Archive for the Sonata Restaurant Category

THE FIVE BEST RESTAURANT EXPERIENCES OF THE PAST YEAR

Posted in A La Maison, BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Dream Cuisine Cafe, Food and Wine Lists, Gilmores Restaurant, Modo Mio Restaurant, Sonata Restaurant with tags on July 15, 2010 by ballymote

It was my original intention that this list would be titled “My FIVE Best Restaurants for the Past Year”. The problem with that was that two of my selections would have only fit that title on the first visit with the second visit falling somewhat short of the first. I decided on the current title because I really did want to include those two eateries because the original visit was outstanding. Keep in mind, therefore, this isn’t a ringing endorsement of any of these restaurants but simply a reflection on MY experience while dining there. The five are in no particular order as it is tough enough to select five from a group of 60 without listing them in order. Here they are then, my TOP FIVE DINING EXPERIENCES IN THE PAST YEAR:

 A LA MAISON    53 W. Lancaster Ave. Ardmore, PA 19003

 The food and service on our visit here were outstanding. It was just a few days before Christmas with plenty of snow on the ground but the mood inside was warm and inviting. Our server, Fabien, was a guy who knew his job and did it well. Great stemware for our wines, a first class menu and great conversations including a nice chat with owner Darlene Boline-Moseng made dinner at A La Maison an easy choice for my Top Five.

GILMORE’S            133 E. Gay Street      West Chester, PA 19380

Gilmore’s is a BYOB that makes just about every “foodie’s” Top 5 List in the Delaware Valley. That’s the kind of high expectations that I had prior to our visit and fully expected it might be a letdown. It was NOT. We had the second of the two nightly servings at 8:30 on a Saturday night in March and words just don’t adequately describe the outstanding food and service. Visit my review on this website and just look at how tempting the food photos are. I don’t think any restaurant I visited in the past year did as good a job as Gilmore’s at food presentation. This one was an easy choice for my TOP FIVE.

MODO MIO        161 W. Lehigh Ave. Philadelphia, PA 19123

Located in the shadow of the Piazza at Schmidt’s in Brewerytown, Modo Mio is one of the two BYOB’s that did not perform as well on the second visit as it did on the first. In the case of both, the first was so enjoyable that they qualified for the list despite a less than stellar encore performance. Tha first visit last March, following a day at the Franklin Institute, was absolutely terrific. Our server, Maher was top-notch and Chef Peter McAndrews was on the top of his home-style Italian food game. Obviously, another visit to this popular Philly BYOB is required to clarify the culinary confusion. Still, it was so nice it qualified for my TOP FIVE.

DREAM CUISINE CAFE    1900 Marlton Pike (Rt. 70) Cherry Hill, NJ 08003

It was a dark and stormy night last October when we ducked into the somewhat difficult to find Dream Cuisine Cafe tucked into the shadows of the Tuscany Marketplace on Rt. 70 in Cherry Hill. The brightly lit room broke the gloom of the weather and Chris, our enthusiastic server helped make the setting just right. We had some great wines to go with Chef/Owner Vincent Fanari’s creative dishes  and all in all it was just a perfect evening. It was so good that we were anxious to bring other friends to share what we had found. Unfortunately, the second visit was not quite up to par but, that October meal still qualified as a bona fide entry for my TOP FIVE.

SONATA           1030 N. American St.    Philadelphia, PA  19123

This Northern Liberties gem was unknown to me until I found some reviews on it while looking for a BYOB located equidistant from 3 different areas. I am so glad I found it because although parking wasn’t easy, the food and ambiance were first class. Chef Mark Tropea does a fantastic job of creating flavorful dishes that sound good on the menu and taste even better on the plate. This is another BYOB that didn’t take a lot of thought in making my TOP FIVE for the year.

SONATA – BYOB

Posted in BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Philly BYOB Reviews, Sonata Restaurant, Wine Dinners with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 22, 2010 by ballymote

Quite honestly, until I made our reservation a few weeks ago, I had never even heard of Sonata.  I was searching for a place in the Northern Liberties section of Philly and I stumbled across their website which, by the way, is very well done. Once the reservation was made I started reading reviews on Sonata. They were overwhelmingly positive. The more I read the higher my expectations grew and I couldn’t help feeling I was going to be disappointed. I was not!  Sonata is a great BYOB.

From the moment we walked in, when our server, Kate, greeted us enthusiastically, opened our wines, brought us additional glasses and was there to field any and all questions with a killer smile, I had a hunch it was going to be a good evening.. There were six of us in attendance, My wife, Kathy, and myself, our lifelong friends, Gerry and Joann B. and their neighbors, Tim and Linda G.

Sonata has a roomy feel as the tables are spaced nicely providing an open feel. The decor is simple with musical wall decor keeping with the theme of the place. There is outdoor dining in the busy Liberty Walk plaza. We had some great wines with us to enhance our meal.

My wife had some interest in trying a Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo so I had a 2007 Cataldi Madonna, Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo, this 100% Nebbiolo wine was the lightest of the group and went well with some of the fish and seafood entrees. My other wine was a 2007 Angel’s Landing, Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon. This checked in at 14.6% alcohol and had an unusual nose of rose petals, lavender and forest grass mingling with the blackberry and currants. It had a smooth mouthfeel and I felt it was the best of the night despite being outpriced by Gerry’s two wines. His first was the 2005 Silverado, Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon. The familiar Silverado “clove” was present along with rich currants and licorice and some dark chocolate highlights. Silverado seldom disappoints. His other wine was a delicious meritage, the 2005 St. Clements “Oroppas”, Napa Valley. Primarily Cab with a small amount of Merlot, the “Oroppas” got 91 points from Parker and I would concur; a very nice wine. Tim and Linda, who were a little late in arriving and had to fight the “find a parking space battle” just as we did, had with them a current PA State Store Chairman’s Selection, the 2007 Shannon Ridge, Reserve, Barbera, Lake County, CA. The Barbera grape doesn’t ripen until late in the growing season and this gives the wine a tangy, strawberry zest that provided a nice option to the rest of our cabs.

Meanwhile, back at the menus, mouths were watering as we contemplated our choices. We all started with one of the many tempting appetizers. Joann chose the lobster crepes / fennel / mascarpone / lobster glace . The three crepes were nicely presented and having had a taste I can tell you they were excellent.

Gerry had the seared foie gras / preserved black currant / brioche puree / cashew crumble. He declared it was right up there with the best foie gras he has had anywhere. That seems like pretty high praise.

My wife ordered the scallop crudo / preserved lemon / chive / vanilla salt. It was nicely presented with delicate thin slices of scallop. She thought the lemon was a nice topping but it just wasn’t her favorite way to have scallops.

Tim and Linda both selected the frisee and arugula salad / serrano ham / braised artichoke / piquillo pepper / shellbark goat cheese. It was alos nicely presented and they both seemed to enjoy it. Personally, I have had my last frisee. I realize it may be the latest rage in garden greens but it just doesn’t work for me. It’s too rough and hard to swallow. I certainly had no complaints about my appetizer choice. I had read so many glowing reviews about the pork belly at Sonata that even though I had never had pork belly before I was determined to break that streak here and now. The crispy pork belly / smoked tomato marmalade / compressed apple/ calvados molasses was wonderful. The combination of tastes and textures was perfect and for me this was the perfect beginning to the meal.

Throughout our dinner, the lovely Alex was assisting Kate and making sure our water glasses remained full and that  we were enjoying our Sonata experience. You could tell from both of them that they felt a pride in the restaurant and truly cared that each diner was taken care of in a personal manner.

Selecting just one item from a menu where everything sounds so enticing was no easy chore. Joann never hesitated from her first choice and had the butter poached lobster “mac and cheese” / fresh paparadelle noodle / fontina cheese. Nice pieces of tender, perfectly done lobster in a rich sauce. She shared a small portion with me and it was really excellent.

I had mentioned to my wife that in reading the reviews there had been more than one person that declared the salmon at Sonata to be the best they had ever had in any restaurant. That was enough to have her try it as she really enjoys nicely prepared salmon. The seared salmon / grilled asparagus / fennel orange salad / blood orange vinaigrette was attractively presented and Kathy thought it was excellent although not the absolute best she has ever had. Hey, nothing wrong with finishing in the top three!

Gerry was torn between a couple of different entrees and he purposely waited to see what I was going to order. Once I settled on the chicken he went for the double-cut colorado lamb chop / braised lamb shoulder strudel / fava bean / potato / baby almond. The dish looked perfect and Gerry thought it tasted the same way.

I could not have been happier with my choice. The pan roasted bacon wrapped chicken / boursin whipped potato / english peas / glazed cipolini onion were like a dance team who had worked together to perfect their steps. The chicken was tender and full of great flavor. The onion provided a nice addition to the mouth-watering potato and although I previously had never met a pea that I liked, I can no longer say that. The peas were amazing. You could have won a sizeable wager from me prior to last night that I would ever write the words “the peas were amazing”!

If you are thinking that the handsome young man pictured here was the guy who valet parked our cars, you would be totally mistaken. Mark Tropea is the guy responsible for not only the “amazing peas” but the amazing meal. A 2002 graduate of the Restaurant School, Mark is creating culinary classics on a nightly basis at this soon to be discovered Northern Liberties location. It’s obvious from the presentation and food quality that Mark knows what he is doing. He makes sure that he visits every table to insure their satisfaction with the meal. Not only are the entree and appetizers first class, the desserts are equally wonderful. They are light and flavorful and the perfect ending to your meal.

 

 Pictured above are our dessert selections. A trio of sorbets; carrot cake / coconut mousse / pineapple sauce / cream cheese sorbet / spiced walnut crumble and something called chocolate decadence / warm chocolate beignet / chocolate hazelnut “chipwich“ . All were delicious. As a final note we were presented with some complimentary chocolates just in case the desserts didn’t fully satisfy our sweet toothes. As you may have guessed, the chocolates were “melt in your mouth” delicious.

As I mentioned at the start of this review, I went to Sonata with high expectations. That is not always a good approach to anything. Expectations are not always met. Sonata came through. It’s an excellent BYOB and I am sure we will be back. The real trick, from what I have seen, is meeting expectations when you bring the next group of friends that have heard you rave about a restaurant. My guess is that Mark Tropea and Sonata will be able to meet those high expectations.

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