2023 Restaurant Redux

by artfuldiner on January 14, 2024

in Artful Diner Review, Breaking News, Culinary Criticism, Opinion, Review, Wining and Dining

Ivy, The - Interior 1For your dining pleasure, listed below are synopses of the restaurants reviewed during the year 2023. The month appearing in parentheses indicates the month the restaurant’s full review appeared on my blog.

As you will note, I have also included restaurants from my recent travels to London and South Africa, which are well worth visiting and, hopefully, may be of interest to those who enjoy an occasional gastronomically-inspired sojourn (pictured: The Ivy in London).

United States

 BUNHA FAUN (July), 152 Lancaster Avenue, Malvern, Pennsylvania, (610) 651-2836, https://bunhafaun.net: The unassuming exterior notwithstanding (it formerly housed a Dairy Queen), the restaurant’s inner sanctum is attractively and Bunha Faun - Interior 2tastefully appointed… And the cuisine – French fare with a distinctive Asian flair – is lovingly prepared and beautifully presented. Recommended starters include an eye-catching Snow Pea Salad and Oriental Noodles tossed with sesame dressing topped with slivers of chicken and crushed peanuts surrounded by alternating snippets of carrots and broccoli. Entrée-wise, the Filet Mignon wrapped in bacon is excellent; but the Escalope of Veal in an addictive white wine sauce aided & abetted by wild mushrooms & prosciutto is even better. Desserts (mostly trucked in from off campus) are, unfortunately, a low point. And just be prepared. Depending upon the night of your visit, service can be as slow as a herd of turtles. BYOB.

THE CHOICE (March), 845 Lancaster Avenue, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, (484) 383-3230, https://thechoice-restaurant.com: Given the fact that the menu is awash with a host of French and Asian fusion innuendos, you would probably never Choice, The - Scallops in Shredded Filo Doughsuspect that the restaurant is owned by two Ukrainian families. But since well-traveled co-proprietor “Vlad” Hyvel served as sous-chef in London’s Nobu and also put in time at Le Cirque, Alain Ducasse and Jean-Georges, his curious culinary predilections make perfect sense. Matters piscatorial – both preludes and main courses – play a significant role in Mr. Hyvel’s repertoire. Scallops in Shredded Filo (pictured) accompanied by a zippy wasabi cream sauce, for example, were simply irresistible. Ditto the Wild Caught Striped Bass. Wrapped in a crispy potato crust, the filet was served on a seabed of creamy leeks and splashed with a delicate red wine sauce. If the restaurant has a weakness, it is their desserts, which are exceedingly limited and completely lacking in creativity. While dining at The Choice is not an inexpensive proposition, the fact that you may BYOB helps to soften the blow somewhat.

 DI BRUNO BROS. (September), 385 West Lancaster Avenue, Wayne, Pennsylvania, (484) 581-7888, https://dibruno.com/locations/wayne: Located smack dab in the middle of the hustle & bustle of this well-known Philadelphia-based gourmet Di Bruno Interior 1specialty store, the charming little Alimentari Bar/Café is a great place to enjoy a luncheon rendezvous or afternoon snack bolstered by one of the establishment’s creative cocktails. Italian comfort food is the name of the game here, with items such as House of Grilled Cheese Sandwich, Pizza alla Romana, and Spicy Sausage Rigatoni taking center stage. Dolci, “sweets” are somewhat limited, but be sure to try the traditional Affogato al Caffe, vanilla gelato “drowned” in a shot of potent espresso. On the other hand, the pastry department is just a few steps away… Why not make a quick stop and savor your dessert at home.

 LE BERNARDIN (October), 155 West 51st Street, New York, New York, (212) 554-1515, www.le-bernardin.com/: The recipient of three Michelin stars and more culinary honors than you can shake a fork at, if Le Bernardin - Eric Ripertyou appreciate the unmitigated joys of fine dining, Le Bernardin should most assuredly be at the very top your bucket list. Chef de Cuisine/co-owner Eric Ripert’s (pictured) French-inspired piscatorial fare is absolutely incomparable – there is simply no other word for it. And nothing quite measures up to his superlative pan-roasted Dover Sole. Adorned with crisp green olive rings & toasted almonds, the delicate filet is finished with a subtly seductive sherry wine emulsion that gently caresses the object of its affection. The award-winning wine list, curated by wine director Aldo Sohm in collaboration with Chef Ripert, is a thing of beauty; and desserts, under the watchful eye of Executive Chef Orlando Soto, are equally pleasing to both eye and palate. An extraordinary experience that is, indeed, worthy of a journey.

 POMOD’ORO PIZZA & ITALIAN RESTAURANT (May), 200 Chestnut Street, Downingtown, Pennsylvania, (610) 873-0405, www.pomodorodowningtown.com:  Pomod’oro is the younger sibling of Anthony’s Pizza & Italian Restaurant in Malvern. And, like its elder Pomodoro - Cannoli Cake2brother, Pomod’oro is a BYOB majoring in Italian comfort food that sports princely portions at downright paltry prices.  The interior is somewhat utilitarian – unadorned wooden tables, silverware wrapped in paper napkins, hardwood floors, bare windows – but don’t be misled. The dining rooms have a warmth all their own, especially when filled by the restaurant’s loyal and ever-growing clientele, which is most of the time. The menu runs the gamut, from appetizers, soups and salads, pizza, sandwiches, stromboli and calzones, through entrees and signature dishes: chicken or veal prepared Marsala, Piccata, Parmigiana or Cacciatora… But save room for dessert. All are homemade from the bakery located on the premises. My favorite? The incredible Cannoli Cake (pictured). Part creamy cannoli filling, part moist yellow cake, it is both irresistibly decadent and utterly delicious. BYOB.

 SCHAEFER’S CANAL HOUSE (August), 208 Bank Street, Chesapeake City, Maryland, (410) 885-7200, https://www.schaeferscanalhouse.com: Tucked away on the north side of the C&D Canal in the historic town of Chesapeake City, Maryland, Schaefer's Canal House - ExteriorSchaefer’s isn’t exactly a “destination” restaurant. However, should you find yourself traveling along the I-95 corridor between Philly & DC – especially in warmer weather – its considerable charms will surely beckon. And no matter where you happen to be seated, outdoor veranda or dining room, the view of the canal is truly spectacular. Given the restaurant’s strategic waterside location, it’s no surprise that seafood is the name of the game. Start with the incomparably tender Traditional Calamari, for example, and I guarantee you will not be disappointed. From there, you can move on to entrées such as Jambalaya, Grilled Salmon, Parmesan-Crusted Mahi Mahi, or lighter fare like Fish Tacos or Crab Melt. An especially pleasant spot for lunch during the summer months.



 THE AMERICAN BAR (February), Savoy Hotel, The Strand, London, https://www.thesavoylondon.com/restaurant/american-bar: American Bar - Cheese BoardWhen in London, nothing beats a visit to the Savoy’s world-famous American Bar – one of the most iconic cocktail bars in the world. It has been named “World’s Best Bar at Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards 2018 and World’s 50 Best Bars in 2017. Most recently, it was named one of “The World’s 44 Best Hotel Bars” by the Forbes Travel Guide. Luncheon offerings – such as Grilled Dry-Aged USDA Beef Burger, Texas Fried Chicken Strips, and Vegan Reuben Sandwich – feature uniquely British flourishes on All-American Favorites. The American is also a great spot for a late-night snack following an evening at the theater. Gastronomic possibilities include Oysters, Caviar, Coffee & Cupcake, and a New York Deli Platter. We finally settled on the Artisan Cheese Board (pictured), which proved to be an excellent choice.

THE CINNAMON CLUB (February), 30-32 Great Smith Street, London, https://cinnamonclub.com: Sequestered in the former home of the old Westminster Library, just around Cinnamon Club - Interior 2the corner from Parliament and Westminster Abbey, the Cinnamon Club isn’t all that easy to find (there is no exterior sign)… but if you enjoy fine Indian cuisine, it is definitely worth the effort. And, as you may observe from the photo, evidences of the previous occupant are very much in evidence – which only adds to the enjoyment – but it’s the outstanding quality and presentation of the cuisine that clearly places this restaurant in a class by itself. Items such as Chicken Seekh Tawa Masala (minced chicken in a spicy sauce), Masala Corn Kebabs, Corn & Ginger Soup, and Cauliflower & Berkswell Cheese Parcel with Tomato Fenugreek Sauce succeeded in making this a most memorable lunch. And even though desserts are usually not given a second thought in most Indian restaurants, we found the Royal Malai Kulfi (Indian ice cream) with caramelized quinoa & raspberry crip and the Mango Meringue Tart with spiced puffed rice and smoked berry sorbet every bit as extraordinary as their illustrious predecessors.

GALVIN LA CHAPELLE (February), 35 Spital Square, London, https://galvinrestaurants.com/restaurant/galvin-la-chapelle: Located in Galvin La Chapelle - InteriorSt. Boltolph’s Hall, a 19th century former school chapel, the setting – vaulted ceilings, massive pillars, grand buttresses, dark woods & leather furnishings – was, indeed, awe-inspiring (pictured). Unfortunately, the cuisine and service, a Michelin star notwithstanding, were significantly less so. The Foie Gras Terrine, an appetizer garnished with black garlic, caramel vinegar, and fermented cherry, while beautifully presented, was the bland-leading-the-bland. Ditto my dining partner’s entrée of Herdwick Lamb; another triumph of form over substance. Flavor was conspicuous by its absence. On the other hand, my Barbecued Monkfish kissed by an ethereal clam velouté was positively sublime in its simplicity. Desserts – Provence Peach Soufflé and Raspberry & Manjari Chocolate Delicacy – were also quite good. However, apart from the Monkfish – with an “honorable mention” to the desserts – the food, in my opinion, simply wasn’t up to Michelin star standards. And the same was true of the service. Nothing seriously amiss… just out of sync. Our Speedy Gonzales server was in entirely too much of a hurry – to take our orders… to bring wine… to serve the entrées – when there was absolutely no need to be. Especially since we told him we wished to linger over cocktails. An interesting experience. However, as my dining companion so aptly put it: “I don’t think I’d hurry back.”

 THE IVY (February), 1-5 West Street, London, https://the-ivy.co.uk/: Located directly across the street from St. Martin’s Theatre, The Ivy has Ivy, The - Cheese Soufflebeen a West End institution for over a century. The attractive bohemian-style eatery comes replete with a sumptuous flatiron bar, iconic wood paneling, harlequin mullioned windows, and a kitchen that is quite adept at turning out an impressive array of traditional British fare with decidedly innovative touches. Entrées run the gamut… from roasted & grilled items such as Slow Cooked Rabbit Leg & Spring Lamb Cutlets to miso-marinated Black Cod and a rather pricey Dover Sole. My dining partner and I enjoyed two of the house favorites, Deep-Fried Haddock & Chips and Shepherd’s Pie, respectively; and both were excellent. The absolute show-stopper, however, was our shared appetizer, the Twice-Baked Cheese Soufflé (pictured), which was nothing short of extraordinary.

TURNIPS (February), 43, Borough Market, London, https://restaurant.turnipsboroughmarket.com/: Tucked under the historic arches of London’s iconic TurnipsBorough Market, Turnips is a greengrocer selling high quality fruit and vegetables from independent producers across Britain, Europe and beyond… But it is also an haute cuisine restaurant offering patrons seasonally-inspired creative modern dishes featuring world-class vegetables. The restaurant’s small plate selection and tasting menu both showcase a beautifully presented cooking style that follows the micro-seasonality of the ingredients. Definitely high end, but totally accessible, as Chef Lidakevicius’ cuisine remains in perfect harmony with the charmingly casual ambience of the market stall. While sipping glasses of white wine and taking in the seemingly ceaseless flow of human flora & fauna, my dining companion and I were treated to such remarkable luncheon creations as Wild Mushroom Croquette with mozzarella, Sicilian & Provence Outdoor Tomato garnished with walnut & gorgonzola, and Britany Cauliflower crowned with Australian black truffle. Haute cuisine… smack dab in the middle of the bustling Borough Market… Who would have guessed?

 South Africa

CHEFS WAREHOUSE (June), Beau Constantia Wine Farm, Constantia Neck, Cape Town, South Africa, https://www.chefswarehouse.co.za/beau-constantia: Located twenty minutes from Cape Town proper, this modern eatery opened its doors in 2016. Chef's Warehouse - Thai Roast ChickenFrom the outside, the building with its eye-catching cubed glass appears suspended in space. The recently revamped interior boasts an expanded open kitchen and spacious outdoor terrace that affords diners exceptional views of the valley below. Chef Ivor Jones offers a celebration of global flavors with a unique set menu that changes seasonally. Main courses include such intriguing possibilities as Char-Grilled Tuna with Perilla leaves (mint), Nam Phrik (spicy Thai chili sauce) & Szechuan-style cashews; Hakurei Turnip Mille-Feuille garnished with preserved spring flowers, and vadouvan (Indian curry blend of spices) & buttermilk dressing; and Thai Roast Chicken with BBQ cashew nut purée and tamarind dressing (pictured). Fabulous!

DELAIRE GRAFF ESTATE (June), Helshoogte Road, Stellenbosch, South Africa, https://www.delaire.co.za: Following our morning tasting at Stark-Condé Wines, we departed for lunch at Delaire Delaire Graff Estate - TerraceGraff. We wanted to dine alfresco and, once again, Samson, our knowledgeable guide, was right on the money with his suggestion. Shaded by ancient oak trees, the restaurant’s broad wooden terrace provided breathtaking views of vineyards and olive groves from Simonsberg Peak across the Banghoek Valley (pictured)… And the food was every bit as pleasing as the view. Entrées included innovative presentations such as Sweet Potato Gnocchi with wild mushrooms, broccoli, and parmesan velouté; Seafood & Black Risotto awash with langoustine, mussels, prawns, squid, seaweed, tomato, sesame, and roasted red peppers; and Duck Breast accompanied by turnips, fennel prune, and marsala jus. However, since we were scheduled for another wine tasting that afternoon, followed by an upscale dinner, which would include cocktails and wine, we decided that a light luncheon, sans the fruit of the vine, was definitely called for. And an excellent Salad Niçoise, followed by an ethereal but exceedingly flavorful Caramel Tart, filled the bill quite nicely.

 ERNIE ELS WINERY RESTAURANT (June), Annandale Road, Stellenbosch, South Africa, https://ernieelswines.com/restaurant: Ernie Els Winery Restaurant - TerraceFollowing a morning wine tasting, it was but a short drive to South African golfer Ernie Els Winery Restaurant for lunch. This was another eatery highly recommended by our guide, and we certainly were not disappointed.

The building itself was quite impressive: a charming open-plan space that extended out onto a spacious terrace, offering incredible views of Stellenbosch and the Helderberg Mountains (pictured). The cuisine, made with a host of fresh, locally-sourced ingredients, was quite hearty. My Roasted Butternut Squash and Goat Cheese Feta Salad, for example, came replete with an intriguing cashew nut praline, baby leaf greens, pickled onions, and was finished with a first-rate citrus dressing. My traveling companion was perfectly satisfied with her Roasted Local Vegetable & Pecorino Tagliatelle, and Samson, our guide, had nothing but praise for his Beef Filet. An excellent glass of the winery’s Chenin Blanc proved the perfect complement to my salad.

FOODBARN CAFÉ & TAPAS (June), Noordhoek Farm Village, Village Lane, Cape Town, South Africa, https://www.thefoodbarn.co.za: After a morning of sightseeing, we paused for lunch at the Foodbarn Café & Foodbarn & Tapas - ExteriorTapas. Aptly named, this super-casual eatery is set in a renovated barn with high-thatched ceiling, bare wooden tables, and modern lighting fixtures. But don’t be fooled by the laid-back ambience, as the subtle French-influenced cuisine is beautifully prepared and generously portioned. So much so that Fodor’s referred to the Foodbarn as “probably the best restaurant on the Cape Peninsula.” We dined alfresco and enjoyed the Calamari and Mushroom Ravioli, respectively, then shard a luscious Rhubarb Crème Brûlée for dessert. I should also add that first-rate, reasonably-priced wine pairings and stellar service completed the picture. Definitely a gastronomic high point.

FYN RESTAURANT (June), 5th Floor, Speakers Corner, Parliament Street, Cape Town, South Africa, http://fynrestaurant.com: Fyn Restaurant – pronounced “Fain” – made its debut in 2018 and Fyn Restaurant 1has been making waves on the global gastronomic scene ever since. In 2022, it broke into the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list at number 37… picking up the Best Restaurant in Africa award at the same time. At its core, the menu is completely Japanese, utilizing fresh fish, poultry, and meat from the best of Cape Town’s farms and fisheries. The menu included intriguing starters like Guinea Fowl Wonton and Ostrich Egg Chawanmushi (savory egg custard) before moving on to such delicacies as Cape Malay King Trout with smoked barley and curry vinaigrette, Rooibos (a South African red herbal tea) Smoked Sashimi, and Roast Duck Breast with lacquered onion & hijiki, sancho pepper & lacto blueberries. Dessert…? Ethiopian Ice Cream with yuzu (citrus fruit sauce). By the way, if you arrive before sunset, the views of Lion’s Head and Table Mountain from the triple-height windows are truly spectacular.

LA PETITE COLOMBE (June), Leeu Estates, Dassenberg Road, Franschhoek, South Africa, https://lapetitecolombe.restaurant: Part of the Leeu Collection stable of fine restaurants, La Petite La Petite Colombe - Karoo LambColombe is nestled in the midst of vineyards and manicured landscapes, offering diners extraordinarily beautiful views of the Franschhoek Valley and Franschhoek Pass… And the delicious cuisine, I can assure you, is every bit as photogenic as the scenery. The adventure begins with cocktails and “snacks” in the lounge before being called to table. Innovation is definitely the name of the game here, including a host of ingredients – many indigenous to South Africa – that will send you scrambling for an epicurean dictionary. The high point was clearly the Karoo Lamb (pictured), which is considered by many the best lamb in South Africa. Raised in a semi-desert area, the sheep feed mainly on the indigenous flora, which is extremely nutritious and responsible for the lamb’s unique favor. Dessert, a luscious Vanilla Panna Cotta, was garnished with gooseberry and tonka (a bean with a nutty vanilla flavor that is illegal in the US). An array of chocolates from the Sweets Trolley provided an ever-so-decadent finishing touch.

PROTÉGÉ (June), 18 Huguenot Street, Franschhoek, South Africa, https://protege.restaurant/: Tucked away in Le Quartier Francais, a Protegecharmingly rustic little hostelry in the heart of the wine country, Protégé describes itself as “an informal eatery featuring stylish casual fare.” The setting is quite informal, as patrons may dine alfresco or watch the chefs at work in the central open kitchen. The food, however, is anything but. Calling it “stylish casual fare” is, indeed, an understatement… And that is not meant to be a knock, as the Asian, French, and Italian nuanced cuisine dished out in trendy small plates is perfectly prepared, beautifully presented, and more than just a touch innovative. Gastronomic esoterica such as BBQ Pork Roti, Gochujang and Salmon Miso Aubergine, Ssamjang isn’t likely to appeal to the meat & potatoes crowd… and just as likely to send even the most knowledgeable of diners in desperate search of semantic succor. The menu is also prix fixe – X number of courses for X number of Rand (the national currency of South Africa) – so copping out à la carte simply is not an option. Still, not such a bad deal as four courses will set you back a total of R795, which translates to $43.50 per person (plus beverages, tax & gratuity).

Bon Appétit & Cheers!


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