Archive for the Wine Dinners Category


Posted in Glassboro Vintage South Jersey Wine Festival, Uncategorized with tags , , , on April 24, 2012 by ballymote

   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 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.


Posted in New Restaurant Coming to Swedesboro, NJ, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on January 29, 2012 by ballymote


The man standing in front of his brick oven at Toscana in Mullica Hill, NJ is Chef Mimmo. Four of us had a wonderful dinner there on Friday evening and learned, among other things, that Chef Mimmo is planning on opening a new restaurant on the site recently vacated by Barone’s Tuscan Grill in Swedesboro, Woolwich Township.

As I have mentioned many times on this blog, Barone’s Tuscan Grill has been, and continues to be, the most read article on this blog. After two years I still have no idea why so many people flock to that article. It was a restaurant serving mediocre food with a history of service complaints by both customers and employees. Those may have been reasons for its recent demise but they still don’t explain the interest by my readers.

I am not certain when the new restaurant will be open, I am guessing it should be a fixture there by this summer. The name looks like it will be “a Pizze” and it will be a BYOB with some special features that we won’t mention at the moment but, suffice to say, there will be many nice things about this eatery that will focus on excellent customer service

This is certainly an area of constant growth even now that will grow more as we come out of the housing crisis. It is apparent that the residents are starved (no pun intended) for good places to eat and I am betting that Chef Mimmo’s restaurant will quickly become a” foodies” favorite.


Posted in Luke Palladino, Wine Dinners with tags , , , , on June 25, 2011 by ballymote

 I have to confess that I was hoping NOT to like my dinner at Luke Palladino’s in Northfield, NJ. Last summer, I was attempting to make reservations for ten of us and Luke went into a ten minute rant as to what would happen if we failed to show for our reservation without calling 24 hours in advance. He took my credit card number and explained there would be a $50.00 per person charge PLUS tax and gratuity. I understand the importance of keeping reservations, especially when it’s for ten people in a place that only seats 30. I found it a little insulting though to have such focus on the dire consequences of such actions. I called a couple of days later and cancelled just on general principles.

This time it was just my wife, Kathy and our friends who live down near the shore, Mike and Mya M. celebrating a “long time no see each other” event.


I had brought with me a couple of nice bottles of wine which we shared. The first was the 2006 Melville, Estate, Pinot Noir. This one had a soft bouquet of spring flowers and strawberries on the nose and lots of spice and tea flavors intermingled with black cherries and soft tannins leading to a smooth, lasting finish. The second wine, a 2005 Keenan Napa Valley Merlot helped me remember just how good a nice Merlot can be. This had bright fruit flavors and a smoky tobacco essence and went really well with many of the meat dishes that we enjoyed.

 The menu at Luke Palladino’s is designed to encourage family-style samplings of several different courses.



 We started with Arancini, crisp risotto fritters filled with truffled sottocenere cheese and scallions. There was one for each of us and each of these fried goodies were stacked with great flavor. I have had these at a few different places and these were clearly the best of them all.

















































































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 Bacio Italian Cuisine, Wine Dinners with tags , , , on May 29, 2011 by ballymote

 Bacio Italian Cuisine is located on busy Rt. 130 in Cinaminnson, NJ. and it’s a bit of a ride from our homes in Washington Twp. A couple of our dining companions had been there previously and, if their memory was correct, they weren’t totally sure it was worth the drive. It was a BYOB that I had read about often and I wanted to find out for myself what it was like. Six of us made the ride last Saturday evening for a 7:30 reservation. (I have had one of these those writing “lulls” and it’s now been 3 weeks since our visit and I will attempt to recall the evening. I do know we all enjoyed our meal).

 I thought about saying that we didn’t bring any wine with us but, in keeping with a policy of total honesty, I had with me a 2009 Cupcake, Red Velvet, Wine. This is a zinfandel blend and there is a story to go with it. Several months ago I attended a wine tasting at The Mansion in Voorhees, NJ with my friend, Gerry B. There were hundreds of wines available and one of the producers tending a booth implored me to try the Cupcake Red Velvet. I tasted it to be nice and was slightly surprised that it wasn’t bad. The recent sale at $7.49 a bottle convinced me to give it one more try. It didn’t really deliver. The initial mouth feel is ok with some bright fruit and pepper but it disappears quickly, something that is almost a trademark of weak wines in that price area.

Bacio featured a nice menu with lots of tempting choices.

 I totally enjoyed my choice of an appetizer, the Crispelle della Nonna, Italian crepe stuffed with jumbo lump crabmeat, spinach and artichokes, baked in a gorgonzola cream sauce. This would have made a nice entree with an additional crepe but by itself was a great start to the meal. Here are some of the other items that our party of six chose to start off their meal.

Left to right we have the Roast Pork Bruschetta, slow-roasted pork, broccoli rabe and aged provolone baked on top of Tuscan-style, hearth-baked bruschetta. The interesting concoction titled Olive all Ascolana, fried olives stuffed with ground veal and pork and served with a cucumber salsa. I almost went with this one but Joe B. commented that it was just OK. My wife, Kathy, went with the Arugula Salad, crisp baby arugula, cherry tomatoes and marinated artichoke hearts tossed with fresh lemon and extra virgin olive oil, topped with pan-roasted pignoli nuts and shaved grana padano cheese. She thought her salad was very good.

One of the entrees that we enjoyed was the Cold Water Rock Lobster and Crabmeat, sauteed with Roma tomatoes, roasted garlic, white wine and lemon over capelinni. Carol and Joe thought the lobster consisted of generous portions and was well prepared.


 Kathy had the Penne a la Amatriciana, tossed with grilled chicken breast, spinach, prosciutta, pomadora and fresh mozzarella. Nice rich flavors and expertly prepared pasta had Kathy pleased with her entree.

I went with the Roast Pork Casoulet, slow roasted pulled pork shoulder cooked with sausage, cannellini beans, roasted peppers and broccoli rabe. This wasn’t quite as good as my crepe appetizer but it was still a tasty dish and another generous portion.

We skipped desserts but all of us were pleased with our dinner at Bacio and we were glad we had driven the extra distance.


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.


Posted in Flemings Steakhouse and Wine Bar (2nd review), Wine Dinners with tags , , , , on May 5, 2011 by ballymote

Flemings, just off Lancaster Ave (Rt. 30), in Radnor, does a brisk business almost every night. It’s in a great location on the Main Line for business dinners and is a perfect spot for celebrating almost any special occasion. We were there last week for our “Sibling Dinner”, five brothers and sisters, along with spouses enjoying an evening of good food and wine and plenty of crisp conversation.  The menu at Flemings is quite extensive but there is little doubt that this is a steak restaurant and they take great pride in the beef they serve. They also have a very decent wine list and boast of offering 100 wines by the glass. I had previewed that list prior to arrival and I was a little disappointed to discover that several of the wines I had my eye on were not available at Pennsylvania locations (something to do with the state’s outdated retail wine and spirits laws.)

 I went with a 2008 Haymon & Hill, Reserve Selection, Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands which was a decent pinot with cherry and raspberry notes with a little spice and a medium finish. To go with my steak I stepped up to a heartier red, the 2008 Hess, Allomi Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon. Dark blackberry flavors with a hint of smoke and cedar, smooth tannins and a lingering finish made this a good choice for the filet mignon.

 Most of our table split the Wedge Salad, crisp iceberg lettuce, grape tomatoes and crumbled blue cheese.

I had the French Onion Soup baked with swiss and parmesan cheese. This had tons of great flavor and was the perfect pre-steak starter.

 My filet was cooked medium and we shared several sides. The most notable of the extras was the Fleming Potatoes with cream, jalapenos and cheddar cheese. This gooey concoction is the perfect match for the USDA prime filet served with peppercorn sauce and a touch of butter. We also shared some cream spinach and asparagus spears.

Flemings can be counted on for a consistently good meal and top-notch service.


Posted in Allure of the Seas, Giovanni's Table (on board Allure of the Seas), Wine Dinners with tags , on April 29, 2011 by ballymote

The eight cruisers had chosen Giovanni’s Table, the Italian Eatery in Central Park, for our final dinner of the voyage. We had thoroughly enjoyed our first dinner at Chops Grille and had been slightly disappointed in the majority of our evening meals in the Main Dining Room and thus we were looking forward to a great experience to conclude this wonderful week onboard the world’s largest cruise ship.

Our very capable server this evening was Arguejus, from Chile. Despite being from South America he had acquired a very passable Italian accent and he suggested several different items to be brought to the table and served family style.

 We had some nice freshly baked bread with some oil and cheese for dipping and we looked over the wine list carefully before choosing a couple of bottles that went with most of our entrees.

We selected the 2008 Peter Lehmann, Shiraz “The Weight Ticket”. Lots of dark jammy flavors with hints of pepper and spices this Australian wine was priced right and served as an excellent partner for the rich dished to come.

 This item turned out to be the favorite of most of our dining partners. It’s even fun to say. This was the Sformato di Fontina e Spinaci con Funghi Tripolati e Pomodorini (double-baked fontina and spinach souffle, Italian-style sauteed mushrooms and grape tomatoes. We had to have Arguejus bring more of this to keep everyone happy.

We also shared some Capresse and Antipaste with fresh meats, cheeses and roasted red peppers and a plate of Foccaccia with herbs, potatoes, olives and pesto. We feasted on these dishes for a while before it was time for the pasta portion of our feast.

 It was hard to pick a favorite from the trio of pasta dishes placed before us. This was the Ravioli di Polpa di Granchio, Maryland crab ravioli with shrimp, chili oil and grape tomato sauce. Nicely presented and tasting just as good as it looked.

This was the Gnocchi di Potate con Crema al Gorgonzola a Sugo d’Agnello, potato gnocchi tossed in light blue cheese sauce on thyme-scented baby lamb and root vegetable sauce. We passed this around and watched the entire plate disappear in a heartbeat. We barely had room for what turned out to be our absolute runaway favorite of the pasta dishes….

 The Risotto Pomodoro, Basilino Mozzarella 3 Verdure Griglianti, tomato, basil and mozzarella risotto topped with grilled veggies and herb oil. Unlike the risotto we had in the Main Dining Room on the previous evening, this one was cooked to perfection. It was chock full of wonderful, cheesy flavors and we had to force ourselves to pause in our eating because we had forgotten that our entrees were still to come.

 I had the chicken breast filled with ricotta and mushrooms, wrapped in prosciutto and served with a Chardonnay-sage sauce. The chicken was wonderful and I was pleased with my entree.

Several at the table opted for the beef. In this case, an 8 ounce beef tenderloin served with garlic fries in a Barolo reduction sauce. These are the nice, meaty fries that I don’t see often enough. Everyone was happy with this choice.

 This was probably the best looking of all the plates on our table. The veal ossobuco au jus with tomatoes, mushrooms, cheese polenta and sauteed green beans. I was told it tasted every bit as good as it looked.

We had one fish lover in the group and she selected as her entree the baked filet of Sea Bass atop baby lentils in a red wine reduction and artichoke cream. The fish was tender and flaky and the lentils added just the right texture to make this creation a winner.

We were very nearly stuffed but it seemed sinful to pass on the array of desserts that were presented to the table.

 We gorged ourselves on canollis and some excellent tiramisu and were proud that we were able to leave Giovanni’s Table under our own power. You certainly are never going to find this much food and this much food quality for the ridiculous $10.00 service charge which we gladly paid. It almost doesn’t make sense to hope for something decent in the main dining room when this kind of feast is offered in such close proximity. Giovanni’s is a winner!


Posted in BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Cucina Forte, Wine Dinners with tags , , , , on April 7, 2011 by ballymote

 As I mentioned in the previous post, we have a cruise coming up shortly and so on this Saturday evening in early April the four couples who will be on the Allure of the Seas met for dinner at Cucina Forte in South Philly. As usual, parking in the area was at a premium and it’s no small accomplishment to finally secure a legal spot within walking distance of the restaurant. 

Inside the restaurant, we looked over our menus while our server, Vinnie, (I know, how would a South Philly waiter ever have a name like Vinnie) recited some of the many special appetizers and entrees for the evening. I had looked at the menu online earlier in the day and was already pretty damn sure I knew what I was going to be having for my starter. Before I get to the food though, I want to talk about the wine.

 I have been anxiously awaiting the right time to open my first 2008 Bedrock Wine Co., The Bedrock Heirloom, Sonoma Vally. This interesting blend by Morgan Twain-Pederson is quickly becoming a cult classic that distinguishes itself from the other cult wines by being eminently affordable. The Bedrock Heirloom is made from 120 year old vines, some of the oldest in California and it’s spicy, full of flavor fruit has great structure and balance and drinks well now and will be even better with more time in the bottle. Just a yummy wine but only 228 cases made and it’s all gone now.

 Maria’s Dream Soup. Maria is Maria Forte, Chef/Owner of Cucina Forte. I spoke with her on the phone when making our reservation and I told her about my blog. She sounded genuinely excited that we were coming but unfortunately, she had a death in the family and was back in Italy on this Saturday evening. Very sorry for your loss, Maria. Her Dream Soup was created with love for her late husband and features grilled chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, wild mushrooms (I took them out), broccoli rabe, home-made bread cubes dipped in a light egg batter and all served in a chicken broth. I thought it was great. Kathy thought it was just OK,  but I don’t think she sampled enough of mine.

 Some had the mussels, others split a seafood appetizers with grilled shrimp, scallops, calamari and lagostinos over broccoli rabe. There was also an antipasto consisting of roasted peppers, olives and assorted premium meats and cheeses. All of these were tasty and a great way to start dinner.

 For my entree I went with the Lobster Ravioli, in a cream sauce with four nice-sized shrimp circling the dish. I thought the dish was very nice without being overly filling as these dishes can sometimes be.

Tom had the Chilean Sea Bass served in a white wine sauce with tomatoes and capers while Kathy ordered the Veal Saltimbocca, veal medallions with prosciutto sauteed in a wine and sage cream sauce served with potatoes and asparagus spears. She thought the veal was nicely prepared but could have used additional flavoring.

 Joe and Carol both ordered one of the specials, the Sacletti, little purse shaped pastas filled with fontina cheese and prosciutto and served with tomatoes, mushrooms and shrimp in an olive and garlic sauce.

Tom had a side order of the house-made gnocchi and I managed to taste a few of these tiny pasta creations and I thought they were very good.

We decided to skip dessert  went back to one of the couples house to discuss our upcoming trip. We thought dinner at Cucina Forte was a very nice event.


Posted in BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Wine Dinners, Zacharias Creek Side Cafe with tags , , , on April 2, 2011 by ballymote

 To celebrate my friend, Gerry, having a cast removed from his arm, and also because we look for just about any reason we can find to drink some good wines and sample fine food, three of us headed to Worcester, PA on Rt. 113 for dinner at Zacharias Creek Side Cafe this past Tuesday evening. What should have been an 18 minute ride from my office in King of Prussia took well over an hour as I fought the 422 traffic.

After the torturous journey I was ready for some wine.

 As usual, we had some nice choices to sample. I had brought with me a 2004 Chateau Leoville las Cases, St. Julien. This wasn’t the greatest of years for Bordeaux wines but this one still managed to grab 95 points from the Wine Spectator and 93 from Robert Parker. Gerry, John and myself could not find it in our hearts to be quite that generous as we all felt this one didn’t quite do it for us. I think we’d probably come closer to a 90/91. Don’t get me wrong, it was fine, we just expected more. John’s 2007 Mollydooker Blue Eyed Boy, Shiraz was just as I had remembered from previous times; deep dark fruit mixed with hints of tobacco and chocolate, a great sipping wine . Gerry delivered the wine of the night with his 2008 Alpha-Omega Proprietary Red Wine. Gerry has become such a huge fan of everything Jean Hoefliger is producing at A-O that he has become an A-O Wine Club member. The Proprietary Red is a 50-50 blend of Cabernet and Merlot and it’s just silky smooth and rich in fruit, perfectly balanced with a 60 second finish.

 Speaking of silky smooth, our server for the evening, Alli, certainly fit that description. She displayed charm and professionalism all evening. She instinctively understood that we were not in any hurry and she allowed us all the time we wanted before ordering. She also made certain we had several glasses each so we could properly enjoy our wines. Thanks, Alli, you done good!!

Zacharias Creek Side Cafe offers a Prix Fixe dinner Tuesdays thru Thursdays at $29.95. I was the only one of the three of us who opted for this choice. I started my meal with the Butternut Squash and Apple Bisque. It was served at the perfect temperature and the combination of fresh veggie flavor with the hint of fruit made a nice taste combination.

 Gerry and John went with some items that were a little more exotic for their starters. Gerry’s chicken livers were, I believe, a special of the evening and John’s plate of cured meats included prosciutto, bresaole and soppressata looked wonderful. I really should have tried some but I passed and that meant more for each of them.

We conversed over our wines as we awaited our entrees. I was slightly limited in my choices as I has selected the Prix Fixe menu but there were certainly enough enticing items there to allow me to settle on a selection.

 I went with the Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes served with potatoes and parsnip puree, brussel sprouts and roasted garlic aioli. The crab cake was filled with fresh meat and very little filling, the puree was a nice touch and the aioli brought out all of the flavor in the tender crab meat. I may have done better with a lighter wine than what we had with us but that did not deter from a very enjoyable entree.

Gerry chose, from the regular menu, the roast duck. In looking at the menu now, I don’t see it listed so I wish I had jotted down what accompanied the dish because it all looked so good. It was not one of the specials, so I am a little bewildered as to why it isn’t listed on the current website menu. Anyway, he liked it but did mention there might be a tad too much salt in the dish.

 John was thinking like me and went with the jumbo lump crab cake except that he was craving a little meat with his meal and therefore had a four-ounce filet to complete his dish. Both the crab cake and the filet were excellent and John had no complaints whatsoever.

We still had some room for dessert and I was about to write that the desserts weren’t listed individually on the website so, although they were very good, I can’t adequately describe them…..BUT..I just had a flashback to Alli handing me a piece of paper so I went and dug out the shirt I wore that evening and there, in excellent penmanship, on the back of one of Zacharias red comment sheets, is a complete mouth-watering description of what we had for dessert. 

 John had the Creme Brulee. It was fine. Gerry and I went a much more adventurous route.

Here is Gerry’s Pavlova, almond meringue topped with lemon curd, blood orange and strawberry salad with white chocolate shavings and toasted almonds. Looked good, tasted better.

 My little totally low-cal item was the white chocolate passion fruit mousse cake with a deep chocolate glaze. This one was perfect with the cup of coffee I had to conclude my meal.

The three of us enjoyed our dinner at Zacharias Creek Side Cafe. Owner Andrew Gallo stopped by more than once to make sure we were enjoying our food. It is evident that he cares about what is being served and he has good reason to be proud of what he and his wife, Nancy, have created.