Archive for the Wine Dinners Category

BARONE TUSCAN GRILL (2nd Review)

Posted in Barones Tuscan Grill (2nd review), BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Wine Dinners with tags , , , , on February 9, 2011 by ballymote

 

This blog has been in existence since July of 2009. During these past 18 or 19 months I have reviewed over 100 restaurants all over the Delaware Valley and a few in California. We have had over 32,000 visitors in that time. No single review that I have ever posted has had as many readers as my first review of Barone Tuscan Grill in Woolwich Twp., NJ which I wrote during their opening week last summer. No other post has even come close to generating the readership that continues to this day for that one post. It is, and was, so befuddling to me that I was prompted several months ago to write a post titled The Great Barone Tuscan Grill Mystery. Even that post is high on the most-read list. The review itself was nothing special. Some in our group were not pleased, the majority, myself included, thought the meal was pretty good, in light of the “new opening jitters” that were to be expected at a time like that. Why it has generated so many readers is still something I can’t explain but, here we are for a return visit and it will be interesting to see what kind if response this one brings.

 Six of us on an early February Friday evening and the place is packed. Someone must like the food. We have a nice round table set up for us in the back and the place is buzzing with activity. Each couple has a nice bottle of wine to compliment the food and the menu at ‘ is so extensive that there would be little reason to offer “specials”. Joe B. ran across the Plaza to JB Liquors and picked up a 2005 Monte Degli Angeli, Barolo. This full bodied Nebbiolo had soft plum and cedar notes, a silky finish and was a good match for the food. Jerry C. had the 2008 Merum Monastrell from the Jumilla region of Spain. It showed flavors of forest floor and black cherry and provided a smooth finish. I brought along one of the La Posta Malbecs (there are at least three vineyards that I am aware of to date). This one was the 2007 La Posta, Pizzella Family Vineyard, Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina. A nice nose of dark chocolate and spice and enticing cherry and tobacco flavors on the palate. A Wine Spectator 91 rating.

Jerry started out with a plate of mussels in their classic marinara sauce and served with a toasted garlic crostini. I went with the Potato Soup with truffle oil and crisp pancetta. The zuppe was hot and thick and tasty although the sparse pancetta quickly disappeared beneath the surface. No complaints. No raves.

 Carol B. had the Broccoli Rabe, sauteed with extra virgin olive oil, veal sausage and roasted garlic. Carol wasn’t totally thrilled with the broccoli rabe but felt the sausage was good. Others had a small house salad.

Our server was Allan, and he did a nice job all night completing our orders. He had quite a few tables and worked hard in making sure that all of them were taken care of properly.

As I mentioned earlier, Barone’s menu has lots to choose from. There are about 14 different ways to have chicken or veal, lots of tempting pasta dishes most baked in terra cotta bowls and even a few House Specialties.

 One of those House Specialties was what I considered ordering before changing my mind. I was glad to see Jerry request the Polpettone Toscana, Italian style meatloaf stuffed with prosciutta and spinach, hard-boiled egg and slow roasted and served in its natural juices. Jerry wasn’t thrilled but thought it was decent. I’m not sure I’m totally comfortable with the hard-boiled egg propped in the middle of it.

 Joe B. went with another of my “almost” choices, the Pollo Scarpiello, chicken breast, long hots and sausage in a Rosemary wine sauce. It looked excellent and Joe said the chicken was cooked perfectly and was very flavorful.

Two of the ladies opted for the Pollo Vesuvio, breaded cutlets served over a bed of spinach, topped with fresh mozzarella and tomato and finished with tortellini alfredo. It wouldn’t be wrong to change the name of this dish to “heart attack on a plate” but once again the ladies agreed that the chicken was excellent.

Normally, with all those chicken choices on the menu my only task is to narrow them down to the one I want. On this night, I decided to try Mamma’s Sunday Sauce, two homemade meatballs over capellini pasta. The sauce was delicious, the meatballs big enough that I could find no fault with them and the pasta done just right. Once again, the portion was large enough that I was able to box up enough to make for a nice dinner the next evening.

So, another visit to the place that holds such interest to so many. It may be that Greenwich and Woolwich Township is just growing so quickly that the new homeowners are desperate for decent places to eat. That’s what Barone Tuscan Grill is, not a fabulous dining establishment, just a decent place to eat on a Friday night.

BONA CUCINA (3rd REVIEW)

Posted in Bona Cucina (3rd review), BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Wine Dinners with tags , , , , , , on February 8, 2011 by ballymote

 Bona Cucina, the little Italian gem hidden away in Upper Darby, is not the same place without the sassy Frankie, waitress and wife of the Chef, in residence. So it was on this cold 1st day of February that my friend, Frank D., and I dined here and discovered that Frankie had the night off. Her absence may have deterred from the overall ambiance, but the food was just as good as ever.

We shared a bottle of 2008 Pillar Box Reserve. This wine with the black label is the big brother of one of my favorite value wines, the Pillar Box Red. This one is in the $20.00 range and well deserves its 91 point score from the Wine Advocate. Inky black, with hints of tobacco and spices on the nose, the dark berry fruit and notes of leather are well-balanced and soft on the palate.  I think I still feel the “red” Pillar Box is a better value when you can catch it on sale.

Frank and I caught up on what had been happening since our last dinner while we looked over the menu that we virtually know by heart.

 Frank selected as his appetizer, the Portobello mushrooms stuffed with crab meat. Five huge portions appeared and were gone in no time. He didn’t think he would be able to finish them and almost made me promise to take at least one even though I detest mushrooms. Once he started eating though, he had no problem devouring all of them.

Quite honestly, I don’t think I would have been in any position to help him as I was in food nirvana with each spoonful of my Seafood Chowder. Something this good deserves a better, more exotic name than simply “seafood chowder”. It was absolutely delicious. I had our server ask the chef what was in it and she returned and told me “seafood”. My fault for asking dumb questions.

 Frank ordered the twin crab cakes, which he has done in the past, and I know he feels they may be the best around. There certainly isn’t much filler in these two perfectly baked mounds of rich, succulent crab and most of our conversation came to a screeching halt as we gave all of our attention to our dinners.

I almost went with the orange roughy from the list of evening “specials” but I gave in to the very same temptation that I always succumb to when dining at Bona Cucina and went with the Chicken Celeste. Two very generous and perfectly cooked chicken breasts in a wonderful cream sauce with peppers and melted mozzarella. Just as good as ever, and enough to take home some for another dinner for the following night.

It may be that a wine of somewhat less body would have provided a better companion piece to our meal but that’s not really a complaint. Once again, Bona Cucina, even without the help of Frankie, proved it’s a great spot for a memorable meal.

SIX SCINTILLATING WINES IN SOUTH PHILLY

Posted in Favorite Wines, Tasting Notes, Wine Dinners with tags , , , , , , , , on February 6, 2011 by ballymote

 In writing this blog, and in having the opportunity to dine out weekly at many of the wonderful BYOB’s in the Philadelphia/South Jersey area, it also presents an opportunity to taste a lot of different wines. Some dinners there is the surprise of discovering something really good. Once in a while the same dinner will present two wines of note. I must confess that I don’t get too many dinners where SIX of the wines were exceptional. Our dinner at Salt and Pepper in South Philly, which is reviewed elsewhere on this blog, is one such instance where the wines were all top-notch.

Now, it should be noted that one observer’s definition of top-notch may well differ from another’s and my wallet and the wallets of my friends may preclude some of the world’s best wines from our table but, the six we had on this cold January evening were just fine with all of us present. Additionally, there were some other wines on the table that I didn’t sample  for one reason or another. Here is what we enjoyed in no particular order:

 2007 B. R. Cohn, Silver Label, Cabernet Sauvignon

On plenty of other occasions this could have been the best wine at the table. Tonight, despite some nice black cherry and spice nuances, and a pleasant oak treatment this one was slightly lost in the presence of some real heavyweights. Still, at a price point in the $20.00 range, this North Coast cab from the excellent 2007 vintage offers great value.

 The 2005 Shirvington, Shiraz, McLaren Vale, Australia is one of those wines that is always welcome at any table where I am eating. Once again, none of the recent vintages will ever match Sarah and Sparky’s magnificent 01 and 02 effort and, in fairness, that could well be because they are no longer responsible for Shirvington wines. Still, it always brings intense shiraz flavor and although it isn’t perfect with a lot of foods, it’s still a great wine for sipping and conversing and will work with many heavier meat items.

 2007 Domaine Drouhin, Pinot Noir, Williamette Valley, Oregon. My affection for Pinot Noir isn’t shared by many of my wine-drinking friends. I do try to convert them every once in a while when I have a Pinot that I think is outstanding. This was one that they all seemed to enjoy, especially with the lighter foods on the menu. This 90 pointer exhibits a great nose of spring flowers and raspberries and soft flavors of cherry and spice. It is currently available as a Chairman’s Selection in the PA State stores for $29.99 which is almost $20.00 less that its normal retail price.

 2007 Mauritson,Rockpile Ridge Vineyard, Zinfandel. My wife, Kathy, has become a Zin-lover. She has become a zinfandel lover without being exposed to the really good 40.00+ wines that are available. In fact, this may have been her first. The rich blackberry flavors, the baked-pie with hints of Asian spices and the overall structure and balance of this wine made it, for both of us, our Wine of the Night. Considering the competition this was no small accomplishment. It may have been that I wasn’t expecting it to be so good and I knew the others would be.

2007 Kapcsandy, State Lane Vineyard, Estate Cuvee. I opened my first bottle of this superb wine at the end of the summer and was slightly disappointed because I expected more. In retrospect, it may have been my fault as I didn’t give it enough time to breathe before serving. This time, we had our server decant the wine for about 90 minutes before we could hold out no longer and started sampling the deep purple nectar. Much better this time and reminiscent of our sampling it last October with Lou Kapcsandy at his Tasting Room in Yountville, CA. This red blend which garnered 96 points from Robert Parker consists of 46% Cabernet and 46% Merlot with equal blends of Cab Franc and Petite Verdot. Made in the true Bordeaux fashion this is one terrific wine as evidenced by these remarks on Cellar Tracker

  Tasted by etherscreen on 1/29/2011: With such great Cali Cabernet produced by the likes of Rivers Marie, Lewelling, Karl Lawrence, and Stefania to name a few, available way below a c-note, why should one really look to those priced out of reach for many of us? Ok collectors (read not drinkers) can stockpile screaming eagle, harlan, etc., but those wines are nothing more than a distant dream to the vast majority of us. With this in mind, I am not looking to acquire many Cali Cabs north of $100, save Shafer Hillside Select and a few others. Why should we pay more???

Well my friends, the Kapcsandy 2007 Estate Cuvee State Lane Vineyard is one profound example of why to pay more! This wine exemplifies the perfect marriage of Napa fruit with a Bordeaux sensibility. It’s color is nearly alive in the glass. Nose of cassis, wet earth, pencil lead, cigar box, minerals, and menthol. Powerful, but with restraint on the palate. Well proportioned. Finish captures the wonderful aromas noted on the nose as well a some chocolatey oak that sails a nice distance.

I spoke with Lou for a fair amount of time discussing his wines, his history, and his philosophy. He struck me as an extraordinary guy with a clear vision and purpose in his wine making. While I am not in the business of drinking over priced Cali Cab, I am, from this point forward, in the business of cellaring and drinking Kapcsandy wines. (137 views)

  Tasted by Wine-Strategies on 12/25/2010 & rated 97 points: opened on Thursday, tasted (yikes, this is young!) and re-corked for Saturday’s Christmas dinner. Let me begin by saying this is the finest North American wine I’ve ever had, and I’ve had lots. Shafer, not even close. Araujo, whatever. Abreu, Colgin, etc., nah. This wine is like one of the first dates you ever had, with the girl you just knew was for you; when you knew in your heart that the feelings would run deep, and the experience was one you’d never forget. A medium-weight entry gives way to a full-bodied, sophisticated and regal mouthfeel. It’s as if this wine weighs nothing and is as dense as a star, all in the same moment. The structure and blend (they nailed it) is fit not for kings or gods, but for the purest of the pure. The chosen. Loving, caressing, layered in purity and focus. This is worth every penny, and then some. Highly recommended. Drink thru 2030, approx $135, 14,1% abv (576 views)
  Tasted by hrl on 12/24/2010 & rated 95 points: From 375. This is just stellar. Very classy and complex nose that comes across like classified Bordeaux. The palate is very ethereal as the wine is powerful yet restrained. This is a great meeting of Napa ripeness and restrained French winemaking. As someone who finds many of the Napa cults far too big and ripe, this is ideal. My first bottle from this estate and I plan on buying many more. (635 views).

 

 

 
 

2008 Alpha Omega ERA. We barrel tasted this wine during our October California visit and my friend, Gerry B. decided right there that he had to have this when the folks at A-O finally bottled it. From the monster-size impressive bottle to the equally impressive juice contained therein this is one major red wine endeavor. Certainly this was too early to be opening a wine of such magnitude but one sip and you can already see the lushness and velvet texture of this wine. It will be even better in five or ten years but it delivers much even at this early stage. This is not only a great wine but if you are ever out Napa way, Alpha Omega should be near the top of your “Must Visit” list not just for the great wines but it’s in a beautiful location and the folks, headed by the charming Jean Hoefliger and his entire staff, make you feel totally welcome.

So, there you have them. A great beginning to 2011 and if once a month brings wines of equal quality, it will be a wonderful year.

PORK & SAUERKRAUT….AND A WINE THAT WORKS WITH THEM

Posted in Favorite Wines, Info on Wine, Uncategorized, Wine Dinners with tags , , on February 2, 2011 by ballymote

 Matching wine with food isn’t always the mass confusion that many declare it to be. There are some combinations that almost everyone knows. For instance, a nice filet, T-Bone or sirloin steak certainly deserves a big California cabernet by its side for maximum enjoyment. All out of cab at the moment?  Not to worry, simply substitute a nice Malbec, a syrah or a hearty zinfandel and you have hardly lost a beat with your beefy meal. On the other hand, some foods do offer much more of a challenge in finding the right wine to highlight their flavors.

One such meal was our dinner on Sunday evening, Pork and Sauerkraut slow cooked overnight in a crock pot and accompanied by some buttery, fluffy mashed potatoes. Of course, it’s not really the pork or the potatoes that cry for something special, it’s clearly the acidic, tongue-curling flavors of the sauerkraut that cries out for something special. The wine we chose to match with this dish worked perfectly.

 The 2007 St. Urbans - Hof, Ockfener Bockstein, Riesling Spatlese proved to be an excellent match for this entree. Crisp and silky smooth with just the right minerality and soft hints of pear and melon, grapefruit and lemon oil. It was right on target in helping to negate the stringent flavors of the dish. In the German hierarchy, spatleses are just a bit sweeter that the kabinetts and you may personally find that the kabinetts provide an even better match with this type of food. It’s not surprising that this wine received a 92 from the Wine Advocate and a 91 from Wine Spectator and is available locally for about $25.00.  It’s the type of white wine that makes a red wine aficionado like myself admit that there is room for both in the world of vino.

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.

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.

HOSTARIA DA ELIO – BYOB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

TRATTORIA GIUSEPPE – BYOB

Posted in BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Trattoria Giuseppe, Wine Dinners with tags , , , , , , , , on December 12, 2010 by ballymote

 The sign looks big but it wasn’t easy finding Trattoria Giuseppe which sits back behind a shopping center off of West Chester Pike (Rt. 3) in Edgemont, PA. Judging by the crowd on this chilly Tuesday evening, I may have been one of the few who was challenged by the task of locating this very popular Delaware County eatery. I was having dinner with some childhood friends (Frank, Steve & Tom) and they are familiar with the area and had told me how popular this Italian Restaurant was and that we were lucky, even on a Tuesday, to not have to wait for a table despite having reservations. All of this made me curious as to why the place was such a local favorite.

 I had brought with me an unfinished bottle of the 2005 Cameron Hughes, Lot 125, Pinot Noir, Napa/Carneros. This is a really great Pinot for the money with a great nose and lots of strawberry and raspberry flavors and just delivers terrific value for the money. My other bottle was something I picked up at the PA State Store some time back. The 2007 Borra Vineyards, Field Blend, Lodi, California is a very different wine, made from a blend of grapes you seldom see. 48% Barbera, 23% Carignane, 16% Alicante Bouschet, 13% Petite Sirah. It’s a dark ruby red in the glass with a full mouthfeel. This is one you are going to either love or hate. I take that back because, come to think of it, I can’t quite decide.

Our server, Jeremiah, was poised and polished and also impressed that Frank was able to name Three Dog Night as the group that made the 60′s song featuring his name. He opened our wine, outlined the specials and brought us some complimentary bruschetta.

 Nice fresh tomatoes atop a crisp piece of Italian bread made this a great way to start off our evening. We spent some time conversing and reviewing the massive menu before the four of us had zeroed in on our selections. For appetizers, Frank and Steve split some more bruchetta; an order  which was large enough to end famine in a third world country. I would have a picture of it but I couldn’t get the entire plate in the frame of the lens.

 I ordered the Mozzarella Caprese, fresh mozzarella, sliced red tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil and basil. This was another huge offering of which I ate about 40% and took the rest home. I was beginning to see why families were filling the tables here as dinners appeared to be such that each meal was enough to serve the family for the rest of the week.

 Entrees were more of the same as Tommy’s dish of Tagliatelle Giuseppe was chock full of seafood, featuring mussels, shrimp, scallops some chopped tomatoes and broccoli rabe.

Steve’s order of Ravioli Quattro Formaggio, fresh made ravioli filled with blue cheese, goat cheese, mozzarella and parmesan in a rich cream sauce looked like an artery clogging delight. I knew he would have a tough time finishing this one and although he totally enjoyed it there was quite a bit to bring back home.

 Frank’s Tilapia topped with shrimp and artichokes was, I believe, one of the “specials” and was the only dish that appeared to offer a chance of being totally consumed in one sitting. The fish was nicely baked and had a an appealing white wine sauce.

As for myself, I figured if I was in a true, Italian restaurant why not give the spaghetti and meatballs a try. When I order this dish I am always keeping my fingers crossed that I will have at least two nice sized meatballs to compliment the pasta. The bowl that arrived at my table, steaming hot, contained FOUR mammoth meatballs. I gave it a worthy attempt but still was unable to make much of a dent in the meal before I gave up and had it boxed. It provided not only another great dinner but TWO more dinners, which, to be honest, tasted better on each subsequent day.

We passed on dessert as we were all stuffed and settled for more wine and laughs. It’s always great to get together with these guys and tonight was no exception.

 Trattoria Giuseppe does not need me to give it a “thumbs up”. It’s apparent that enough people have done that. Weekends are virtually impossible to avoid waiting lines. It’s very good food, tremendous portions, we found Jeremiah to be a first class server and just an overall nice spot for a meal that will not break your budget.

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.

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