Archive for the South Jersey BYOB Reviews Category

THE PIZZA BOX – BYOB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LOBIANCO’S RESTAURANT (3RD REVIEW)

Posted in LoBiancos (3rd review) on January 30, 2011 by ballymote

 Our late December visit to LoBianco’s in Collingswood marked the third time we had been there since the birth of this blog. The first two times had been consistently good so we were all curious to see if #3 would be a jinx or a charm.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This visit must have been a jinx because as readers may have noticed I have been stuck in a writing rut for over a month. I am going to end this review that I have had so many problems with and move on to the next in an attempt to revitalize this blog. Suffice to say, this has nothing to do with the meal at LoBianco’s. As I now vaguely recall, the food was good and the service a bit frazzled as our waitress had a party of EIGHTEEN next to us that required her total focus. Thanks for your patience.

THAT’S AMORE – BYOB

Posted in BYOB Restaurant Reviews, That's Amore, Wine Dinners with tags , , , , on December 13, 2010 by ballymote

 

 One of the newer dining spots on the Collingswood BYOB scene is That’s Amore. It occupies the spot at the corner of Haddon Ave. and Collings Ave. that previously housed the American Bistro and a host of other unsuccessful businesses. Interestingly, when looking for their website prior to our visit, I came across a “thread” on a dining board that had several posters engaged in a conversation in which they were claiming that That’s Amore personnel were using multiple screen names to post glowing reviews about their establishment. I am certainly not able to confirm or deny this but just seeing it talked about made me curious as to what type of experience awaited us on this Friday night in early December.

 Collingswood itself was decked out in full Christmas display which made the mood even more festive than usual. We tend to forget sometimes how fortunate we are to have an area with so many good BYOBs available all in one charming town.

Right off the bat I can state that That’s Amore is colorful and eclectic. From the creative board outside featuring the evening “specials” to the decorative greens, and reds, peaches and gold wall colorings it gives a first impression of being a fun place to dine. But, what about the food? We will get to that. First, I need to tell you that it was just four of here on this night, Carol and Joe B., my wife Kathy, and myself. Here are the two wines we had with us.

 I brought a Super Tuscan, 2004 Castello Banfi, “Summus” a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. It took some time in the glass to open up but once it did there was plenty of tasty red and black fruits creating an elegant balance and making for a very food-friendly wine. Joe B. had a 2008 Feudo Marino, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, a fruity bright wine that pairs well with meats and red sauce.

Our server for the evening, Aaron, was personable and knowledgable about everything on the menu. He opened our wines and made some recommendations while reminding us of the “specials” we had seen posted outside. He, and a capable staff of busboys made periodic visits to make sure our water glasses remained full and that everything was satisfactory. His standard reply to our questions as to how good each item was always “excellent, of course.”

Joe and I had the soup du jour, the Butternut Squash and Apple Bisque, it arrived nice and hot and full of the unique combination of flavors. Both of us thoroughly enjoyed this soup.

Kathy and Carol split the Eggplant Rollatini which looked scrumptious even to an anti-eggplant person, like myself. This one was thinly sliced and stuffed with fresh ricotta and mozzarella. It disappeared quickly between them; always a good sign.

 I couldn’t resist ordering the Arancini di Riso, three perfectly shaped rice balls stuffed with mozzarella cheese, lightly fried and served with a red dipping sauce. It’s the kinda dish your Mom would have said “would spoil your dinner”. It did not. It was very tasty but could have been filling. Now for the main course, our entrees.

Carol had the Shrimp Scampi over house made linguine and Kathy went with the Chicken “Bella Gente” (named after a restaurant on Bleeker Street in The Village in New York). This one was tender chunks of chicken breast tossed with artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, sauteed garlic cloves and pepperoncini peppers in a white wine reduction. This was almost my choice and Kathy really liked it.

Joe ordered the Chicken and Capers which came with a cup of spinach flavored potatoes as did Kathy’s entree, also. They both liked this unusual way to serve spuds. I wanted something to match the flavors of my wine and consequently chose the Fettuccine alla Bolognese, the pasta was perfect, the sauce was wonderful and I could not have been happier with my meal.

Just as we were finishing up our meal, the door opened and in strolled three female Carolers. They broke into a cute Caribbean Christmas song and followed that up with a more traditional, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” Great voices and a great interlude helping to make a great meal even more memorable.

We topped off our meal with a couple of excellent desserts. Quite honestly, I don’t even know what they were but they looked good and tasted even better. Now that we have experienced That’s Amore I can contribute to the “are they writing their own reviews”? conversation. My guess is that the reviews are for real because the food and ambiance are deserving of lots of review “stars so, who cares, if they are, they are not lying. That’s Amore is a fine addition to the Collingswood BYOB team and, hopefully, we will be back there soon to enjoy this fun restaurant.

A LITTLE CAFE – BYOB (2ND REVIEW)

Posted in A Little Cafe (2nd review), South Jersey BYOB Reviews, Wine Dinners with tags , , , , , , on December 11, 2010 by ballymote

 This is probably the longest I have ever gone between the actual date of our meal and my report. We revisited A Little Cafe in Voorhees, NJ on Saturday evening, November 27th. Joe and Carol B. and my wife, Kathy and I returned to this cozy little BYOB after a 14 month hiatus. The picture to the left is fittingly dark because the surrounding area WAS very dark on this late fall weekend.

 I may not remember everything we ate but I do know what wines we had with us. Joe and carol shared a 2004 Sasso al Poggo, Toscana. This “super Tuscan” offered ripe red fruit, hints of earth and licorice with smooth tannins and an overall softness on the palate. I had the bolder 2005 Green Lion, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa. This one is another creation from Aussie winemaker, Chris Ringland except this time he brings his skills to California. This one is a really nice value that delivers REAL cab quality with fruit sourced from prime Napa growing sites (Pritchard Hill and Diamond Mountain) at an extremely affordable price.

 Along with the standard bread and oil for dipping we were presented with an attractive dish of fried green tomatoes in a tasty pesto sauce. There were two for each of us and we asked for, and received a second dish and I think we all agreed we could have made a complete meal out of this beautifully done starter. The breading was perfect and the tomatoes were first-class.

We each chose the Three Course Prix Fixe dinner and Joe and I started with the soup of the day which, in this instance, was a Potato Soup. Joe remembers it as having something spicy added to it. I, on the other hand, with senility setting in quickly, remember nothing but the potatoes. I am pretty sure we both enjoyed it, though. The ladies both had salads and I didn’t take a picture of them.

 For my appetizer I went with the Crab Cigarettes, a Little Cafe Signature Dish – Jumbo lump crabmeat rolled in paper-thin crepes and served with a spicy red chili dipping sauce. I’d say that even the non-smokers of the world would enjoy these “cigarettes” so feel free to “light up” your meal with this appetizer.

Joe went with the Spicy Calamari, lightly breaded and fried calamari topped with a hot and spicy red pepper relish and served atop a bed of crisp lettuce, Carol had a mushroom dish that I couldn’t find mentioned on the menu. Both of them liked their choices.

 For his entree Joe opted for one of the evening “specials”. A baked pork chop topped with King Oyster Mushrooms and a plum wine sauce served with Yukon Gold mashed potatoes and Julienne-style vegetables.

 Kathy and Carol both seemed to be in a non-adventurous mood as they selected the Chicken Parmesan. Carol traded the traditional pasta accompaniment for mashed potatoes and veggies while Kathy stayed with the linguine.

I debated between the Marianne’s Meatloaf and the Chicken and Crab with the latter winning out in the end and I was not disappointed in my choice. Sauteed boneless chicken breast layered with jumbo lump crabmeat, sauteed spinach, roasted red peppers, provolone cheese and topped with a pesto sauce. This tasty dish came with mashed potatoes and the Julienne veggies. I’m not a big fan of the Julienne veggies but the overall dish was very good and the portion large enough to provide lunch for the next day.

A Little Cafe is one of those places you can always count on for a good meal at reasonable prices and even though Chef/Owner Marianne Powell was not present on this Saturday evening, it was obvious she had left the place in good hands.

FIENI RISTORANTE – BYOB

Posted in Fieni's Ristorante, Uncategorized, Wine Dinners with tags , , , , , on November 22, 2010 by ballymote

 Fieni’s is located on Burnt Mill Rd. just a block or two from the Echelon Mall. It’s not a name that I hear often but we had been there on at least one other occasion and on this Friday evening, Joe and Carol B., and Sue and Jerry C. joined my wife, Kathy, and I at this local BYOB. We managed to squeeze into the last parking spot available out back and were shown to a nice round table in the back corner of the restaurant.

We looked at the menu as our wines were opened and Marco, our server, related the evening “specials”. Fieni’s has a pretty extensive menu with lots of pasta, chicken and veal offerings and there were also several interesting “specials” . We enjoyed the bread and oil and after careful deliberation it appeared as if all of us were able to settle on something that we would enjoy.

 Our wines on this November evening were as follows: I had a 2001 Ferrari-Carano “Siena”, Sonoma County, CA, more recent bottlings of this red blend feature a Sangiovese/Malbec blend but this older version is Sangiovese, Cabernet and a dash of Merlot. The cork was very dry and did not pull easily forcing us to push it back into the bottle. The wine took some time to come around and although very smooth the flavors were quite subdued and overall, a bit disappointing.  Jerry C. had the always dependable, 2009 Folie a Deux, Menage a Trois. This tasty red blend sells over one million cases a year and is one of the most popular red wines sold in America. Joe B., henceforth known as “Mr. Malbec”, arrived with a 2006 Punta Final, “Riserva” Malbec. I didn’t get to taste this one but Joe thought it was very good.

 I started off my meal with a cup of Crab and Carrot soup. It was served piping hot but lacked a lot of flavor. There was little in the way of crab visible and the base stock seemed like something off of a store shelf. It just sounded better than it actually tasted. Others began their meal with a Caesar’s Salad.

I fared much better with my entree, one of the evening “specials”. The Chicken Franchi consisted of two perfectly cooked chicken filets, tender and tasty and topped with crabmeat, tomato, fontina cheese and champagne sauce. It was accompanied by two lobster ravioli in a pesto cream sauce. The pasta portion of the dish was bit bland but that was forgivable because the chicken was excellent.

Jerry and Joe both zeroed in on the fish with Jerry choosing the Salmon while Joe went with the Tilapia. Both entrees were topped with shrimp and served with a veggie and mashed potato. When I checked Jerry’s plate there wasn’t a speck remaining, always a good sign that he liked what used to be on the plate.

Carol and Sue selected another chicken dish. This one was the Chicken Cremolate, twin chicken breasts, sauteed with shallots and mushrooms and topped with a cognac and cream sauce. This one was served with green beans and potatoes. They both seemed to enjoy their choice.

 Kathy was not in a very adventurous mood and went with the Pollo Parmagiana, lightly breaded chicken breasts topped with tomato and parmesan cheese.  Green beans and potatoes completed the dish. She thought about taking one of the chicken breasts  home for later but remembered we had a lot of food in the fridge already and finished her meal.

 We had pretty much decided we were going to skip dessert when we foolishly allowed Marco to show us the dessert tray. His tempting descriptions and offer to supply spoons for sharing allowed us to choose two concoctions from the tray. I can’t even remember what went into the dish on the left but we kept passing it around and enjoying it.

The item on the right was a cheesecake which was light and flavorful and a very nice sized portion so that 6 people were quite content with the two desserts.

Ristorante Fieni is a well run restaurant with good food and friendly servers and is certainly worthy of a visit.

BERTUCCI’S – CROSS KEYS, NJ

Posted in Bertucci's Italian Restaurant with tags , on November 18, 2010 by ballymote

Four of us wanted a quick bite to eat after catching an early movie and we chose Bertucci’s on Berlin-Cross Keys Rd.  This recently developed area is home to several chain restaurants and Bertucci’s seemed as likely as the others to provide a decent meal.

Without reservations, we were seated quickly in a booth and while we read the menu we were served some warm rolls with a very tasty olive oil based dipping sauce. Most of our entree choices came with soup or salad and all of us opted for the Sausage Soup.

Nice and hot with veggies and rice and lots of pieces of spicey sausage this was a nice start to a rare meal without wine. The wine list at Bertucci’s is limited and I didn’t see anything of much interest so we all had Diet Cokes or iced teas with our meal.

Bertucci’s features several items that are cooked in their brick ovens but none of headed in that direction.

 Joe B. had the Balsamic Chicken. Grilled chicken breasts drizzled with a balsamic glaze. Served with string beans and mashed potatoes. He was ok with it despite the fact that he thought the balsamic dressing overpowered the chicken just a bit.

Joe’s wife, Carol had the Chicken Piccata,

Fresh lemon, capers, white wine, Romano and fresh herbs atop tender breaded chicken filets over spaghetti. Served with a side Insalata or a cup of soup. I thought this looked the best of all the dishes with three nice size pieces of chicken served over pasta.

 My wife, Kathy selected, as she so often does, the Eggplant Parma,

Eggplant layered with tomato sauce, provolone and grated Romano over spaghetti or with string beans. Served with  a side Insalata or a cup of soup. Kathy liked that the eggplant was very thinly sliced and thought that highlighted the flavors. 

 

   

I almost went with the Spaghetti and Meatballs but in the end decided to try the Taste of Bertucci’s,

A trio of Bertucci’s favorites — Chicken Parma, Fettuccine Alfredo with Asparagus and Rigatoni Abruzzi. Served with a side Insalata or a cup of soup. This turned out to be a decent dish with none of the items really special.

I’d have to say Bertucci’s is a place where you can enjoy good food at reasonable prices as long as you don’t arrive with really high expectations.

WEST SIDE GRAVY – (BYOB)

Posted in BYOB Restaurant Reviews, West Side Gravy, Wine Dinners with tags , , , , , , , , on October 30, 2010 by ballymote

 We finally made it. After reading F Scott and Zelda’s reviews and spending countless hours drooling about the menu, our group of eight hungry diners converged on the Collingswood eatery, the second “label” for renown Chef Alex Capasso of Blackbird fame.

It may be difficult to secure reservations at Blackbird on a Friday or Saturday evening. It will not be difficult to get a table at West Side Gravy on those same nights. In a way, that’s a shame. Let’s begin by explaining what West Side Gravy is NOT. It is not a full service, fine dining restaurant. That’s what Blackbird, Nunzio’s, Il Fiore, Casona and a host of other Collingswood restaurants are. West Side Gravy is a fun place for some interesting and well-prepared comfort food, served by some very nice people at reasonable prices.

 Our server, Allie, was one of those very nice people and she made us feel comfortable from the very beginning. She was attentive and charming and after opening our wines and puzzling over why we open four bottles and none of us share with each other (a story for another day), she recited the evening “specials” from every category on the menu. We pointed out to Allie, that first time diners at West Side Gravy should not be entitled to evening “specials” as there is plenty to choose from on the regular menu.

 My wine for the evening was something that was recommended by Charlie Beatty at Canals BottleStop in Marlton. The 2007 Fidelity, Alexander Valley, Crazy Creek Estate, Red Wine was a nice blend of 81% Merlot and 19% Cab Franc. Both my wife, Kathy, and I thought it was excellent with the cab franc giving a little bite to the softer merlot. It’s not a fruit bomb it’s just filled with nice cherry and chocolate flavors and at about $15.00 this one drinks like a wine at 3 times it’s cost. Tom and Barbara T. had just returned from a vacation in WIlliamsburg, VA and they had with them a wine they wanted me to try. I agreed and was prepared to try and find nice words to express my dislike for virtually any U. S. wines from outside of  California, Oregon or Washington State. However, this one, 2008 Williamsburg Winery Susan Constant Red Wine wasn’t bad. It wasn’t very complex but the taste was pretty good with some nice fruit flavors and a soft mouthfeel. Unlike other local wineries who charge big bucks for their wines, this one is under $10.00.

We all had a hard time making our selections but the guys decided to split a couple of appetizers.

We split the West Side Fries with Pinot Noir gravy and the Cheesesteak Eggrolls. The fries were nicely done with a portion size that would be fine for two people. The gravy was great but I should have poured it on my fries instead of dipping each one. The cheesesteak eggrolls were really good. There were four nice sized pieces so we each had one for ourselves. Four of them would almost make a meal and they came with a tasty horseradish sauce for dipping..

A couple of folks ordered the Sweet Potato Soup which they voted OK…but nothing special. The Fried Green Tomatoes were also seen as having too much breading.

 Gerry B. and my wife both went for the Buttermilk Fried Chicken, potato salad with smoked bacon dressing and house-made cole slaw. Kathy asked them if she could have all white meat and they complied with her request. Both thought the chicken was tasty and the potato salad and cole slaw were good.

Joe and Carol both had one of the “specials”, the braised short ribs with mashed potatoes and baby spinach. The dish was topped with crispy onion rings and a nice gravy and both enjoyed it.

 I always have a hard time staying away from any meatloaf dish I see on a menu and this time was no exception. This one came served over creamy mashed potatoes and I had them replace the peas with the baby spinach. Three generous slices of excellent house recipe meat loaf was topped with the delicious West Side Gravy. I was happy with my choice.

Barbara had the West Side Club, house-roasted turkey breast, smoked bacon, lettuce, marinated tomato, herb mayo on cranberry-pecan bread and served with house-made waffle chips. Barb liked her sandwich but she loved her waffle chips, We all sampled them and agreed they were very good.

 Sue C. had the Mushroom Sandwich, grilled portabello with baby arugula, grilled onions, marinated tomato served on a multi-grain bun with a side of macaroni salad

We had pretty much eaten as much as we could when Allie began to tempt us with offerings from the dessert menu. We gave in and decided we would split two items between the eight of us when all of a sudden, a bevy of desserts appears, many compliments of Alex and Siobhan, the two talented chefs who both stopped by to say “hi”. This was a very nice gesture and we all got to try several of their creations.

I don’t have a copy of the dessert menu so I can only accurately describe the one I spent the most time getting totally familiar with and that would be the “Snickers” dish above which was sinfully delicious. Allie’s favorite, the butterscotch pudding with caramelized bananas also drew a lot of compliments from our group.

In writing this review, and even prior to our first visit, I had read a lot about West Side Gravy. Almost every article and blog post I have seen mentions the same bewildering fact. There is a distinct lack of patronage on most nights. I am at a total loss as to why that is. A few theories I might offer would be, having dined at Blackfish patrons are expecting a similar meal. It’s not that kind of place. It could be that the place is a little too big for what they are doing. Most of the restaurants in Collingswood are fairly small and tables are crammed together. West Side Gravy is in the old Woolworths 5 & 10 Building and it is cavernous. If  they were just opening I could understand the sparse crowds but it’s been a few months now and the reviews are good and they certainly deserve a better fate. Personally, I think this type of dining has a place in a town with so many eating choices. At the very least, you should give it a try. The food is good and the prices are even better.

TRE FAMIGLIA – BYOB (2nd Review)

Posted in BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Tre Famiglia (2nd Review), Wine Dinners with tags , , , , , , on October 28, 2010 by ballymote

 A surprise call from our friend’s Gerry and JoAnn B. led to the four of us gathering last Saturday evening at Tre Famiglia in Haddonfield, NJ to celebrate my wife, Kathy’s birthday. We hadn’t seen them since our return from Napa as they were an integral part of our wine country sextet. We had some of the wines that Gerry had bought in Napa with us and I dug up something from my cellar.

Gerry had two bottles from Mayo Family. This was one of the places we visited during our week in Napa/Sonoma. The first bottle was the one that was awarded the “Best in Class” Award at this years Sonoma County Harvest Fair. We actually tasted this wine during a visit to that fair back on October 3rd. This was the 2007 Mayo Family, Sonoma Valley, Los Chamizal Vineyard, Meritage. This one is a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cab franc and is a very nice wine at its $30 price tag. It was not Gerry’s favorite, however, that award went to his other wine, the 2008 Mayo Family, Russian River Valley, Ricci Vineyard, Zinfandel. My wife, Kathy, now has company as prior to this, she was our only true, blue zinfandel lover. I have to admit, this one is very tasty and worth the $50.00 price tag. My contribution, which I thought finished third on this evening, although I think Gerry preferred it to the “Meritage”, was the 2000 Simi Reserve, Alexander Valley, Canernet Sauvignon. This 10 year old cab took some time to open up but when it did it had a nice array of black fruits with smooth tannins and some chocolate notes on the finish.

Kathy and I have been to Tre Famiglia a few times and I reviewed it very favorably on our last visit in May. At that time we had a nice round table in the side room. Gerry and Joann are from the western suburbs of Philly and this was their first visit to this classy Italian bistro (can a bistro be Italian?). Tonight we were seated in tight quarters. It was a Saturday night and the restaurant was packed.

 Our server, Joseph, recited a laundry list of specials that may have included more items than the actual menu. I have to confess that in the beginning I felt rushed. We had a lot to talk about. I had pictures to show them from the trip and it just seemed we were hurried to place our order. The feeling went away as the night progressed and it may have just been an unwarranted notion on my part.

With so many choices I chose the Mozzarella Fritti, Panko breaded wedge of mozzarella, pan seared on a bed of pomadoro sauce. One word….DELISH! Great texture and lots of flavor. This was not your usual fried mozzarella sticks.

Kathy had the Mussells Possilippo, steamed in a white garlic sauce. I don’t think Kathy has ever met a mussell she didn’t like and these were pretty good.

Gerry ordered something from the “special appetizer” list and it appeared to be a charcuterie type of dish with some tomatoes, olives, red peppers, mozzarella, and prosciutto on a bed of arugula. This looked like a nice presentation and a great way to start off his meal.

I believe Joann’s starter was also one of the “specials”. It appeared to be fresh greens with scallops and olives with a topping of shaved pecorino romano. We discussed our trip, sipped our wines and looked forward to our entrees which were soon to appear. Once again, I believe all four of us made our selection from the many evening “specials”

Gerry had the Shrimp and Pasta Fra Diavolo. This was a perfect match for his zinfandel with nice big pieces of shrimp in a tangy sauce.

Joann had the veal chop Porterhouse topped with shrimp and crabmeat and served over black truffled red bliss mashed potatoes and veggies.

Kathy also had a big veal chop. Hers was char-broiled and served over a bed of polenta with a side of broccoli rabe. She finished as much as she could and, lucky for me, there was enough left over that I was able to combine my leftovers with hers for another meal on Monday evening.

I had the Braised Short Ribs which was also served over polenta with a side of veggies. The meat was very tender. Perhaps, not quite as flavorful as I would have hoped, but still very good. The fact that we saved half our meal left us room for dessert.

 Kathy had the Apple Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream. Looked good. Tasted good.

    Gerry had the Chocolate Chip Cannoli and, unlike the last one we had, this one had plenty of chocolate chips.

 Joann had the Chocolate Tartufo, the familiar hard shell chocolate with vanilla/chocolate gelato and a cherry in the middle. It’s one of those desserts that is impossible to screw up because ALL the parts are great.

       I had a simple dish of banana gelato with crisp sugar cookies. It was good but it was too much banana. I should have ordered the Tartufo!

Overall, it was a nice dinner experience and Joseph was kind enough to write out the specials so that I wouldn’t draw a complete blank without menu support to help me when I wrote this review.

Tre Famiglia has a nice following and it’s one of those places where you can always count on a good meal.

   
 

ARUGULA – BYOB

Posted in Arugula Restaurant, South Jersey BYOB Reviews, Wine Dinners with tags , , , , , , , on October 16, 2010 by ballymote

It’s always nice to discover a new BYOB in the area. It’s even nicer when the place is within walking distance. Arugula opened recently in the same location once occupied by San Miguel, a Mexican eatery which we all liked a lot prior to it moving to Voorhees and eventually closing. Six of us converged on the neighborhood’s newest dining spot last night to give it a try. First impression on entering was that the room looks nice. Bright green walls, lots of wall decor and an open, uncluttered look to the room and it’s approximately 50-60 seats. The service was friendly and Andrea, our server, was enthusiastic and helpful (I am excluding her photo because I took a picture of her that wasn’t one of my best). A first glance at the menu revealed some interesting choices in both the appetizer and entree sections. There were lots of tempting Italian dishes and even a few specials.  We had our wines with us and a lot to talk about as four of us had just returned from Napa and the other two were just back from a vacation in Germany.

Joe and Carol were drinking a 2009 Folie a Deux, Menage a Trois, a red blend that I often tell my kid’s to buy when they can’t think of anything else (knowing they are smart enough to remember a Menage a Trois). I had the 2006 Stefania, Eaglepoint Ranch Syrah and although I have enjoyed this same wine in the past I think this was the best I have seen it showing. It was delicious and my wife, Kathy, agreed. Jerry and Sue quite fittingly had a German wine, a Dornfelder, Rheinhessen, low alcohol content and much on the sweet side of the wine universe.

Let me start with the only two flaws we found in the meal, both minor, so that I can concentrate on the multitude of good points. We all ordered the Harvest Soup, a pumpkin, squash brew that sounded enticing. It must have sounded just as good to many others because we were informed that they were all out of the soup. The only other “quibble” was that Carol’s pork was too salty. Now for the good stuff.

left to right…my Crab Crusted Diver Scallops, pan blackened, sweet roasted pepper sauce, arugula, grilled corn and bacon. Scallops were perfect, the blackening added great flavor and who doesn’t like bacon? Joe’s Prosciutto Wrapped Mozzarella, pan seared with smoked tomato, baby arugula and a balsamic fig reduction. He loved it. Jerry and Sue split the Antipasto di Arugula, an assortment of cured meats, cheese, olives, fruits and vegetables. The plate was fresh with an interesting variety of items that they both enjoyed.

Although the picture on the left does not do it justice, Carol’s Eggplant Parmigiano, crispy white eggplant, sheep’s milk ricotta, tomato puree, basil pesto cream, freshly shaved prosciutto and parmigiano reggiano, was deemed delicious. Jerry had the Pear Salad in the middle and Kathy went with her usual Prince Edward Island Mussels, braised fennel, pancetta in a spicy tomato sauce with grilled bread. She thought the sauce had a nice tangy bite to it and the mussels were properly prepared. We were off to a good start and it was now time for our entrees.

I went back and forth on a couple of tempting items until I finally, with prompting from Andrea, chose the Capellini e Granchio, Colossal Crab Meat in a blush wine sauce with basil, garlic, and imported plum tomatoes over house made capellini. I loved the sauce, it had a slight sweetness and the dish was very good. I might point out, and I trust I am not being picky, but the dish was incorrectly named as the pasta was definitely NOT Capellini. If this was “angel hair” pasta then the angel’s have put on some weight recently.

On the left, Joe and Sue went with one of the “Specials” the Orange Roughy, pan seared served over pumpkin risotto with baby spinach and a hazelnut brown butter sauce. Jerry ordered the other “special”, the Chestnut Floured Papardelle with braised rabbit ragu, shitake mushrooms and butter nut squash.

On the left Kathy’s 14 oz. New York Strip with broccoli rabe, purple and sweet potato hash with bacon and caramelized onions in a chianti syrup. It looked good and tasted better. Carol had the Pork Tenderloin Medallions, pan-seared with a dried-cherry-red wine sauce, mushroom bacon risotto, spinach and baby carrots. She liked the dish minus the over salted pork.

When we had finished our dinner we were informed that our desserts would be comped as an apology for running out of the Harvest Soup. It’s gestures like this that separate the people who know how to run a restaurant from the pretenders. It made a great first impression and, along with the quality of the food, assured a return visit.

Carol had the Chocolate, Banana, Peanut Butter Cake, a tasty little low cal item (cough). Two of the group had the Raspberry Cheese Cake, which I snuck a bite of and give my seal of approval.

Sue topped off her meal with the inappropriately named Chocolate-Chip Cannoli which was totally devoid of chocolate chips. It could be that they are hiding somewhere in the kitchen with the capellini. I had the Pumpkin Tiramisu. It was nice and light but I think, given the choice, I’d stick with the original Tiramisu.

Overall, it was a very nice experience at Arugula. They feature a menu with so many tempting entrees it can be difficult to settle on just one. My guess would be, with the large local population here in Washington Township, it will quickly become difficult to secure weekend reservations once the word gets out. That is why I hope that Chefs Nicholas Tomasetto and Stefan Gervasi remember all the nice things I just wrote about their new venture and keep that table for six reserved with our name on it!

CASONA – BYOB (2nd Review)

Posted in BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Casona (2nd Review), Wine Dinners with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 6, 2010 by ballymote

There is something about Casona that appeals to me. Certainly, part of it is the uniqueness of the spicy Cuban influenced menu. It’s also the enticing wrap-around porch that on a balmy, breezy summer evening can be the perfect setting for a meal. Another part of the draw is the building itself; an imposing Cape May style Victorian that stands alone and seems to serve as a guardian for the many other Collingswood eateries further along Haddon Ave. Some, or all of this, brought us to Casona on a gorgeous Saturday night of Labor Day Weekend. Unfortunately, scores of others had the same idea and we were unable to secure seating at an outside table. We did have the next best thing though, a nice table by the open doorway where the soft breezes were still evident.

Our server, Ivan, was both personable and enthusiastic. He chatted while opening our wines and told us of the lone special for the evening. The regular menu at Casona is chock full of interesting offerings and I don’t think they really need to have many “specials”. These were the wines that the six of us would share with our spicy food.

Joe B. had the 2007 Marchesi De Frescobaldi, Tenuta di Castiglioni, a Super Tuscan. We all liked this wine a lot. It was very food friendly with hints of blackberries and minerals and a velvety finish. It deserves the 93 point rating it received from Wine Spectator. I brought with me one of my wife, Kathy’s favorite wines. The 2007 Angel’s Landing, Stag’s Leap District,  Napa Cab. We had this a few months ago at Sonata in Northern Liberties and she had been wanting to try another bottle since then. Everyone seemed to enjoy it and the smooth taste of red and black berries and ripe cherries with a hint of licorice and chocolate make this a tremendous value at under $20.00. Jerry C. always has something a bit unusual and tonight was no different with a 2007 Chateau Morrisette, The Black Dog, Red Blend. If you guessed that Chateau Morrisette was in Bordeaux you’d be off a little as it is located in Floyd, Virginia. The Black Dog is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Chambourcin and is light with smooth tannins. One of the problems with the fare served at Casona is that the spices tend to overpower the wines and if the food wasn’t so good that would be a very big problem.

Kathy and I each chose as our appetizer, the Cuban Pizza, – Chicken, Creole  tomato sauce, chorizo & cheese 6.95. Kathy thought it was very good, I felt that very good didn’t go far enough in defining just how REALLY good this was. I could have gone with a 2nd one as an entree. The flavors were awesome.

What Kathy thought was even better than her Cuban Pizza was Carol B.’s Empanadas de Carne, – Ground beef with
peppers  & onion  6.95
Carol wasn’t terribly phased that she had actually ordered Empanados De Pollo because the beef was tasting great. Her dish came with guacamole and sour cream for dipping.

Jerry and Joe were persuaded by Ivan to try the  Tomato Soup, served with toasted bread and parmesan cheese $6.50. They both thought it was good but I saw them eyeing our other appetizers and felt they might wait for Ivan outside and end his career as an Appetizer Suggester.

Sue C. went with the Pico di Gallo, Tomato, red onion, cilantro, roasted jalapeno, lime juice & olive oil served with corn tortillas or mariquita $5.95. I didn’t take a picture because it was only chips and salza but the salza was spicy hot and required keeping your water glass within reach. Speaking of which, not to nitpick but, with food as spicy as that served at Casona, it becomes very important that the servers and busboys keep an eye on water glasses. On this night, they were not attentive to this chore. On a previous visit we were told that there would be a $1.00 charge for additional chips. They have since, thankfully, done away with this infuriating charge.

For their entrees, both Kathy and Carol selected the Lechon Asado Citrus-marinated pork, slow
roasted Cuban-style with white rice
& maduros 20.95
I think I had ordered this on our last visit. I didn’t hear any complaints on this choice but, by the same token, I did not hear either of them gushing ecstatic over their choice.
Sue stayed in the pork family and ordered the Chuletoe de Cerdo Pork Chop with mashed sweet potato,
guava sauce & asparagus 21.50. Her chop was nicely done and she enjoyed her dish. It looked like a very nice presentation; colorful and appealing.
I stayed with chicken after enjoying the pizza and went with the Chicken Moluteno Grilled chicken breast marinated in
mole sauce with chilaquiles queso fresco topping with cilantro, cherry tomato
& red onion sauce 20.95
There was a nice blend of flavors in this semi-spicy dish and it didn’t disappoint. I wouldn’t rank it up there with the great chicken dishes of all time but it was fine.Jerry and Joe put their heads together and decided they were in the mood for a little bit of everything. The perfect choice for them was the Paella, Casona Signature Dish
Saffron rice, bay scallops, clams,
mussels, shrimp, chorizo &
 chicken breast, calamari,
green peas, lobster
for one   28.95
for two  52.95
They both worked diligently at the huge dish and did their best to finish as much as they could. They still had some to take home. Joe put a little on my bread dish and I think I shared their view that, although it was good, it could have been better with an addition of flavor. For as many things in the entree, it was lacking in bright flavors and slightly bland.

Overall, it was  a nice experience at Casona. A beautiful night, good wines, good food, good conversation in a nice setting. Nothing wrong with that.
 

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