Archive for the South Jersey BYOB Reviews Category

THAI BASIL (BYOB)

Posted in Thai Basil with tags , , , , , on March 7, 2012 by ballymote

 I have been asked many times the question “do you like spicy foods?” I always answer in the affirmative. I mean, I’m not a huge fan of “burn your tongue” nor am I the guy who wanders the aisles of the food market searching for the hottest sauce but, overall, I like a little “heat” now and then. Saturday evening, at Thai Basil in Collingswood, NJ, I was forced to rethink my position on the whole spicy food thing. Six of us enjoyed a rare round table at this Haddon Avenue restaurant.

 I had a terrific bottle of wine with me this night. The 2009 Bedrock Heirloom, Sonoma Valley. This one is a zinfandel blend with 19 different varieties of red grapes made by Morgan Twain Peterson, a true artist when it comes to creating wines (he’s been doing it since he was five years old). Great nose on this one, soft lavender scents, red licorice and peppery spices and then just an elegant mouthfeel and a long seductive finish. I was actually surprised to find that Thai Basil has some pretty nice wine stems. Maybe, the best I have seen in all of Collingswood.

 This was Jerry’s appetizer, and it probably should have been mine, the Bangkok Shu Mai (like I’m telling you something you don’t already know). Steamed dumplings filled with minced crab meat, chicken and jicama served with chili garlic soy sauce. I had a piece of one and it was excellent.

 Carol and Joe split the Thai Basil Treasure, an Asian version of the “Sampler”. The dish contained some Chicken Satay (another item that I could have safely chosen), vegetable spring rolls, several of the aforementioned Bangkok Shu Mai and some Thai Chicken Curry puffs. I have absolutely nothing good to say about the chicken curry puffs, suffice to say that Joe told me to feel free to have as many of them as I wished. The appetizer was served with three different dipping sauces, none of which helped redeem the chicken curry puffs.

 This innocent looking plate on the left was my choice to start off my meal. It’s the Crying Tiger. It could also be called, the Crying Blogger. I just went to look it up again on the menu. I had been totally convinced that it had two “red peppers” next to it on the menu which I took to mean, “a little hotter than normal”. I now find it has only ONE red pepper which must make me the biggest “wuss” in all of South Jersey. It is described as Northeast Thailand grilled steak, tossed with shallot, bell pepper, ground roasted sticky rice in a spicy lime dressing. I saw no sticky rice and unfortunately for me, the dressing not only cleared my sinuses and resulted in my draining several water glasses, but killed the taste of my wine for a good part of the evening. I was proud of myself though as I refrained from asking my dinner companions to dial 911.

 My entree selection, was the Chicken in Drunken Noodles which I’m sure most of you know as the Pad Key Maow. Once the paramedics doused the flame in my mouth I was ready to attack this slightly tamer version of a culinary blast furnace. This one was actually pretty good. Wok-fried flat noodles, Julienne bell peppers, onion, carrot and sweet fresh basil in a roasted chili paste. This one, which was far tamer than the Crying Tiger actually has TWO “red peppers” on the menu. I really think a Congressional investigation is called for to sort out the accuracy of the Thai Basil menu.

 Jerry ordered the Thai Basil Tom Yom Noodle Soup with chicken, hold the cilantro, from the Meal In A Pot section of the menu. This was also a two “red pepper” dish but he had no trouble with it and enjoyed his entire meal. I took two pictures of Sue’s dish but neither one is good enough to post.

 My wife, Kathy, Joe and Carol each had some variation of Chicken Fried Rice. I believe Carol had pineapple in hers. She thought the dish was a bit dry and our server brought some soy sauce to give it a little wetness.

                  We all had just enough room for dessert and we chose either ice cream (Kathy had the Ginger flavor, I had the Coconut and Carol had the Green Tea). Jerry went with the Coconut Pudding and I thought they were all a nice ending to the meal. Please don’t judge Thai Basil by my review. Those of you who are a bit tougher than I may have no problem with the “minor heat” that had tears running from my nose and my eyes. Beware the CRYING TIGER!

DA SOLI – BYOB

Posted in Da Soli with tags , , , on February 19, 2012 by ballymote

 As many of you may know, I am WAY behind on my reviews. I thought I might make some attempt at catch-up by starting at the most recent dinners and working backwards. That being the case, eight of us had  a very nice dinner on Friday evening at a BYOB in Haddonfield, NJ called Da Soli “on our own”. Da Soli is located on Kings Highway in an area titled “The Shops at 116 King’s Highway”. You may surmise by the name of the shopping area that the address is 116 and you would be correct. The restaurant itself has two levels and features dark wood paneling around the upper balcony.

 The Chef/Owner is Mark Berenato, who most recently could be found turning out fine meals as the chef at Tre Famiglia. Da Soli offers farm fresh ingredients with unique preparation and presentation. On Mark’s left is our server for the evening, Lauren, who was both cheerful and capable. After a short wait as they prepared our table near the front window we were seated.

 Our wines for the evening consisted of  my 2009 Educated Guess, Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon, this one is mixed with small percentages of Merlot and Cab Franc and although priced at under $20.00 in many South Jersey stores, can always be counted on to deliver great flavors of cherry and blueberries with hints of vanilla. Gerry had an undated Tavernello, Vino Rosso D’Italia which id did not taste and Joe had a nice 2007 Conn Creek, Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon. 2007 was stellar year for cabs in Napa and this one was very good with lots of plum and other dark fruits with a nice smooth finish.

 The menu items at Da Soli are interesting and slightly provocative. I opted as an appetizer for one of the evening specials which was called “Not Your Grand Mother’s Meatballs” These were certainly NOT my grand mother’s meatballs, or even my mother’s meatballs. The dish featured two nice sized spheres of pork and veal in a rich red sauce and served with a very tasty Porcini mushroom risotto. Although I almost NEVER eat anything with mushrooms (I have no idea why that is) this proved an excellent pairing with the meatballs.

Joe and Carol had a soup featuring white beans, sausage and broccoli rabe and after Joe had his reheated they both thought the soup was very good. My wife, Kathy, had a crab bisque which she also enjoyed.

 For my entree I selected the Maile Griglia, grilled pork tenderloins stuffed with prosciutto in a rosemary demi-glaze with classic risotto and broccoli rabe. The meat was cooked as I had requested and the dish itself was bursting with flavor. Joe had the same thing and he too thoroughly enjoyed it. Sue had my meatball dish as an entree and she thought it was very good. Kathy and Carol both went with the Boneless Beef Short Ribs, slow roasted, fresh herbs, barolo red wine pan sauce and creamy aborio risotto. They both enjoyed their choices.

 Gerry had one of the specials, a House Cut Lamb Chop that was very juicy and accompanied with broccoli rabe and some Julienne style potatoes.

       ———————— Gerry’s Lamb Chop

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t think we had expected to have room for dessert but as it turned out we surprised ourselves and most of us made the sacrifice and forced some type of selection. I don’t have any pictures but I will tell you that I had the Rice Pudding Gelato and it was scrumdiddlyicious (no, that IS a word, honest). We still weren’t done as mark treated each of us to a little home-made brandy chaser with choices os Espresso flavor or Crazin (cranberry & raisin). Wow, this nightcap would put hair on your chest. Overall, we were all pleasantly surprised. DaSoli delivered good food, nicely prepared in a warm, welcoming atmosphere. We all pretty much decided we would be back in the near future.

VILLA NUOVA RISTORANTE (BYOB)

Posted in Villa Nuova Ristorante with tags , , , , , on January 21, 2012 by ballymote

 Villa Nuova Ristorante on Good Intent Rd in Deptford, NJ is a review I have wanted to post since our visit there on a Friday night in early December. It’s a little place I had never heard of and had no idea it even existed. Judging from the sparse gathering at the other tables, not many other folks know about it, either; and that’s a shame because it’s an excellent local eatery for any night of the week. Good food, great service. This place is, in my opinion, a hidden gem.

 Here are some samples reviews from Yelp.com:

Phone.dea604f Mobile review
by Fred (1 review)
Fantastic food, large portions, and we never had to wait for a table. The owner and chef Pepi, always makes sure your happy with your meal. We can’t say enough, check it out for yourself, you won’t be sorry
 
  • No_photo_small
    March 15, 2011

    Likes it
    Great Place
    We stopped after many months of thinking about it. What a great place!! Service was great…food even better…quantity vs. price is very good. In todays economy…great food for reasonable cost. What a wonderful little place…..will deffinately go again…soon!!!
 My wine for the night was a 2008 Chateau Tanunda, Shiraz from Australia which I had picked up last week from Cana’s Bottle Stop in Marlton. Thos one received 92 points from Wine Spectator and came in at #33 on the 2011 list of Top 100 wines. Wine Spectator mentioned that “fans of Mollydooker’s “The Boxer” would find this one much like it and a shade better balanced”. It was very good but, I’d still choose “The Boxer” over this one.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Because so much time has gone by, and Villa Nuova does not have a web site I won’t remember what dishes the others had. Mine was the Chicken Sinatra which was a large portion of tender chicken breasts topped with yummy morsels of crabmeat and nicely cooked linguine with a delicate sauce. It was delicious that night and just as good the next day for lunch. Here are a few pictures of what our friends enjoyed.
 
 
 
 
 
 

BARONE’S TUSCAN GRILL – WOOLWICH TWP/SWEDESBORO – R.I.P.

Posted in Obituary - Barone's Tuscan Grill with tags on December 3, 2011 by ballymote

 

 There has been a death in the Barone Restaurant family. The much maligned Barone’s Tuscan Grill has died before reaching its 2nd birthday. Many visitors to this blog would claim the sickly child was doomed since birth, suffering from mediocre food and service that they claimed ranged from poor to non-existent.

 To be absolutely honest, my two visits to this restaurant during its brief lifespan were not all that bad. It was far from one of my favorite dining spots but I still felt I had OK meals on both trips.  Obviously, I was in the minority or they would still have their doors open.

 More than the food or the service, the amazing thing about this Barone’s Tuscan Grill was the number of people who visited this blog and read my reviews. No other restaurant that I have reviewed in the past two and a half years has attracted anywhere near the interest that this recently departed establishment garnered. It was a constant amazement to me and prompted me to write an article on here titled The Great Barone’s Tuscan Grill Mystery. Folks would actually take the time to comment, most of them negative comments, and many filled with a great deal of emotion considering it’s just a restaurant. I approved some of them but disallowed many as I was beginning to feel they were coming from a competitor who was engaged in a campaign to defame Barone’s. It now appears that this was not the case. Quite a few of the comments mentioned the treatment of employees. Many suggested that employees were not being paid correctly or on time. Here are a couple of samples.

Karen Says:
September 10, 2010 at 2:25 pm e

I was also directed here when I googled Barone’s Tuscan Grill. I agree, food is good, ambience is fine, I do like a BYOB. BUT, you should know that Barone’s has not paid their employees for over 4 weeks. They did issue a paycheck this past Wed to cover that first missed week ~ and the checks bounced. This is not the first time. In early July, all the paychecks also bounced. The owners have mislead the workers (mostly local teens & twenty-somethings) about what & when they would be paid. For example, many worked in April to help get the restaurant up & running and were never paid for those hours.
The reason for my “google” was to file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau!

insider Says:
April 2, 2011 at 9:12 pm e

I work in a bank used by some of Barone’s employees. I am aware of Barone’s habit of bouncing paychecks.

Missmommy19 Says:
May 7, 2011 at 8:52 pm eOn 12/30/10 we ordered pizza to go at 5:40 pm, from the Woolwich Twp. location. I arrived at 6 pm to pick it up, paid, and waited. And waited, as was another woman attempting to purchase food to go who was there ahead of me. There were at least a half dozen men in dress shirts, “manager-types”, unfortunately none of them have a clue as to how to run a restaurant. I saw 2 pizzas go on top of the pizza oven, but didn’t pay any attention to it since I had paid, gave my name, and assumed that they would give me my pizza when it was ready. The other woman’s take out dinners were ready and getting cold, but she was waiting for pizza also. None of the “manager-wannabes” knew what was going on. Finally, at 6:20 pm I stood up and asked one of them who those 2 pizzas on top of the oven were for. Well what do you know??? They were mine. “Manager-wannabe” that took my money ($37.00, ridiculous) never asked wannabe #2 who those pizzas were for when he took them from the guy making them and put them on top of the oven. I rolled my eyes, told him I had been sitting there waiting, grabbed my pizza and left. Dinners are over priced as well. Do yourself a favor and go to one of the dozen other Italian restaurants in the area. We have not been back since.

….and this was the last comment I received that confirmed the rumors I was hearing that this Woolwich Twp eatery was no more..

KW Says:
November 26, 2011 at 7:15 pm e

Update: The Woolwich Township location of Barone’s Tuscan Grill has closed. From talking to a former co-worker (I worked at Barone’s for over eight months), the restaurant’s been bought by Toscana. While it is sad to see a local business shut down, I am glad to see this restaurant close.

I’m not just holding a grudge because they still owe me $200 in paychecks (which I’ll obviously never receive). The restaurant was poorly managed and maintained to the point where I believe the customers’ health was put at risk. There were a few instances where the hot water shut off; I’m not sure whether this was because of a mechanical error or someone being behind in bill payments. Either way, when the hot water shut off the restaurant remained open for the night. Anyone who would keep a restaurant open without hot water does not deserve to own a restaurant. When I asked the manager how the kitchen staff was going to wash dishes without hot water, he did not provide an answer.

There is a lot more I could say about my time at Barone’s Tuscan Grill, but this is not the appropriate venue. I will probably wind up submitting an op-ed to a local newspaper detailing the experience and everything that went wrong in that restaurant. Overall, it was poorly managed and maintained, and it commonly felt like the owner did not put much effort into the restaurant to ensure it’s success. I hope that the restaurant that replaces Barone’s serves the Woolwich community much better; Woolwich deserves better for its customers and workers.”

 And so we come today not to praise Barone’s Tuscan Grill, but to bury it. If it taught me one lesson it is how passionate folks can be about food. It also convinced me that the Woolwich Twp/Swedesboro, Logan Twp area is ripe for a restaurant that is capable of serving good food, and providing great service. There would seem to be no end to the number of people who would flock to such an establishment. Unfortunately, I can’t cook, so the job of providing this much-needed establishment falls to another. Whoever you are though, keep in mind, when you open your doors, I’ll be there!

PASTA POMADORO – (2ND REVIEW)

Posted in Pasta Pomadoro (2nd review) with tags , , on November 21, 2011 by ballymote

 

This turned out to be an unexpected visit to this very local eatery. We had just walked out of Arugula after a disappointing wait for our 8 o’clock reservation. Pasta Pomadoro was the closest place to eat and so we pulled in without a reservation and were quickly seated. This place may not be gourmet dining but you can always count on some nice entrees at excellent prices and this was true on this Friday evening.

 

 

 

                                     I had with me a nice bottle of 2006 Stefania, Eaglepoint Ranch, Syrah while our friends, Jerry and Sue shared a 2009 Folie a Deux, Menage a Trois, an interesting California red blend. Both these wine went very well with most of the pasta dishes on the Pasta Pomadoro menu.

 

 

 

  I ordered the Linguini Matriciana with Chicken. It was a great choice full of rich flavors and nice tender chicken pieces. The portion, as usual, was large enough to serve as two meals and I enjoyed what I didn’t finish the next evening at home.

Good food, great prices.

LILLIAN’S CAFE – BYOB

Posted in Lillian's Cafe with tags , on November 13, 2011 by ballymote

 

 Lillian’s Cafe in Audubon, NJ occupies the site which formerly housed another restaurant, Alphabet Soup. The menu and decor have changed but the “Alphabet Chairs” remain.  If you were once a big fan of the “K” chair, or the “M” chair, or even the “Q” chair, the chance exists that you will be able to plant your butt in it, unless someone has gotten there first.

 I’m happy to report that the menu and food is better at Lillian’s than it was at Alphabet Soup.

 

    I had a bottle of the 2007, Ancient Peaks, Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles, CA. This is another one of those modestly priced cabs that has more flavor than should be expected at this price point. It’s a great daily drinker.

 

 

 

 

 

 This was the Crab Cake appetizer that was excellent with a duo of dipping sauces that were the perfect companion to the meaty crab cakes.

 

 

 

 

 

 A couple of folks in our party had the Filet Mignon with Blue Cheese Butter, an 8 oz. cut of nicely prepared steak with a blue cheese and herb compound butter served with mashed potatoes and asparagus spears.

 

 

 

 

 This was Roast Pork dish with broccoli rabe and a sweet potato hash. It looked delicious.

 

 

 

 

 I had the Baked Chicken which was served with a chive chicken au jus om a bed of creamy goat cheese and asparagus risotto. The chicken was flavorful and nicely prepared buy the risotto which I was looking forward to enjoying was a complete miss. The texture was poor and it was congealed beyond being servable. It did not totally detract from my meal and I would be willing to return for another performance.

 

I would certainly say that Lillian’s is a BYOB that you might enjoy and a cut above the previous Alphabet Soup.

RISTORANTE TOSCANA – CHERRY HILL – mini review

Posted in Ristorante Toscana - Cherry Hill with tags , on November 12, 2011 by ballymote

 

  We had eaten in this shopping center a few times but had never been to Ristorante Toscana. We were under the impression that it was another location of Toscana Restaurant in Mullica Hill which we have been to a few times. It turns out they are only vaguely related….like third cousins, maybe.

Like its southern cousin, they have an extensive menu with an emphasis on items from a wood-burning stove.

My wife Kathy and I were glad to see one of our favorite salads  which we enjoyed in Mullica Hill, The Wedge.

        I do have to agree with her that any meal that begins with this particular salad can’t be all bad. Crisp lettuce, ripe tomatoes, fresh bacon and an ample serving of blue cheese dressing make this a winner in my book.

 

 

 Additionally, we had brought along a bottle of one of my wife’s favorite wines, the 2007 Angel’s Landing, Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon. I think if we had just left her alone with her wine and her salad she would have been totally satisfied.

 

Once again, because of the time that has gone by I do not remember what we all had to eat so I will simply enclose some of the pictures of our dishes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everything was pretty good. We had no complaints. I think if you put a gun to my head I prefer the distant cousin in Mullica Hill.

MANNA RESTAURANT – MARGATE, NJ – mini review

Posted in Manna Restaurant, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on November 12, 2011 by ballymote

 Several of us had been wanting to get back to Manna for some time after being there for a wine tasting a couple of year’s ago.

The food is excellent and it was a fun time for ten of us. The menu is eclectic with small plates (tapas) and large plates (think entrees). All of us found so many dishes we thought sounded great that it was difficult to limit our choices.

We had a nice selection of wines including a 2009 Cakebread, Sauvignon Blanc and a 2007 Ridge, Zinfandel.

 

 

 Once again, because of the time-lapse, I’m not certain what everyone had to eat. I do know that a few in our party enjoyed the Our Paella with jumbo shrimp, lump crab, clams, rice, chicken, chorizo, saffron and tomato. It looked delicious.

 

 I do recall that I had the Vanilla-Maple Laquered Chicken breast and it was excellent with house made truffled fries.

  The eight ounce filet in a port wine reduction was another favorite as was the

                                                                                                      Lamb Chop with a Caribbean Salsa .

Manna is definitely a restaurant that deserves more than one visit and hopefully, we will be back there soon. Do yourself a favor and click on the link to check out their awesome menu.

GONNA TRY AND CATCH UP….WISH ME LUCK

Posted in Luke Palladino with tags , on November 12, 2011 by ballymote

 OK, the last time I did an actual review it was back at the start of the summer and we were at Luke Palladino’s restaurant in Northfield, NJ. I mentioned that I went there NOT wanting to like it due to some, less than pleasant previous attempts at garnering a reservation. The truth is, the food was just too good to not like.

In attempting this “catch-up” on reviews I am going to have to limit myself to mini-reviews until we get back to the present so I will conclude the Luke Palladino review by simply saying everything was very good and one item was GREAT.

 

It was the gnocchi. I don’t recall how it was prepared those few months ago but it was right up there with Chef Alex Capasso’s gnocchi at Blackbird in Collingswood. This dish alone would have made it worth the 45 minute drive.

The place is small. The tables are tight, but the food is first-rate.

LUKE PALLADINO – BYOB

Posted in Luke Palladino, Wine Dinners with tags , , , , on June 25, 2011 by ballymote

 I have to confess that I was hoping NOT to like my dinner at Luke Palladino’s in Northfield, NJ. Last summer, I was attempting to make reservations for ten of us and Luke went into a ten minute rant as to what would happen if we failed to show for our reservation without calling 24 hours in advance. He took my credit card number and explained there would be a $50.00 per person charge PLUS tax and gratuity. I understand the importance of keeping reservations, especially when it’s for ten people in a place that only seats 30. I found it a little insulting though to have such focus on the dire consequences of such actions. I called a couple of days later and cancelled just on general principles.

This time it was just my wife, Kathy and our friends who live down near the shore, Mike and Mya M. celebrating a “long time no see each other” event.

 

I had brought with me a couple of nice bottles of wine which we shared. The first was the 2006 Melville, Estate, Pinot Noir. This one had a soft bouquet of spring flowers and strawberries on the nose and lots of spice and tea flavors intermingled with black cherries and soft tannins leading to a smooth, lasting finish. The second wine, a 2005 Keenan Napa Valley Merlot helped me remember just how good a nice Merlot can be. This had bright fruit flavors and a smoky tobacco essence and went really well with many of the meat dishes that we enjoyed.

 The menu at Luke Palladino’s is designed to encourage family-style samplings of several different courses.

 

 

 We started with Arancini, crisp risotto fritters filled with truffled sottocenere cheese and scallions. There was one for each of us and each of these fried goodies were stacked with great flavor. I have had these at a few different places and these were clearly the best of them all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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