Posted in Florida, Florida Trip Photos, Hollywood with tags , , on February 28, 2012 by ballymote

 Four days on the 15th floor of a Hollywood, Florida beach condo in late February is a nice way to break up the grey days of winter. Being there with friends makes the scene even better. The weather was excellent, lots of bright sunshine and warm breezes and there was so much to do that we actually had to get home to get some rest. No one is complaining.

 We had some great meals each day and in the days to come I shall do the write-ups on five of our dining spots. There wasn’t much wine involved in the dinners, a glass here and there, a bottle of Ravenswood Zin for the condo, but we still had plenty to eat and drink and, once again, no one is complaining.

 My wife, Kathy, and I, along with our friends Joe and Carol left for Florida on Spirit Airlines out of Atlantic City. We met some other friends down there, Ray and Mary Ann and Joe and Mary Ann. Ray and his wife are very familiar with the area and Mary Ann played the role of Travel Planner and it was she who kept us on the go each day. She did a terrific job and was an integral part of why we had such a great time.

Here are a few of my favorite photos from the trip. There will, of course, be more when I do the restaurant reviews.














Posted in Bella Cena with tags , , , , , , on February 22, 2012 by ballymote

 Bella Cena on a Friday evening. My wife and I along with our friends Gerry and Joann didn’t actually need a reason to be at this restaurant at 15th and Spruce, but we did have one. Their son, Keith, is getting married this coming December and he and his bride to be, Becca, had some sentimental attachment to Bella Cena as it was the scene of some memorable dating moments. Gerry and Joann were considering this BYOB as a possible site for their Rehearsal Dinner.

 I don’t normally read reviews on a restaurant before dining there but for some reason I spent some time reading past reviews on Bella Cena. Most commented that they had no problem with the food but that the service was very uneven. The general consensus seemed to be that this eatery was always appeared to be short two or three servers and that resulted in a sense of chaos. Well, the reviews were correct.

 We spotted our friends and sat with them on entering. Drink service was slooooow and one drink never arrived at all. One of the harried servers suddenly remembered the drink had not arrived but, by that time we had our wines open and it wasn’t that important. It is a nice feature that although Bella Cena has bar service you can bring your own wine with no corkage charge.


While in France in October of last year Gerry and Joann had a case of wine purchased there shipped home. Their bottle tonight was from that shipment. It was a 2005 Chateau  La Castelot, St. Emilion Grand Cru. This one showed leather and earth with hints of dark berry fruit. Certainly a drinkable wine but not outstanding. My wine was a 2006 Oso Vineyards,”Emblem”, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. I confess I knew nothing about this wine at the time. I have since learned that Emblem is the creation of the father and son team of Michael and Rob Mondavi. It was well-balanced with some nice blueberry and caramel notes with flashes of earth and vanilla. The wine retails for $50.00.

 My entree selection was the New York Strip Steak served sizzling on a terracotta stone topped with provolone cheese and served with a side of gnocchi in a marinara sauce ( a little out-of-place with my steak, I thought) and some kind of green veggie. The meal was OK. I did like that the hot stone kept the meat warm throughout the meal and when Gerry set a nice portion of his risotto on a small plate for me it eventually got cold and I was able to heat it up by placing it on the magic stone. The portion was large enough that I was able to bring enough home for another meal.

 Gerry had the Lamb Shank served over a bed of saffron risotto.

The wives had a shrimp dish and, I believe, the tilapia.

We finished off our meal with some desserts mine was an orange sorbet.

 Overall, the food was OK and the service erratic. The strange thing was it seemed to us that the service would be easily fixed with just a few adjustments but the reviews pointing out these flaws go back several years so it may just be that it really is hard to teach an old dog new tricks. The final decision was that Gerry and Joann will not be holding the Rehearsal Dinner at Bella Cena.


Posted in The Silverspoon with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 20, 2012 by ballymote

 Along with my wine-drinking buddies, Gerry and John, we have scoured Philly’s Main Line for interesting BYOB’s for our monthly wine dinners. We are not quite sure how we missed the Silverspoon all this time but we are certainly glad we found it last Thursday night. It’s not like The Silverspoon is hiding, or that it’s location requires guide dogs and a new GPS. It’s located in the Eagle Village Shoppes on Lancaster Avenue in Wayne, PA.

 On Thursday last, we were among several tables for our 6:00 P.M. seating. The restaurant has a pleasant, homey feel and our waitress, Caroline, welcomed us and provided us each with three wine glasses prior to opening our wines for the evening.

 As usual, we had some nice wines to enjoy with our meal. The very dark bottle on the left belonged to John. He has a tendency to bring very heavy, dark bottles because, apparently, someone told him that they LOOK expensive. This particular dark, heavy bottle was the 2006, Ehlers, “1886” , Napa Valley, Cabernet. This one scores well on Cellar-Tracker (almost a 93 average) and was the heaviest wine of the evening showing great color and dark flavors that mellowed a bit as dinner progressed. Gerry brought the 2005, E. Guigal, Chateauneuf du Pape with its classic Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre combo that was drinking quite well with our meal. My contribution was the 2009, EnRoute, “Les Pommiers”, Russian River Valley, Pinot Noir. Nice flavors on this one with evidence of tart cherries and baking spices with a nicely balanced smooth finish. The EnRoute Pinot Noir is made by the folks who make the excellent Far Niente wines. This one went especially well with each of my dishes.

 I almost feel a bit silly in raving over a $4.00 “starter” that was simply Sweet Potato Chips with a smoky blue cheese dip. These little tempting morsels of goodness were absolutely perfection on a plate. The chips looked so delicate and yet they held together well enough to absorb the “dip” which was out of this world. I seriously considered ordering a repeat and I have thought about this treat every day since we have been there. What a pleasant way to begin a meal!

    Gerry began with a Mushroom Bisque, seasoned croutons and an orange-fennel oil. He thought the soup was great. John had a dish of the marinated mixed olives. I have a picture of it but, seriously, it’s just a dish of mixed olives so use your imagination.

 If you thought I went slightly ga ga over the sweet potato chips (and maybe I did), you will find it hard to believe that my salad was, quite possibly, the most delicious salad I have ever eaten. That is an amazing compliment coming from me who was totally convinced that there were few things better on this earth than a fresh chunk of iceberg lettuce, with just the right amount of Maytag Blue Cheese dressing and smothered with tangy bacon bits and ripe tomatoes.

 This one at The Silverspoon was baby arugula, honey roasted pears, goat cheese and herb vinaigrette. Wow, I savored each fantastic bite of this salad. My entree had not even made an appearance and I knew I could go home happy from this dining experience.

 My entree was good. I know that sounds like faint praise after my starter and my salad but it would have been nearly impossible to surpass those two items. Had they not been so superlative, this sentence might have started  “my entree was really good.” I ordered the Hazelnut-crusted trout, red bliss potatoes, haricot verts, sherry pommery mustard sauce. The fish was tender and flaky, the mustard sauce a great enhancer of the fish and the potatoes and green beans good. If I might throw in a very minor complaint, I would have preferred a few more red bliss potatoes on the dish. I ran out of what was there long before my trout disappeared. John gave me some of his garlic fries which was a help.

 This would be where his garlic fries that he shared with me came from. It’s the Tender Baby Filet of Beef with port wine shallot and smoked blue cheese butter with exotic mushrooms and house-cut garlic fries. For some reason, John didn’t use the port wine shallot sauce or the smoked blue cheese butter through the first half of his meal. I think he was trying to “eat healthy”. When he gave in to temptation and added those items to his filet, I think he really enjoyed the second half of his meal. I know the fries were delicious.

 Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Gerry was devouring his entree, the Lamb Crepenette (I heard Caroline describing what this was but it was lost on me), with green onion pureed potatoes and haricot verts. Gerry thoroughly enjoyed his dinner choice.

                Although none of us needed it, we ended our meal with a dessert, an espresso flavored Pot de Creme. It was rich and flavorful and left us with little room to breathe. All three of us were absolutely thrilled with our discovery of The Silverspoon. The menu is interesting and diverse and Chef Tim Courtney, a graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, should be rightfully proud of what he creates each evening at this excellent Main Line BYOB.


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 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 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 333 Belrose with tags , , , , , on January 21, 2012 by ballymote

 This was another restaurant I had wanted to try for some time. I pass it every day on my way to work and, more importantly, my nephew works in the kitchen helping to prepare each days menu. Four couples converged on this Main Line eatery in late November. We had to scramble to find a parking space but that may be due to the fact they had two VERY large parties, one of 40 and the other 32, dining there at that time. Our table for eight was located and the only deterrent was the noise but that might be expected when 40 family members are gathered to celebrate a birthday just a few feet from our table.


333 Belrose, not being a BYOB, we perused the wine list (most bottles coming in at about 3 times retail) and selected a couple of bottles of the 2008 Chappallet, Mountain Cuvee, a blend of cabernet and merlot that offers rich fruit flavor with hints of cinnamon and other spices. It went well with all of the entrees chosen and on its own.









 Several in our party selected the Wood Grilled Jail Island Salmon with garlic mashed potatoes and broccolini. I thought the fish was tender and cooked to perfection and the sauce added just the right additional flavor. The garlic mashed potatoes were sumptuous.





 Those who didn’t opt for the salmon gravitated toward the Char-grilled Filet Mignon. Some had it as pictured here with steak fries. My wife substituted the fries for blue cheese mashed potatoes which she raved about. She gave me a sample and although they were good I thought the intense blue cheese flavor slightly overpowered the meat. But, hey, what do I know??





 My nephew popped out of the busy kitchen just long enough to present our table with a complimentary sampling of some of their excellent desserts. We all shared a couple of plates of their New Orleans style bread pudding with a warm whiskey sauce, a flourless chocolate cake with raspberry sauce and creme fraiche and a third tasty item that I don’t quite remember its name.




Overall, it was an excellent evening. The noise died down somewhat and what could have been a kitchen disaster with 70 to 80 orders arriving at the same time was handled flawlessly by the staff. 333 Belrose is certainly a Philly Main Line  restaurant that deserves more frequent visits.