Wine Dinner 2On Thursday, November 15, 2018, 7:00 p.m., Stage Left Steak in New Brunswick, New Jersey, will host a special dinner paired with exceptional wines from Oregon’s Antiquum Farm. The special guest of the evening will be Stephen Hagan, owner and winemaker.

Stephen and his wife, Niki, planted every vine on their property… by hand… themselves. They use horses for 90% of the work, and they manage the soil with a collection of sheep, dogs, chickens and geese, sourcing all fertilizer from the property.

The menu and wine pairings are noted below…

Hors d’Ouevres; Wine Pairing: Pinot Gris “Daisy” Rosé 2017

Bouillabaisse: Crawfish Toast; Wine Pairing: Pinot Gris “Aurosa” Rosé 2017

Lion’s Mane: Mushroom Maitake Risotto; Wine Pairing: Pinot Noir “Juel” 2017

Wagyu: Cheese Steak, Tartare, Flatiron; Wine Pairings: Pinot Noir “Passiflora” 2017… Late Harvest Pinot Gris “Daphne” 2016

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Brownie: Nutella Ice Cream

The price of the Antiquum wine dinner is $139.00 per person (plus tax & gratuity). To make reservations, please go to or call (732) 828-4444.

Bon Appétit!




300 South Broad Street

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

(215) 670-2302

Volver - ExteriorIn April 2014, when Jose Garces’ Volvér made its long-awaited debut in Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center, almost before the ink had dried on the new menus, professional reviewers (“hired bellies,” as the late Jay Jacobs liked to call them) began to circle like vultures.

The first to swoop in was Trey Popp, then restaurant critic for Philadelphia magazine. He and his wife, indulged in the restaurant’s “Performance” dinner, a 15-course $600.00 (including beverage pairings) extravaganza; each course representing a significant recipe (and story) from Chef Garces’ culinary journey.  Mr. Popp was obviously much taken with the experience, declaring: “At least five (of the courses) ranked among the best restaurant dishes I’ve ever eaten. And all together, they melded with our server’s concise backstories to form a meal that encompassed biography, philosophy, and something akin to meditation.” The conclusion… 4 out of 4 stars – Extraordinary.

A scant two months later, along comes Craig LaBan of the Philadelphia Inquirer and cuts those stars (or, in his case, bells) in half, noting his “withering patience for egocentric cooking” and concluding “… this experience as a whole, presented over 15 courses and several hours, ultimately felt both superficial and excessive, magnifying the superfluous garnishes as too precious, the tales of Chef’s inspiration amplified to become parodies of misguided hero worship.”

Volver - Interior, Dining RoomOnce again, I marvel at the fact that the same restaurant is capable of generating such widely divergent reviews… Mr. Popp enamored with the experience of the forest as a whole; Mr. LaBan content to bitch and moan about too many individual trees. I freely confess that I have never been a fan of Mr. LaBan’s reviews, finding them disjointed and given to bouts of rambling and downright sarcastic hyperbole – and his Volvér critique is no exception.

Volver - Interior, KitchenHe did, however, perhaps unknowingly, bring up an extremely pertinent point. In another article, in reference to his two-bell review of Volvér, Mr. LaBan had this to say: “I found it telling that I enjoyed it less the more courses there were, rather than the opposite of being transported to a higher plane.” Amazing… what Mr. LaBan, a veteran restaurant reviewer, apparently failed to comprehend is that no matter how pleasant the venue, no matter how accomplished the chef, or how carefully prepared, proportioned and attractively presented the various elements of a marathon-tasting menu, the eye and the palate can only appreciate (and tolerate) what the stomach and the seat can endure. After a certain number of courses, no matter how superb the circumstances and the cuisine, rigor mortis will inevitably set in.

A good deal has changed at Volvér since its 2014 debut. For one thing, the fifteen-course – and then the twelve-course – tasting menus have gone by the boards. The current incarnation of the chef’s tasting menu has been whittled down to a mere nine presentations, which, in my opinion, is still too expansive. The ideal tasting menu is five courses – six at the outside. After that, the prospect of gastronomic narcolepsy begins to rear its ugly head.

Volvér’s exquisitely plated innovative seasonally-driven cuisine is best savored in small installments rather than devoured en masse. And since many of the restaurant’s patrons – this writer and his dining partner included – are often headed to a performance at the adjoining Kimmel Center and not up for a heavy meal, discretionary ingestion might well be considered the better part of peristaltic valor. The à la carte menu is just right for some spirited mix ‘n match grazing; and the three-course pre-theater menu, priced at $35.00 per person (plus beverages, tax & gratuity), is a bargain, indeed.

But be advised… Volvér isn’t likely to appeal to the diehard grab ‘n growl meat & potatoes crowd. The portion sizes here are on the diminutive side, subtle in their preparation, and as artistic and attractive to the eye as they are pleasing to the palate. If you’re in search of a slab of beef hanging over both sides of the plate, you’d do well to look elsewhere.

Volver - Deviled EggWhile perusing the menu and sipping an Amoxicllin – a classy cocktail constructed of gin, lemon, ginger, honey, and 10-year-old Laphroaig – or, perhaps, a glass of 2014 Richard Bocking Pinot Blanc from Germany’s Mosel Valley, one of Volvér’s “Snacks” might be just the thing to assuage those hunger pangs. There’s the Shrimp Toast, of course, or a Mixto of either cheeses or meats… but nothing quite perks up the taste buds – or goes down as smooth and easy – as the dreamily decadent Deviled Egg (pictured). Filled with a silky duck liver mousse spiked with Pedro Ximénez Sherry, one bite of this irresistible treat will have you placing another order at the speed of light.

Volver - Tuna TartareAs you move on to the “Small Plates,” the possibilities range from the semi-simplicity of Winter Lettuces adorned with persimmon vinaigrette and a pumpernickel crisp… to the almost-too-clever bowl of Milk & Cereal, which tastes nothing like what you would wolf down for breakfast… to the absolutely fabulous Lamb Sliders garnished with feta cheese, harissa aioli, and red onion marmalade. My nod, though, clearly goes to the pristinely fresh Tuna Tartare (pictured) that comes replete with yuzu (Japanese citrus fruit) mayonnaise, edamame, chili, shiso (an Asian herb similar to mint in flavor) and crunchy garlic toasts.

“Large Plates” continue along the same innovative path. The Wagyu Sirloin is companioned by nury potatoes (enticingly cut to resemble croissants) and Provoleta fondue (Provoleta is the Argentinean variant of Provolone cheese); the Jidori Chicken (consider it the Kobe beef of the winged set) is gently caressed by sherry and foie gras cream.

Volver - Ricotta GnudiMy dining partner decided upon the Ricotta Gnudi. These are gnocchi-like dumplings made with ricotta cheese instead of grated or milled russet potatoes. The result is a lighter, pillowy dish in contrast to the often denser, sometimes chewy gnocchi. Volvér’s rendition is utterly extraordinary. The ethereal dumplings – and there is no other word to describe them – simply melt in your mouth. And, by the way… while the portion sizes – even the so-called “large plates” – may be on the diminutive side, the ingredients are beguilingly rich. The gnudi, which are accompanied by a smattering of fava beans, English peas and wild mushrooms, are bathed in a lavish brandy parmesan cream sauce. Cholesterol counters beware.

Volver - Market Fish - BarramundiMy Barramundi – the white-fleshed fish of choice on menus recently – was somewhat more subdued, but still surrounded by a number of luscious traveling companions. The filet, sweet, succulent and meaty with a clean mild taste that is similar to halibut, arrived at table swimming in a sensuous sea of celeriac emulsion and truffle jus. Wild mushrooms and a tiara of watercress played strong supporting roles, providing a nice textural contrast and splash of color, respectively.

Desserts vary with the seasons… they also depend upon your menu. Should you be sampling the nine-course chef’s tasting menu, for example, you’ll currently be treated to both the Harbison: Asian pear, pear pâté de fruit, black pepper caramel, marjoram oil, and walnut crumble; and the Maple Yogurt Panna Cotta: green apple sorbet, kiwi, cider, and whole wheat tuile. The pre-theater menu features Bonne Bouche: chef’s selection of pastries. Finally, the regular à la carte dinner menu offers a choice of two desserts: Orange & Pistachio Parfait and Cocoa Choux with chocolate sablée and chocolate mousse. My dining partner and I sampled both and they were light as a feather on the palate and top-notch in every respect.

Volver - BarVolvér gives diners a choice of two dining venues: the jewel-box dining room with a high-tech open kitchen (pictured above), and the delightfully bustling bar/lounge (pictured here). Both, it should be noted boast a wall of windows overlooking Spruce Street. While the dining room is more sedate, I much prefer the bar’s lively vibe. Even if you’re not having dinner, it’s a marvelous stopover for a craft cocktail, glass of wine and/or some sophisticated snacks.

Whether attending a performance at the Kimmel Center or merely doing a bit of shopping in Center City Philadelphia, if you enjoy fine dining, a visit to Jose Garces’ Volvér is simply not to be missed.

Bon Appétit!



Undici Hosts Italian Grand Wine Tasting

by artfuldiner on October 19, 2018

in Uncategorized

undici4On Sunday, November 11, 2018, from 12:00 noon – 3:00 p.m., Undici Taverna Rustica in Rumson, New Jersey, will host the only United States tasting with 12 Italian wineries and the winemakers and owners. This walk-around tasting and hors d’oeuvre experience invites participants to taste, talk, and purchase these delicious wines.

Wine producers represented…

Podere Sapaio (Toscana)

Riecine (Toscana)

Pietranera (Toscana)

Vigliano (Toscana)

Piancornello (Toscana)

Cascina Bruciata (Piemonte)

Bovio (Piemonte)

Montalbera (Piemonte)

Scarbolo (Friuli)

Schiopetto (Friuli)

Firriato (Sicilia)

Montecariano (Veneto)

The cost of the Italian grand wine tasting is $30.00 per person (plus tax).

For more information, or to reserve your place, please call (732) 842-3880.

Bon Appétit!



Stage Left Steak - InteriorOn Tuesday, October 30, 2018, 7:00 p.m., Stage Left Steak in New Brunswick, New Jersey, will host a special dinner paired with the incomparable brews of the Maine Beer Company.

The Maine Beer company makes small batches that are somewhat hard to procure, especially on draft. Stage Left and its sister restaurant now have four different Maine Beers on tap, including some rare brews never seen in New Jersey.

Maine Beer Dinner Menu…

First Course: Hors d’Oeuvres (including Stage Left’s Famous Burger); Beer: Tiny Beautiful Something

Second Course: Bone Marrow Gnocchi with Oxtail Bolognese; Beer: Woods and Water

Third Course: Bison Short Rib with Butternut Squash Mashies; Beer: Son of Sapphing Mammoth

Fourth Course: Prime Rib Cheese Steak; Beer: Dinner

Nutella Tartufo

The cost of the Maine Beer dinner is $95.00 per person (plus tax & gratuity). To make reservations, please go to or call (732) 828-4444.

Bon Appétit!



Nessa Albarino 2017ADEGAS GRAN VINUM – 2017 Nessa Albariño: Adegas Gran Vinum is a second generation, family owned winery that has been producing Albariño since the 1980s, prior to the creation of the Denomination of Origin Rías Baixas. The winery has 3.2 hectares (8 acres) of its own vineyards; the remainder of its grapes are purchased from several growers.

Albariño is a low-yielding, high-quality white wine grape grown in Spain’s Galicia region, as well as Portugal’s Vinho Verde, where it is called Alvarinho. Although reasonably productive, the grapes are so thick-skinned that only a small amount of juice can be extracted. Although Albariño wines are highly prized in both Spain and Portugal, the grape varietal is rarely cultivated elsewhere.

Over the past 15 years, Albariño has blossomed into Spain’s most notable white wine and has also become exceedingly popular with American wine lovers. Why? For starters, the grape produces a highly approachable wine with a mix of floral, oceanic and citrus aromas. On the palate, a good Albariño is racy but not at all sharp, exhibiting a touch of minerality that is derived from the granite bedrock that exits throughout the Rías Baixas region. Secondly, Albariño is a marvelously food-friendly wine that pairs particularly well with seafood such as shellfish, lobster and grilled fish.

One of the consequences of Albariño’s increased popularity is the fact that it is becoming more and more difficult to lay your hands on an acceptable bottle priced in the mid-teens. Fortunately, the 2017 Nessa Albariño is a marvelous exception to the general rule. This lovely wine is rife with subtle floral aromas that lead to ripe peach flavors and an incredibly satisfying citrus acidity. The best part, of course, is the price. The 2017 Nessa is available from Pennsylvania State Stores for a mere $16.99.


Can Blau 2015CELLERS CAN BLAU – 2015 Can Blau: Celler Can Blau is located in the Donominació d’Origen Montsant, a wine region in Catalonia, northern Spain. Vines were first introduced to the area by the Romans thousands of years ago; and Catholic monks continued the viticultural tradition during the Middle Ages. Montsant has earned a reputation for its high-quality red wines, particularly those based on old Garnacha and Carignan vines.

Cellers Can Blau is part of the Gil Family Estates, which has brought together ten different artisanal vineyards from across Spain’s major wine regions. The increased exposure of these small estates has seen them receive consistently high ratings from international critics that belie their consistently accessible price points. This makes Gil Family wines an enological rarity: small-production wines that are both exceptionally good values and also extremely rewarding.

And the 2015 Can Blau, which recently received an impressive 93 points (100-point scale) from wine critic James Suckling, is a first-rate example of a reasonably priced vintage that over-delivers on the palate. This wine is a Rhone Red blend of 40% Mazuelo (Carignan), 40% Syrah, and 20% Garnacha. With its high yields, Carignan produces more red wine that any other grape variety – most of it quite ordinary. The grape is noted for its deep purple color, high tannins, and high alcohol. At its best, it produces wines that are fruity and quite spicy. Carignan is most often blended with wines from softer grapes, primarily Grenache, Cinsault, and Syrah.

The 2015 Can Blau, exhibits a great deal of sweet spicy oak, chocolate and vibrant red fruits… yet is remains soft and fluid on the palate… And the price is quite fluid as well; a mere $13.99 and readily available through PA State Stores.

Both the 2017 Nessa Albariño and 2015 Can Blau are exceptional wines at exceptional price points and are well worth seeking out.




2018’s Best Foodie Cities in America

by artfuldiner on October 14, 2018

in Breaking News

Best Foodie Cities 2018WalletHub, the personal finance website, recently released its report on “2018’s Best Foodie Cities in America.” To determine the best and least expensive local foodie scenes, WalletHub compared more than 180 of the largest U.S. cities across 29 key metrics. The data set ranged from affordability and accessibility of high-quality restaurants to food festivals per capita to craft breweries and wineries per capita.

  1. Portland, OR
  2. San Francisco, CA
  3. Miami, FL
  4. New York, NY
  5. Los Angeles, CA
  6. Orlando, Fl
  7. Las Vegas, NV
  8. Seattle, WA
  9. San Diego, CA
  10. Austin, TX
  11. Atlanta, GA
  12. Tampa, FL
  13. Chicago, IL
  14. Denver, CO
  15. Washington, DC
  16. Sacramento, CA
  17. Philadelphia, PA
  18. Houston, TX
  19. Oakland, CA
  20. Charleston, SC

New York has the most gourmet specialty-food stores (per square root of population), which is 46.1 times more than in West Valley City, Utah, the city with the fewest.

New York has the most restaurants (per square root of population), which is 31.6 times more than in Peoria, Arizona, the city with the fewest.

Orland, Florida, has the most ice cream and frozen yogurt shops (per square root of population), which is 21 times more than in Lewiston City, Maine, the city with the fewest.

Santa Rosa, California, has the highest ratio of full-service restaurants to fast-food establishments, which is 3.5 times higher than in Jackson, Mississippi, the city with the lowest.

To view the full report, please visit

Bon Appétit!



Byrsa Bistro - ExteriorOn Thursday evening, October 18, 2018, Byrsa Bistro, 128 Glen Mills Road, Glen Mills, Pennsylvania, will host a four-course dinner menu artfully paired with wine, beer or cider.

The price of $75.00 per person (plus tax & gratuity) includes appetizer, soup/salad, entrée, dessert, and specially selected beverage pairings for each course.

Pairing dinners begin at 6:00 p.m. To reserve your table, please call (610) 558-4700, text (610) 444-3277, or click on

Bon Appétit!



Limoncello Ristorante & Bar

499 East Uwchlan Avenue (Route 113)

Chester Springs, Pennsylvania

(610) 524-3112

Tucked away in a corner of the Lionsville Shopping Center, Limoncello is the younger sibling of the restaurant of the same name located in West Chester, PA. Both establishments are owned by the Mingrino family; and, it should be noted, members of that family – parents, sons and daughter – are very much in evidence, in the kitchen as well as at the front of the house, to make certain that things run smoothly.

Limoncello - BarI first reviewed the restaurant over five years ago and, as several recent visits clearly demonstrated, not a great deal has changed. To the right as you enter is the contemporary Tuscan-esque dining area, replete with nooks & crannies specifically designed for small gatherings; to the left, the bar/lounge awash with high-top tables and four flat screen TVs. This latter space is exceedingly comfortable and, to my way of thinking – especially should you be dining à deux – preferable to the main dining room, which can be overrun by extended families, large parties, and noisy, ill-behaved progeny.  The cuisine remains solidly southern Italian, based upon old family recipes – or updated variations thereof – comfortingly familiar, and, for the most part, very good, indeed.

The thing to keep in mind about Limoncello is that their entrée portions tend to run on the humongous side. So, unless you happen to have the peristaltic capacity of a starving yak, you would do well to consider doggie bags a sine qua non. Given not only the quantity, but also the superior quality of the cuisine, main courses remain a genuine bargain – and, as an added bonus, they will heat up just fine the following evening.

Limoncello - Eggplant Parm DinnerTake that traditional favorite, Eggplant Parmigiana… This may seem like a no brainer; it is, however, a dish that is easily mucked up. Which makes it an excellent test of a kitchen’s mettle… and Limoncello’s passes with flying colors. The eggplant is thinly sliced lengthwise (rather than crosswise), lightly breaded and sautéed until soft (but not mushy!), crowned with melted mozzarella, and companioned by al dente linguine. The smothering of tomato sauce is rich & flavorful and just a touch acidic. An excellent rendition of the Neapolitan classic. The chicken breast, veal cutlet and veal chop are similarly embellished – and equally recommendable.

Limoncello - Chicken MessinaThe Chicken Messina, another bounteous offering, has its own unique appeal. Parmesan-crusted chicken breast is stuffed with asparagus, prosciutto di Parma, and fresh mozzarella, finished with a first-rate caprese cream sauce, garnished with mixed mushrooms and pancetta, and served up with generous tangle of linguine. Needless to say, there’s a helluva lot going on here – and the dish isn’t exactly photogenic – but the sundry elements do work well together (rather than carrying on

Limoncello - Sauteed GrouperThe kitchen also usually cooks up a nightly seafood special, which is always worth checking out. Recently sampled, for instance, was an excellent presentation of Sautéed Grouper. Grouper is a lean, moist, firm-textured fish with a distinctive mild flavor that has often been described as a cross between bass and halibut. And the power-behind-the-stove was wise enough to let that unique flavor speak for itself rather than gussie it up. A splash of lemon butter sauce proved just the right touch… as did a simple seabed of luscious mashed potatoes and extraordinarily tender broccoli rabe. Kudos.

Among the starters, the Arancini, “little oranges,” are something of a must. A specialty of Sicily, these are seasoned risotto croquettes that are filled with beef Bolognese, green peas and mozzarella cheese and then breaded and deep fried to a golden brown. The two orbs sampled were slightly on the bland side but still quite addictive when doused with the accompanying marinara sauce.

On the other hand, since entrées are extremely generous, you may wish to go easy on the apps. A bit of greenery might be just the ticket. The Insalata di Salmon – mixed greens, asparagus, red onions, cherry tomato, cucumber, goat cheese tossed with a honey Dijon balsamic vinaigrette and topped with grilled salmon – which I thoroughly enjoyed, is an excellent choice… but more suited to a substantial lunch or light dinner entrée. My dining partner and I recently decided to share the Insalata Caesar – romaine hearts, herb croutons, shave Reggiano and a light Caesar dressing – which, given the size of the entrées to follow, proved to be just right for both of us.

Limoncello - Limoncello CakeAt this point, talk of dessert may seem totally superfluous…  That being said, however, Limoncello’s sweet endings are really quite good – in addition to being extraordinarily decadent – and are well worth saving room for. Of particular note, for example, is the luscious Bananas Foster Cheesecake, offering up sweet ripe bananas in a creamy New York-style concoction topped with caramel drizzle. But the real star of the show is the delightfully wicked Limoncello Cake (pictured), a rich buttery cake splashed with Limoncello liqueur, filled with chunks of white chocolate, finished off with a Limoncello glaze, and topped with a dollop of vanilla ice cream. Don’t even think about the calories!

Limoncello - Choc Peanut Butter GanacheOn the other hand, if you find the dynamic duo of peanut butter and chocolate impossible to resist, the Chocolate Peanut Butter Ganache will tempt you with homemade velvet chocolate cake filled with creamy peanut butter mousse and a rich icing of semi-sweet chocolate and whipped cream. So, Limoncello or chocolate & peanut butter… a difficult decision, granted… but someone has to make it.

Limoncello is a restaurant that grows on you, a restaurant with which you can easily strike up a long-term love affair, a restaurant that is capable of wooing you back again and again… Why? It’s family-owned; it offers up good food at reasonable prices in comfortable surroundings… and that’s a combo that is hard to beat.

Bon Appétit!



Chakra InteriorOn Tuesday, October 16, 2018, 7:00 p.m., Chakra Restaurant, Paramus, New Jersey, will host a special four-course dinner paired with the wines of Jean Edwards Cellars of Sonoma, California.

First Course: Bay Scallops, Preserved Melon, Pineapple, Cilantro; Wine Pairing: Sauvignon Blanc, Jean Edwards Cellars Dalla Gasperina Vineyard, 2016, Rutherford

Second Course: Duck Agnolotti, Foie Gras, Pecorino, Basil, Duck Jus; Wine Pairing: Merlot, Jean Edwards Cellars Oak Knoll District, 2015, Napa Valley

Third Course: Braised Pork Belly, Spiced Puffed Skin, Squash; Wine Pairing: Cabernet Sauvignon, Jean Edwards Cellars Stagecoach Vineyard, 2014, Pritchard Hill

Fourth Course: Blackberry Chocolate Cake, Almond Florentine, Mascarpone Semifredo; Wine Pairing: Red Blend, Jean Edwards Cellars Cooper’s Cuvée, 2014, Calistoga

The cost of the Jeans Edwards Cellars wine dinner is $92.00 per person (plus tax & gratuity). For more information, or to make reservations, please call (201) 556-1530.

Bon Appétit!



SJ Hot Chefs - Fall Harvest Week 2018From Sunday, October 21 – Friday, October 26, 2018, the participating restaurants of South Jersey Hot Chefs will be celebrating Fall Harvest Week, inviting diners to savor the bounty of local farmers and fishermen.

Participating restaurants will be offering four-course dinners priced at $35.00 per person (plus beverages, tax & gratuity). For a list of participating restaurants, please click on

Bon Appétit!