THANK YOU FOR YOUR MANY VISITS!!
A Sunday visit to the Michener Museum in Doylestown, PA provided an opportunity for four couples and a lovely, unattached lady to dine at Francisco’s On The River in Washington Crossing. It’s not an area that my wife and I get to very often as it’s quite a drive from where we live in South Jersey. Nonetheless, having weathered a brief summer downpour and watching the sunshine return to the Pennsylvania countryside, Francisco’s location on the Delaware River provided the perfect setting to end what had been a fun day.
As usual, we had some nice wines to go with our meals. Among them were the (left to right) 2009, Alexander Valley/Dry Creek Valley, Redemption, Zinfandel, the 2008 Henry’s Drive, Dead Letter Office, Shiraz, the 2009 Thumprint, Dry Creek Valley “Climax”, the 2005 Fransiscan, Maginificat and the 2008 Finca Flinchman, Tupungato. All of the wines were excellent and all of them were wines we had enjoyed on previous occasions.
I didn’t get pictures of everyone’s food but some of us started our meal with salads, mine was the Blueberry and Pear Salad topped with Goat Cheese, another was the Crabmeat Salad over spinach and arugula and topped with a raspberry vinaigrette and the other was a Caprese Salad with pesto. All of the salads were fresh and flavorful.
For my entree, I selected from the page of “specials”. This one was called “Bob’s Plate”. It was nice of Bob to share his plate with me and I was happy to see that his plate consisted of scallops, shrimp, salmon and crabmeat (yaaaaaaay, no mussels or clams) served over capellini in a vodka pink sauce. The dish was delicious and the portion large enough that it provided a nice meal on the following night.
I did not get a picture of the Eggplant Parmegian that two of the wives ordered and raved about, not only the taste and quality but the huge portion. I did get a picture of the Lobster Ravioli, black ravioli stuffed and served in a light lobster sauce.
One of the guys went with Francisco’s Lasagna, layers of pasta, ricotta cheese and bolognese flavored with porcini mushrooms and smoked bacon and topped with mozzaerella cheese in a red sauce. It appears Francisco knows what he is doing when it comes to turning out a great lasagna dish.
I finished off my meal with a dish of Vanilla gelato and chatted with the ladies while my male compatriots moved across the street to partake of their filthy habit of ending a great meal with an obnoxious cigar.
They make every effort to entice me to join them in their evil ways but I have thus far been able to resist. (as is eveident by the empty chair).
Francisco’s On The River is a fine place for a great meal.
While searching for a new BYOB in South Jersey, one that I had not yet experienced, I came across an unfamiliar name, Mirko’s A Taste of Europe. I checked the reviews and they seemed pretty good and then I paid a visit to their website. Their web page is worth visiting even if you have no intention of dining there (although, you probably would enjoy it). It turns out that Chef Mirko, aside from being an excellent cook, also has some unique marketing skills. Here is how the place works. There is a flag next to each appetizer and entree. The flag represents the country which is home to the particular food item represented. They have a dining program called “PASSPORT” and the following explains how it works:
As a member of this prestigious club, you are entitled to travel to any European country, spend as much time as you like, and return as often as you like. Your luggage will be transported with no fees from destination to destination. We recommend purchasing additional club memberships for your friends or loved ones, since traveling with our Euro Travel Club is more enjoyable with company.
As a proud member, we will issue you your own passport, so no hassle for forms and fees are needed. The passport will also be your ticket to enter as many European countries as you wish, and there will be preferred seating for Club members in any country you visit.
We guarantee sunshine and lots of fun at any destination, and we encourage you to come with an appetite to enjoy the cuisine and culture of Europe.
Each time you enter a new European country you need to get flagged and stamped (in your passport, not you!) This is important, because we offer our club members free dining after every 6th country. So, every time you collect all 6 countries and stamps, you dine on us! Who needs reward points if you could have a great meal just like that?
The Club offers you additional great benefits not to be missed. You will automatically be registered in our Birthday club where we are honored to recognize your birthday with a “buy one get one free”, because we want you to travel with one of your loved ones.
As a Club member, you also have the benefit of having us organize a special occasion for your needs. Simply call us, make a reservation, and tell us the occasion and the country you’d like to visit. We’ll get your “luggage” ready by getting flowers, arranging for a special beverage we could pick-up for you, having a special ending dessert prepared, or any other needs for your event.
To recognize frequent travelers and club members we would also like to invite you and a guest to a private appreciation party in January designed to recognize all the miles you have shared with us, and to welcome you to a new year of traveling Europe. For an amazing price of $30 per person, we will be serving specialties from Europe in small bites, and then have a family style multi-course dinner, bringing great memories back from past travels. Live music and wine service will be just part of the evenings travel arrangements.
You can stay in contact with the club members via Facebook, Twitter, or just by visiting our web site.
Membership fees are $10 and do not include airfare at this time.
When the six of us visited there earlier this month they were celebrating Italy (each week is a new country). Italy Week would mean extra dishes representing the cuisine of that nation.
Our server for the evening was, Tasha. She was charming and capable. She opened our wines and took the time to explain the Mirko’s concept. It was apparent that Tasha, and the rest of the wait team are enthusiastic and happy to be a part of all that is happening at Mirko’s taste of Europe. The service throughout the evening was excellent.
My wine for the evening was a Spanish red, the 2009 “Petalos” del Bierzo. There was a nose of red licorice and camphor and in the mouth plenty of red berries and menthol. It had a medium body and a medium finish. A solid, if not exceptional wine. Joe B. had an interesting bottle, the 2011 Andean Vineyards, The Waxed Bat, Mendoza, Argentina. This was a unique blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Malbec. This wine was smooth with some nice dark flavors. It is reasonably priced and affords a good accompaniment to a wide variety of dishes.
I had some camera problems this particular evening as I had damaged my regular lens and was awaiting arrival of a newly purchased replacement. I had to use a telephoto lens and this made it too awkward to capture all of the dishes. I only did my appetizer and entree and a small pizza appetizer that my wife selected. One of the evening specials was a fish that was served on a bed of Lobster Risotto. I wasn’t interested in the fish but I did ask Tasha if it was possible to order a portion of the Lobster Risotto as an appetizer. She checked with Chef Mirko and I was happy to hear that it wasn’t a problem. I was even happier when the dish arrived, complete with some crustacean shells. The rice as perfectly cooked and had an abundance of rich lobster flavor. It was delicious. Not quite the equal of the same dish served at Tisha’s in Cape May, NJ but certainly a fine effort that grabs second place in my Lobster Risotto world.
Kathy’s Naple’s Pizza appetizer had plenty of cheese some fresh tomatoes and arugula and I was glad she offered me a slice.
Although there were no pics of what our friends enjoyed, I know there were some orders of the Weiner Schnitzle and the Classic Goulash, so both germany and Hungary were well represented. I decided to visit Great Britain, as did my wife.
We both ordered the Fish and Chips, beer battered cod served with Fried Potatoes and malt Vinegar dip. There was plenty to eat as each order contained not three or four but FIVE nicely coated pieces of fish. There was plenty for the present and plenty for another meal the next day. I did not care for the potatoes. I am just not a fan of this type of spud. Give me the all-American steak fry any time. These potatoes also did not re-heat well at all in the microwave. It’s OK, the fish was good and I can forgive the fries which are a personal taste sort of thing.
Overall, the six of us enjoyed our meal at Mirko’s. I would certainly recommend the place to everyone. They are located in the Ritz Plaza in Voorhees and judging from our experience, they appreciate your business and make every effort to make certain you have a great dining experience.
I know I have been a little (ok, a lot) tardy in posting my reviews during this past year. I will continue to promise to do better. Despite this poor performance on my part, it gives me great pleasure to tell you that sometime toward the end of this month, my blog, South Jersey Wine and Dine will welcome it’s 100,000th visitor. I think that’s amazing and I thank the 5 of you who have each been here 20,000 times.
Also, I wanted to tell those same 5 people (you know who you are) that you might like to visit my new blog Photos and Phone Books (which you can do by clicking on the link). This new blog is a site where I do short reviews of the books I am reading on my phone, thus the name PHONE BOOKS. Since I won’t have a book to review every day, I am posting some of my favorite photos that I have taken thru the years. Each day (or so) I will post 3 pictures all with the same theme. I held off telling folks about this new blog until I had enough content posted to make it worth visiting. I think I am ready and I hope you enjoy.
Thanks everyone !!
Due to a camera malfunction there are no pictures of what was a very nice dining experience this past Saturday evening at Figs Restaurant in the Fairmount section of Philly (2501 Meredith Street).
The occasion was a combination belated birthday for myself and a wedding anniversary celebration for our good friends, Gerry and Joann. I had actually thought that Gerry and Joann had been to Figs with my wife, Kathy, and I a few years ago but I was incorrect. They were not familiar with this Mediterranean/Moroccan influenced BYOB.
The menu has some interesting and unique choices and all four of us were able to find more than a few items that tempted out taste buds. Kathy started with a Hummus and Applewood Smoked Salmon Pizza, something you don’t find nightly at your local pizza joint. She liked it a lot. I tasted a slice and it was very good. I had the Pepper-crusted Scallops with tomatoes in a tangy sauce. The scallops were cooked perfectly and the sauce was an unexpected treat. All of the sauces were unusual and tasty and that is part of what makes trying entrees from different cultures a rewarding experience.
Gerry ordered the Steamed Mussels, Moroccan-style with Charmoula, Moroccan pesto and roasted tomatoes. He thoroughly enjoyed the mussels and everyone ended up dipping bread in the sauce. Joann was perhaps the most daring member of our culinary quartet as she chose the Mediterranean Tapas Platter, consisting of fish salad, Baba Ghanoush and Stuffed Grape Leaves served with grilled flat bread. Baba Ghanoush is a dish made from roasted eggplant. I did not know that at the time and I didn’t sample any. I have long been the leader of the infamous anti-eggplant coalition. I realize I am in the minority but, what can I say.
Both Kathy and Joann selected the Angel Hair Pasta Greek Style with feta cheese, roasted Roma tomatoes, Kalamata olives and garlic infused oil. Kathy had hers with Chicken, Joann added the shrimp. Both ladies loved their entrees. Kathy brought home half of hers and I enjoyed it two nights later. Excellent and plenty of chicken, too. I actually can’t remember what Gerry ordered. I do know he liked it and I also know I will have an email from him tomorrow telling me what he ordered and commenting on my inability to remember much of anything. I do know what I had because it was delicious. It was the Oven-roasted Swordfish served with a date-barbecue sauce that was a wonderful accompaniment to the flaky fish. The swordfish was topped with spinach and rested on a yummy bed of vanilla rice. Really a unique and flavorful entree.
Was there any wine you ask? Absolutely!
I thought everyone would love the 2007 Lagier-Meredith, Mt. Veeder, Syrah. I thought it was the best of the three but the others were more impressed with the 2007 Whitehall Lane, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. I can’t make too much of an argument since it was also very good. There was no debate on the 2009, Landmark, Overlook, Chardonnay. The four of us loved the creamy toasted pear and vanilla notes of this flavorful chardonnay.
I think both Gerry and Joann were a little apprehensive when I chose Figs for our dinner. I also think they left hoping to some day return to this excellent BYOB not far from the Art Museum in Philly.
La Fontana Coast is a BYOB on Landis Ave. in the heart of Sea Isle City, NJ. Four couples who were enjoying a sun-drenched weekend at the Jersey shore had Saturday night reservations at this Italian eatery. It is worth mentioning that La Fontana Coast has a very colorful and informative website. One item on the website, however, requires an explanation. That would be the line where they proclaim in describing the restaurant ” with an elegantly infectious Southern Italian seaside villa décor with an amazing view of the ocean”. I won’t argue about the decor but the place would have to be 12 stories high and you would have to be dining on the roof to have ANY view of the ocean, let alone an amazing view of it.
Other than taking certain liberties with the “view”, La Fontana Coast is a pretty nice place and a fine choice for dining out in Sea Isle City.
As usual, we had some nice wines with us for the evening. I didn’t even get to try them all. I had brought a white wine which is unusual but I knew even the folks in our crowd who don’t like most chardonnay’s would be happy with the 2009 Wente, Riva Ranch, Chardonnay. It has that Rombauer-like creaminess with lots of vanilla and caramel notes. I didn’t sample all of the wines but I did have some of the 2009 Frog’s Leap, Napa Valley Cabernet and the 2009 Joseph Phelps, Napa Valley Cabernet. Both of these wines were very good although the Phelps naturally falls short of its big brother, the Insignia.
While we were all busy making our dinner and appetizer selections from the menu, we were presented with a couple of lovely plates of antipasto that included several varieties of cheese, tomatoes, roasted red peppers, olives and pickled cucumbers. It was a nice and generous presentation by the La Fontana kitchen and our appetizer selection was made for us.
For my entree I selected the Capellini Positano, angel hair pasta tossed with crab meat and capers in a light marinara sauce. The dish was wonderful and a nice sized portion. It may have been enough to take home for another meal but as we were not headed home after dinner I managed to finish the entire dish.
Several of our dining companions chose some form of chicken including the Pollo Fontana, Pollo Fantazia and Pollo Franchese. Each of these entrees were nicely presented and everyone seemed happy with their selections.
The fish lovers in our group had plenty to choose from and there were orders for the Tilapia, with sun-dried tomatoes in a lemon garlic sauce, the Salmon Florentine with a side of homemade bruchetta and even a special Mussells dish for the shell-fish guy.
I topped off my meal with a Coconut Sorbet served in a shell and it was just the right light and sweet ending I was looking for to culminate the feast.
La Fontana Coast would be an excellent choice for anyone spending some time at the Jersey shore, especially if you are in or near Sea Isle City.
With our “Hall Pass” securely tucked into our wallets and our wives sipping frozen cocktails in St. Maarten, Gerry, John and I were about to finish off our day with a visit to Fond, a highly regarded BYOB at 1617 E. Passyunk Ave. in the heart of South Philly. We had just finished watching the Phillies lose another game at Citizens Bank Park. Gerry and John were staying over for the evening at the Bella Vista B & B and we had just showered and changed clothes in preparation for our much-anticipated reservation at Fond. During their pre-dinner cigar John asked if mediocre service would put a damper on a meal where the food and ambience were both first-rate. We finally agreed that it might not have too much affect as long as the service was adequate while other factors were top-notch. Ironically, we were only about an hour from changing our opinions, not because we ran into poor service at Fond but rather the opposite; we were shown emphatically just how much GREAT service can add to the overall dining experience.
This would be Steve, our server at Fond. I had read somewhere that he was recently named the Top Server in Philadelphia. He reluctantly confirmed that he had indeed been singled out for that high praise. After two hours of watching him perform great feats of customer service, the three of us concurred with whomever made that selection. Steve was professional, extremely knowledgable and exuded a sense of pride in himself and his restaurant. Later, I will mention one more trait that sets Steve apart from his compatriots in the industry.
As usual, we had some very nice wines with us to serve as appropriate beverages for our meal. Gerry provided the 2005 Los Astrales Astrales Christina, Ribera del Duero, Spain. This was a big, bold Spanish red rated 97 by the Wine Advocate and not often seen as there were only 150 cases produced. Intense flavors of leather, licorice and blackberry fill the palate and linger long after the swallow. Made from 100% Tempranillo, this was my favorite wine of the evening. John chipped in with a 2003 Arrowood, Sonoma County, Cabernet Sauvignon. Lots of dark fruit, well-balanced with soft tannins and a medium finish. Perhaps just a nuance of mint. Went well with several of our dishes. My contribution was the 2007 Phillips Hill, Oppenlander Vineyard, Pinot Noir, Mendocino County, CA. Lots of black cherry fruit and earthiness in this smooth Pinot Noir. Nice lingering finish; a nice wine.
Narrowing your choices from the menu at Fond is no easy task. Chef Lee Styer (just back from his marriage and honeymoon to Pastry Chef Jessie Prawlucki) puts forth more than a few exotic offerings that will tempt your palate. Steve explained that their was one small course of octopus remaining so we shared this between the three of us. The perfectly grilled octopus was served with Spanish rice, chorizo and mussels and the presentation was beautiful.
John was delighted to find the Escargot on the menu. The delicate snails were served with hearts of palm and fennel in a mint pesto sauce. His silence while devouring his appetizer was proof enough that he was quite happy with his choice.
I, too, could not resist the Foie Gras but I had mine seared with rhubarb, lemon-ricotta and almonds. This tender French delicacy was cooked to perfection and an excellent start to the meal. Two different ways to serve this dish and both Gerry and I were pleased with our choices.
For our entrees, Gerry left the menu and went with one of the evening specials. He settled on the Roast Quail stuffed with, what else, foie gras. The quail was cooked nicely and the sauce was a perfect marriage with the delicate bird.
John thought long and hard before making his choice. He went with the Harpoon Caught Swordfish, served with gold beets, radish salad and lemon grass sauce. I can’t vouch for the harpoon as the weapon that captured this fish but I can vouch for the fact that it was cooked to perfection and that John was absolutely thrilled with the rich flavors of the entree.
I had thought about the swordfish. I had not considered the quail. My eyes kept returning to the Pork Loin and that’s what I finally decided on. It was a fine choice as the meat was tender and juicy. It was served with roasted red peppers and arugula and the dish was plentiful. All three of us were content and happy with both the great food and superior service.
I had mentioned earlier that our server, Steve possessed one other quality that made him stand out from others. He has an uncanny knack of knowing each customer quickly. By that I mean, he is able to almost instantly know who he can joke with, who he must be serious with and just exactly how far he can go. This may seem like not much of a big deal but to me, it makes all the difference in the world. It was obvious he felt comfortable enough with us to offer his personal opinions of each dish and even trade barbs with us. It was like being waited on by a good friend rather than a stranger and I think I speak for both Gerry and John when I say he played a big role in making our dining experience at Fond a memorable one.
I had read so much before we got to Fond about the dessert ”brownie” that I was quite disappointed to find there were none on this Thursday evening. John went with the Triple Sorbet of tropical ices with a couple of waffle cookies and he found it a nice ending to his meal.
Gerry’s dessert was picture perfect but I can’t remember what it was except that it had a fruit filling with a tart and some creme fraiche. I also remember that he liked it a lot.
With the much-anticipated brownie not available I went with the Malted Milk Chocolate Ice Cream, peanut brittle, chocolate crumble and peanut butter ganache. It was almost good enough to make me forgive the absence of the brownie.
Our dinner at Fond was absolutely wonderful. Chef Styer is a marvelous chef and the atmosphere is warm and friendly. Seating is limited to 34 hungry foodies on any given night so make sure you make reservations early.
Steve had suggested that there was an outside chance we might find one of those elusive brownies up the street at Belle Cakery, if they were still open. We lucked out and they were open and although they had no brownies, John and I were able to pool our remaining cash and pay the women there to have their picture taken with Gerry so that in years to come he can look back and pretend he actually did something with his “hall pass”. Thank you, ladies, our money was well spent and we appreciate your sacrifice.