Archive for the South Jersey BYOB Reviews Category

SALT AND PEPPER – BYOB

Posted in Salt and Pepper, Wine Dinners with tags , , on January 30, 2011 by ballymote

 It’s not easy to find a BYOB in Philly that will accept reservations for ten on a Saturday night. Some will offer a 5:00 P.M. or 9:30 P.M. seating but I was fortunate to find Salt and Pepper with a 6:30 P.M. opening. A few words on this place before I begin. Salt and Pepper has recently moved from their home at 6th and Tasker and are now located in the 1600 block of E. Passyunk Ave. There are quite a few restaurants in this same area which leads to the monumental problem of finding a place to park in this South Philly neighborhood. There is a municipal lot almost directly in front of Salt and Pepper but you have a better chance hitting the lottery than finding an empty spot there on a Saturday evening.  A couple of enterprising entrepreneurs are stationed on the street offering “valet parking” for $8.00 and although I have no idea where they stash your car during your time in the restaurant, this may be your best option.

Somehow, our entire group eventually resolved the parking dilemma and by 6:45 we were all seated and looking over the menu.

It’s not an extensive menu but there are enough interesting choices in each group to satisfy everyone. Several of us, myself included, began with the Salt and Pepper Rosemary Onion Soup. This is an unusual take on French Onion Soup and includes a crostini, Kalamada olives and marscapone cheese. I’m not sure how or why but, it works. and all who chose this starter thought it was terrific.

 I’m not sure what this soup was but it was the only addition to the regula menu on this evening and I remember it looking interesting but I can’t recall who had it.

I know my wife, Kathy and others ordered the Romaine Salad, roasted garlic and parmesan cheese and found the dish to be crisp and flavorful.

  The final appetizer chosen was the Hummus, marinated spiced shrimp and grilled pita. This was a nice presentation and shared by several in our party.

Our server for the evening, Matthew, was excellent. He opened our many bottles of wine, brought ice for the whites and assisted us with our entree selections. It was evident that Matthew takes pride in his performance and he was both personable and efficient.

Normally, it is about here that I would mention the wines that we were drinking at this dinner. I am going to refrain from that and use a new post to give a complete review of those wines. The reason is, there were just so many really good wines that they truly deserve their own space. 

For my entree, I chose the Roasted Chicken Breast, creamy risotto and a marsala wine sauce. The presentation was superb and the chicken was cooked to perfection. The risotto was delightful and the marsala sauce provided just the right topping to a wonderful dish. I could not have been happier with my choice.

With so many people at the table I gave up trying to remember exactly who had what but I do know a couple of folks ordered the Salmon, braised lentils, endive salad in a dijon emulsion. The fish appeared to be cooked perfectly and I think they enjoyed the entire presentation.

 The steak lovers in our group selected the Steak Frites, parsley compound and red wine shallot sauce The steak appeared to be cooked as ordered and the fries were crisp and golden brown.

There had to be one lamb lover in our midst and I’m quite sure it was Gerry who selected the Roasted Rack of Lamb, provencal garlic mashed potatoes and tomato thyme juice. I’m not big on lamb but this looked great and I think tasted just as good as it looked.

The conversation was every bit as good as the wines and we lingered for quite some time .

Kathy and I found that we had room for dessert and decided to split the Banana Split, wet walnuts, vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. We probably didn’t need this but we made a determined effort and finished each morsel of our portion.

A restaurant has to be pretty damn good for me to admit that it was worth fighting the “parking wars” to eat there. I’d say that Salt and Pepper was worth it.

One final word of caution. Salt and Pepper is no longer a BYOB. They have a liquor license and permit BYOB on Tuesdays and Wednesdays only. They allowed us to bring our bottles and pay a $10.00 per bottle “corkage fee” because many people are not yet aware of their change of status. If bringing wine is important to you it would be wise to work out the details with the staff prior to booking.

MANDARIN COURT – BYOB

Posted in Mandarin Court with tags , , , , , , , on January 30, 2011 by ballymote

 We don’t often do Chinese so it was a bit unusual for the six of us to meet at the Mandarin Court in Sewell, NJ on a chilly Friday night in early January. I must have been so shocked by our choice of venue that I forgot both wine and my camera.

Mandarin Court is one of six Asian-themed restaurants in this area all owned by The Mandarin Group.

 Someone in our group of six had brought a few beers so we opened them while we read over the menu. We finally decided on some appetizers and we spilt a bunch of egg rolls and a couple of orders of Scallion Pancakes. I would have liked to have tried the Angry Crab Rangoon but no one shared my inquisitive tastes.

Both of the appetizers were good choices and both came with the customary duck sauce and hot mustard sauce with a little soy being added with the pancakes. Some seemed a little surprised that the mustard sauce was as hot as it was but in my mind, it usually is pretty hot.

By the way, all of the pictures used in this post are NOT mine but photos that I found on the net (which may help explain why the pictures seem better than usual).

Most of the table finally settled on the General Tso Chicken which came accompanied with white rice and broccoli but I had the

Tangerine Chicken which was accompanied by four nice tangerine (they may have been oranges) slices on the plate. There was also the white rice. Kathy and I also selected an order of pork fried rice. As Kathy mentioned, one could almost make a meal out of the fried rice.

I thought my chicken had a nice flavor with the sweet tangerine coating giving the chicken the needed boost. The portion size was enough that all of us had some food to take home for the next day’s lunch. Most of our group thought the meal deserved a C but being the generous gourmand that I am, I’d give it a B. I do wish I had brought a nice wine to add to the meal but nonetheless, it was a nice change to “do Chinese” after a long time away from it.

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.

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