Archive for the South Jersey BYOB Reviews Category


Posted in Wild Ginger with tags , , on April 16, 2012 by ballymote


We don’t do Chinese very often but six of us converged on Wild Ginger, an Asian themed restaurant tucked away in one of the many new strip malls on Berlin-Crosskeys Rd in Sicklerville or Washington Twp. as it probably straddles the border. Being a Friday evening in the middle of Lent, I wasn’t going to have my choice of the entire menu but there were certainly enough fish choices to provide the possibilities of a good meal.





 I don’t often go with a white wine as both my wife and I greatly prefer reds with just about any type of food. It did seem that if ever there was going to be a time for a white wine it might be tonight when we were certain our choice of Asian cuisine would certainly be a fish entree.

The wine was the 2010 Caymus Conundrum, California White Wine. Reviews on this wine are somewhat less than stellar but I thought it matched well with our food and my wife found it surprisingly good. It’s a blend of several different white grapes, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Semillion, Muscat and others and the “conundrum” is deciding which tropical flavors one notes on the palate.






 While searching online for the menu for Wild Ginger it is apparent they do not have a website nor has anyone captured the menu and posted it online. Therefore, this lobster in a pastry shell must remain unnamed. That might be just as well since there wasn’t anything about it that made it standout. It was bland. Some of the other assorted appetizers that we shared were a little bit better.




 The “Chinese Pizza” or scallion cakes were tasty when slathered with the hot mustard and duck sauce, the fried rice was less than average and Joe’s General Tso Chicken looked really good and made me wish this was not a Friday in lent.


 My “meatless” entree choice was the Scallops in Mango Sauce. The fish was good, the sauce, not bad, but I have never been a fan of Chinese veggies and picked around what were possibly bamboo shoots. The dish was served with some very tasteless white rice that congealed together and fought valiantly whenever you attempted to untangle some of it.





 Wild Ginger closes out the meal with a plate of oranges and fortune cookies. It’s tough to screw up an orange slice so no complaints on that score. It’s really not fair for me to rate our dinner as meat was excluded from the choices. If all I could ever have was my lobster pastry puffs and the mango scallops, I would not be rushing back to Wild Ginger. The little slip of paper that contained my “fortune” did not indicate a return visit. As always, your mileage may vary.







Posted in Cotardo's with tags , , on March 20, 2012 by ballymote


 My wife and I had just attended a Sunday afternoon event in Chestnut Hill, PA. We decided on an early dinner and almost chose Mica’s in Chestnut Hill, a place we have long wanted to try. We passed on it and decided to visit a place closer to our home. Cotardo’s in Blackwood, NJ is a dining spot we have been to many times but, for some unknown reason, we had not been back there in a few years.

 It wasn’t quite five o’clock when we arrived so there were plenty of tables available. We were seated and our server, Tara, introduced herself and opened the bottle of wine I had brought with me.



 My wine was the 2006 Pitch, Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington. Like most local Italian restaurants, the stems at Cotardo’s leave something to be desired but since so few local eateries seem to offer great wine glasses, I’m not going to kill them for that. This isn’t a cab that is going to blow you away but with a $15.00 price tag and enough bright fruit flavors to marry well with most pasta dishes it was fine for the occasion.







 Cotardo’s has a nice menu with lots of entrees that sound tempting. Almost all of the choices come with soup and salad and hefty portions of their very tasty garlic bread. Kathy and I quickly went through the first four pieces with our Pasta Fagioli. Tara was nice enough to bring us another basket that appeared to have twice as many pieces as the first one. We refrained from stuffing ourselves with the bread and finished our soup. As I mentioned to my wife at the time, Pasta Fagioli is probably not a soup I would order very often but when served as part of the meal it was a perfect starter. The salad was also quite acceptable. Nothing spectacular, but the house salad featured crisp lettuce, radicchio and tomatoes and my ranch dressing blended well with the greens. So far, so good. Soup hot and flavorful, salad fresh and tangy. Great hope for the entree coming soon.



 As I mentioned, lots of tempting choices but you can only choose one so after much deliberation I went with the

Chicken Allessandro


Breast of chicken with crabmeat and melted provolone cheese, topped with a light blush sauce. Ahhhh, good choice! Three nicely done pieces of tender chicken breast swimming in a delicious blush sauce and lots of gooey cheese crowning the meat. I finished about half of it and took the rest home for a Monday evening dinner. The meal was accompanied by a dish of cappelini which was the right compliment for the chicken.


 Kathy selected the combination of Chicken Parmagiana and Lasagna. Another massive portion which provided plenty for the present and another great meal for Monday evening.

 The entire bill with tax and tip was only $48.00. It reminded us of why we used to enjoy coming to Cotardo’s in the past and mystified us as to why it had been off our radar screen for so long. There are many nights when we dine out and spend twice as much for meals that were not as enjoyable.

 In fact, we returned to Cotardo’s last Saturday evening with friends and although I didn’t have my camera with me to show you all off the delicious entrees we shared (I had the Pasta Bersani, chicken and angel hair pasta, sauteed with garlic and oil, sun-dried tomatoes and a touch of marinara sauce). Another delicious dish this time the total per couple was $46.00. Hard to beat the prices and the food is first-rate. They don’t take reservations so grab your wine and head over to Blackwood early and if you do have to wait, it’s worth it.



Posted in Bella Sera, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on March 13, 2012 by ballymote

 Bella Sera in Williamstown was formerly Cafe Capri. It shares its name with a brand of low price wines so I was interested to see if the food there was a cut above the Bella Sera wines. Six of us converged on this almost local eatery last Friday evening. The place looks nice with an almost elegant decor and the menus matching the signage. I thought that was a nice touch. We had a round table which is always better for conversing and making everyone feel like we are dining together.

 My wine for the evening was the 2007 Fabre Montmayou, Patagonia, Barrel Select, Malbec. I’ve had this one a few times and it’s a very nice wine from the lowest region of Argentina. Priced at $16 it’s an excellent food wine with rich cherry flavors and hints of pepper and spice.

 Our waitress had a strong Spanish accent which made it difficult to fully understand everything she was saying when it came to announcing the specials for the evening. I was able to make out that they had a Gorgonzola Salad with a balsamic dressing and I ended up choosing that. It was pretty good but I was surprised to see that it was $13.00 which seemed way out of line for where we were dining. We all have to take the blame for the items we chose because each time we would inquire of our server as to the price of one of the “specials” she answered with “I don’t know”. It would seem to me since she had all of the specials listed in great detail on her pad which she read from, they could have added the price in case she was asked. Again, none of us forced the issue so we share the blame.

 For my entree selection I went with the Cappellini Garda, cappalleni pasta served with jumbo lump crab meat, fresh diced tomatoes and arugula in a garlic white wine sauce. The dish was first-class with lots of crab meat swimming in a tangy cause. The portion was large enough that I ate plenty and took the remainder home for another dinner.

 Three in our party of six all chose the Fettucine with Shrimp and Scallops in a Pesto sauce. Lots of rave reviews on this one with my wife insinuating the next night while enjoying what she brought home, that it may have been one of her best meals ever. No faint praise there.

 Sue had the Salmon topped with salsa served with green beans and carrots and a side of garlic mashed potatoes. She liked her fish but her potatoes were not hot at all. She sent them back and moments later received a new order of potatoes no warmer than what she had sent back, although the new dish was quite hot; leading her to say ” a hot plate does not a hot potato make”.  It is just for these brilliant philosophical little gems that we bring her with us. 🙂

                                                                                                                               I had a little room left for dessert and went with a simple peach sherbet served in, naturally, a peach. It was simply peachy. Bella Sera had some hits and a few misses  ( a tad pricey at $100 per couple with tax and tip, and Sue’s potatoes) but it’s a nice place that certainly warrants another visit.


Posted in Thai Basil with tags , , , , , on March 7, 2012 by ballymote

 I have been asked many times the question “do you like spicy foods?” I always answer in the affirmative. I mean, I’m not a huge fan of “burn your tongue” nor am I the guy who wanders the aisles of the food market searching for the hottest sauce but, overall, I like a little “heat” now and then. Saturday evening, at Thai Basil in Collingswood, NJ, I was forced to rethink my position on the whole spicy food thing. Six of us enjoyed a rare round table at this Haddon Avenue restaurant.

 I had a terrific bottle of wine with me this night. The 2009 Bedrock Heirloom, Sonoma Valley. This one is a zinfandel blend with 19 different varieties of red grapes made by Morgan Twain Peterson, a true artist when it comes to creating wines (he’s been doing it since he was five years old). Great nose on this one, soft lavender scents, red licorice and peppery spices and then just an elegant mouthfeel and a long seductive finish. I was actually surprised to find that Thai Basil has some pretty nice wine stems. Maybe, the best I have seen in all of Collingswood.

 This was Jerry’s appetizer, and it probably should have been mine, the Bangkok Shu Mai (like I’m telling you something you don’t already know). Steamed dumplings filled with minced crab meat, chicken and jicama served with chili garlic soy sauce. I had a piece of one and it was excellent.

 Carol and Joe split the Thai Basil Treasure, an Asian version of the “Sampler”. The dish contained some Chicken Satay (another item that I could have safely chosen), vegetable spring rolls, several of the aforementioned Bangkok Shu Mai and some Thai Chicken Curry puffs. I have absolutely nothing good to say about the chicken curry puffs, suffice to say that Joe told me to feel free to have as many of them as I wished. The appetizer was served with three different dipping sauces, none of which helped redeem the chicken curry puffs.

 This innocent looking plate on the left was my choice to start off my meal. It’s the Crying Tiger. It could also be called, the Crying Blogger. I just went to look it up again on the menu. I had been totally convinced that it had two “red peppers” next to it on the menu which I took to mean, “a little hotter than normal”. I now find it has only ONE red pepper which must make me the biggest “wuss” in all of South Jersey. It is described as Northeast Thailand grilled steak, tossed with shallot, bell pepper, ground roasted sticky rice in a spicy lime dressing. I saw no sticky rice and unfortunately for me, the dressing not only cleared my sinuses and resulted in my draining several water glasses, but killed the taste of my wine for a good part of the evening. I was proud of myself though as I refrained from asking my dinner companions to dial 911.

 My entree selection, was the Chicken in Drunken Noodles which I’m sure most of you know as the Pad Key Maow. Once the paramedics doused the flame in my mouth I was ready to attack this slightly tamer version of a culinary blast furnace. This one was actually pretty good. Wok-fried flat noodles, Julienne bell peppers, onion, carrot and sweet fresh basil in a roasted chili paste. This one, which was far tamer than the Crying Tiger actually has TWO “red peppers” on the menu. I really think a Congressional investigation is called for to sort out the accuracy of the Thai Basil menu.

 Jerry ordered the Thai Basil Tom Yom Noodle Soup with chicken, hold the cilantro, from the Meal In A Pot section of the menu. This was also a two “red pepper” dish but he had no trouble with it and enjoyed his entire meal. I took two pictures of Sue’s dish but neither one is good enough to post.

 My wife, Kathy, Joe and Carol each had some variation of Chicken Fried Rice. I believe Carol had pineapple in hers. She thought the dish was a bit dry and our server brought some soy sauce to give it a little wetness.

                  We all had just enough room for dessert and we chose either ice cream (Kathy had the Ginger flavor, I had the Coconut and Carol had the Green Tea). Jerry went with the Coconut Pudding and I thought they were all a nice ending to the meal. Please don’t judge Thai Basil by my review. Those of you who are a bit tougher than I may have no problem with the “minor heat” that had tears running from my nose and my eyes. Beware the CRYING TIGER!


Posted in Da Soli with tags , , , on February 19, 2012 by ballymote

 As many of you may know, I am WAY behind on my reviews. I thought I might make some attempt at catch-up by starting at the most recent dinners and working backwards. That being the case, eight of us had  a very nice dinner on Friday evening at a BYOB in Haddonfield, NJ called Da Soli “on our own”. Da Soli is located on Kings Highway in an area titled “The Shops at 116 King’s Highway”. You may surmise by the name of the shopping area that the address is 116 and you would be correct. The restaurant itself has two levels and features dark wood paneling around the upper balcony.

 The Chef/Owner is Mark Berenato, who most recently could be found turning out fine meals as the chef at Tre Famiglia. Da Soli offers farm fresh ingredients with unique preparation and presentation. On Mark’s left is our server for the evening, Lauren, who was both cheerful and capable. After a short wait as they prepared our table near the front window we were seated.

 Our wines for the evening consisted of  my 2009 Educated Guess, Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon, this one is mixed with small percentages of Merlot and Cab Franc and although priced at under $20.00 in many South Jersey stores, can always be counted on to deliver great flavors of cherry and blueberries with hints of vanilla. Gerry had an undated Tavernello, Vino Rosso D’Italia which id did not taste and Joe had a nice 2007 Conn Creek, Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon. 2007 was stellar year for cabs in Napa and this one was very good with lots of plum and other dark fruits with a nice smooth finish.

 The menu items at Da Soli are interesting and slightly provocative. I opted as an appetizer for one of the evening specials which was called “Not Your Grand Mother’s Meatballs” These were certainly NOT my grand mother’s meatballs, or even my mother’s meatballs. The dish featured two nice sized spheres of pork and veal in a rich red sauce and served with a very tasty Porcini mushroom risotto. Although I almost NEVER eat anything with mushrooms (I have no idea why that is) this proved an excellent pairing with the meatballs.

Joe and Carol had a soup featuring white beans, sausage and broccoli rabe and after Joe had his reheated they both thought the soup was very good. My wife, Kathy, had a crab bisque which she also enjoyed.

 For my entree I selected the Maile Griglia, grilled pork tenderloins stuffed with prosciutto in a rosemary demi-glaze with classic risotto and broccoli rabe. The meat was cooked as I had requested and the dish itself was bursting with flavor. Joe had the same thing and he too thoroughly enjoyed it. Sue had my meatball dish as an entree and she thought it was very good. Kathy and Carol both went with the Boneless Beef Short Ribs, slow roasted, fresh herbs, barolo red wine pan sauce and creamy aborio risotto. They both enjoyed their choices.

 Gerry had one of the specials, a House Cut Lamb Chop that was very juicy and accompanied with broccoli rabe and some Julienne style potatoes.

       ———————— Gerry’s Lamb Chop






I don’t think we had expected to have room for dessert but as it turned out we surprised ourselves and most of us made the sacrifice and forced some type of selection. I don’t have any pictures but I will tell you that I had the Rice Pudding Gelato and it was scrumdiddlyicious (no, that IS a word, honest). We still weren’t done as mark treated each of us to a little home-made brandy chaser with choices os Espresso flavor or Crazin (cranberry & raisin). Wow, this nightcap would put hair on your chest. Overall, we were all pleasantly surprised. DaSoli delivered good food, nicely prepared in a warm, welcoming atmosphere. We all pretty much decided we would be back in the near future.


Posted in Villa Nuova Ristorante with tags , , , , , on January 21, 2012 by ballymote

 Villa Nuova Ristorante on Good Intent Rd in Deptford, NJ is a review I have wanted to post since our visit there on a Friday night in early December. It’s a little place I had never heard of and had no idea it even existed. Judging from the sparse gathering at the other tables, not many other folks know about it, either; and that’s a shame because it’s an excellent local eatery for any night of the week. Good food, great service. This place is, in my opinion, a hidden gem.

 Here are some samples reviews from

Phone.dea604f Mobile review
by Fred (1 review)
Fantastic food, large portions, and we never had to wait for a table. The owner and chef Pepi, always makes sure your happy with your meal. We can’t say enough, check it out for yourself, you won’t be sorry
  • No_photo_small
    March 15, 2011

    Likes it
    Great Place
    We stopped after many months of thinking about it. What a great place!! Service was great…food even better…quantity vs. price is very good. In todays economy…great food for reasonable cost. What a wonderful little place…..will deffinately go again…soon!!!
 My wine for the night was a 2008 Chateau Tanunda, Shiraz from Australia which I had picked up last week from Cana’s Bottle Stop in Marlton. Thos one received 92 points from Wine Spectator and came in at #33 on the 2011 list of Top 100 wines. Wine Spectator mentioned that “fans of Mollydooker’s “The Boxer” would find this one much like it and a shade better balanced”. It was very good but, I’d still choose “The Boxer” over this one.
Because so much time has gone by, and Villa Nuova does not have a web site I won’t remember what dishes the others had. Mine was the Chicken Sinatra which was a large portion of tender chicken breasts topped with yummy morsels of crabmeat and nicely cooked linguine with a delicate sauce. It was delicious that night and just as good the next day for lunch. Here are a few pictures of what our friends enjoyed.


Posted in Obituary - Barone's Tuscan Grill with tags on December 3, 2011 by ballymote


 There has been a death in the Barone Restaurant family. The much maligned Barone’s Tuscan Grill has died before reaching its 2nd birthday. Many visitors to this blog would claim the sickly child was doomed since birth, suffering from mediocre food and service that they claimed ranged from poor to non-existent.

 To be absolutely honest, my two visits to this restaurant during its brief lifespan were not all that bad. It was far from one of my favorite dining spots but I still felt I had OK meals on both trips.  Obviously, I was in the minority or they would still have their doors open.

 More than the food or the service, the amazing thing about this Barone’s Tuscan Grill was the number of people who visited this blog and read my reviews. No other restaurant that I have reviewed in the past two and a half years has attracted anywhere near the interest that this recently departed establishment garnered. It was a constant amazement to me and prompted me to write an article on here titled The Great Barone’s Tuscan Grill Mystery. Folks would actually take the time to comment, most of them negative comments, and many filled with a great deal of emotion considering it’s just a restaurant. I approved some of them but disallowed many as I was beginning to feel they were coming from a competitor who was engaged in a campaign to defame Barone’s. It now appears that this was not the case. Quite a few of the comments mentioned the treatment of employees. Many suggested that employees were not being paid correctly or on time. Here are a couple of samples.

Karen Says:
September 10, 2010 at 2:25 pm e

I was also directed here when I googled Barone’s Tuscan Grill. I agree, food is good, ambience is fine, I do like a BYOB. BUT, you should know that Barone’s has not paid their employees for over 4 weeks. They did issue a paycheck this past Wed to cover that first missed week ~ and the checks bounced. This is not the first time. In early July, all the paychecks also bounced. The owners have mislead the workers (mostly local teens & twenty-somethings) about what & when they would be paid. For example, many worked in April to help get the restaurant up & running and were never paid for those hours.
The reason for my “google” was to file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau!

insider Says:
April 2, 2011 at 9:12 pm e

I work in a bank used by some of Barone’s employees. I am aware of Barone’s habit of bouncing paychecks.

Missmommy19 Says:
May 7, 2011 at 8:52 pm eOn 12/30/10 we ordered pizza to go at 5:40 pm, from the Woolwich Twp. location. I arrived at 6 pm to pick it up, paid, and waited. And waited, as was another woman attempting to purchase food to go who was there ahead of me. There were at least a half dozen men in dress shirts, “manager-types”, unfortunately none of them have a clue as to how to run a restaurant. I saw 2 pizzas go on top of the pizza oven, but didn’t pay any attention to it since I had paid, gave my name, and assumed that they would give me my pizza when it was ready. The other woman’s take out dinners were ready and getting cold, but she was waiting for pizza also. None of the “manager-wannabes” knew what was going on. Finally, at 6:20 pm I stood up and asked one of them who those 2 pizzas on top of the oven were for. Well what do you know??? They were mine. “Manager-wannabe” that took my money ($37.00, ridiculous) never asked wannabe #2 who those pizzas were for when he took them from the guy making them and put them on top of the oven. I rolled my eyes, told him I had been sitting there waiting, grabbed my pizza and left. Dinners are over priced as well. Do yourself a favor and go to one of the dozen other Italian restaurants in the area. We have not been back since.

….and this was the last comment I received that confirmed the rumors I was hearing that this Woolwich Twp eatery was no more..

KW Says:
November 26, 2011 at 7:15 pm e

Update: The Woolwich Township location of Barone’s Tuscan Grill has closed. From talking to a former co-worker (I worked at Barone’s for over eight months), the restaurant’s been bought by Toscana. While it is sad to see a local business shut down, I am glad to see this restaurant close.

I’m not just holding a grudge because they still owe me $200 in paychecks (which I’ll obviously never receive). The restaurant was poorly managed and maintained to the point where I believe the customers’ health was put at risk. There were a few instances where the hot water shut off; I’m not sure whether this was because of a mechanical error or someone being behind in bill payments. Either way, when the hot water shut off the restaurant remained open for the night. Anyone who would keep a restaurant open without hot water does not deserve to own a restaurant. When I asked the manager how the kitchen staff was going to wash dishes without hot water, he did not provide an answer.

There is a lot more I could say about my time at Barone’s Tuscan Grill, but this is not the appropriate venue. I will probably wind up submitting an op-ed to a local newspaper detailing the experience and everything that went wrong in that restaurant. Overall, it was poorly managed and maintained, and it commonly felt like the owner did not put much effort into the restaurant to ensure it’s success. I hope that the restaurant that replaces Barone’s serves the Woolwich community much better; Woolwich deserves better for its customers and workers.”

 And so we come today not to praise Barone’s Tuscan Grill, but to bury it. If it taught me one lesson it is how passionate folks can be about food. It also convinced me that the Woolwich Twp/Swedesboro, Logan Twp area is ripe for a restaurant that is capable of serving good food, and providing great service. There would seem to be no end to the number of people who would flock to such an establishment. Unfortunately, I can’t cook, so the job of providing this much-needed establishment falls to another. Whoever you are though, keep in mind, when you open your doors, I’ll be there!