Archive for empanadas

CASONA – BYOB (2nd Review)

Posted in BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Casona (2nd Review), Wine Dinners with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 6, 2010 by ballymote

There is something about Casona that appeals to me. Certainly, part of it is the uniqueness of the spicy Cuban influenced menu. It’s also the enticing wrap-around porch that on a balmy, breezy summer evening can be the perfect setting for a meal. Another part of the draw is the building itself; an imposing Cape May style Victorian that stands alone and seems to serve as a guardian for the many other Collingswood eateries further along Haddon Ave. Some, or all of this, brought us to Casona on a gorgeous Saturday night of Labor Day Weekend. Unfortunately, scores of others had the same idea and we were unable to secure seating at an outside table. We did have the next best thing though, a nice table by the open doorway where the soft breezes were still evident.

Our server, Ivan, was both personable and enthusiastic. He chatted while opening our wines and told us of the lone special for the evening. The regular menu at Casona is chock full of interesting offerings and I don’t think they really need to have many “specials”. These were the wines that the six of us would share with our spicy food.

Joe B. had the 2007 Marchesi De Frescobaldi, Tenuta di Castiglioni, a Super Tuscan. We all liked this wine a lot. It was very food friendly with hints of blackberries and minerals and a velvety finish. It deserves the 93 point rating it received from Wine Spectator. I brought with me one of my wife, Kathy’s favorite wines. The 2007 Angel’s Landing, Stag’s Leap District,  Napa Cab. We had this a few months ago at Sonata in Northern Liberties and she had been wanting to try another bottle since then. Everyone seemed to enjoy it and the smooth taste of red and black berries and ripe cherries with a hint of licorice and chocolate make this a tremendous value at under $20.00. Jerry C. always has something a bit unusual and tonight was no different with a 2007 Chateau Morrisette, The Black Dog, Red Blend. If you guessed that Chateau Morrisette was in Bordeaux you’d be off a little as it is located in Floyd, Virginia. The Black Dog is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Chambourcin and is light with smooth tannins. One of the problems with the fare served at Casona is that the spices tend to overpower the wines and if the food wasn’t so good that would be a very big problem.

Kathy and I each chose as our appetizer, the Cuban Pizza, – Chicken, Creole  tomato sauce, chorizo & cheese 6.95. Kathy thought it was very good, I felt that very good didn’t go far enough in defining just how REALLY good this was. I could have gone with a 2nd one as an entree. The flavors were awesome.

What Kathy thought was even better than her Cuban Pizza was Carol B.’s Empanadas de Carne, – Ground beef with
peppers  & onion  6.95
Carol wasn’t terribly phased that she had actually ordered Empanados De Pollo because the beef was tasting great. Her dish came with guacamole and sour cream for dipping.

Jerry and Joe were persuaded by Ivan to try the  Tomato Soup, served with toasted bread and parmesan cheese $6.50. They both thought it was good but I saw them eyeing our other appetizers and felt they might wait for Ivan outside and end his career as an Appetizer Suggester.

Sue C. went with the Pico di Gallo, Tomato, red onion, cilantro, roasted jalapeno, lime juice & olive oil served with corn tortillas or mariquita $5.95. I didn’t take a picture because it was only chips and salza but the salza was spicy hot and required keeping your water glass within reach. Speaking of which, not to nitpick but, with food as spicy as that served at Casona, it becomes very important that the servers and busboys keep an eye on water glasses. On this night, they were not attentive to this chore. On a previous visit we were told that there would be a $1.00 charge for additional chips. They have since, thankfully, done away with this infuriating charge.

For their entrees, both Kathy and Carol selected the Lechon Asado Citrus-marinated pork, slow
roasted Cuban-style with white rice
& maduros 20.95
I think I had ordered this on our last visit. I didn’t hear any complaints on this choice but, by the same token, I did not hear either of them gushing ecstatic over their choice.
Sue stayed in the pork family and ordered the Chuletoe de Cerdo Pork Chop with mashed sweet potato,
guava sauce & asparagus 21.50. Her chop was nicely done and she enjoyed her dish. It looked like a very nice presentation; colorful and appealing.
I stayed with chicken after enjoying the pizza and went with the Chicken Moluteno Grilled chicken breast marinated in
mole sauce with chilaquiles queso fresco topping with cilantro, cherry tomato
& red onion sauce 20.95
There was a nice blend of flavors in this semi-spicy dish and it didn’t disappoint. I wouldn’t rank it up there with the great chicken dishes of all time but it was fine.Jerry and Joe put their heads together and decided they were in the mood for a little bit of everything. The perfect choice for them was the Paella, Casona Signature Dish
Saffron rice, bay scallops, clams,
mussels, shrimp, chorizo &
 chicken breast, calamari,
green peas, lobster
for one   28.95
for two  52.95
They both worked diligently at the huge dish and did their best to finish as much as they could. They still had some to take home. Joe put a little on my bread dish and I think I shared their view that, although it was good, it could have been better with an addition of flavor. For as many things in the entree, it was lacking in bright flavors and slightly bland.

Overall, it was  a nice experience at Casona. A beautiful night, good wines, good food, good conversation in a nice setting. Nothing wrong with that.


Posted in BYOB Restaurant Reviews, El Sitio Grill and Cafe, South Jersey BYOB Reviews, Wine Dinners with tags , , , , , , , , on June 21, 2010 by ballymote

El Sitio occupies the corner spot in Collingswood which once housed Word of Mouth. It has a South American flair with heavy emphasis on steak. They have another location is Quito, Ecuador where the parking might be easier but getting there is another story.

Our Friday night crowd had been wanting to try this place for some time so I was happy when Sue and Jerry C. suggested it for dinner last Friday evening. Carol and Joe B. joined us and after finding a parking spot Jerry and I joined the others in the bright lime green eatery. I had seen several reviews rave about the bread and mushroom offering that preceded the meal but it somehow never arrived at our table and since I am not a mushroom aficionado, I wasn’t terribly upset at missing it. Our server, Nissa, was bubbly and enthusiastic and she recited the evening specials, made some recommendations and opened our wines.

I had brought with me  the 2005 Pine Ridge, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, a full-bodied typical dark fruit cabernet with hints of leather and smoke with a lingering finish. Joe had a 2006 Bosco Dei Cirmioli, Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo, made from the grape of the same name it has subtle cherry and plum flavors and soft tannins.

For our appetizers, the women chose the Grilled Provolone with a dash of olive oil and herbs. It was delivered in a pan with several nice pieces of toasted bread and our wives described it “as a heart attack waiting to happen”. They must have all had suicidal tendencies because they devoured it and thought that despite the gooey danger to their health it was pretty tasty and not a bad way to go. The men chose the Argentinian Style Empanadas stuffed with seasoned chicken or beef. These were accompanied by a nice, tangy dipping sauce and proofed to be a tasty starter. In fact, using that same sauce on the grilled provolone gave that dish an added flair.

While trying to select our entrees, Nissa mentioned more than once that the steaks were “melt in your mouth good”. There were a few to choose from and I went with the Tenderloin filet with Dijon sauce, asparagus spears, a vegetable medley and a baked potato. I had ordered my steak done medium-well and it was delivered in a decidedly medium fashion. I wasn’t as concerned about the undercooking as I was about its lack of flavor. It wasn’t offensive, it just wasn’t memorable and not at all in the “melt in your mouth” category.

Jerry had the Lamb Chops topped with Dijon sauce and a side of mashed potatoes. Kathy had a half-rack of the BBQ Ribs and Joe had a filet with a special sauce made from beer.

Carol and Sue had the highly-touted Lomo Manchego, a sirloin medallion with manchego cheese served on a stone plate with a side of vegetable mix. The dish arrived sizzling hot but they found the manchego portion skimpy and were not overly impressed with the meat.

El Sitio is a pleasant enough dining spot. The employees seem happy working there and the ambiance is fine. It may be that we just caught them on an off-night. We did LOVE the appetizers it’s just that the meal peaked there and the entrees did not live up to the advance billing. The place has some nice reviews on UrbanSpoon so maybe we just picked a less than stellar night. It’s worth trying.