Archive for Alex Capasso

WEST SIDE GRAVY – SJ FOOD AND WINE BLOGGERS DINNER – 2/18/11

Posted in West Side Gravy - Food Bloggers Dinner, Wine Dinners with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 21, 2011 by ballymote

 Until now I had only met two other food and wine bloggers. A back yard late summer barbecue, hosting Paul and Stefania Romero of Stefania wines, at the home of Mark & Pam Jahnke, gave me the opportunity to meet F Scott & Zelda, who publish NJ Foodies. Making an appearance at this same event were John and Lisa Howard-Fusco creators of the very informative, John & Lisa Are Eating in South Jersey. Last night, that total of known bloggers climbed to six as John & Lisa arranged a dinner at West Side Gravy for several fellow bloggers. My wife, Kathy, and I joined John & Lisa, Colleen (JerzEATS), Lisa  (Jersey Girl Cooks), Jenn (NJEpicurean), and Wendy ( La PhemmePhoodie). Lisa was with her husband, John (making a pair of Lisa/Johns at the table), and Jenn was accompanied by her husband, Matt.   Mark and Pam could not join us, but they stopped by the table as they were celebrating Pam’s mom’s birthday in Chef Alex Capasso’s next door restaurant, Blackbird.  Mark generously dropped off a nice bottle of the 2006 Stefania , Haut TubeeBefore I get to the wine and food let me say that the company was first-class. It’s not always the easiest thing in the world to sit down to dinner with a large group where few know each other but the conversation was easy and it was great fun to learn about each and every one of our companions for the evening. A special thanks to all of you for making the night a great deal of fun.

 There were other wines present but it’s too difficult (for me, anyway) to recall all of them but, Kathy and I shared the 2008 Mauritson, Dry Creek Valley, Zinfandel. It took awhile for this one to open up and reveal good pepper and fruit flavors but it couldn’t hold a candle to the “Rockpile” offering, also produced by Mauritson. Our other wine was a 2009 Capa Blanca, Suena Profondo, Pinot Noir, Williamette Valley, OR. This one took some time too, but became much more enjoyable as the evening progressed and the dark cherry and spice flavors became more apparent.

 Our server, Troy, wasn’t big on smiles, but he was certainly efficient and with his team of assistants provided excellent and attentive service throughout the evening. Large tables are probably difficult and he remained focused and made sure we had extra wine glasses, Thanks, Troy!

 We started out by ordering double dishes of four different starters. This proved to be a good decision and just enough food to satisfy the 10 of us. The first item was the West Side Gravy Mac n Cheese, baby shell pasta, cheddar, gruyere, fontina cheeses and herb spices. This one is a tasty dish but I have to say that several other places I have dined have done an even better job with the mac n cheese preparation.

 Next came the Cheese Steak Egg Rolls and these were a real crowd pleaser. Shredded beef, fried onions, sharp cheddar, long hots and horseradish sauce. Can you spell Mmmmmmm??

 Fish Tacos were our third item. I passed on these but the group seemed to really like the ahi tuna, avocado salad, sweet chili sauce on flour tortillas. They disappeared quickly. Our final appetizer isn’t pictured but it was the West Side Gravy Fries with Pinot Noir sauce. Folks rave about these fries but in the world of great fries these are middle of the road although the sauce is a novel treat.

As the evening progressed and the conversation grew more interesting, it was time for some real comfort food.  Both Kathy and I chose items from the evening “specials”.

 I had the Pot Roast with mashed potatoes and peas. The meat was cooked nicely and shredded with the slightest fork pull. In fairness, I am always a little disappointed when I order pot roast. It just never seems to be full of the flavors I am expecting. I’m going to blame this one on myself. It all very good but not great.

 Kathy had the Roast Beef and Provolone Sandwich with house fries. She wasn’t crazy about her choice and even gave me half of the sandwich. I totally agreed. This was not a good sandwich, dry, and lacking flavor. The roll even seemed harder than it should have been.

I can’t speak for the others as I heard no one complaining about their dishes. Here is what they had……

Chicken and Rice, pan roasted breast of free range chicken, seasonal veggies and creamy parmesan risotto.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken, with smoked bacon dressing and house made cole slaw. This one looked very nice.

 Pork and Beans, braised pork shoulder, broccoli rabe, long hots and sharp provolone on Rosemary bread, with side of Tuscan white bean, tomato and escarole ragout.

Mushroom Sandwich, Grilled Portobello, baby arugula, grilled onion, lettuce, marinated tomato served on a seven grain bun with a side of macaroni salad.

 Burger and Fries, half pound of Angus beef, sesame seed brioche bun, cheddar, fried onions, tomato, lettuce and hand cut fries. I’m going to have to try this one next time as the burger looked very good.

What better ending to an evening of comfort food amongst comfortable people than some nice desserts.

 Kathy and I split the Red Velvet Cake which wasn’t on the actual menu but Wendy had been here last week and asked if it was available. It was and it was very tasty.

I noticed a few of our dinner companions devouring this one, the West Side “Snickers”, chocolate, peanuts, caramel and nougat with vanilla ice cream and dulce de leche. This was a true dessert winner.

One of the really nice things about eating at West Side Gravy is that you don’t need to arrange bank financing prior to dining here. The prices are very reasonable. The food is good but it just might be that my expectations must be too high. Chef Capasso’s Blackbird is one of the best dining spots in all of New Jersey and now it’s located in the next room from West Side Gravy. I realize comfort food is a different style from fine dining but there are just too many misses on the menu.

Thanks to all of our new blogging friends for a most enjoyable evening.

BLACKBIRD RESTAURANT – BYOB

Posted in Blackbird Restaurant, BYOB Restaurant Reviews, South Jersey BYOB Reviews, Wine Dinners with tags , , , , , on March 7, 2010 by ballymote

Blackbird Restaurant in Collingswood, New Jersey is one of the highest rated restaurants in South Jersey. It’s hard to believe I had never been there but prior to tonight, I had never been there. That is no longer true. My wife, Kathy and myself along with boyhood friends, Ange C. and Val S. and their lovely wives, Arlene and Patty descended on this gourmet establishment prepared to be as critical as possible while still keeping an open mind. First of all, it was nice to see everyone.  It’s always a great time to get together with these four and listen to Val’s stories from both the distant and the recent past. As usual, the Crown Prince of DooWap did not disappoint.

The six of us had some nice wines and we were all hoping our choices would compliment the food we were about to enjoy.

I had brought the 2007 Auteur, Sonoma, Pinot Noir. Everything I had heard about Auteur wines said they needed lots of time open to reflect their true flavors. I uncorked this bottle on Friday morning and left it in the fridge until it was time to go to dinner. The wine was a dark ruby color, much darker than most Pinots and actually drank more like a cabernet. Great, intense flavors that gave a rich mouthfeel and a lingering finish. It’s the kind of wine that you wish you had a case of in reserve. Val had brought the 2006 Luigi Bosca, Single Vineyard, Malbec. This was an excellent wine with a soft bouquet of ripe black fruits. One taste and you knew this was a special Malbec with smooth texture and huge flavors of fruit, leather and even some caramel notes;just a very nice wine from Mendoza, Argentina. Ange brought another outstanding wine, the 2005 Collazzi, Toscana. This Super Tuscan was rich and alluring with deep berry flavors mingled with tobacco and cedar and a nice compliment to our meal. As we drank we listened to our waitress, Noel describe the “specials” of the evening.  I started with a Frissee Salad, with baby tomatoes and topped with goat cheese and it was delicious although I found the greens somewhat difficult to swallow due to their texture. It had great flavor, though and it might have my throat’s fault so let’s say that was my problem. Patty had the Thai Chicken Spring Roll, spicy mustard and chili sauce. They looked scrumptious and had it not been a Lenten Friday I think this would have been my choice to start the meal.

When you are the Crown Prince of Doo Wop you expect someone to hand feed you your food and thru the years of their marriage Val has carefully trained Patty to provide this service for him. In the picture you can see how this training has paid off. Now if he could just find someone to hold the napkin for him he could totally concentrate on the eating portion of the act. By the way, Val DOES chew his own food without assistance, yet.

Although I don’t have a picture, two people in our party had the Prince Edward Island Mussels and described the juice as “phenomenal” and requested extra bread for dipping. Regrettably, I never acquired a taste for mussels.

When the “specials” were being recited I had focused on the “Diver Scallops”. When it came time to order it was announced that the “diver scallops” were gone, finished, outta here, consumed by hungry diners whose only claim to fame was that they had arrived at Blackbird prior to us. You would think that would be bad news as this was going to be my entree. As it turned out, this was fantastic news because this forced me to change my choice of entree.

I will admit that the Handmade Potato Gnocchi, fresh mozzarella, tomato and basil sauce topped with lump crabmeat pictured here does not look like the finest meal you have ever seen. Don’t be fooled though, it was absolutely FANTASTIC and one of the best tasting entrees I have had since I started this blog. The flavors are incredible, the sauce, sheer perfection and the crab meat sweet and tender. I am so grateful to the diners who chose the Diver Scallops before we arrived!

 Pictured above are some of the other entrees enjoyed by our party. The Sauteed Gulf Shrimp, olive and mascarpone, fregola sarda and saffron sauce. The Pan Roasted Atlantic Salmon, French green lentils with smoked bacon and Provencal sauce,  and the Coriander and Rice Encrusted Tilapia, avocado salad, sweet and sour sauce with seafood wontons. The only real comment I remember is that my wife, Kathy felt the salmon was very good but not on a par with the salmon she had last week at LoBianco’s which she had described as “the best salmon she had ever had”. It’s tough to improve on that! Val ordered what I would have probably ordered had this not been Lent.

The Wagyu Beef Burger, applewood smoked bacon, carmelized shallots, morel mushrooms, veal sauce with truffled pom frittes. It looked delicious and I did manage to steal a fry while Val was deep into another one of his stories. It’s probably Patty’s fault that she was busy with her own dinner and didn’t find the time to feed Val a bite or two when he paused from one of his tall tales. I am sure Patty paid a heavy price when she got home for her performance.

Owner/Chef Alex Capasso, pictured here with Blackbird’s Manager (apologies, her name I did not get), and our waitress for the evening, Noel (bubbly, knowledgeable and attentive all evening), is a Collingswood resident and he can be rightly proud of the acclaim that his restaurant has garnered throughout the state. The six of us enjoyed a wonderful evening and will certainly return in the near future.

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