Archive for Northern Liberties


Posted in BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Philly BYOB Reviews, Sonata Restaurant, Wine Dinners with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 22, 2010 by ballymote

Quite honestly, until I made our reservation a few weeks ago, I had never even heard of Sonata.  I was searching for a place in the Northern Liberties section of Philly and I stumbled across their website which, by the way, is very well done. Once the reservation was made I started reading reviews on Sonata. They were overwhelmingly positive. The more I read the higher my expectations grew and I couldn’t help feeling I was going to be disappointed. I was not!  Sonata is a great BYOB.

From the moment we walked in, when our server, Kate, greeted us enthusiastically, opened our wines, brought us additional glasses and was there to field any and all questions with a killer smile, I had a hunch it was going to be a good evening.. There were six of us in attendance, My wife, Kathy, and myself, our lifelong friends, Gerry and Joann B. and their neighbors, Tim and Linda G.

Sonata has a roomy feel as the tables are spaced nicely providing an open feel. The decor is simple with musical wall decor keeping with the theme of the place. There is outdoor dining in the busy Liberty Walk plaza. We had some great wines with us to enhance our meal.

My wife had some interest in trying a Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo so I had a 2007 Cataldi Madonna, Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo, this 100% Nebbiolo wine was the lightest of the group and went well with some of the fish and seafood entrees. My other wine was a 2007 Angel’s Landing, Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon. This checked in at 14.6% alcohol and had an unusual nose of rose petals, lavender and forest grass mingling with the blackberry and currants. It had a smooth mouthfeel and I felt it was the best of the night despite being outpriced by Gerry’s two wines. His first was the 2005 Silverado, Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon. The familiar Silverado “clove” was present along with rich currants and licorice and some dark chocolate highlights. Silverado seldom disappoints. His other wine was a delicious meritage, the 2005 St. Clements “Oroppas”, Napa Valley. Primarily Cab with a small amount of Merlot, the “Oroppas” got 91 points from Parker and I would concur; a very nice wine. Tim and Linda, who were a little late in arriving and had to fight the “find a parking space battle” just as we did, had with them a current PA State Store Chairman’s Selection, the 2007 Shannon Ridge, Reserve, Barbera, Lake County, CA. The Barbera grape doesn’t ripen until late in the growing season and this gives the wine a tangy, strawberry zest that provided a nice option to the rest of our cabs.

Meanwhile, back at the menus, mouths were watering as we contemplated our choices. We all started with one of the many tempting appetizers. Joann chose the lobster crepes / fennel / mascarpone / lobster glace . The three crepes were nicely presented and having had a taste I can tell you they were excellent.

Gerry had the seared foie gras / preserved black currant / brioche puree / cashew crumble. He declared it was right up there with the best foie gras he has had anywhere. That seems like pretty high praise.

My wife ordered the scallop crudo / preserved lemon / chive / vanilla salt. It was nicely presented with delicate thin slices of scallop. She thought the lemon was a nice topping but it just wasn’t her favorite way to have scallops.

Tim and Linda both selected the frisee and arugula salad / serrano ham / braised artichoke / piquillo pepper / shellbark goat cheese. It was alos nicely presented and they both seemed to enjoy it. Personally, I have had my last frisee. I realize it may be the latest rage in garden greens but it just doesn’t work for me. It’s too rough and hard to swallow. I certainly had no complaints about my appetizer choice. I had read so many glowing reviews about the pork belly at Sonata that even though I had never had pork belly before I was determined to break that streak here and now. The crispy pork belly / smoked tomato marmalade / compressed apple/ calvados molasses was wonderful. The combination of tastes and textures was perfect and for me this was the perfect beginning to the meal.

Throughout our dinner, the lovely Alex was assisting Kate and making sure our water glasses remained full and that  we were enjoying our Sonata experience. You could tell from both of them that they felt a pride in the restaurant and truly cared that each diner was taken care of in a personal manner.

Selecting just one item from a menu where everything sounds so enticing was no easy chore. Joann never hesitated from her first choice and had the butter poached lobster “mac and cheese” / fresh paparadelle noodle / fontina cheese. Nice pieces of tender, perfectly done lobster in a rich sauce. She shared a small portion with me and it was really excellent.

I had mentioned to my wife that in reading the reviews there had been more than one person that declared the salmon at Sonata to be the best they had ever had in any restaurant. That was enough to have her try it as she really enjoys nicely prepared salmon. The seared salmon / grilled asparagus / fennel orange salad / blood orange vinaigrette was attractively presented and Kathy thought it was excellent although not the absolute best she has ever had. Hey, nothing wrong with finishing in the top three!

Gerry was torn between a couple of different entrees and he purposely waited to see what I was going to order. Once I settled on the chicken he went for the double-cut colorado lamb chop / braised lamb shoulder strudel / fava bean / potato / baby almond. The dish looked perfect and Gerry thought it tasted the same way.

I could not have been happier with my choice. The pan roasted bacon wrapped chicken / boursin whipped potato / english peas / glazed cipolini onion were like a dance team who had worked together to perfect their steps. The chicken was tender and full of great flavor. The onion provided a nice addition to the mouth-watering potato and although I previously had never met a pea that I liked, I can no longer say that. The peas were amazing. You could have won a sizeable wager from me prior to last night that I would ever write the words “the peas were amazing”!

If you are thinking that the handsome young man pictured here was the guy who valet parked our cars, you would be totally mistaken. Mark Tropea is the guy responsible for not only the “amazing peas” but the amazing meal. A 2002 graduate of the Restaurant School, Mark is creating culinary classics on a nightly basis at this soon to be discovered Northern Liberties location. It’s obvious from the presentation and food quality that Mark knows what he is doing. He makes sure that he visits every table to insure their satisfaction with the meal. Not only are the entree and appetizers first class, the desserts are equally wonderful. They are light and flavorful and the perfect ending to your meal.


 Pictured above are our dessert selections. A trio of sorbets; carrot cake / coconut mousse / pineapple sauce / cream cheese sorbet / spiced walnut crumble and something called chocolate decadence / warm chocolate beignet / chocolate hazelnut “chipwich“ . All were delicious. As a final note we were presented with some complimentary chocolates just in case the desserts didn’t fully satisfy our sweet toothes. As you may have guessed, the chocolates were “melt in your mouth” delicious.

As I mentioned at the start of this review, I went to Sonata with high expectations. That is not always a good approach to anything. Expectations are not always met. Sonata came through. It’s an excellent BYOB and I am sure we will be back. The real trick, from what I have seen, is meeting expectations when you bring the next group of friends that have heard you rave about a restaurant. My guess is that Mark Tropea and Sonata will be able to meet those high expectations.


Posted in BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Modo Mio Restaurant, Philly BYOB Reviews, Wine Dinners with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 8, 2010 by ballymote

In a TV commercial for The Olive Garden chain of restaurants, there is a tagline that says “when you’re here, you’re family” Last night, eight of us dined at Modo Mio on W. Girard Avenue in Philly and we were made to feel like family. More importantly, we loved the food!

It was the same group from our “Winter Weekend in Avalon”, we had just taken in the BodyWorld display at the Franklin Institute, and had chosen Modo Mio for dinner based on a visit I had there last summer. We had a very early 5:00 P.M. reservation and were the first party to arrive at the restaurant. Modo Mio features a four course $35.00 Tasting Menu  (Menu Tourista) and although items are priced individually on the menu, this Tasting Menu makes the most sense. It includes items from the Antipasti, Pasta, Secondi (meat entrees) and Dessert. The Contorni (various veggies or potatoes) can be ordered for the table at $5.00 per item. The system makes sense and offers a wide variety of choices in each category.

Did we bring any wine with us? We most certainly did! We had five wines with everyone of them being a winner.  Left to right below we have the 2008 Punto Final, Malbec,the  2005 B Cellars “Blend 25” Cabernet/Syrah, the 2007 Copain Syrah “Tous Ensemble”, Mendocino County, the 2005 Frank Family Napa Cabernet and the 2007 B Side Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s unusual when five wines are equally appealing and even more unusual to have everyone agree with that assessment. I think our entire table felt the same way. Each wine delivered great flavor, true to its varietal and went well with the hardy Italian food. Ahhhhh, the food, where do I start?

Well, most of the table chose to start with an item that was NOT on the regular menu, a crab and marscapone cake with truffle and fennel sauce. If this was a preview of what was to come we were REALLY going to enjoy our meal.

Caryl G.. had this item to the left and it looked and tasted unusual in a good way. It was called Frico, fried Montasio cheese, potatoes, porcini mushroom conservata. I tasted it though and liked it. A few people had the mussels which were offered in red or white sauce, spicy or plain. A couple of the guys were begging for more bread to dip in the sauces, our waiter, Maher, would politely refuse saying he didn’t want them to fill up on bread, and then he would discreetly have additional bread delivered to those who requested it. Maher was a pleasure the entire evening.

Now it was time for the pasta dish with the majority of the table opting for the Lasagna della Nonna, grandmother’s lasagna with sausage and meatballs, hard cooked egg, raisins and mozzarella (yes that DOES say raisins). This was delicious! It had a certain sweetness, probably something to do with the raisins and if you are thinking, “I don’t want sweetness in my lasagna”, and I wouldn’t blame you for thinking that, you just have to try this dish to see just how good it was, and all of us agreed.

The non-lasagna group all chose the Bucatini Amartriciano, thick, hollow spaghetti, spicy plum tomato, Pecorino Romano. The key phrase here is SPICY plum tomato. My wife Kathy thought the spicy should possibly be changed to “blazing fire in your mouth” plum tomato. I think I had this pasta on my first visit. It’s one of those dishes where you keep your wine and water glass at the ready and keep eating while your mouth begs you to cease input but it’s just too good to stop.

My entree for the evening was also from the “specials” list, Mariale, grilled pork tenderloin, gorgonzolla fonduta, cabbage, agrodolce and walnuts. The combination of flavors was wonderful with the Contorni we had chosen for the table (roasted rosemary potatoes, broccoli rabe with garlic and lemon and egg-battered cauliflower with parmesan and lemon) adding just the right touch to complete the meal.

A couple of our more adventurous diners selected another of the evenings “specials”, the Orata, a white fish similar to Bronzino, oven roasted with fresh lemon, olive oil, capers and herbs. They seemed happy with their choice and I heard no complaints. Gerry and Kathy had the veal cheeks. On the menu it was listed as Guance, veal cheeks, chef’s choice, trust him. They trusted him and had no regrets.

Kathy B. chose the Gatto, potato and eggplant torta, broccoli rabe, fresh mozzarella and hazelnut brown butter. The addition of the eggplant would exclude it from my own choice but Cathy found it excellent and that’s what counts.

As we finished our meal, Gerry, John G. and John B. stepped outside for their ritual after-dinner cigar. While there they encountered chef/owner, Peter McAndrews who was returning from Paesano’s, a sandwich shop across the street that he also owns. Paesano’s is not just ANY sandwich shop. It has garnered rave reviews from a number of different critics and “Best of” honors from a few different sites for their unusual and tasty sandwich creations. McAndrews has recently opened a second Paesano’s at 9th and Christian in the Italian Market.

Pictured here are John B. from our dinner party with Chef Peter McAndrews and our server for the evening, Maher.  Chef was nice enough to spend a few minutes chatting with us and telling us all about Modo Mio and his other culinary ventures. We ended the meal with a couple trays

of all of their desserts as a “sampler”. It would be hard to pick one over the other as they were all delicious. The flourless chocolate cake was my personal favorite. As I mentioned earlier, we really did feel like family during our dinner experience at Modo Mio. Chef McAndrews certainly demonstrated that an Irishman can cook Italian and do it well.

The food and atmosphere at Modo Mio are first class. Do yourself a favor and make reservations for this outstanding BYOB in the Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia.

I neglected to mention that Chef McAndrews treated our entire table to a round of Sambuco providing the perfect exclamation point to a great meal.