posted in BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Philly BYOB Reviews, Tratorria Milano, Wine Dinners with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 15, 2010 by ballymote

In a recent post on Chowhound, someone asked if there were any good BYOB’s on the “northern fringes” of Philadelphia.  My wine drinking friends, Gerry and John, led me on an excursion tonight to Telford, PA which is an area that has to be regarded as the “northern fringes” of somewhere, if not Philadelphia, then maybe it’s the “northern fringes” of Montana. Geographically, I have no idea where we were but I do know this, Trattoria Milano is worth the search and the drive. From the moment we entered  and were greeted with the aroma of sweet Italian sauces we all knew our appetites were about to be rewarded.

We had brought some great wines with us and usually, by the end of the evening, one or two stand out as clearly the WOTN (wine of the night). This was not the case this evening as all five had qualities that made them favorites. First up, we had the Clark-Claudon 2005 3 Stones, Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s well-balanced and chock full of those great Howell Mountain Cab grapes with a touch of Merlot and Cab Franc to give it that rich texture and smooth finish. Next, was the 2006 Bacio Divino Cellars “Vagabond”. This one is a blend of 67% Syrah and 30 % Cabernet that garnered 91 points from Mr. Parker. It wasn’t bashful and was a fine partner with the rich sauces we were devouring.  John G. made sure that France was represented with a delicious 2003 E. Guigal Chateauneuf du Pape. You can never go wrong with anything from E. Guigal, excellent wines that are true representatives of their appellation without breaking your wine budget. This one had a gorgeous floral bouquet and licorice notes, an enticing old-world blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. The 2005 Franciscan “Magnificat” is a strong 92 point meritage blend of Cabernet, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Cab Franc. Lots of plums and cherries folded in dark chocolate and smooth as a baby’s butt. I searched through my growing wine stash and found a 2001 Byron “IO”, Santa Barbara County (thats the letters I and O, not the number 10). This was a wine that Gerry and John raved about several years ago and one of the first Rhone-style wines to come out of Santa Barbara County. It is still considered one of the best PA State Store Chairman’s Selections as it was a $50.00 wine selling at the time for $14.99! And now for the food.

Triana and Diana are two sisters from Ecuador. Triana, a first class server whose welcoming demeanor puts diners at ease and Diana, who is married to the Chef/Owner, Francesco, both do a terrific job. Triana brought us some warm bread and a yummy garlic and oil blend that was a delicious starter. We ordered 3 appetizers for our table and all of them were enjoyable. We had the Mozzarella Fritta, the Caprese and some Bruschetta.

Each of these items was tangy and flavorful and did nothing to spoil our appetite for the enticing entrees we were contemplating. The menu includes pasta, chicken, veal and fish dishes that all sound inviting and it was no small feat to settle on just one.

John decided on the Pasta Ai Frutti di Mare, a tempting dish of clams, mussels, shrimps, scallops and calamari. The dish came with a side salad and John disappeared from the conversation for about 20 minutes as he savored his fruits of the seas between sips of the nectar of the Gods.

Gerry, who had been here on other occasions chose the Vitello Ripieno Alla Valdostana, veal stuffed with ham and fontina cheese in a white wine sauce with artichokes and mushrooms. He was nowhere near as quiet as John as he voiced effusive praise after each forkful of this tasty entree. His veal came with a side of pasta.

I finally decided on the Pollo Alla Fiorentina, chicken breast in a creamy sauce topped with spinach and provolone cheese. The chicken was cooked perfectly, the spinach was excellent and the sauce was the highlight of a great dish. Each bite was a wonderful taste treat. The pasta was really good as well, and all three of us were very impressed with just about everything at Trattoria Milano.

We topped off our meal with some desserts which proved the perfect finishing touch.

Left to right, the temptations pictured above are the Homemade Tiramisu, the Chocolate Truffle Torte and the Strawberry Swirl Cheesecake. All of them were delicious although, my choice of the chocolate tort was a bit too heavy and I think the Tiramisu or cheesecake would have been a better choice

Chef Francesco, a native of Milan, Italy deserves recognition for the great meals he turns out of his kitchen here in the hinterlands of Philly’s northern burbs. This was Gerry’s choice and he certainly picked a great spot. I can’t tell you I will be here often as it is a long way from South Jersey but I would say that if you are anywhere within reasonable distance of 4 North Allentown Rd in Tylersport, PA, and have a sudden craving for exceptionally good Italian food, a visit to Trattoria Milano may be just what will work for you.


Posted in Fleming's Steakhouse and Wine Bar, Philly BYOB Reviews, Wine Dinners with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 24, 2010 by ballymote

On Thursday evening, my brother Tom and his wife, Jill, hosted a “Sibling Dinner” at Fleming’s in Radnor. Tom, John and myself, along with my sisters Cathy and Mary Ann, were joined by our spouses, Jill, Kathy and Joanne, along with special guests, Matthew and Jenna Mitchell, who are two of Tom’s closest friends. It was a great evening of laughs and conversation as the Mitchell’s got to hear a few of our family secrets and he and his lovely wife entertained us with tales of growing up in the South. Matthew just completed a very successful year as coach of the University of Kentucky’s women’s basketball team which finished 28-8 and earned an appearance in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Women’s Tourney. Matthew was named Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year. Matthew maintains his humility in light of his accomplishments and his wife Jenna makes sure that he stays that way!

Flemings has a nice wine list with over 100 wines by the glass. We chose the 2006 Patz and Hall, Russian River Valley, Dutton Ranch, Chardonnay, the 2006 Ghost Block Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2007 Adelsheim Vineyard, Pinot Noir, Williamette Valley. The Ghost Block was very good and a perfect match for the steaks served at Flemings. The Adelsheim Pinot was rich and flavorful and was a nice sipping wine. It might be noted that some of the wines by the glass are extremely high-priced in relation to what the wine sells for locally. Two examples would be the Pillar Box Red (an Australian shiraz blend) available at $9.75 a glass at Flemings and sold currently as a Chairman’s Selection in PA State Stores at $6.99 a bottle and the Bommarito Cabernet at a hefty $19.50 a glass and available in the stores as another Chairman’s Selection at $14.99 per bottle.

The staff at Fleming’s were especially accommodating as Kyle, the Manager, went out of his way to provide us with a round table for ten and Jill, our server, in addition to providing helpful menu advice, made frequent appearances to keep us abreast of scores on the Flyers, Phillies and also, draft picks, as the NFL draft was taking place in NY.

Most of us started our meal with a soup or salad. My Wedge was fresh with lots of crisp bacon, ripe tomatoes and creamy chunks of blue cheese. John and MaryAnn loved the French Onion soup which is prepared with three different cheeses.

Kathy ordered the Surf & Turf which featured a medium bone-in steak and an Australian lobster tail with lemon and butter. She really enjoyed as much as she could and took a nice portion home for another meal which she generously let me have last night. It was still good the next day, especially the lobster.

I think John’s entree looked the best of all of them as his Seared Scallops in a lobster creme sauce accompanied with  a puff pastry of sauteed fresh vegetables looked absolutely delicious. John was very pleased with his choice. My sister, Cathy ordered from one of the evening specials. I believe it was a filet of sole with hush puppies. I had the Filet Mignon and it was cooked perfectly and very flavorful. We had ordered several sides for the table, the Flemings potatoes, a house specialty made with creme, jalapeno and cheddar cheese, excellent, I might add, creamed spinach and sauteed spinach and our final “SIDE” , the inappropriately named “onion rings”. I was thinking “Gigantic Tower of Onion Rings” would have been more appropriate. These were not only enough for our table but may have fed Matthew’s entire U of K basketball team with leftovers to take home. They came with a tangy jalapeno aoili and were delicious.

Everyone seemed to enjoy their meal and since both the Flyers and Phillies had won we were all in a good mood and ready for dessert.

I think I saw a cheesecake or two on the table and I know I saw others besides myself with the Creme Brulee.

It had a nice crunchy layer and a perfectly prepared center topped with fresh blackberries and strawberries. It was a great way to end a very good meal.

It’s nice to have an opportunity to spend some time with family members in a nice setting like Flemings with good food, wine and friendships. My thanks to Tom and Jill for arranging this. Best wishes to Matthew and Jenna for continues success.


Posted in BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Philly BYOB Reviews, Sycamore Restaurant, Wine Dinners with tags , , , , on April 9, 2010 by ballymote

Sycamore Restaurant in Lansdowne, PA is not that hard to find. I managed to make a minor adventure out of it but a phone call from one of my dining companions guided me to the door. Tonight’s group was the childhood perv, oops, I mean, the guys I grew up with. We last met at Pesto on Broad Street a couple months back. This evening we were meeting at a BYOB within walking distance of our old neighborhood. Joining me were Steve J, Ange C. and Val S. Our fifth derelict, Frank D. was not feeling well and became a last-minute cancellation. Our wine for the evening were a couple of PA State Store Chairman’s Selections. The 2008 Pillar Box Red and the 2006 Clare Luce Abbey, Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon. Both of these reds showed lots of dark fruit, some pepper on the Shiraz blend and some smooth mocha on the Cabernet. I had previously had the Clare Luce Abbey at the Spring Mill Inn in Conshohocken back in 09. The Pillar Box has been one of my favorite QPR (quality/price/ratio) wines for many years and the crazy price that it is currently selling for as a Chairman’s Selection makes it a strong candidate for case purchase.

Our server, Elenore, wasn’t quite sure what to make of our group but to her credit she maintained her composure and good humor throughout the night.

Sycamore offers a Cheese Plate, a Charcuterie Plate and a Combo Plate  (3 cheese selections and two meats for $19.00) as an appetizer. The others all passed on appetizers but I ordered the Pancetta, Onion and Goat Cheese Tart, Phyllo Crust and Deep Carmelized Onion for $7.00.        

 It proved to be a nice flavor combination with the crispy tart and tangy cheese and a few dressed greens on the side. Entree selection was a little  more difficult. I was considering the chicken but it was served with scrambled eggs. There was another item that came with a fried egg. I am seeing this more and more and I have to confess I am not a fan of eggs with my dinner. In my mind, eggs are a breakfast item and should be limited to pre-noon meals. That’s just a personal flaw in my culinary make-up. Anyway, I quickly reduced my choices to the Scallops and the Crab Cakes.  Elenore helped me settle on the crab cakes and it turned out to be a good choice. Two perfectly cooked cakes low on filler and high on crab were joined by the Chipotle Like Jimaca Slaw and a delicious Roasted Pepper Remoulade that was a great marriage for the crab cake.  Ange C. also ordered the same dish and he too enjoyed his meal. Val opted for the Poussin, Deboned Young Chicken, Stuffed with Seasonal Greens, Mushrooms and Brie, Scrambled Eggs with Spring Asparagus. As I mentioned earlier, I would have been unable to get past the scrambled eggs but Val found his dish flavorful and nicely prepared. He even paused once in a while in his story-telling to eat a bite or two. I was proud that he was able to feed himself without his wife, Patty being there. The guy is making real progress.

Steve J. took time out from insinuating that my Grand Prize Win in the NCAA Tournament Pool run by my son, Brian was more than just good fortune and coincidence  to place an order for the lamb.  Cumin Dusted Lamb Steak, Artichoke Pistachio Pesto, Merguez and Spinach Fricassee. His medium well dish was just as he had requested and, although I think he still feels the pool was fixed, he at least did not go home hungry.

As with most of these “neighborhood” dinners, stories were told and retold for the 200th time and lots of laughs accompanied the meal. We split two of the desserts , the Banoffee Tart  (Banoffee = Banana and Toffee explained Elenore) and the Warm Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. Both of these were very good but I would give a slight edge to the cake which was extremely good.

Sycamore is a very nice BYOB with some great menu choices, a warm and welcoming atmosphere and very reasonably priced. The meal, with tax and tip was $41.00 per person.


Posted in BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Gilmores Restaurant, Philly BYOB Reviews, Wine Dinners with tags , , , , , , , , on March 29, 2010 by ballymote

Ask the people who search out BYOB’s in the Delaware Valley to name their three favorite and there is an excellent chance Gilmores, in West Chester, PA will me mentioned. Prior to last night I had never been there. My wife, Kathy and I joined our friends Gerry and JoAnn B. for an 8:30 reservation at this highly regarded French bistro on Gay Street in West Chester. Gilmores has two seatings each evening at 6:00P.M. and 8:30P.M. and when we arrived the early diners were leaving and we joined about 20 other hungry folks in a very crowded entryway where the walls were decorated with a mix of Philadelphia Magazine Best of Philly Articles and some interesting modern art.

After 10 minutes or so the tables were bussed and re-set and we gained admittance to the intimate dining room. Gilmores seats about 40, and although the room is small, it doesn’t feel crowded. Our waitress, Stephanie, was knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and as she opened our wine she told us about the evening specials.

Earlier in the afternoon, we had enjoyed a bottle of the 2006 Mollydooker Velvet Glove. The wines for our meal were only slightly less formidable. Gerry had brought two excellent choices, the 2000 Phelps Insignia and the 2005 Pahlmeyer Red Blend. The  Insignia seemed to me to be underrated by the experts (94 WS, 91 Parker). It displayed class and strength and loads of smooth plum and blackberry flavors that could stand up to any steak or lamb dish. I’d compare this to any other Cabernet blend in the $100 price range. The Pahlmeyer, too was singing beautifully and certainly deserved it’s 96 Parker rating.  I brought with me the 2007 Hug Cellars, Cedar Lane Vineyard, Arroyo Seco, Pinot Noir. The bright black cherry and raspberry fruit with hints of cedar and spices was perfect with my scallop appetizer.

Then there was the food. So many taste-tempting items on the menu that it was hard to make a single selection. I finally settled on the Coquilles St. Jacques a la Proven, scallops, gratin with wine, garlic and herbs. This dish was simply heaven on a plate. The scallops were sliced thin, cooked perfectly and topped with a wonderful cheese layer and the sauce was just fantastic. Kathy ordered the same thing while Gerry, predictable as ever when he spots fois gras on the menu, ordered the Fois Gras Sautu Navers (from humanely raised ducks), seared fois gras with port braised turnip and celeri mousse. On its arrival he turned silent for the next few minutes and slowly devoured the liver of those poor ducks who gave their life and liver so that he could enjoy this culinary treat. JoAnn was a little adventurous in her selection as she chose the Cappaccino de Homard.

Lobster Soup flavored with Scotch and topped with Anisette foam. It looked like a cup of light-colored coffee and tasted like liquid lobster. She was very pleased with her appetizer.

Each of our entries came with a house salad which consisted of fresh field greens with walnuts in a very tasty dressing that I could not identify. It was really very nice and helped lead into our entrees.

This was the hard part. Some of the evening specials sounded terrific and Gerry was quick to jump on a particular one when Stephanie informed him there were only 5 of these left as the 6:30 crowd had made a run on them. That Item was described as a one and a quarter pound Maine Lobster, removed from the shell and poached in lobster butter served over an ink squid dyed cous cous in a lobster butter sauce. It looked and tasted wonderful and had everyone else not been totally ecstatic over their own choices we might all have opted for the lobster.

I ordered from the menu and had “The Butcher’s Tenderlon”, pan-seared hangar steak with Bernaise Sauce and truffled french fries. The steak was done perfectly, tender, flavorful, the Bernaise Sauce served on the side in an egg cup and the french fries were amazing. I honestly would not have thought you could do french fries in such a way that would make them so uniquely different from so many others. The texture and taste were amazing. Kathy also ordered one of the evening specials.

She chose the Roast Pork in a slivered Truffle Sauce served with fresh green beans and a potato puree. As with all of the entrees, this one was perfectly prepared, the pork bursting with rich flavor and the sauce providing a perfect basting for the meat. This was JoAnn’s third visit to Gilmores and she had the same entree on her first two visits.

She decided to make it three in a row and ordered what she felt was the best item on the entire menu. Poulet Wellington, breast of chicken with truffled mushroom duxelle (think of a mushroom pate) wrapped in puff pastry and served with a Perigourdine sauce. She gave me a taste of it and although I am an avowed mushroom abstainer, I think I could have eaten and thoroughly enjoyed this dish. Maybe they just have to not look like mushrooms!

The wine, the food, the company, it was a great setting and a great meal and it deserved appropriate desserts to top off the evening. Jerry and I chose something cold and creamy.

He chose the Raspberry Sorbet while I selected two different ice creams, the Tahitian Vanilla and the Orange Davilla. As far as I was concerned this was the perfect ending to a wonderful meal. Kathy and Joann split the 2000 calorie Pofiteroles bathed in gooey chocolate, dusted with powdered sugar and surrounding a lone strawberry. There were five Profiteroles and I think the one who only got two was therefore entitled to the strawberry. Somehow, they worked out the division peacefully. On the way out I looked again at the Best of Philly framed articles on the wall and now I understood why they won so many of them. Chef/Owner Peter Gilmore knows how to create great food in a great setting.


Posted in BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Fayette Street Grill, Philly BYOB Reviews, Wine Dinners with tags , , , , , , on March 22, 2010 by ballymote

A spur of the moment, last-minute decision, and a little luck in obtaining a table on a Saturday night, landed six of us at the Fayette Street Grill in Conshohocken for an 8:30 reservation. My wife, Kathy, and I, along with Joe B. and his wife, Carol joined our friends JoAnn and Gerry who drove from their home in Oaks, PA, at this bustling BYOB in Philly’s western suburbs. We all arrived early and, since we had been blessed with another 72 degree day of warmth and sunshine on the first day of Spring,  strolled through the town which is home to several good BYOB’s including Blackfish. Once inside the tiny bistro we quickly acclimated ourselves to the noise level which approached that of last night’s Bonefish Grill.

Our charming waitress, Kim,  recited the evening’s specials and reminded us this was another of those “3 courses for a certain price” places. At Fayette Street Grill those three courses are a starter, and entree and a dessert, priced at $34.00.

As our wines were opened I was anxious to try my very first bottle of a Stefania wine. F Scott and Zelda, over on the NJ Foodies blog, are huge fans of these wines and I had just purchased from an online seller, six bottles of the 2006 Stefania, Eaglepoint Ranch, Syrah. I am also awaiting a case of other Stefania wines which I am splitting with Gerry B. and John G.

In addition to the Stefania Syrah we also had the 2005 Shirvington Shiraz, McLaren Vale, Australia, the 2006 Luigi Bosca, Single Vineyard, Malbec, Argentina, and the always reliable, regardless of the vintage, 2004 Whitehall Lane, Cabernet Sauvignon. Our server delivered some additional wine glasses and we studied the menu as we taste tested all of our wines. I really liked the Stefania as it revealed itself with time in the glass. Nice, subtle flavors as the winemaker seems intent on letting the beauty of the grapes shine through without a lot of interference. Kathy thought it was too simple, Gerry and Joe thought it had a lot of complexity. The Shirvington was at the other end of the spectrum, big, bold, in your face, blackberries and dark mocha with that intensity found in Aussie wines. We all agreed it was a great wine for drinking on its own but no match for most foods. The Louigi Bosca Malbec was reviewed in-depth on the Blackbird post when Val brought it that night. Joe really likes Malbec and I had suggested he might like this one. He agreed, as we all did, that this was an excellent example of what good Malbec can be. Everyone enjoyed the reliable Whitehall Lane Cab. I think it was Kathy’s favorite.

As nine o’clock approached the restaurant began to empty a little and conversation became easier. We all ordered our starters and Joe and I chose the Crab Chowder. It was OUTSTANDING. The creamy broth was nothing short of perfect and filled with lots of crab and some potato and other good stuff that made this an incredible offering. Joe was in total agreement; this was something special.

Joann had the Baked Crab Dip with spinach, peppers and old bay served with crisp rusks. Carol had the Phyllo wrapped Baked Brie over field greens with raspberry sauce and toasted almonds. Kathy had the Mixed Field Greens with dried cranberries, blue cheese, toasted sunflower seeds and balsamic dijon vinaigrette.

Gerry had the clams which were one of the evening specials. I am not a fan of clams or mussels but I thought his choice looked great and the sauce looked inviting . It appeared that he thoroughly enjoyed them.

There were several items on the entree portion of the menu that drew my eye but, in the end, I chose the chicken. Several of the fish items sounded great but, after a night of fish on the day prior, I was craving meat.

Kathy, Carol and I all had the Grilled Supreme of Chicken with a Thai Peanut Glaze, Grilled Scallions, Roasted Asparagus and Steamed Basmati Rice. I thought the chicken was tasty and loved the Thai glaze as it mixed with the rice. Personally, there is something about the bone-in chicken that disturbs me and takes away from the total enjoyment. Carol felt the same way.

Joe selected my second choice, the Root Beer Glazed Center Cut Pork Chop, with Sauteed Green Beans and Warm Potato Salad. I had a little piece and found the pork very good but was slightly disappointed in the sauce as perhaps I was expecting a mouthful of Hires Root Beer while this was just the most subtle of hints of root beer. Good thing I am not a chef, I’d kill the taste of anything I cooked with my sauces.

 Jerry has never met a shrimp dish he hasn’t liked so it was easy for him to make his selection. He chose the Sauteed Gulf Shrimp with Julienne Bell Peppers, Caper Berries and Lemon Butter Sauce with Basmati Rice. He seemed to totally enjoy the dish and it certainly looked appealing.

Joann chose the Pan Seared Filet Mignon served over Garlic Roasted Mashed Potato, with Red Onion Jam and Bordelaise Sauce. She gave Jerry a small portion of her filet, I guess because she believes that man can not live on shrimp alone, but she really liked the larger portion that she saved for herself. The wines were all tasting good, the conversation providing lots of laughter, and we topped off our meal with some outstanding desserts.

Although each of the items above probably deserves its own picture but what you see  pictured above, going clockwise, is the Vanilla Infused Creme Brulee Bread Pudding, the Peach Cobbler with Vanilla Ice Cream and Raspberry Sauce, Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream with Chocolate Drizzle and The Dark Side of the Moon Chocolate Cake. I didn’t hear anyone at the table complaining about their choice and I know my Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream was the perfect ending to a very good meal.

Fayette Street Grill only seats about 40 diners so reservations on a weekend are a must. It’s an excellent BYOB in an area with quite a few good BYOB’s and you should give it a try. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.


Posted in Philly BYOB Reviews, Wine Dinners with tags , on March 11, 2010 by ballymote

 It may appear that I am “shilling” for Modo Mio but, trust me, they do a booming business without any help from me. I am posting this because it’s one more chance to get to try this restaurant at a time that may be convenient for some of you. Chef Peter McAndrews described these SUGO SUNDAYS to us during our recent visit but here is a concise description of what is being offered to diners every Sunday at the 151 W. Girard bistro. This info comes from the blog listed at the bottom of the post.

 Sugo Sundays Coming to Modo Mio — Grub Street Philadelphia

Modo Mio chef-owner Peter McAndrews tells us he’s creating a new Sunday dinner special at his Girard Avenue BYOB, which he plans to launch the Sunday after Christmas. He’s christened it “Sugo Sunday” (sugo is Italian for sauce), in a nod to the Italian custom of having a big Sunday supper. The weekly dinner will be family-style and include antipasti, a pasta course, a meat course, salad and dessert – “fresh fruit, just like in Italy,” he says – and perhaps a gratis limoncello or sambuca digestivo, all for $33 a person, excluding tax and tip. “A lot of people don’t get to experience that kind of family dinner,” he says, “and it’s such a gorgeous thing” that he’s recreating the experience. He even seems to be recreating the nonna-as-benevolent-dictator role, judging by this comment: “There will be no set menu,” says McAndrews, “if you don’t like it, you’ll have to leave.”

Posted November 24, 2009 at 12:25pm in food blog philly link || home


Posted in Creed's Seafood and Steaks, Philly BYOB Reviews, Uncategorized, Wine Dinners with tags , , , on March 9, 2010 by ballymote

  We had a group of young interns from all over the country visiting our company for two weeks of training and I joined them for dinner this evening at Creed’s in King of Prussia. When you spend as much time as I do dining at the myriad of great BYOB’s in the Delaware Valley it seems strange to be sitting at a table perusing a wine list and trying to select something from the triple mark-up bottles on hand. The wine list at Creed’s is no better than passable; many of the offerings replaced by a piece of white tape to indicate “sold out”. Not the classiest of ways to accomplish that goal

The 2008 Susana Balbo “Crios” Malbec appeared to be a safe choice and something that might go well with a steak. The wine has a full bouquet of cherries and spices and a lush mouthfeel that I could tell would go well with a nice filet. On this particular evening you could be factually correct in calling it a $15.00 wine that drinks like a $50.00 wine because that’s how much it was on the wine list (can you sense I am missing my BYOB’s?).

There were a few different appetizers brought to the table, some nice shrimp cocktail, fried calamari and some tuna.

                                                        I decided to try the lobster bisque. It came nice and hot to the table, had good color and pleasant taste. It was not one of those bisque that featured large pieces of lobster. There were a few, but it lived up to its bisque name. Most of the others at the table thought it was fine. I also had the Creed’s Classic Wedge Salad, applewood smoked bacon, fresh roma tomatoes, hard-boiled egg and blue cheese dressing. In my opinion, there are few salads better than the wedge of iceburg lettuce with tangy blue cheese dressing. This one was no exception; fresh and delicious.

Most of the group chose steak as their entree.

I selected the Center Cut Filet Mignon with Brandy Peppercorn Sauce ($38). It came with green beans and the meat nestled nicely on a bed of potatoes. The steak was ok, nothing special and I’d rate the entire entree a C. I’m not sure what I was expecting at Creed’s but whatever my expectations were, they were not exceeded. It’s hard to explain, they seem to do all the right things, refilling your water glass, replacing silverware, scooping up crumbs. Maybe it was the fact that we had nine people and it just seemed to have “wedding meal” feel to the entire evening.

One of the group ventured from the carnivore trail and ordered one of the evening “specials”, the Tile Fish, a firm, mild flavored white fish. The dish looked inviting and he was pleased with his choice.

The others all seemed to choose the other “special” of the evening., “Surf and Turf”, a decent size helping of filet accompanied by a crab cake. Again, most of our party thought the steak was average at best although some found the crab cake very good. Overall, it was an enjoyable evening and I can’t say it was a bad meal, it just wasn’t anything memorable. If you go to Creed’s, visit their website prior to going and print out the online coupon offering $15.00 OFF the purchase of two entrees prior to 6:00 P.M.


Posted in BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Modo Mio Restaurant, Philly BYOB Reviews, Wine Dinners with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 8, 2010 by ballymote

In a TV commercial for The Olive Garden chain of restaurants, there is a tagline that says “when you’re here, you’re family” Last night, eight of us dined at Modo Mio on W. Girard Avenue in Philly and we were made to feel like family. More importantly, we loved the food!

It was the same group from our “Winter Weekend in Avalon”, we had just taken in the BodyWorld display at the Franklin Institute, and had chosen Modo Mio for dinner based on a visit I had there last summer. We had a very early 5:00 P.M. reservation and were the first party to arrive at the restaurant. Modo Mio features a four course $35.00 Tasting Menu  (Menu Tourista) and although items are priced individually on the menu, this Tasting Menu makes the most sense. It includes items from the Antipasti, Pasta, Secondi (meat entrees) and Dessert. The Contorni (various veggies or potatoes) can be ordered for the table at $5.00 per item. The system makes sense and offers a wide variety of choices in each category.

Did we bring any wine with us? We most certainly did! We had five wines with everyone of them being a winner.  Left to right below we have the 2008 Punto Final, Malbec,the  2005 B Cellars “Blend 25″ Cabernet/Syrah, the 2007 Copain Syrah “Tous Ensemble”, Mendocino County, the 2005 Frank Family Napa Cabernet and the 2007 B Side Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s unusual when five wines are equally appealing and even more unusual to have everyone agree with that assessment. I think our entire table felt the same way. Each wine delivered great flavor, true to its varietal and went well with the hardy Italian food. Ahhhhh, the food, where do I start?

Well, most of the table chose to start with an item that was NOT on the regular menu, a crab and marscapone cake with truffle and fennel sauce. If this was a preview of what was to come we were REALLY going to enjoy our meal.

Caryl G.. had this item to the left and it looked and tasted unusual in a good way. It was called Frico, fried Montasio cheese, potatoes, porcini mushroom conservata. I tasted it though and liked it. A few people had the mussels which were offered in red or white sauce, spicy or plain. A couple of the guys were begging for more bread to dip in the sauces, our waiter, Maher, would politely refuse saying he didn’t want them to fill up on bread, and then he would discreetly have additional bread delivered to those who requested it. Maher was a pleasure the entire evening.

Now it was time for the pasta dish with the majority of the table opting for the Lasagna della Nonna, grandmother’s lasagna with sausage and meatballs, hard cooked egg, raisins and mozzarella (yes that DOES say raisins). This was delicious! It had a certain sweetness, probably something to do with the raisins and if you are thinking, “I don’t want sweetness in my lasagna”, and I wouldn’t blame you for thinking that, you just have to try this dish to see just how good it was, and all of us agreed.

The non-lasagna group all chose the Bucatini Amartriciano, thick, hollow spaghetti, spicy plum tomato, Pecorino Romano. The key phrase here is SPICY plum tomato. My wife Kathy thought the spicy should possibly be changed to “blazing fire in your mouth” plum tomato. I think I had this pasta on my first visit. It’s one of those dishes where you keep your wine and water glass at the ready and keep eating while your mouth begs you to cease input but it’s just too good to stop.

My entree for the evening was also from the “specials” list, Mariale, grilled pork tenderloin, gorgonzolla fonduta, cabbage, agrodolce and walnuts. The combination of flavors was wonderful with the Contorni we had chosen for the table (roasted rosemary potatoes, broccoli rabe with garlic and lemon and egg-battered cauliflower with parmesan and lemon) adding just the right touch to complete the meal.

A couple of our more adventurous diners selected another of the evenings “specials”, the Orata, a white fish similar to Bronzino, oven roasted with fresh lemon, olive oil, capers and herbs. They seemed happy with their choice and I heard no complaints. Gerry and Kathy had the veal cheeks. On the menu it was listed as Guance, veal cheeks, chef’s choice, trust him. They trusted him and had no regrets.

Kathy B. chose the Gatto, potato and eggplant torta, broccoli rabe, fresh mozzarella and hazelnut brown butter. The addition of the eggplant would exclude it from my own choice but Cathy found it excellent and that’s what counts.

As we finished our meal, Gerry, John G. and John B. stepped outside for their ritual after-dinner cigar. While there they encountered chef/owner, Peter McAndrews who was returning from Paesano’s, a sandwich shop across the street that he also owns. Paesano’s is not just ANY sandwich shop. It has garnered rave reviews from a number of different critics and “Best of” honors from a few different sites for their unusual and tasty sandwich creations. McAndrews has recently opened a second Paesano’s at 9th and Christian in the Italian Market.

Pictured here are John B. from our dinner party with Chef Peter McAndrews and our server for the evening, Maher.  Chef was nice enough to spend a few minutes chatting with us and telling us all about Modo Mio and his other culinary ventures. We ended the meal with a couple trays

of all of their desserts as a “sampler”. It would be hard to pick one over the other as they were all delicious. The flourless chocolate cake was my personal favorite. As I mentioned earlier, we really did feel like family during our dinner experience at Modo Mio. Chef McAndrews certainly demonstrated that an Irishman can cook Italian and do it well.

The food and atmosphere at Modo Mio are first class. Do yourself a favor and make reservations for this outstanding BYOB in the Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia.

I neglected to mention that Chef McAndrews treated our entire table to a round of Sambuco providing the perfect exclamation point to a great meal.


Posted in BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Philly BYOB Reviews, Ristorante Pesto, Wine Dinners with tags , , , on January 26, 2010 by ballymote

It’s a little unusual to head out for a wine dinner on a Monday night but when you are accompanied by 4 unusual people it all makes sense! Frank, Steve, Ange and Val all showed up at Ristorante Pesto at 1915 S. Broad Street for another of the Oakview Survivor dinners. We have been doing this for about 3 years now and this core group always finds the time to enjoy a great meal and even better conversations.

After achieving the South Philly “impossible dream” of finding suitable parking we were seated and looking over the menu when Rita, no relation to lovely Rita, Meter Maid, from the Fab Four days, who was our server, appeared to give us her rendition of the evening specials. Rita, while opening three bottles of wine, rattled off 6 appetizers and 10 to 12 entree items in perfect rhythm without missing a word. It was an impressive performance.

As we ordered soup and appetizers, and patiently waited for the notoriously late Crown Prince of Doo Wop, we retold neighborhood stories for perhaps the 200th time. They never seem to lose their bizarre appeal. Frank D. had the vegetable soup and we toasted each other with our wines. Ange had brought with him the 2006 Calera, Pinot Noir; Frank had the 2007 Berco do Infante, Riserva while I had one of my wife’s favorites, the 2007 La Posta, Bizella Family Vineyard, Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina. I would list here what Steve J. had except that I fear guilt by association, so it will remain nameless except that I might hint that it was white and it claims to be “the biggest selling Italian wine in America”, which speaks volumes for American taste buds! 

It was about this time that Val arrived.  I was finishing up my  Braciolettini (Rita’s spelling), thin slices of beef wrapped with seasoned bread crumbs and mozzarella cheese then grilled. This was a prefect way to start off the meal; nicely done pieces of beef covering gooey cheese.  Val thought it looked good and ordered the same thing himself.

Here is Val explaining to all of us that he would have been here an hour ago had a customer not offered him $1.50 for an old “45” record that Val insisted he had to have $2.00 for or he would feel his entire career as a purveyor of “oldies” had been wasted. Fortunately, the client raised his offer to $1.75 and Val reluctantly agreed.

As I am writing this I am thinking back and remembering just how good my entree was. The Chicken Bolognese, chicken breast topped with prosciutto and sweet cheese and baked in a marsala wine sauce. This was served with “family style” spinach and roasted potatoes for the table. The combination of meat and veggies with perfectly roasted potatoes was wonderful.

I had been to Ristorante Pesto once before and forgot how good it could be.

Val had the Veal Francaise, veal medallions, egg battered and topped with a hearty portion of crab meat in a lemon butter sauce. Ange and Frank ordered the Bronzino, similar to sea bass, and stuffed with tender mussels, clams, shrimp and crabmeat and baked in a light tomato sauce. Steve selected the Veal Mare Monti, veal medallions topped with prosciutto, mozzarella cheese and jumbo shrimp in a mushroom demi-glaze.

Everyone approved of their food and our hostess, Jackie grabbed my camera to capture the satisfaction apparent in our faces. Fortunately, the picture is a little dark and it is not likely that the authorities will be able to issue any outstanding warrants based on what can be seen here.  Our server, Rita, brought the co/owner-chef, Claudio Conigliaro, from the kitchen, so that his image could be captured for posterity on my blog. As you can see, the quality of this photo is somewhat better so that I hope both Rita and Claudio are warrant-free. We thanked Claudio for a great meal and Rita for her exemplary service. We topped off the meal with a couple of desserts which we shared.

The Oreo Ice Cream Cake was a perfect ending to a culinary masterpiece and even though there is no picture of the home- made Tiramisu you’ll have to take my word that it was equally good.

Once again, not every BYOB chooses to open on Monday evenings, last night there were five degenerates from Oakview that were very glad that Ristorante Pesto was available.


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