THANK YOU FOR YOUR MANY VISITS!!
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 !!
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.
a’ Pizze Tuscan Grill is the successor to the infamous Barone’s Tuscan Grill in the Center Square Shopping Center in Swedesboro, NJ. As I have mentioned many times on this blog, Barone’s Tuscan Grill, which was at best a mediocre dining spot, was far and away the most read review in the history of South Jersey Wine and Dine. To this day, I have no clue as to why there was such interest. Most of the comments about Barone’s were of a negative nature and I doubt that many tears were shed when they closed their doors permanently about eight months ago.
Chef Mimmo from Toscana in Mullica Hill has opened a new eatery in Swedesboro. a’ Pizze has been open for about a month now and it’s a BYOB, which is great news. For those who arrive without wine, there is a JB Liquors just a few feet away providing many choices of beverages to accompany your meal. We (my wife, Kathy and I) arrived early last Friday night with my son Brian and his wife, Jenny and their three young children, Drew, LeighAnn and Braydon. The place was just starting to fill up and became increasingly crowded over the next 90 minutes. The menu is quite similar to what is served at Toscana, in fact, Chef Mimmo was there to greet patrons at each table so the place is very reminiscent of Toscana.
My wine was a 2009 Schild Estate, Barossa Shiraz. I have had the Schild Shiraz in the past and always thought it was an excellent example of Australian shiraz. This particular vintage didn’t do it for me. It wasn’t a bad wine, it simply didn’t offer much other than some dark brooding fruit and a hint of black pepper. The finish was simple and not very lengthy.
The menu at a’ Pizze, as I mentioned before, bears a strong resemblance to that of its sibling, Toscana. That means that The Wedge might prove to be every bit as good as a starter here as it is there. It did not disappoint. A big fresh quarter of crisp, iceberg lettuce with tomatoes, bacon, hard-boiled egg and just the right amount of blue cheese dressing. I was going to order this as a $4.99 appetizer but virtually every entree comes with a smaller version of the same wedge. Kudos, Chef Mimmo, we are off to a good start.
Brian and Jenny ordered the Caprese Tower, home-made fresh mozzarella, layered with ripe tomatoes, basil, oregano, extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar served on a bed of greens. This dish was nicely constructed and both of them enjoyed their appetizer. I ordered the mozzarella sticks which were nothing special although the grand kids seemed to enjoy the stringy cheese.
For my entree I selected the Chicken Siena, served with sun-dried tomatoes, and arugula on a bed of capellini. The dish was nicely presented. It was a decent sized portion of chicken but in proportion to the mountain of capellini it was nowhere near sufficient for someone like me who likes to have a bite of each on all forkfuls. I left enough chicken to take this home and have enough for another meal. The flavors were pretty good.
My wife had the Chicken Risotto and my son had the Chicken Alfredo. Both enjoyed their meal and had enough remaining to box up for the next day. My wife felt her chicken was a little over-cooked, my son had no complaints.
We passed on the desserts although a large plate showing samples of each treat offered did look appealing.
Overall, I felt that a’ Pizze has potential. The service needs some work. They use the team concept with various servers bringing you each course. They didn’t always clear the table of empty dishes and this sometimes led to not being able to find a place to put down what they had brought out from the kitchen. It appears that everyone wants to do a good job and with some additional training and a display of consistency that Chef Mimmo may possibly have another nice restaurant. This one is located in an area where the folks are dying to find a go-to dining spot that they can frequent on a regular basis. I wish them “buona fortuna”.
Ralph’s Restaurant, in the heart of the Italian Market in South Philly, may be just about as Italian and just about as South Philly as you can get. Ralph’s lays claim to be the oldest family owned restaurant in America and the second oldest Italian restaurant (Fior D’Italia in San Francisco 1893 being #1) overall having been serving food to the public since 1900. The list of luminaries who have dined at Ralph’s is lengthy and includes Teddy Roosevelt, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Rocky Marciano, Heather Locklear, Connie Mack, Frank Rizzo and hundreds more. Parking can be difficult but they have valet parking for $8.00 and that may well be your best choice.
The menu at Ralph’s is extensive and you will most certainly find more than one item that will tempt your choosing.
It is not a BYOB so wine lovers will have to choose something from their somewhat decent wine list which is not greatly over-priced in comparison to many other restaurants. We went with a 2007 Columbia Crest Merlot. This went well with a variety of dishes.
I began with the Bruchetta, toasted Italian bread topped with plum tomatoes, fresh basil and olive oil. It was OK, nothing special and each of you has probably experienced a better version at any one of a number of restaurants.
My entree choice was their Spaghetti and Meatballs. This very basic dish was reasonably priced at $13.00 and the spaghetti was excellent cooked al dente which is not a style I find in many places but proved to be very enjoyable. The meatballs were delicious and my only complaint was the I thought there should have been a third meatball. Most Italian restaurants give you so much with this order that you have enough to take home but this was not one of the larger portions. Nonetheless, I have no complaints because it tasted great.
For dessert the group had either the chocolate cake drizzled in syrup or the traditional Tiramisu. Both were very good.
There was a minor dispute when the check came. They had added an automatic gratuity of 20% to the total. I understand that it is common practice to add the gratuity for parties of 8 or more (we had 10). However, I think 20% is too much for an automatic add. Most places seem to add 15 or 18 percent and then you can add additional if you want. I personally think to assume 20% is a little presumptuous. We tip 20% or more on all occasions but there is just something about automatically adding 20% that bothers me. At any rate, they had calculated wrong and instead of adding 20% they had added 22% and it took them quite some time to recalculate. It does not appear that math is their strong suit. I enjoyed my meal but several others were less than impressed by Ralph’s.
When I began this review about a week ago I mentioned that Ralph’s was the second oldest Italian restaurant in America; second only to Fior d’Italia in San Francisco. In the past few days it has been reported that Fior d’ Italia has closed its doors which now makes Ralph’s Numero Uno on the list of oldest Italian restaurants. That in itself is reason enough to give them a try on your next visit to the South Philly Italian Market.
A four-day visit to Disneyworld to watch the grandkids experience their first trip to the Magic Kingdom resulted in a Mothers Day dinner for my wife and I at Charley’s Steak House on International Drive in Orlando/Kissimmee. Much to our surprise they were having a Mother’s Day special where “Mom” gets a free filet dinner with any entree purchase of equal or greater value. We thought that was a great promotion. We did not have reservations so a 15 minute wait for our table seemed quite reasonable. There are four Charley’s Steak Houses in the area and they are part of a restaurant group called “Talk of the Town”.
Our server conducted a 10 minute table-side dissertation on the meats selected by Charley’s. We were told the beef was all Grade A Choice and that they were all cooked over an open flame at 1200 degrees. He described each cut, the sirloin, the bone-in rib eye, the porterhouse and the filet mignon. Since my wife was having the Mother’s day special “free filet”, a ten ounce portion, I opted for the 14 ounce filet.
We started our meal by splitting an appetizer. We selected the crab cakes. These were two nicely cooked cakes, virtually no filler, rich in crab flavor with a mango salsa topping. A little spritz of lemon on top and they proved to be an excellent prelude to our meal.
The House salad was delicious. The lettuce was fresh and crisp and the dressing which was a seasoned vinaigrette added the perfect touch. I don’t often rave about salads, except perhaps my favorite, the Wedge, but this one really was exceptional and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. We had each ordered a glass of zinfandel with our meal.
My filet was very good. It was cooked medium-well and stuffed with Maytag blue cheese dressing. Lots of flavor and a good-sized portion of quality steak. I had the Smashed Potatoes with gorgonzola cheese and apple bacon to accompany the filet. They were okay. I’m not sure what would have made them better. My wife had the Au Gratin potatoes with her filet and I think I liked her potatoes better. Unfortunately, her steak was almost inedible. It was certainly not a smaller version of my filet. It was a tasteless piece of meat that should never have been served. She thought it might have been because it was “free” but I told her it must just have been an accident because they wouldn’t offer a special and then purposely disappoint diners with a poor cut of meat. We joked that she should have them take it off the bill but since it wasn’t ON the bill in the first place, that would have been impossible.
We passed on the desserts but had an opportunity to see the choices and there were HUGE slices of chocolate cake and carrot cake and some creme brulee and cheesecake. Overall, my meal was very good and it’s ashame hers was ruined by an inferior piece of steak. Charley’s appears to be a place with frequent return guests as we observed the servers giving hugs to quite a few patrons. They do a professional job and only once did I notice my water glass was not refilled promptly. I think we can call my wife’s filet an aberration and thus I would give Charley’s a thumb’s up for fine dining in the Orlando area.
As I may have mentioned a time or two in the past, I am not a huge fan of New Jersey wines. They can protest all they want that the soil and climate in our area is “Bordeaux like” but, I’m not buying it. So many of the local wines contain blueberries and peaches and strawberries and the ones that don’t probablywould be enhanced by adding some. Certainly, there are exceptions to this generalization (A Sharrott Winery Cab Franc comes to mind), but not many. Still, there are many who do enjoy sampling the local wines and for those I would suggest next month’s GLASSBORO VINTAGE SOUTH JERSEY WINE FESTIVAL which takes place from Noon till 5:00 PM on both Saturday and Sunday May 19th and 20th.
The festival will be held on Rowan Boulevard (Main Street between US RT 322 and High Street next to the Barnes & Noble). Tickets are $19.00 inadvance at www.glassboromarketplace.com or $25.00 at the gate. Your admission includes wine samples from 13 local wineries, all members of the Garden State Wine Growers Association, a souvenir glass, gourmet food, live music and the opportunity to purchase wines from all of the participating vintners.
Yes, I am thinking about attending because you should always keep an open mind and one never knows when something could happen to totally change long-held perceptions.
I don’t have a huge wine collection. For the past many years what I did have rested comfortably on a variety of store-bought racks holding 18, 24 or 36 bottles plus a wine refrigerator that held another 32 bottles. Many of the bottles would stay in their original cases which often prompted my wife to threaten to throw them out if I didn’t get them out of their boxes. The problem has now been solved with the recent addition of hand crafted wine racks made by the fine folks at Arch General Contractors. We were having some renovations done to our Rec Room, mainly, the removal of a large pillar that served as a supporting column for the house. We replaced it with an overhead beam which opened the room and gave greater depth. It seemed like the perfect occasion to add some racks and get all of those bottles a proper home.
I am delighted at the way the finished racks look and the bottles have told me they love their new home. My new problem is that I have some empty slots which need to be filled with vino and that can only mean additional purchases. As you can gather from all this, wine collecting is a dirty job but someone has to do it.
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.