Archive for the Philly BYOB Reviews Category


Posted in A la Maison (3rd review) with tags , , , , , , , on January 21, 2012 by ballymote

  It had been a few months since my friends Gerry, John and myself had met for one of our wine dinners. Since the two of them like to smoke a good cigar before dinner at The Tinderbox on Lancaster Ave. in Ardmore, it made sense that A la Maison would be the right choice for our meal. We had been there a couple of times already and always enjoyed the experience.

 As usual, I arrived before the smoke fiends and was seated and having my wine opened when they walked in. The cork broke during the process and the wine had to be decanted, not a bad thing considering it was 15 years old. Our wines for the evening were the aforementioned, decanted, 1996 Steltzner, Stag Leap, Merlot, a 2007 Black Coyote, Reserve, Napa Cabernet and a 2003, Arrowwood, Sonoma County, Cabernet. All of them were wonderful and the owner stopped by our table for a lively discussion of primarily French wines. Ted Miller is a very interesting guy. He owns several restaurants and has partial interest in a couple of Napa wineries. He extolled the virtues of several little known appellations in France and was kind enough to open for us a bottle of the 2003 Chateau Hourtin Ducasse, Haut-Medoc. We enjoyed both his wine and his company and it seems we always have interesting encounters with folks when we dine at A La Maison.

I will interject here that I started this review in late November and it is now January 21st and I am attempting to complete it and several others where time has further warped an already fading memory. Thus, the next few reviews will be a bit brief as I once again struggle to catch up and KEEP up with this blog. A sincere thank you to the many loyal readers who still sneak back here to see if I have added anything new.


  John had the Beef Short Rib Bourguignon with braised aromatic vegetables and pommes puree. I have had this dish before and John thoroughly enjoyed it as had I on other occasions.







 Gerry’s Lamb Chop looked delicious and he confirms that it was every bit as good as it looked.







 I was not quite as happy with my choice. The problem started earlier when the server took my order for the Steak Frites, filet mignon. pommes frites, sauce maison. As she walked away from the table I asked her if she was going to ask me how I wanted my filet cooked. She replied. “the chef always cooks the filets medium rare.” I politely informed her I would prefer mine medium and if it went a little further toward medium-well, that would be OK, too. I will have to give her points for her honesty. The chef must ALWAYS cook the filets medium-rare, even when requested NOT to do so. I struggled thru most of it and despite the under-cooking which I could have lived with, it wasn’t the finest piece of meat I had ever seen. Additionally, I thought the frites were bordering on inedible. This may just be a personal objection as I much prefer the thick steak fries to the skinny one with little potato inside.

Other than not being happy with my own choice, my companions were happy with theirs and it’s always a good time when we share wine and have great conversation.



Posted in 333 Belrose with tags , , , , on November 26, 2011 by ballymote

  333 Belrose is a restaurant that I would pass by daily on my way to work in King of Prussia. It was a place I always wanted to try because it is in the area (Radnor, PA) where my wine buddies and I would have frequent wine dinners, we always went somewhere else  because it wasn’t a BYOB.

I recently learned that my nephew, Ryan, worked at the restaurant. In addition, researching the menu online, it appeared to offer some interesting entrees and on top of all this, the review from diners were invariably very good. So, when I suggested the site as a possibility for some of our friends, there was no dissent.

We made reservations for a Friday evening for a party of eight (8). Parking near the restaurant on weekend nights can be a bit of a hassle but we found something nearby and arrived right on time. We had a nice table in the corner of the bustling eatery and while the others conversed, I reviewed the not very extensive wine list, which consisted of about 12 reds and 12 whites, a few by the glass with most bottles being priced between 2 and a half and three times retail.


We settled on a couple of bottles of Chappellet, Mountain Cuvee, a $25.00 red blend listed at $63.00 on the wine list (THIS is why we love BYOB’s). Made up of mostly cabernet and merlot, this one had vibrant fruit flavors with hints of spice and cinnamon and went well with both the meat and fish dishes on the menu.



I should point out that we arrived at 333 Belrose just as a party of forty (40) were entering to celebrate a birthday. In addition, another party of thirty-six (36) were seated adjacent to us in another room. Although this could have thrown a wrench into service for the evening, I would offer serious kudos to the kitchen and service staff for handling things well.

Several of us began our meal with the Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato Salad, applewood smoked bacon with blue cheese dressing. As I have mentioned many times, any variation of the Wedge Salad is tops in my book and this one with its fresh produce was no exception and a great way to start the meal. Those who chose to forego the BLT Salad selected the Belrose Butter Lettuce Salad which consisted of crumbled blue cheese , candied walnuts and shaved Granny Smith apples.


With lots of interesting items on the menu and a couple of nice “specials” it was difficult to settle on an entree choice. After a lengthy deliberation I decided to go with the Wood Grilled Jail Island Salmon served with Sour Cream Mashed Potatoes, Garlicky Broccolini and Sauce Bernaise. The salmon was nicely charred, full of flavor and went perfectly with the absolutely delicious sour cream mashed potatoes. The broccolini was fine although not my favorite choice of a veggie.



Several in our group chose the House Cut 14 oz. Strip Steak with crispy salt & pepper steak fries, grilled asparagus and 333 steak sauce with truffled aoili dressing.

My wife had the Char-grilled Filet Mignon with blue cheese mashed potatoes, honey-glazed carrots and a cracked-pepper brandy demi-glaze. She thoroughly enjoyed her steak and even shared a portion of her meal with me. I thought the steak was great but felt there was too much blue cheese flavor in the mashed potatoes, As usual, she thought I was nuts!


 My nephew surprised us with a complimentary dessert tray he had created featuring the New Orleans Style Bread Pudding with Warm Whisky Cream Sauce, a New York Style Citrus Cheesecake and a Flourless Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Sauce and Chantillty Cream.

It was just the right ending to a wonderful meal.


If 333 Belrose were a BYOB we would be making frequent trips to Radnor to sample more of their enticing menu. For those of you who are not as finicky about being able to bring your own wine to a restaurant, 333 Belrose should be one of your choices for fine dining on the Main Line.


Posted in Augusto's Restaurant with tags , , on November 15, 2011 by ballymote

  Augusto’s in Warminster is a place we have enjoyed on a few different   occasions.  When we had friends return to the area from for a visit from their new home in Colorado it proved to be the perfect location for us to celebrate their brief stay.

 Augusto’s menu has a lot of great selections and you can always count on a few tempting specials.





 I had a nice bottle of the 2006 Catena Alta, Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina. Lots of spice and peppery notes intermingled with the dark berry flavors made this a good wine for many of the entrees available.







One of those tasty entrees was the Lamb Chop. 






 The Hawaiian Butterfish was one of the evening specials and it was cooked perfectly and served on a bed of couscous. A wonderful dish.







The filet was another selection that a few in our party ordered and rave reviews were heard in between bites.





                                           This was one of the mouth-watering desserts offered on Augusto’s menu.


It’s a great BYOB if you are in this area of Philadelphia and a place you will want to return to again and again.


Posted in Scannicchio's Restaurant with tags , , , on November 12, 2011 by ballymote

 Scannicchio’s at Broad and Porter in South Philadelphia is a dependable BYOB not far from the Sports Complex. My sons and I had tickets to the USA – Mexico soccer match at Lincoln Financial Field on a warm summer evening and decides to have dinner there prior to the game.


      I provided the wine for the evening. A 2007 La Posta, Pizzella Family Vineyard, Malbec, Argentina and a 2007 Angels Landing Cabernet Sauvignon. Both of these dark reds proved complimentary to the hearty Italian food.



                                                                                                         My sons, Frank and Brian started off their meal with Mozzarella Fritta. I would have to consider them as experts on fried mozzarella as they seem to choose if for many of their meals. They both declared this one to be exceptional with a nice coating and a quality cheese that held together well.





I began with a plate of tasty home-made meatballs served with broccoli rabe. The meatballs were delicious and proved to be the perfect appetizer.





   Brian selected the Penne Alla Vodka with Chicken. He thought it was terrific.





    Frank loved his Lobster Ravioli in a Rosa Vodka sauce.






  I was not disappointed at all in my choice of the Pollo Alla Milanese Italiano, breaded chicken cutlet topped with broccoli rabe, roasted peppers and sharp provolone. I can’t remember if I attempted to take some home but I do know the portion was large enough for two meals.




Having filled our stomachs with a hearty meal it was off to the stadium to watch the USA score a second half goal and ear a 1 – 1 tie with Mexico.


Posted in Gigi's Restaurant, Philly BYOB Reviews with tags , , , on November 12, 2011 by ballymote

 It was 4th of July Weekend and our friends Gerry and Joann had some buy one – get one coupons for Gigi’s at 319 Market Street in Philly. We opted for the outside dining. I must confess that prior to going here I read quite a few reviews on Yelp and the place did not get very good reviews. Consequently, there was a bit of apprehension upon arrival.

My concerns were alleviated immediately as our server, whose name I no longer remember welcomed us cheerfully and took our drink orders. I think we must have had coupons on the drinks, too as we had brought some good wines with us.

                                                                                              This is a picture of our nameless server who made us feel comfortable from the moment we were seated.



Here are our opening cocktails. I recall that Gerry’s was undrinkable and he returned it for another choice without any problems.


It would have been difficult to find two better wines than the ones we had with us on this festive Saturday evening. Gerry had brought along a 2007 Alpha Omega, Proprietary Red Wine, Napa Valley. This was one of the producers that we enjoyed an intimate visit with during our Napa trip last year and virtually all of their wines are first=rate. The Proprietary Red being one of the stars of their line-up. My choice, and I knew it was one of Joann’s favorites, was the 2006 Lillian, White Hawk Vineyard, Syrah. This is one of my all-time favorite wines and was an equal companion to Gerry’s selection.

As usual, with these mini review “catch-ups”, I’m not totally sure what we all had to eat. Again, I will post the photos and fill in where I can.


Posted in The Farm and Fisherman, Wine Dinners with tags , , , on May 30, 2011 by ballymote

 I have had a habit recently of delaying my reviews way beyond what they should be. I guess all writers experience these droughts and if I were really smart I would continue this pace of delayed sharing when it comes to the dinner that four of us had on Friday night of this 2011 Memorial Day Weekend. We dined at the very recently opened The Farm and Fisherman at 11th and Pine Streets in center city Philadelphia. Anyone reading this would be doing yourself a huge favor if you stopped now and made your reservation prior to what I am about to write. The reason I make that suggestion is because The Farm and Fisherman is an undiscovered gem on the Philly restaurant scene. This 30 seat culinary temple is the creation of Josh Lawler and his wife, Colleen.

Josh and Colleen have spent the last 10 years in New York with Josh doing the honors as Chef de Cuisine at the highly acclaimed Blue Hill at Stone Barns which Food and Wine Magazine declared “One of 10 Life-Changing Restaurants”. Colleen runs the front of the house and she is an accomplished chef herself having a culinary degree from Drexel University and experience at many New York restaurants including BLT Market at the Ritz-Carlton and Picholine. They have returned to their home town to fulfill their dream of having their own restaurant.

We arrived for our 7:30 reservation and I have to confess to a certain amount of pre-dinner apprehension. I had studied the menu in the days leading up to our dinner and I wasn’t totally convinced this was going to be my kind of place. Chef Lawler’s committment to farm fresh food and local ingredients had some items listed that weren’t exactly encouraging to a “meat and potatoes” guy like myself.  The Farm and Fisherman features a three course menu with four items available under each course. That’s a total of 12 offerings and the four of us managed to damn near try them all. Here is how we started.

 I began with the Bloody Beet Steak, yogurt, shallots, pan drippings, bull’s blood. My wife, Kathy, was slightly shocked that I would order beets but I decided as long as I was here I would be open to the adventure. The dish was outstanding and the flavor of the beets mixed with the yogurt and the drippings made for a delicious start to my meal. I tried to tell the others how good my selection was but I couldn’t get them to listen because they were too busy being effusive over how good their first course was.

Kathy and Carol had chosen the Bucks County Head Lettuce, fromage blanc, pistachios and spring vegetables. They raved about how good their salad was and I actually heard Carol say between bites “maybe the best salad I have ever eaten”. There was no question we were off to a good start with our meal.

 Joe had selected the Jumbo Asparagus, mache, apricots, chive blossom and green garlic sauce. I wish I had taken a picture of his plate when he was done because there wasn’t the slightest indication that anything had been on this clean, white plate. It was solid testimony to the fact that he LOVED his dish. He let each of us sample a portion and it really was great. Carol even though it MAY have been better than the salad she had just declared “the best she had ever eaten”.

 Carol next selected the Chilled Carrot Soup, angelica, local ginger and buttermilk. She was making little noises indicating she was enjoying something really special. I was wondering what could be THAT good about a chilled carrot soup but when I tasted a sample spoonful I could see that Chef Lawler had worked some special magic on this offering. Maybe it was the buttermilk?

Kathy had the Jennings Farm Egg and Oxtails, whole wheat toast, asparagus and pickles. You would have had to twist my arm to get me to order that one but she declared it wonderful. I can’t get past eggs as simply a breakfast meal so I am missing out on a lot of the trend in haute cuisine.

 Anyway, I had no time to dwell on an egg that I wasn’t having because my Barnegate Light Scallops, Hakurei turnips, wild spinach and green tomato sauce was sitting perfectly plated and prepared in front of me. Great flavor combinations and just the right seasoning made this plate a special treat. By now, all of our fears had dissipated and we were just enjoying something really special.

I should add that the meal began with a piping hot Parker House roll with just the right hint of salt in the warm crust and some excellent house butter that just melts beautifully into the warm bread. We each asked for and received another roll during our meal. The Farm and Fisherman does not rush their course one after another. You have ample time to enjoy your wines and engage in conversation. We were there for two and a half hours and Colleen was engaging and conversing with each table. I haven’t mentioned our wines for the evening.

 Both Joe and I must have been thinking along the same lines that the food appeared to be a bit lighter than the steaks and chops that would require a cabernet as we both brought Pinot Noirs. Joe’s was the 2009 Belle Glos, “Meoimi”. Pinot Noir. This is a blend of Pinot Noir grapes from Sonoma, Monterrey and Santa Barbara Counties and offered sweet cherries and blackberry notes with floral tones. It was a nice easy drinking wine.

Much the same could be said for my 2008 Evening Lands, Seven Springs, Pinot Noir. Light strawberry and lavender flavors offered a nice accompaniment to all of our dishes.

The first two courses had set a standard of excellence for the evening and we couldn’t wait to find out if our entrees would continue the parade of great food.

 Kathy and Carol each ordered the Shady Brook Farms Organic Chicken, asparagus, turnip-raisin puree, spring onions. Hey, who else is doing a turnip-raisin puree?? The women thought the chicken was perfectly prepared and were both happy with their selections.

Joe had the Livengood’s Farm Lamb, Spring pasta salad, asparagus, currants and pine nuts. The pasta salad was a unique presentation, the lamb was perfect medium and Joe was totally happy with the entire dish.

 I had considered the chicken, as I almost always do, but went with the Braised Berkshire Pork Cheeks, farmer’s cheese spaetzle, bok choi and wild garlic mustard. The pork cheeks were incredibly tender, the spaetzle a perfect marriage with the meat and the sauce just made this entire dish something truly remarkable. For me, this was the perfect ending to a great dinner.

 We ordered two desserts to share. On the left is strawberries and creme fraiche in a puff pastry sandwich. This was possibly the only thing resembling a miss the entire evening. It was fresh and looked beautiful but there wasn’t a lot of taste in this one. The other dessert, a panna cotta with berries and glazed sugar crumbles, was mush more flavorful and we all enjoyed that one.

What a wonderful evening of great food and comfort. The Farm and Fisherman changes their menu slightly each evening and probably dramatically as the seasons change and Josh and Colleen take advantage of what is currently available from local farmers. My only fear is that this place will soon be discovered by the true “foodies” in the Philly area and reservations will be hard to come by. I strongly suggest you make yours NOW.


Posted in Talula's Table (2nd review), Wine Dinners with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 9, 2011 by ballymote

 A lot of mushrooms have been picked and packed and shipped all over the world since our last visit to Talula’s Table in Kennett Square, PA. A great deal has changed, too, at this highly regarded food emporium in Chester County since we dined here in November of 2008. Let’s begin by explaining a little about Talula’s Table. The restaurant/gourmet food market was the brainchild of Aimee Olexy and Bryan Sikura, husband and wife team who sold their immensely popular  BYOB, Django, of South Street fame, several years ago, and headed out to horse-farm country to continue their passion. During the day, Talula’s Table (named after their daughter) sells gourmet meats and cheeses, luncheon sandwiches and a wide-array of sometimes hard to find foods that the locals have come to enjoy. When the store closes at 7:00 P.M. each evening, the epicurean feast begins.

 This is the table that Conde Nast Magazine called “the toughest dinner reservation in America”. It seats 8 to 12 and can only be reserved by being the first caller each morning at 7:00 A.M.; and if you are fortunate enough to be THAT caller, you now have the table for the exact same date……NEXT YEAR!! Of course, looking on the bright side, that gives you time to round up friends and work up an appetite for the eight courses that will be presented. The menu changes several times each year to match the seasons but, aside from allowances for specific food allergies, you will be eating just what they give you. There is no selection other than that specific evening’s menu. Not to fear, you’ll be pleased with their choices.

 I mentioned earlier that there had been several changes at Talula’s Table in the past few years. Primary among them would be that Aimee and Bryan are no longer together as spouses or business partners.  He has re-married and is in the process of opening a new restaurant in Rittenhouse Square. Aimee has partnered with restaurant guru, Stephen Starr, and has opened a new place, Talula’s Garden, on Washington Square. Bryan’s former role as chef at Talula’s Table is now being held by Matt Moon.

Matt was the sous-chef when Bryan was doing the cooking and based on what we enjoyed on this Spring Friday, Matt was paying attention during his time in the kitchen because everything he prepared was fantastic. The food was perhaps even better than on our first visit. Thank you, Matt for a great evening of excellent dishes. Aimee was not there on this evening as she was in the city over-seeing her other restaurant. Both she and Stephen Starr have a lot invested in the Philly project and I can’t wait to give Talula’s Garden a try.

There were nine of us for dinner and we were looking forward with great anticipation to the evening. We had ten bottles of wine between us so each course would have an appropriate vino to enhance the dining experience.

As I mentioned earlier we had ten bottle of wine with us. Time and energy do not permit me to list them all but I will mention that the absolute star of the night was Gerry’s 2007 Merus, Cabernet Sauvignon an absolutely stunning wine that he generously shared with the table. We had some nice Chardonnay’s with the early courses including a 1999 Chassagne-Montrachet and some Malbecs, a Barbaresco, a nice Pinot Noir and a 2002 Inniskillen, Vidal, Ice Wine to go with our dessert course.

and now for the main attraction…….the FOOD !

 The evening began shortly after 7:00 P.M. with a little amuse bouche, three of them to be exact. The first was a very tasty octopus salad served on a slice of cucumber. Ironically, as part of the pre-dinner preparation the staff inquires a couple of days prior to your reservation if anyone in your party has any specific food allergies. We had one person that we reported to them with a cucumber allergy. The chef evidently remembered and his salad was served wrapped in a lettuce leaf (about 11:00 o’clock in the picture above).

Next up was an excellent mushroom ravioli, each served on its own individual spoon. Two bites and we were ready for our final pre-course offering of the night.

 We were treated to a refreshing pineapple cream soda with sugar-coated rim. Aside from tasting delicious this helped cleanse our palate and prepare us for the first of our eight courses for the evening.

Don’t ask me how it happened but I totally forgot to take a picture of our first course. What you would be looking at had I not been so neglectful was the Fava Bean Custard, Louisiana Crawfish, Local Watercress and Sauce Nantua. The crawfish were tasty, the custard surprisingly good and we were off to a good start.

 This might have been my favorite course of the evening. Spring Potato Soup, Abalone Frites, Wild Fennel, and Green Garlic Toast. The soup was outstanding and the garlic toast went so well with it. I think all were happy to see that the portion was more than any of us would have expected. The entire table was very pleased with this particular offering.

Next came another crowd favorite; Morel Risotto, Sweet Peas, Charred Ramps, and Fresh Pennsylvania Goat Cheese. The rice was cooked perfectly and the combination of flavors with the peas, ramps and cheese was memorable. Right about this point we have nine happy diners.

 I won’t speak for the others but I stayed very happy with course number four, King Salmon, Petite Rye Kugel, Smoked Sour Cream, and Pickled Egg. This unusual combination clicked and the smoky flavor made the salmon and the entire dish a real culinary treat. High marks to Chef Moon for this course.

Very nicely presented on the plate was the Roasted Boar Loin, Rhubarb Glaze, Asparagus and Bacon Lardons. Parts of this dish were fine, there is never anything wrong with bacon, but the boar was, for me, a little too chewy. It may be that is just the nature of boar meat but this was not one of my favorite dishes. I think from speaking with some of the others that they had a similar reaction.

 I felt much better about the next entree, Lamb Baklava, Swarmbustin Honey Glazed Turnips and Gold beets, with Nettle Puree. Lots of good flavors in this offering with the beets and turnips adding just the right tastes and textures to the lamb.

Course #7 was the Spring Picnic: Artisan Cheese Collection, Candied Nuts, Berries, Talula’s Sausage, and Mustard. Very creative and the little slices of sausage and dabs of mustard in combination with the variety of cheeses made this a great prelude to the dessert portion of the meal.

 Almost too pretty to eat was the dessert course of Steamed Lemon Pudding Cake, Rhubarb Sorbet, and Lavender Anglaise. Everything on this plate was delicious and how often do you get to have rhubarb sorbet?

Our very capable server, Kate, and her entire team, did a fantastic job all evening presenting and explaining the intricacies of each course. Water glasses were kept full, wines poured as needed with extra glasses appearing without prompting. It’s obvious that the entire staff at Talula’s takes pride in their performance. It must be nice for Aimee to know she can devote the bulk of her time to making sure her new project gets off to a good start and that her staff back at Talula’s Table are doing a great job in maintaining the high standards she has set.

 Our meal was not completely over because as we finished off the last of our wines, out came a taste-tempting array of chocolate candies to make sure that we ended our night on a sweet note.

Even this was not the final offering. As we were presented with a little something for tomorrow.

The final offering was an individually wrapped chocolate brownie. It went perfectly with coffee the next morning at home.

I would have to say that this second visit to Talula’s Table was even better than the first. It seemed the portions were larger and flavors were better all around. I would suggest you call some morning at 7:00 A.M. and catch one of these hard-to-get reservations. The year of waiting will go by quickly in anticipation. Meanwhile, do as I am doing and make plans to try Aimee’s other dining spot at Talula’s Garden in Philly.