Archive for South Philly


Posted in August Restaurant, BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Wine Dinners with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 25, 2010 by ballymote

The first good thing I can say about August is that for some reason, unbeknownst to me, you can always find a fairly convenient parking spot despite its location in the 1200 block of South 13th Street in the Bella Vista section of South Philadelphia. It also helps that the food is pretty damn good. This cash-only BYOB isn’t fancy but there is an atmosphere of congeniality and care that owners, MaryAnn Brancaccio and Maria Vanni have managed to create.

Our server, Adrienne, was both patient and attentive, especially in light of the fact that half of our party of 6 were nearly 30 minutes late in arriving. She opened our wines and when we were finally settled, recited the evening specials. I would describe the offerings at August as Italian with a twist. There are always a few items that seem to stray from the heart of Italian cooking yet they receive an infusion of the country just the same. We had a bevy of nice wines for the evening and much to discuss over our meal as we went over our itinerary for our San Francisco/Napa trip which is now less than seven days away. I brought with me a 2007 Ancient Peaks, Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles, CA. I had read a lot about this wine mostly from e-mails sent from a west coast wine shop. I had been looking for it here on the East Coast for over a year and I stumbled across it at Wine Works in Marlton, NJ. It has all the full flavors of a fruit-filled cab without those big Napa Cab prices. Joe had stopped at Salina Liquors and picked up a 2006 Bodega Renacer Punta Final, Riserva Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina. This one offered great value with full Malbec flavors and a smooth finish. Gerry had two wines. His first was a 2006 Perrin et Fils, Vacqueyras Les Christins. I loved the sweet nose on this one with strawberries and roses coming through. On the palate there was plenty of red fruit in a silky smooth package. His other wine was another California Cab. This one was the 2007 Rush Vineyards, Napa Valley Cabernet. Once again, a nice dark cherry and chocolate nose and the taste pleasant enough but with all of the really good Napa Cabs that Gerry drinks this one falls a little short of the others.

Left to right are Carol B.’s “August rolls”, two vegetarian spring rolls with a tangy dipping sauce, JoAnn B’s Spinach Salad and Gerry B.’s Shrimp sauteed with garlic and chili oil. All of the choices are just the right portion to serve as a nice prelude to the main course.

My wife, Kathy, ordered the raviolis with mushrooms and brown truffle butter sauce and I was happy with my choice of the angel hair pasta aioli with capers; made even better when Gerry poured his left over sauce on top of the remainder of my dish adding a potent garlic flavor to the pasta.

Adrienne was nice enough to write down the “specials” for me as one of the difficulties of writing a food blog is trying to remember what went into the specials. It’s easy enough to go to the restaurants web site for entrees from their regular memo but those specials always create a special problem. Hey, maybe that’s why they are called “specials”!!

Kathy and Carol both had the Pan Seared Pork Chop with maple mashed sweet potatoes and broccoli rabe. The chop looked to be cooked perfectly and seasoned well and I think both of them enjoyed their selection.

Gerry was thinking “Steak” all the way as there was a pepper-crusted filet as one of the “specials”. He changed his mind at the last-minute, most likely because it was a filet rather than a sirloin or T-bone, and went with my 2nd choice, and Joe B’s first choice, the Pan seared striped bass with a chipotle buerre blanc with shrimp and chorizo risotto. It sounded delicious and would have most certainly been on a plate in front of me had they not tempted me into selecting the Meatloaf  served on a bed of creamy mashed potatoes and sauteed zuccini. I’m a sucker for meatloaf on any menu. It’s just something about the good old American comfort food of meat and potatoes. I realize it’s not very adventurous but it’s something that when done well, makes for a great dinner. This one was done well and I was totally happy with my choice

JoAnn had the Penne pasta with jumbo shrimp sauteed with garlic, white beans and asparagus in extra virgin olive oil with a touch of tangy marinara sauce. Yikes, I take back what I said about this not being a true Italian cuisine. She thought the dish was full of flavor and well prepared.

We spent a lot of time discussing our trip and what we would be doing each day. We have some great winery visits and some spectacular dinners planned and I will be posting the final update here on my blog in the next day or two. Meanwhile, as we chatted, Maria Vanni was out front making sure everything was good with our meal. That’s the kind of personal touch that so many places forget and it’s one of the things that builds loyal and repeat customers.

We topped off our meal with most of our group sharing a couple of pieces of the house signature dessert, Aunt Leena’s Cheesecake, a very light cream cheese cake dusted with a cinnamon. I was the lone wolf who opted for the Affogato, vanilla ice cream served in a shot of espresso and topped with a sambuca whipped cream. I’m not sure if I ordered this because I thought it would taste good or I just liked saying “AFFFFogatttoooo”. Whatever the reason, I was pleased with my choice. It was delicious and unique; great flavors and the perfect ending to a good meal.

There are many choices for dining in South Philly. August can certainly be recommended as an excellent pick for fine food and service.


Posted in BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Philly BYOB Reviews, Ristorante Pesto, Wine Dinners with tags , , , on January 26, 2010 by ballymote

It’s a little unusual to head out for a wine dinner on a Monday night but when you are accompanied by 4 unusual people it all makes sense! Frank, Steve, Ange and Val all showed up at Ristorante Pesto at 1915 S. Broad Street for another of the Oakview Survivor dinners. We have been doing this for about 3 years now and this core group always finds the time to enjoy a great meal and even better conversations.

After achieving the South Philly “impossible dream” of finding suitable parking we were seated and looking over the menu when Rita, no relation to lovely Rita, Meter Maid, from the Fab Four days, who was our server, appeared to give us her rendition of the evening specials. Rita, while opening three bottles of wine, rattled off 6 appetizers and 10 to 12 entree items in perfect rhythm without missing a word. It was an impressive performance.

As we ordered soup and appetizers, and patiently waited for the notoriously late Crown Prince of Doo Wop, we retold neighborhood stories for perhaps the 200th time. They never seem to lose their bizarre appeal. Frank D. had the vegetable soup and we toasted each other with our wines. Ange had brought with him the 2006 Calera, Pinot Noir; Frank had the 2007 Berco do Infante, Riserva while I had one of my wife’s favorites, the 2007 La Posta, Bizella Family Vineyard, Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina. I would list here what Steve J. had except that I fear guilt by association, so it will remain nameless except that I might hint that it was white and it claims to be “the biggest selling Italian wine in America”, which speaks volumes for American taste buds! 

It was about this time that Val arrived.  I was finishing up my  Braciolettini (Rita’s spelling), thin slices of beef wrapped with seasoned bread crumbs and mozzarella cheese then grilled. This was a prefect way to start off the meal; nicely done pieces of beef covering gooey cheese.  Val thought it looked good and ordered the same thing himself.

Here is Val explaining to all of us that he would have been here an hour ago had a customer not offered him $1.50 for an old “45” record that Val insisted he had to have $2.00 for or he would feel his entire career as a purveyor of “oldies” had been wasted. Fortunately, the client raised his offer to $1.75 and Val reluctantly agreed.

As I am writing this I am thinking back and remembering just how good my entree was. The Chicken Bolognese, chicken breast topped with prosciutto and sweet cheese and baked in a marsala wine sauce. This was served with “family style” spinach and roasted potatoes for the table. The combination of meat and veggies with perfectly roasted potatoes was wonderful.

I had been to Ristorante Pesto once before and forgot how good it could be.

Val had the Veal Francaise, veal medallions, egg battered and topped with a hearty portion of crab meat in a lemon butter sauce. Ange and Frank ordered the Bronzino, similar to sea bass, and stuffed with tender mussels, clams, shrimp and crabmeat and baked in a light tomato sauce. Steve selected the Veal Mare Monti, veal medallions topped with prosciutto, mozzarella cheese and jumbo shrimp in a mushroom demi-glaze.

Everyone approved of their food and our hostess, Jackie grabbed my camera to capture the satisfaction apparent in our faces. Fortunately, the picture is a little dark and it is not likely that the authorities will be able to issue any outstanding warrants based on what can be seen here.  Our server, Rita, brought the co/owner-chef, Claudio Conigliaro, from the kitchen, so that his image could be captured for posterity on my blog. As you can see, the quality of this photo is somewhat better so that I hope both Rita and Claudio are warrant-free. We thanked Claudio for a great meal and Rita for her exemplary service. We topped off the meal with a couple of desserts which we shared.

The Oreo Ice Cream Cake was a perfect ending to a culinary masterpiece and even though there is no picture of the home- made Tiramisu you’ll have to take my word that it was equally good.

Once again, not every BYOB chooses to open on Monday evenings, last night there were five degenerates from Oakview that were very glad that Ristorante Pesto was available.